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.

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.

Chagos

Seychelles

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 , , , , , , , , , , ,

26 Amazing Atolls

We are pinching ourselves to be sailing Pipistrelle through the luxury tourist destination of The Maldives!  Having focused on life in the aquarium in the last two blogs – Underwater World and Sun and Snorkelling in The Maldives, here are some of our other stories.

Straddling Northern and Southern Hemispheres and stretching 500 nm from north to south, The Maldives are quite unlike anywhere we have been before.  The closest comparison we can make would be with the Tuamotus in the Pacific – both are littered with coral heads or ‘bommies’ in the anchorages.

The 26 atolls forming The Maldives are reef belts with tiny islands their perimeter.  Reminiscent of garland shapes – ‘Malodheep’ in Sanskrit from which name Maldives derives – the atolls here are on average 25nm long, with deep water of about 40-70 metres inside, and large reefs to avoid or to anchor near and then snorkel over.  The 1,190 islands are no higher than 2.4 m above sea level and extend across an area of 90,000 sq.km., 99% of which is sea!  And the water palette is made up of at least 99 different bluey hues.

Though the 11 atolls we’ve been to are amazing and the environment seemingly idyllic, the effects of global warming with rising sea levels make the islands extremely vulnerable.   Sadly in the El Nino year of 1998 the sea temperature rose to about 32C, leading to extensive bleaching of coral that is still recovering.  With current temperatures between 30 and 32 could 2015 be another El Nino year?  Even sadder was the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of the country between Male and Gan, destroying villages, towns and resorts.

Back to the present …

From Uligan, where we cleared in, we headed south via Rasfushi (see Sun and Snorkelling in The Maldives).  Refuelling and provisioning saw us at Kulhudhufusshi, where we initially went alongside the concrete harbour wall, ideally suited for fishing boats but not for Pipistrelle.  Our tank replenished with diesel from a small delivery tanker, we were granted permission to anchor in the middle of the harbour – safer by far.   But a very pleasant stay, allowing us to experience a Maldives town little known by tourists and buy fresh produce at the Saturday market.

Incidentally the elegant black-naped tern is one of several tern species in the Indopacific.  In the Seychelles for example, we would see the totally white fairy tern.

Our continuation south was fairly rapid, choosing different anchorages each night, as most of the yachts we know were ahead of us.  The weather gods offered us an assortment of conditions – from sunshine, amazing colours, no wind and motoring to clouds, rain, greyness, breeze, sailing!

We finally anchored for two nights at Himmafushi, where Chris organised an evening meal ashore at The Haven restaurant, part of the Paradise Resort.  We navigated there and back in the dinghy finding our way through a pass to take us outside the reef.  Without the imagery of Google Maps on the iPhone we would definitely not have attempted it in the dark.

In fact as well as Navionics, using Google Maps’ satellite view on the Tablet has become the norm whenever we enter an anchorage, as it clearly shows the deep water, reefs, bommies and sandy areas where we might manage to anchor.

Our next stop 7nm to the west was the island of Hulahmale, which is the main anchorage point for getting to Male the capital of the Maldives, by local ferry.  This is also where the many tourist dive boats anchor at changeover time for several days – they put out multiple anchors and lines so we yachties have to pick our spot carefully.  The international airport has been built on a man-made island close by, with flights constantly arriving and leaving, and twin engine seaplanes taking travellers to and from far flung luxury resorts.  A busy place!

Male itself is one of the smallest capital cities in the world at 1 km wide and 2 km long.  With 52 km of road it carries considerable traffic – mostly mopeds appearing from nowhere.  Every available piece of land has been built on to house government offices, businesses, hospitals, schools together with the local and migrant population.  Consequently many of the buildings are high rise, and room rental rates are on a par with other world capitals.  We understand some local families live in a very small space, sleeping in shifts throughout the day and night…

We anchored in Hulahmale for a week, catching the ferry to Male most days to provision, buy spares and arrange repairs.  Sounds straightforward, but as ever trying to source goods was a challenge! D Blue Marine for chandlery needs, Fantasy Food Store for provisioning as well as their nearby bakery are first class.  The Seagull Café became our regular lunchtime stop, with its lunchtime specials (and ice cream!), respite from the intense heat and city bustle.  It was also the haunt of Tony and Connie, a Canadian couple on Sage, another Wauquiez who we first met at Yacht Haven, Phuket.  They introduced us to Chris and Ann on Silver Girl, who hail from Bundaberg, Australia.

From a chance meeting on the ferry, we met Ranjan Fernando, from Sri Lanka, who owns a tuna fishing business based at Hulahmale and Colombo.  He also has two hair dressing salons in Male, one of which provided spoilings for Elaine.  Ranjan was incredibly helpful and generous, taking Bob to the laundry on the island, and then providing us with 10 kgs of fresh yellow fin tuna!!  What a very welcome treat!  His ‘brother’ or manager Rasika, invited us to their 4 storey barge for supper and again for lunch in ‘the mess’ just before we left.  Ranjan operates 17 fishing boats in a defined area of Maldivian waters and they process and ship the fresh tuna to many countries including the UK.  Apart from tourism, the fishing industry is of prime importance to the islands.

Chris and Sophie left us in Male to continue their travels to Australia.  We were most grateful for their help since January and wish them good luck, hoping to meet up again at some point in future.

Getting to Gan on Addu Atoll& and our return to the Southern Hemisphere will follow soon.

First, here’s a link to Sage’s website, where the topic is all about beating the heat.  Some useful tips from a few yachties.  You may recognise someone!

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

Underwater World

…as seen through the lens of Pipistrelle’s snorkelling team in The Maldives!

Progressing south through the azure blue atolls we have captured more wonderfully colourful marine life.  While most can be identified through our own knowledge and by referring to books we have on board, we rely on external input from our friend and expert, Oliver Straub for correction and 100% accuracy.  Now with amendments and additions from Oliver!

Notes from Oliver on the gallery above in italics:

  • schooling bannerfish are very common over reef slopes in The Maldives
  • probably the most exquisitely coloured worldwide, the clown triggerfish can become quite big, the number of spots increasing with age
  • there are three general shapes of coral – branch staghorn-like, tree fungus or overlapping roof tile-like and the encrusting, often sphere-like
  • white collared butterflyfish is typical of this beautiful reef fish species that is normally found in pairs – rarely in shoals
  • the saddleback coral grouper grows to over a metre – this fish was nearly that big
  • box or trunkfish are related to pufferfish but have as the name implies an external skeleton that forms a box where only the snout, eyes, fins and cloaca have openings to the outside.  Despite the seemingly unwieldy trunk they are the most precise swimmers on a reef, manoeuvring very finely with their mostly transparent fins.
  • the large blue-faced angelfish (Pomacanthus xanthometopon) is one of the larger of the species, often patrolling the reef alone.  The photo shows a fine, blue nail-like extension of the blue gill cover over the olive-yellowish base of the pectoral fin.  This is probably a defensive spike and gave rise to the genus name, Pomacanthus meaning cheek (pom) – thorn (acanthe), the species name meaning yellow (xanth) – front (metopon).  The space between the eyes is yellow.
  • cushion stars are starfish with shortened arms that are found on reefs where they feed on surface food organisms or detritus
  • spotted unicornfish belong to the surgeonfish family that has a sharp defensive bone on the caudal peduncle.  In unicornfish, the bone is fixed.  They are found in large shoals and feed on plankton.
  • yellow-striped anthias are common and gregarious reef fish that feed on plankton above their refuges of branched coral
  • Moorish idols though looking somewhat like bannerfish or related butterflyfish belong to the group of surgeonfish.

The many feather tailed sting rays, bright purple crown of thorns, a few reef sharks, ebony and picasso triggerfish have all been so-called ‘Kodak moments’ but have escaped the click of the underwater camera.

On the same theme, enthralling are the amusingly acrobatic performances provided by hundreds of schools of dolphins.  Sometimes they are curious about Pipistrelle’s black hull and come close by. Generally though they are unfazed and more interested in showing off!   Captured on camera in mid-flight before diving again …

View from the masthead – Sage and Silver Girl below anchored between coral heads (the dark patches!) that provide great snorkelling.

Though diving has eluded us for most of our time in the atolls, we did have one golden opportunity thanks to other yachts we caught up with along the way.  With apologies to our readers who may not be quite as inspired by the deep as we are, here are more underwater shots …

We are now in the Southern Hemisphere, anchored safely in Gan on Addu Atoll, having paid our respects to Neptune the other night when crossing the Equator! More to follow soon.

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STOP PRESS – VANUATU

Uppermost in our minds over the past few days as we cruise through the beautiful atolls of The Maldives, is that picturesque island chain of Vanuatu which has very sadly been devastated by Cyclone Pam.  We were fortunate enough to spend a month there on Pipistrelle in June 2013.

Our thoughts are very much with the friendly islanders, and those not only  in Port Vila on Efate, but the thousands who live a very simple existence on less populated and accessible islands. Their villages are simple, and for us Westerners, very humbling; they are generous; they smile and we have fond and lasting memories of our time there.

Starting in Anatom in the south, we sailed to Tanna, then to Port Vila and left to sail onwards in Espiritu Santo.

To read about how we found it then, just click on ‘A Month in Vanuatu‘ and ‘Postscript to Vanuatu‘.

We sincerely hope that casualties have been kept to a minimum, and that international aid can help the population rebuild its life within a relatively short period of time.

Island Children

Island Children

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

Sun and Snorkelling in The Maldives

Who could resist diving from Pipistrelle into the tempting crystal clear waters of these islands?

So we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here, and publishing this post out of sequence.  This is because it is delightful to be back in the aquarium after such a seemingly long but fascinating stint of admiring the different cultures of South East Asia albeit without such beautiful underwater opportunities.

A particularly magical anchorage called Rasfushi is within a coral reef at 06.42.82N and 72.55.37E.  We have spent the last two nights here exploring the reef either direct from Pipistrelle or taking the dinghy and tying up to one of the strategically placed mooring buoys.  Apart from a fishing boat, we were the only other vessel here.  The snorkelling is fantastic, in fact the best we have had since Labuanbajo, Indonesia (click on link to see ‘Diving and Dragons‘ in 2013)!  A great way to cool off in the heat of the day – and it is HOT!

Here some below-the-water-line shots.

Our good friend and expert Oliver Straub has again kindly provided correct names and annotations to the gallery above.  Here in italics are more detailed notes about each photo:

  • yellowstripe goatfish are closely related to the European red mullet and look for food in sandy patches between coral, using their barbels to find small crustaceans and other invertebrates
  • powder blue surgeonfish, or tang, with a very descriptive scientific name – Acanthurus leucosternon.  Acanthurus means thorn or blade (acanthe) on the tail (ouros) which is highlighted in yellow.  All surgeon fish have one to three fixed or flickknife bones on both sides of the tail peducle which are used to defend themselves.  These blades are so sharp they gave rise to the vernacular name of ‘surgeonfish’ – chirurgien in French and Doktorfisch in German. Solitary to gregarious reef fish.
  • the Bigeye is very common in The Maldives, changing colour from red to silver grey.
  • peacock groupers with their spots reflecting blue all over.  The species name of ‘argus’ derives from the one-hundred eyed giant in Greek mythology whose eyes became the metallic blue spots on a peacock’s tail after his demise at the hand of Hermes.  Bright red with the same spots is the coral grouper (Cephalopholis miniata), also quite common in The Maldives.
  • hawksbill turtle is highly endangered due to its prized tortoiseshell and nesting places becoming rarer.

Following shortly will be a summary of how we reached the Maldives – our passage from Trincomalee in Sri Lanka to Uligan, the northernmost island in the chain where we cleared in to the country.

Our travels up country in Sri Lanka A Tale of Two Ancient Cities, ‘Up Country in Kandy’, A Great Train Ride, World’s End and A Nice Cup of Tea are all published!

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The Slowest Passage Ever!

Pipistrelle sails from Sri Lanka to The Maldives

The passage south from Trincomalee along the east coast of Sri Lanka is best undertaken with northerly winds, as a northerly flowing current of up to 2.2 knots was running when we left on 28th February.  No such luck – yes, we had the adverse current, but no, we did not have northerly winds!  The breeze we did have was light, and came from the south east!!!

Consequently our first 24 hour run was the sum total of SEVENTY-FOUR miles.

Once we had rounded the south of the island and were heading west, we had up to 5 knots of current with us, and this eased to 2 knots for the remainder of the passage to Uligan, the northern Maldives.  But the light winds continued with no more than 13kn for the entire trip.  We poled out, poled in, tried twin headsails, and reefed the main to prevent flogging (therefore noise!).  Alas, the iron headsail came into its own for SIXTY-THREE long hours.  No need to gloat any more about our 2 hours of motoring on the previous passage.

Compensations were hooking a reasonable sized mahi mahi, our first in a long while.  Though electric storms were about, and the sky looked threatening at times, it only rained for about 30 minutes during whole trip.

Finally we anchored off the small island of Uligan at 8.30 am on Saturday, 7th March, 7 days and just short of 700 nm after leaving Trinco.

A further noteworthy Pipistrelle statistic – during this passage we overtook our total 2014 mileage of 1,200nm!

How beautiful this is with its lovely sheltered anchorage.  Here a panoramic view looking aft from Pipistrelle.

Asad, our agent duly arrived by launch accompanied by officials to enable us to clear in, including Customs and Immigration.  The Health man was absent – he was off sick!  We were bowled over by our welcome which was refreshingly friendly  and all formalities were completed without fuss.  Assad even brought us a gift – a freezing cold tub of ice cream!

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