Monday, July 24, 2017

A Dream Come True: Arrival in Chagos

We made it! I can still hardly believe it. As we secured the anchor on the sandbank next to Takamaka island in the Salomon atoll in Chagos, I looked at my watch: 7:00pm on the dot. 7:00pm on July 23rd, 2017 we officially arrived in Chagos. Dave put his arm around me and said, "Can you believe we are actually here?" For as long as I have known him, he has talked about one day coming to Chagos, one of the most remote places in the world. For him, a dream had come true. We stood on deck and took in our surroundings. Even in the fading light we could see there was something special about this place…something different. It was the colors…the greens seemed greener with tinges of yellow, and the water had so many shades of blue and turquoise, it was hard to comprehend it. As the light dimmed, we breathed another sigh of relief – a tough passage was over. We were safely anchored and looking forward to the next 3 weeks in this magical place.

On Friday we had dropped one of the reefs in the mainsail and sailed with one remaining reef and full jib. When the squalls came through, and the wind came up, we furled the jib and rode them out. On Saturday, we dropped the last remaining reef and our sail plan now was full main and full jib. We flew them wing-on-wing, as the wind was directly behind us, but we couldn't put the spinnaker up, because the weather was so unpredictable. The grib files we downloaded showed winds in the 20's, but the grib files can't predict the squalls that consistently came bearing down on us. But with a full main and jib, we made slightly better speeds, but we still battled a current that was against us the entire time. By Saturday afternoon, 9 days into our journey, our arrival in Chagos was predicted to be anywhere between late afternoon and late in the night on Sunday. Our options were to slow down and make sure we arrived on Monday, the 24th in the morning, thus guaranteeing a
arrival, but producing another night at sea, or try and speed up, and ensure arrival the following day, on Sunday, the 23rd. Dave, being the racer that he is, couldn't even entertain the thought of slowing down, so in the early hours of Sunday morning, as I took over the shift from Dave, he said, "Wake me up at the first sign of light…we are getting that spinnaker up!".

And so I did. As soon as it was light enough to see, we furled the jib, lowered the main, and hoisted our big blue and yellow spinnaker. Immediately life seemed better. We were able to go directly downwind and the boat was nice and stable. We still had the huge swells, that are born in the deep southern Indian Ocean, and make their way across the sea, with nothing in the way to break them down. But we were able to surf them, and Cool Runnings was making great speeds, surfing at up to 10 and 12 knots. Dave hand steered for hours, making sure we were headed straight to our target, and maximizing the surfs in the big swell. By late afternoon, the wind had come up again and we were experiencing between 26 and 28 knots, but it ensured our arrival in Chagos at between 6:00pm and 6:30pm. With the sun setting at about 7:15pm, we had to make that arrival time, or we would be entering the lagoon in the dark.

It was cloudy and rainy when we arrived at the entrance just after 6:00pm, the remnants of yet another squall, but Loic on Moby had sent us coordinates for his track into the lagoon the previous day, and we had put the waypoints on the chartplotter. Carefully following Loic's track, it didn't take us long to make the 2 mile journey to the anchorage and an enthusiastic greeting by Loic, Benedicte, Victor, Arthur and Anna, all standing on Moby's deck waving us in! It was great to see them again, and we later traded stories of our passages over a beer and glass of wine.

The squall passed, and it was in this brief time between the storm and sunset that we were able to look around us, and take in the beauty of the place. We were in Chagos: Dave's dream, which by default had become our dream, had finally come true!

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Day 7: Cocos to Chagos Passage

No one said it was going to be easy. Everything we'd read about the Indian Ocean promised strong winds and big, side-on swells. Well, we haven't been dissapointed!

We left Cocos Keeling a week ago, waving a fond farewell to Ariel IV, happy in the knowledge that they wouldn't be left alone, as 2 boats had arrived the day before. As we raised our sails and crossed the lagoon, a pod of dolphins played in our bow waves. They had welcomed us in the same way when we had arrived 10 days earlier, now they came to say goodbye.

Once we were out in the open ocean, we could see the sails of Shuti. They had left about an hour before us, and Moby ended up leaving around noon, about 4 hours after us. We sailed with Shuti all day, happy in the comfort of another boat nearby.

The first three days were tough. The seas were very unsettled and the wind was strong. We encountered squalls with blinding rain and winds up to 38 knots. On Saturday morning Moby whizzed past us (they are bigger, lighter and faster), and are now about 200 miles ahead of us. We sailed together with Shuti, maintaining radio contact 3 times a day, trading stories of our days and analyzing weather.

On the 4th day, after a terrible night with storms and lightening, the wind died. It was even worse than the storms we had endured. We wallowed around making little to no progress, the washing machine like sea even more pronounced, without the wind to push us through the swells. The skies were grey, and morale aboard Cool Runnings was low!! We spoke to Shuti on the VHF, and Momi told us of a Gale warning he had received in his weather download. We did our weather download, and sure enough, there was a warning for gale force winds about 200miles south of us.

As we went into the evening, we felt ourselves on the edge of the gale. The winds increased, and for the next 36 hours we had winds of 28 - 30knots, sometimes sustained 33 knots. While it was strong, it also allowed us to make good speed, and we quickly covered the distance we had lost the previous day. While the water was an angry black with frothing white caps and huge swells, the sun was shining, and it made everything all right!!

By Wednesday morning we had lost radio contact with Shuti, as the distance between us grew. We're now in regular email contact with both Shuti and Moby, and all is well. The winds returned to a more manageable 20 - 25 and we are looking at arriving in Chagos at the very best, Sunday, July 23rd, but more realistically on Monday, July 24th. Right now (Thursday, July 20th), we have 555 miles to go, and are doing 7.5 knots in 21 knots of wind. We have 2 reefs in the main, and about 90% jib out.

We must be in a shipping lane, because we're passing our second ship of the day! This morning a cargo ship that was over a mile long, passed a few miles in front of us. He was headed to Brazil. Right now I'm watching a slightly smaller cargo ship (518 ft long) on the AIS. He is headed to Singapore. I've just been able to spot him and he will pass about 6 miles behind us.

So morale on Cool Runnings is improving! I try to keep it up by feeding the crew! I made some muffins this morning, and even though they flopped for some reason, (they didn't rise), I was assured they were still delicious! (The bar is not very high!!) I make yoghurt every morning and try to come up with some different things for lunch. Today I think I will grill the wraps we have on board, and make cheese quesadillas! We are counting down the days and nights until we can be at anchor, watch a sunset and lift our glasses in toast of another 1,500 miles of Ocean crossed!

Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Week in Cocos Keeling: A Picture Diary

 Tomorrow we leave the islands of Cocos Keeling, heading for the British Indian Ocean Territory of Chagos.  We’ve had a great time here, both relaxing and exploring, as well as completing some boat tasks.  Here is a short picture diary of our time here:

The palm trees are adorned with boat names of those who have come before us.  This palm tree now has a big wooden plank with "Cool Runnings" carved on it at the base of the tree.  Unfortunately I didn't have a photo of it at the time of getting internet for this blog!!

The boats in the anchorage.  We seemed to have alternating days of sunshine and rain...but we always had strong wind!

The beautiful clear water and white sand beach

The kids had a blast playing in the water and on the beach:

Gaby and Anna from Moby playing on a pladdle board

Ben, Victor (Moby) and Yoav (Shuti) enjoy jumping off the swim platform that is moored off the beach on Direction Island
Big Boys shooting the breeze under the palm trees:  Dave, Momi (Shuti) and Loic (Moby)
Ben and Gaby have also improved their culinary skills thanks to Arial IV!  Birgitta taught them how to make yoghurt, so now we have homemade yoghurt for breakfast every morning, and Eric taught Benjamin how to make pizza!  Ben has already offered to make pizza for dinner tonight!  Yeah!!

Ben and Gaby measure while Birgitta looks on

Gaby studies the knot book and practices in Arial IV's salon

We also had 2 beach bonfires, an absolute favorite amongst the kids, and fun for the adults too!  After a day at the beach, we all go looking for firewood, and everyone helps make the fire.  The first bonfire was also used to make dinner:  our hunter/gatherer men went out spearfishing and caught 3 parrotfish which were grilled on the fire (we also added sausages, and potatoes in foil, grilled in the coals).  The second fire we had was just for fun, and we did a potluck for food.  There was pizza, (thanks to Eric teaching Ben), pasta, foccacia and cabbage salad.  And a big fire for roasting marshmallows!

Thomas (Benedicte's brother who  joined them in Bali and flew back to France via Perth from Cocos on Tuesday), Dave and Loic with the fish they speared for dinner

Gaby and Momi from Shuti put the finishing touches on the fire

Eric adds paper to get the fire going

Evening entertainment included 2 guitars (Eric and Tom) and singing

Everyone enjoying their meals at the picnic tables provided at Direction Island
We were also able to enjoy some drift snorkelling.  There is a place called "The Rip" between Direction Island and the reef, where the water from the ocean comes rushing into the lagoon.  We take the dinghy out as far as we can, and then jump in the water, hold onto the painter (dinghy rope) and drift along with the current as the dinghy is swept into the lagoon.  It was great fun, and we went pretty fast!  We saw sharks, parrot fish, Napoleon fish, and lots of colorful, tiny reef fish.  The water was warm and crystal clear, and the coral in pretty good shape.  It was great fun!

The sharks below us

Some of the fish and coral

Gaby holding on to the rope as she drifts along

I mentioned we did some boat tasks.  Dave went up the mast and inspected the rigging.  He was able to capture these pictures with his GoPro.  Unfortunately it has been too windy to fly the drone, which is a pity, as the drone footage would have been spectacular!

The boats in the anchorage, from left to right:  Moby, Surfer Girl (an abandoned boat), Arial IV in front of Surfer Girl and Shuti 

A look back towards the ocean with Direction Island on the right

Cool Runnings from the top of the mast
This is the last time we will have access to internet for at least a month.  The next time we should be able to get online will be in the Seychelles.  Between now and then we will only be contactable via our Iridium satellite.  Please feel free to drop us a note via the iridium email, which is, but PLEASE....NO ATTACHMENTS!  We cannot download any attachments and they jam up the downloading of emails.  Please also don't hesitate to leave a comment right here on the blog, as we are able to read them via our iridium email.  

We anticipate a bit of a rough ride to Chagos, as the forecast shows pretty strong wind.  We will, however, be in the company of Moby and Shuti, so we won't be alone!  Arial IV is heading straight to Mauritius from here, so we won't see them for a while, but we hope to meet up again in Madagascar.  It will probably take us about 10 days to get there, and then we plan to spend about 3 weeks in Chagos.  The journey from Chagos to Seychelles will be another 8 or so days. So, until then, this is Cool Runnings going offline!  Over and Out.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Paradise Found! Cocos Keeling Islands

As it turned out, it was 4 boats, not 3 that descended on the tiny islands of Cocos Keeling over the days of July 4th, 5th and 6th 2017. Cool Runnings, Aerial IV and Moby left Bali on June 28th, 29th and 30th respectively, but on Sunday night, July 2nd we got a call on the VHF Radio:

“Cool Runnings, Cool Runnings, this is Shuti, Shuti. We see you on AIS and are 7 miles ahead of you to your NE”.

Shuti! We had met Shuti in New Caledonia back in November 2016. They are a family of 5 from Israel – 3 boys on board, aged 12, 9 and 6. We had hoped to meet up with them again in Australia, but only the kids managed to briefly meet in Sydney at the David Bowie concert. We knew they were heading across the Indian Ocean, and had hoped we would meet up along the way. Now we zoomed in on the chartplotter and the AIS signal appeared! How nice it would be to add another 3 kids to the mix! We’d be even now: 8 kids and 8 adults!

The passage to Cocos was not the nicest one we’ve ever had, but then longer passages are nobody’s favorite on Cool Runnings as it is! We were able to fly our Spinnaker pretty much the whole way, and the winds were not too bad in strength, usually picking up over night going into the 20’s, and then during the day between 13 and 17 knots. The problem was the sea state. It was so bouncy and rolly and rough, that we were constantly being tossed around like a cork bobbing in the ocean. We actually welcomed the stronger wind, as it helped steady us a little. Our friends on Aerial IV, a monohull, had an even tougher time, rolling from side to side. The winds were also more out of the East than the South East, so it was more downwind sailing than the reaching we had expected.

Flying our Spinnaker

Ben passing time on passage

It took us 6 nights and 7 days to cover the 1,100 miles from Bali to Cocos Keeling. Our arrival time was showing a midnight – 2:00am arrival on July 5th. We knew if we could speed up a little, we could make it before sundown, and we were not keen to arrive at night, and certainly not keen to spend an additional night out in the rough seas!! Unless we had pretty strong wind, (which did not materialize), it was unlikely that we would make the July 4th arrival, so we made the decision to fire up the engines to add the bit of speed we needed! We knew we could get diesel in Cocos, although at a premium, but if it meant we would get there before sundown on the 4th, we were happy to pay the price! We topped up our water tanks (running the water maker), had a shower, donned our red, white and blue apparel, and wished America a happy birthday before rounding the tip of Direction Island and turning the corner into the shelter of the lagoon! We were able to anchor just as it got dark. We were thrilled to have arrived, safe and sound, and longed for a peaceful night’s sleep!

Gabs in her Red, White and Blue!  Happy 4th of July (Independence Day in the USA, and our arrival in Cocos Keeling!)

Ben's very last bowl of Nutrigrain cereal!!  He loved it...but there was only so much we could buy!

There were 2 other boats anchored here. One was relatively far away in the “outer anchorage”, and the other was anchored fairly close to shore. When we woke up the next morning, there was a third boat anchoring! Shuti had arrived in the early hours of the morning, and had just entered the lagoon and were dropping their anchor! We radioed the Australian Federal Police to request clearance, and they were arrived pretty quickly. It was another easy check-in, and, God Bless Cocos Police, they did not take any food! They understand that cruisers who make it this far, still have a very long way to go, and need all the food they have on board, so they let us keep everything, provided it does not leave the boat. Shuti was checked in pretty much at the same time, and soon we were able to reunite! Unfortunately for Shuti, they had refrigeration problems, so first order of business was to get all their perishables into our fridge, so they could go about the task of trying to get their fridge fixed.

Lagoon with Direction Island

Shuti anchored off Direction Island
We spent the day doing what we usually do after passage: cleaning! Luckily it had POURED with rain overnight, and the outside of Cool Runnings had already been rinsed of all the salt and dirt from Bali. We did two loads of washing that flapped furiously in the wind that just kept getting stronger and stronger. We were so happy to be anchored and felt bad for Moby and Aerial IV, who still had another day and night out at sea. The kids got together and had a blast playing in the water again, and later in the afternoon we took the 2 older Shuti boys with us to the beach to explore Direction Island.

Direction Island is uninhabited, and it almost is as if it belongs to cruisers alone. The Australian authorities have built a BBQ area, picnic areas, and there are palm trees adorned with signs from boats who have come before us! There are also well marked trails that lead all over the island with informational boards with the history of the island, along with old pictures. It is really well done, and we were surprised at the amount of history this tiny island has to offer! The name Cocos Keeling comes from Captain William Keeling, who first sighted the islands in 1609, but it was almost 200 years before John Clunies-Ross and Alexander Hare actually settled on the islands. They planted coconut plantations and brought with them some Malay workers. Soon there was a thriving industry, with copra and coconuts being exported to parts as far as Mauritius! Queen Victoria gave the islands to the Clunies-Ross family and it stayed in their possession for hundreds of years. It was not until 1984 that the islanders voted to become part of Australia!

Early on the morning of July 6th, “Moby” arrived, and soon after, we saw another set of sails, and “Aerial IV” also entered the lagoon! Our contingent of 4 boats was safe, sound and accounted for! We let Moby and Aerial IV recuperate, and we took a ferry to Home Island, which is one of the two inhabited islands in Cocos Keeling. Home Island is where the Malay community live. Out of the 600 or so inhabitants of Cocos Keeling, approximately 450 are Malays living on Home Island, and the other 150 live on West Island where most of the ex-pats live. They are primarily government workers, teachers, nurses and researchers. Most come here on a 2 year contract, and then return to the main land. 

Welcome to Home Island
We spent a very interesting day on Home Island and visited the museum, which provided us with a huge amount of background on the history of these islands. While there is too much document in detail in this blog, the story that fascinated me the most was of one particular day, during World War I, the day the Emden came. The British had installed a cable station on Direction Island for communication around the Indian Ocean territories. (Direction Island is the island that we are anchored off; now uninhabited). Early on the morning of November 9th, 1914, the German light cruiser “Emden” anchored off Direction Island and sent a party of 45 men ashore. Their intention was to destroy the cable station on the island. They were unaware, however, of a huge fleet of Australian and New Zealand troop convoy that was less than 100km away. When the British on Direction Island saw the Emden, they radioed the fleet and soon the HMAS Sydney was on its way. On shore, the British were rounded up and made prisoners, and the Germans raised their flag, having now captured the island. As it was explained at the museum, it was all a very civilized affair, both German and British soldiers chatting to each other, and no harm came to anyone. As the Germans were getting ready to return to the Emden, to let them know that the mission was accomplished, they heard a warning signal from their ship, and soon saw it starting to leave without them! The Emden in the meantime had realized the Sydney was coming, and the German exploration party on shore realized their ship was not coming back to get them!

The Museum is housed in an old rice shed

On shore, both British and German soldiers sat and watched the battle of Emden and Sydney play out before them. The pictures are quite amazing! The Sydney eventually destroyed the Emden, and rather than let the ship sink, risking the drowning of all its crew, the captain of the Emden ran the ship aground on the reef at North Keeling Island. On shore, 6 hours after the German flag was raised, it was once again lowered, and the British flag raised again! The exploration party now knew they needed to leave, and amazingly enough, with the help of the British soldiers on shore, they stocked up the private vessel of the Clunies-Ross family, a schooner called “Ayesha”, with supplies and water, and waving three cheers to the British, and the British calling three cheers back, they rowed out to the Ayesha, and then sailed her to what is now Indonesia, at the time, it was neutral Dutch territory! All of this happened on one day!!

This panel shows some of the old photos that told the story of that day

Two of the old, wooden boats on display at the museum.  The initials "GCR" for George Clunies-Ross can be seen on the front boat
That was just one amazing story in the history of these small islands. The story of the Clunies-Ross family and how the islands came to be under Australian control is another story altogether! After absorbing all this information, we walked around the rest of the island, and having a look at the Oceania House, the old Clunies-Ross mansion that still stands today, we eventually took the ferry back to Direction Island. 

Oceania House - the Clunies-Ross mansion that is now under private ownership and being converted into a B&B

Part of the estate wall fallen into disrepair

On the other side of Home Island

That evening, Shuti and Moby came over to Cool Runnings, and we had sundowners and catch up hour, the 8 kids crowded into the salon and watched a movie, and the adults caught up over drinks and snacks in the cockpit! We shared stories of our passage over and discussed our journey ahead.  It was great to be at anchor and with friends again!

Cool Runnings, Moby and Shuti at anchor

Yesterday, Friday, was one of those days when we said, “this is what cruising is all about”. Each boat did their own thing in the morning, (in our case it was getting our 9 jerry cans of diesel and getting our gas refilled) and after lunch, we all gathered on the beach, and just enjoyed ourselves. The water toys were out – windsurfers and SUPs, and the kids and grown ups alike had a ball playing on the beach and in the water! When the wind dies down, we will have our planned beach bonfire…we can’t leave here without doing that at least!! Today we’ve caught the ferry to West Island, where we can catch a glimmer of internet to get this blog post uploaded!!

Our plans from here on are to spend a few more days here in Cocos, waiting for the weather to improve. The following couple of days we hope to relax and enjoy with our friends in the anchorage, and then it will be about a 10 day passage to Chagos. If I get a chance, I may be able to do one more post, but hereafter, until we get to Seychelles, blog updates will be via our Iridium satellite only (ie. no pictures!). We are looking forward to Chagos, which also has a very checkered history, with the entire population having been resettled, due to the establishment of an American Naval Base on Diego Garcia island. We are restricted to 2 atolls in the Chagos archipelago, both of whom are uninhabited. This will truly be the most remote place we will ever have visited! We are looking forward to it and the next chapter of our crossing of the Indian Ocean!

Sunrise over Direction Island with Shuti and Aerial IV at anchor