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A magic 3 weeks in Chagos

By Neville Howarth — last modified Aug 25, 2017 11:10 PM
Alba had a great 3 weeks in Chagos, so I thought that I'd share our experience:

Published: 2017-08-24 23:00:00
Countries: BIOT (Chagos)

A magic 3 weeks in Chagos

Sundowners

The excellent RCC guide (http://www.rccpf.org.uk/pilots/151/Chagos-Archipelago) is very informative. We followed the recommended entry waypoints and the minimum depth that we saw was 6 metres at fairly low tide. The Navionics chart on our Android app was surprisingly accurate. We entered in poor light and didn't hit anything while travelling 2 miles across to Ile Fouquet...

During our three week stay, there were between 4 and 13 boats. Everyone anchored at Ile Fouquet rather than Ile Boddam - only two boats bothered to go to Ile Boddam and they only stayed one or two nights. Why this change in established practice?

Ile Fouquet

Ile Fouquet is a well-protected anchorage in south-east winds. Some yachts were anchored in 5 metres of water around a sand bank at 05:20S 072:15.8E, while others were anchored in 20 metres away from the reefs. The water was clean; the breeze was fresh; there were two lovely mosquito-free beaches; there were lots of reefs with plenty of fish close by; several hundred nesting Boobies; and there were six islands within an easy dinghy ride to explore, each crawling with Coconut Crabs.

Before you go to Chagos you have to watch the documentary called “Stealing a Nation” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PjNfXK6QpqY), which is all about the evacuation of the Chagos Islanders.

Ile Boddam

Ile Boddam is the location of the old settlement. We visited the island twice by dinghy. Our first trip was to check out the moorings. The "anchorage" at Ile Boddam is a labyrinth of shallow reefs and the sea bed between the bommies is coral as well. Hence it's almost impossible to anchor there.

Cruisers in the past have wrapped chains around bommies and created moorings. We found seven moorings in various states of disrepair. After free-diving down to inspect the chains, we thought that only two of the seven were in a fit state to pick up without major 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. 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. You wouldn't want to be trapped here in bad weather.

On a second trip to Ile Boddam, we explored ashore. There are a substantial number of buildings, left behind by the Chagossians, which are now falling down and being slowly overtaken by jungle growth. We wandered around for a couple of hours, trying to imagine what life must have been like on such a small island with a tiny community.

We found a few fresh water wells, a small church, numerous residential buildings and what looked like a small jail with four cells. The place is over-run by coconut and banyan trees. The only sign of life is the constant rustling of thousands of hermit crabs, scuttling around the leafy earth and the occasional Coconut Crab. Oh, and mosquitos.

Many years ago, cruising boats were able to stay in Chagos as long as they wanted, which naturally lead to a group of yachty squatters staying for months on end. Not content with enjoying the pristine reefs and uninhabited islands, these people then started to make themselves “comfortable” ashore. They converted one building into a “yacht club” and started to dump their stuff ashore - plastic chairs, old diesel containers, oil filters and we even came across a mast dumped behind a wall.

In previous years, yachts have picked up the moorings and spent all their time at Ile Boddam, but I can’t see why. The anchorage is thick with shallow reefs, the water is cloudy, the reefs are dead, there are mosquitos ashore and the “yacht club” is a sad derelict.

Back at Ile Fouquet

Here we chilled out, had sundowners on the beach and explored the islands and reefs. At low water, it's possible to walk around Ile Fouquet - a great two hour stroll. There's a wreck at 05°20.37S 072°15.74E, and the reefs to the north of the anchorage are all good with plenty of Grouper, if you're into fishing.

The reefs have suffered bleaching, similar to the Maldives, so don't expect pristine reefs, but there's some colour and signs of recovery, so fingers crossed. For the first week, we had clear water, but then we had a plankton bloom, so visibility reduced to five metres. This was bad for snorkelling, but brought in the Mantas that swam around feeding at 05°20.01S 072°15.85E, right alongside where we were anchored.

We had a magic three weeks. If you want more detail, see our blog:

http://www.thehowarths.net/alba-chronicles/2017-indian-ocean/522-may-2017-chagos

Neville Howarth
Yacht Alba

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