June 15, 2013 7500 air miles
After a pleasant morning of finding ways to pack the 69 kilograms of clothing and equipment for snorkeling, diving, boat navigation, water safety, and communications that we had brought with us to Australia into the 60 kilogram allowance of Emirates Airlines, we said goodbye to the Whitsundays. A one hour flight brought us to Brisbane where a 6 hour layover gave us a chance to catch up on some correspondence. The Brisbane airport was the most spacious and thoughtfully comfortable airport I’ve ever seen. For instance, in the gate areas instead of the normal crowded rows of worn plastic seating there were tables and movable chairs where groups could gather or individuals could work while waiting for their departure.
We flew to Dubai in darkness for 14 hours and 20 minutes because our plane was fleeing the sun chasing us from the horizon behind us. Flying over the parched Australian outback we could see large strips and patches of wildfires burning in the night. Over Borneo, Sumatra, Malaysia, and India I couldn’t see much because I was watching three movies. After another 4 hours and 40 minutes in the air we arrived in Seychelles where a taxi waited to take us to the Sunsail base at Eden Marina.
Sunday, June 16 11.5 nautical miles
Even though we were eager to cast off dock lines, we took time to go with Lilly, the wife of the Sunsail base manager, to an outdoor exposition in celebration of Nation’s Day, the anniversary of the founding of the current Seychelles government. The exposition was a lot like a county fair, except without the Ferris wheel and the Tilt-a-whirl. The aroma of barbecuing chicken, pork, and fruit bat was intoxicating and the music was comfortably familiar: A Seychelles reggae version of the Everly Brothers’ “All I have to do is Dream,” Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and the all-time islands’ favorite “Hot, Hot, Hot” sung in Seychellois Creole.
When we finally cast off we headed north to enjoy a good downwind sail. The feel and handling of a catamaran was rather awkward to a confirmed monohull sailor. The wheel had little “feel of the water” and the handling seemed unwieldy and imprecise. I could have been driving a 1992 Crown Victoria, which has some resemblance to a catamaran–large, squarish, and clumsy.
Our first night at sea was spent on anchor at Baie Beau Vallon–Beautiful Valley Bay.
The anchoring system on a catamaran is different from that on a monohull, and we weren’t sure that we had figured it out, so we put plenty of space between us and the two boats already anchored there. This margin of error proved to be important because the confused sea moved the three boats around in strange and inconsistent ways. Instead of all three boats swinging to the north together as you would expect with a wind shift to the south, one would go north, one east, and one west. During the night, the other two boats got so close to each other that one of them had to move to be sure that they wouldn’t collide. It was good entertainment since we weren’t involved in the paso doble the two boats were dancing.
Monday, June 17 10.9 nm
I let the tracker on the iPad run all night and by morning it had colored a wide swath of yellow track where we had swung around the anchor all night. Diana was feeling sick, and so we thought at first it was seasickness, which would have been quite understandable, but it turned out she had a slight fever, so we doctored her much of the day and by evening she was feeling better.
We made a short day of sailing down the west coast of Mahe looking for a quiet and pretty place to spend the night. Along the way we saw strange human habitats—some people here live in birdhouses and glass cubes!
We investigated Anse Major, a pristine beach with access only from the sea, but settled on Baie Ternay in the National Marine Park on Mahe. Our little corner of the bay was so pretty it would make a fabulous Hollywood set. Large bare granitic stone poked through luxuriant green tropical foliage surrounding a secluded beach.
We moored close enough to the beach that I could snorkel ashore. The bay was filled with coral but the star of the show was a hidden pool of fresh water beyond the beach. It was fed by a small stream that flowed down through the valley. This shallow pool on the island had its own small sandy island. Hollywood couldn’t have done better.
Swimming ashore was easy, but getting back to the boat was a different matter. The tide was surging in and would have been difficult to swim against, so I hitched a ride on a motor boat that was visiting the beach. When it got me beyond the breakers I bid them adieu, jumped into the water, and swam back to our boat.
Tuesday, June 18 3.5 nm
We gave up the paradise of Baie Ternay to explore further down the coast. Immediately that seemed like a bad idea when we were hit with 20-25 knots of wind and 4-8 foot waves. The winds and waves were moving north and we were heading south, not the catamaran’s strong suit, so the boat labored to get around Cape Matoopa. The boat pitched and rolled severely, contradicting the catamaran’s vaunted stability, but eventually we were able to turn in at Port Launay. It was as though we had jumped to a different world–the water inside this protected bay was as flat and calm as lake water and the wind became a gentle breeze.
Launay was the paradise de jour. A broad sand beach with palm trees, lounge chairs, and vacationers was in front of us and tall green mountain ridges flanked us on port and starboard. Behind us a rocky reef protected us from ocean rollers. Ironically, on this reef a large cross was erected in memory of the lives that were lost when a ship foundered here. In the distance one lofty mountain top was shrouded in the mystery of fog, while another mountain peak was bathed in sunlight.
After our daily ministrations with the anchor, we dinghied ashore and enjoyed the soft sand beach.
We got good glimpses of Seychelles culture by talking with Cristobel and David. Christobel is a young guy who runs the kayak and Hobie cat rental. He wore a knit cap to hold his long hair, maybe in dreadlocks, and took great pride in welcoming us to his homeland. If we were in the Caribbean I would guess him to be a Rastafarian, but here he is just a laid back dude. David is a middle aged man who books trips on fishing boats. Diana talked with him at length about topics ranging from corruption in the Seychelles government to U.S. history.
Back at the boat we tried out a feature unique to catamarans–the trampoline between the two hulls. We took a couple of glasses of iced tea, a box of chocolate chip cookies, and a couple of pillows and stretched out on the tramp. The boat gently rose and fell as the sounds of children playing in the water and waves lapping on the shore lulled us into a state of supreme relaxation. Snorkeling or anything that required effort lost its appeal.
Wednesday, June 19 19 nm
Today was Indiana Jones Day for us. We left the tranquility and safety of Port Launay to explore Therese Island. It is uninhabited now, but legend has it that people from Madagascar came here several centuries ago and carved steps in the rocks all the way up to the granite summit of Therese and used it for religious rites. Diana and I anchored outside the reef and sent a landing party ashore (the two of us) to find and climb those steps. We enjoyed a wonderful stroll on the beach and a picnic under palm trees, but we never found the steps. Through binoculars we could see an area high up on the mountain side that looked like steps, but if there was a path to those steps, tropical foliage has done its work and preserved the sacred secret of the Madagascan steps.
After our shore excursion we sailed up the west coast of Mahe, around the top, and then motored hard down the east coast to arrive at Eden Marina in time to dock.
Thursday, June 20 33 road miles
You can learn more about people by talking to them than by looking at them from the sea, so we rented a car and set out to meet the real people of Seychelles, not just the yachties at the marina. Meeting them wasn’t hard. The rental car was delivered to us with almost no gasoline in the tank, so we had to find a fuel station (yes, that’s what they call them here. They are government operated and are large but few–not on every corner as in the USA.). I had a map that had stations marked on it, but since there were no street signs and few directional signs, just finding a fuel station brought us into contact with a woman waiting for a bus and a man outside a hardware store when we stopped to ask them for directions.
After fueling up we set out for Beau Vallon on the west coast of Mahe. Along the way we talked to two men digging a big hole in the road, the guard at the Hilton hotel, an Indian running a small grocery, and some young Seychellois men selling fruit and vegetables beside the road. Finally we found Big Blue, the dive shop I’m going to dive with in Mahe. There we spoke to Charise, the precocious 10-year-old girl running the shop. Charise had beautiful light caramel skin and spoke authoritatively in a slightly British accent. I had corresponded by email with her mother who owns the shop, but meeting Charise was an unexpected delight.
After one more stop for directions, we found the road over the mountain and managed to safely negotiate a twisting road that sometimes narrowed to one lane and often dropped off sharply with no guard rail of any kind. The foliage became more lush and tropical the higher we climbed because the top of the mountain is often cloaked in clouds and receives the most rain. We marveled at the inventiveness of people who found ways to build a house here and there in this terrain. The road took us to Port Glaud and Grande Anse on the south coast and then looped back over the mountain on a road parallel to the first mountain road (if you can call two snaky roads parallel.) Finally we arrived at a lookout point where we could see the modern upscale beauty of Eden Island Marina below us. We were “home” again.
Friday, June 21 29 nautical miles
I’m writing this sitting on the front deck of Tharius while listening to surf pounding the rocks and beach of Anse L’azio 200 meters ahead of me.
A steady southeasterly breeze pushes us back on our anchor chain safely away from the breakers. A halo glows around an almost full moon above me. We have one neighboring boat to port and one astern of us. The rest of the bay is ours because the swimmers and sunbathers have left the beach and retreated to their favorite bars and cafes. Well, it’s ours except for non-human species. Just before sunset a squadron of 7 brown sting rays crossed in front of our boat, but having no business with us glided out of sight.
Today was our longest sail so far in the Seychelles, 29 nautical miles on a beam reach from Mahe to Praslin. Praslin is smaller and much less populated than Mahe, but is renowned for its beaches, bays, and forests.
Saturday, June 22 2.5 nm
Just around Point Chevalier from Anse L’azio is Curieuse Island, home to giant land tortoises. It’s in a national marine park so park rangers are in charge of the beaches and the tortoises. After dinghying ashore we hiked a rough 40 minute trail over a couple of hills and through some mangrove swamps to the tortoise sanctuary. When we first saw them with shells 2 feet high and 3 feet long, we weren’t sure they were real. They looked like large stationary lawn ornaments. But when we approached a tortoise it would move slowly toward us. Thinking of American snapping turtles we were cautious at first, but we sensed how sweet and gentle these huge tortoises are. One, which we named Alice, moved glacially over to where Diana was sitting on a bench and put its head on Diana’s leg.
Diana petted its leathery neck and it acted like a dog in slow motion. When I brought it a green leaf from a tree, it opened its mouth wide and slowly munched it up. These tortoises have lived here for 50 to 100 years under the care and protection of the park rangers and are not afraid of humans. They seemed to enjoy human interaction and we counted it a special privilege to interact with these grand animals that were as old as us or older.
We were warned by the park ranger that our mooring in San José Bay might get rough in the night, but we assessed the situation and decided to take our chances at San José. It turned out to be the calmest night we have had in Seychelles, maybe even too calm. I like the boat to rock me to sleep. The full moon lit the bay almost like a baseball field, and we were the only boat in the bay.
Sunday, June 23 2.6 miles
We moved back to Praslin at Anse Volbert, the most developed locality on Praslin. It has several restaurants and shops and two or three hotels. The bay at Volbert is extremely shallow and has some covered rocks in places so we moored behind Chauve Souris, a big rock with a small elite hotel on it about 0.3 miles from the Volbert beach. We dinghied in to shore at low tide and had to drag the dinghy 20-22 meters up on the beach so the high tide wouldn’t reach it. It was too heavy for just the two of us, but we recruited some help from a local Seychellois man named Roland. With three of us it was no problem to drag the dinghy up on the beach close enough for me to tie it to a palm tree. Roland said the high tide would reach the dinghy but that he would keep an eye on it. When we returned just before dark the tide had lifted the dinghy further up on the beach than we had left it, but Diana and I were able to spin the bow toward the sea and drag it down the beach to the water. Dragging a heavy dinghy down a beach is easier than dragging it up the beach.
We rented a car to tour the island and we covered most of it, but the highlight of the day, and maybe of the whole trip was hiking through Vallee de Mai. Some of the locals jokingly call it Jurassic Park because the wild topical foliage grows to immense size. Imagine walking under a philodendron plant and you begin to get the idea. This forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the unique and ancient coco de mer forest.
The coco de mer tree grows the largest nuts in the world, some weighing over 40 pounds. Their size puts them in the Guinness Book of World Records but their shape has put them in the hearts of sailors and explorers for hundreds of years and now in the hearts of tourists. The female coco de mer bears the huge seeds that appear to need a pair of panties on them. The corresponding part of the human male anatomy is easily seen in the catkin of the male coco de mer. As one lady in a shop told us, they vary in size just like humans.
When we went into a shop to rent a car we were surprised to hear Kenny Chesney on the radio. The clerk at the cash register told us that he is very popular here and that the radio station always plays country music on Sundays. That is the same surprising custom that we learned in Saint Lucia–country music on Sundays.
One of Kenny’s island anthems tells about waking up on the beach with a hundred mosquito bites. Diana and I have about a hundred bites on our legs and arms from No-see-ums. They may be the same insect as the Canadian No-see-ums. We don’t know. We can’t see ‘em.
Monday, June 24 0.6 nm
Diana spent the day relaxing on the boat while I went for two scuba dives. The first was at a site called Ave Maria. The water was rough and waves were splashing hard on this outcropping of rock with a few trees on top. Someone suggested in jest that we should say the Ave Maria prayer before diving. In the rough water it seemed appropriate, but when we got below the surface it was calm and peaceful. There is a sermon or a speech illustration in that if you think about it.
The real adventure came at supper time. We dingied ashore before dark to eat at La Pirogue Restaurant which had been recommended to us.
Diana ate curried octopus and I had curried fruit bat. Both were delicious but the fruit bat required a lot of work to get a little bit of meat off the bone. It had a high effort-to-payoff ratio. If that wasn’t enough of an adventure, we had to dinghy three tenths of a mile back to our boat in the dark. We had left the boat’s anchor light on and it guided us back but motoring through choppy water in the dark isn’t my favorite thing to do. Fortunately the outboard motor is very reliable.
Tuesday, June 25 5.9 nm
After an easy sail from Praslin to La Digue, another adventure in mooring began. We had been warned and instructed about the unique mooring system in La Digue. The island is completely surrounded by reef except for a small harbor inside man-made rock breakwaters. When you enter the harbor you have to turn the boat 180 degrees, drop anchor, back toward the rock quay at the back of the harbor, launch the dinghy, and take a long heavy line ashore to tie to the rocks. Easier said than done. We were prepared with fenders in place and the shore line ready to deploy, but it was impossible to visualize what we would see in the harbor until we got there. Fortunately the harbor was not busy and a young Seychellois man who goes by the name Zorro (his real name is Bradley) was waiting to help boats moor. He shouted instructions to Diana and me and waited on the rocks for our line. Wind had pushed our boat sideways making the line too short to reach the shore, so I tied the end of the shore line to the dinghy painter, revved up the outboard motor in reverse, and backed up to the shore. Zorro and a Canadian volunteer grabbed the line and began pulling it in. I went back to Tharius and worked the shore line from the boat end. Eventually we got everything tightened up and our boat securely moored.
Like any good adventure/suspense story, just when you think the scary part is over, it isn’t. Another sailboat came in, a 46 foot catamaran, and although it was loaded with people, they were unprepared for the mooring routine. Two men did all the work while the women and children watched. Well, one boy took their dinghy and picked up Zorro to help them. The wind blew them toward us so Diana and I stood on deck to fend them off. We did this successfully several times and then they decided to pick up their anchor and reset it. When they did, they hooked our anchor chain with their anchor. We shouted instructions to them and their oldest boy jumped into the water, climbed into their dinghy, rowed under their boat between the hulls, and lifted our chain off their hook. Meanwhile I was standing on deck holding their shore line which was now attached to the shore but not to their boat. They backed down on their reset anchor, picked up the shore line from me, and got properly moored. We drew in some of our anchor chain to make sure our anchor was still set, and it seemed to be. When the rain quit (I hadn’t mentioned that it had started raining during all this), Diana and I locked up our boat, dinghied to shore, and got the bicycles that Zorro had rented us. At the edge of the harbor we watched Seychellois boys showing off their diving prowess.
La Digue is more famous for its beach than its harbor. Anse Source d’Argent (Money Beach) is ranked by National Geographic as the #1 beach in the world. I was eager to see what made it #1, because we have seen some really spectacular beaches in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific. It was not what I expected. The beach was long but giant granite boulders broke it into many small beaches, sometimes only 25 feet long, sometimes over 200 feet long. Palm trees and other tropical foliage fought to upstage the boulders; sometimes they won, sometimes they lost, but the overall impression was wonderful. This is why many photoshoots are done on this beach.
There was an unplanned casualness that unified the whole beach while creating many picturesque spots. People found places to play, to sunbathe, to share a picnic, to retreat from the sun, to walk in the water, and to snorkel through the coral off the beach. A South African man caught a Hawksbill turtle and let other people hold it. A Russian man stood in the water feeding the large angel fishes and taking photos of them. A group of Italians had mastered the art of changing clothes on the beach with a towel wrapped around them for a dressing room. A Seychellois entrepreneur sold plates of fruit from a stand under the palm trees. An island dog chased fish in the water. And an American couple took photos of these things while strolling down the beach.
Wednesday, June 26 5 or 6 bicycle miles
We had bicycled to the southern end of La Digue yesterday, so we went north today. The road was a good concrete road undoubtedly built at considerable expense because there was little room on this edge of the island for a road. It cut through granite in places and then perched on granite fill in other places. In some places careless cycling would be punished by a ten to fifteen foot plunge off the side of the road.
Nevertheless, it was a good road for biking. We stopped at a house where a French girl sold fruit and vegetables from the family’s garden. Diana bought bananas and a papaya. Further along, the road wrapped around the north end of the island and went down its east coast. There we stopped at a roadside snack bar for much needed fruit smoothies. Other bikers rested on benches at this popular spot or stopped to look at the tortoises the proprietor kept in a pen by the road. In true Seychellois style, Robert was happy to talk about his tortoises, his garden, or life in the Seychelles whether people bought anything or not.
The highlight of this stop came when I glanced up the road and saw a tortoise the size of a Volkswagon waddling toward us. Robert said this tortoise didn’t belong to him, but he had raised it from the time when it was tiny, 31 years ago. Viuviu was as large as tortoises twice his age because Robert fed him mangos, bananas, and coconuts in addition to the grasses and leaves that Viuviu found on his own. Like the tortoises we had played with on Curieuse, Viuviu liked to be petted, but unlike them, he could do tricks! On command from Robert, he would extend his legs and rise to his full height or lift his front foot like a dog shaking hands. But he couldn’t roll over or walk on his back legs.
We stopped to play with three puppies on the side of the road, and then biked back to the harbor.
Thursday, June 27 16.6 nm
Today was a scary day, a lazy day, a day of contrasts and contradictions. The stern line that was so much trouble to set came off with surprising ease. We had a gentle 4 mile sail to Illes de Cocos where we planned to snorkel, and then became apprehensive about the current and the surge of waves in this rather exposed mooring. We went ahead with the plan to snorkel and found the current to be strong, so we swam against it as hard as we could so that the return to the boat would be easy. The surge set us to the left and then brought us back to the right. The fish were affected the same way. When we learned to live with it, just as the fish do, we relaxed and actually enjoyed the primordial rhythm. The coral was disappointing but we saw some beautiful fish. A few Moorish idols and a spumoni colored fish mixed with a large school of blue tangs which were painted in Nautica colors–strong royal blue, yellow, and white, with a touch of black on the face. While we were watching them, a large iridescent fish swam under us. It was neon blue/green down its spine with spots and dashes of iridescence on its sides and belly. When a sting ray glided by the picture was perfect.
We set sail for St. Pierre and Praslin expecting a swift ride down wind. For the first time since we have been in Seychelles, the wind was weak. I tweaked the jib and the main, the traveler and the jib leads, and rarely coaxed as much as 5 knots out of it. We decided to save St. Pierre for later and sailed on to Anse Georgette on Praslin, reputed to be as beautiful as its more famous neighbor, Anse L’azio.
We had the bay to ourselves so we anchored in the center of the bay with shallows and rocks on both sides and a gorgeous beach with palm trees in front of us. The fickle wind tricked us and as night fell we were being pushed west by an abnormal east wind. The wind is supposed to come from the south/southeast and I anchored accordingly, so the east wind pushed us closer to the rocks on the western side of the bay than I had planned.
The night was beautifully and scarily black. We could hear breakers crashing on three sides of us, but because the moon had not yet risen, we couldn’t see where we were to verify our position. My electronics said we were holding in the same location, but at times like this you remember that electronics can be misleading and shouldn’t be depended on too much. I turned off all lights but the anchor light to let my eyes adjust to the darkness and went out on deck in hopes of seeing an outline of the shore. I discovered a black velvet sky studded with celestial sparklers. Ursa Major, Orion, the Southern Cross, and hundreds of other stars that I couldn’t identify gave reassuring relief from the blackness. While I sat and gazed at the starry heavens, I became aware of sparkles beneath me. There were sparks of light in the water all around me. This bay has bioluminescence so that when the water is agitated, it sparks. The action of the waves was setting off little sparks of light below me to compete with the twinkles above me. The stars and sparks couldn’t answer my question about our position, but it was somehow reassuring to know that the night was normal, the creation was magnificent, and we were tucked away in it.
Friday, June 28 6.1 nm
Aride is an island dedicated to the conservation of birds. Many thousands of birds live there, but no people live there except for the park rangers and a few scientists who study the birds. Few people go there in the Southeast season because the landing beach is completely unprotected from the sea and the breakers on it can be 10 to 12 feet high. We were only the third and fourth visitors to Aride in a month. Because the seas have been calm for a couple of days we received permission from the Island Conservation Society administrator on Aride to come ashore. We sailed 6 miles north to the island and took the only mooring ball.
The breakers were about 5 or 6 feet and looked plenty ominous. The rangers launched their rigid bottom inflatable boat through the surf and came out to pick us up. They brought life jackets for us and a dry bag to put our stuff in. When the skipper told us to sit on the floor and hold on, I sensed an adventure coming up! The skipper drove toward the beach, hesitated while studying the waves for the right moment, and then gunned the outboard full throttle. The boat roared toward the beach and became airborne in the surf before landing on the sand and sliding up the beach. This ride alone was worth the fee for seeing the island!
After we got our equipment and ourselves reorganized, two of the park rangers gave us a tour of the island with detailed information about the different birds nesting there. Since there are no rats or cats on Aride, it is safe for the fairy terns to make their nests on the ground. They found cozy spots between the roots of a tree, under bushes, even in an abandoned barbecue pit. Some had fuzzy chicks with them. The long tailed tropical seabirds don’t build nests but lay their eggs on a flat tree limb. We saw a 2 hour old chick that still had half a shell on him. The magpie robins will let you walk right up to them. If you sweep the leaf litter with your foot they will run over to check for any insects you might have exposed.
When the tour was over and we had eaten the lunch we had packed, the rangers took us back to our boat. We helped move their boat down to the water and then dove headfirst into it when the rangers yelled “Get in!”
As soon as the water surged under the boat, the skipper fired the engine up and we rocketed through the breakers. Back on Tharius life resumed its leisurely pace. A big sea turtle came up to eat seaweed beside the boat. Waves continued to break on the beach behind us. And the chatter of thousands of birds flying sorties over the island and the sea in search of food and mates never ceased.
Saturday, June 29 36.1 nm
Tharius had pitched, rolled, and heaved with the irregularly regular rhythm of the sea all night, but we slept well. It’s hard to beat a real waterbed for a good night’s sleep.
We set out for Silhouette island 30 miles to the west of us. The wind had shifted to the south or south-southwest so we sailed a delightful close reach most of the way. This was the best sailing day we had experienced in a month, and it inspired us to play great music. I had saved Crosby, Stills & Nash, Fleetwood Mac, and Phantom of the Opera for a day like this.
Silhouette is another island administered by the ICS. We had applied for permission to go there a few days in advance. The limiting factor on Silhouette is no harbors. There is a man-made harbor on the southeast corner, but it is for the schooner that brings guests to the posh resort on the southeast coast. The only other anchorage is Anse Mondon bay on the north side, and it’s only large enough for two or maybe three boats. Mondon is protected from the southeast winds, so we went there.
Sunday, June 30 20.5 nm
After snorkeling, exploring the beach, and climbing some boulders, we sailed from Anse Mondon to Beau Vallon on Mahe. Unfortunately the wind was right on our nose so we began a long tacking operation. After most of the afternoon slipped away in zigzags aimed north and west of Mahe, the pragmatist in me overcame the sailing purist in me, and we motored into the bay. Twelve miles turned into twenty, but what difference did that make?
Monday, July 1
While Diana relaxed on Tharius, I went scuba diving with Big Blue Divers. The dive boat picked me up on the yacht and we roared with 400 horse power to Baie Ternay. It was a wonderful easy dive in about 20 meters. In addition to beautiful coral, I saw a moray eel and a huge sea turtle, but my best discovery was three large lion fish. I swam over to look at a crevice in the rocks and found a large lion fish at knee level. At first I didn’t notice that another larger one was above my head and still another one was to my left. Lion fish are gorgeous but very poisonous. Fortunately they are also very docile. Since I didn’t touch them, they were no threat to me.
Our second dive was within sight of our yacht. In a completely unmarked spot that Big Blue knew how to locate, we swam through an extensive coral garden in about 10-12 meters. Coral spread across the ocean floor like wheat across a Kansas field. Colonies of small fish of every color made their home in the coral, so we were visiting a fish metropolis with its own ethnic neighborhoods.
After dinner on Tharius listening to Norah Jones, Diana and I lounged on the front deck trampoline and studied the stars above us and the lights of restaurants, shops, hotels, and houses along the shore.
Tuesday, July 2 29.5 nm
We have seen all of the granitic Seychelles except for the southern end of Mahe, so today we sailed down the west coast of Mahe and across the south coast to Anse La Mouche, 29 miles including all the tacks. The day started with gentle wind but by the time we reached Cape Matoopa and were ready to head east, it had increased to 20-25 knots. To have a little shelter from the wind we sailed behind Conception Island and Ile Therese. The channel narrows between Therese and Mahe so we had to tack several times to get through it. On one tack we were laying a course directly toward an anchored yacht with people on board. I didn’t want to see them jumping ship and swimming for the shore, so I didn’t wait to see the whites of their eyes before tacking.
When we finally cleared Therese, we headed out to open sea to get good wind and long open tacks. The strategy paid off with long wave periods and strong steady winds that made Tharius fly. We hit 8.8 knots at one point and probably could have gone faster if I understood catamaran sail trim better.
We finally reached Anse La Mouche, a huge circular bay with brilliant turquoise water. It seems to be a non-tourist destination, the Seychelles equivalent of Coral Bay in St. John. This may be where the most authentic Seychellois people live.
Wednesday, July 3 33.2 nm
For our final day of sailing we chose a lonely course around the Capucin tip of Mahe. We sensed that this is not a popular sailing area when we noticed that we had not seen another sailboat since we left Anse La Mouche. Actually we were the only boat of any kind until we reached the Victoria port area. The seas were 3-6 feet with an occasional 8 footer and the sailing was brisk, but the highlight of the day was seeing Capucin Rock.
Well, not actually seeing it but knowing where it is. Capucin is barely underwater except at low tide, which makes it especially dangerous. But we could see the breakers crashing over it from three miles away. The waves would explode in white spume and resembled a geyser in the ocean. No careful sailor should ever hit Capucin.
Once we were docked in the Marina, the inevitable began again–finding all the things we had stuck in nooks and crannies on the boat and packing them away for the next flight. Next destination: Nairobi by way of Dubai for a week of safari in the Masai Mara.
The Colors, Sounds, and Flavors of Seychelles
Reflections of Nineteen Days July 4, 2013
The colors of Seychelles are easy to describe. There is the cobalt blue of the sky, a different blue from the indigo and turquoise of the sea. There is the verdant green of the land, except where black granite refuses to allow the palms and pines and mangroves to grow. There is the pure white of the fairy terns, circling and swooping in mated pairs overhead. And there is the golden tan of the sand on the beaches. Seychelles is colorful.
The sounds of Seychelles are easy to describe. They can be relaxing, annoying, or scary. The rhythmic washing of the seas against the shore is as comforting as a mother’s heartbeat, but when the tide floods and the breakers build, the crashing of waves over reef, rock and sand becomes menacing. The cries and calls of the seabirds welcome you to each island and announce that life is good and the day is promising, but unlike the birds at home, these birds don’t know when it’s quitting time, and their cacophony never ceases. Seychelles is noisy.
The flavors of Seychelles require deeper observation and reflection. When you think you have identified the Seychellois flavor, a contradiction occurs and you realize that you aren’t ready to name the flavor. One flavor is like a warm pound cake fresh from the oven with a spicy sauce poured generously over it. This is the flavor of Cristobel, the young man renting kayaks on the beach at Port Launey. “I welcome you to my homeland!” he exclaimed as we pulled our dinghy up on his beach. We had no need of a kayak but that didn’t diminish his enthusiasm for telling us about his islands and warmly inviting us to enjoy their wonders.
Another flavor is mellow, like the scent of old vanilla. This is the flavor of Miriam, the woman selling vanilla, coconut oil, and island trinkets at her shop near Anse Source d’Argent. She made a small sale, and then spent half an hour telling us about her life in Seychelles. Selling souvenirs was a good excuse for her to pass time in pleasant company.
Yet another flavor is tangy, like the orange-lemon fruit that grows in Seychelles. This is the flavor of Zorro, the alias of Bradley, who was waiting on the fuel dock at La Digue to be the first to contact us so that we would rent our bicycles from him. He eagerly helped us with the complicated process of mooring in the small harbor and then charged us double for his bicycles, a price that was well worth his assistance. Zorro is a man who wants to get ahead, not just get by.
Is the flavor of Seychelles sweet and delicious like its pineapples? Not entirely. There are too many contradictions. There was the bitter taste of the hostess at La Pirogue, who would not bother to speak to us when we asked if the restaurant was open for dinner. Instead she spoke to a waiter who relayed her message that we could sit down. There was the noxious taste of the postal clerk who refused to acknowledge me standing in front of him at his window as he filled out papers for a client who was not present. There was the sour taste of more than one clerk who would stare off idly into space when announcing apathetically how much you owed for your purchase.
What is the true flavor of Seychelles? It’s a goulash of so many flavors that it defies description. The flavor depends on where you dip your spoon.