|British Indian Ocean Territory, Chagos I, April-May 2009|
|The two weeks in Gan, Maldives went by quickly and it was time to depart. The weather looked good for our 280 mile passage to Chagos, in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The anchor came out of the clear blue water and we were ready to leave early in the morning. While securing the anchor on the bow sprit and not looking under or ahead of us, Blue Sky heaved to an abrupt stop. The one thing all cruisers dread, we hit bottom and were stuck on the only high spot in the channel. The tide was falling and there would be a difference of 3 meters/9 feet, panic struck in. Thankfully, the other boats anchored in the lagoon noticed our peril and arrived on scene in dinghies and with calming suggestions. Everyone pushed with the dinghies while the captain tried to back her off the coral, to no avail. The boat next to us took the bitter end of our spinaker halyard from our main mast and winched us over so we healed on our side, this still did not work. Then, a local ferry drove past at full speed creating a wake. Once they droped off their passengers they came by to assist, setting an anchor off our beam and one of the crew got into the water to assess the situation. When the ferry boat drove passed us at high speed the diver noticed that the wake lifted Blue Sky almost clear of the reef. After two more passes increasing their speed and thus their wake we were lifted clear and promptly moved back to our anchorage, dropped our anchor to inspect the keel and wait for a rising tide to re-attempt our departure.
The first night and day of our passage to Chagos the weather was quiet with calm seas. The wind then became shifty and the seas confused, with squalls on the horizon. In order to avoid a beating we turned on the main engine and motor-sailed the rest of the way to Chagos. One squall completely engulfed us for over 12 hours, with strong winds and rain. On the last evening we saw stars appearing through the clouds and were hopeful the sun would greet us in morning. We needed sun as the entry into the Atoll is through a channel and once inside you must navigate around the coral heads that fill the lagoon. Arriving at 07:00 we waited for the sun to rise and at 10:00 we promptly worked our way into the atoll and down to the anchorage at the southern end of Solomon atoll off Boddam Island.
There were approximately 15 other boats secured to coral heads, that had been used the previous seasons. Duncan, off s/v Moose informed us that there was still one existing mooring left. When we were back in malaysia at Rebak Island Marina, off the island of Langkawi, our friends off s/v Shiraz replaced their anchor chain, we obtained about 60 feet of their old chain for exactly this purpose. The aforementioned squall we encountered hit the anchorage as well. The yachts clocked 50+ knots of wind. Anchoring with 200 feet of chain dragging across coral is not a pleasant sound, but even worse, the chain sweeps across the coral killing large patches of it. Setting up a mooring on a coral head is not damage proof, but in our opinion, it is the better choice. You can sleep peacefully as you know your boat is secure and will not drag, otherwise you could potentially loose everything. Additionally, boats coming in after us have a secure mooring that will be useable for a few years. Duncan helped a couple other boats in the anchorage set up their moorings, being the local expert, we solicited his experience in securing ours. Two hours later Blue Sky was safe and sound in her new home for the next two months. The boat was surrounded by beautiful coral reefs on three sides less than one boat length away. This area of the anchorge is nicknamed the "Garden District" and it is a truly spectacular site.
|Danny and Lynne from England. Below Danielle and Larry from Colorado. Toasting our departure from Gan, Maldvies.|
|Blue Sky on the rocks in Gan, Maldives. Below is a photo of the damage done to our recently painted bottom.|
|The Blue Sky family in Chagos. Under the Chagos flag and Lat's and Att's flag.|
|BIOT, British Indian Ocean Territories patrol boat. The rules of the land below.|
|The reef a half boat length off Blue Sky|
|A wahoo the size of Phoebe, caught by Phil off s/v Tramontana|
|Phoebe and Duncan showing off the catch of the day, a large grouper. Below Jim teasing the sharks with the scraps.|
|Fortunately we set up the mooring without delay, as two days later 40 knots of wind blew for 48 hours. When the system had passed two boats limped in with shredded head sails. One of our favorite passtimes in Chagos was feeding the sharks. Venturing outside the atoll in dinghies, the fisherman would return with the days catch, ranging from wahoo, tuna, coral reef trout and grouper, to name a few. If the catch was substantial, which it always was, the fish was passed around to the boats who requested some. In Boddam there is an old jetty and on the shore side a table is set up for cleaning the fish. Gutting fish in one location is important because the lagoon sharks become accustomed to a central feeding area. If you clean the fish on the boat you are constantly circled by sharks when you go snorkeling. Once the bucket was full of scraps, we would take the waste to the end of the jetty and throw it in. Habitually there would be up to twenty sharks, mainly black tip reef sharks and nurse sharks. The feeding frenzy would last up to ten minutes while the sharks fought for rations. One time we threw in a coconut shell to see what would happen and saw them fiercely fight for it. No snorkeling in this area!|
|The remaining families now had their own plots of land to cultivate and built homes, schools, churches, a graveyard and even a jail. The population ranged up to 2000 by the 1960's. In 1966 the British Prime Minister leased Diego Garcia to the United States in order to construct a tactical military base. The inhabitants were bought out and relocated to the Seychelles or Mauritius. The remnants of the habitation still remain, however the plants are camouflaging the buildings, with their branches and roots penetrating the walls, floors and ceilings.|
|Humphrey off s/v Brumby returns every year to Chagos for the season. He is an expert at weaving palm frond hats. It was quite a difficult task, but everyone eventually mastered it. Drake shows off his new hat. Tuk off s/v Millenium shows Phoebe how to make other fun things with palm fronds.
The islands were first visited by Portuguese sailors in the 16th century, naming the largest island Diego Garcia. Approximately 130 miles south east of Salomon Atoll. Then the French plantation owners arrived in 1776, bringing slaves from Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique to work in the manufacturing of coconut oil and sugar cane. The British took over the islands after the Napolenic wars and the slaves were freed.
|Below the remains of the church and the graveyard|
|Phoebe and Drake stand in front of the old school house and walk amonst the many overgrown trails. Above is an abandoned building and an old toilet. The wildlife on the island consists of the large coconut crabs, which you can hear russle in the roots of the trees, hermit crabs, rats and a variety of birds. The islands are a designated conservation area and all flora and fauna are protected. Fishing is permitted and you document your catch, on the contrary, you may not spear fish inside the atoll, catch coconut crabs, harvest heart of palm or stay ashore at night. Diving is also against the regulations, as there is no decompression chamber nearby. In the past there has been a blatant disregard by some yachts which has forced BIOT to implement a number of rules and regulations. Cruisers must always remember that others come after us and our behavior should ensure that everyone can enjoy the goodwill and environment found in these remote destinations.
BIOT maintains the island archipelago. In order to visit the group you need permission prior to arrival, easily obtained by emailing BIOTadmin@fco.gov.uk. The year we went, 2009, the fee was 100 British pounds per month, with a maximum stay of six months. In the past a couple of yachts dragged anchor and were destroyed on the reef. BIOT was unfairly left with the cost to dispose of the wrecks in this fragile environment. Because of this you must complete a release that states each individual yacht is liable for any cost associated with the loss of ones vessel. Every two of so weeks the m/v Pacific Marlin would enter the lagoon. The crew consisted of Royal British Marines, and a staff of Sri Lankan and Phiilipine crew. The BIOT team would board your boat and check your reservation, then stamp your passports and ask if there was anything you needed. They were extremely friendly and professional. From our communication with the crew and staff we were aware that they all felt very privileged to be stationed on Diego Garcia.
|In order to conserve our propane we would make use of the dutchoven ashore. Building a fire then baking our bread and making homemade pizza's for lunch. It always came out delicious. There are a couple wells for fresh water, which we used for laundry, washing dishes and showers. Some bold people would fill their tanks and drink the water. Our tanks remained full due to the rain squalls that would pass through weekly. Next to one well a laundry station was temporarily erected, with two large tubs for soaking and rinsing, and lines strung within the pilings for drying. BIOT collects all the garbage when they visit, which is separated into three large bins for glass, tins and aluminum. There is a steel hammer for crushing the cans and tins, thus making more room in the bins. Next to the bins are two large iron drums, that were used as presses to squeeze out the coconut oil. Each yacht is responsible for burning all remaining trash in these containers.|
|Everyday at 2:00pm we would go ashore to play volleyball. A sand court with a homemade net was built and is maintained by raking it every day and adding sand when needed. At first we were all quite rusty, but after a few days everyone improved. The children enjoyed learning a new sport. Throughout the matches we would husk open coconuts, drink the refreshing milk and cut up the meat for everyone to snack on. Jim goes native and climbs a tree in search of the nut. There was a great contraption ashore which made husking easy.
Chagos continued on a separate page, titled Chagos II.
|A hermit crab in a plastic jar.|
|Phoebe and Drake would help smash cans and wring out the laundry in the mangle.|