The Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean

Altair left Marina Del Ray, Lombok, Indonesia on September 7, 2018. Oddly enough, as we left Indonesia to cross the Indian Ocean, we returned to Australia. 

Cocos Keeling is a remote territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean.  Its two coral atolls consist of 27 small islands with white sand beaches and palm trees.  It was declared a British dominion in 1857 and was made an Australian dependency in 1955. During the First World War there was a cable station that was attacked and blown up by the Germans.

Our trip was 1,139 miles and we sailed most of the way, arriving on September 13, 2018. 

The fleet anchored off Direction Island.  There is not much there except an historical walk/tribute to the former cable station.  It is a popular destination for Australian tourists, as it is a very pretty beach. And it has a transient kite boarding school, as well as a local dive operation.  Small stores and restaurants are located on the adjacent Home Island. 

This was a short stop to break up our trip.  We were able to provision at a local shop on Home Island after emailing a list and having supplies flown in. There was a beach party, diving, kite boarding, etc.

The Mascarene Islands: Rodrigues, Mauritius & La Reunion

Next up was Mauritius. We left on our 31st wedding anniversary, September 19th.  A few hump back whales turned up to see us off.  Several yachts opted to break up the trip and stop at Rodrigues.  2,410 miles, arrived October 2nd.  

I will briefly mention that there was a little fleet competition/race between Cocos and Mauritius, handicapped based on the size of the yacht.  Altair won.  When you next see Ken or Harry, you’re sure to hear all about it. As David of Sea Flute said, “Congratulations to Ken, Liisa & Harry on a great job and a cracking good sail. I’m sure, knowing Ken, he will be very modest about this win and we’ll never hear it mentioned again!” Amen.

There are a couple of places called Mauritius scattered in the Indian Ocean.  This Mauritius, a former British island, is considered one of the most stable countries in the Indian Ocean. Not a lot of competition.  We entered into Port Louis and did not move.  Concrete docks in the city center.  Easy walks to shops, restaurants, etc.  Very civilized.

A dive trip was organized, of course. One of our friends quipped that the OWR has turned into a dive trip with a little sailing thrown in.

Another excursion was a day at the oldest track race in the Southern Hemisphere, Champs de Mars.    We got sort of dressed up and had a private box.  Sounds posh, but not really.  It was a lot of fun, and Ken was the big winner of the day.

A bunch of us went to a resort, the Prince Maurice, which featured two golf courses, a beautiful beach, pools, fitness center and so on.  We went for two days but stayed for four as they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.  It was nice to be off the boat for a while.

As the fleet prepared to leave Mauritius, the Port Louis locals organized a Blessing of the Fleet on the dock with representatives from the local religions: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, & Christian.  Everyone we met on this island emphasized that they are a very diverse population, but everyone gets along.

So, off we headed for an overnight sail to France. 350 miles. The island La Reunion is French (territoire outre-mer), so part of the EU, and is supposedly the longest domestic flight in the world (France to Reunion).  It is a beautiful place and appears to be wealthy, shored up by money from the generous EU (much to the disgust of our British Brexit friends). Known for its rough surf, there really aren’t any natural harbors on Reunion, so once again we were up against a concrete pier, some of us rafted.

Highlights were a dive with a local shop, a three day hiking trip up into the beautiful mountains, and a helicopter tour. What a culture shock after Indonesia!

So Altair, Sea Flute and Meteorites headed for the hills.  The hiking trip was in Cilaos, a short but steep, curvy ride up into the mountains.  Cilaos looks like a charming little village in the French Alps. Weather was perfect. Despite a map and verbal directions (en Francais) the hike proved to be a bit more arduous than anticipated, straight down, straight up again. Only the French would end with up! Beautiful scenery. 

The next day we were joined by Tianelle.  We assured them that we had had a really tough day the day before and that we were planning an easy stroll and a nice long lunch. Well, about five hours and who knows how many vertical miles later the first part of our group staggered out on to a road just in time to catch a local bus back to town.  Once in town we sent rescue vehicles for the rest of our group and secured a big table in a restaurant. Whew.

Most of the time in Reunion everyone had one eye on the weather.  The next leg, Reunion to Durban, was a big one, with notoriously short weather windows and dangerous current. The plan was to head toward the tip of Southern Madagascar and catch some current around there, continuing west to find the narrowest part of the Agulhas Current to cut across. We were checking in daily with Chris Tibbs, the weather guy the OWR fleet uses, as well as all our own sources.  Lots of debates. Always this way before a big passage, but this was one we were all apprehensive about.

The Agulhas current has a strong southwest flow, curving west and then northwest along the coast of South Africa. It can be as strong as 5 kn down to about 1.5 kn. “The Agulhas is known and feared by many as it can give rise to exceptionally steep seas with a short period when a SW blow comes through.” We were given a not altogether enthusiastic, reassuring “go” for October 24th. The fleet set out, each boat following a course they preferred, but basically all heading the same way.  Day three, about 380 miles out from Durban, the weather report started to go bad and some of us changed course for Madagascar.

Despite the Disney movie, Madagascar is stilled deemed a “no go” with many boat insurance companies, but because of safety/bad weather we were given an ok.  It is now a democracy, but it is a very poor place with a lot of corruption. Our choices were to beat ourselves up tacking back and forth in the Mozambique Channel between the west coast of Madagascar and the east coast of Africa, or go check out Madagascar and play with the lemurs.

The “Madagascar Five” (Altair, Meteorite, Sun Su Sea, Sea Flute & Reina, a non-OWR Oyster tagging along with us for safety reasons) pulled into Baie De Fort Dauphin on the east coast near the tip of Madagascar, October 27, 2018.  In hind sight we made the right choice as we had a really nice time and didn’t spend days burning fuel and wearing our boats and ourselves out.

Customs check in was ridiculous, lots of time and money, but so dysfunctional it was funny.  The five yachts attracted a lot of attention, needless to say. The dinghy landing, reminiscent of Kupang, was really only possible with the help of the locals.  The people living along the shore were desperately poor.  Maybe they were only camping out there because of us and the chance to make a few bucks? Everywhere we went we had a crowd following us.

Everyone was constantly monitoring the weather and waiting for Chris Tibbs’ reports.  All of us filled up on diesel by ferrying jerry cans back and forth from the local petrol station nearby.

Our group hooked up with a local young man, a tour guide with a van that would fit all of us.  We spent a morning at the Lemur Preserve, which was wonderful. These creatures are only found on Madagascar.  The ones in the Preserve are fairly tame, and we had a blast playng with them. After the lemurs we had been invited to a beach lobster cookout set up by our guide’s family, but the weather was rainy so the party was moved to their house. A big undertaking for them and a humbling experience for us. It was a tiny dirt floor structure with a corrugated metal roof, squeezed amidst a warren of many similar tiny homes.

Lindy of Sea Flute pulled together a bag of clothing to give to the people on shore.  Considering that these people would rip the bags of garbage out of our hands as we came ashore, the bag of clothing was well meant but probably not a good idea.  It almost created a riot.  That is how desperate these people are.

We were given a tentative green light to head out on October 30th to Durban, South Africa.  It was a very tight window.

Five days later, 930 miles. The current and wind were going in the same direction, but it was really rough. Entering Durban at night we had wind blowing 30-35 and huge seas. Horrific.  And then port control decided to close the harbor!  I got on the radio, pleaded and explained we were a small yacht, with a berth and friends waiting to catch our lines. We made it to the marina where the Oyster friends were on the dock, ready to help. A bit worse for wear as they had been watching football and drinking all afternoon/evening. They had even bribed the bartender at the Royal Natal Yacht Club to stay open late for us! 

So we hunkered down in Durban waiting for a weather window to sail down the coast on the Agulhas Current, round the Cape of Good Hope and enter Cape Town. Durban is not really a tourist town and the marina had additional security for us.  We had to be driven to the customs office for check in, even though it was just around the corner.  One the way back a guy reached in the car and plucked Harry’s phone right out of his hand. Disaster for a 21 year old far from home!

On November 8 we had a very short window to go straight to Cape Town without stopping, which was good because there aren’t many places along the way that our boats could get into. 865 miles, hopefully making great time in the Agulhas Current. We started out motor sailing with 2.5 – 4 knots of favorable current, boat speed 12.5. Fun!

Tons of boat traffic.  Oil wells popping up on AIS. Crazy.  The final night as we were going around the Cape of Good Hope we had heavy fog and lots of traffic. Thank goodness for AIS and radar. Freezing cold.  First light we pulled into Cape Town calling for the swing bridge and the draw bridge to open so we could enter the V&A Marina.  Oyster friends cheering and waving. What a great feeling. Indian Ocean done. November 12.

Cape Town is a beautiful, exciting city.  The V&A Marina is right downtown with Table Mountain in the background. Shopping, restaurants, movie theaters. The Oyster World Rally fleet settled in to explore the city, visit wineries, go on safari and perhaps fly home for the holidays.