Captain’s Log November 2002


Captain’s Log October/ November 2002

October was a quiet month for charters, which gave us the opportunity to undertake routine maintenance and organise our shore-based container along with the logisitics of setting up our new business, all of which takes time and energy.
On 12th & 13th October we managed to get away for a lively Hash House Harriers weekend to South Beach, then the following weekend we participated in the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club Latham Fishing Competition weekend to Sinda Island by offering our services to the Commodore as a guest on board “Amarula”. It was a great weekend with BBQ steaks marinated in Amarula, washed down by more Amarula! The Yacht Club set up a bar and BBQ ashore each year then do a weigh-in after the fishing competition and this year the prize was won by Anthony Haji on “Claudine” with a huge marlin. Congratulations Anthony!

Later in the month we had a family on board from Botswana who operate a photography business there, so as an exchange for a trip to Zanzibar we were provided with a professional CD of photographs for our portfolio, some of which will be added to the website. Unfortunately the weather was poor on the main day we had allocated for the photographs, however Karin did a great job under the circumstances and we trust you will enjoy the results.
Towards the end of October our time was taken up with preparing “Amarula” for her passage to Aldabra and Cosmoledos in the Seychelles.
On our passage from Australia to Dar es Salaam earlier this year we stopped over in Seychelles where we met a group from Kalmar University in Sweden who wished to charter a vessel to act as support vessel for a scientific expedition of the Cosmoledo and Aldabra Atolls for 2 weeks in November. We registered our interest as these particular Islands are closer to Dar es Salaam than they are to Mahe in Seychelles and were subsequently awarded the contract.
The group of 12 scientists was led by Professor Olof Linden with the support of Mr. Rolph Payet, Director of Environment in Seychelles. It was an ambitious bid on our part, however it was an opportunity to visit this unique World Heritage site with a group of scientists aboard from whom we would learn a lot about the terrestrial and marine biodiversity, so we were pleased to be offered this opportunity.

On Friday, November 01st we departed Dar es Salaam at 2030 with three scientists aboard on passage to Assomption Island in Seychelles

, where we were to meet the remaining members of the expedition to undertake the first scientific study of the Cosmoledo group of Islands. Some 12 hours clear of Dar es Salaam we experienced direct headwinds exceeding 20 knots as well as a head current exceeding 2 knots – very difficult & uncomfortable conditions. As these weather conditions prevailed it was a slow and frustrating passage. At one stage, when the weather cleared somewhat, we were making 4.8 knots with both engines at 80% MCR, we turned about and retraced our course for a few seconds and were travelling at 9.7 knots, ie 2.4 knots of current against us.

We finally arrived in Assomption at 1130 on Wednesday 6th where, later that afternoon we were met by the rest of the party. In the meantime our 3 passengers amused themselves by going off fishing and it was not long before we were presented with dog tooth tuna & a wahoo for dinner. We also saw a marlin hunting in the shallow waters off the pristine beach on the western side of the island.

Once we had cleared customs, immigration & health, collected our party, taken on some additional fuel, we continued the slog into the wind and current for the final 65 miles to Cosmoledo. It took 19 hours, at an average of 3.3 knots. This unusual weather was caused by the first ever Cyclone that had formed above 10 deg south and been given a name, Atang.

We arrived at Menai Island in the Cosmoledo group and anchored at 1730. The Cosmoledo Group is made up of eight islands and a few large coral rocks that surround a shallow lagoon that has two natural entrances. The disposition is basically oval with the major axis east west and the lagoon is 8 miles across.

Given that there had been no previous cohesive scientific study within the Cosmoledo Group, the expedition was made up of groups or individuals who studied the following,

1) General condition of the reefs, setting up of transect points & measurement of water temperatures.

2) Studies of fish & invertebrates that inhabit the reefs.

3) Insect and rodent assessment and study on the Islands.

4) Turtles species, disposition, and nesting areas.

5) Bird studies with the emphasis on the Masked Booby, Brown Booby, also the more common Red Footed Booby.

Upon arrival, a number of the party (birds, insects & turtles) went ashore on Menai and set up camp where they stayed for the next 2 days. The party had a BBQ ashore that evening and the next, thus giving us more breathing space aboard.

Next morning saw 5 divers in the water in the morning and 6 in the afternoon who were involved in a drift dive along the north-western sector of the reef. Currents were relatively strong and noticeably variable within the one tide, so caution was the order of the day. One of the highlights of the stay here was during a dusk dive.

Lynne and 4 other divers came across a large adult male Hawksbill Turtle grazing quietly. He just carried on with his dinner whilst being observed and photographed by the group of 5 divers.

After completing two days on Menai the emphasis was moved to Ile du Nord and Ile Nord-Est located at the North East of the group. The divers set their transects and corals, fish and invertebrates were noted. Turtles, insects, birds & rats (if present) were recorded and at night this proved to be a very productive fishing area for Red Bass and Snappers.

The next day saw us attempt to move into the lagoon through Passe Sud Ouest.

Although the charts showed ample water we soon came to realise that the survey information taken by leadline between 1878 & 1905 was no longer relevant and significant sand and seagrass build up had occurred. After a few soft touches on the bottom we made a tactical retreat back out of this entrance and entered the lagoon through Grand Passe, a further 5 miles to the East. This was achieved without incident and we anchored in 7m of water in a convenient location where the remaining four islands in the group, Ile Sud Ouest, Pagode, Grand Ile, Grand & Petite Polyte could be accessed without moving “Amarula”. We landed the terrestrial parties to set up camp for their studies for the next few days. The coral, fish and invertebrates group were soon in the water, observing, collecting specimens and filming everything in sight.

The Lagoon area had a lot of dead coral, a result of the ‘98 El Nino with a small amount of regeneration. A number of Crown of Thorns starfish were in evidence feeding on the corals.

On Ile Sud Ouest a colony of 2200 Masked Boobies were noted, making this one of the largest rookeries of this specie in the Indian Ocean.

There were only 16 Brown Boobies here and the numbers of Red Footed boobies were too large to be counted. Frigate birds hovered over the ground nests of the Masked Boobies hoping for an opportunity to snatch the chicks from the nests. It was interesting to learn that the Boobies can’t fly without the assistance of some wind to get them airborn, hence they nest in an exposed area, nor can they fish on a calm day. Also the Frigate Birds cannot land on water and in breeding season, they will harass the Boobies in flight causing them to regurgitate and eject the food intended for the chicks. The Frigate Bird then catches and eats this when in flight. The Frigate Bird also drinks whilst on the wing.

Rats were found on some of the islands, a legacy of human intervention, however others were clear of this very evident pest.

Grande Polyte produced a significant number of nesting areas for the Green Turtles. It was here that one of the party, Dr. Jeanne Mortimer spent 5 months studying turtles in the early 80’s.

The first day at this anchorage was calm but the next two days we experienced consistent winds from the South East at an average strength of 27 knots. This built up a heavy swell capped with a large, breaking choppy sea. We were to move on to Astove Island, 25 miles to the South East for a one day study. Astove is only 4 miles by 3 miles and has no protected anchorage. With the large swell it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to conduct the required study there, so we decided to remain at Cosmoledo and conduct additional studies with the extra day before moving onto Aldabra.

We departed the lagoon at Cosmoledo at the top of the flood tide on Thursday afternoon, there was a big swell running that stood up quite steeply at the lagoon entrance. We departed without incident and went around to the north side of Menai Island where the group had one final dive. Lynne and I prepared dinner for our guests, which was consumed with gusto before we set sail for Aldabra at 2200.

There was a good breeze and we had a pleasant overnight passage, mooring off the Research Station at Aldabra at daylight. Half the party had visited Aldabra previously, but for the remainder of us it was our first visit and we were anxious to go ashore.

Aldabra is the largest and one of the most remote Coral Atolls in the world. It sits on the top of a volcano and is 20 miles long east to west and 7 miles wide on the north south axis. The Lagoon is 260 square kilometres in area and is surrounded by four main islands. It is fed by four passes. The most significant of these is Grande Passe, where the entrance between Ile Picard and Polymnie is 600m wide and 25m deep. At spring tides, the current in this entrance reaches 10 knots.

Aldabra is famous for the Giant Aldabra Tortoise. The only other giant tortoises are found in the Galapagos Islands, half a world away in the Pacific Ocean.

There are some 90,000 of these prehistoric creatures here, 10 times the number in Galapagos. We had previously seen these tortoises in Zanzibar where they are on average twice the size they were on Aldabra. This is due to the lack of food & water on Aldabra. It is very dry and vegetation is at a premium to sustain so many tortoises that have no natural predators there.

Aldabra is also home to the flightless bird, the Aldabra Rail that evolved there, also the “Upside Down” Jelly Fish and many turtles.

Ashore we met the Island Manager, Guy Esparon, who, with his Rangers, gave us a warm welcome and a tour of the Research Station and surrounding places of interest. That afternoon we supplied the Research Station Chef with some of our recent fish catch from the previous stop at Menai Island as well as some Beef, vegetables and rice from our larder. So whilst Guy showed us a film that had been made about Aldabra, the chef prepared a delicious banquet for us. We had also provided beer and wine for the occasion and we all had a memorable evening.

Next day dives were taken from the boat in the morning and at slack water in the afternoon a drift dive with 8 people in the water was conducted in Grande Pass. This was a memorable dive that Lynne and I also had the opportunity to take part in. We saw lots of surgeon fish, turtles, grouper, barracuda, jacks and a myriad others. We also saw a huge old Admiralty Pattern anchor from an old sailing ship, complete with all the cable run out in the direction into the lagoon. There was no wreck at the bitter end. One wonders about the story that anchor could tell. It was in this lagoon that Jaques Cousteau lost an anchor and cable from his ship in the late 60’s but this was definitely not that of Calypso.

Cousteau was possibly the greatest influence on equipment development that has led to popularity of sports diving as we know it today.

That evening saw us stowing all the gear for the final passage from Aldabra back to Assomption to meet the charter flight next day. We slipped the mooring at 2230, sailed through the night and anchored at Assomption at 0530 next morning. Next day saw some snorkelling around some of the very attractive coral at Assomption and the group reflecting on what had been achieved during the expedition and what may be the final outcome of their studies and indeed the future sustainability of the reefs as we know them, given the trend of global warming, the frequency of the El Nino weather patterns and the rising sea levels.

We set the party ashore and said our fond farewells before they departed at 1600 on their return flight to Mahe and their onward connections to all parts of the world. Dr. Matt Richmond, a resident of Dar es Salaam was the only member of the party returning with us so Lynne, Matt and I had a memorable dusk dive at Assomption, where we saw some of the best coral we had encountered during the whole expedition. During this dive we found and recovered an anchor and line that had been lost by the Research Station boat from Aldabra. We spent a relaxing night at Assomption, caught enough fish to fill the freezer and set off next morning on the return passage to Dar via Aldabra to return their anchor.

We arrived at Aldabra at 1400 next day, returned their anchor and whilst there, Guy took us in our dinghy into an extensive canal network through a mangrove forest where coral, seagrass and mangroves all survive together. Yet another neat experience. Later we took the opportunity to have a final drift dive through Passe Du Bois, or the Western Pass at slack water later. This was another great dive with turtles, a myriad colourful fish, groupers, jacks etc with the odd Black Tip Shark skulking around. I had never before experienced the number of small Blacktip sharks that inhabit the lagoon just off the Research Station, at times scores in visible contact.

One could spend a month exploring this pristine place but it was time for us to move on and after having Guy aboard for dinner that night we put our minds into travel mode and set off next morning for the 450 mile passage back to Dar. After a promising start for 5 hours with a slight breeze the wind died almost completely and we motor sailed all the way back. The only excitement was catching a stray barracuda about half way and another just short of Dar, where we entered at 1300 for entry and clearance procedures before returning to our anchorage at DYC, almost 3 weeks to the hour from the time we departed.

We would like to thank Dr. Charles Sheppard for the underwater shots that we have added to our website.

The last few days of November were spent putting ourselves (and “Amarula”!) back together after the Aldabra/ Cosmoledo trip, although we did have 2 groups on board, one corporate group for a half day cruise to relax and unwind, snorkel and swim at Mbudya and another for an evening sunset cruise on 29th November. Both events were thoroughly enjoyed by the guests and we enjoyed meeting some new people.

We have begun to note our guests comments on our Guest Book page – Enjoy!

Click here for the September Captain’s Log

Click here for the August Captain’s Log