May 2017 - Chagos

1 May 2017   Ile Fouquet, Chagos 
The weather remained unsettled today and we had a shower go through while we were having breakfast.  (Notice that when at sea, I talk about “huge squall systems” and “torrential rain”, whereas when we’re snug in an anchorage, it’s just a “shower” with “a few gusts” …)

We had a quiet morning pottering about.  I ran the water-maker, but after an hour, the damn generator stalled again.  I’m going to have to take a look at it tomorrow.  Over the past three months, we’ve been constantly on the move, so quite a few jobs been building up on my To Do List.  We’ll be in this small atoll for at least three weeks, so it’s time to knuckle down and get on with some boat maintenance.


In the afternoon, we went snorkelling on a wreck at 05°20.37S 072°15.74E. It looks like a ferro-cement yacht lying in 10 metres of water against a circular reef.  There are some really big snappers lurking round the wreck as well as a few small sharks - I saw a large Whitetip Reef Shark.  

The reef is in better condition than in the Maldives, but there is lots of dead and broken coral lying about.  There’s some stunning red brain coral and plenty of stag-horn coral that is 50% bleached, but alive.

There was a gathering of the yachts on the beach in the evening - there are five of us here now with at least another four or five on their way that we know about.

2 May 2017   Ile Fouquet, Chagos 
We went over to the wreck and I managed to catch a nice Snapper for dinner.  After dropping the fish at the boat, we went snorkelling on the reef directly north of the pass between Ile Fouquet and Ile Takamara.  Again the water clarity was not the best, but half of the coral is in good condition and we were buzzed by a Blacktip Reef Shark.  Glenys also saw a Spotted Eagle Ray trying to remove a Remora by swimming up to the surface.

Back at the boat, I gutted the fish on the small fish cleaning table on our stern arch and we soon had 5 or 6 Blacktip Reef Shark swimming around our stern, snapping up the entrails and carcasses.   

After lunch, I tackled the generator, first giving it a good inspection to check for loose electrical connections.  I found that one of the hose clamps holding the heat exchanger in place was broken - I only replaced it a couple of months ago.  Instead of putting on another stainless steel hose clamp, I used a nylon cable tie - it might be better because it’s a little more flexible.

Dolphins in the Anchorage

I tried to start the generator, but it wouldn’t fire up.  However, I could get it running by pressing the over-ride switch which bypasses the various sensors and more importantly the fuel relay.  I changed the fuel relay and it started okay - it ran for 1½ hours without any problems, so I hope that’s one job off the list.   

The water-maker has been getting air in the second water filter, so I suspected poor water flow from the seawater inlet.  Opened the filter by the seacock and sure enough the filter was clogged with sea weed.  The water maker ran fine after that.

A little later, I went out to see “Ngalawa” and, on the way, a pod of dolphins joined me, it was magic, planning along in the dinghy with dolphins leaping six feet out of the water only ten feet away from me.  There was nobody board “Ngalawa”, so I returned to Alba and was amazed to have the dolphins accompanying me again - they must have enjoyed the first ride.

3 May 2017   Ile Fouquet, Chagos 
It was a beautiful day, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds drifting past in the light eight knot breeze.  In the morning, we did a few jobs - Glenys kneaded some bread and set to rise, while I had a look at our portable VHF radio, which stopped working a few days ago.  It’s a Standard Horizon “submersible” radio, which we have been taking out on long trips in the dinghy, so that we can ask for help if our outboard fails.  

After checking the battery, I opened up the radio and found that water has seeped into the case and there was an obvious patch of corrosion and salt crystals.  I used contact cleaner and carefully scraped away the salt, but the corrosion has attacked two of the tiny surface mounted components and the radio is useless.  I’m really annoyed because we only bought the radio 10 months ago and it has never been submerged, although it has become wet while lying in the bottom of the dinghy.

As usual, we went snorkelling at about 10:30, while the sun is still in the sky and the tide is still low.  We’ve observed that the water gets cloudier when the tide starts to come into the lagoon, which is happening late morning at the moment.

Typical Chagos Beach

After lunch, I went with “Hokulea” and “Ngalawa” over to Ile Boddam, which is in the south-west corner of the atoll.  There used to be a settlement here and it’s a favourite place for cruisers to settle for a few weeks.  The area is littered with shallow coral reefs and the seabed is mostly coral, so it’s impossible to anchor.  Over the years, cruisers have installed moorings made from lengths of chain wrapped around coral bommies.

We found seven moorings in various states of disrepair.  Eric and I free-dived down to inspect the chains and thought that only two of the seven were in a fit state to pick up without extra work.   The moorings have been added to over the years and there is a confusing tangle of chain and rope on most of them, so it’s difficult to see what is truly strong.  

Most of the ropes are looking old and would need to be replaced or backed up; many of the lengths of chain are worn and need to be inspected link by link.  On two of the moorings, the surface buoys were on dodgy, worn chains, but there were better condition chains submerged, onto which we tied plastic bottles. The other thing that is very apparent is that you need excellent sunlight to be able to navigate through the numerous shallow reefs - to get in and out.

On the way back to the anchorage, we stopped off at a couple of small islands and, after a bit of hunting, managed to find some Coconut Crabs.  These bizarre creatures are land crabs with huge claws capable of ripping open coconuts.  They start life as small hermit crabs on the beach and as they grow larger they abandon their protective shells and prowl around the undergrowth, hiding in burrows during the day and coming out at night to eat coconuts.

We’ve eaten Coconut Crabs in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands and they are very similar to lobster, but with a wonderful sweet coconut taste.  Unfortunately, they are protected animals in the BIOT Marine Park. 

In the evening, all the boats were invited to “Hokulea” for a pot-luck dinner.  Everyone is running short of alcohol, but there was enough for us all to have a merry time.

4 May 2017   Ile Fouquet, Chagos 
It was another beautiful sunny day with light winds.  Glenys and I went for walk on the north end of Ile Fouquet, where there’s a Red-footed Booby breeding colony. They’re nesting in the trees at the edge of the beach and we saw a range of youngsters from fluffy white chicks to juveniles. 

Glenys checks out a Coconut Crab

We then ventured into the interior of the island, which is covered with coconut trees.  The ground is covered with dense foliage - mostly small coconut trees growing and dead branches fallen from the tall trees.   I found a large Coconut Crab to show Glenys - their burrows are easy to spot once you know what you are looking for because there’s often a mat of coconut fibres outside their entrance hole. 

I teased the Coconut Crab out of its burrow with a stick and to our amazement it climbed a couple of feet up a small tree and then froze in position.  

We were able to get really close to it and take some good pictures of the weird creature.

On the way back to the boat, we went snorkelling on a pinnacle, which was good.  The coral here in Chagos is in better condition than the Maldives, but I feel that the variety of sea-life was better in the Maldives.  So far, we haven’t seen any Anemonefish or Nudibranchs, although there are lots of groupers and snappers around.

We had a very quiet afternoon, reading and dozing - it’s so exhausting going exploring. 

I received an email from “Jackster”, who are still in Gan with three other boats.   Adeel, who runs the Maldives Rally, is now asking for an extra $100US per boat for anchoring fees, claiming that he’s miscalculated.  Customs have discovered that five boats have left without the correct clearance paperwork and have interviewed the boats still in Gan.  The Customs officers have told the yachts that it is illegal to leave the Maldives while their investigation is in progress.  It sounds like a nightmare. 

Oil Service

5 May 2017   Ile Fouquet, Chagos 
It was like Groundhog Day today.  The sun shone all day; we explored a small island; went snorkelling; and rested in the afternoon. The only variation was that we visited an island called Ile Passe, where Glenys found some nice shells and I caught two Grouper, which will feed us for a couple of days.

6 May 2017   Ile Fouquet, Chagos 
We had a different day today.  The weather was unsettled with squalls, so we spent the day on board.  Glenys pottered about doing some jobs including the tedious job of polishing the stern arch - it was starting to look like it had measles because there were so many spots of rust.  

I did a major service on the engine.  I’m supposed to do one every 200 hours, but we’ve been moving about so much in the past couple of months that I haven’t wanted to risk breaking something while I’m doing the service.  It’s been 300 hours since the last service, so I gave everything a really good inspection including checking every tooth on the timing belt, which is due for renewal in 400 engine hours time and I’m getting nervous about it.

It threw it down in the afternoon, so we cancelled a planned sun-downer gathering on Alba and had a quiet evening, hiding from the rain. 

We’re running short of drinks now, so Glenys has been making Ginger Beer for the past few days, which is turning out quite well.  It’s not very alcoholic, but it’s fizzy, has a nice ginger bite and isn’t sweet like coca cola or lemonade, so it’s nice to sip in the evening in place of a beer.  Of course, until our stocks last, we’re adding a finger of rum to make a very tasty Dark & Stormy. 

7 May 2017   Ile Fouquet, Chagos
We had unsettled weather in the morning, so I spent a few hours looking at the weather forecast and planning our route between Chagos and Rodrigues.  It’s a 1,200 mile passage (9 days) on a heading that is roughly SSW.  The prevailing winds are South-east, so we’re going to be hard on the wind for most of the time.  To make matters worse, the wind will increase from 15 knots to 25 knots as we head south, so my strategy is to head south for 3 days then ease off by 20 degrees for 3 days and run downwind for the last two days when the wind will be strongest.

Route to Rodrigues

I down-loaded a weather forecast GRIB file, which covers the route and then tried to get my routing software (qtVlm) to calculate the route for me.  Unfortunately, the program is geared up to calculate the fastest route, which is roughly along the rhumb line. This is fine for a racing boat, but we want to be as comfortable as possible and beating for two days at the end of the passage with 30 knots over the deck will be very uncomfortable.

After trying various ways to force a “comfort” factor into qtVlm, I eventually set up some waypoints (07°34S 70°40E; 12°00S 70°40E; 17°00S 069°00E) and added a “Barrier” into the program.  The routing algorithm sees this barrier as a “no go” area and I’m able to force it to go through my way-points.  This is obviously not using the software to its full extent, but it’s worth doing because qtVlm gives me some useful statistics on each route that it calculates.  I’m now able to see what weather conditions I can expect on different departure dates.

The weather cleared up in the afternoon, so we went snorkelling.  In the evening, we invited “LunaBlu” and “Hokulea” over for sun-downers.