A Passage to South Africa

Nosy Bé to Durban

As background to our new crew, we met Peter and Ute Laser last year in Yacht Haven, Phuket and have been in regular contact since.  German nationals living in Thailand, they offered to help crew Pipistrelle on this passage, an offer we couldn’t refuse!  A couple of days after they joined on 17th September, we left for Nosy Komba, a small island only a few miles from Hellville, Nosy Bé, featuring a village on the NE side protected from both the SE and NW winds.  For those interested, the position is 13 26.558S 48 21.244E.

(For readers who may be wondering what ‘Nosy’ is, it means ‘island’ in Malagasy – there are plenty of them!)

Close to the village an area has been created for visitors to see local lemurs.  To start with we thought we were going to be disappointed, but then the lure of bananas brought them bounding through the branches for a feed!  It was a great photo opportunity, with the little primates quite happily sitting on shoulders and heads, almost posing for the camera.

The many other villages on Nosy Komba are only reached by hiking over the top of the island, a two hour steep climb, maybe three hours to their village.  We managed two treks before sailing back to Hellville.  To see schoolchildren, mothers carrying wares on their heads, and men returning with timber for boat building, and heavy fruits, made us realise how tough life is for most people in Madagascar.  Another of those countless humbling experiences we have had while cruising.

After a tour of mountainous Nosy Bé with its deep lakes populated with crocodiles, and a day of provisioning we were ready to check out.  On 25th September we set sail for Nosy Munoko, an island 20 miles to the south with a beautiful anchorage which we shared with 3 other yachts.  Ashore is a small village where Malagasy sailing boats or dhows are built.  Interestingly, one was about to be launched, the other was in the initial stages of construction. Position 13 43.325S 48 11.261E.

For the next legs of our passage south along the west coast of Madagascar we used the valuable information from SV Infini’s blog which we rate very highly.  Michael and Susan have done a great job of describing each anchorage and more importantly providing accurate waypoints.

The winds on this leg begin in the SE early morning, with a lull mid-morning, before swinging to the NW in the afternoon, then dying off, before swinging overnight to the SE.  So with a favourable breeze we sailed past Russian Bay, and on to Nosy Iranja for a brief lunch stop, and then in to Baramahay Bay, known amongst yachties as Honey River.  It was another lovely anchorage, though for us it was only a one night stop. Position 13 42.802S 047 54.084E

That was followed by Point Berangomana which proved difficult to identify from offshore.  We also discovered the charts are wildly out, and where we were expecting a depth of 10 metres, there was 4.5m over a coral reef at HW.  The water is none too clear, and we beat a hasty retreat.  A safe entry waypoint is 14 06.622S 47 53.237E, midway 14 06.379S 47 53.707E.  This route showed us going over very shallow areas, but the least depth at LW was 5 metres.  Therefore the north side of this entrance must be avoided at all cost.  Once in, it is a good and sheltered anchorage. Position 14 06.04S 047 54.244E

With no wind in the early afternoon of the 70nm passage to Moramba Bay, we thought we would have to turn back to another anchorage for the night.  Fortunately the NW wind filled, and we just scraped in as dusk was falling, on a high tide.  This entrance was easy and the charts correct, and we used the anchorage point supplied by Nightfly, who had left the same day.  The stunning bay is well protected from both the SE and NW, though there is a bit of chop in the afternoon.  There are many islands dotted around, all limestone, so very similar to Phang Nga Bay in Thailand with overhangs created by water erosion, but without the majestic height of the karsts there.   Baobab trees abound, their trunks turning pink then brown in the evening sun. Position 14 53.672 47 19.703E.

The forecast for the next leg was not good, so we delayed a day and used the time to tackle the ever present overdue jobs, Peter’s electrical expertise coming in very handy.  Having Peter and Ute on board was great; they both cook expertly, even fighting over the galley and were eager to hone their sailing skills.  With their excellent sense of humour they were very welcome crew members.

Our next stop was Pt Ambararata, just an overnighter some 25 miles to the south. This was a fairly unprotected bay, but as the NWly breeze eased at 1900, the anchorage was fine.

The next day we were on our way by 0530, and had a stonking 50nm sail to Majumba, cracking along at 8kn for most of the way.  This appears to be a major town/port in Madagascar, but is also very poor.  We managed to buy some final provisions and more fuel, and enjoyed watching the many picturesque dhows sailing to and from the port.

After 10 days of coast hopping, on the morning of 6th October we started towards South Africa and Richards Bay, with an intended heading of due west, taking us across the Mozambique Channel at right angles, to then pick up the south going current.  Whilst we had a good SE’ly to start with, it soon died and we found ourselves motorsailing by the afternoon.  This continued on and off for 4 days when we stowed the mainsail and sailed or motorsailed with the genoa or staysail, or both.  Finally on 11th we found the magical 3kn of current, aided and abetted by the current predictor downloaded from Saildocs.

On 12th October we achieved a high 182nm in 24 hours and thought we would be able to sail direct to Richards Bay, thus beating the southerly storm forecast for 15/16th.  Our 9kn over the ground was very rapidly reduced to 4kn SOG and with it a change of plans to make for Maputo (Mozambique), seeking shelter beside Isles Portugueses.  Of immense help were the morning and evening nets on the SSB, and a pattern quickly developed which included the three boats ahead of us, Nightfly, Zephyr and Running Tide, and other boats still in Madagascar.  Mahi Mahi were in mid channel, but eventually joined us in making for Maputo.

On 14th we rounded the headland south of Inhambane.  With the wind backing from NE to South, were finally able to hoist the mainsail, kill the engine, and get some boat speed on for our arrival on the 15th at Maputo.  As we arrived at the shallows we had to cross, the wind picked up to 25 knots and the heavens opened, but having lowered the mainsail and furled the genoa, our passage to the anchorage was uneventful.  It can hardly be described as sheltered, but it was better than being in open seas with 35 knots of wind from the south!

By the morning of 17th the wind was moderating and moving SE, so we led the exodus from the anchorage, with Mahi Mahi deciding to stay.

As the forecast was good for the next 5 days we decided to sail direct for Durban because there was still unfinished work to be done to the electronics as a result of the lightning strike back in April.  The expertise we needed is unavailable in Richards Bay.  First we had to clear Cabo Inhaca which took a number of tacks, and then we found we had 2kn of current against us.

By the end of the first night it was with us again, the wind swung to the NE, and our problem was slowing down enough to avoid arriving at the busy port of Durban in the middle of the night.  We passed Richards Bay in the early evening, with about 30 ships at anchor waiting to unload their cargoes.  It was a good decision to continue!  Even with furled headsail and one reef in the main, we were still doing 10kn over the ground!  We finished up with 3 reefs, making 8 kn over the ground, until the current headed SE and we sailed south.

We sailed into Durban at 09.30 on 19th October, a total passage of 1,660nm, which also qualified Peter and Ute to join the Ocean Cruising Club, which has a 1,000nm passage as the minimum requirement for membership.

Whilst the Port Authority gave excellent directions and allowed us to sail in immediately, we were surprised to find that Durban Marina does not have a VHF facility, which would have made finding a berth so much easier.  After some delay we moored, and then began the checking in process.

Bob Fraser is the OCC Port Officer in Durban, a delightful guy, who met us in the café next to the Point Yacht Club where he can normally be found.  He is a fount of knowledge, not only about the PYC which is steeped in history, but also about Durban and its environs.  Immigration should have visited us on board, but Bob (Fraser) took things into his own hands, and drove us to Customs and Immigration, with formalities being completed in a very short time.  After returning to PYC he helped us with finding an ATM, SIM cards and warned us where it was safe and not so safe to walk.

Pipistrelle is now safely berthed alongside on a pontoon and Vladimar is already at work on the electronics.  Ullman Sails will replace the staysail which has lasted 10 years and was patched in Nosy Be after taking a beating on our passage from the Seychelles to Madagascar.  We return to the UK for a short break before continuing the passage to Cape Town in December.  Peter and Ute are off to enjoy safaris and see some of the sights in South Africa before returning to Phuket.  They have been a delight to have on board, and we look forward to welcoming them again at some future date.

Posted in Madagascar, South Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gone Fishin’ in Mada

Having Tony on board for our passage from the Seychelles to Madagascar was terrific for a myriad of reasons, not least of which was his fishing expertise – just part of the skill set he brought with him.  Admittedly, he didn’t put these talents into practice until we were in the shelter of the NW coast of Madagascar, but then came the action!

First on the line was a reasonable skipjack tuna – big enough for a couple of meals, the first served as sashimi with soy sauce, wasabi and bread.  Delicious.  Not content with just one catch, the line was cast again and shortly afterwards we landed a decent sized trevally, proudly held up here for the camera.

Not bad for a day’s effort but the best was still to come on day two.

With one line out again and sailing in calm seas at about 6 kn, mid-morning the cry came ‘FISH’!  All hands on deck, with Bob on the bathing platform, gaffing the catch.  This time what we think was a mackerel, perhaps Spanish, but more likely Indian was subdued with alcohol (not the best Gordon’s of course) hung in the cockpit with its head in a bucket, and filleted ready for cooling in the fridge.   No sooner had everything been cleared up, the line went out once more, thinking the chances of luring another unsuspecting fish fairly slim.  Not a bit of it.  Within 30 minutes the reel was spinning with that same magic turquoise, blue and green lure on the end of the trace.

Weighing in at 8 kg, this one took some time to get on board from the side deck.  A second mackerel type fish!  Tony’s method of tackling the filleting task is novel (for us at least) and clean, with very little blood-letting, and all prepared in the cockpit.  His way, the fish isn’t gutted.  Hanging by its tail, the flesh is cut away in sections from that end towards the head, then rinsed, the skin removed and the skeleton, head and tail thrown overboard.

To cap it all, as we were entering Nosy Mitsoi to anchor late that same afternoon, a local dug out came to meet us, the two fishermen holding up their catch.  Crayfish no less.  Too much to resist, we bought one very cheaply, put it in the pan and ate much of it for supper.  Again a delicious treat.  We hadn’t eaten fresh crayfish for some time.

Bearing in mind a complete dearth of freshly caught fish on board Pipistrelle for over a year, all in all we were delighted and it provided us with a couple of great opportunities to entertain friends on board once we reached Nosy Be, with both a marinated raw fish dish and fried – but no chips!

Postscript: Much excitement was caused by a female humpback whale and calf that surfaced and blew 20ft from us while heading north as we were sailing south.   A magnificent fluke, but it caught us by surprise so no photos.

Posted in Madagascar | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Just a Walk in the Park?

After several weeks ashore at Gondwana Marine Services, Pipistrelle was splashed, and with the help of Tony of Sage we made our way back to the Yacht Club at Victoria, where we anchored.

Earlier in the month, Elaine had returned home for family reasons, so in case she could not get back in time, Bob organised crew with the help of New Zealand sailing friends, Ian and Wendy.  They put us in touch with Tony Miller, and Bob very quickly found they both shared the same sense of humour.  Unfortunately Tony’s arrival was delayed by illness though Elaine was able re-join from the UK.  They arrived within a day of each other; we immediately checked out, did some last minute provisioning, and left for Anse de la Mouche on the west coast of Mahé.

The wind and squalls decided to thwart our attempt and we put into Port Launay, a bay further up the island, to complete the passage the following morning.  There we found the electronics engineer who had checked the autopilot in Victoria had inadvertently left the compass 180 degrees out of sync!  The wind instrument had also failed.  We met up with Tony and Connie of Sage who were waiting there for us so we could depart together, and after more compass swinging we finally set off on passage to Madagascar the next day, Sept. 6th.

The weather we had been experiencing in the Seychelles was truly horrible; strong SE winds plus frequent torrential rain and squalls.  With one reef in the main and the staysail set, we were on our way, and within 24 hours had thankfully left the rain and squalls behind.

We managed to hold a course sailing 60 degrees on the wind, and keeping to the east of all the islands on our route, crucially the Farquhar Islands.  But by midnight on the 8th we had to put a 2nd reef in, with a reduced staysail, and had waves continually breaking over the boat, with some water ingress down below, purely from the force of the waves.  We were still achieving 170nm over a 24 hour period. On the night of the 9th as we approached Cap d’Ambre the wind was not just howling through the rigging, it was screaming.  Never heard anything like that before!  Bob considered a 3rd reef, but with the set of the sails and the boat speed, Pipistrelle still seemed to be taking it ok.

Tony found the conditions hilarious, and could be heard laughing in the cockpit as wave after wave crashed over Pipistrelle!  We made it to the east of Cap d’Ambre, the northern most tip of Madagascar, and then altered course to run west across the headland 1nm offshore, Tony on the helm and loving it, us asleep below!   Later that morning we reached Nosy Hara and shared the anchorage with Pakea Tea, a Wharram catamaran with Tom, Sonja and their lovely little son on board, who we had last seen in the Maldives.

To summarise, this passage was definitely not just a walk in the park though our first steps ashore in Madagascar were just that!  Weather conditions on this 4 day passage were unquestionably the worst and most challenging we have encountered since setting off from the Hamble in 2008.  In fact at times it was rather like being in a washing machine!  But we arrived safely, Pipistrelle coped remarkably well, with very little damage, but our staysail will certainly need replacing in South Africa.

Our first stop in Madagascar was Nosy Hara at 12 14.66S 49 00.34E where we anchored in sand in 7.4m.   We then sailed on to Nosy Mitoi which is a beautiful protected bay at 12 54.41S 48 34.68E.  From there we sailed on to Hellville on Nosy Be at 13 24.50S 48 17.07E where we initially anchored in 14.4m, but moved the following day to a more protected part of the bay.

Posted in Madagascar, Seychelles | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Nature and Wildlife in Mahé

The Seychelles conjure up images of sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the breeze and gently cruising around the islands.  But Mahé is much more than that.  It offers a wealth of nature and wildlife on its mountainous terrain, so on the ‘must do’ list for us was stretching our legs to explore the nature and wildlife in the marvellous interior.

In the Morne Seychellois National Park, where Morne Blanc is at 905m, the hiking trails are excellent, though a clear fine day is essential as clouds can roll in without warning making walking difficult and obliterating the views.  We tackled two tracks – Les Trois Frères which we found was less demanding than the Copolia, though moderately steep in part.   We shared the stunning views from the Three Brothers with our walking companions, Connie and Tony of Sage and discovered little nuggets of nature along the way.  The photos endeavour to sum up the mood.

Copolia is about five km above Victoria, and our little hire car did well to manage the gradient and hairpin bends.  The trek is very well worthwhile and at just under 500m it is only about a kilometre to the granite outcrop with its absolutely breath-taking panoramas – a fantastic reward for having conquered the steep final ‘ascent’.  Whew! Photos again to capture the moment.

Apart from the Galapagos (see our blog Galapagos – San Cristobal) the Seychelles is the only place on earth with endemic giant tortoises.  Elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, they are now extinct.  Called the Aldabra giant tortoise, they are found in the wild on remote Aldabra Atoll, part of the Seychelles group, and now a World Heritage Site.  Numerous giant tortoises live in captivity on Mahé, with breeding and conservation programmes being carried out on other nearby islands more suited to their reintroduction than the main island.

While a giant tortoise features on the Seychelles coat of arms, it is the curvy nut of the coco de mer palm that forms the outline of the immigration stamp in passports.   The Seychelles is only place in the world where the tree grows naturally.  Also called the coco fesse, the kernel is shaped like the ‘derrière’ of the fairer sex and is accordingly accompanied by many different legends.  Examples of this rare palm line the avenue in the 100 year old Botanical Gardens set in the middle of Victoria – which are pleasant and tranquil for an afternoon stroll, visiting those giant tortoises and taking a few photos.

A little flower power:

Posted in Seychelles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Late Portrait of Victoria

This is not about an artist’s impression of Queen Victoria in her later years, though she can be found here.  It is a retrospective of Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles island group and probably named after her.  Located on Mahé, the largest and most developed island housing 90% of the population, it is a quaint mixture of Creole, French and British and where we spent the months of July and August.

Like many island groups, the Seychelles has a chequered history.  Largely undiscovered until the 18th century when Mahé de Labourdonnais, French governor of Mauritius, sent out a scout to do a recce, the French took possession but did not quite know what to do with their prize.  The British became interested, the French did not put up a fight and the islands became a British dependency in the early 19th century and finally a crown colony administered from London a century later, a couple of years after Queen Victoria’s death.  Independence was granted in 1976, and Independence Day is celebrated annually in the presence of the President, James Michel, with much fanfare and long speeches.

Making an afternoon of it at the National Show outside the Stadium:

Inside The People’s Stadium:

The population of just about 100,000 swells each year by over 200,000 tourists who come to lap up the luxury of a multitude of resorts on Mahé, La Digue, Praslin to name but a few of the 115 that make up the island nation.  It is a thriving industry – high end condominium residences abound on Eden Island along with expensive self-contained apartments.  With a similar name, the Eden Luxury Apartments offer accommodation at a more reasonable rate, complete with swimming pool.

Victoria is neat, clean and friendly, where dress code is western and relaxed, making a welcome change from the strictures of covering up in other countries we’ve recently sailed to.  Apart from administration buildings, post office, churches and a bus station, it boasts The Seychelles Yacht Club where we whiled away many a lunchtime or supper with friends over a meal and glass of wine.  The open market offers local market- garden produce, flowers, eggs, spices and souvenirs.  There are supermarkets ranging from STC to Spar and the ISPC with its wonderful wine selection, French cheeses, pates and cold cuts, plus all the other little stores and bakeries.

Celebrating a special occasion we went to the renowned restaurant, Marie-Antoinette and enjoyed a delicious and expansive set menu of Creole dishes in rustic surroundings.  But we stopped short of trying the typical local delicacy – FRUIT BAT!!  Like Queen Victoria, Pipistrelle would not have been amused.

Why did we come to the Seychelles after provisioning for a passage to Rodrigues from Chagos?  The weather further towards the south west was not conducive to a pleasant passage with a hard beat in strong winds at the end.  Instead the Seychelles lie due west, therefore with the prevailing winds on the beam.  Some boats we know were already in Victoria, with all the other yachts at the Ile Boddam anchorage also heading towards Mahé.  Decision made!

We also took the opportunity of having Pipistrelle lifted at the Gondwana yard in Mahé to strip the hull of all its anti fouling.  This was in preference to South Africa, where so many other boats will need to be hauled out in Richard’s Bay before the end of the year after their Indian Ocean crossing.  Gondwana has a new 150 tonne Italian engineered travel lift and after initial technical problems the haul was successful.  We were extremely impressed by the immense knowledge, experience and expertise of Rajen Naidu, the General Manager and felt very confident he and his team would do a good job, which turned out to exceed our expectations.  The hull was carefully taken back to the gelcoat to remove the build-up of antifoul that had accumulated over the last 12 years.  Two coats of epoxy were then applied, followed by two coats of antifoul.  The topsides were polished to a new shine and Pipistrelle looks fantastic again.  Click to see our entry on Noonsiteand Gondwana Marine Services on Facebook.

Posted in Seychelles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Quick March to Chagos – or ‘All the Threes’

Why ‘All the Threes’?

  • about three hundred miles is the distance from Gan to Chagos,
  • with a passage time of three days, and
  • for three things we were thankful
    1. to be finally underway again
    2. to have calm seas with a long swell and wispy clouds reminiscent of the Pacific, and
    3. to have that additional fuel stowed in containers on deck – so valuable because we motored for 69 hours, using 207 l of diesel.

Apart from witnessing stunning sunrises and offering a ride to a hitchhiker in the shape of a brown boobie, the passage was uneventful and we arrived to be welcomed at the anchorage off Ile Boddam by six other yachts we know.   We could ‘stand at ease’!  (See also the article ‘About Turn!‘)

What makes Chagos special?

The warm water lapping the shoreline is azure blue, you step onto fine white sand and seek shade under one of the hundreds of palms lining the beach.  Corals and fish abound.  It is quiet and magical; an idyllic island group in the Indian Ocean.

But Ile Boddam on Salomon Atoll is where the jungle has reclaimed ruinous buildings of a local coconut oil producing population evicted in the late 1960s.  It is abandoned. The atmosphere is eerie.  Walking around the remains of the church, warehouse, villa, school, prison and other robustly built dwellings are testimony to bygone wealth, the cemetery a reminder of past generations.  The only permanent residents are coconut crabs and rats.

Belonging to Britain, Chagos is a unique, isolated and tragic outpost.  Officially called The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) normal life in the archipelago came to an abrupt end over 50 years ago when the British government leased the largest island, Diego Garcia to the US for the creation of a major military airbase still used today.  All 1500 islanders were forcibly removed, some to Mauritius, some to the Seychelles and none have been repatriated.  Diego Garcia itself is off limits to all apart from the military, yachts being allowed to visit just two atolls – Salomon and neighbouring Peros Banhos.  There is no tourism.

For this privilege we applied to the BIOT Administrator in Whitehall for a permit, not a straightforward process and one which cost £200.00.  In return for supplying boat, passport, insurance details and the fee, we received authorisation for a 28 day stay, a 19 page document of rules and regulations, a 7 pager on guidance for visitors and a fishing log.  Restrictions are many and fines for not observing the rules high.  Arriving earlier or later than originally planned causes problems if not advised as can overstaying the 28 days whatever the reason, as some of our fellow cruisers discovered.  Before we arrived, the orange BIOT patrol boat visited regularly.  The weather can change from complete calm to stormy in a few hours.

Some years ago cruisers would sail here from Thailand as we did, and stay for months until weather, wind and currents were favourable again to take them back to South East Asia. We are uncertain whether this changed in 2010 when the British Government declared Chagos a marine reserve and introduced more restrictions.

Scuba diving being forbidden, we resorted to snorkelling.  Back in the aquarium, we saw sting rays digging hollows in the sand, turtles great and small gliding by, sharks and a large variety of fish.  But what we also saw was some of the beautiful coral being destroyed by bleaching … another sad story in Chagos.  Rising water temperatures, sea levels and bacterial infection are just three of the lead causes.

Notes on Platax Batfish and Labroides kindly supplied by our good friend Oliver Straub:

Platax start life in sheltered biotopes close to coasts, often brackish waters, often in mangrove biotopes which are nurseries for many reef fish. When young they look like a slender upright triangle or a slightly stunted boomerang.  The older and bigger they get the more disc-shaped they become. Also, they move out into fully saline seawater but remain close to coral reefs where they can hide from faster predators. Platax batfish reach up to 20″ diameter.

From an ecological point of view the two small slender fish near the Platax are interesting. One (on the batfish’s dorsal fin) is bright yellow and dark blue/black, the other (just behind the batfish) has an elegant black line on a bright blue body. Both are cleaner wrasses of the genus Labroides, the former with the yellowish hind part Labroides bicolor, the latter the bluestreak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus.  Both feed on ectoparasites of their client fish.  Cleaner wrasses normally set up ‘cleaning stations’ attracting clients with a dance-like swimming. The clients approach, sometimes they have to wait their turn and form veritable queues, then they will remain still, often opening their mouths and gill covers for the cleaners to inspect and sanitise every nook and cranny. Even big predators like groupers will not make use of the opportunity to eat their cleaner but let them swim through their mouth and out through the gills while doing their job.

Though we didn’t, those who went out in their dinghy to line fish returned after a short time with a great and varied catch – red snapper, wahoo, tuna to name a few.   Supper was guaranteed and all were neatly logged.

And where better to catch up on the day’s fishing and snorkelling yarns at the end of each afternoon over sundowners than at The Chagos Yacht Club?  A glass of whatever beverage was available on yachts with ever depleting supplies and a selection of inventive snacks was normally on the bar menu.  Coconut crabs and the occasional rat would invariably crawl out of the undergrowth after dark.  Beach BBQs consisted of – well – fish of course!

And after nearly three weeks, it was time to leave another country behind us and head towards our next destination …  The Seychelles.  More in the next blog.

Footnote: John Pilger’s 2004 documentary ‘Stealing a Nation’ gives a fascinating insight into the troubles of the exiled Chagossians and the chapter in Simon Winchester’s book ‘Outposts’ published in 1985 gives a vivid first-hand account of what he discovered there at the time.  More recently The Guardian newspaper has carried reports about ongoing struggles of the displaced to return home.

Posted in Chagos, Seychelles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Breaking the Radio Silence

As far as keeping the blog up to date is concerned, we admit we’re way behind the pace.  Two months behind in fact.  No internet in far flung places brought on the radio silence but we’re now back in action.

So, long overdue articles on finally setting off from the Maldives, heading south to Chagos and visiting the beautiful, abandoned Ile Boddam will be published soon.  So will updates on the Seychelles.

In and around picturesque Mahe, we’re very much enjoying the scenery; quaint Victoria, socialising at the thriving yacht club with the other dozen or so cruising yachts that have chosen the islands to take a temporary break from passage making.  Add to that wine, beer, French cheese, baguettes, croissants that we have missed for months and the mix is relaxing.  But of course as well as all that, boatie jobs are a high priority so we’re not slacking.

Meanwhile, here is a pot-pourri of snaps to whet your appetite for the blogs to come.



Posted in Chagos, Seychelles | Tagged , , , ,

About Turn!

In view of Gan’s military past, the title seems appropriate!

So why turn back?

Last Saturday, 16th May we went out through the pass at Addu Atoll and three hours into open water Pipistrelle’s autopilots started playing up.  The B&G eventually stopped working altogether and the Simrad showed faults.  With 290 miles to run to Chagos where there is nothing and no facilities until Mauritius we decided the only sensible course was to return to Gan.  Fortunately we had not ventured very far. Unfortunately we were battling against the current, it was getting dark and we were hand steering.  Nine miles took a long time to cover but we made it back safely.

One week on and our location hasn’t changed.  Thanks to the help and support of Tinley Electronics in the UK and Steve of Category 1 in New Zealand, we have replaced the fluxgate compass, recalibrated the autopilot from scratch and undertaken extensive sea trials in the atoll.  The B&G autopilot is working again and talks to Simrad.   It has to be said that Steve and Bob took Pipistrelle out to test the autopilots after repairs had been made, and they appeared to be working.  Had they not been, we would not have started out.

All was looking good for another attempt to escape today, Sunday.  We had cleared out again (having had to go through the formalities of clearing in again last week), spent all our local currency, said our goodbyes and were ready to leave at dawn.

But the generator which to all intents and purposes had been fine, failed to start up last night.  Instead of an evening relaxing, it was out with the toolboxes and back into the engine room.  Today Bob has been in Skype contact with Steve in NZ and together they have been able to work through and resolve the problem – winding sensor cables had come apart, stopping the fuel pump working.  They have now been put together again and the generator is running smoothly.

We have sufficient food on board we hope until we reach Rodrigues, but here are a couple of practical notes on provisioning on Addu and its small islands.

The choice of fresh food can be a little hit and miss and in sometimes short supply as most is brought in by supply boat or plane. Deliveries are scheduled weekly, but weather dictates arrival.  If it is stormy, there is no delivery.

Take potatoes for example … none of the small supermarkets had one potato between them (and still don’t).  Or so it appeared.  When we asked, the manager of one surprisingly magicked from a dark cupboard 2 kg for us.  Not what we would call ‘fresh’ but they do.  Tomatoes, apples, oranges and suchlike need to be bought immediately you see them – otherwise the shelves are bare.  We bought other fruit at an outlying ‘farm’.

Eggs fall into a similar category.  Though chickens exist on the islands – cockerels strut their stuff and hens protect their chicks – throughout The Maldives, all eggs are imported either from India (white) or Sri Lanka (brown)!!   Somehow the local population prefers to pay more for less fresh eggs than to start farming.   Perhaps it’s the species?  Consequently, like potatoes, eggs are scarce and not particularly fresh when bought.  So despite going through the process of testing ours for ‘freshness’, coating the good ones in baby oil and turning them, we’ve had to throw many away.  The remainder have to last until Rodrigues!

We plan to leave at sunrise tomorrow, Monday, with full tanks and additional fuel in containers strapped to the guardrail – a first for us.  Between here and Rodrigues there is no possibility to refuel and winds could be light!

Additional fuel supplies


Posted in The Maldives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Going, Going, Gan …

After a month here in Gan on Addu Atoll, we are finally saying goodbye and heading the 295 nm south to Chagos.  Heavy rain and high winds again over the past few days have not been conducive to either completing work or shopping for provisions.  But things have brightened up considerably in the last couple of days on all fronts – the generator is working, the weather has greatly improved and we can now go!

Thanks go to those local people who have been so helpful to us over that time, including our agent Maththi, and Shakyl, the electronics engineer who got the generator going again once the final package had arrived from Germany with the parts for the control box.  We celebrated that achievement and Shakyl kindly invited us to his home where his wife had prepared a delicious lunch for us.  We were greatly honoured.


The Equator Village Resort provided a haven of tranquility for Elaine while the bulk of work was being done on Pipistrelle – she could see her out at anchor and even snorkelled out on a couple of occasions.  Bob also enjoyed the comfort of air-conditioning when he joined her each evening for dinner, though could not leave Pipistrelle unattended for long. Interestingly, Gan was a military airport operated by our RAF from about 1956 until 1972 when they pulled out and used as a ‘stop over’ for troops heading East.  Several friends have commented they know Gan! The Equator Village used to be the officers’ quarters and mess.

Here also are two screenshots of the geographical area and our track through The Maldives.

Posted in The Maldives | Tagged , , ,

Lightning Never Strikes Twice!

So the saying goes – but in our case this is not quite true!  Three times is the score for Pipistrelle – once in Curacao in the Caribbean, once in Fiji and now in The Maldives.

Read on …

The Tropics are renowned for the frequency of lightning, and nowhere more so than Malaysia and Thailand.  We investigated installing a lightning protector in New Zealand, but with a quoted cost of NZ$15,000 and no guarantee it would work, we decided not to go ahead.

So we were relieved to move on westwards from Thailand, and away from the frequent electrical storms.  Sailing south through the Maldives was uneventful until after we had left Male for Gan.  An overnight passage between two atolls was needed on the 6/7th April, and whilst rain was shown on the weather forecast, there was no mention of lightning.  During the night with Elaine on watch the radar was showing cumulus nimbus ahead, with sheet lightning, but it was moving away from our path.  After the change of watch at 0300 Bob was still looking at developments on the radar, and saw with concern a huge bank of cloud behind us, moving against the wind, and catching us up.  He altered course towards the atoll we were passing, but as the cloud went overhead, there was a huge bang, crack and simultaneous flash of lightning.

We had suffered a direct hit to the top of the mast.  Though he felt the shock of the impact, and Elaine’s off watch slumbers were severely curtailed, fortunately we were both otherwise unhurt, if not a little shaken. But there was a strong smell of burning in the aft area of Pipistrelle (one cause could have been the PCB for the autopilot).

As there was very little wind associated with the cloud we were motor sailing at the time. We lost all instrumentation, autopilot and engine controls, as well as having no charge from the alternators.  With the engine fans eating 10 amps, we shut the engine down manually to conserve power.   Once it had stopped we could not start it again.  Hand steering in driving rain, we were out of mobile phone range, our only means of communication was the satellite phone, which we used to advise our Maldivian agent and sailing friends in the vicinity of our situation by email.

The current was taking us NE towards Kolamaafushi on Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll and eventually we had one bar on the mobile, and were able to call Neal and Ruthie on Rutea.  As luck would have it they were anchored only 10nm from our position and motored out of the atoll to meet us with crew from two other yachts.  Shortly after they arrived so did the wind and we were able to sail towards the anchorage, where Tom from Pakea Tea pushed us along in his dinghy once we had dropped the sails.

We found that the generator started, but created no AC, and the alternators were also wiped out, so we were unable to charge any of the batteries.  Happily our new solar panels kept the batteries partially charged, with the fridge and freezer turned off overnight (not ideal in this climate!).  The following day Neal and other yachties came over, and bypassed the Micro Commander which electronically controls the main engine.  Neal found a switch to start the engine and made a clever lever to act as a throttle, so with a floor hatch open by the companionway we were able to change gear and increase the speed of the engine by manually moving the cables.

So we could now move Pipistrelle carefully, but found that hoisting the mainsail using the electric winch depleted the batteries, so it was then hoisted by hand (yes, curiously all the electric winches and anchor windlass still worked).  With 72 ft of mast and a very heavy sail, this is not as easy as it sounds.  Manoeuvring was not straightforward either, with Bob down below on the engine controls, Elaine on the wheel, calling engine instructions as he popped his head up into the cockpit.

Helmut and Kerstin on Lop To kindly offered to buddy boat us to Gan on Addu Atoll, leading the way to a couple of anchorages in between, before the final 60nm overnight leg.  On arrival we anchored between Gan and Heydhoo.

The following equipment had been taken out by the strike:

  • VHF and aerial at the masthead which was split.
  • AIS and AIS B
  • Tricolour and anchor light
  • All navigation and depth instruments including main GPS
  • Autopilot
  • 12v and 24v alternators
  • Micro Commander engine controls
  • Generator
  • Timer delay switch for greytank
  • Galley lighting
  • BEP DC voltage and amp meter
  • Victron DC to DC converter

The mobile phone, satphone and emails were heavily used to advise our insurance company, Admiral, and the providers of the affected equipment of our plight.  One of these calls was to Steve Gilmour of Category 1 Marine in New Zealand, who had replaced the Kubota motor on our FP generator in 2012.  An extremely competent marine engineer and yachtsman himself, he took such an interest in our problems that he became our natural choice to ask whether he would consider flying to Gan to help us replace the equipment.  The answer was ‘yes’.  With the quick agreement of Admiral, flights and accommodation were booked.  Between them, Bob and Steve very successfully project managed ordering, transport and arrival at Gan airport of all the necessary kit.

The Maldives are probably one of the worst places for the import of spares, and we did not want to rely on local labour, because of the complexity of most of Pipistrelle’s electrical and electronic systems.  Even now getting the final package to Gan is creating a challenge.

Steve flew in on Saturday 25th April.  By Saturday 2nd May everything was working again except the generator.  Whilst we had taken the manufacturer’s advice that the windings were probably affected, no mention was made of the PCB in the control box.  The windings weighed 80 kgs and were shipped from Germany.  Steve split the generator, removed the old windings and replaced them with new windings and armature.  After countless tests and checks, it was to no avail, and in the end we contacted Fischer Panda in Germany direct to order the parts for the new AC control box to save time.   A week later we are still awaiting its arrival in Gan!

There is little one can do to avoid a lightning strike, we just hope that this is the last occasion for us.  We were very lucky it did not happen during an ocean passage.  Our fellow yachties could not have been more helpful or supportive.  We are truly indebted to Neal and Ruthie (Rutea), Mark and Rosie (Maerkava), Helmut and Kerstin (Lop To), Tom and Sonja (Pakea Tea), Amigo, Tony and Connie (Sage), Chris and Ann (Silver Girl).  And finally Neil and Ley on Crystal Blues who arrived in Gan after everyone else had left for Chagos.  Assad, our agent in Uligan from Real Seahawks contacted us regularly to make sure we were all right. Ranjan and Ashok in Male, were able to source parts for us that no one else could get and arrange for their transport to Gan.

We are also extremely fortunate to have an understanding insurance company in Admiral, who has not quibbled.  Our contact, Bob Samuels has also monitored and replied to emails at weekends.

And finally our thanks to Steve who worked like a Trojan from 0900 to 1800 and longer each day in very hot, cramped conditions, and was a tower of strength, aided and abetted by Bob.   When the additional issue with the generator manifested itself, he extended his stay by two days in the hope that he would be able to resolve the problem.   Accommodation at the nearby Equator Village Resort was comfortable and Steve was more than happy to retreat to his airconditioned room each evening!

Whilst we are not out of the woods yet, more work will be required when we reach a haven where there will be support and expertise to totally check over Pipistrelle.  However, we should be in a position to head south to Chagos shortly.

A few lessons learnt

For other cruisers this might be a useful checklist:

  • If your engine controls are electronic like ours, learn how to insert a switch from a relay, so that you are able to start the engine.
  • Use the lever on the side of your engine to stop it.
  • Learn how to remove the cables from your control box, and then use them to change gear and control the engine speed.
  • Alternators are susceptible – carry spares.
  • Any printed circuit board is susceptible. Whilst carrying spares is probably not feasible, bear in mind that any of them could be affected.
  • The AC control box on our generator was damaged, meaning that even a month later we still have no method of creating AC, apart from a small inverter we have acquired.
  • The DC to DC converter, 24 to 12 volt was taken out. This is something that is small enough for a spare to be carried.
  • We were so lucky that our SSB and satphone links were not damaged. Plan on how you would communicate in the event of a lightning strike.
Posted in The Maldives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,