April 5, 2007
Some of you know already that we are in the Seychelles. Because our last message came to you three months and 3,000 miles ago, we decided that it would be a good time to write and send some photos.
A cruising friend of ours once wrote about WWGSF – what we go sailing for – and WWDGSF – what we don’t go sailing for. We have experienced both on the Indian Ocean crossing.
The beginning of the trip…1600 miles from Phuket to the Maldives, south of India went well. The weather threw no big punches and there were no equipment breakdowns to complain about. Three days at the southern end of the Maldives to refuel and we were off to the Chagos Islands to meet up with our friends aboard Abracadabra.
If you look in your atlas you will find Chagos as a small dot in the middle of the Indian Ocean. In the 1970’s the Seychelles were given their independence by Great Britain but the Chagos islands were retained. There are six major atolls, the largest being Diego Garcia which was rented at that time by Britain to the USA for a military establishment. The inhabitants were removed by Britain. Without the establishment at Diego Garcia, the residents on the other atolls did not have the support needed to maintain life in the middle of nowhere so they were removed as well.
For the past 40 years the main residents of the Chagos atolls have been a small portion of international cruisers. Imagine living aboard your boat, fishing each day for your meals, playing volleyball on the beach in the afternoons and seeing nobody else for months at a time! Some of the cruisers had returned to Chagos 13 seasons in a row, sometimes staying for 18 months at a time.
The British Indian Ocean Authority is now making an attempt to severely limit the number of cruising boats coming to the Chagos with some relatively high charges (100 pounds sterling per month) and anchoring restrictions beginning April, 2007. They claim that the new restrictions are ecologically based, but they have not convinced us about that.
We arrived in Chagos on Feb 23rd and were lucky to spend a couple of weeks there before the institution of the new restrictions. We listened to a British scientist trying to explain the ecological reasons for the new measure to the cruisers. See the photo.
In a nutshell the wastes of the cruisers emit bacteria. The level of the bacteria usually does not affect the coral…until the temperature of the water (another El Nino year?) increases and then the bacteria turns on the coral and kills it off. The Brits have decided to concentrate the cruising boats into geographical blocks. Their idea is to kill off only the coral within those blocks. Asked if there is a chance that the heavy concentrations of bacteria within a small area would not spread throughout the whole atoll, the scientist had to admit that this was a possibility. In reality we believe that the changes are politically motivated. One way or the other it will be interesting to see what happens in that part of the world over the next few years.
Sander had a marvelous time fishing in the Chagos…we both had a wonderful time eating the fish. Our friend, Philip (aboard Abracadabra) used to be a commercial fisherman. He had his dinghy rigged for some serious fishing with two big rods mounted on the back of his dinghy. Our second day there Sander went with Philip to try his luck. They were not gone more than thirty minutes before returning with a 70+ pound tuna. See the photo. Jane has a real weakness for Sushi and could not resist eating the fish as Sander filleted it on the deck. Sorry if that offends some of you. After trolling a line for many months and being excited just to bring in a small bonito tuna, Chagos was a fishing paradise.
The bird population is thriving in Chagos as well. One afternoon we went into the local island to burn refuse. The young boobies were nearly ready to leave the nest but had not taken that first flight yet. They were nested in the low-growing trees near the beach and seemed to be a bit nervous about our close proximity…bobbing their necks and squawking away. It seemed strange to see such a large bird still tied to a nest. See the photo.
There was also a pod of spinner dolphins at Peros Banhos Atoll. We had seen our first spinners at South Island in New Zealand but that view had been from about a mile away. They are very small and love to leap into the air, flip and do all sorts of acrobatics. One day Ann and Philip decided it would be good to take the dinghy and “play with the dolphins”. Jane was apprehensive that the dinghy outboard engine might injure one of them as we trolled into the center of the pod. Philip then opened the engine up full speed and off we went with Ann yelling at the top of her lungs. The dolphins loved it swimming right along with us and jumping all round about...pure unadulterated excitement! No need to have worried about their being injured. They knew exactly how close to come. See the photo.
Ann and Philip had decided to stay at Chagos for several months, but we were eager to be off to the Seychelles in order to see those islands and make the crossing to Madagascar in April. We had heard from some knowledgeable cruisers that that leg of the trip is best made in April. It was difficult to say good bye to our friends, but we know that we will see them again.
The trip to the Seychelles was uneventful with lots of motoring. After 3,000 miles it was good to settle into the harbor at Port Victoria and get a good night’s sleep without rolling around. Perhaps you are wondering why we write about WWDGSF when it all seems so good. Shortly after our arrival in Port Victoria we were to have a good dose of the above, but that will be for the next letter.
Jane and Sander