Trinidad to Cartagena Colombia report; Final leg of the circumnavigation.
On Monday November 19th I cleared out with customs and immigration in Trinidad shortly after saying goodbyes to a few good friends I have been sailing with and bumping into since Madagascar, possibly never to see again. After giving up on waiting for a few rain storms to pass I just set off a few hours before sunset for a 4 mile trip to Scotland Bay located about a mile before the pass leading out to open water hoping to get a good night’s rest and an early start the following morning. I still got nailed with some heavy wind, rain and terrible visibility but this was all more or less in protected water and under motor so no drama yet. Scotland bay is a nice protected anchorage but there were strange wind and currents for such a small bay and the unfamiliar noises actually kept me up a good part of the night. I was able to get everything stowed nicely and the anchor up by 8AM heading out to sea after a long grueling 6 week marathon living on Salsa in the marina, on land, much like a tree house, with plenty of repairs, maintenance, and a few upgrades/modifications. I was truly looking forward to this passage.
The first day was a very nice and fast sail under full genoa on a beam reach making over 6kts with the current helping a bit. It was also a bit hands-on sailing and trimming as the wind speed and direction were a little flukey this close to land so I was happy to be getting an early start as there would be no sleeping under these conditions if I wanted to make reasonable speeds. I was also heading further offshore to the north than necessary to make some distance from the coast, knowing that there had been a few recent problems with Venezuelan pirates and armed robberies/boardings in the area. Just before dark I turned a little more to the west and downwind so that I could sail wing and wing with 2 reefs in the main making things easier on the boat and me hoping to get some rest, and I think the sails stayed just like that for next 3 or 4 days. Back in Trinidad there were squalls passing through and even as I headed offshore I could see a few around but somehow they all seemed to miss me and things didn’t change hardly at all with winds from 8 to 15kts out of the Eastern quadrant until day 5, except for the water slowly turning from the brown coastal colors to green and then the deep blue. Here is a one minute video from the first half of the trip; click here
Day 5, 7AM, 13.10N, 68.54W, heading 277, Speed 5.2kts 477nautical miles under the keel and 507nm to go, nearly half way. With the winds now 15 to 20kts and coming directly from my stern, I was down to the third reef in the main and still making nice progress with at least 1/2kts of current. By 5PM I was making 6kts and could see squalls filling in the horizon and decided to drop the mainsail completely for the night so I could rest easier. Read the rest of this entry
It’s been a very long hard hot 6 weeks on the hardstand staying in the Marina here in Trinidad and Salsa is finally back in the water and ready to sail west, hopefully tomorrow! Salsa wasn’t in too bad of shape when I arrived but I kept finding jobs that I wanted to do now that I felt would be very difficult or impossible to do before getting back to the U.S. Since I’ve committed to at least one more season between Colombia and Panama I put everything I could into the boat (not to mention a scary amount of the last bits of my savings) to get her into very good shape. I’ll post a list below a list of all the work I did (rather than have done). To save money I did all the labor myself thanks to the long crash course on boat maintenance I got from James (www.atomvoyages.com) before I left. I’m a little sad to say that I essentially never left the harbor while I was here and missed all the sights and most of the people of Trinidad. I chose to work every day until now to get as many jobs as completed as I could and still head west with fair winds. So this was not a stop of pleasure :-). Some jobs turned out to be interesting and rewarding, like making a new cabin sole/floor boards and varnishing for the first time in my life (ok I just used epoxy but it’s basically the same!). So more so than usual I’m looking forward to this passage, for the first time in over 4 years I will be sailing back to a destination that I’ve been to before and therefore officially completing the circumnavigation but still a 1000 miles or so from the U.S. so not quite finishing the ‘trip’. I’ve got my satellite tracker working again sending out daily updates of my position but I can’t add everyone to that list so if you want to be posted email my Mom, Karen at; firstname.lastname@example.org and she will forward the updates to you while I’m underway. I’m also very much looking forward to the passage because it will finally be an end to all this work, not to mention it has been almost 100’f here in the Marina on most of the days, and the rest of the days it was raining. Well that’s it for now; I’m tired and still have some final packing and provisioning to do in the morning so I’m off to bed. Just wanted to let everyone know that Salsa and I are getting underway once again.
Here is a list of only SOME Of the jobs I’ve done here; (probably only interesting for sailors!)
Finished re-riveting the main sail track to the mast.
Change bushings and re-bed Gudgeons, rudder shoe, and replace Pin on bottom of rudder.
Replaced Cutlass bearing and Zincs
Repack stuffing box for prop shaft and rudder.
Had Propeller machined/refinished
Wet sand bottom, minor fairing on the hull, re-paint two coats, 3 at the water line, rudder, etc.
Add designated through hull for small bilge pump that was spliced into other throughull before
Replaced stbd cockpit scupper through hull and sea cock, port side new sea cock and rebed through hull
Renewed/improved SSB grounding,
Replaced SSB antenna
Made new floor boards/Cabin Sole.
New water tank and hose installed
New macerator installed
Head, rebuild, replaced base
upgraded holding tank vent to prevent intake of salt water
Replaced Throttle shifter.
Installed new batteries, 4 Trojan T105s (450 Ah)
Bought used Hypalon Dinghy after trying endlessly to repair my old one.
Hi folks, Kirk on Salsa here writing you from Trinidad after another 28 day passage from Salvador Brazil. I arrived over a week ago but have been too busy working on Salsa to write a proper update so this will have to suffice for now. On the passage I wrote mostly in the log and very little on the computer but I did try to take a 1 minute video each day to try something new. The wifi here is pretty bad and I’ve managed to get only a handful of the videos uploaded so far with more to come when I can but for those who want to see what’s uploaded so far you can go here; http://s192.beta.photobucket.com/user/kirkalittle/library/?view=albums
and then click “Sub Albums” to for the “passage from Brazil to Trinidad” folder.
One thing Albergerers might find interesting is that I left Salvador Brazil the same day as a 39ft catamaran who had gained a 200 mile lead during the heavier winds of the first 1/3 of the trip. Salsa still managed to arrive 3 days before the cat by making all the miles back and then plenty more in the light winds of the ITCZ/Doldrums. As illustrated in one of the videos there was a lot of broad reaching in around 7 or 8 kits of wind or less and even reefed down to the 2nd or 3rd reef (only to tighten up the sail and stop the slapping/luffing from the 6ft or so seas) plus about 1/2 of the 145 Genoa way forward on a long pole I was averaging around 3.5kts over water plus another knot or so of current making for reasonable progress. With exception to running the motor for half of the day during the departure and arrival (where there were near calms and too much shipping traffic/current to drift) the total engine use was negligible, maybe around 15 hours total. I don’t hear it mentioned often but I really feel that comparatively in the world of cruising yachts, Alberg 30’s are very much light air boats. When my friends on the big catamaran were starting to move and enjoy the sailing I was usually already reefed way down making a wet 4.5kts which was as fast as I wanted to be going.
Now for some interesting information after pulling off and inspecting the RUDDER HARDWARE after nearly 5 years, and probably around 25,000 miles. I think I described the repairs / modifications made before starting the circumnavigation in an earlier post or on my website but if there is enough interest I can do a new write-up with more details. Basically before I started the trip I found that the receiving hole in the rudder shoe was well worn and the pin itself worn to half of its original diameter and just crumbled apart when I tried to pull it out. The gudgeons wore slightly worn and the pintal/shaft where it holds on was substantially worn down to around 7/8″ or less from 1″. The repair was to drill and tap a new 1/2″ silicone bronze bolt replacing the lower pin, and to over-drill and press in a new bronze bushing into the shoe (IMHO this makes a lot more sense than getting a new shoe if wear from the pintal is the only problem). Then a split Delrin bushing was made to fill the gap between the gudgeons and middle pintal/shaft. (same pics posted before of everything are here; http://s192.beta.photobucket.com/user/kirkalittle/library/?view=albums and then click on the “Salsa Rudder Repair”) album) That repair was a HUGE success, after pulling it apart last week there was very minimal wear on the Delrin bushing and none at all on any of the bronze! I think that could be considered a lifetime fix but I still replaced it while it was apart as the Delrin was getting brittle. The bronze bushing in the shoe was considerably worn, I’m guessing the 1/2″ hole in the bushing was now nearly 11/16″ and out of round plus the 1/2″ pin was down to 5/16 at its most narrow point (and out of round as well). It was the combination of play I could feel between those two worn parts (5000 miles ago in St. Helena) that inspired me to haul out here in Trinidad to inspect (and replace) it all and I simply did the exact same repair as before only this time the old pin came out with a pair of vice grips so I did not even need to ship the rudder. The only new modification was that the bushing going into the shoe was welded in as the old one had managed to come loose and start to wear the shoe very slightly and I want to contain all the wear to removable parts even though I expect to never do this job again. I’m guessing here but I’ll go out on a limb and say that the pin would have held on for at least another 5000 miles to easily get my home. I also tried to get the machine shop to incorporate Delrin into the shoe but for some reason they hated the idea so I dropped it after a short argument. If anyone needs any further details or would like photos uploaded of the worn parts let me know and I’ll get to it when I can.
On a side note I’m still about another 1000 miles from “tying the knot” either in the Bahamas or Central America but should officially finish this Nov or Dec in Cartagena Colombia and then probably return to U.S. in another year or so. I will probably be on the hard here in Trinidad for another week doing odd-jobs and new bottom paint but I am checking email regularly so any comments or questions are welcome. For those of you up north packing things up for the winter just remember there is an alternative, the cruising season down here in the Caribbean is just starting :-). Maybe someone wants to lease Salsa for a while so I can go home for a visit…
Kirk Little, Salsa #504, Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago, 10’41.N 061’38W
Salvador Brazil, Itaparica, 5AM, sipping my coffee, Three of us are departing this morning as we finally have a forecast for favorable winds to sail NE up the coast of Brazil. I’m hoping to get the anchor up at first light in about 15 minutes as we need to get moving as early as possible to catch the tide out of the bay. One boat (Dharma Bum III) heading for Trinidad, Another (ParPar) heading just a few hundred miles to Cabadelo/Jacare, and myself (Salsa) destination unknown. At the moment my best guess is Trinidad but I’m keeping Fortaleza open as an option and as I will be sailing past 4 countries on the (I’m guessing one month) 2500 mile trip to Trinidad there are countless other potential stops
St Helena to Brazil
As I sailed west from Saint Helena it took most of the day for the winds to stabilize. Even though it is a relatively small island, it seems to have a substantial effect on the wind even after you are 10 or 20 miles off. There were times when the boat speed would go from 3kts, to 6kts, and back to three without even changing sail. I think I was thankful for the lighter winds which would prove to be the exception for the rest of the passage where for almost half of the trip I had too much wind to even carry the mainsail with three reefs, so I was down to just a few square meters of Jib for quite a while, running 4 to 5 knots down 8 to 12 foot seas. It’s kind of funny how tender this Alberg 30 is. Even with no sail up at all, if you are running down wind with a 30kt blow, you will be probably be making over 4kts already. Now this might sound great to someone who hasn’t tried it, however, when you average 4kts running in a 3.5 meter swell, you end up surfing down each wave at around 8kts and then slow down to 2kts on the back side so your speed is erratic and on the occasionally breaking wave you get pushed faster than 10kts, way too fast for the wind vane to control your steering, leaving you no option other than to slow down even further. Another factor on this passage that affected my progress was the endless procession of squalls (very small storms). And most of them did not pack too much of a punch however I was getting several everyday so you either had to stay reefed with minimal sail, or constantly adjust the sails every time one of these squalls hit you. On many occasions I could look out at the horizon and see five or six individual squalls, which is fine as long as you avoid direct contact, your winds stays more or less consistent. Speaking of consistency, as much as I’m prepared to complain about the conditions, they were basically very consistent! I think over 90% of the time the wind was from the SE (or at least somewhere between East and South East. And I think it was between 15 and 30kts for about 85% of the time. It wasn’t until the last four to five days that I started to get any real moderation with wind speeds under 15kts and seas around 2.5 meters or less. There was cloud cover most of the time making solar charging difficult so I didn’t even bother using the Engel refrigerator at all in order to save power. In fact I probably could have done the entire passage without using the engine to generate electricity but I did run it for about 2 or 3 hours to give the batteries a little boost. Overall I think it was a good passage. In the sense of, uneventful, plenty of wind and waves but almost all from behind making the sailing fairly easy even if extremely rolly. I think I was even more fed up with the big swells and rolling motion of the boat considering that the anchorage at St. Helena didn’t really provide any protection, so essentially for about 2 months straight (South Africa to St Helena to Brazil) I had to be hanging on unless I was sitting down. Read the rest of this entry
Saint Helena Review and prices from July 2012
First off I didn’t find this place very special other than the fact that it does cut the Atlantic passage in half so one isn’t required to spend over a month at sea without supplies or rest. It is however worth mentioning that most of the other cruisers at the time with larger boats and budgets and a stronger interest in the history of the island certainly thought it was worth the stop and several stayed quite a while longer than planned. Secondly, other than the anchorage and the dinghy landing situation, this place didn’t seem as difficult as most people had reported. There are a few walks and reasonably priced tours on the island to keep you busy for a few days. People are generally friendly and helpful however they do seem to work on ‘island time’ and with no cell phone network it requires a bit of effort to organize anything, especially repairs or parts. The prices of all goods seemed reasonable considering how remote the island is, most things were around double what you would expect on the mainland, but someone on a tight budget could certainly get by with local goods and things on discount. The currency is locked to the British Pound (at the time about 1.6 USD to the pound) and is easy to obtain at the local bank with a credit card or by exchanging foreign notes for about a 5% fee. Immigration is free for three days, however I paid 16 pounds for 3 weeks, and the port fee was 35 pounds for up to one month. All very reasonable by world standards plus super fast and easy checking in and out. If you opted to stay longer the weekly rate goes down further. Some things were expensive, Slow speed internet was 6.5 pounds per hour, but WAS available in the anchorage. Fast food like burgers on the street were around 2 pounds, beers in the pub were 1.5 to 2 pounds and not much less in the store. Wine and Liquor was about 3x the price in South Africa, and cigarettes were 4.5 pounds a pack. Fruit was limited but I did find apples, bananas, oranges, and grapefruit (25/30 pence each), plus you can normally find potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, not a huge selection or great quality and all at about 50% to 100% more than it would have cost in South Africa or the U.S. There were a lot of bargains with non-perishable items that were just expired and if you provision well in South Africa I think the prices here are manageable. Free Water is available at the dinghy-jetty but they recommended boiling before drinking. Also there a wash room in the port with big sinks for doing hand laundry and 2 shower stalls; the previously reported hot-water was not working. Most of the bars were very small however there was one ‘club’ that has a DJ and dancing on the weekend till very late mostly filled with locals from 15 to 75 years old, I don’t think there was more than 20 or so tourists on the entire island. Read the rest of this entry
Departed Saldanha bay South Africa, May 30th 2PM.
I don’t know why it’s always so hard to leave on a major passage. You might think by now that I would be used to it. Sometimes I think it’s just the endless preparations, maybe it’s just pre-trip anxiety or the ‘jitters’. Maybe it’s the flashbacks to the not so great times in prior passages. I’m sure a part of it is knowing that your boats not ‘perfect’. “Ah hah” you say, “You’r leaving and your boats not perfect!?”. Well as some of you must know, no boat is ever perfectly ready. All you can do is hope she is ready enough. If I made a list of all the pre-departure things I didn’t get around to doing you would be amazed. And possibly even more amazed if I made a list of all the things I DID do. But enough philosophising on passages and preparedness and lets get on with the story of this one. Read the rest of this entry
Leaving South Africa for Saint Helena on route to most likely Bahia De Salvador Brazil. All stocked up, good weather forecast, and on my way, loved my time here in SA, will give a better update when I arrive and will try to send position updates to SailingSalsa.com in a week or two when I’m in range! ETA Saint Helena between June 15 and 20, so no new updates till then. Take care everyone! -Kirk
LONG INDIAN OCEAN PASSAGE REPORT COCOS KEELING TO MADAGSCAR.
Aug 13 2011, 930 am departing Cocos keeling. The weather was borderline “sailable” at the time I left, being very light winds and somewhat variable, most boats deemed it to be ‘unsailable’ and it probably was in their bigger yachts which require a bit more of a breeze than little Salsa. Then again as I write this, 48 hours into the trip the wind and seas are so big I would consider it ‘barely sailable’ in Salsa and the other boats would be flying along having a ball, albeit I suspect with at least a bit of discomfort. Right now the seas are around 10 to 15 feet high, and the winds 25 to 35kts. It’s just pure crap out here. It’s been so cloudy and rainy I haven’t seen the moon or sun since the day I departed until now. When I left there was a slight breeze from the north and as I was sailing west, it was perfect; just barely enough wind to fill the sails and keep them from slapping around in the big but gentle southerly swell that just never goes away, even when there is no wind. This Northerly breeze (a bit unusual as we should have SE trade winds around 20kts or so I thought) kept going until around 9PM when it just got too light, I was only sailing at 3kts and the sails started to bang around too much to make any headway. So I prepared to just drift a while, well actually we kept sailing more or less west but only at about 1 to 2 kts since I put 3 reefs in the main and nearly took down the Jib to protect the sails from all the banging around with no wind, however there was just enough wind to keep moving under reefed sail, and I went to sleep for a while. After midnight I awoke to the GPS alarm telling me that I was off course and turns out the winds had finally gone back to the SE, but still at a miserly 10kts. Even with the main deeply reefed I let out most of the genoa and we were making 4kts again, not bad, and then it started building, the wind and seas. By morning conditions were very uncomfortable, winds over 25kts, seas over 10 ft, cloudy, rainy, I completely furled the jib by then and was sailing with only the triple reefed mainsail, (and have been just like that for 24 hours as things just seem to get worse, but not dangerous). Currently I’m making near 6kts (that means up to 10kts when I start surfing down these waves) and I’m thinking I might have to completely douse the third reef in the mainsail and go back to just a tiny bit of the jib. I tried going out this morning for a shower in the rain but before I could dry off a huge wave smacked me and it seemed the salt water spray was hitting me more than the fresh rain water, lovely. So yes, this is one of those moments when you think, why the hell am I out here. I just spoke to my friends still in Cocos on the radio that are fishing, diving, having BBQ fish on the beach, and I’m here in the crap. Funny how they have Sunshine and light winds just 150 miles away. Last night I took a wave into the cockpit so big that it was almost full of water; I was surprised how long it took to drain, several minutes, hmmm…. On top of that, my radar is acting up AS USUAL, worked fine the first day, but today I have had to reset it 4 times to get it to work, and I really need it as I am actually around shipping lanes and with this weather I couldn’t see any ships outside even if I was looking. THEN about half way through writing this I hear my fishing line go, and I see a nice Wahoo (my favorite fish) jump clear out of the water, and before I could even begin to pull him in, he got loose. So that’s how my day is going. It’s funny because back in Bali someone asked me about sailing and said, wow you must have some amazing times, and some awful times out there on the sea. And that is the exact truth. If every day was like my last 24 hours I would never be doing this. The really hard question is does all the nice days make up for the crappy ones!? Sometimes it’s hard to say. But I think somehow our little brains tend to remember the better parts and therefore convince ourselves to keep doing this kind of thing.
On my second day underway from Cocos the winds maxed out gusting up to around 40kts and seas were up to around 15 feet, been taking a lot of water into the cockpit and even a bit into the cabin which just makes everything wet and salty.
SALSA IS BACK IN THE ATLANTIC!
As I am sending this message I’m rounding Cape Algulhas, the southern most point of Africa dividing the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. At the moment I’m about 4 miles offshore (just close enough to get internet!) @ 34’53 South and 20′ 00 East. So after transiting the Panama Canal about 3 years ago, Salsa is finally back in the Atlantic! Next stop, somewhere around Cape town hopefully tomorrow if the wind holds out! All well here with settled weather however the swell is still around 10 to 12 feet. For anyone following my wake, the sailing conditions in the Mozambique Channel and South African coast has generally been a %#**;#$!! Can’t wait to get back in to the trade winds. After an extended stay in CapeTown through March
I’ll move on to St. Helena and then Brazil maybe around April.
The current outside of RB was the opposite as when we arrived (before 4kts South right up to 100m line). This time there was 1-2 kts counter current out to the 500m line!! You had to beat SE something like 10 miles or more to around the 1000m line to pick up 2kts southerly, and stay well offshore beyond 1000m (I was like 50 miles off shore when rounding Durban), people further in got no current or counter current, I made a current map based on reports from the radio but giving it to you is useless as the damn thing seems to change all the time. SO 2kts average most the way to EL then you can move in to 200-500m line and get 3 to 5kts! WOW, for one 24 hour run I AVERAGED 9.5 KTS!!. Once you hit the shallow (<200m) area East of P.E. you loose it all again or maybe you keep up to 1kt at times.
To truly appreciate Richards Bay one must only sail to Port Elizabeth. :-). Actually I know NOTHING of the city here (other than it is BIG) so I am referring to the docking situation. Sime, Vintas, and Shearwater all got in before us, (us being Luna, Parpar, and Salsa). And we three took the very last births (there are still some fore and aft mooring balls open and MAYBE a small boat could squeeze between two other small ones, maybe. You can always tie to a fishing boat, and I don’t think you can anchor anywhere. Its DAMN calm outside the harbor (1-2m seas) and STILL there is a surge here so you have to be VERY carefull how you tie up to this (barely) floating dock. Fenders need to be ALL the way down at water level, the jetty you tie to is HOSTILE with sharp metal bits sticking out (use a fender board) and for this they charge 50 rand a day ($6usd) and another 15 (2usd) for shower access. But I guess its not all bad. I got in at dusk last night and have not even had a beer at the YC yet, just slept, it was a good passage but a bit more of motoring in the calms than I would have liked but this is one coast where I’m not going to drift around waiting for wind because half of the time the wind you get won’t be what you want!, otherwise great passage, no beating. Next weather window looks like Saturday or Sunday. Holger; You get your rigging sorted yet? Mom; I copied you so you know I’m OK, this is not for the website. James; Captain Cook (roy from Peri Peri) had very fond memories chatting with you when you were sitting N of Madagascar for a while something like 15 years ago, then laughed his ass off about the time you were caught off Cape Point (Chapmans Peak Dr?) in a gail (I vividly remember you telling me the same story! but you didn’t seem to find the same humor in it as Roy does today) So anyway Roy said he still thinks about you all the time and I gave him your email. That’s it for now! Oh what the hell, Mom go ahead and post this to sailing salsa in case It takes me a month to write up something better :-). -Kirk
Salsa arrives safely and in good shape in Richards Bay South Africa! Came in on Dec 12th 8am more tired than usual after contending with extremely variable winds and plenty of shipping and fishing traffic (rarely if ever did I sleep more than 30 minutes at a time and if I got 3 or 4 hours a day I was lucky). Honestly the sailing in the Indian Ocean is about the worst I’ve ever seen. But I wont go into the details now as I need to get some sleep, last night when I should have been catching up on rest I was busy catching up with old friends and new friends at the bar till 3am, So I think I did well just to get out of bed today to get this update out! Should have good internet access soon and will post some new and old updates soon, I see I have accumulated several emails over the month since I left Madagascar and I’ll get back to everyone with replies ASAP, but for now, I think I’m going to go sleep for 24 hours, if immigration ever shows up to check me in! -Kirk
Quick Salsa update from Mozambique, near a little island called Bazaruto! It has been slower going heading South West from Madagascar with mostly headwinds and light winds, however we (a group of 4 boats) have crossed the Mozambique channel and are holed up in a nice anchorage waiting for a weather window to sail south. Might be leaving as soon as tomorrow but the weather window is only for a few days so we won’t get anywhere near Richards Bay for at least a few weeks, ETA could be anytime between Mid to late December, really not sure! Can’t really write much as a local resort on the island was good enough to allow me to check weather and send a quick email I cant stay on long so just want to let everyone know I’m ok!
Cocos Keeling report;
Well I sat down to complete and edit my Cocos keeling to Madagascar passage and for some reason ended up writing a Cocos Keeling review first to keep things somewhat chronological, I guess I just felt that in all the guides and research I couldn’t find all the answers I wanted So I’ve written my own.
Here is the report of my stay here at Cocos Keeling which should be useful to any cruisers following in my wake. Let me start by saying that since I was most interested in visiting Madagascar after Indonesia and not excited about doing a 4000 miles direct run, I was left with three landfall options to break up the trip. Chagos was more or less directly in route, and about halfway making a logical stop, however the isolation, and complete lack of provisioning, plus the bureaucracy and money involved to cruise there ruled it out for me. If I was going to sail 4000 miles and stop in the middle I would at least want access to provisioning and my understanding is that the only islands available to cruisers are 100% uninhabited. I understand the one occupied atoll (Diego Garcia) is a U.S. Military base and only accessible in serious emergencies. Not wanting to detour south to Rodriguez that left me with Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling. Both small island territories of Australia. When I left Bali I considered stopping at both places but the sailing conditions were great, and the anchorage and social scene at CI did not seem too promising so after only one week underway I was happy to just continue on one more week to Cocos Keeling. I later learned that there was good provisioning on CI, however not much else to keep someone there.
Cocos keeling was first spotted from the east by a slight glow on the horizon around 40 miles out on a moonless night (one other boat reported this as well). Most guides mention a light that MIGHT be on and visible from something like 12 miles, and the land itself is not visible to the eye until maybe 8 miles or closer, and I would not count on seeing the ‘glow’ from the islands unless the conditions are just right, nor did I see any specific lights, just a dim glow. The approach and entrance in daylight and 25kt following winds was super easy. I just used the waypoints available on Noonsite.com, and in some of the guides, they were spot on, and by using eyeball navigation I was able to even cut most of the corners and still stay in over 10ft of water. Several boats even entered the atoll after dark however all of them anchored outside the small Direction Island lagoon and waited till morning to enter the lagoon which is the primary anchorage, I would consider this partial approach by dark to be safe if you have good charts, and maybe a radar wouldn’t hurt to confirm your position and the markers, but it is basically wide open (still I chose to heave to until morning being unfamiliar). You could probably even use a flashlight or moon light to spot a nice sandy spot to drop your anchor to avoid the coral, even in ten meters or so, the water is just that clear.
Once inside the Direction Island lagoon you have great protection from the swell, but sometimes you get a little chop / wave action if the wind has anything west of S or N and you pick up a mile or more of fetch, but nothing to worry about as it is rare and tolerable, it’s a perfect anchorage in Southeasterlies (or anything east of S to N for that matter). Being an Australian territory you are supposed to have a Visa (easy and cheap online) and email advanced notice of arrival. The IMPORTANT thing to know is that you DO NOT have to go through all of the quarantine requirements and fees as on mainland Australia. Things are very relaxed here (and reportedly on CI as well). One police officer (acting as customs, immigration, and quarantine all in one) came out to the DI anchorage on a jet ski to clear in three boats that had arrived the same day as me. Check in was quick easy and free (but some boats were required to go to Home Island when the police seemed to not be in the mood to come out to DI). They only asked me to get over to Home Island (2 miles by dinghy) to pay a port fee ($50 a week I think) and that’s the only fee you have to pay at all while staying in Cocos.
Now, for what makes Cocos keeling so great, in my opinion, it is simply DI (Direction Island) and the things to on and around it. On the island there are BBQ facilities and we even found a make-shift smoker (this will be key after you catch your fill of fish!). There are also picnic tables, chairs, shelters from the rain, toilets, a rain-water collection system, and a solar powered telephone and VHF. (no showers, electricity, wifi, or officially potable water) even though some people drank the rain water with no issues, and I did as well after treating it with 1 drop bleach per liter. The island has several little beaches with the best one being right in front of the anchorage area where nearly all the facilities are located. There is also a jetty for the interisland ferry however everyone just lands their dinghy’s on the beach as it is more convenient. Coconuts are abundant but don’t expect to find any other food on DI except for fish. The fishing is great. We ate everything from small parrot fish to black tip shark but mostly sweet-lips, groupers and snapper caught spear fishing. Trolling, throwing lures, live bait, everything had some degree of success; however the best locations are about a mile dinghy ride from the anchorage. There are also several great snorkeling / diving locations nearby the island but I won’t go into details. The spear fishing here is said to be safe but is the most shark-infested water I’ve ever swam in with exception maybe to the Galapagos (were you can’t spearfish anyway). I think it is 100% safe for swimming and diving, but spear fishing changes everything. 90% of the sharks are black-tip reef sharks under 2 meters that don’t bother you until you actually have a fish on your spear and even then if you can hold the fish out of the water until you get back to the dinghy you are ok. Shoot something big, too big to hold out of the water, you are going to have some competition for that fish quite often. At one point we shot a large snapper in about 4 meters of water that got his bleeding self lodged in a hole, and before long we had around 20 sharks circling us, it got VERY dodgy when the Bronze Whalers showed up over 2 meters long, some people said we should have gotten out of the water but with three of us, we were just barely able to save the fish from the VERY aggressive and frenzied sharks. We were told there are tiger sharks to watch out for on occasion as well. But on the other hand if you were just snorkeling, without fishing they completely leave you alone and the authorities told me they couldn’t remember the last attack, as they are so rare. But in summary DI is a great place to hang out, snorkel, dive, BBQ, socialize with other yachties and occasionally tourists from the nearby West Island.
What I did not like so much about Cocos was what you had to do if you wanted to buy food or potable water. Basically you have to take a 2 mile long dinghy ride, deal with worse selection than a 7-11 connivance store, and pay two or three times what everything cost on the mainland. That being said you could get the basics you need, best deals I found were potatoes and onions at around $7 USD a Kilo!, Fruit and Vegetables were around $20 USD a Kilo, canned vegetables around $2-3 a can for the cheapest ones, double that for stuff like canned spaghetti and even more for tuna or meat, everything was as expensive as I’ve ever seen it anywhere in the world. My solution was to try and live off of coconuts and fish as best I could, and deal with my dwindling provisions from Bali to get me to Madagascar, that worked out OK. If you take a ferry from Home Island over to West Island there is a little more food selection, frozen meats, plus alcohol is available. Best value was cheap boxed wine, 4 liters for $20, WOW! I didn’t buy any beer ($50 per case) or Cigarettes ($4 a pack) but I think those prices are in the ball-park. I was told that both CI and Cocos are Duty Free islands explaining the relatively cheap booze and cigarettes. If you are sailing from Australia and not ‘poor’ the prices are not too shocking but if you are coming from Indonesia your talking 5 to 10 times what you are used to paying. There was also one or two small restaurants with meals that I think ran around $10 but more like $15 after a drink (too much for me) and internet was $12 per hour and just ‘fast enough’. So if I ever make it back to Cocos Keeling, and yes I would stop there again if crossing the Indian Ocean, you will find me arriving well provisioned and staying clear of the uneventful populated islands (there was a nice little museum on Home island and the Muslim Malay population there seemed more welcoming and laid back than the Australians on West Island to my surprise). Boats with fast dinghies and big budgets may find some interesting socializing and drinking opportunities on West Island in the evening but the return trip isn’t possible by ferry. In any case you would find me fishing by day and spending afternoons around a fire on the beach sitting on DI drinking my cheap boxed wine and smoking grouper on Coconut husks, enjoying the company of other cruisers and travelers, certainly worth a week or two of your Indian Ocean crossing.
P.S. I have updates for the passage from Cocos to Madagascar but have been having problems getting emails out and more or less gave up until now for most of my stay here in Madagascar. If this one gets out, you can know that I am planning to clear out of Majunga (NW) Madagascar today November 10, and then wait in an isolated nearby bay (with 4 other boats) until we have a weather window to cross the Mozambique channel bound for Richards Bay South Africa with possible stops further north along the African coast, very rough ETA for Richards Bay South Africa December 1st at which point I hope to have regular internet access to get back in touch with everyone and post all my updates and pictures on the website. I expect to be there most of December before slowly heading to Capetown in January, rough ETA maybe Jan 15??. Sorry for being so out of touch over the last few months and as always hope all is well.