Clive Tully reports from Spirit of Cardiff as the record-breaking RIB leaves Sri Lanka for Indonesia:

Clive Tully reports from Spirit of Cardiff as the record-breaking RIB leaves Sri Lanka for Indonesia:

It’s been a tense final couple of hours, picking our way through yet another awesome electrical storm. This time it’s as though huge strobe lights are going off inside the clouds. It builds up, and then suddenly – zap! A bolt of lightning hits the sea. After the previous night’s storm, we realise now why we’ve seen so many dead fish on the surface. Frying tonight!

It’s Saturday evening, and we complete the timed run to the entrance of Galle harbour, where we await further instructions. We can’t just go straight in, as the harbour entrance is actually blocked at night. Although the separatist Tamil Tigers have recently come to some kind of accord with the Sri Lankan government, Galle harbour is still deemed a sensitive area requiring heightened security.

We’re intercepted at the harbour entrance by a boat, but communication proves a little difficult. It turns out tobe the harbour patrol vessel. Eventually we’re told to follow the boat in, at which point a couple of small boats with outboards come up behind us, and we’re boarded by the Sri Lankan navy, who guide us in.

We can see the barrier across the harbour, a string of oil drums floating across the entrance, but at one end there’s a gap large enough for us to get through. Inside, the harbour itself is modern and well built. As we complete the customs formalities – which includes making a grudging presentation of the last of Steve’s cigarettes (they even have the nerve to question the brand!) – a strange twang reverberates around the dock, rather like someone hitting an empty oil drum.

“They throw sticks of gelignite into the harbour every so often,” I’m told, “and it’s fairly random where they do it, so you’ll feel some bangs more than others.” The idea is to deter frogmen from entering the harbour and attacking ships or installations.

I’ve suffered insomnia for all the usual reasons – crying children, snoring adults, illness, traffic and storms. But coming from a generation that didn’t have to live through the Blitz, I can say it’s my first night where sleep has been punctuated by the dull thud of explosives.

Sunday morning, and we’re refuelled speedily and efficiently, albeit at its most basic level, the diesel gravity fed from 205 litre drums off the back of a pickup truck. And then we set off. We choose 0900 local (0330 GMT) as our departure time, but haven’t banked on the Sri Lankan navy as our parting interlude.

They board us at the harbour entrance for a final “search”. For search, read scrounge. They want camera film, and are disappointed when I tell them we don’t use it. Our cigarettes are already gone – a gift to last night’s customs official – no, we don’t have any wine on board, and yes, we’d love to give you a T shirt, but the ones we’re wearing are all we have.

There’s a slightly dodgy moment when their eyes alight on the waterproof matches in our survival kit, and decide they’re detonators. “They aren’t,” insists Alan Priddy. “Look, I’ll show you.” He tries to demonstrate by striking one, but it refuses to light. Maybe it isn’t wet enough…

They end up departing, each clutching a can of Red Bull. “Good luck with the record,” they wish us. I feel like telling them their scrounging has cost us twenty minutes, but I think better of it and hold my tongue.