Ainia - read this first
[This was to be posted from Cocos Island about 2300 miles ago but the $12 an hour internet place was closed at noon on Friday and not open on the weekend. As you will see in the next thread, plans changed after we left Cocos]
Four Days After Christmas …
We are now at Cocos Island which is 1100 miles west of Bali after stopping at Christmas Island which we left four days ago. We must be getting somewhere since our longitude is now less than 100E
Both are Australian territory. Christmas has an active phosphate mine but we have not figured out what the economy of Cocos is based on other than maintaining Aussie sovereignty. There is a bit of tourism in both but the air fares are terribly high – AUD$2000 from Perth to Christmas and more to Cocos of course, so there are only a few guest houses, although there was a resort/casino built at Christmas by one of the Indonesian Suharto children. It failed as a casino and the hotel is open but mainly used to house people working in the phosphate mine.
The local port authorities at Christmas have set moorings in the bay for yachts which is nice since it is quite deep (33 m where we are) and they want to protect the coral. Also the holding does not look very good from our snorkelling around the boat which is quite good. The town here is stretched along the water where there is a flat area with a cliff immediately behind which has another town area. The population is something like 1500. All of the tourist info mentions that 63% of the island is a national park and never, ever mentions the open-pit phosphate mining which must be pretty impressive since they have been active since 1888.
The passage to Christmas was certainly interesting. Coming out of Bali we had a bit of helpful current but not much wind. Soon the current switched against us and we were only doing 4 knots or so and motored for about 12 hours. There was other evidence of the foul current too. The water temperature was about two degrees cooler than normal (around 29C) and the depth sounder was registering about 6 m even though we were in the deep ocean. I guess there was a counter current from the South Equatorial Current which flows westward.
Anyway we moved out of the counter current and the trades set in from the SE at around 15 knots, which gradually increased to around 25 knots – pretty much what the pilot charts predict for this area. We expected a favourable current but not what we got. When the wind was 15ish we did 173 miles in 24 hours which is more than 7 knots – then the wind increased. We started to see steady speeds over the ground of 8 and then 9+ knots. The result was that we would arrive at Christmas sometime between 7 and 10 pm – not good since we wanted daylight. We started to slow down, first by taking in the main entirely and then reducing the jib to about ¼ its normal size. This got us down to around 5 knots which is what we wanted. The result was that our third day out was 183 miles and this included 11 hours of gradually slowing down. Without the sail reductions we probably would have done something like 210 miles (our previous record was 193 on the way from Norfolk to the Chesapeake).
One task to complete in Christmas was to replace a lower shroud which had two broken wires (of 19) right below the top fitting. Discovered the problem during a rigging inspection in Bali and glad I did. Should not have happened since the shroud is only 3 years old. Anyway, you cannot buy rigging anywhere in Indonesia so the choices were Oz or Singapore. I considered flying to one of these (Singapore was cheaper) since shipping stuff into Indo is both slow and uncertain. Then decided to get the shroud sent from Perth to Christmas since it did not involve crossing a border and the shroud only had two broken wires. I backed up the wire with a Spectra (high-tech rope that is stronger than steel) running backstay taken through the chain plate and back to a winch. The replacement went fine although it was hard to get the Hayn Hi-Mod lower connector apart so we could re-use it.
The trip to Cocos was a bit slower than expected as we never had as much as 20 knots which is unusual for the (W)indian Ocean. Ran into the same problem with timing so again had to slow down to arrive in daylight which is even more important here since you are entering an atoll and have to find your way around a reef to get into the anchorage. It is a lovely spot and the Aussies seemed to have organized things well. There are three main islands. Direction is the yacht anchorage and also the recreational area for the others with picket tables, toilet, and a great beach. Home Island is where about 400 Malays live. There folks came here a century ago to work the copra plantation that was the economy in the past. West Island is where the Aussies live and has the government offices, the airport, and the small guest houses. We are going to visit the other islands today on the free ferry.
Both islands are targets for illegal immigrants and Christmas has a processing center without 2000 people in it. These folks will be kept there for as much as five years as there cases are reviewed but apparently 98% of the refugee applications are accepted. When we were in Christmas a refugee boat from Indonesia arrived (under the control of the navy and customs) and about 50 people were taken ashore. They are mainly from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan and the customs people we talked to said it is not unusual for them to have luggage tags that show that they flew first class to Indonesia before getting on one of these crappy boats for the dangerous journey. Last year one of the boats got past the patrols and ran into the cliffs at Christmas with the loss of about 100 people. The boats to Cocos come from Sri Lanka on a much longer and more dangerous trip which costs $8000 per person. We found out that there is not even a crew on these boats. Those running the scheme show the people how to operate the engine and give them a handheld GPS with the route to Christmas/Cocos on it and away they go. One wonders how many just disappear on the way. BTW, the boats they use are taken out to sea and set on fire. We just missed a boat burning in Christmas and there are three waiting for it at Cocos.
We will be out of touch for some time now as we are leaving for Madagascar on Sunday. It is almost 3000 miles and will be our longest passage yet. From here it is more common to go to Mauritius and then south of Madagascar, but we are going north of Madagascar. The idea is to keep out of the pirate zone which extends to 12S (we will be close to this but I imagine that the navies that patrol here are conservative in setting out the exclusion zone) but stay north of the worst of the weather. The route to and from Mauritius is notorious for bad weather. Once in Madagascar waters we will head for a place called Hellville (I kid you not) on Nosi Be which apparently is lovely and even has a small bareboat charter fleet. No idea if there is internet in Madagascar where we are going so we may not be back online until South Africa which is another 1400 miles. We likely will not arrive there until early November.
A note only of interest to geographers and navigators (who probably know this) – the chart plotter works out great circle routes (i.e. the shortest distance) between places. If you are going a fairly short distance (less than 500 miles say) or if your route is at close to north-south you do not notice the difference with
Heading back to Lake Ontario for this summer. Now in Bermuda and heading to Long Island Sound in the first week in May. Then on to the Hudson and the Erie Canal.