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Taraipo Tales June 2006: Maldives, Chagos, Rodriguez/Mauritius

By doina — last modified Jul 07, 2006 09:44 AM

Published: 2006-07-07 09:44:03
Countries: BIOT (Chagos) , Maldives , Mauritius

Malaysia was probably the friendliest, most efficient and cheapest destination we have yet been to. Thailand was a bit of a shock, the waters are bumper to bumper, highly illuminated fishing boats at night and every anchorage is buzzed by high powered speedboats (2x220h.p.) by day. Phuket is a sprawling metropolis & Tesco is here like Makro is in Bali, not too ethnic.

Sailing from Phuket past the Andaman Islands to the Maldives was very gentle. Addu atoll, 40 miles south of the Equator, is only eight feet high, and its lagoon is about twelve miles across. We cruised into the pass to anchor off Gan island to check-in the Maldives. There we discovered a great little natural harbour, not on the chart, but shallow & right in the “middle of town”, the best way to get known, with windsurfing & snorkeling along the reef daily, like swimming in an aquarium. Very friendly, mostly Muslim islanders, & no petty crime, and all the fresh fruit & veg you need, tho fresh water is a problem. Fortunately we had a few mega downpours & were able to collect enough water from our biminis to top up our 12x20 litre jerricans.

We knew that sailing south to Chagos against the prevailing south easterly wind was going to be difficult, it was worse, 1 ½ knots of current against, made the going very slow, even backwards at times. Eight days later we arrived in a sailing paradise - no people - no distractions ashore, thousands of square miles of sheltered waters, and challenging and un-predictable winds - strong @ times. But its hot, and sunny and blue, 'n palm trees 50 feet high, dense green vegetation, some citrus trees, enormous coconut crabs, beaches further than the eye can see. There's a bit of tide, 1 metre, to keep things clean, raucous bird life, a booby ate our masthead fly on the way in through the pass, we had to stop the wind generator or have chopped bird for lunch. On arrival we anchored on a small steep sandbank & did not move for a fortnight. We ate fresh fish every day. Just drop your line over & you catch something - the place is teaming with fish of all kinds - no fishermen are allowed near the place by the British Indian Ocean Territories, Fishery Patrol - they took $100 off us for the privilege of anchoring there - thank goodness most other countries are not so mean.

We had an amazing couple of months there, most of the time on our own in Peros Banhos atoll (30 miles in diameter) but enjoying the company of the crews of 30 other yachts passing through on their way to destinations east & west, some staying up to 5 months in Salomon Atoll (5 miles diam.) The place is sheer magic & there is lots of “local knowledge”, waypoints and expertise available among the crews.

Most of the other yachts thought we were crazy to attempt to go upwind to Rodrigues Island in heavy air, with our wee Wharram catamaran. It was rough, it was hard but we managed to do the trip on one tack (port) reaching for the last few days under no 2 jib only. And now we have been here for over a month, we are not sure why we decided to come here, but we have enjoyed every minute of our stay.

Surprisingly the island is highly populated (35000) sophisticated - everyone speaks French, Creole and English- & affluent, strongly supported by Mauritius (320 miles away), with schools, churches and good hospital, and an airport. There is good farming, fishing & the women spike octopus on the coral reef. Most of the fishing is done under sail from narrow, 21 feet, lateen rigged punts. There are over a thousand of them moored around the island (10 miles long & 1200 feet high) & we were the first yacht to arrive this year and hit the weekend of their annual regatta - 350 sailors, 1000's of spectators, Sega music, sponsored by Phoenix beer. Yee ha! Mauritius next stop.

JJ, Taraipo, June 2006