Archive for 'Cocos Keeling'

Lat: 12 08.363′ S
Long: 95 56.866′ E

It’s Day One of our 2900 mile passage to Madagascar, and so far, it has been very smooth sailing. The seas are calm, winds are fair, and we’ve already caught, cleaned, and eaten a portion of a nice wahoo. Dallas just arose from one of his nice, long power naps and has his nose back in the fishing book. He’s really getting into fishing now, which is just fine by me. I love eating fresh fish and don’t mind cleaning it as long as I don’t have to deal with until after it has already been put to death. Contrary to Kurt Cobain’s lyrics, I’m still not convinced that fish don’t have feelings.

If you read our last blog, you may be wondering why we are only just now setting sail. Well, our friends aboard S/V Marionette showed up in Cocos on Saturday morning, just a few hours before we were going to leave, and quite easily persuaded us to stick around for another night. I think both Dallas and me were up for having as much fun as possible in Cocos prior to embarking on this 3-week, one-way passage to Longitude 49 E. It turned out to be a very memorable delay….

We have spent a number of fun evenings with Marionette in a number of places (Panama, Marquesas, Niue, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Darwin, Christmas Island), but each time we have met them, there have been different people on board, with the only constant being the young (28) Belgian skipper, Markus. Sailing a racing boat around the world with no auto-pilot or wind vane, no electronic charts, no long-distance communication system, and usually very little fuel, he is of a different breed than most skippers. Some criticize his ways of operating, but aside from being declared missing by the Swedish news media during the tsunami last year, he has traveled around much of the world without too much drama. Personally, I appreciate his tenacity and ability to do a lot with a little. On long passages, he requires at least 3 other crew since they have to hand-steer the boat at all times, but he doesn’t seem to have much trouble finding backpackers willing to pay for the experience of island hopping or making an ocean crossing. Currently he is traveling with an exuberant guy from the Czech Republic named Johnny and a couple (Aussie guy/Chinese girl).crew

Markus (left) and his current crew

johnny Here’s Johnny!

Saturday afternoon we invited the Marionette crew to join us for a barbie to finish off the wahoo that we caught on the way in. Markus wanted to contribute as always, and cooked up a huge pot of curried rice and veggies. After lunch, I hopped in the water with the volleyball and suggested a game of monkey in the middle that turned into a rousing game akin to full contact water polo. We then took turns diving off of the diving platform and trying to catch the ball mid-air. About this time I realized that not only did I seem to have my energy back, but the stitches inside my mouth had finally dissolved, allowing me to talk without a lisp for the first time in three weeks. No wonder I was enjoying myself so much!

ball Reach for it!

Dallas and I returned to the boat for a couple of last minute boat projects, namely taping up the spinnaker sock and stowing gear in preparation for leaving first thing in the morning. Around sunset we were visited by Hans and Nino from S/V Drumbeat. We befriended Hans back in Tonga when he was on his own boat, and he is now the Chief Engineer for the superyacht. Anyway, it turns out that Hans had noticed our cat, but after hearing about my accident while in Bali two weeks ago, he thought that it couldn’t be us. He was glad to see that I was in good shape and eager to catch up. It wasn’t long before Markus and Johnny sniffed out the potential party going on and dinghied over to join in the fun. At some point, Dallas shared with Hans his idea to make a music video as a present for our mutual friend Martin on S/V Anima. (Martin has rewritten pop tunes to dedicate to others such as Tiff on their birthdays, so it was fitting that he should have one written for him.) Hans was keen on the idea as were Markus and Johnny, so needless to say, we were committed to sticking around for another day.

hans Hans’ arrival was cause to celebrate

Before rehearsals began on Sunday, Dallas and Markus went out near the east edge of the lagoon to do some spearfishing. Dallas had a lot of fun but had to get used to keeping an eye out for a shark that was lurking — normally reef sharks don’t bother you, but if you have a dead fish at the end of your spear, it’s a different story. They returned with two pretty large fish — a red squirrelfish and a colorful parrotfish, so the six of us had delicious fresh fish and curried rice (the same pot from the day before) for lunch again.

Hans then came over, and it was time to get down to business. Dallas had already selected and downloaded lyrics for MC’s Hammer’s “Hammer Time” (since Martin’s last name is Hammer), and it wasn’t too tough for he and Hans and me to change a couple of verses and the chorus to focus on Martin and his many talents. I found a recording of the song on a hard drive, and Hans was able to pick up the riff on the guitar, with Markus and Johnny on hand drums and Dallas and me on vocals. Initially it seemed like we were never going to pull it together, but after a little practice and a little rum, we filmed sevral entertaining versions of the song: one on the boat, one with us dancing and playing on the beach, and two versions with us sitting on concrete posts by the jetty, hamming it up while the cameraman (Nino) panned in on each of us individually. It turned out to be a blast, the only problem being that none of us can get that song out of our heads! We can’t wait for Martin to see the finished, edited product, but as we are on totally different routes now, we’ll have to mail it to him somewhere in Thailand.

beach MTV, here we come!

rap Yep, that’s us!

As for Marionette and Drumbeat, we look forward to meeting up again in South Africa!

Farewell to Cocos

Cocos is gorgeous. It is yet another place where we would quite happily spend a few weeks, but we just gotta go. The two boats that were here when we arrived set sail for Mauritius yesterday, and we know of only two other boats that are behind us, so we are definitely bringing up the rear as they say.

pura vida The best looking anchorage we’ve seen in quite a while

This morning Dallas jumped on the radio and talked to Bob from S/V Boomerang who is approaching Madagascar. He said that he had variable winds throughout his ocean crossing but nothing too severe. Knowing that he had spent time in Houston, Dallas asked Bob if he used to be a patron at the Lakeview Yacht Club where Dallas was the bar manager 15 years ago. It turns out that Bob was a semi-regular customer there, and they have a few mutual acquaintances, so Dallas is now especially eager to chat with the Vietnam vet during our passage. You never know who you might meet halfway around the world.

Speaking of which, S/V Drumbeat, the superyacht that we first met up with in Panama in May of 2009, just arrived here yesterday. They don’t get many superyachts here (and Drumbeat is a beauty), so it is a pretty big deal for the islanders who have been buzzing by to take pictures. This is the 5th port of call at which our paths have crossed with Drumbeat, and it’s always fun to see their 175′ dark, shiny hull with its two gi-normous masts lit up like Christmas trees pull into the anchorage. We were hoping to spend some time catching up with members of the crew, but they must be entertaining the owner and his guests as they are not answering the radio.

drumbeatS/V Drumbeat attracts attention wherever she goes

After a long break from boat maintenance, Dallas was anxious to check things off the repair list yesterday, and that he did. He repaired the motor on the port forward bilge pump, built and installed DC block for the radio so that it is better grounded when using it at high frequencies, sewed up a tear in the mainsail cover, adjusted the SSB antenna so that it didn’t rub against the rigging, and checked out both engines in preparation for the passage. He says we are good to go.

There wasn’t much for me to do on board, so after gluing together a broken light fixture and fixing some lunch, I had the afternoon off. I went ashore and watched with a bit of envy as a couple of kite-boarders tried to catch some wind. I then met an Aussie family of four who lives on West Island but camps out on Direction Island when the weather is nice, which is a lot. They were really cool, and the mother offered to take me to “the rip” for a snorkel. When we arrived at the end of Direction Island, she instructed me to swim rapidly across the pass between islands to snorkel the reef on the other side. She told me that I would eventually get pushed by the current out past the pass where there was a rope to grab to keep from drifting out into the lagoon. This was more excitement than I anticipated, and I was pretty stoked. One of my favorite scuba dives of all time was a drift dive in the pass of the lagoon in Fakarava, and this was similar in that I enjoyed the weightless feeling of getting swept along with the current. There were several large fish in the pass, including a school of hammerhead parrotfish, some really big groupers with variously colored spots, and a juvenile black-tipped reef shark. It was especially fun to see big fish drifting along sideways or swimming in place into the current.

After snorkeling, I finished drilling our boat name into a piece of wood to add to the collection of signs nailed to the palm trees on the island. (We didn’t have a chisel, so I cheated and used a drill with a dremel bit on the end.) Then I picked up Dallas and returned ashore for a barbie with the Aussie family. Once again, the wahoo tasted great — the best of the fish we’ve caught so far. We spent several hours yarning away with the Bush family, who are about our age and have two adorable daughters, aged two and four. The father has a permanent position as a teacher on the island, teaching science for all students from elementary on up. It sounds like there is a small but vibrant community of Aussies here in Cocos in addition to the larger settlement of Cocos Malays. The Bush family are living large here in paradise, and talking with them was just what we needed before heading out to sea with no opportunity to socialize (except on the radio) for quite a while.


Everyone wants to leave their mark

I’m psyched up for the passage to AFRICA and ready to see the miles start ticking off, even if it’s ever so s-l-o-w-l-y. We set sail this afternoon!

Lat: 12 05.513′ S
Lon: 96 53.001′ E

After a couple of days offshore, things started to improve, at least for me. Lauren has a bit of an iron stomach so she was doing fine, but it took me a couple of days to liven up. The wind eased a bit, the motion of the boat seemed to get a little better, and I started feeling like I had my sea legs. I’ve also found that getting up at 3am to start watch requires an extra meal to keep feeling well. Seasickness and hunger feel pretty much the same offshore, and with my metabolism, a steady stream of calories is important.

The night before last was actually a pretty big milestone for us. We crossed halfway around the world as measured by longitude. We’re actually on the opposite side of the planet (about 100 deg E) from where we started (about 80 deg W). Even with the six month stop in New Zealand, it’s hard to believe that it’s taken us 18 months to get this far, and we’re trying to do the remaining half in 7 months or so. I guess we’re going to get used to being on the move. Like crossing the equator last year, this milestone happened in the middle of the night, so there wasn’t much of a celebration, but maybe we can remedy that tonight.

We were still getting waves of at least 10 feet, but yesterday things felt calm enough to put out a line. After being inspired by Colin “The Big Tuna” Murphy (as well as picking up a few cleaning tips by watching) during his visit from Fiji to Cairns, we decided we liked fishing. We’d lost enough tackle along the way, however, that we had to restock in Christmas Island. The guy in the shop there was great and set us up with everything we needed for several handline rigs. Yesterday afternoon I rigged a pink and purple octopus and we started trolling it while I read the Bible of fishing for cruisers, “The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing” by Scott & Wendy Bannerot. This came highly recommended to us and we managed to find a copy in Tonga, but haven’t made much use of it so far. I’ve now made it through the first couple of chapters, and it is pretty impressive in terms of how complete and well-tailored it is to the cruiser. I pulled the line in at sunset and felt some extra drag. It turned out to be what looked like a juvenile wahoo, long, but skinny enough to be a trumpet fish, so we tossed it back.

DSC_0482 Not exactly dinner

This morning I had two lines in the water by 8 am. I don’t really eat much fish, but I was really hoping to catch something for Lauren to enjoy and possibly to share at the Direction Island BBQs that Cocos is well known for among the sailing community. Around 9 am we were only about 4 miles from the pass and the port line was taut. I woke Lauren up and about 5 minutes later I gaffed and dispatched a 2.5 foot wahoo. It’s our first wahoo and our first edible fish in general sans Colin. We’ve had so much electrical power from the two wind generators running during the blow that we had on the way here that we’ve been running the freezer at least 12 hours a day just to drain some power even though we don’t really have anything to put in it. Now we do. Lauren finished filleting the wahoo just after we came in through the pass and even with our rookie cleaning abilities, she estimates that we have 7-8 servings.

DSC_0485 We learned later that it’s actually a barracuda, but it’s good eating

Cocos (Keeling) Island is actually two “islands”, North Cocos and South Cocos. North doesn’t really have an anchorage and is uninhabited. South Cocos is an atoll, but with much, much larger passes than any of the atolls in the Tuamotus. The small islets ringing the lagoon are called islands instead of motus, but other than that, it’s your typical atoll. We’re anchored in the yacht anchorage in the NE portion of the lagoon behind Direction Island. Waiting here in the anchorage were S/V Bahati (US yacht) and S/V Josephine II (Australian), both of which we’d met briefly at Christmas. Bahati gave us some help over the radio to find our way into the inner lagoon and we dropped anchor in crystal clear water. Cocos is reputed to be one of the more beautiful spots in the world and although we still haven’t found an ugly atoll or tropical island, it is definitely picturesque, with white sandy beaches, plenty of coconut palms, white crashing waves, and many shades of blue and turquoise scattered throughout the lagoon.

DSC_0489 It’s been a long time since we’ve made landfall at an atoll.  This will probably be our last one as well.

We hadn’t even turned off the engine when our greeting committee arrived — 6 black-tip reef sharks. I don’t know whether it was the fish blood dripping down the cockpit drain (I’d dumped 3 buckets of seawater over the grate and scrubbed it offshore) or just us being the new arrival, but they’ve stuck around. I guess there won’t be any falling in the water here, although Bahati says they’re shy and get scared off when you jump in. There were a couple of flying fish on deck and tossing those and a bucket of sea water that had been used to rinse the wahoo filets caused a bit of a stir. Suddenly there were 8-10 sharks and they became a bit frenzied, swimming in tight circles and swinging their heads back and forth until one of them inhaled the flying fish and the fishy water dissipated.

DSC_0511 Half a dozen members of the welcoming committee

We were expecting to have customs visit the boat, but the Australian Federal Police, who handle customs, immigration, and quarantine here asked us to dinghy over to Home Island to meet them at their office. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. The outboard hasn’t been too reliable because the carb really needed a cleaning, we don’t have a lot of gasoline, and what we do have is a little suspect. Cedric actually pulled a fair amount of water out of the outboard fuel tank (which may explain the dirty carb) while we were in Perth. Home Island, the main settlement for the descendants of the Malay workers originally brought here to work the copra plantation is about a 2 mile dinghy ride and West Island, the main Australian settlement is a long ferry ride from Home Island. The outboard had been doing well at high RPMs, which made me think the pilot jet was clogged but the main jet was fine. It seems to have started out that way, but we didn’t make it far before the engine wouldn’t do anything but idle and then it didn’t even want to idle. We started paddling toward a nearby, upwind buoy, but paddling even 30 feet into the blustery tradewinds was hard work and pretty slow going. Anticipating potential problems, I had stocked the dinghy with what we might need (anchor, tools to remove and disassemble the carb, radio, PLB, etc.), but luckily Stephen on Josephine saw us struggling and came out in their dinghy to tow us back.

DSC_0515 Stephen giving us a tow in paradise

An hour or two later, the incredibly dirty carb was cleaned, the fuel and been checked and separated from the small amount of remaining water and sediment, and we’d both had a bite to eat. This time the only adventure on the way to Home Island was the chop whipped up by the tradewinds. We were motoring into it (for 2 miles) and we were both soaked from the waist down and on the windward side of our upper body as well by time we tied up to the wharf. Our timing was perfect. We split up immediately and managed to check in, check out (we’re planning to leave on Saturday), pay shire fees (they want $10/day just to anchor here), fill water jugs, pick up some fresh fruit and veggies and leave about 30 minutes later with all of the stores and offices we’d visited having just closed. Everybody was incredibly friendly, and even though we don’t expect to make a second visit, it’s clearly another place that would be nice to stay a while if we weren’t up against the start of the cyclone season.

We didn’t know for sure who else would be heading toward South Africa with us this year, but in addition to the World ARC, which we’re mostly trying to avoid, we identified several other boats, including one that is taking the same route that we’re planning, over the north tip of Madagascar. That boat is a single-hander that’s only 500 miles or so away from Madagascar, but we’re expecting to be able to contact him and the others on a twice-daily HF radio sked that we learned about today from Bahati. We were happy to hear that there’s someone ahead of us that we can pick up some tips from and that there will be some familiar voices out there during our long passage.

That’s all for now. We’re anchored in a beautiful lagoon, have fresh wahoo to BBQ, have cold Bintang in the freezer, just enjoyed a nice shower, get to sleep all night, and are getting ready to enjoy the sunset. Ahhh.