Summary: Chagos-Madagascar

Security is a very personal thing and is best kept to oneself. What one person considers safe is another person's bad dream. And so it is with the pirate dilemma of the Indian Ocean. The Somali pirate attacks may seem to have abated, but it's not a clear-cut thing how safe it is thruout various areas of the IO. We were getting AIS targets which read "Armed Personnel Aboard." If things were 100% safe, that would not be necessary...At any rate, going to Chagos was high on our list and we felt it a worthwhile destination. It took us a bit over 2 days to get there from Gan (our exit port in the Maldives), and we had a pleasant run down to Peros Banhos. We weren't pleased with the history of the forced evacuation of the inhabitants of Chagos, but decided to go see the places where, in years past, cruisers used to stay for months at a time. Unfortunately, at the present time the maximum allowable stay is 28 days. Time is paid for in advance at the rate of 50 pounds weekly, so you can see the issues of approximate arrival and departure dates and upcoming weather coming into play as one plans a transit somewhere beyond Chagos. Reunion, Mauritius, and Madagascar were common destinations, but a couple boats planned passage to Cochin (India) during our visit. Only several islands at two atolls in Chagos are approved for visiting yachts, and anchoring must be done in approved, designated areas. The BIOT (British Indian Overseas Territories) patrol boats visited twice during our stay of a bit over three weeks. Very nice folks, very appropriate, and no issues. The fishing is amazing amongst the reefs there; hook-up generally took about five minutes and a nice sized grouper (coral trout) was taken. For the cruiser BBQ's, a couple of us went out and had no trouble bringing in 2-3 fish for the grill. We started looking at weather after about two weeks, and although the pleasures of cruiser socializing were wonderful, we knew we'd be ready for departure within a day or so of identifying an appropriate weather window. I should also note we had an extremely difficult time hooking up to SailMail or Winlink, and were fortunate that so many of the other yachts had sat phones. After looking at the predicted weather, it was Stuart (sv Imagine) and my opinion that the upcoming 5 day forecast looked about as good as it was going to get for our passage to Madagascar. Anything over the 5 days we considered guess work. In summary, we got 20-25 knots pretty much the entire way. We had to motor a bit over 24 hours out of Chagos, but picked up the SE trades at S7deg29min, which worked out great for us. We turned at S12deg11min and essentially headed due west. This was just south of the Mascarene Banks, and thru a bottle neck of narrows which bordered us 20 miles to each side. We felt that was a safe enough margin, and so did others as we picked up a few AIS targets and one large, unidentified fishing boat. By that point I had decided to take us off silent mode on the AIS, so was transmitting as well as running with lights at night. We had no drama, no pirates and no problems. The highest winds encountered were sustained 35, with one gust recorded at 37 knots. Again, most of the time it was in the 20's and off the quarter. We arrived at Cape D'Ambre, the most northern cape of Madagascar, after 1514 miles in 10 days, with an average overall speed of 6.3 knots. Looking back at things, I don't think we could have picked a better weather window. Boats have to be prepared for brisk sailing conditions and prepare accordingly. At any rate, we are happy to be here and are looking forward to exploring Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world.
Pic: Cruisers gathering for a fish fry/potluck at Boddam, Solomon Atoll, Chagos. Picasa picture albums will have to wait for strong internet!

No comments: