_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Marcy home Walvis Bay Angling Club club AFASyn Ushuaia Marcy and crew

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cocos Islands II

Cocos framed pirogue

At Cocos Islands, the yachts anchor in the protection of an uninhabited island, Direction Island. Only two of the islands in the atoll are inhabited. Home Island, the closest to the anchorage is inhabited by Malay muslims. West Island, a further 30 minute ferry ride across the lagoon (from Home Island) is the administrative center for the atoll and has a the school, a big runway and a small town. Both places have grocery stores, though alcohol is only available on West Island. As supplies dwindled on Marcy, we planned a shopping trip to the closer island, Home Island. The two-mile dinghy trip involves an unprotected lagoon crossing of a half mile or so – we arrived safe but damp.

Ginger and Sniffy Cocos

Giant spiders guard the shore.

Cocos spider and Ginger

Cocos spider and web

Home Island is as neat as a pin.

Jalan Bunga street Cocos

water view Cocos

A central feature of the island is a large elevated cyclone shelter. A system of lights would alert the population to go inside in stages, starting with young and old people.

cyclone shelter 2 Cocos cyclone shelter Cocos

A narrow gunter rigged traditional sailboat was displayed on the waterfront. Peter was interested, but disappointed not to see any of them sailing.

Cocos boat 1

To top off our diesel tank, we waited in line with jerry cans behind some ATVs, the island’s main type of vehicle.

fuel  line Cocos

We headed back to the dinghy with our supplies. A shopping trip is a major event at Cocos.

walkin Cocos

We were lucky to see one of the little local boats sailing in the lagoon, and happy to know that they are still sailed.

Cocos sailing boat

When cruising boats arrive at Cocos, it is mandatory to call the local Australian Federal Police on the VHF radio to be checked in. The police arrive in a fast launch from West Island and handle customs duties. One of the friendly officers invited us for an overnight visit to his home, so we geared up for an expedition – to get to West Island we needed to take the dinghy to Home Island, then the ferry to West Island, then the bus to town.

After the crossing to Home Island, we carefully covered Sniffy for protection from the fierce sun.

sniffy cover Cocos

The ferry skipper welcomed us onboard.

ferry skipper Cocos

The ferry is powered by twin jets – a very good thing considering the many coral heads in the lagoon. On the West Island end of the commute, the ferry is left idling in gear to counteract the force of the trades on the lee shore.

ferry at West Island Cocos

The town West Island is also very neat. There is a small tourist industry and a commercial flight from Australia once a week. We met Sergeant Dave and his wife Annette, and had a wonderful visit. They even offered the use of their washer and dryer so we were able to wash and dry our sheets!

dinner with Dave and Annette

Annette is a painter, and is working on a Cocos landscape.

Annette painting

Dave allowed us to tag along on his visit to the Meteorological Office so we could meet the weatherman and learn more about Cocos weather.

driving past doppler radar Cocos

Most cruisers, certainly us, are nervous spending the night (what if, what if) off of the ship. As comfortable as we were in town, it was something of a relief to head back to Marcy. As an added stress, there was a tsunami alert the morning we returned to the anchorage! On the ferry ride back to Home Island, we shared the boat with school children. Moms were waiting to give the school kids a ride home.

West island ferry line Home island waiting mom

Back at the boat, we prepared for the return to sea. We dismantled the wind generator, took the sail cover off, secured the loose gear, tied the lee cloths on the bunks. Also, we needed to leave a mark of our passing through, so we made a last trip ashore to tie a bouy in the rafters.

Marcy sign at Cocos

We gathered more coconuts for the passage.

Peter gathering cocos

We will never forget the white coral sand and blue water of Cocos.

Direction Island anch Cocos

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cocos Islands

Cocos hammock

Marcy’s passage from Ashmore to Cocos Islands began innocently enough – with light trade winds, sparkling seas, intense sunlight, and soft starlit nights. The Indian Ocean seemed benign and we worried more about sun exposure than anything else. Our new bimini was doing good duty. Ginger enjoyed reading on deck.

Sunny Ginger Indian Ocean

Peter was all smiles as easy miles ticked by.

Peter Indian Ocean

Soon the ocean began showing a different mood. The wind increased, the waves became steeper, and the towing generator began to snatch it’s propeller out of the water as we surfed down the steeper waves.

gen splash

The inevitable snarl up of the towline happened quicker than we expected.

gen snarl Indian Ocean

As the wind and seas continued to build, we found ourselves living a much different life than before. Walking around the boat was impossible – we moved like monkeys in the trees, from handhold to handhold. Cooking was impossible – opening a can of beans and eating it cold was a major project. Sleeping was difficult – one’s body was alternately weightless and pulling 2 g’s, as well as careening between the bulkhead and the lee cloth. We weren’t in a storm at all, just solid 25 to 30 kt tradewinds, but the sea was made chaotic by waves coming from several different directions. Marcy is a good boat in these conditions, and we sailed quickly if not comfortably with very little attention needed on deck from us. Of course we have no photos from this time, as neither of us had any energy or heart for photography. Before long, Cocos Islands appeared ahead of us, and very quickly we were in the pass and dropping the anchor at Direction Island.

Cocos anchorage

With all the bouncing a distant memory, we pumped up Sniffy the dinghy and headed ashore to explore. This spot has been an anchorage for voyaging yachts for decades and a shelter ashore has, hanging from rafters and posts, all sorts of inventive plaques, sculptures and grafitti marking their passing.

Cocos shelter

We discovered that this uninhabited island amazingly has a solar powered telephone. With a few dollars left on our phone card, we connected with friends and family half a world away in Seattle. Incredible!

chatty Ginger Cocos chatty Pete Cocos

Soon we fell into the island routine of laundry

washer woman Cocos

and burning garbage

garbage girl cocos

and socializing with the neighbor yachts

yachties Cocos

and collecting coconuts

coconuts Cocos

and cleaning the propeller

cleaning prop Cocos

and just enjoying the view. The boat anchored behind us, the French yacht Isis, was sadly lost on a reef in Chagos a few weeks later during our passage to the island of Mauritius.

Cocos anchorage 1

While we were in the water looking at Marcy’s propeller, Ginger discovered an old ship’s anchor half buried in the sand below us.

anchor Cocos

We explored further and found one of the undersea transoceanic telegraph cables that made this island important in world war one.

transoceanic cable Cocos

Little fish darted around the coral.

Cocos fish

We enjoy snorkeling. With practice we can dive deeper and stay under longer than we ever thought possible.

Snorkel Cocos

One day Nigel of Spinnalonga set his windsurfer up and invited Peter to try.

Peter windsurf

Nigel windsurf

The wind and sun kept our batteries full. Our convertible wind and water generator is a bit of a pain to use, as the conversion process requires lots of tools and time, but the extra power has made life luxurious on board. We have enjoyed watching working our way through a DVD collection given to us by Joe of Maggie Drum. Here Marcy is swinging to the anchor and making power on a Sunday (we only fly the jack at the bow on Sundays and holidays.) We have the Australian courtesy flag on the starboard spreader for our last anchorage in Australian waters. We first hoisted it three months and 4000 miles earlier in Cairns – Australia is a big place, and we only saw a fraction of it!

Marcy anchor at Cocos

We began to run low on stores – coconuts get boring after a while – and prepared to go shopping. This involves a long dinghy trip to the neighbor island, Home Island – and will be the subject of our next post. Until then we leave you with a picture of a Cocos flower.

Cocos flower


Friday, September 26, 2008

Ashmore Reef

Ashmore reef beach

Imagine a shallow spot in an ocean, where the waves pound coral into sand, and currents deposit the sand in a pile that forms a tiny island. A couple of coconut trees grow, birds and turtles nest, and rainwater pools underground in a freshwater reservoir. The tiny island is discovered centuries ago by Indonesian fisherman, who stop to gather eggs and replenish freshwater for the voyage south for trochus shells. Fast forward to the present, and now Australia administers the reef and island, called Ashmore Reef, with an eye to habitat conservation. The Aussies put in mooring bouys to keep anchors from destroying coral, and allow traditional sailing boats to stop for freshwater but forbid the taking of eggs. A military vessel is stationed at the reef to enforce regulations. The Aussies also encourage yachts to stop and moor, and publish a chart of the reef. After obtaining a copy of this chart we knew Marcy had to visit.

The passage from Darwin was notable only for light winds, a close encounter with a sleeping whale, and constant interaction with maneuvering warships. The spinnaker got a workout.

Flying Spinnaker Arafura

Australian patrol aircraft often flew over and wanted to know who we were and where we were going. We enjoyed these VHF conversations – a short chat with the very polite radio operators on these airplanes was a welcome diversion on uneventful watches.

coast patrol Arafura

Encountering the warships, in contrast, was frustrating. They seemed to use us and other sailboats making the same passage as elements in wargames. They would approach at high speeds, make sudden turns, stop in front unexpectedly, and dash off at the last minute. Then, hours later, after we thought we’d left their area of maneuvers, the whole group of five or six vessels would suddenly reappear and the fun would begin all over again. Often these encounters were at night, and they never answered the VHF radio when we tried to get an idea of what we were seeing. We learned just to carry on, never alter course, and just hope for the best as far as possible collisions.

When we arrived at Ashmore, the wind picked up. We found our bouy with a bit of drama in the dark, but were soon safely hooked up and enjoyed a few hours of sleep. The morning revealed a surreal scene: we seemed to be moored in the middle of the ocean with full wind and swell, and a small island, two palm trees visible, sits a couple of miles away.


Next to us, the Phoenix (who we first met at Darwin) is at a mooring.

Phoenix Ashmore

The motion was constant. We’ve never been moored in such big wind and waves. We were rolling very little, but pitching like crazy. It took some getting used to, but after a while it was kind of fun. Question: How long will a can of pop stay on the table? Answer: Eight seconds, or one wave crest.

Marcy plunges Ashmore

Another American yacht (Scooter, first met in NZ) arrived and since Bob is a single hander, Giff of Phoenix and Peter offer to help set up his mooring.

mooring Scooter

With every boat as secure as possible (we think) a shore party is in order. Giff and Patty motor ashore in company with us. It’s sobering to think that if a problem occurs with the outboard and we were blown downwind, the next available land was Africa some 2000 miles away. We were glad for company, and carried a VHF radio and an anchor. We also had oars, but rowing against “full on” trade winds in an inflatable is not a realistic goal.

Giff and Patty

We visited a couple of traditional Indonesian vessels on the way in. The first was a long liner, a tough looking boat with a rough looking (but friendly) crew.

Indonesian 1 fishing boat ashmore

Indonesian 2 fishing boat ashmore

Indonesian 3 fishing boat ashmore

The second boat we had enjoyed watching sail in earlier. The boat gracefully swept in the channel, jibed, and picked up a mooring with precise seamanship. The sails were perfectly furled. These boats find this tiny speck of land without GPS, sextant, or charts. The freeboard on this boat is about one foot. One of the crew was suffering from an eye problem, and we promise to return with eyewash.

Indonesian trader 1 ashmore

Indonesian trader 3 ashmore

Indonesian trader 2 ashmore

We passed the resident Australian Customs vessel also.

Aus customs ashmore

We eagerly waded ashore to explore.

Ashmore reef wading ashore

At the beach we discovered the remains of an Indonesian boat that had ended it’s career here. The boat was originally built with wooden nails, and repaired many times with metal fastenings. It is amazing how short the planks are.

wreck Ashmore

Low scrub and turtle nests cover the upper beach.

beach Ashmore

We were glad for the chance to stretch our legs, and climb driftwood.

driftwood Ashmore

The well is still an important reason to stop here. We were glad to have a water maker aboard Marcy, considering the warning sign.

well Ashmore

We returned to the dinghies, put on the snorkel gear, and explored the reef. We were rewarded with the amazing colors and shapes of an Indian Ocean reef.

Ashmore reef 1

Ashmore reef 2

Ashmore reef 3

Exhausted after exploring, we all headed back to the yachts. After a rest, Peter and Ginger headed back with sunglasses and eyewash to try to help the suffering crewmember back at the Indonesian vessel. We were invited onboard, tried to communicate instructions with gestures, and enjoyed a visit. The poor man eventually let us know that he also had a hernia! Ouch…. The boat was boarded by a wave or two while we were aboard – and they pumped out with a wooden pump exactly like the ones onboard traditional working craft of the last century in America.

Back at the moorage, the sun and wind had ensured that our battery banks, and thus our water tanks, were completely topped off. We were making so much electricity that we eventually had to put the wind generator away.

Marcy at mooring Ashmore Reef

After a final night, plunging at the mooring, we busied ourselves with preparations to get underway again. The good news? We realized that we could sail away without having to regain our sea legs – we had never really left the sea.