Thursday, February 18, 2010

Leaving Seychelles; preparing for 7 weeks isolation

The Seychelles phase of our journey is ending – and with very mixed emotions: sadness in the goodbye to beautiful islands with friendly, welcoming, colourful people; delight that we were privileged enough to experience the islands in this way; some anxiety and trepidation for the next ocean passage, and expectations of unique experiences the passage and the destination is certain to give us.

In the next few days we will leave on a passage of 1050 nautical miles to the Chagos islands, almost due east of the Seychelles. Embarking on this voyage will mean leaving this seriously comfortable spot where we are presently berthed: the Wharf Hotel and Marina…. Tied up to a jetty means a still boat, stepping straight off the boat and onto “land”, cell phone coverage, easy access to the internet, unlimited supplies of water and electricity to the yacht (read air-conditioning and long hot showers) …. and the hotel pool! This is the first time in all our sailing that we have had such luxuries, and they will be difficult to leave!
The Chagos Islands are, apart from Diego Garcia (a remote US military installation and out-of-bounds to yachties), uninhabited British islands for which we have obtained a one month visitors’ permit. So, all being well, we will have interesting experiences in Chagos and at the end of March we will leave there to travel the 300 nm north to the southernmost atoll of the Maldives… our first experience of “civilisation" in approximately 7 weeks. And the first time in 7 weeks that we will have access to the internet (apart from satellite-phone based), cell phone coverage and the chance to communicate with friends and family.

The last few weeks saw Irene take a trip to Pretoria, where she felt what it was like to have a stationary surface beneath her feet (no big deal), ridiculous quantities of water for showers (terribly indulgent, but fortunately it was not in the drought-stricken Cape areas), a bed which allowed one to get on / off from either side (tested both sides and NEVER got on / off at the foot end, as in boat-wise… surprising!?) and the easiest shopping trips in the world, surely? Thus she stocked up on 33kg of food and toiletries to take back to the ‘land of no rooibos tea, no provita and too-expensive other commodities’ (the red-queue customs man declined the task of bag-checking when exceptionally long itemised till-slips were thrust in his hand and he was implored to “see for yourself”). The real gift of this trip (from Rolf, who remained on the boat to do innumerable chores) was spending time with family and friends, sorely missed when you (of own volition, admittedly) embark on a two-man sailing adventure. Oh, and it was also great to see progress in all the construction that is still the dominant theme of the Gauteng landscape and to top-up on world and local SA news (although much of the latter had not really moved on since we left the country…. except for the number of children, wives and girlfriends of the leader of the nation!)

Returning to the Seychelles brought, to contrast with the news from SA, the following snippets of local news…. the Seychellois are up in arms because prime properties at the top of the beautiful mountains that make up Mahe, the main island, have been sold to an Arab Sheik for a rupee (about 70 SA cents) each, and he has embarked on a distasteful building project there, thus defacing their natural skyline; the Coast Guard says there have been no piracy problems since December (the Coast Guard operations room shows 7 successful pirate attacks on boats in Oct/Nov last year in their area: scary) and the Rising Sun newspaper has an article claiming that Seychelles has been holding 11 Pirates since December. A UN resolution has been made that after trial they serve sentence in Seychelles … but this land has no appropriate facility so the only jail on the island group needs to be refurbished to accommodate these criminals. In that same paper is a teen page featuring an article informing them of numerous “ways to annoy others by phone or at work” (we kid you not). Perhaps if they become too annoying they should be thrown in the newly-refurbished jail?

The last week in the Seychelles also saw us meeting people who alternate their lives between here and SA; apart from a super meal with them they also shared local knowledge, showing us local plants from which we picked curry leaves and cinnamon leaves and took us to a shop that sells…. Rusks (Bokomo) and Provitas!!! And a whole lot more from SA too (except Rooibos). AARGH!! I did not need to bring all the 33kg!! Generally, shopping in the Seychelles is difficult; the islands are covered by what SA citizens would call “spaza shops”: small, badly merchandised, stocks irregular with a limited and eclectic mix of products. So in our sojourn here it was necessary to trudge from shop to shop to obtain what was needed and there have been times when one could not obtain eggs / coffee / sugar. The present problem? Carrots!! No carrots for 3 weeks… “they are imported from Australia and the container has not arrived”!

Back to the preparations for the imminent departure.

We have purchased: 12 more jerry-cans for extra diesel (will there be wind? Will that be enough fuel?), a total of 840l diesel, 5kg chicken fillets (will we catch fish? Will that be enough protein? AHA! Beans!), appropriate quantities of tinned, bottled, packeted and dried food to keep us going for at least 7 weeks and approximately R1000.00 fresh food that, at inflated prices, will not take us far!

We have also: put non-slip materials on every flat surface in the galley and also non-slip strips on ends of steps on which we have slipped; sealed the targa wing/bimini (i.e. cockpit roof) from end to end (where it was leaking annoyingly) (yep: we have become DIY experts!); serviced the 2 engines and saildrives and the generator (yep: Rolf is an expert mechanic!); repaired / replaced the heart of the water-maker (under warranty fortunately); prepared and bottled a Madagascan mango/carrot/ginger relish and South African curried beans (yep: Irene has become a bottler!); tensioned up the shrouds; checked and cable-tied all the D-shackles; picked out every weevil we could find in every packet of starch and put these (the packets) in the freezer (a week’s freezing apparently will cure the problem); adjusted the winches; got local banana recipes from a friendly taxi driver; made provision for rain-collection off the roof (to save the water-maker and fuel); rigged a storm drogue to deploy from the stern (to slow us down if we are moving too fast / out of control in a storm); rigged the anchors to handle the deep water anchorages in Chagos and Maldives; stowed the croc and scuba gear and sorted the fishing gear (determined to catch / eat something other than tuna!); rigged the spinnaker in anticipation of light wind, down(ish) wind sailing; de-rusted the tools; sharpened the axe and the machete!?!; covered our eggs with Vaseline (prevents mould from getting into them… and from experience mould is not nice. We will also turn the eggs at least twice a week to prevent the yolks from settling to the bottom); washed every item of vegetable and fruit in Milton, dried and either vacuum bagged, sealed or wrapped for (hopefully long-term-no-vrot) storage and placed moth-killer stuff in every cupboard – such a barrage of assorted good fun is hard to resist!

We have not…. been able to put any more than 1 beer, 1 soda and 1 tonic in the fridge as it is solid with food (daily booze rationing!); unpacked the pirate bag as anti-piracy precautions are still necessary to at least 60 deg East (i.e. 300nm east of here). Explanation of pirate bag: on the recommendation of the UK Maritime Safety Organisation, this “grab bag” (that must be ready to pick up-and-go when the pirates take you off your yacht and whisk you away to Somalia) was put together at the start of the Madagascar to Seychelles passage. Pirate bags, as it turns out, play on the emotions. They cause great trepidation during their packing at the start of the journey and great mirth to observers (visiting family) during their unpacking - having reached the destination safely. So ours contained (as advised) suncream, water-purification tablets, sunglasses, hats, mosquito repellant, individual-required meds, multivitamin, toothbrush and paste, diarrhoea meds etc. Jolly sensible stuff, really. But at the end of a long and ribald evening, family can take the mickey out of you and this certainly provided for much hilarity. Particularly when the RESCUE tablets came out!! However, one petite and feminine almost-formally-member of the family took the prize for the night by pointing out the obvious omission “You need a big f…..g GUN!”

Reflecting on the last 13 months (when we started our training) we have become aware that we were real land lubbers getting into this (ad)venture: with no sailing experience before our training, only 78nm on the new yacht’s log when we left CT (and that was earned motoring within Table Bay), everything has been a learning experience… even handling a dinghy! This coming passage will be the first time it is not a “first”: not our first passage, not the first one on our own. However, we still feel like land lubbers at heart – although Rolf has not spent a night on land for over 6 months, the speed with which Irene acclimatised to land-dwelling in SA was telling!

These land lubbers are about to sail away from all signs of land for a while and in fact looking forward to the journey, remembering previous awesome experiences and sights, moments that took our breath away; but we are also aware that this journey, and the whole of the next 7 weeks, will expose us to more “firsts”. Will they be good or bad? Enjoyable or not? Frightening or not? Whilst isolated on passage our main worries will be weather (enough wind, the right direction, not too much wind, a manageable and comfortable sea state), equipment failure, sleep and our health; we hope that these are not the “firsts” that are manifest on the voyage. Strangely, we have not felt fear during a storm as there is no time to dwell; the anxiety is worst when you see the storm coming! However, this will be the first time our destination will be a land with NONE of the usual facilities .… except if in dire need we could probably try to contact the US Navy on Diego Garcia for help (they lease this atoll from Britain).

Seeing non-sailors take off as we have, understandably has people wondering about our sanity. But many of our experiences have been a privilege and there is no other way we could have enjoyed them - and anyway, we still owed ourselves a gap ‘year’ and it sure beats working!

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bow lines
Sail away from the safe harbour
Catch the trade winds in your sails

Mark Twain