Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The 2015 Indian Ocean Crossing - Five Vessels Lost, A Very Tough Year

Yes, 2015 was a tough year for the Indian Ocean crossing - on Crystal Blues we suffered an unusual amount of damage, and many boats were lost or abandoned.  But was this an unusual year?

The massive El Nino conditions certainly had an effect, with the Indian Ocean waters being hotter than ever before.  I suspect that what we really had were "elevated" ocean wind conditions, compounded with a large number of boats undertaking the crossing.

Of course many cruising boats reported excellent conditions, specially those that crossed early in the season.  However both the southern and northern routes had their fare share of casualties over the course of the season.

Typically, the northern route vessels traveled from Chagos westwards across to the Seychelles and then south via Madagascar.  Southern route vessels crossed from Cocos Keeling to Rodrigues, Mauritius and onwards, or from Chagos down to Rodrigues or Mauritius and then onwards.

We chose the latter route, finding ourselves in 60 knot conditions for several days, with large breaking waves sweeping over the boat from the south east and from the south.  Swells were in the 8 to 10 meter range.  It was certainly challenging, and I was bloody glad to see Rodrigues appear out of the rain early one morning.

An informal "Indian Ocean Crossing Group" exists on Facebook, and this year there were 69 boats listed for the passage.  I estimate that at least another 30 boats made the crossing without listing in the group.

So what is the big picture for boats that crossed the Indian Ocean in 2015-what was the damage bill and just how tough was it?

This is not a complete analysis, but here goes....with (say) around 100 boats making the crossing from the east, and (say) around 20 boats traveling from the west, we can assume something like 120 yachts crossed the Indian Ocean this season.  From the information below, we know of five boats lost, one almost lost and one dis-masted on the route.  That is a tough passage!  With around 4% of vessels lost, it's no wonder that insurers charge a premium for the crossing.

Vessel Lost / SV Moorings ZR6016

Crystal Blues View From The Cockpit, 400nm From Rodrigues
A new Leopard 44 catamaran on a delivery voyage to Thailand was lost at sea on a voyage from South Africa.  Last contact with the vessel was on January 18, with three crew on board.  Late in May a cargo ship spotted the upturned catamaran hull over 1000km east of Mauritius.  Unfortunately the yacht had chosen to cross the ocean during the cyclone season, and was last reported close to Tropical Cyclone Bansi, with gusts of up to 85 knots and a 12 metre swell.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said this on their incident website :   "The period of 30 days between the last communication from the sailing vessel and the alerting of search and rescue authorities had resulted in significant challenges in responding to the incident. Search planning undertaken by AMSA indicated the overall search area was greater than 6.5 million square kilometres and 2.5 million square kilometres for the most likely scenario of the vessel suffering a catastrophic incident around 18 January 2015."

Vessel Found / Sirocco Of Oz

Abandoned in October of 2014, the crew rescued by a bulk carrier, the boat was observed partially floating on February 23rd 2015.  It was declared a hazard to navigation and a Securite warning issued to all craft.

Vessel Abandoned / SV Pulsion

Following the loss of it's rudder, the sailing yacht Pulsion, believed to be a fairly recent Jeaneau J-30, was abandoned between Cocos keeling and Rodrigues, in early June.  The crew were rescued by a cruising sailboat who were very fortunately nearby (SV Badoc) - well done to the Badoc crew for making that happen.  Aboard Pulsion they had tried rigging a jury rudder without success and eventually had to abandon the vessel.

Vessel Dismasted / SV Silver Girl

Dismasted in heavy seas in early June, Silver Girl was able to motor onwards to Rodrigues, under difficult conditions.  SV Lopto altered course to stand by them for the duration.  Both vessels reached Rodrigues safely.  Silver Girl was re-rigged with a new mast and rigging shipped from Australia.  Our friends Ann and Chris have now sailed Silver Girl onwards and are relaxing in South Africa.

Vessel Abandoned / SV Ironhorse

After multiple system failures, including the self steering, Iron Horse was sadly abandoned in October 2015, fortunately without loss of life, between Reunion and Madagascar.  Our friends and fellow OCC members Alfred and Rosemarie were rescued by cargo ship and eventually made shore in Singapore.

Vessel Aground and Abandoned / SV Ramprasad

Another OCC vessel, Ramprasad was grounded on a reef on the north west of Madagascar, 20 miles from Nosy Mitso, early in October.  Crew Sam and Dow were taken ashore by local fisherman, and the vessel was abandoned as the hull was seriously breached.

Vessel Aground, Re-floated and Repaired / SV Pipistrelle

In the most bizarre of all incidents this year, the yacht Pipistrelle, unfortunately struck by lightning earlier in the season, was seriously grounded in Chagos in June.  Again sailed by OCC members, she hit the reef in a period of strong winds after the (predictable) failure of a rope-on-coral "mooring".  Monumental efforts by other cruisers in the area eventually re-floated the vessel and saw her safely re-anchored.

Rudder Repair, Island Style. Note The Coconut Fiber.
The same volunteer team then removed the damaged rudder and rebuilt it on the tropical atoll beach, using a mixture of high tech epoxy, foam core and woven fabrics, augmented with local coconut fiber as a filler!

An amazing effort over many days by a large team who just happened to have the right skills and the necessary materials on hand to share.  Not often you find an experienced naval architect, a professional sail maker and a boat builder on nearby boats, ready to help.

Pipistrelle eventually sailed on to the Seychelles, with further voluntary support to reach port safely.  Mainstream sailing press carried a story on the incident, but with the vessel name and the names of all the volunteer participants clearly falsified-why is this?  This incident does leave us wondering.....

Catamaran Collides With A Whale, Holed, Then Capsizes / SV Lama Lo

This 52ft French catamaran was holed in a collision with a whale on October 18, on passage between Durban & Cape Town.  One hull sank and then the vessel capsized.  Two days later the crew were rescued from their inflatable dinghy by a bulk carrier tasked to the search area.


  1. It’s a sad toll (and add to the list a new Lagoon catamaran charter boat that sank while we were in Seychelles), but loosely similar percentage to the serious issues when we crossed the Pacific in 2010.

    Pipistrelle’s story was written by its owners and published by British magazine, Yachting World. In it, all people/boat names are fictional, including mine written as Peter Twyford from Aquarius (actually Jamie Gifford from Totem). This version is a joke, in addition to fiction – details are wrong and misrepresent truth: such as stating that water was too deep to free dive on the mooring to inspect it, while not mentioning that they have scuba gear. I helped Pipstrelle get to this mooring (after they struggled to anchor) and strongly commended inspecting the mooring (as every other moored boat had) or anchor elsewhere when rested (they just arrived from Maldives). In email exchange with the magazine editor on integrity and my question on whether they fact check - her reply was, “why would we.” She did say she was “sad if the account is inaccurate”, and removed the article from their website. It’s disgraceful to mask reality in order to hide poor seamanship and protect a boat’s resale value.

    1. Jamie thanks for the contribution, it is disappointing when even Yachting World can publish a story that is basically full of incorrect "facts". It is even more unfortunate if the cruising community, generally so widely supportive and respectful, is distorted by motives for personal gain. No one should be denied the facts. No one should ever mask the truth.

    2. Neal, Ley,

      To be honest, I could not see the reason for publishing this list of misadventures of other cruisers crossing the Indik last season.
      I am always happy to learn from other people, but I do not learn anything when reading this statistic of disasters and close disasters.

      But I strongly believe everybody should be respected.
      Therefore I could not judge about the story of a boat which went up on a reef, when I would not have been there myself. And apart of this, I doubt the Internet is the right place to do so.

      But anyway. We were sailing next to Silver Girl after they lost their Mast. And I can assure you that there wasn't heavy seas or any difficult conditions, as you describes them on your post.

      The Internet is a great source of Information, but we may all be carefulon how we are using it.
      If you are following your link on Ironhorse you will find yourself on Noonsite, were the Publisher asked other cruisers about more Information on how the boat was lost. I wish they would have simply asked the owners themselves. And just them.

      And if somebody than describes his or her own story in public, you might not always agree. But make sure you are part of the story you write about and than, of course stick to true facts. And stay respectful.

      When we are blogging, it might be tempting to add a few knots of wind every once in a while when telling tales about ocean crossings. But are our stories any better, if the waves are higher?

      I doubt. But I guess our lifestyle provides enough to write about. About our own stories. Our own failures. Our own misadventures. I myself do not need the ones of others to fill my blog.

      Cheers,Helmut and Kerstin, SV Lop To

    3. Hi Helmut & Kerstin, thanks for the opinion, in response I should say that I don't believe any dramatisation exists .... conditions were very difficult for Silver Girl, and we did have 60 knots. I believe the balance of the story is presented without opinion, save for the comments on the grounding, where I obviously believe the rescuers should have been credited for the very great service they provided. In closing, I wrote the piece because I was surprised by the overall statistics, and felt that others would appreciate the overview. Regards, N./

  2. Very sad indeed. Glad you arrived safely. We found it best to make that Chagos to Rodrigues passage no later than April or risk reinforced trades. (In early July 2007 I found myself in 35+ knots, climbing the mast at 2am [of course] to cut the mainsail so we could take a 3rd reef, & that was sailing due west for Seychelles!)

    Another boat was lost in Indonesia. While perhaps not quite the Indian Ocean, a couple on their 45' trawler went aground on reefs west of Bolling Strait next to Adunara & had to abandon ship when it wouldn't refloat. Two other cruising boats grounded on reefs in Indo but were refloated, one sustaining significant rudder damage. The charts are so bad that I was distributing 30GB(!) of Google Earth derived KAP files to the 90 boats in the 2 Indo Rally fleets.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jon, it was frustrating to see friends losing their boats as we progressed. As in the aviation field, a large percentage of these incidents can be attributed to "pilot error" - errors of judgement. We are all fallible it seems, and sometimes the planets align against us. Other times we can err and find that circumstance (or having a strong boat) pulls us out of the soup.

    2. Jon, a further comment regarding the Indonesian charting. The Indonesian Government has carried out extensive recent surveying and produced world class electronic chart data. Problem is, not all the charting companies that we buy from have purchased that data. I know that Navionics is bad in Indonesia .... still trying to find out who publishes the latest (accurate) survey data. Will update here if/when I find it.

    3. I had hoped Indonesian Charts were better than when I was there in 1997. The only way that we didn't end up on a reef was using the British Admiltary Pilots and The USA Sailing Directions.

  3. Thanks for the article, we have been hearing many stories of challenges occurring during the Indian ocean crossings. This has helped remind and embed some valuable lessons for when we head over the ocean.

  4. We have received some interesting comments that, while pertinent, we are unable to publish as they are anonymous. Those commenters should consider re-sending with a clear identification.

  5. Congratulations on the trip Neil and Ley! Enjoying your tales as always.

  6. Neil & Ley, As usual, your blog entry is excellent and I agree with your reasons for writing it. Not only is it an interesting topic, seeing it published gives hope that other cruisers considering heading across the Indian Ocean (particularly the Southern Indian Ocean) realize that it can be a very serious crossing. Boats and crew need to be very well prepared and well found. When we arrived in Mauritius shortly after the World Cruising Rally arrived, the sailors from those yachts universally agreed that it had been the toughest crossing they had so far. Ourselves, we had boisterous winds and big seas (plus a nasty cross swell) but we made it. One friend told us it was not sailing for sissys.

    Keep up the good work, Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Mexico

  7. Neil and Ley,
    We’ve been slow to chime in, but as one of the crews involved in assisting one of these boats, we’ve stayed quiet on the topic for a variety of reasons. We appreciate what you’ve written though and I hope that sailors who look at your list see it as an object lesson, and get a sense of just how easy it is to end up in peril.

    Bad luck, bad decisions (hindsight being what it is) and cascading failures are all elements of almost every emergency you’ve listed. And just about every other boat we know that crossed had some sort of ‘oops’ or ‘almost’ that didn’t become an emergency because they either had the seamanship skills to solve the problem themselves, or they were lucky enough to be helped out by a fellow boater who generously shared their skills and experience (we know you played this role more than once.)

    Anytime we, as a community, hide the reality of how risky this can be, and how well prepared we each need to be, we put future boaters at risk. And it’s not just the crews of the boat that sinks, loses a mast, or ends up on a reef who’s in danger. In the scenario we were involved in divers were in the water with sharks for about 12 hours working to free the boat. In our case we gave up our entire stock of emergency fibre glassing supplies with the uncomfortable knowledge that we sail a somewhat fragile boat and would have no way of replacing those critical supplies for at least five months.

    For us, between complex weather and currents, the inability to easily get parts and the remoteness of the places we visited, the Indian Ocean was significantly more challenging than the Pacific Ocean. Boats setting out to cross need to consider this—they need to see the full scope of what can go wrong—your list gives that information. I know you aren’t holding up the boat crews you had listed as failures, but as examples of the fact that if one boat runs into trouble, because of who cruisers are, and how we watch out for each other, numerous boats are going to go out of their way to help.

    The boats that help out and people like you who want to learn from the accidents should never be punished for trying to make this a safer life simply by telling the truth.
    Diane & Evan SV Ceilydh

  8. Hellooooo Neil and Ley ! One precision : Pulsion was a Dufour 44. Catherine and Alain are sailing more than 10 ans on this boat..
    Ann & St├ęphane

  9. As in all things electronic I am a bit slow on the uptake. We have met, Scraatch is now in Caribbean. I think it useful that someone, you in this case, log the travails of the yachting community. That many yachts are lost, often happily without loss of life, is a rather quiet 'secret' of the cruising world. Some 5 years back I spent most of a year at or near Fiji. Round a bar of an evening we were able to note 15 boats lost or seriously on a reef in a 12 month period in the area Tonga to the NZ trip. Only one fatality, gas explosion, but at least 11 total losses. Do we choose to ignore these facts, hide them from insurers who know anyway , or just feel that it will not happen to us?
    There are still the two types of yachties, those who admit to running aground an liars.

    Brian, Sraatch , 9 year first circumnav done.

  10. I personally like to hear of these stories. Too often its easy to think nonchalantly about passages, and arrivals, because we have all sailed so far. But this reminds us that plenty of very capable and experienced boatowners lose their boats on a regular we must remain vigilant. If our own brains aren't reminding us, these types of posts sure will! Thank you for thee summary - even if the stories aren't completely accurate or whatever. The point is...remember to stay vigilant!


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