9th of February, day 9
As usual, the nine Young Explorers slept on the deck as it is the coolest place for the night on the boat! But tonight surprise! A rain of black sand was awaiting our adventurers. At around 2am in the morning, the volcano had a new eruption. The small light thin ash fell directly onto the boat, covering Pangaea with a black sandy dust. It didn't stop our Young Explorers from sleeping on deck, but a new clean-up was going to be necessary!
At 7 am everyone was on the deck with water pipes and brushes, trying to remove this thin light black sand.
It took an hour for all of us to get the boat clean. until the next eruption! After breakfast, our Young Explorers got ready for their first proper exploration dive. Each buddy pair would be accompanied by a team member, but this time, the Young Explorers could decided and manage the dive instead of being lead. Of course, a few basic rules were set up for everyone. Maximum depth, maximum dive time and dive distances from the boat were decided by Mike.
At 9 am everyone was ready to go down and explore the fascinating underwater world next to a live volcano. What impressed us the most was the huge contrast between the colorful fish and corals with the black lava background. As Barren Island is a single mountain in the middle of the Andaman Sea, it was also very impressive to look at the cliffs and to watch this huge long wall disappearing in the darkness of the ocean. This dive was surely the most impressive and most beautiful dive for our Young Explorers!
After 45 minutes being under the water, we came back to the boat and lifted anchor. We set sail to circumnavigate the island and nature offered us a new impressive eruption as a good bye present. With a gentle wind, we sailed back in the direction of Middle Andaman to reach the entrance of Homefray Strait. This strait cuts basically Middle Andaman from South Andaman Island. It is described as navigable in some pilot books but there are no precise and reliable charts. Hence Mike decided to use our two dingys to go and explore this strait. The program was the following: Pangaea would leave us at the entrance of Homefray strait. With one compass, GPS positions and one dingy, our Young Explorers would have to leave Pangaea, find the entrance of Homefray Strait, navigate through it, turn down south to follow the Andaman Strait and finally meet with Pangaea 20 Nm south from the starting point of the adventure. The overall distance of this route was estimated to be 25Nm. A second dingy with Mike and some of the team members would follow and advise the Young Explorers in case of any difficulties.
After a short briefing about equipment and navigation at night, Mike set the departure time of the adventure for 9:30 pm. Most of the navigation was going to be at night, which made the exercise just a bit more interesting! At 10 pm the two dingys left Pangaea and headed to the strait. After a bit of confusion, our nine Young Explorers found the entrance of Homefry Strait. As this area is quite well know to be populated by big saltwater crocodiles, the two dingys spent a bit of time following different channels through the mangroves, hoping to see some of these impressive crocodiles.
We spent about one hour going up and down different channels, through narrow passages in between the mangroves. Looking at these channels in the brightness of our headlamps was amazing. But unfortunately, after one hour without finding any crocodiles, we had to decide to move ahead as the route was still long! Following Homefray Strait was a piece of cake for our Young Explorers, but it was going to be a different story at the end of the strait, when it came to finding the Andaman Strait to continue our journey to the south. Lots of different small islands created confusion amongst our Young Explorers. The night and lack of sleep was only making things more difficult.
All tired, our Young Explorers decided they wanted to stop for a couple of hours sleep before finding the right direction and going further. But a new problem was soon going to come to light. When our Young Explorers tried to approach the shore, they quickly realized that mangroves are only a big net of roots coming directly out of the water. There is no land available and it's absolutely impossible to walk and find a place in between the trees to set up a camp. After a short discussion, it became clear that they would have to navigate all the night through without stopping at all! It was now primordial to find the right route and the entrance of the Andaman Strait for our Young Explorers….