Fully laden with provisions for at least two months, we set off for the long sail down to Chagos. After the frenetic Indian lifestyle and muggy air, we were really looking forward to some peace and serenity in the archipelago of Chagos which is situated bangslap in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The journey was tough – not because it was uncomfortable but because it was infuriating with winds coming from the south and currents pushing us east, we found ourselves doing a massive 100NM detour just to make headway to our destination. It is incredibly frustrating to find yourself sailing all day only to be 50 NM nearer your destination.
Luckily we had fine weather and gorgeous sunsets snd sunrises and the sight of Chagos just after dawn was a thrill we had been looking forward to since the beginning of our trip. Chagos is the original name for these islands. They are now called the British Indian Ocean Territory as they are owned and administered by Britain with the exception of the largest island Diego Garcia which is leased to the Americans as a strategic military base. Understandably Diego Garcia is off limits to cruisers and the Americans guard it closely. The original inhabitants of these islands were forcibly removed and relocated to Mauritius and Britain. They have never been allowed back despite a high court junction from London declaring that this act of removal was illegal. They are still fighting to return but the original inhabitants are now few and far between and with the subsequent generations enjoying the benefits of modern life – it seems unlikely that these Islands will ever be habited again. Britain have turned the rest of the archipelago into a huge marine park and have officers based here to prevent illegal fishing , check on us cruisers and keep the park pristine. I think they must live on board the big BIOT boat that cruises around as the islands are all uninhabited – with the exception of a couple of donkeys on one Island and thousands of coconut crabs.
To spend time here cruisers must apply to the British Government for a visa well in advance. We applied for ours back in Malaysia before Christmas. There are strict rules to adhere to and your time is limited to 1 month @ £50 per week. No sleeping ashore, no spear guns, no diving, no bonfires, no littering, no overstaying AT ALL, etc and they come over to check you in and issue you with port clearance. They even brought us oranges…All very civilised!
Because of its location and because of the lure of visiting uninhabited islands, Chagos draws nearly every yacht crossing the Indian Ocean. During our visit there were about 12 of us with another 15 yet to arrive.
There are only two atolls we could anchor in and we all ended up staying in Salomon as it was more protected.
I celebrated my birthday the other side of the atoll at Boddam. This was where the settlement was and we spent a few days exploring the ruins including the church which has literally been reclaimed by nature. We also found the graveyard which was in much better shape. There were many old buildings but it was hard to work out what most of them were used for as they were in such a bad state. The well was still working and used by the cruisers for their washing. One of the buildings has been turned into a club house complete with a visitors book!
The BIOT guys had put in a big firepit for us to use so we had fish bbq and a day-long birthday party – a brilliant day and how lucky was I to spend my birthday in such a special place.
We also celebrated Corinnes birthday a few days later with a dinghy party – we all tie up together in our dinghys and just drft. We actually drifted so far from the boats that by the end of the evening we were a few miles out – another great day.
We spent our days swimming, exploring, socialising and just chilling out. One morning sv Antares had some manta rays right off their stern so Ian and a few others spent a lovely time swimming with these magnificent creatures. There was a wreck in very shallow waters which we snorkelled on and we had some good snorkelling with colourful fish but unfortunately as with the rest of the region, the coral was in very poor condition. There was a wrecked catamaran on the beach which we knew about because when Indian Summer came across the Indian Ocean in 2012 she had only been wrecked 6 weeks prior and we had pictures of her from then. She was brand new and on a delivery to New Zealand from France. Over the last six years she has been stripped of everything and now just remains a fibreglass shell giving all of us sailors a “there but for the grace of God” moment. One mistake and we risk losing everything. In this case the cat was wrecked because she got washed up on the beach in rough weather when the crew were not on board – no lives were lost but now all vessels entering BIOT waters need to have wreck recovery insurance before they are allowed to enter the atolls.
We had many turtles swimming by and sharks a plenty. Being uninhabited means the wildlife have no fear of us and as we are only there for a couple of months a year they are quite inquisitive. We caught enough fish to be completely self sufficent during our stay.
We did get a bit of maintenance done – I made some new fender covers and Ian did some engine stuff but mostly we spent our time enjoying this pristine group of islands. All too soon our time was up and we left a couple of days early to call onto Peros Banos – the other Atoll 30 NM away. We were greeted by a mother and her very tiny baby dolphin – we reckon it as a new born it was so small. Unfortunately when we got there we quickly realised that the Anchorage was untenable so made a quick decision to head straight for Madagascar – a 1500 mile journey west.