Photo: Pass between Takamaka Island (left) and Fouquet Island (right)
May 28 - June 28, 2014
Chagos.....where to begin.
I have found it hard to write this blog post, because I just didn't know where to begin.
Chagos is such a contrast to what we lived the 4 months prior to arriving.
In Asia, after more than a year without doing a passage, it took us months to prepare Gromit. Stores were low so we provisioned and provisioned and provisioned. It gave true meaning to the words 'shop-until-you-drop'!
In Sri Lanka, although we enjoyed the country, especially the highlands, our time there was tainted by the deplorable conditions of the Port of Galle, where we were forced to moor Gromit.
Then, our 600 mile passage to the southern Maldives was fraught with horrid weather and mechanical breakdowns.
In Chagos, there was none of the above.
Chagos is pristine, isolated and beautiful.
In Chagos, we lived in the moment -- it was truly 'carpe diem'.
There were other boats here with us: S/v Smoke with 3 kids aboard, s/v Simaderal and later, Kittiwake with 1 ¬Ĺ year old twins aboard.
Here are some of the things we did during our month's stay in Chagos.
Photo Album to follow soon. I'll let the pictures do the talking.
There is fishing within the atoll and fishing at the pass and just outside of it.
Fishing outside the atoll required some fore-planning and for safety reasons, usually more than one dinghy went out. When fishing ocean-side, just outside the reef, buddy boating is a must. Even fishing within the atoll is better with another dinghy in case of engine failure. Africa is about 2000 miles away and with the south-easterly winds we've been having it's either there or Somalia we'd end up.
Within the atoll grouper and giant trevaly and sometimes tunny are the most usual catch. Outside, a more likely catch is tuna and tunny. (Photo album to follow).
The day after one particularly successful fishing expedition we decided to have a potluck fish grilling on the beach with Smoke and Simanderal. That morning, the BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) patrol boat Pacific Marlin, came into the atoll and anchored. Chagos is a nature reserve and very strictly patrolled and regulated. To come here we had to get a permit.
We called them on the radio and invited them to our potluck cook-out. We were more than happy to share our catch with them.
They arrived with an incredible bounty of food;, steaks, chicken, sausages, pop, beer and believe it or not, 3 gallons of chocolate ice cream! We were blown away! We hadn't seen food like that in......how long???? It was incredible!
The next day Captain Steve, from the Pacific Marlin, with his engineer, Les, came to Gromit for a cup of tea, dinner and brownies made by Maia. He brought us some tomatoes, onions and lemons. Excited? Our fresh food stores were so low that tomatoes were like the most desired gift any kid could ask for at Christmas!
We had a delightful time.
Around the islands are magnificent coral patches and all through the atoll are coral heads aka 'bommies', that come up to within 2 feet of the surface. We also drift-snorkelled the pass between Takamaka and Fouquet islands. It is really fun to just float along with the current and see the coral and stunningly beautiful coloured fish. They were completely unbothered by our presence as we floated over them.
We walked along the beaches at low tide. There were very few shells, surprisingly. We explored a little inland, but the going was tough with the forest floor strewn with coconuts and fallen palms.
Zoe set up the windsurfer and on one of the days we went for a picnic at Boddam Island, she windsurfed the whole 3.3 miles there. Her arms got very tired, but she said that it was a blast! The wind was blowing about 15 knots and we had a hard time keeping up to her in the dinghy!
We spent many evenings on Smoke's boat and they on ours having dinners and playing games or watching movies. The boys did a beach camp-out and then the girls did one too. Michael also camped out with Liam and then Maia.
The month passed incredibly fast and before we knew it, it was time to leave. So, on June 28, we pulled anchor, motored out of the pass with two fishing lines in tow and pointed ourselves towards Mayotte.
24//06/2014, Between Takamaka and Fouquet Islands, Salomon Atoll, Chagos
By Maia Buratynsky
Chagos is the second island I've been too that's totally deserted. And also my second favourite island, the other being Suwarrow. Suwarrow is a lot like Chagos. They have many things in common and that's probably why they are my favourites. For example: they both have, beautiful beaches, clear blue water, sharks, fishing, they are abandoned, have clubhouses, hammocks, gathering areas for cruisers, coconuts (really yummy ones!), amazing coral and fish, and coconut crabs. We spent 3 weeks with our friends aboard the boat Smoke (3 kids aboard). A couple other boats came and went. They were: Simanderal, Running Tide, Kittiwake, Solar Planet, Leu Cat and the BIOT boat: Pacific Marlin. We had beach cookouts and daytrips to other islands within this atoll with these boats.
We are anchored at the eastern side of the atoll in front of the pass between Takamaka and Fouquet Islands. The main hang out area is SW of where we are. There is a clubhouse and fire pit, hammock, nice beach and volleyball court. Instead of taking Gromit down there we took the dinghy and our friends came with. It's a 3 mile trip. It takes our dinghy (a 6 horse power) an hour or more. So, I jumped ship and joined Smoke with their faster dinghy!
During our stay, I spent a lot of time over at Smoke, sleeping over, cooking and baking for them but mostly hanging out with Florence (Didi). Didi helped me with the baking and we managed to make: a Butterscotch Praline Cream Pie, gingersnaps, butter tarts, macaroons. Then for the cooking we did: pancakes, pizza, Moroccan curry with lamb, fish, lots and lots of popcorn and more. We actually did a night on Gromit with Smoke, where I cooked a big meal of breaded fish, coleslaw and butter tarts. I love to cook!!!!!!!!
Didi and I hung out a ton! We baked together, cooked, did art, swam, had sleepovers, swung off the side of the hull in a harness, did school together and we are both writing novels. We've been helping each other with the novels. We are planning to meet Smoke in Mayotte.h Hopefully Didi and I will hang out more!! Butter tarts tomorrow!!!!!
15//06/2014, Between Takamaka and Fouquet Islands, Salomon Atoll, Chagos
A post from Michael:
Days 2-10 here at Chagos
We are all doing well here. Currently there are 2 other boats in our anchorage, 1 British and 1 New Zealand (S/V Smoke)which is a family of 5 that we have been traveling with since Sri Lanka. Everybody has been busy in their own way. The only manmade things here at Takamaka/Fouquet Islands are a hole in the ground for well water (which is only good for washing laundry) and waterbottles and flipflops washed up on all the shorelines. The closest infrastructure is the USA's largest Indian ocean naval base which is some 100 miles away, after that the closest civilians are 280 miles north in the Maldives.
Zoe's been reading, cooking, windsurfing, doing school, doing Yoga on the front deck and exercising just before sunset on the beach with the Smoke Family.
Maia has been doing school, cooking on Gromit(which she loves), cooking meals on Smoke (which she loves even more), teaching Smoke how to bake bread, hanging out with DiDi (Smoke's daughter) and having reciprocal sleep-overs.
Liam's been doing school, climbing coconut trees to get coconuts, fishing, playing with the 2 boys on Smoke, doing a survival camp-out on the island with the other boys (they came back at 1:30 am from fear of the coconut land crabs (they are typically nocturnal and get as big as 7 lbs, but we are not suppose to eat them)), hunting wild chickens with the other boys (no luck, but the Smoke boys did get one the other day),frying fish, making rice pudding, snorkeling,and just playing on the beach.
Cornelia's been reading, snorkeling, photographing, researching our next destinations, sewing, laundry on shore and soon art with the kids.
Dennis has been reading, filming, downloading, BBQing, snorkeling, fishing and just helping out with daily chores.
And I've been fishing every 2nd to 3rd day, keeping the watermaker and generator going, fixing a few small things and reading, splicing rope and maintaining fishing gear.
And we have all be watching movies in the evening.
Our fishing outings end up being 4-6 hrs by the time we catch, clean on shore and get everything back in its place on board. Yesterday we got about a 25lb wahoo and a 10lb grouper (1 smaller grouper and tuna got away). The Wahoo was a struggle to get in, a real fighter, he made a mistake by swimming towards our dinghy so I didn't have to drag him in the whole way where I'm certain the extra time to haul him in would have brought in the bigger sharks (we fish in the pass which is the major opening between the atoll and the open ocean). I got fishing line burn on my small finger through my gloves, a first. I've become much better at filleting fish, we clean onshore (inner atoll) on a makeshift table out of a 2x8 put across fallen coconut trees. At higher tides the water is at our ankles, and yesterday for the first time smaller sharks came near the fish cleaning station. Now 1 person has their eyes on the water. The sharks within the atoll are 3-4 ft black tips which do not bother humans. Despite all the incoming fish we only have 5 fish meals in the freezer. We also had all 3 boats (14 people total) over for BBQ'd wahoo steaks, that moves the fish quickly. Overall the fishing is not as good as we expected being that there are no inhabitants, there is no commercial fishing within 200 miles and that this is a protected marine reserve.
We pulled anchor just after noon on May 24 and headed out of the pass of Addoo Atoll, Maldives, with our buddy boat s/v Smoke. The winds were boisterous and Gromit was pulling forward at a wonderful average speed of 8 knots. We were not on the correct course to Chagos, but decided to use the wind strength to get as far south as possible - even if off course - and out of the east-setting current that had plagued us so much.
Once the current eased - at around 4 degrees south of the equator, we were able to sail more towards our goal. The winds were still not favourable so we ended up zig-zagging down our course line. It was very frustrating, but at least we were going more or less in the right direction and not being swept off to the east.
The 3rd and last night on passage, we had perfect conditions. The wind was on the beam at 10-12 knots, the current was no longer against us and the seas were relatively calm. We had 3 sails up: main - 2nd reef, mizzen - full and jib - full to half reefed. Gromit was sailing beautifully between 6-7 knots, but we had to reef because we were going to arrive at Chagos in the dark and then have to wait to enter the atoll. We slowed to around 5 knots and arrived early in the morning. Our AIS showed a target about 7 miles away and found that our friends on s/v Smoke were approaching too! Smoke is a much faster boat and we thought that maybe they had arrived the day before. As we were approaching the atoll we saw a huge line of squalls behind us and checked on radar whether they would overtake us. It was soon evident that we were going to have to wait until they passed, so at about 5 miles off we jibbed (turn 180 degrees) and sailed slowly away. It took about an hour and a half and we jibbed again and headed to the pass.
We are now anchored in about 25 feet of clear water, sand bottom, in front of Yakamaka Island (you can see it on Google Earth). We are so thrilled to be here at last!
Connecting to send emails has been very difficult, but we will keep trying daily, so no worries please, if you don't hear from us.
Gan Island, Addoo
Lots of rain and squalls passing through. Picture shows thunderheads building on the horizon.
First night here, we dragged in a squall and our engine wouldn't start - Michael later discovered that it was the solenoid on the starter, so another repair.
Davey, from s/v Smoke (right side of picture), came to the resuce and towed us forward with his dinghy so we were able to deploy another anchor.
We did leave, as planned, last Saturday from Koodoo Island.
The first 12 hours went well, as we were in the lee of Huvadhu Atoll.
Then the current caught us!
We tried sailing and motor-sailing, but the winds and current had an agenda of their own.
We were being swept too far east - again - so we turned due west and motor-sailed 35 miles to Addoo.
We can't fight the forces of nature. The wind and current are too strong and we were using our precious fuel and being pushed further and further away from where we wanted to go.
Change of plan: go west to Addoo, replenish our fuel and fresh food stores and wait to more favourable winds.
Solenoid Repaired: - check
Fresh Food: tomorrow (Friday) - check
Winds: looking good for Friday/Saturday departure - check
We know that eventually we'll get to where we want to go: Chagos, we just hope that it will happen while Peggy and David on s/v Rhythm are still there!
An added bonus in coming to Addoo is that our friends aboard s/v Smoke are here and we'll be leaving here and spending our month in Chagos together!
Commercial fishing harbour at Kooddoo Island.
The cement wall beside the blue boat is where I scraped Gromit's nose.
We couldn't move from there, so the authorities asked us to put a rope on the bow and stern and they pulled us across sideways to this abandoned fishing boat which we endearingly call 'rat boat' - although we've seen no rats. It is half sunk and covered in debris, but it is steady and shelters us from the weather. They plan to tow it out and sink it someday.