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Thursday, 9 July 2015

Port Mathurin, Rodrigues - Old Fashioned Cruising Hospitality

MV Anna, Unloading In Port Mathurin, With Cruising Yachts Anchored In The Basin
From the old fort on the hill above Port Mathurin the tiny harbour can be seen clearly.  All fourteen visiting cruising boats plus the bi-weekly supply ship make it a crowded place, and the yachts must move every week or so to provide clearance for the ship on arrival and departure.  When the ship is away the wharf is open to the visiting yachts.  This "accommodation" is typical of the courtesy shown to visitors here in Rodrigues. 

Port Mathurin Catholic Church
We feel very welcome here.  The local people are friendly and courteous, committed church goers with a strong sense of community.

Rodrigues is home to just forty thousand people, and we are told it feels like the Mauritius of fifty years ago. Fishing and agriculture sustain the population, with tourism adding to the local economy in season.

Though we are still in the tropics, the 1000 nautical mile passage from Chagos has brought us into a cooler more comfortable climate.  The sea temperature has dropped from a simmering 32 degrees in the lagoon at Ile Boddam to a more human 24 degrees here in Port Mathurin.  The lower sea temperature has a direct effect on our daily life - the refrigeration systems run much more efficiently, though the reverse osmosis water maker produces some 10% less water each hour.  C'est la vie.

The most welcome change is the reduction in humidity and daytime temperatures - the "winter" climate here is most agreeable.  For the first time in years we are breaking out trousers instead of short pants, and even occasionally a jacket for the cooler evenings.  We are very happy not to be sweating continuously, as we were in Asia.

The Port Captain and his staff are incredibly helpful to us.

In a typical example of local hospitality, Port Captain Yvan Manuel last weekend organised an outing for us to the kite boarding championship event, held at Port Dud Est in the south of the island.  The walking wounded (Ley and I) were transported in his car, while others used the local bus service.

On that final day of competition we hoped to see the spectacular freestyle finals, but the wind failed us and most of the event was postponed.  The Port Captain has also arranged for local shopping expeditions, whilst dealing with all the other day-to-day issues of managing small vessels and crews from six different countries. 

So what facilities are available here for visiting sailors ?

Sunday, 5 July 2015

When There Are No Shops

Remote Salamon Atoll, Chagos, Crystal Blues In The Foreground.  Photo / Mark, SV Merkava                  
If we had a mission statement for our cruising life it would be shaped by what we truly enjoy - that is travel by boat, to experience new cultures, cuisines and music.  The past few months have offered a smorgasbord of this mix.  But none of this could have happened without a lot of planning. Before leaving Langkawi, Malaysia, all boat systems were checked, upgraded where necessary, the spares list re-checked and every empty space on the boat was filled with food and more than a little bit of wine, before we began sailing through the Indian Ocean.

We provisioned extensively in Phuket, stocking up on bread flour, pork, bacon, sausages and ham. Then we continued in Langkawi, stocking up on tinned and dry food, steak, salmon, toiletries, tinned butter, and duty free wine.  Over the previous months Ley had taken careful note of our consumption per month of all these items. Then we multiplied all this by six, hoping that our supplies would last around six months.

With those stores on board, the real provisioning challenge was fresh food - principally fruits and vegetables. What we can buy in Sri Lanka or the Maldives ? Will it last us for the 6-7 weeks after we depart Gan Atoll for Chagos and then Rodrigues ?

Fortunately the cruising community share information quite freely and efficiently, so we already knew that it was wiser to purchase fresh eggs, pumpkins and fruit in Sri Lanka, as nearly all produce in the Maldives is imported from there (plus India and Pakistan).

The Maldive Islands have very little fertile soil, with most of the new villages being built on reclaimed land.  Very little produce is grown locally.  It is not a great provisioning place.....

So the challenge was buying ten to twelve weeks of fresh provisions and doing our best to keep this produce fresh and edible in the tropical heat.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Indian Ocean Passage Making - Character Building

At some risk of understatement, we refer to our recent Indian Ocean passage to Rodrigues as "character building". It was perhaps a little more than that....

We departed Chagos with a reasonable seven day forecast, expecting the winds to build as we moved further south.  Many large sea birds followed us very closely for the first 24 hours, before sensibly leaving us before we moved south into heavier conditions.

The first three days were hard on the wind, heading generally south into a 15 knot SSE wind.  We then slowly angled off, reaching south of the rhumb line to put the wind behind the beam for the expected heavier conditions for the last two days.  However by day four we were already in 30 knots and for the last two days we had over 40 knots, a solid 45 for the final day.

The usual Indian Ocean multi-direction wave trains made the ride very aggressive.  I had expected these to merge into a single, more predictable, swell as the conditions built, however this was not to be.  After 24 hours with over 40 knots we still had waves from three directions.  When they co-incided the inevitable peaks were enormous curling breakers that broached us several times. 

Sail Bag & Mainsail, A Real Mess On Arrival
One wave broke higher than the boom, taking the sail bag away, pulling the pop riveted bolt rope track right off the boom in an instant.  From that point on we ran on staysail alone, still averaging 7 to 8 knots.   In a curious twist, our Life Sling rescue system itself needed to be rescued when a breaking wave took it off the railings. 

Approaching Rodrigues in thick conditions and constant rain squalls, as expected the waves built higher as we came onto the 60 meter deep continental shelf around the island.  Now it felt like we were skiing !  Slanting off across the huge wave fronts, many at 10-12 meters in height, was exhilarating.  The new autopilot steered the entire distance without fault, thank you Raymarine !

For the final 12 hours we also ran the engine at cruising RPM, which made only a small difference to the boat speed but gave the rudder more bite in the frothy disturbed water on the wave crests.  It also kept us moving in the troughs, when the wind was masked by the height of the waves behind us.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Indian Ocean Weather Forecast Areas

For boats traveling south and west across the southern Indian Ocean, local weather forecasting is hard to come by.

The Saildocs service on the Sailmail email system provides access to a range of forecasts, including those covering the southern Indian Ocean.

The Mauritius Meteorological Service prepares a very detailed short term forecast, available on Saildocs as "Met.8s / Southwest Of Indian Ocean".   It is also available via the GMDSS forecast tab on the Predict Wind Offshore application.

This forecast covers the complete GMDSS Area VIII, including relevant storm warnings and valuable weather interpretations (see today's forecast by clicking on "Continue Reading" below).  However the forecasting is segmented into sub-regions, 1 thru 7, that are not identified in terms of latitude and longitude, within the forecast.  To actually use the forecast you need to be able to identify the sub-region boundaries.

Via the friendly meteo office here in Rodrigues we were able to obtain a copy of the sub-region map, as shown at right (click to enlarge).  You can also click here to download a PDF copy of the map.  The Met Area VIII forecasts now make sense.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

RCYC Upgrades Chagos Infrastructure

- For Immediate Release -

Sir Bertrand Birgus Latro Making The Announcement
Commodore of the Royal Chagos Yacht Club, Sir Bertrand Birgus Latro, has announced radically improved communications and financial infrastructure for the archipelago, with the initial installation of a telephone hotline on the popular island of Ile Boddam.

Commodore Birgus Latro (Who's Who Entry Here) stated the systems were intended to improve the historically "shaky" communications between Chagos visitors and the principal stakeholder, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) authority.

Using the latest solar power and lithium battery energy sources, the telephone hotline takes advantage of  redundant super-hetrodyne conversion oscillators to piggy back on UBHF (Un-Believably High Frequency) radiation side lobes of  adjacent military satellite uplinks.

Focused coconut shell antenna arrays powered by tidal action deliver steerable antenna functions for the UBHF system.  This innovative approach ensures that errant radiation is in fact re-converted into useful energy and then made available to visitors who require emergency communications, at no cost to users, or indeed to the British tax payer.  Sir Bertrand Birgus Latro noted that the entire antenna system was in fact recyclable, and that his family and friends could commit to complete consumption of the array within days if necessary....

One Happy Cruiser Tests The New Hotline Service
Due to the security requirements covering the entire region, the hot-line is now hot-wired to the switchboard of the BIOT Administration at Whitehall in London.

While BIOT officials were unavailable for comment, it is believed they will monitor the trial closely, and have committed to answering the line "at least after morning tea" each day.

One official, who refused to be named, noted that previous reliance on email communications was obviously an out-moded and in-efficient methodology, and that permit applications and extensions were expected to "be processed more smoothly" now that voice communications were available.

In a further opportunistic and unique partnership, the Royal Bank Of Chagos has installed a mini-ATM that piggy-backs on the new UBHF communications link, allowing cruising visitors to deposit funds directly into the BIOT bank account in London.  BIOT officials are believed to be monitoring that account very closely.

Sponsorship for the new infrastructure was provided by BIOAC, the British Indian Ocean Art Collective.  A spokes-person for the collective was unable to comment, due to an unfortunate but persistent case of tongue in cheek syndrome.

- End - 

The Errant Inflatable ....

Snorkeling on the reef at Chagos, the crew of sailing yacht Anjit surfaced to find their new inflatable dinghy had drifted out to sea, taking with it the new outboard motor and fishing equipment.  What followed is a great example of good luck, plus the support that the cruisers network can provide in times of need.

Firstly the crew of catamaran Banana very kindly offered the use of a spare dinghy they had on board, including a small outboard motor.  So Anjit was able to stay and enjoy Chagos for a few more weeks before departing for Madagascar, with a plan to return the borrowed dinghy in South Africa later in the season.

Then the miracle occurred !  Some three weeks later, Doreen and David on the catamaran Unama spotted a dinghy drifting in mid-ocean, about 100 nautical miles north of Chagos.  By this time it was well and truly swamped, sheltering large numbers of fish, and had a resident population of sea birds as crew.  Heading for Chagos, Unama took it on board and proceeded to the lagoon.  It was soon confirmed that this was the missing dinghy from Anjit.

Charlie Keeping Watch
Communicating by HF radio we were able to advise Anjit of their good luck, however they were already well on the way to Madagascar, and unable to turn back against the trade winds.  An alternative plan soon emerged, with the dinghy now hoisted aboard the catamaran La Papillon, who are also bound for Madagascar.

Within a few months all the dinghy's should be back with their rightful owners.  For now the errant inflatable is being carefully watched over by Charlie, the ever vigilant and infamous four legged bosun aboard La Papillon.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Chagos Retrospective - A Cruiser's Paradise

It is difficult to explain just how sensational Chagos is.  Many people have asked how we occupy our time in a such a deserted place, when in fact the time flew by.  We were up at dawn most days, and always busy.  There were fresh fish, an endless supply of coconuts, stunning sunsets, jungle tracks, beach picnics and of course the nearby islands and history to explore.  With fifty shades of blue surrounding us, including an international cruising community of a dozen boats, the time was never enough.

Living the life of "Robinson Crusoe" in a tropical island paradise is not for everyone, though we loved it. In fact if it wasn't for the BIOT regulations and watching for a weather window we could have stayed much longer.

Exploring Ile Boddam

Ile Bodam was an established copra plantation, with all the infrastructure needed for both the copra industry and the community it supported.

Following the "de-population" of Chagos (see here), the many buildings have been left to slowly deteriorate.  There is a church, school, hospital, copra factory, houses, piggery, cemetery and other buildings dotted through the jungle, even a network of railway lines.

We walked to the westward side of the island, following a track marked or blazed with old fishing buoys hanging in the trees.  The cemetery was beautiful, with graves of those who lived, worked and passed away on the island.  You can't help but feel the memories and the loneliness emanating from these buildings.

Social Life

Cruisers Community Art Installation - Very Tongue In Cheek
For visiting cruisers, life at Chagos includes drinks on the beach just before sunset each evening.  Sometimes a pot luck dinner was organised, or a fish barbeque when a Wahoo was caught without a shark biting off the best parts first.

We had movie nights on board, Ley gave bread making lessons and Neil spent time maintaining Crystal Blues and assisting other boats with technology issues.

Some cruisers worked on community art installations that certainly put a smile on the faces of the visiting crews.

Toward the end of our stay most cruisers spent time looking for a weather window over a morning cup of coffee on one of the boats.  Grib files, satellite images and weather forecasts were all compared and even though there were many boats bound for different destinations (Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius and Rodrigues), careful planning was necessary.  The Southern Indian Ocean has a well deserved reputation of wicked cross swells, big seas and big winds.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Rock & Roll - Chagos To Rodrigues

Exploring Ile Poule By Dinghy
We departed the peaceful paradise that is Ile Boddam, Chagos, on Monday afternoon.

It was worth the effort to get there, and our 25 days at Ile Boddam were unique - a place that few people visit that has intimate connections with the cruising lifestyle (and many of our friends) going back decades.

However you can only eat so much fish ! So when the beer supply was low and the green vegetables almost non existent it was time to move on, and we set out on the 1050 nautical mile windward beat to Rodrigues.

Crystal Blues has covered almost 600 miles since then, and we expect to make landfall on Monday morning. The weather has been a mixed bag, with some delightful days but also many cloudy squally periods that bring stronger winds and send us scudding off, usually in the wrong direction.

The south easterly trade wind is not being consistent - direction and speed vary constantly, requiring frequent attendance to sail trim and course. Sea conditions are very sloppy, with a 3 meter SE swell overlaid onto wave trains from two or three other directions. With a full mainsail and staysail set we are happy in the bigger squalls, and during the day we also roll out some genoa if conditions are right.

Hull Cleaning Prior To Departure
We've averaged over 7 knots at about 40 degrees apparent for most of the voyage, though I'm hoping the forecast easterly swing will happen tonight and allow us to lay off the wind for a softer ride.

There are over a dozen boats on passage in the region, and we keep a regular safety schedule on HF radio, morning and evening. Kerstin and Helmut on the German yacht Lopto have done a great job running the net. 300 miles ahead of us the Australian yacht Silver Girl was dismasted two days ago. With the mast gone they had no radio antenna - they had cut away and abandoned the rig so they were able to start motoring towards Rodriguez. They also didn't come up on the radio net.

We contacted them by sat phone and obtained a position. Lopto was close by, so they intercepted Silver Girl and are now traveling (slowly) with them. All of this was co-ordinated using a combination of HF radio and our Iridium Go satellite transceiver. It's been a very interesting few days. At the moment I'm helping out with radio net control on the evening schedule. The boats out here are using 6646 MHz, with schedules at 03:30 UTC and 14:00 UTC.

In Rodriguez we'll be looking for fresh salads, French bread and a good night's sleep in a bed that doesn't toss and tumble.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Chagos Time & History

Time has slowed down - after two weeks here we are truly settled in.

Cruising sail boats have been calling here for several decades. One of the main attractions was that you could live a "Robinson Crusoe" lifestyle without bureaucracy infringing on your freedom. With an idyllic climate, plentiful rainfall, sweet water wells, a sea full of fish and and a never ending supply of coconuts, the Chagos Atolls were paradise. Many cruisers stayed for a year or more, living off the land and the sea, just as the earlier Chagossians did.

Chagos has had a chequered history, being "owned" by the Portugese, French and now the English via the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Authority. It has been managed from Mauritius, Seychelles and now from London.

It had a well developed copra industry and an established population with schools, churches, shops and appropriate infrastructure.

Between 1967 and 1973 the main islands of Diego Garcia and Ille Boddam were "depopulated".  England had leased Diego Garcia to the USA for 50 years, plus a 20 year option. Diego Garcia is now the largest USA military base on it outside the USA.

Cruising sailors then became the only people "allowed" to visit Chagos, with Diego Garcia strictly off limits. The Chagosians have continued their fight to return home in the courts and although they have won this right, the whole area was recently declared by the UK as the world's largest Marine Park in 2010. This allowed for no permanent habitation of the atolls. This declaration also had a huge impact on anyone sailing to Chagos. Cruising boats can now stay for only four weeks, and then only after satisfying BIOT's requirements including wreck removal insurance and medical evacuation insurance.

The old church, the school, bakery and many other buildings are in various stages of decay. There is a cemetery at the north western end of the island and many stone dwellings through out the island, all struggling against the jungle of creepers and the invasive plantation coconut palms. We feel privileged to be here, though also saddened that the Chagossians are not yet allowed to return to their islands.

For further understanding of the plundering of Chagos see :

Also view the eward winning Granada ITV / John Pilger documentary "Stealing A Nation".

Monday, 4 May 2015

Chagos Welcoming Committee

Coconut Crab Welcoming Committee
It's taken 18 years since we first dreamed of this place, but we finally made it. Crystal Blues arrived in Chagos on Saturday May 2nd, after a three day voyage from Gan in the Maldives.

Conditions on the trip were mostly calm - in fact they were too calm, with not enough wind to sail against the strong east setting current.

So we motored for about 200 of the 300 miles, arriving at the pass into the lagoon right on time, just before the high tide. The monsoonal change started on the last day of our passage - south easterly winds here and south westerly winds further north in the Maldives. We had planned to be here before the change, and we only just made it.

After crossing the lagoon we anchored off Ile Boddam, in around 20 meters of water. As the anchor went down we were welcomed by a curious 1.5 meter thresher shark circling the boat. Using our fenders as floats, we then buoyed the last half of the anchor chain, to keep it up off the coral bottom. As the last float went in a nice sized black tip reef shark came to visit - the shark population here is somewhat daunting !

The water is perfectly clear and there are about 10 other cruising boats here, from many different countries. The BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territories) patrol boat came to inspect our permit on arrival.

Yesterday we walked across the island to the southern shore on a track marked by fishing floats tied to trees. The original village and copra plantation are in ruins now, but the plantation coconut trees have spread like vermin and taken over the island, crowding out the native growth.

At sunset we shared cocktails on the beach with other cruisers, pondering the future of this beautiful place. The hermit crabs formed the land based reception committee, scurrying about at our feet and generally providing great entertainment. We're hoping to spend 4 weeks here, weather and provisions permitting.
Pictured From The Masthead - SV Emerald Sea, Anchored At Ile Boddam, Chagos

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Departing Maldives, Bound For Chagos

Chagos has always been on our cruising radar - the place is big in cruising folklore.  Recent administrative changes by the UK government have limited the permit time to just 28 days, so the old cruising culture of three and four month extended visits has now gone.

Crystal Blues is as ready as she'll ever be, and Ley has provisions that will feed an army on board.

We expect a slow three day passage, as the Equatorial Counter Current is running at up to three knots from west to east and we need to cross it almost at right angles.

In the image at right our departure point is Addoo Atoll at the top, and our destination is Chagos Solamon Atoll near the bottom.  Its a distance of around 300 nautical miles.

But just look at those current arrows !

We have just dived and cleaned the waterline, propeller and shaft.  The outboard motor is stowed and the dinghy is lashed into the davits.

Immigration and customs was handled last night, the weather forecast is for calm conditions, so at 12:00 noon we're off.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Adoo Atoll, Maldives - Sailing South Of The Equator Again

After a very twitchy and uncomfortable overnight voyage south, Crystal Blues is anchored in 40 meters of clear water at Gan, in the Addu Atoll.  Turtles and dolphins swim around us and the environment seems pristine.

We did manage to sail for the entire passage, a rarity in this part of the world.  During the voyage we crossed the equator, sometime around the change of watch at 2:00am, but neither of us had the heart to celebrate - we were too busy just holding on.

We entered the atoll via the northern pass around 9:00am and were safely anchored within the hour, just before the first of many squalls bore down on us.

We have a 100 meters of anchor chain out here, but I'm always very watchful the first day or so after anchoring, specially when it repeatedly blows at 30 to 40 knots with little warning.

This is the most southern point of the Maldivian island chain, and will be our stepping off point for Chagos and then Mauritius.

Adoo Atoll is small, but heavily populated.  The British military ran an air base here until the 1970's (see the airport in the bottom of the photo above).  The old officers mess has been converted into the low key Equator Village resort, so we can go ashore for a beer if the need arises.  Right now the original runway is being extended, and the airport has recently qualified for "International Airport" status, though the only international flights so far are private jets delivering the rich and (sometimes) famous.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Kudahuvandhoo Island, Maldives

Continuing our journey south, we spent two nights in the protected fishing boat harbour at Kudahuvandhoo, South Nilandhe Atoll.  As you can see from the image at right, the local people gave us a very warm welcome.

Our second day there was "National Language Day" - a celebration of local culture that included a special lunch time meal at the school, with all the food cooked and served by the children's families.  The children dressed in traditional costumes, instead of the standard all-white uniforms.

For the entry here, once again we sounded the pass through the reef before entering, using a Laylin SM-5 handheld depth sounder from the dinghy.

This is another harbour that offers a typical minimum of 3.5 meters at low water.

We berthed stern to the quay, with the bow tethered to one of the buoys provided within the harbour.  Handling that maneuver was a first for us, with only two on board we needed to get it right first time.

Once we had the bow tethered we paid out line and reversed towards the dock, then used the dinghy to land the stern lines to the wall.  Managed to avoid tangling lines with the propeller, no stress at all ....

One thing about the Maldives, when you pass a line ashore to someone on the dock, they often actually know what to do with it.  On this day the guy who put his hand out for our stern line whipped a perfect bowline onto the wharf ring in about 5 seconds flat.  If only that happened all the time !

Solar Power Plant Project

The Maldives government has committed the nation to being carbon neutral by 2020, an adventurous target.

Kudahuvandhoo is home to a pilot project to test PV (solar) power as an augmentation to the existing diesel generation systems.  We met Joachim Gaube and Harald Gaube, German engineers who planned and implemented the PV project here.  Panels installed on the schools, the power house and the hospital have produced 44,000 kilowatt hours in two months, saving around 15,000 liters of diesel fuel.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Iridium Go! - Game Changing Satellite Transceiver

For many years we've used our Icom HF / SSB radio for email and weather updates when at sea. Planning our crossing of the Indian Ocean this year, we knew that HF radio propagation was at best fitful and often impossible. So once again we looked at the satellite telephone market place for a backup communication system for Crystal Blues.

In the past we had been put off by the inflexible and costly satellite useage plans.  However the game has changed with the availability of the Iridium Go! satellite terminal.

There are several important new features. Firstly, the availability of an unlimited data plan for US$125.00 per month.  This allows us to use the system extensively, without incurring additional data costs, and includes a monthly allowance of 5 minutes for voice calls.

Secondly, the "plan" can be suspended at the end of any month, and re-started when required for a fee of US$50.00.

So when we arrive in an area with consistent cell phone coverage we can turn off the Iridium system and reactivate it when we need it, without losing our unique phone number.

Finally, this isn't so much a telephone as it is a transceiver. It doesn't even come with a handset.  Instead, it creates a local wifi hotspot that can be accessed by smart personal telephones, iPads and personal computers.  Free Iridium software apps provide voice call, messaging and email services.

After hearing good reports from other sailors we ordered a system and started to plan the installation.....

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Nilandhoo Island, Maldives - Paradise For 2000 Peaceful Souls

Anchor Off The Bow, Stern To The Wharf At Nilandhoo
Traveling south down the Maldives atoll chain, we decided to look for a town with a friendly harbour - being enough water for our keel and space at the wharf.

We found that and more in peaceful Nilandhoo.

There are two harbours here, though the eastern entrance and harbour is very shallow and less attractive.

The north-western entrance provides deeper water (5.0 to 7.0 meters all the way) and leads to a small concrete wharf that has a fueling station, ice works and fresh water supply.  There is room for four or five vessels moored stern to the wharf.

What more could we want ?  So in we went ....

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

50 Shades Of Blue - Maldives South Ari Atoll & LUX* Resort

Never Mind 50 Shades Of Grey - here there are 50 Shades Of Blue.  We spent three delightful days on the Lagoon at Dhigurah, South Ari Atoll, Maldives.

While others were chasing whale sharks on the outer reef, or manta rays on the inner reef, we relaxed, read books, swam and beach combed.  This is a very peaceful anchorage, with easy access from the ocean.

The entrance over the inner shoal showed around four meters at low tide (03deg 31.77 North, 072deg 54.34 East).

The anchorage is marked just off the sand spit islands in the this image (03deg 31.03 North, 072deg 54.74 East).

Whilst you could anchor further to the north, it is advised not to anchor further south, to stay clear of the seaplane landing area there.

Many resorts in the Maldives do not welcome cruising sailors, applying steep landing fees or simply banning yachts all together.  In fact we have friends who were literally chased out of the anchorage by security guards, at the nearby Hilton resort.

So we were pleased when on our second day a catamaran approached us with a crew and guests from the Lux* Resort, to the south in the image at right.

Monday, 13 April 2015

View Open CPN On The iPad

Open CPN is a very popular navigation program for cruising sailors. Now, with the advent of accurate charts derived from Google Earth satellite images, it plays a very important role for us in tropical areas.

Like many boats, Crystal Blues has the navigation PC installed below decks at the nav station, locked down in a safe and (hopefully) dry location.
This PC Screen Image Is Taken From Our iPad - Note The Extra Icons In The Bottom Right Corner

However we really want to see those Google Earth charts when we are up on deck, moving around in the cockpit and at the wheel.

The iPad is the perfect tool for this, portable, stable and with good battery life - but Open CPN doesn't run on the iPad.

The iPad does have WiFi capability, so in theory at least we could connect it to our PC down below at the navigation station, which is exactly what we do.

So how do we connect the two ?

We use Splashtop Streamer, a free shareware application, to stream the PC screen directly to our iPad.

This allows us to see the PC screen from anywhere on deck (in fact anywhere on the boat), and provides basic mouse and keyboard functions to control the PC as well.

So, I can stand at the wheel and see the display from Open CPN, or from our Transas Navigator ECN  package, in real time.  I can review my Sailmail GRIB files as well, without having to "go below".

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Maldives - Viewed Through A Plastic Bottle

Beautiful, Idylic Sand Spit Island ?  Not Really ....

Every country we've sailed through has its share of waste littering the shore line.  Of course much of this pollution is plastic, blown across the seas from who knows where.   Going ashore yesterday on a nearby sand spit we were not surprised to see the typical range of shampoo and water bottles, rubber thongs (why are they always the left foot ?), coke containers and chunks of fishing net.

However we were not prepared for the local rubbish.....

Google Earth Charts - A New Aid To Navigation

The Red Icon Shows Our Position, Safely Anchored In The Lagoon At Dhanghethi Island
 We have multiple electronic charting systems aboard Crystal Blues, with multiple sources of navigation data.  But they are all inaccurate in many parts of the world.

In some cases smaller nations simply can't afford to fund extensive maritime surveys.  Further, the electronic charting companies often simply won't pay for the latest data, so we rely in many cases on data and soundings that were collected by master mariners (sometimes) centuries ago.

This means that many islands and reefs are not exactly where the charts say they are, with the errors being both substantial and dangerous.

The image above is captured from our Open CPN navigation software, using charts created from Google Earth images.  It doesn't have depths and soundings, but in these tropical areas we can use the water color to plan our route and we certainly know exactly where we are at all times.

Contrast that with this image of the exact same area, extracted from our (expensive) ECDIS based charting package.

This puts our position as outside the lagoon !  In fact it doesn't show the lagoon clearly at all.  I estimate the charting error places the island at least 500 meters further east than it actually is.  Not surprising, when you think it was probably positioned by a 19th century chronometer and sextant.

So charts made from Google Earth images are now a valuable part of our navigation tool set.

You can produce your own, it's easy and fast so long as you have a decent internet connection.  Here is how it's done :

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Cruising South Ari Atoll, Maldives

Inside The Lagoon At Dhigurah Island - The Gin & Tonic Was Excellent
As you can see, the weather here has been dreadful ..... some boats (including us) complain about the heat in the afternoon, when its well above 90 degrees farenheit in the shade.

However the mornings are glorious and the sunsets are special.  The water is clear and the swimming is fabulous.

We're 210 miles north of the equator, which we plan to be well south of before the end of this month.  But its slow travel, a few miles each day.

We're re-adapting to cruising in coral reef areas - it has been a while for us.

Today we moved from Dhangethi to Dhigurah, choosing to stay inside the Ari lagoon instead of making the transit at sea.  Only a 10 mile transit, but Ley stood watch on the bow looking for coral patches and we navigated completely using charts made from Google Earth - they are the only accurate reference we have.

Each day we explore our new locale by dinghy, looking at sea life and the shoreline.  Today we saw numerous turtles, a beautiful grey crane, many bats and of course a lot of fish.  Ley was escorted on her beach walk by four small reef sharks - tracking her from the shallows.

Further off shore, our local friend Captain Najib took his guests swimming with the whale sharks, then brought them in closer to us to see the manta rays.

Najib captains Dream Maldives, an 82 foot catamaran that hosts just 12 guests (check it out here).

We've been fortunate to spend some time aboard with he and his guests, and to learn the whale shark locations from him.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Cruising In Malé, Maldives

Ley, Diving At Last In Clear Water, Just A Few Miles From Malé

Malé was a surprise to us - certainly more sophisticated and "switched on" than we expected.  From a cruising sailors perspective it is an excellent place to provision before exploring the atolls and offers a very complete range of boating support services.

Arrival Formalities

You should appoint an agent well before arrival, agreeing on fee's and charges at the time.  If you are clearing in at Uligamu in the north, Real Sea Hawks provide great service through Assad, one of the business managers.  Unfortunately that same level of confident service is not always provided in Malé.  So if you are clearing in to Malé you will need to "manage" the local representative somewhat more.  Alternately you could utilise Antrac, a competitive agency in Male who provide outstanding service here, though at a more expensive price.

Clearance here is simple enough - call Harbour Control on approach and advise them who your agent is.  Anchor at the nominated location and wait for the visit from Customs, Immigration and Coastguard.  They will all come together, along with your agent.  Calling your agent on arrival will speed things somewhat - in the end we waited four hours, anchored in 42 meter water on the northern side of the island.  The arrival inspection location, provided by Real Sea Hawks, can be downloaded here.  All of the officials were perfectly professional.  There were a brace of forms to be completed, and they did want a complete schedule of all drugs and medicines on board - we keep that document on file and updated, so it was simple for us to print it and hand it over.

Hulhumale Anchorage

After clearance yachts are required to move to the lagoon anchorage at Hulhumale.  The new entrance there is shown accurately on iPad / Navionics, and the lagoon is generally 6 to 8 meters deep throughout. Anchorage at the northern end is suggested to keep away from ferries and commercial traffic.

SY Morning Glory Loads Diesel From The Fuel Barge In Hulhumale Anchorage
This is a busy place, specially on Friday's and Saturday's when the expedition boats discharge and reload with passengers.   Aircraft and construction noise also make a contribution during daylight hours.

 The water is clean enough to run your R.O. plant, and potable water can be delivered by barge or taken on-board at one of the docks (south of the ferry terminal).

Diesel fuel can also be delivered by barge - we paid US$0.72 per liter for excellent quality fuel.  The contact details for fuel and water are included in the Cruising Services Guide you can download here.

Hulhumale Island

Hulhumale Island is a dormitory suburb, growing rapidly and housing many airport workers.  A causeway now connects it to the airport, and a regular bus service is available.  Local taxis are available, and shops near the ferry terminal offer a basic range of goods, including some restaurants.  However the real action is across the water on Malé.

Good Friday In The Maldives

Today was our first morning away from
Malé, in a quiet tropical anchorage.  Ley woke, checked our favourite newspaper The Age online, and realised that today was Good Friday.

Oops, we do lose touch so easily out here.

After breakfast she started on a bread recipe, and by 11:00am we invited friends from a nearby yacht for coffee and Hot Cross Buns.

What she produces in that compact galley is amazing. I am the best fed crew that I know.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Fire At Sea - A Cruising Yacht Burns

Our friend Laszlo Torok is recovering from significant burns after a fire engulfed his cruising boat, 11 nautical miles off the east Australian coast, near Surfers Paradise.

Television news showed the fire destroying the yacht, which eventually sank in 65 meters of water. Check the video here.  Laszlo tells me he is recovering and will be 100% in a few months, but he is obviously a very lucky sailor.

Wanting to learn from this tragedy, I asked Laszlo what caused the fire - was it a propane leak, or an electrical failure ?

Laszlo believes it was probably a faulty high pressure fuel injector pipe on the diesel engine, spraying a fine mist of diesel that eventually ignited.  He tells me that commercial trawlers have suffered similar fates in the past year or so on that coast.  His center cockpit vessel had space for storage in the engine room, so he did have solvents and fuels stored in there.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Arrival In The Maldives

Before we can see the land, we study that landfall on our charting system.  The approach to Male, the capital of the Maldives, is specially exciting - just look at all those reefs.  Crystal Blues arrived in Male on Sunday morning, after a five day crossing from Trincomalee in Sri Lanka.

From closer in, Male rises from the sea in an amazing display of tight communal living on a very small tropical island.

We had planned an early morning arrival and all was going to plan until huge black clouds began dumping rain on Male ahead of us. So we altered course and headed out to sea, away from the tropical storm. We tracked the storm on the radar and when it started to dissipate we headed back to Male.

Our emailed instructions from our agent, Real Sea Hawks, asked us to drop anchor in 40 meters and wait. Ley lost sight of the anchor at 17 meters, the water colour and clarity is stunning. We waited for 4 hours, but the officials were pleasant to deal with and after clearance we motored to the anchorage near the airport.

The lagoon anchorage in Male is just past the end of the runway and with building construction at the far end there is plenty happening. Neil is in "plane spotting heaven"with ancient Twin Otter sea planes continually flying overhead. We slept well at anchor that night and headed into Male town the next day for provisions.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Indian Ocean Clearance Diving

Can He Touch The Bottom ?  No Way....
On Tuesday night we hooked up on a surface net, where the top rope was directly buoyed on the surface.

I felt it pass under the keel around 9:00pm and then was amazed to see Crystal Blues slow down to a crawl as the line hooked onto the skeg and we started to drag the net to the south.

It was strange to be heeling over, sailing on autopilot, but going absolutely nowhere. As I turned to get the diving gear ready it broke free, assisted by the boat heaving on the light swell that was effecting us at the time. A lucky break.

Then on Friday, Ley noted a small white object trailing the rudder, about half a meter behind the stern. It danced and dived in the water, and got kind of excited when the boat speed hit 8 knots. Having sailed through an area of fishing nets we figured we had something hooked up somewhere under the boat.

Fish Line & Float Trailing Us For Days
Yesterday I took the plunge and swam in the deepest water that I've ever been in - 4,484 meters according to our charts. I must say it was amazing - so perfectly clear that I felt like I could see forever. Crystal Blues was like a toy floating above me in a light blue field. The clarity was at first disorienting, I've never experienced anything like it.

It took only seconds to cut the light line holding a fishing float to our skeg - looks like we hooked up the vertical suspension line on a submerged net, and it broke away from the net as we passed over it.