If Carlsberg Did Pandemics...
12 June 2021
They’d do it in the Seychelles. Eighteen months into Covid life, the local population still largely respect the rules; social distancing, wearing masks, sanitising hands at shop doors, only four at restaurant tables and consequently, to a degree, life goes on. Tourists are beginning to arrive in numbers. Emirates fly in a fresh bunch of peely-wally holidaymakers every morning at 06:30 ........... roaring overhead about three hundred feet above our mast. We see them in the marina complex, sat in the bars choking down beer or dragging their wheely bags along the docks to their waiting Lagoons.
The country seems to be well ahead of the game in getting everyone jagged up. They were even kind enough to give us our second shot.
Here’s a first quick look.
Abused of Seychelles
12 June 2021
Can you believe it? I’m the victim of Internet bullying. At my age!
A woman we barely know, in fact, other than her appearing at full volume on our Pacific SSB net a few years ago, we’ve only communicated three times. The first, a comment on our blog about how much money we’d spent on the new boat - rather personal we thought. And unusual. One of the interesting things about cruisers is that, really, nobody talks about money. Nobody cares. We’re all just out here on whatever platform we fancy, enjoying life.
The next communication was when we inadvertently bumped into them on a dock just after we brought the new Time Bandit into Australia when she reiterated her comment about how stupid we were to spend so much on a boat and how they had a far wiser approach - again, just a bit personal we thought. Among other things best left unsaid. Then, earlier this week, taking things to a new level, she took the time to write me a personal email to tell me how boring my blogs were..... among other things.
Jeez. I know the Covid era is driving many to distraction and some folks, myself included, possibly making the odd, stray comment online while trying to while away another mind numbing day, but here, I detect a trend, if not a symptom.
Anyway, it’s 07:30, a stunning morning and we’re anchored just off one of the discrete Seychelles resorts, prettier than the sub-divisions on stilts the Maldivians favour, performing another miracle; turning diesel into water, although I’ve yet to master the final stage of getting the output into a nice burgundy.
04 June 2021 | Sunset in Beau Vallon
It’s taken us two years to find it but, we've finally made it onto the foredeck. It's only a few metres away but, like my back garden at home, best left alone. Anne does most of the action up there although, as needs must, I’ll venture forward and perhaps haul up the yardarm or whatever. Otherwise, I stick to the blunt end(s). As befits my status.
Before we left Langkawi we imagined that while we waited out cyclone season in the Maldives, and Chagos, we'd spend some time relaxing from our stressful day in the late afternoons, enjoying some cruiser company, sitting on the silver sand beaches, enjoying a sundowner and perhaps a sandburger. Consequently, we lashed out on two of China's finest folding chairs and a portable barbecue. (surprise: they're still working after two whole months). For reasons I don't remember, a few weeks have gone past after all, we never made it to the beach although I suspect the offer to spend convivial evenings enjoying SV Georgia's air conditioning had something to do with it.
However, even having made it a few degrees south of the equator out here in sunny Seychelles, it's still over thirty degrees most days and the sheltered patio, sorry, cockpit can get a bit warm and airless.
So, as I said, we've discovered the foredeck. It's nice and breezy up there, the Trade Winds blowing gently keeping things cool, so, like the first patrons of the Beau Vallon Residential Home For Ageing Cruisers, we now spend our early evenings sat in our two chairs, side by side, drooling, watching the birds feeding, the fish jumping and the sun go down. Finally, at days end, as dusk falls, my nurse comes and wheels me back inside for a milky drink and a digestive before bedtime. Doesn't get much better than this...... other than it could be a milk chocolate Hobnob.
Are We There Yet?
29 May 2021
I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned the trauma I experienced as a child when my mother used to drag me to the shops and then spend half the morning blethering to random friends while I languished outside various retail emporia, just like the dogs you see, tied to a Magnum ice cream signboard by their leash. Well, guess what - deja vu. Yesterday, I’d been left outside the state owned Seychelles Hypermarket and told not to move an inch, hanging around, like an abandoned primary school child while Anne searched the shelves for McVities Digestives, decent yoghurt and other tasty stuff. Outside, I just sat there. Me in my shorts and everything.
To amuse myself I thought I’d fiddle about on the Navionics app in my phone, you know, see how far we’ve come. How far to go and all that.
I’m now wishing I hadn’t bothered.
In my head , which, as you know is a bit of a cornucopia of all kinds of nonsense, I’d convinced myself that having done sixteen hundred miles to the Maldives, followed by twelve hundred more to Seychelles, and six hundred down to Chagos, to make a total well in excess of three thousand, we must surely have crossed the Indian Ocean or at least, put the bulk of it behind us.
Well, to a degree, we have crossed. The problem is, where we’ve crossed is at what you might call the tip of the iceberg, i.e. the narrow, pointy bit. On closer inspection it looks like in fact we are only halfway with another 2800 miles to Cape Town. Half of it upwind. Jeez. Nobody told me it was this wide.
Alone in Chagos
27 May 2021
Well, except for the boobies, dolphins, sharks, terns, crabs.....we were in solitary for over ten days. And still married!
Hooe this gives you a flavour.
14 May 2021
Wot's That Then?
30 April 2021
“Wot's that then?â”
“Dunno kid. Never seen one before in me life. Weird looking though. I mean. No wings, only one of them has a beak worth mentioning, no feathers, no nuthin”.
That's the exchange my pre Cruiseheimer's* brain imagined as we inadvertently passed a couple of feet underneath the few scrambled twigs that are a Red Footed Booby's nest, mother and chick peering inquisitively down through the foliage at us.
You see, there's not much goes on here in Chagos land. At least for the duration of the Covid catastrophe. Last year we had Chagos Pass #13 which, oddly, was rescinded at least six months before dear Boris caught onto the fact that his pal Donald might be wrong when he said something like Covid was just âlike a bit of the fluâ and perhaps we should tighten things up a bit. Talk about slamming doors after the horse has bolted! âSure folks. Why don't you take your spare cash, desperately needed by the UK hospitality sector, take it abroad and blow it on a long weekend in Spain. Just don't bring back any Covid.â I mean-how dumb was that plan? About as organised as his hair.
Anyway, rant over, back to Chagos where thankfully we can't get any news or access Social Meedya, it's possible that last year, one or two cruisers made it here under the wire, but I doubt it. Most got locked down in the Maldives. So, as we seem to be the first boat this year, we're getting some strange looks from the local fauna. Other than the ubiquitous trash adorning the high tide mark, the place is untouched. Exactly as nature intended. A bit like our back garden.
The administrators at BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) rigidly enforce the rules and regulations for those visiting Salomon Island and Peros Banhos, the two Chagossian islands in the group you're allowed to experience. (Five separate documents; the sixteen page Visitors and Vessel Ordinance, The fifteen page BIOT Guidance, Fishing Permit, Drone licence, Covid declaration and finally, your mooring permit. No wonder it costs £100 a week.
The archipelago is like the Galapagos but without people. Or David Attenborough. We're anchored in the peanut shaped Salomon atoll, approximately two miles by four. There's Booby birds - like Gannets with sunburned feet, Fairy and Sooty terns, Frigate birds, dolphins, sharks and a sufficiently wide range of fish to keep all these guys well fed. It also has a billion coconut palms.
Most nights, usually about an hour after high water we get a tapping on the hull. Initially we'd leap on deck to see who was abroad at that strange hour, a million miles from anywhere then we realised it was just the flotilla of coconuts making its stately way past, gently bobbing in the moonlight. During the day we amuse ourselves endlessly either walking clockwise round the island or, perhaps, if we're daring, anti-clockwise. These last couple of days it's been a full moon and so, spring tides. At low water, you could walk for half a mile out to the reef edge, or, as we're tempted to do, make a quick dash to the next island but you need to be quick as within an hour, you'll be wishing you'd brought your wellies. After two hours, composing your epitaph.
Anyway, pleased to report it's all very pleasant here. All it needs is some night life.
*Cruiseheimers: like Alzheimer's but specifically affecting the part of the brain that manages stress, fatigue, cold, wet and seasickness. The condition erases all such memories allowing the sufferer to gaily head off into the briny once again, probably under dressed and over-canvassed. Symptoms include sufferers making statements such as, “look darling, it's a grand day for a sail” and, “we'll easily be in before that front arrives”.
23 April 2021
This popped into my scrambled head sometime overnight.
Pollock Trophy - Roy Hepburn and I in the 505 Seestu, about 1971
Polaris Trophy - Anne and I in Scotchmist, our first joint boat, a few years later. Like a wedding ring, just more practical and faster downwind.
Over the coming years we won a few more "gongs" in our Fireball but nothing of the quality of the "Big P's", both stunning sterling silver model boats about 13" long. (I wonder where they are now?).
Much later, i.e. life after kids, we tried our hand again, pot hunting in Beige Bandit, but that was only an exercise in frustration, pitching the Beige Battleship against hot shot lightweight French fibreglass. A double disaster.
As I scoured the recesses of my brain for any other major trophies, other than the nineteen bottles of rum we won in the ARC for being thoroughly nice people, it occurred to me that, other than my lovely wife, the only other trophy I'd won since then was atrophy.
Despite trying to offset the onset of maritime ageing, keeping nearby cruisers amused and passing locals bemused with
our mostly daily, deck dance cum workout, we're creaking a bit more than we used to.
It's these tropical climes you see. We've now spent many a year under tropical and equatorial suns. Not that I'm one to complain, but you'd think that by now we'd have acclimatised. Other than our annual pre-Covid trips home at Christmas, where we freeze our nuts off, we've been languishing in the steamy tropical heat for nearly ten years. Ten years where every day we're awash in perspiration like Dirk Bogart in the African Queen, or indeed, for Scottish readers, Dan McPhail in the Vital Spark's boiler room.
All "jagged up" we tore ourselves away from Gan, the southernmost island in the Maldives chain, under the relentless, searing sun........ and no flippin' wind about a week, possibly a month ago. We liked Gan. It had that perfect combination for us. A real living village, locals bustling around, sweeping their yards, smartly dressed kids shuffling along to school, the harbour unloading the daily needs of the village, all as yet untarnished by mass tourism AND, hypocritically, ............ adjacent to a discrete five star resort with comfy chairs, WiFi and an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.
The villages, for there's actually four, the islands of Gan, Feydhoo, Maradhoo and Hithadhoo are all joined up by causeways. One tarmac road runs the full length, all eight and a bit miles. All the other roads are coral. Each village has its complement of small shops, mini markets, mini DIY stores and, of course, the phone shop. Clothing shops, old and new, line the dusty coral sand streets. Tiny traditional coral "brick" houses sit amongst smart, architect jobs, all verandahs and stainless steel balustrades. Smartly, all the homes are set amongst the shading coconut palms and spruce trees, presumably imported as I don't think they're local. Oddly; there's no chooks running around. We're used to mangy wildlife roaming the streets in the island communities - the rabid dogs of Fiji, Tonga's street pigs, Indonesian roosters chasing hens all day and of course, the single handed cruisers.
Anyway, we left Gan behind and headed out for the three hundred miles through the Doldrums to Chagos, the island archipelago ceded to the Brits by the French way back in 1814. Presumably, as was the norm back then, the locals didn't actually have a say in any of this.
Back in the sixties, when it was apparently OK to displace legal occupants from their family home of generations and ship them off over the horizon, the Brits shipped the locals out to Mauritius, Seychelles and, for those who again fell for the marketing, London. Having "cleared the decks" so to speak, the Chaps in Westminster then had the gall to sub-let the main island, which basically, we'd nicked, to the Americans and declared the rest a national park type thing, limiting access to passing cruisers, only to rest and recuperate as they wend their way across the Indian Ocean. Once a colonial power......
Our planned two day, three hundred mile off-wind wheech turned into a drifting match taking four days at an average speed of three point something knots, including the hours we motored through glassy seas. As if to emphasise how slow it was, at one time, a Mahi Mahi casually overtook us with nary a backward glance.
It's unlike us to motor, but with a two plus knot W-E current for the first half of the crossing, painful as it was, if we hadn't burned the diesel we'd have been on our way back to Malaysia. Fortunately, most of the time there was enough wind to ghost along under star lit skies. Ghosting in the absolute calm and quiet of the dark until......CRASH, BUMP, KERFUFFLE. Our chests pounding with fright, we dashed out the lounge into the patio, sorry, lapsed into catamaran speak there, we dashed out the cabin into the cockpit, to find an embarrassed looking Booby sitting on the steps trying with some difficulty to fold his wings into their non-flight mode. Like Rocky in the cartoon movie, Chicken Run, he'd crash landed into the boat, all feathers and poop.
Quickly, we rung his neck, plucked him clean and, with a dash of red wine and some garlic, popped him in the thermal cooker. Nah. We didn't. Your hero calmed the poor wee soul with some Budgie speak which I learned from my Gran as a child, gathered him in a towel and launched the wee guy into the dark.
Finally we made it although, having clawed our way up wind to get around the last reef, we got a call from the BIOT boat we could see in the horizon. Out here, in the middle of nowhere we get this broad, west coast Scottish voice saying, "Time Bandit , Time Bandit, this is Grampian Venture".
Our brave boys were in the process of nicking an illegal fishing boat and would we mind diverting three miles back downwind to go around the illegal net.
We met the team the next day. The skipper is from Oban, our summer base and one of the biologists has his boat in Ardrossan, just down the road from home.
*Vital Spark - see YouTube "Para Handy"