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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 coincided 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.