Friday, 29 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.

Monday, 18 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.