Part 1 – Yamba, NSW to Darwin, NT – April 20th – May 22nd, 2002
On 20th April, 2002 we departed Yamba Marina on the first leg of our long passage to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. We sailed north, first to Southport on Queensland’s Gold Coast, where we met up with family and friends before continuing on to Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the largest Sand Island in the world and is World Heritage Listed. The Great Sandy Strait that separates Fraser Island from the mainland is an excellent area for sailing, and as we own a block of land at River Heads overlooking the water and across to Fraser Island, our ultimate plan is to return and live here, but that is a long time down the track. That night we enjoyed a superb sunset as we anchored in the lee of the Island. The next day we went ashore at Hervey Bay and did various chores, such as provisioning and e-mailing, before heading further north to Lady Musgrave Island where we did our first snorkelling of the trip.
Lady Musgrave Island is at the southern most end of the Great Barrier Reef. It is a lovely island surrounded by a reef. It is possible to enter the lagoon through a gap in the reef and anchor in semi-protected water with excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities. As we weighed anchor to depart the wind picked up and we had a great sail north. Our intention was to go to the Percy Islands, however the winds determined our course and we sailed in to Pearl Bay
Our intention was to spend the first few days of May exploring the world famous Whitsunday Islands, however strong south-easterly winds and rain altered our plans, so that May 1st, Eric’s birthday, was spent sailing from our uncomfortable anchorage off Shaw Island to Airlie Beach, where we met up with friends on board their trimaran “Crossbow” for birthday drinks and then went ashore. We were amazed at what a busy place it was, as Eric had last been there in 1968, when it was a sleepy little town with tourism in it’s infancy. As the forecast remained much the same for the next few days, my desire to see the spectacular Whitehaven Beach gave way to making the most of the wind and heading north. We sailed at an average of 7.5 knots through the night and were in Townsville by Friday morning, May 3rd.
At Townsville, a friend from Yamba joined us for the passage to Darwin. After stocking up with provisions, we set off for Orpheus Island in the Palm Isles group. It was dark when we arrived, so we didn’t risk going too close inshore, due to a few offlying coral patches, however, in the light of day we realised we could have anchored in much closer and would have enjoyed a more restful night’s sleep. Hinchinbrook Channel. Despite rain, mist and poor visibility the channel was spectacular with a myriad peaks, channels and creeks to explore. The mist gave the channel an eerie calm and the lack of engine noise was soothing as we sailed silently north.
Although we anchored at Dunk Island that evening we declined going ashore as the heavens opened, so we didn’t get to experience the beauty of the island. As we sailed off next morning the sun broke through briefly and lit up the tropical greenery enough for us to appreciate its finery. We slowly made our way to Cairns, anchoring at Mourilyan Harbour, then Mission Bay, prior to sailing into Cairns on Tuesday morning, 7th May.
We anchored in the river in Cairns and went ashore by dinghy, as there were no berths available, however the savings on marina fees afforded us the luxury of a car hire to ensure the majority of our jobs and provisioning prior to departure were completed. We thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality of the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron, which we used as our base for meeting up, sending e-mails and of course, the obligatory sundowners. Whilst Eric sorted out the watermaker on board, Howard and I took the opportunity to explore the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which offers sweeping views across to Cairns and the Coral Sea, plus close up viewing of the rainforest canopy. Back in town, I was delighted to discover an Asian foodstore and stocked up on Japanese wasabi (horseradish), dipping sauce & pickled ginger, which we soon put to use when we caught our first tuna a few days later. Upolu Cay, just off Cairns. The water was very choppy, as the south-easterlies were still blowing hard, so snorkelling wasn’t an option, but the swim was very invigorating. The following morning, 11th May, we anchored at Hope Islands, 20 miles south-east of Cooktown.
Cooktown had a wonderful feel to it, very friendly and laidback, and we felt more as if we were back in Africa than Australia, away in frontier land! We took a trip round the town the next morning following in the footsteps of Captain Cook as he surveyed the area from the top of Grassy Hill, which looks out over the town and the Endeavour River. Cook’s ship, Endeavour, ran aground on a reef, now aptly named Endeavour Reef, so Cook and his crew repaired the ship in the mouth of the Endeavour River, consequently spending 48 days in the area. Thus it is one of the most historically significant towns in modern-day Australia and there is a re-enactment of Cook’s visit each June. The museum is excellent, not only from Cook’s perspective, but also in the way it portrays Cook’s landing from the local Aborigines perspective. There is also a superb, new walkway and story wall along the riverside, which tells the Aboriginals lore and legend and gives the visitor a real perspective of how things were prior to contact with whites. It is presented as a Millenium Reconciliation site.
We departed Cooktown on 13th May and sailed past Cape Bedford towards Cape Flattery, where we could just make out the silica sand-mining operation ashore. It is claimed that this area has some of the purest silica sand in the world. As we had a good southerly we set the two headsails and carried on north past the Turtle Group of Islands and Lizard Island. I was interested to learn the Aboriginal side of the story of Mary Watson’s death at the museum in Cooktown. Mary Watson was based on Lizard Island in the 1880’s whilst her husband and his partner worked the beche-de-mer fishery. I had heard that Aborigines attempted to ambush Mary Watson, her baby and Chinese servants, one of whom they killed. The other was wounded. Mary, her baby and one servant escaped in a tub and put to sea only to perish from thirst on Watson Island some time later. What I had not heard was that the Aborigines had been offended because the Watson’s had set up home near a site of religious significance and that is why the Aborigines went to avenge this sacrilege. However on discovering the death of Mrs. Watson, revenge was taken and 150 Aborigines were massacred.
Melville with its unusual hills made up of boulders, different from any of the scenery we had seen previously. We rounded Cape Melville and decided to find an anchorage within the Flinders Group to do some swimming. There were many beaches to choose from, but we settled on Maclear Island and swam ashore. Despite poor visibility we did see a few varieties of coral and brightly coloured fish. On the island there were a few spiky thorns, which made walking barefoot painful, so we swam back and carried on to anchor at Hedge Reef and another attempt at snorkelling. Visibility here was worse than the other spots, so we gave up and sailed on through the night again, wending our way through the many reefs and islands and trawlers off the Cape York Peninsular.
Sailing through this area, you realise just how isolated you are. But for the heat of the sun, the coastline reminded me of the far north of Scotland with its rugged hills and deserted beaches. Hicks Island
Shelburne Bay looking more like snow than sand. Passing Bird Islets it was difficult to decide where to stop as there are so many stunning islands and reefs. If we stopped everywhere I wanted to, I think we would reach Tanzania sometime next year, so for the most part I had to be satisfied with ‘just looking’. For sure we will be back again with time to spare to explore the area.
We sailed through the night so we would arrive at Albany Passage by daylight. I was interested to read in Alan Lucas’s ‘Cruising the Coral Coast’, that this remote area was once destined to become the ‘Singapore of Australia’. Somerset Bay, it was easy to see the romance of the location and apparently the last resident there, Frank Jardine, who was the son of the first Government resident, married a Samoan princess and they established a coconut plantation, cattle and pearling. We swam ashore to look at the grave stones, some of which we were surprised to find with Chinese characters, perhaps from the Japanese pearl divers of the 19th century. Others had dedications, but no names that we could make out. Also there is a memorial to Jacky Jacky, the faithful guide and survivor of the ill-fated Kennedy exploration of the Cape York Peninsular in 1848. Cape York. From the sea it is hard to imagine that thousands of visitors drive the Cape York Peninsular each year and tucked away on the mainland are numerous 4WD camp sites, however just as we felt a great sense of achievement on rounding the Cape by sea, I’m sure having driven the dirt roads of the peninsular, reaching the Cape by land would be similarly rewarding. Another adventure for another time!
superb sunsets and the tranquillity and ease of sailing without worrying about navigating between numerous reefs and islands. We had considered a stop over in Gove, but as our arrival would have been in the middle of the night, we decided to sail on to arrive at the “Hole in the Wall“, a narrow channel between Guluwuru and Raragala Islands in the Wessel group, by daylight. Raragala Island
Continuing our passage across the Arafura Sea we enjoyed the smooth, relaxing sail towards Darwin. The wind was almost non-existent, but with our huge, brightly coloured spinnaker sending a warm, orangey-red glow over the saloon we preferred to sail than motor despite losing some time. The half moon and stars beckoned us to relax on the foredeck and enjoy the warm, tropical evenings. The wind finally dropped so we were only making 3 – 4 knots, so we decided to motor through the night of 19th May, as we were due to meet our 2 extra crew members in Darwin for the passage across to Africa.
We had a very enjoyable, if brief stay in Darwin where we met with our new crew, Carolyn & Cathy, who had flown out from UK to join us for the passage to Tanzania. We were totally indulged by the hospitality of the Darwin Sailing Club as well as meeting up again with James Sullivan, a native of Darwin, whom we met in Tanzania when he was working as a mining Geologist. James was very generous with his donation of 200 limes and 200 Ruby Grapefruit to supplement our provisions for the passage, which we enjoyed both fresh and as additions to our sundowners of vodka or bacardi on the foredeck!
On Monday morning, 27th May, we were all up early in preparation for and anticipation of the voyage ahead of us. After collecting our duty free booze & refuelling at Cullen Bay Marina, Darwin, then clearing customs we ‘officially’ departed Australia at 1030 en route for Cocos Islands. These islands are still Australian Territory despite being approximately 2000 nautical miles west of Darwin. We had to prepare the documents for our departure with the Customs and gave our departure time as 0900 Monday morning, 27th May.
Part 2 – Darwin, NT – Cocos Islands, Australia May 27th – June 11th, 2002Leaving Darwin there was very little wind so we motored to clear Cape Charles where we anticipated better prospects. We tried various combinations of sails with our MPS (spinnaker), but ultimately returned to motoring until the breeze freshened enough to raise the Main & Headsails at 2300. Late in the day Coastwatch flew over, the Australian Customs Coastal Surveillance Service. It is a regular check for illegal immigrants, drugs, quarantine & fishing activities. Vessels are required to give their last & next port of calls, vessel registration details etc and are monitored whenever sighted. Next day, 28th May, we sailed through the day & night, not a lot of wind but enough to cover 140 miles in the day. We had a few seabirds join us, including a Lesser Crested Tern, then a Flesh Footed Shearwater who shared his dinner, seven squid, with us. The bird had gorged itself on so much squid it could not fit any more in, so it unceremoniously spread the excess throughout the cockpit. The 29th saw wind in short and erratic supply, so when our progress fell to below 3.5 knots we engaged diesel power to help us along. By mid morning on 30th we had both headsails set for a run downwind to Scott Reef, an isolated reef 500 miles along our route to Cocos. We arrived after dark and due to lack of definitive information on our chart and a poor radar picture of entry behind Sandy Island we chose to stand off until daylight.
Leaving Darwin there was very little wind so we motored to clear Cape Charles where we anticipated better prospects. We tried various combinations of sails with our MPS (spinnaker), but ultimately returned to motoring until the breeze freshened enough to raise the Main & Headsails at 2300. Late in the day Coastwatch flew over, the Australian Customs Coastal Surveillance Service. It is a regular check for illegal immigrants, drugs, quarantine & fishing activities. Vessels are required to give their last & next port of calls, vessel registration details etc and are monitored whenever sighted. Next day, 28th May, we sailed through the day & night, not a lot of wind but enough to cover 140 miles in the day. We had a few seabirds join us, including a Lesser Crested Tern, then a Flesh Footed Shearwater who shared his dinner, seven squid, with us. The bird had gorged itself on so much squid it could not fit any more in, so it unceremoniously spread the excess throughout the cockpit. The 29th saw wind in short and erratic supply, so when our progress fell to below 3.5 knots we engaged diesel power to help us along. By mid morning on 30th we had both headsails set for a run downwind to Scott Reef, an isolated reef 500 miles along our route to Cocos. We arrived after dark and due to lack of definitive information on our chart and a poor radar picture of entry behind Sandy Island we chose to stand off until daylight.
On closer inspection of the coral we found a number of other sea snakes that were in pairs. It was obviously mating season when they become aggressive. The venom from a sea snake is very toxic however there is an upside in that they have a very small mouth and the only place that they can inflict a bite is on the ears or small fingers.
We returned to the vessel, had lunch and prepared for an afternoon dive. By the time we entered the water it was high tide and a chop had developed as the water passed over the reef, thus reducing visibility. Lynne chose not to dive but Carolyn, Kathy & I took to the water and had a very pleasant dive through some majestic coral formations, many and varied reef fish and the inevitable sea snakes. Dive over, we pumped the tanks, washed, dried and stowed the gear and enjoyed sundowners as the Navy returned to anchor in the lee of the reef for the night.
June 1st saw us depart the reef at 0800 in a stiff North East wind with one reef in the main and headsail set. As the day wore on the wind dropped such that we were down to 3.5 knots, so at 1500 we set the Spinnaker. It was just set, boat speed picked up to 8 knots and we were about to furl the headsail when the MPS ripped across the head and all down the leech. This was quite a setback as we had used it in stronger conditions in the past and were very surprised and disappointed in this happening. We do not have the facilities on board to effect repairs and the best possible time frame for repairs will be at Seychelles, thus leaving us to cover a minimum of 75% of our voyage across the Indian Ocean without this very flexible sail. After this setback and a wind speed & direction change we set the headsail and staysail and ran downwind overnight making a speed of 5.5 knots. Sunday 2nd we stayed with the Headsail and Staysail as it gave us the best combination of speed over ground on our rhumbline. Sunday lunch became a special event as we all sat in the cockpit juicing some of the Ruby Grapefruit and Limes. A suggestion from Carolyn, why not try various concoctions of these juices diluted with Vodka? Great idea, but unfortunately nobody bothered to log the variations of concoctions and next day nobody remembered the voting sequence, but a fun day was had by all.
Monday 3rd, winds moved more to the East from NE and strengthened, however the expected equatorial current was not doing what it was supposed to. In fact what current there was, was against us and our anticipated voyage time of 12-13 days to Cocos slipped behind. Thursday 6th June, saw the fourth day of 100% cloud cover with the wind moving from NE on Sunday through to SSE and around 20-25 knots consistently gusting to 35 knots, with numerous rain squalls. We were down to 3rd reef in the main with the staysail set to ensure not to overload the rig.
The variation in wind strength and direction created a number of dog legs in our rhumbline. Amarula was heavy on the passage as we had all our belongings onboard (at least half a ton of books) as well all our spare pumps, filters, cleaning agents, tools, bolts, nuts, screws etc and anything else that we thought may come in handy over the next year or so. Added to this 2500 lit of fuel, 1500 water, 14 cases of beer, 3 cases of wine, 12 litres of spirits, the remnants of a case of Amarula taken aboard in Southport and provisions for 5 voracious eaters for 50 days.
Sunday 9th, we are all in high spirits today as we have 50% cloud cover and a bright sun for Sunday. It is a week since we had a visible sun, and is the first time for a week that we can open the hatches and let fresh air circulate without the fear of either rain or spray entering the living spaces. We have had air passing through the cockpit door but there is no substitute for sunshine. We spare a thought for our seafaring forefathers when we experience a passage of time without the possibility of a midday sun sight. It is less than 250 years since any accurate time piece (chronometer) was developed, replica of which Cook took for assessment on his second voyage of exploration in 1772. It was not until after this time that any semi accurate form of determining longitude became available to mariners. In weather as we have experienced over the past week, the sailing ships would navigate by dead reckoning for a week without an accurate fix using primitive charts and no navigational aids, indeed a time in history of wooden ships and iron men.
For the past two days we have had the current against us, the wind has moved from SE to NE and now is back into East. The sea is very confused so we are running downwind on our rhumbline, with both headsails set and the starboard engine helping us along at a speed of 7 knots. We are hopeful of changes in wind direction and strength to the SE to give us a better angle, also a current change, to help us along. Since Sunday we experienced some frustrating sailing with a number of wind shifts, none in the desired direction or strength of any significance and quite a number of rain squalls, all of which had their own mini weather pattern. So, to ease the situation and keep up the daily average we used one engine to help us along. It was with quite a degree of anticipation aboard as the line of palms denoting Cocos Islands gradually grew out of the blue-grey overcast ocean.
We spent from 11 – 15 June at Cocos Islands, and whilst it was a short visit by most ‘yachties’ standards, some of the visiting yachts having been there up to 18 months, we thoroughly enjoyed this gem in the Indian Ocean.
Cocos-Keeling Islands were reported by Capt William Keeling in 1609, but were not settled until 1826 when John Hare and John Clunies-Ross imported labour from Malaya and built up a copra plantation. Cocos became a British Dominion in 1857 and in 1886 the decendants of Clunies-Ross were awarded the Islands by Queen Victoria.
In 1955 Cocos became an Australian dependency and in 1978 the interests of Clunies-Ross were purchased by the Australian Government, with the exception of the Clunies-Ross homestead on Home Island. Today Home Island is the main settlement for the 400 or so Malays with Administration, airport, lodge and about 70 ‘Expat’ staff living on West Island. Both Islands are served by a regular Ferry service across the five miles of lagoon.
Cocos Keeling Islands became infamous in 1914 when the German Raider Emden sent a raiding party ashore and destroyed the Telegraph Station on Direction Island.
As the party reached the station a signal was sent out to a Convoy of Allied ships in the area. HMAS Sydney was dispatched from the convoy, located Emden and after an engagement of 5 hours the Emden sustained such damage that she was run aground on North Keeling Island, 20 miles north of Direction Island and the destroyed Cable Station. The Emden Raiding Party, seeing that their ship was lost, snatched Clunies-Ross’s three masted barque and sailed it back to Hamburg and re-entered the war.
Copies of the original transcript of this action, as written by Captain Glossop of HMAS Sydney, are in a wonderful Museum on Home Island with many other artifacts and photographs of the history of Cocos. Of particular interest are two intact sailing scows, built of teak by George Clunies-Ross at the turn of last century, styled on the Shetland Islands whaling boats, both are works of art.
On Wednesday morning we had a visit from, Darryl the Australian Federal Police Officer in charge of Cocos. He is also Customs & Immigration Officer. His uniform of Customs T shirt and swimming trunks is not what one expects, however as he has to swim to his boat anchored at West Island before his visit we appreciated his dress code.
Darryl gave us a very good briefing on what we could see and do during our brief visit, in way of dive sites, provisions, communications and transportation. He also convinced us not to send our spinnaker to Perth for repairs, as there is a considerable backlog of freight for the twice weekly flight and sail repairs are given a low priority.
On Direction Island there is a well constructed shelter about 6m square that is adorned with names and memorabilia of previous visiting yachts and special events, such as the Cocos HHH 800th Run in March 2002. We noted a few yachts that we know and set about leaving Amarula memorabilia for posterity. This was achieved by group effort of all hands. A large bleached driftwood tree, complete with root structure, was manoeuvered onto the bow of the dinghy and transported 500m to the shelter where we placed it in pride of place between two coconut palms, decorated it with a large piece of rope found on the beach and delicately engraved Amarula June 2002 into the trunk
with a battery drill, the whole structure then being adorned with an empty Amarula bottle suitably dedicated to the cause. A fine piece of artwork!
The Rip is located at the southern end of Direction Island where the sea breaks over the reef flat into a gutter, that runs about 300m around the bottom of the island and on into the main lagoon. The idea is that you enter at a convenient point relative to tide and sea conditions and let the Rip carry you along whilst you view the fish and coral. Where this gutter ends some very thoughtful people before us have rigged a floating line where once you are through the Rip you can take hold of the rope and pull yourself back to the island. This was a fantastic experience, like being in your own private aquarium. At the point of entry the water was crystal clear and about 750mm deep, and as we put our fins on we could see angel fish, butterfly fish, barracuda, golden trevally, unicorn fish, cleaner wrasse and even black tipped reef sharks. Where we entered, small waves were breaking sending spirals of air bubbles below, a bit like sitting in a champagne glass while it is being filled, and all the time a myriad of fish all around.
As we were swept along the fish and coral life changed, fish being bigger and coral more colourful until a definite gutter is formed with a coral wall on the south side in which snappers, mowong, surgeon, unicorn and parrot fish, intermixed with moorish idols and trigger fish. A few caves at 6m were home to two large grouper with 4 white tip sharks as house guests. We all came out at the lagoon end like young kids at a fairground that had free rides, all going back for more, and more. Each time viewing from a different angle as we learned the ways of the currents and how we could best utilise them to our advantage. On later days we found that with a lower tide and less current
we could hold onto some pieces of rock to slow down our passage through the Rip and carry out some stationary observations and we’re glad to say the incident with the seasnakes was not repeated.
Undoubtedly this was the best snorkelling I and the others had ever experienced, simply brilliant. However it is our intent to try and find something better, a tough assignment but we will take it aboard. Every place has a story with a twist and Cocos is no exception. There is a dedicated group on Cocos who wish to improve the lot for themselves and visitors. To this end, it was decided that a confiscated fishing vessel, rather than being burnt, should be sunken on a ledge next to a step drop off to improve this particular dive site. All was in preparation, boat to be sunk, barge alongside with the new mobile crane aboard to set the anchors that secure the wreck.
Somehow instructions became confused, after the boat was sunk and when the mobile crane had the jib at full extension with a mooring weight on the crane hook. We were informed that with elegant grace, pace and style, the crane jib entered the water, closely followed by the rest of the machine, to join the wreck on the bottom and to improve the quality of the dive site.
The next day, Thursday, we all dived on the wreck and the crane, both of which are upright, the crane in all of its splendour is about 20m from the wreck, on the downhill side with the boom at full extension pointing North East. It was a great dive in 16m of water with 30m visibility. When we asked Darryl about this site, he was not thrilled to talk about it, however he did inform us that the crane driver did return the keys along with the number plates. I wonder how one explains such a loss of a crane, given that it is
Later in the day, we returned to the Rip for more fairytale rides through this kaleidoscope of colour, before sundowners on the beach by our work of art.
Next day, Lynne and I set out to catch the 0700 ferry to West Island to take our documents for Port Clearance to depart on Saturday. Things do not always go to plan and we had some delays. However we managed to get the documentation done before the deadline of 1200 and managed to catch up with Cocos Hash Haberdash and swap some shirts from Dar Es Salaam Hash.
We arrived back at Home Island at 1530 to meet up with Cathy, Carolyn and Peter and set out to visit the old homestead of Clunies-Ross. It has not been lived in for some time and is in disrepair, however we were informed that it has been recently sold to an entrepreneur from Perth who intends to restore it to its former glory, a definite challenge but would be interesting to see.
Saturday saw us up early preparing for our departure. We had a last few blasts through the Rip, some farewells to folks on the shore and out of the anchorage by 1100. We sailed to North Keeling Island to see if it were possible to dive on the wreck of the Emden. I had particular interest in this as being ex Royal Aust. Navy this was the first engagement of the Aust Navy. The mast of the first HMAS Sydney that sank the Emden adorns Sydney Harbour at Bradleys Head. The second Sydney was sunk with all hands by the German Raider, Kormoran, off the West Australian Coast in 1942. The third Sydney was an Aircraft Carrier, saw service in Korea, Malaya, Borneo as well as in Vietnam after being converted to a troop ship. I served on that ship for a total of 2 years over 3 different periods from 1966 to 1971. There is currently a 4th warship carrying that name with distinction.
The Emden wreck site on North Keeling was exposed to prevailing sea and wind and was not an option to attempt a dive or snorkel, so we anchored on the sheltered western side of the island and after studying the shoreline through glasses for a soft landing, Cathy, Lynne and I swam ashore to investigate. It was low tide and the landing through surf onto shelving coral rock (the exposed sand looked good from the boat) was carried out with very little dignity. We were unceremoniously dumped by a large wave (always happens) and left sprawling on difficult flat coral bottom in attempts to scramble ashore, but we managed with minimal scratches and bruises. We walked up the beach to the welcome greeting of a Parks & Wildlife sign indicating that the Island is a Rookery for the indigenous birds that nest here, and they numbered in their thousands. black tip sharks that had their suits removed prior to being placed into freezer bags. Our new book will be entitled 101 ways to eat shark, having caught a larger one only 2 days earlier.
It was 1630 by the time we weighed anchor and set sail for the 1500 mile trek to the Chagos Archipelago.
Part 3 – Cocos Islands to Chagos Archipelago, June 15th – 28th , 2002
Eight days out from Cocos. During the first two days we saw a number of Indonesian Tuna Longline vessels, up to 4 in visual contact at one time. These timber boats about 25m long with the traditional structure of heavy flared bow with long and elevated house structure built on the latter half length of the vessel. This gives them a very distinctive silhouette when viewing them at sea. At night time they are well lit and we can see the light loom and lights on the horizon well before we can pick them up on the radar. Being wooden boats with very little metal overhead gear they are not a good radar target.
These guys are obviously a lot better at catching tuna than us, we have had lures behind the boat since Darwin. We had two mackerel and a barracuda in the first 500 miles, but since then our only claim to success is the loss of 6 lures without seeing a scale.
This is not a desirable claim for an ex commercial fisherman, but by the time we hit Chagos I will have regained my killer instinct and will slaughter without restraint until we have a freezer full of prime reef fish.
Friday saw us pass the halfway mark from Darwin to Dar, so each mile now is on the countdown, only 2,900 miles to go.
From Yamba to Darwin we covered a distance of 2,200 miles so by the time Amarula reaches Dar she will have sailed over 8,000 miles, equivalent to 40% of an equatorial circumnavigation.
We have been passed a challenge the past 5 days with light and variable winds. In the past week we have been as far as 130 miles north and 70 miles south of our rhumbline to Chagos in search of more favourable wind and current. It seems that neither the South East Trade Winds nor the Equatorial Current have bothered this year to read and adhere to the Admiralty Pilot books and other guides to sailing the Indian Ocean.
The wind has been negligent in both direction and strength also the South Equatorial Current that traditionally runs in a westerly direction has been conspicuous by its absence.
We have spent quite some time motor sailing in an attempt to maintain a better daily average, but with the next possibility of fuel at the Seychelles, another 1600 miles we have given way to Neptune’s demand of just plain sailing.
Yesterday was a beautiful day exempt of wind. We had been motoring, but by mid afternoon we needed a change so we dropped the sails, killed the engine and all went swimming in one of (if not) the largest heated salt water pools in the world.
We attached a safety line to grab as the swell was pushing the vessel along and also one of the life rings was launched as a play thing, also well attached. It was a wonderful swim in the azure blue water, stunningly clear and wonderfully acceptable to the body. Carolyn failed in her attempt to duck dive to the bottom in the 5,400m depth, so her Dive Instructor status is in serious doubt, however she will be given a chance of redemption at our next dive site.
Last night we sailed direct downwind under both headsails making an average of 3.8 knots in 8-9 knots of wind. Today is a little better, bounding along at 3.9 to 4 knots.
The sunset yesterday was a breathtaking event, with a stunning orange-red sun dipping in the western sky radiating brilliant flashes on the cloud fringes. This spectacle was transferred to what I call the reverse sunset in the eastern sky where the sunset is
reflected in much more subtle hues of pink and grey. What made yesterday more special was the addition of many “Mares Tails” cloud formations in the south and east that, being lower in the sky, gave off more brilliance of the colours of the sunset. The Mares Tails also gave us some false hope of increased winds. Around midnight the wind did extend itself to a staggering 15 knots for enough time to excite us but when our hopes were high it waned.
Today we are again dealing with the tantalising cloud formations with the ever present expectation of an improvement. It has also become a daily ritual for me, glaring at the promising printed format of what should be, only to be constantly reminded that nature has its own agenda and moods that we, as mere mortals have no control over, where we need to meld with what is available, be grateful that it is manageable, and utilise what we are offered to our best advantage.
Friday 28th June
Almost 2 weeks out of Cocos we finally dropped the anchor in the Salomon Islands lagoon of the Chagos Archipelago. Salomon Islands is made up of 10 islands & islets set on the extremity of the lagoon that measures approximately 4 miles long & three wide. As the prevailing winds were from the South East, we anchored in the lee “Ile Fouquet” that is located on the eastern side of the lagoon.
It was well past midnight when we retired, looking forward to the opportunity next morning to tend to ships husbandry matters, swimming, exploring and the prospect of a few uninterrupted nights sleep whilst at anchor. We awoke next day to a rather overcast morning, but soon had the boat spic and span, washing out to dry and preparing to explore the area. Robinson Crusoe style existence.* (please see note at the bottom of the page) The only form of bureaucracy here being the British patrol ship which visits every couple of weeks to collect an $80 fee (which allows up to 3 months stay) from each yacht and to take away the rubbish. For most of the yachties this is a very cheap fee as they generally stay for a minimum of 3 months and with no shops closer than a minimum 3 days sail north to Gan (Maldives), they live off their provisions and the fish they catch each evening. camp sites ashore and for the adventurous, energetic types there is a volleyball court set amongst the palms. Richard & Kathy gave us some good suggestions of diving and snorkelling sites and we went off to a similar rip area to the one at Cocos, however this one was not as fast running as Cocos and allowed us to swim back against the tide to get a better look at the marine life, plus it was great exercise! Swimming through at one point Lynne was greeted by a 2 metre moray eel, which swam up to her for a closer look then went back under the coral ledges, wended its way through the heads of brightly coloured, various specie formations of coral, where we caught glimpses of it as it passed between the holes in the rocks. There was also a giant reef ray and the usual myriad of colourful tangs, wrasses, angel, surgeon, sand mullet, trevally and schools of parrot fish chomping away on the coral. Though similar, this was not the same as the Rip at Cocos, however both locations were brilliant and we all felt very privileged to have experienced such wonderful presentations of nature in pristine environments.
That night (our second night at Chagos) proved to be far from restful as around midnight, 35 knot winds blew up from the nor-west across the full fetch of the lagoon. This was unusual for this time of year as the direction was against the SE Monsoon and Lynne & I spent a couple of hours on anchor watch to ensure our anchor held fast. We heard communications on the radio from some of the other yachts that were dragging anchor and were taking action, but after some time things seemed to be under control and the winds abated and we finally went back to bed.
A number of yachts had recently re-located their anchorage from the other side of the lagoon where they had been as the western side is the protected anchorage for the westerly winds that are persistent for the summer months.
Sadly, in the morning we woke up to the gut wrenching sight of 2 masts protruding out of the water at an angle of 45 degrees, close to the beach and next to one of the coral heads. The crew of a Canadian 60 ft ferro-cement yacht had slept through the high winds unaware that they had dragged anchor. They woke with the impact as they hit a coral head and the starboard side of their vessel was stove in. The vessel took in water and within a few minutes she was awash, this is a sailor’s worst nightmare! The vessel had only a few days earlier re-located from the western side of the lagoon where they had been for 3 months, such an unfortunate tragedy.
The mood of the day was very sombre, with everyone rallying round to help in any way they could. Divers were assisting with bringing ashore whatever could be salvaged, whilst others helped to set up a makeshift camp on Fouquet Island. We did what we could, simple things like taking clothes to wash for them, pumping dive tanks, making and dispensing coffee, and generally stood by in case they required further assistance. It was humbling to witness the humanity of all vessels in the lagoon, giving help, assistance and whatever moral support possible, though it doesn’t detract from the devastation the family felt at their loss, of their ‘home’ and their idyllic lifestyle.
Over the next few days at Chagos we managed to do 4 dives, both inside the lagoon and on the outer reef. The coral was spectacular, both in colour and variety, plus the amount of it, although the visibility at two sites in the lagoon was disappointing.
At Salomon Islands there were few fish swimming around during our dives, however during the dive at Peros Banhos, the larger atoll some 20 miles west of Salomon we were astounded by the number and variety of shoals of fish.
Each night when at Chagos I took the opportunity to sharpen my fishing skills. We had anchored near a coral bommie with 16m of water over it, and as the evening progressed the larger fish worked their way back to the lagoon and we caught a lot of bottom dwelling fish, Red Bass, Emperor, Snappers, groupers etc, and the occasional shark. On the last night we caught two ‘Spitting Sharks” one about 1200mm long the other approx 1500mm, we let both go, the first one before we had a positive ID. I had not seen these sharks for some time, so we had the books out after the first one to confirm our suspicions. They have distinctive skin, fins and tails, also when the head is raised above the water they “whistle” water from their mouth, hence “spitting” shark. We managed to catch, fillet & skin enough good quality fish to last us the next 2 weeks and we have developed some great recipes, including Green Curry Fish, Fish Risotto, Fish Cakes with sweet chilli sauce, great stuff!
When at Salomon Islands, we crossed the lagoon to the western side to visit Boddam Island and the abandoned settlement. This was cleared of its approximately 400 strong population during the 70’s when Britain leased Diego Garcia to the Americans as a Military base. church, roof gone, arches exposed with a few remaining slivers of stained glass in one window, at dusk. Mentally picturing how it was with families and social infrastructure in place makes one realise how ‘insignificant’ the appreciation of the quality of life can be when the future is determined by the powers that be.
On Wednesday evening, 3rd July, after a lovely sunset dinner of grouper fillets marinated and cooked with herbs and white wine, we set sail for the Seychelles, expecting to arrive about a week later.
Part 4 – Chagos Archipelago to Dar es Salaam via the Seychelles, July 3rd – 24th , 2002
The next 10 days passed by very slowly as we continued to look for the elusive south-east trade winds and south equatorial current. At one stage of the passage we were 200 miles south of the rhumbline looking for wind and current, but to no avail. A calculated gamble that did not pay off and the distance had to be made up again. If it were possible, this part of our journey passed even more slowly than the previous passages with 2 – 3 knots being the norm! Low on fuel and without our spinnaker, frustration became the order of the day, however knowing we cannot control the weather we made the best of it and enjoyed the odd swim, the spectacular sunsets and became very good at playing ‘patience’!
It is now Friday 12th July and we are expecting a landfall at Victoria in the Seychelles sometime tomorrow morning, given that present conditions prevail. It will be a welcome break and we are anticipating that the Australia -New Zealand Rugby Test will replayed at Victoria Yacht Club, Wallabies to win!
Chez Gaby restaurant on Round Island in the Ste. Anne Marine National Park across the channel from the port. We had a wonderful Creole buffet lunch and also managed to consume some rather delicious, but very expensive cocktails, so we had a bit of a shock when presented with our bill.
We decided to attempt to get our spinnaker fixed. After tracking down one of the local sailmakers, we negotiated for him to fix the spinnaker and we were lucky to depart on Thursday morning with our spinnaker ‘in tact’. We went to use it a few hours after our departure only to have it rip out again in less than 3 hours of sailing, in very slight winds.
After checking in with the authorities in Dar we sailed round to the Yacht Club leaving our crew ashore to explore the delights of down town Dar es Salaam and we later met up with Cathy and Carolyn for goodbye drinks at the Yacht Club, before they went back to Kenya.
*Note on Chagos:
At the time of our visit we were unaware of the terrible plight of the Chagossians and how they had been removed when Britain leased Diego Garcia to the Americans as a military base. We subsequently read up about this issue and saw the documentary film and reports by John Pilger highlighting their case. There is plenty of information to be found on the internet and we were ‘simply appalled’ to see how our Captain’s Log here had been glibly misinterpreted in a post in 2006, which we came across in our search. I attempted to address the issue but found no way to contact the writer of the blog, who remains anonymous. I did later contact Wikispooks when the extract from Simply Appalling appeared on their website – see attached correspondence