Posted by: cherryoak | 30.September 2009



A few thoughts during a quiet night shift as we motor across the bottom of the Bay of Bengal towards the Nicobar Islands and the Malacca Strait.

Day 2. Making very good speed so far, unbelievably over 100 miles the first day, average 4.5 knots with good following wind and sea. Not comfortable however  and became  more lumpy as we went into deep water. Cherry is feeling good, which is a huge bonus, somewhere between 7/10 and 9/10, thanks to regular doses of Stugeron. This will be  our longest ocean crossing so far, 1400 miles, which could take up to 20 days and we have an extra 180 litres of diesel on board.


Our insurance company insisted that we buy and install the replacement radar unit before we left and it is working well, much better than the old one, which used lots of power as it was like a small TV screen, so we hardly ever switched it on. The new one is liquid crystal and waterproof, so we have put it in the cockpit and plan to use it all most of the time. We have set up a ‘guard zone’, so that it bleeps at us when a ship comes within 6 or 8  miles, which is ideal and gives us a lot of confidence with a busy shipping lane nearby, the first time we have been in this situation..


We are sailing just north of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, with container ships and tankers making their way to the Far East, via the Malacca Straits and Singapore. We do not want to mess with them! Unlike most yachties, who stop en route at the northern end of Sumatra, we are not stopping there as it would mean crossing the shipping lane twice, which is not fun, particularly at night. So we are keeping slightly north, away from Sumatra and closer to the Nicobar Islands and so far it is working well, with all the ships we have seen on the radar 9-12 miles distant on the starboard side,many too far away to see with naked eye.


During the first day many very close encounters were had with the traditional small narrow wooden fishing vessels with a float out one side, sometimes too close for comfort. They seem to be piled high with smiling Sri Lankan fishermen –SEE PHOTO. One tried to sell us small mackerel fish, we don’t think they intended to give them away and all wanted cigarettes and beer, very persistently but not unfriendly. Eventually they gave up and with a final wave, were on their way back home as the sun went down. They were so close, we dare not put out our trolling lines, which was a pity, as the best chance of catching fish is while still over the continental shelf, so had to wait until the following day by which we were into the deep water of the Indian Ocean and virtually a fish desert, so nothing so far on this trip.

During that first night, there were fishing boat lights everywhere and we had to be very careful and took avoiding action a few times. Only a few steel larger ones showed up well on the radar. About 12 hours out from Galle, they were left behind as we went off the continental shelf into deep water. Then the night watching became less interesting, with the occasional but unseen ship showing up on the radar. Motoring can be rather boring, whereas when sailing there are always sails to trim and it is critical to look out for approaching squalls and to reduce sail before they arrive.


Sri Lanka, the teardrop shaped island has been a real highlight of our cruising life so far. For us, of course, finding my father’s two tea estates way up in the Hill Country made it that much more special.

It is beautiful up there, the little village of Ella being extra special and must not be missed. It is situated at the head of a big valley, known as Ella Gap and with the imposing Ella Rock perched high up and its steep sides hanging over the valley. We did not climb it but might try if we ever return.

The tea estates amazingly cover the whole landscape, up the very steep slopes and have changed the whole look of the countryside.

Then we took the famous train trip up to Haputale, perched amazingly on the top of a steep sided ridge. It is a village of character and charm. Very friendly but like all these villages, a bit dirty.  They don’t seem to notice litter at all and it is just left lying until the rain washes the streets.

WE visited the Dambatenne tea factory which still supplies Lipton’s with the bulk of their teas and from  where we took the long beautiful walk to Lipton’s Seat.

Nuwara Eliya town itself was a little disappointing, the streets very unkempt, apart from the beautifully kept golf course and the old British Club, both of which must have been the centre of my father’s sporting and social life.

The Grand Hotel next door is also beautifully maintained and where we had a very special meal together.

Hakkgala Gardens nearby were a highlight, with so many local people also enjoying the spectacular flowers of a very English country garden.

Tamil Tiger insurgency is at end after 28 years, with the Tigers defeated militarily and huge sighs of relief from all round, including most of the Tamil people themselves it would appear. One does wonder for how long, for this kind of ethnic/religious trouble is rarely defeated by suppressing the minority people and grievances tend to fester and rise again later, as Northern Island has shown. Eventually some sort of power sharing arrangement may be the only way to permanent peace, but that is not on the agenda at present, as the President basks in the glory of bringing peace to his country.

The whole country is now opened up for tourists, even Jaffna and Trincomalee, so now is the time to visit and these are the places we would also want to visit if we returned, which is possible.


Our visit to Malaysia will be very different. I lived there for two and a half years, 1997 to 2000 and have very happy memories of the country and the people and feel that I know the country fairly well. But it is the first time for Cherry, apart from one day we spent on our way to NZ. We will be meeting some old friends in Kuala Lumpur and many sailing friends when we go north to the island of Langkawi. In KL we hope to get Cherry’s troublesome left leg seen to, first by meeting up with Professor David Choon, who kindly fused my right ankle after the first attempt had failed to knit together (by another orthopaedic surgeon).Then there is the mast and rigging to take delivery of in Port Klang, where we can get it erected and make our beloved ‘Rainbow Gypsy’ whole again.


Now that our insurance claim has been settled, this is a good time to take stock, looking at the whole incident and how it all happened. We have discovered that the mast was wrongly rigged at the time the boat was built 17 years ago, so it was bound to collapse at some stage and was therefore an accident waiting to happen.

We were so lucky that it happened when it did, in only 30 knots of wind and not 50knots, then we would have been in much more trouble. Our marine surveyor when we bought the boat failed to spot it and even the rigging company who re-rigged it for us two years ago. They should have and they have been very helpful in helping us quickly put our claim together and getting it settled before we left Sri Lanka.

So unbeknown to us, we have been sailing with an unsafe rig and as is the nature of sailing worldwide and particularly in South Africa with its wild and unfriendly seas and few if any day sail destinations, our boat has probably done more sailing in the last 15 months than in the previous 16 years. Our mast was spliced, so gradually the joint would have weakened to a point that it was ready to collapse. After the genoa forestay failed, obviously because of too much movement in the whole rig, we naturally made it considerably tighter than before and this undoubtedly put extra strain onto an already weak joint and so accelerated the weakening process.

At Chagos we knew we had a problem. Other yachties had noticed that our mast bent forward at the middle and Bryce from Silver Fern, who is a very experienced  sailorand NZ champion professional, had a look at it for us. He told us it was wrongly rigged, with no cap shroud and no back stays to resist the forward pull of the staysail ‘baby’ stay, as it usually called. He recommended swapping the two stays around and this was exactly right, as we now know, having been sent a copy of the correct rigging layout.

He shook the baby stay and we were horrified to see the mast violently flex in the middle at the spliced joint, such that it looked very unstable, as it later proved to be. Even if we had fixed it correctly, which we were going to do as soon as we were in a place where it could be done, it would still have been potentially very weak at the spliced joint, so for it to collapse and force us to have a new mast, was arguably the best thing that could have happened.

The new rig will be very strong and should not fail, whatever the conditions. The 12 metre mast will be in one length to an upgraded specification and the wire size increased from 7mm to 8mm, at our suggestion. With anchors and chain, one tends to go to one size larger than theoretically necessary and we have adopted the same principal with the rigging. And we shall have brand new sails, so all in all, there are many pluses.

It has swallowed all of our ‘slush’ fund, which we kept for such disasters but this is what it was for, so no problem using it, as long as we have no more disasters for about the next three years, by which time our ‘boat budget’ and ‘slush fund’ just might be replenished. We will have to postpone a few big wish list items until a later date but we shall not allow it to affect any of the land trips we have planned, which are one of the main reasons we so much enjoy our cruising life.


2100 HRS.

AY on watch and having to avoid a cluster of half lit wooden fishing vessels seemingly coming towards us from all angles. One was heading straight for  us with both green and red lights showing, so we turned to starboard and he passed safely behind but with no sign that he had taken any avoiding action at all.

On CY’s watch, we suddenly were in a very strong counter current and lost headway and steerage.  Before we realised, there was a very large ship bearing down on us.  CY did everything right and could not understand why the yacht did not respond to the helm.  Anyway, by dint of flashing our searchlight, and gunning both motors, we managed to avoid a collision by a very narrow margin and much adrenaline pumping.  Scary!!

Then we later faced with  another fishing vessel  whose lights made no sense at all and could not work out which way to turn. So woke Cherry for another pair of eyes and we realised he had a red light on the starboard side and no green light at all. So completely disorientating. His spot light came on, so he had seen us  and eventually we turned a complete circle to get out of his way!

0400 HRS

AY watch again. Fishing boat had no lights and nearly hit it!! Saw very faint and irregular bleep about half a mile away and looked and looked but saw nothing, as no moon. Suddenly his lights came on, spot lights and all, right in front and maybe only 50 metres away. I pulled to boat to starboard instinctively, as rules of the road are that boats pass port to port. In fact to starboard might have been better in retrospect and he also had to take avoiding action and we missed by not much. Quite a fright!! Wooden fishing boats generally do not show up on the radar unless they are very close and even then it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them and general clutter.

That was the worst night, no others were nearly as bad.


All worked out more or less as planned. We would have been struggling without the radar, which made avoiding the big fast moving tanker and container ships much more certain and we were able to take early avoiding action, sometimes before we could even see them, so generally we passed without drama. Only two came much closer than intended and the most difficult one are those that come from behind. In fact because of this, we shall not mount the new radar on the mast but on the solar panel supports, where we shall have an all round view.

The other notable event, or lack of, was that for the first time Cherry was not seasick at all, despite some very lumpy seas.

We made very good time to half way in 8 days with good following current and consistent winds from the SW monsoon. But then as we approached the straits between the north end of Sumatra and Nicobar Island we hit very lumpy and turbulent seas and for a time lost the following current, so slowed down to just over 60 miles a day for three days. The seas increased every night, starting as we had our regular sundowner and just before Cherry went inside to make supper! At times it felt as if the boat was being pounded to pieces by the seas and huge overfalls, caused by the  current hitting the outgoing tide , or something like that!  We had a number of extremely uncomfortable nights until one night when it became almost unbearable, we decided to go off course to try and get a smoother ride and found that by altering course about 10 or 20 degrees we could change the angle the seas were hitting us and reduce the noise and rolling slightly.

0060. Into the northern end of the Malacca Straights we speeded up for a couple of days, as the seas calmed and the current went with us and we made plans to arrive on Sunday, when the club would be busy. However it was not to be as as the straits narrowed, so we lost the current and were affected by the tides. For the last three days we crawled at only 2 kts, 50 miles a day, using 50% more fuel as well and ate into our contingency fuel. So dared not speed up by using both engines, so arrived early Monday, 18 days, so over all a very good crossing but hope we never have to motor like this ever again!!  Sailing is much more fun.

PORT KLANG: We are now at the Royal Selangor Yacht Club, very posh!!, lovely freindly members, but NOT geared to cruisers.  No Laundromat, very expensive restaurant and a long walk into town to find facilities.  The good news is that we can get the mast delivered here and all repairs can be effected.  It looks as if we will be here for about 6 weeks in all, so will use this as a base for some land travel, as the train station is close to the club.

Posted by: cherryoak | 9.September 2009



After leaving Gan and our mast and sails behind, we finally arrived at Galle in Sri Lanka.  Any harbour would have been okay after what we had been through, so I will just quote Marco Polo who wrote in the early 1200s:

“On leaving the Island of Andoman and sailing a thousand miles, a little south of west, the traveller reaches Ceylon, which is undoubtedly the finest Island of its size in all the world.”

We agree wholeheartedly!  This is a wonderful island with friendly, hard working, cheerful people who make one feel very welcome.

Galle harbour is not particularly yacht friendly, but that is a small price to pay for the privilege of leaving one’s boat in a very secure environment. Although the 20 year old war is now over, security here in the harbour is very tight indeed.  This eant that  we could safely leave the boat unattended for ten days or so and explorethe interior of this fascinating island.  It surely should be on the itinerary of every cruising yacht.

We spent the first ten days trying to sort out repairs and replacements after the dismasting, and also watching the cricket test match between New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

Then decided we had earned a holiday!! and set off for the interior, using only local transport and Lonely Planet. As usual, Lonely Planet was amazingly accurate and we had no problems at all getting meals, beds or transport.

We kept a diary of the trip and I will just insert that into this blog, and TRY to upload a few photos.  Please CLICK HERE to see them

Day 1: Tuesday 25th August 2009   Galle to Matara – WRONG BUS X 2

Delayed start, left at midday after sorting out Radar delivery. Got on first bus that arrived at local bus stop outside harbour,which was not going to Matara so they wanted to stop the bus for us to get off.

No thanks, we said, we will go where you go, to Akuressa, we found out eventually. Inland but travelling roughly east as we noted on our trusty compass.

Lovely trip, stopping at all the little villages along the way. Houses all well kept, all with little well tended gardens and large areas of paddy rice fields, whenever ground was flat, some with water buffalo grazing, which seems to be the only form of fertilizing used. Also small tea plantations on well drained sloping land.

These are the Singalese local village people, very few speak English but all very industrious, friendly, happy people making a living for their families.

Had “lunch packet” (probably the equivalent of British fish and chips, consisting of rice, curry, sambals and chutney, all eaten with the fingers) at local eatery (spit and sawdust) at the Akuressa bus station. Then caught the bus going out, we thought to Matara, but Cherry heard the conductor calling Galle, Galle, Galle!. So once again, the wrong bus! This time they did stop for us, bus behind also stopped, which happened to be going to Matara so we climbed on.

Buses are so cheap.  This one, 29 rupees, about US$ 0.25, about 1c per kilometre! At Matara we crossed the suspension bridge opposite the bus station to an island on which a Buddhist shrine has been built.  This is a very religious country, there are shrines EVERYWHERE. Street corners, under trees, next to bus stops, etc.  The surprising thing is that their seems to be a fusion of beliefs, Hindu and Buddhism.  The Buddhist temples have Hindu deities represented in them.  One would almost expect the two religions to be mutually exclusive.

Booked in at Matara old town guest house and went straight off, 5 km by tuktuk to Dondera and walked to the most southerly point of Sri Lanka, shades of Cape Agulhas in RSA and in fact, very similar. Decided to take taxi on the following day asbus to Ella will bypass interesting sights. The temple complex we wanted to see is 6km off the main route and the blowhole another 3km.

DAY 2: Wednesday 26th August 2009   Matara to Ella AND BIG BUDDHA

Taxi was expensive and not a good experience, in fact a mistake and did not get on well with the so called English speaking driver. But we did see the 40m high Buddha at Dikwella which was the main purpose

Climbed 8 stories (painfully barefooted) behind the statue to eventually peer through a aperture at the back of his head, only to see a row of miniature Buddhas sitting in the meditation pose.  What a swiz, hoped to get a good view of the countryside.

Next sight was the blowhole, a gap in the rocks on the coast which acts like a geyser blowing but as there was no wind, it was nearly asleep with only occasional spurts of water. A disappointment but a very beautiful coastline with lovely beaches, which is the main tourist attraction.

Sadly this whole area up the east coast was very badly hit by the Tsunami, and everywhere there are signs of the damage caused.  Almost every person we meet has some tragic story to tell. However, I am a bit sceptical when I hear that our TukTuk driver lost 14  members of his family, including wife and children, and then in the next breath tells us  he is married with two kids, one  4 and one of 7!  Tsunami was in 2004 so somehow the numbers don’t add up. Be that as it may, it was a terrible time and many of the stories are true and very harrowing.

Great strides have been made to repair and reconstruct, but the alarming thing is that lessons do not seem to have been learnt.  We had a meal in a  lovely restaurant which was built on the high tide line!!!!!!! The previous building had been washed away.  Hard to credit that the same mistake is made.

Back to our taxi and the big climb to the Hill Country, to Ella village set like a jewel below Ella Rock.  Stayed at Rock View Guest House, excellent with lovely friendly landlady, directly below Ella Rock.

Went for wander through the village and by amazing coincidence, found tuktuk driver Prasanna, who was the young driver brother James had used 3 years before. We therefore arranged the following day to find Keenakellie Tea Estate, which was the first tea estate where Alec’s father was manager from 1926.

DAY 3: Thursday 27th August, 2009 . FATHER’S FIRST TEA ESTATE

Alec’s brother had made up a small album of old photographs taken by father of the old factory and the house where he lived and given this to Prasanna. . He had been back to the estate 3 times trying to find more information in case either James or Alec would one day come back to visit.

Keenekelle is way, way up in the hills along appalling roads which were once tarred, but are now a mass of deep potholes, so it was a very slow, long and bumpy trip. We found the manager’s bungalow and met him and his wife, who were extremely interested in the old photographs.

One of the photographs showed Father, Aunt Kath and Granny Yarrow outside the bungalow, so we took a photograph from the same position.

The factory had been burnt down in 1983 during some political unrest (not Tamil Tigers). Various workers we met were also very interested to see the photographs and a few of the older ones remembered the factory.

We wandered back up the hill from the manager’s bungalow passing beautifully manicured and terraced tea bushes growing on slopes which really only mountain goats could comfortably negotiate. The whole of this highland area of Sri Lanka is covered with these tea estates, which have completely resculptured the landscape. On every square meter of lower slopes, the ground has been terraced and vegetables and rice are grown, mainly for personal consumption. The whole effect is incredibly beautiful.

DAY 4: Friday 28th August 2009   HIGH COUNTRY TRAIN RIDE

Travel from Ella to Haputale on very full train, standing room only. We stood on the platform between two carriages all the way. The train was choc a block when we got on, but at every stop more people climbed in.  Very few got off!

Beautiful views into steep valleys and hillsides covered by tea bushes. Every bit of ground used and well cared for, rice paddies on flat land and terracing on lower slopes, tea on the upper slopes. Also many beds of vegetables, mainly aubergines, leeks and cabbages. After checking in to our guest house, took a stroll round the village which is built on a ridge with steep drop offs both sides, very dramatic.  Not a single square meter of level ground, but somehow the train gets here.

DAY 5 Saturday 29th August 2009. WALK TO LIPTON’S SEAT – 14KM

Took the bus to Dambatenne Tea Factory which takes tea from all the surrounding tea estates. 20 tons per day, 18kg minimum from each lady picker, two leaves and a bud, for Rs320.00 per day! All extremely interesting.

Then 7 kilometer steep uphill walk to Lipton’s Seat, the high point of the estate where Sir Thomas used to entertain his guests with al fresco picnics.  View reckoned to be the equal of World’s End at Horton Plains, but we were too late for the view down the escarpment, and all we could see was white cloud. But we had had wonderful views all the way up and back down again through the usual well kept tea fields and through the workers’ villages. Greetings were exchanged as we passed.

No-one else walking, but many cars and even motor cycles passed us on the way. Caught the bus back to our guest house from the Dambatenne factory, back to our guest house for a well earned cup of tea,  then our regular dose of Arrack and CocoCola. Also to watch the cricket, 2nd test versus NZ, again NZ with backs to the wall.

DAY 6: Sunday 30th August 2009  TO HILL CLUB AND GOLF CLUB

Caught the bus to Welimada, then on the Nuwara Eliya (pronounced NuReliya) and booked into Collingwood Hotel – old colonial home, looks beautiful but very damp rooms and extremely expensive restaurant with abysmal service. Not good.

Took a walk to Grand Indian Restaurant for lunch – very good indeed, then on to Hill Club, the old British Planters’ Club. The membership was Whites only until 1970 – shades of the old South Africa! Father came here most weekends, played tennis and golf at the club across the road.

In both clubs time has almost stood still. Old furniture still in good condition. Alec bought a Hill Club tee shirt then had tea at the Golf Club.  It was good to see it much as father would have seen it 70 – 80 years ago.  Sri Lankans have maintained the traditions and we were made most welcome in both clubs and taken on a tour of inspection.

DAY 7: Monday 31st August 2009. FANTASTIC DAY!

First went to Hakgela gardens, wonderful English style gardens with herbaceous borders, lawns, rose gardens, rock gardens, Japanese gardens and herb gardens, all beautifully set out and cared for.

We were the only white people among thousands (literally) of Singhalese families also enjoying and appreciating the beautiful flora, including many yarrows, purple and pink not seen before.

On to world famous ‘Humbugs’ restaurant for strawberries and cream on waffles.

Overheard someone speaking English with a local man who had managed many tea estates. Immediately approached him to ask about Albion which we thought was near Hakgela.

Oh no, said he, it’s on another road.  He gave us directions, drew a map on the back of his till slip and sent us back to Nuwara Eliya, there to take a taxi to be taken to Albion, about 50km away. Roads very rough and potholed.

Excellent taxi driver who really entered into the spirit of the search. We first found the present Albion manager’s home. Fortuitously he was just returning from leave in Colombo and arrived within the hour. He informed us that 3 estates, Thornfield, Preston and Albion had amalgamated and this house was in fact Thornfield.

So off we went in search of Albion, about 2 km he said, got lost and found another managers’ house which we photographed hoping it was the right one – it wasn’t, only the Assistant Manager.

We nearly gave up but our driver said we had come too far to throw in the towel now. He stopped a young lad who redirected us a further 2 km up an appalling road and “Eureke” we found it.

This was the house that Frank Harris built after father left as he was a NZ architect by profession and where Tad Harris and Mike Charnaud played as youngsters.  It is now unoccupied but well looked after, being used to accommodate visiting directors on their monthly vistits.

The long drive back to Nuwara Eliya. We had planned a tie and jacket dinner at the Hill Club, but sadly the old British Club seems to be dying on its feet. Only one guest in residence and no-one else booked for dinner, so we went to the Grand Hotel next door for a similar experience.  Set menu, superb ambience and service, Excellent food. A great Ceylon evening out to end a great day.

DAY 8: Tuesday 1st September 2009. KANDY DANCING & TEMPLE VISIT

Bus to Kandy. Gentle driver, only one we have found who respected his vehicle. Lovely trip, virtually all downhill – 5000ft to 500ft, zig zagging all the way.  Stayed McLeod’s Guest House up on the hill overlooking the lake , the

Temple of the Tooth and the town.  Stunning, to use a Georgism. The Temple of the  Tooth for Buddhists in Sri Lanka is almost like Mecca to the Muslims.  Every Buddhist should try and make the pilgrimage once in his lifetime. It was very crowded and pouring with rain, so I have cheated a little and photographed a postcard to use here.

Walked into town and around the edge of the lake to Queens Hotel for beer and a sandwich as instructed by Mike Charnaud.

Touts are a pain,  latching onto ANYONE with a white skin, shades of Africa! So many Sri Lankans were surprised that South Africans could be anything but black.  Very interesting.

Watched excellent performance of Kandy Dancing at the Arts Centre, plus fire eating and walking. Very impressive.


Rain early morning so late start to Peradenyia Gardens by TukTuk to escape the next heavy rain shower. Garden very large nd well laid out, all very manicured. In fact, too much we thought and did not have the ‘soul’ that we experienced at Hakgale.

Back to Kandy, another drink at Queens, find an internet café and finally a half hour search for a toilet roll. They’re not much used here as the toilet bum spray system seems to be the norm.

DAY 10: Thursday, 3rd September 2009    OH WOW!!  SIGIRIYA

Left Kandy, arrived Dambulla 11 am. Found Friday was a Poya day, once a month on the day of the full moon, so national holiday and not a good day to visit Sigiriya. Immediately took TukTukat great expense to view the huge, vertical faced, plutonic rock, the remains of the central magma mass of a very old volcano.  It had a mixed history. Early Buddhists built  brick buildings on the top as a place of meditation.  Later, one of the kings, after killing his father, sought refuge there.

It was a long climb (1200 steps) for two elderly folks with very poor balance, such that guides who were standing ready to latch onto anyone with a white skin, grabbed Alec to help him up four little steps, and were immediately blasted to leave him alone!

The view at the top was breathtaking (what breath was left after the climb) with a 360deg view, including a HUGE white Buddha statue that stood tall in the distance, well above the trees.

Those are people climbing the last  third of the way, having passed a picture gallery with ancient frescoes and the mirror wall with graffiti dating from 7th century.  There truly is nothing new under the sun.

An enlarged version of this picture (and others) can be seen on the web album  CLICK HERE

DAY 11: Friday 4th September 2009.  COLOMBO

Travelled Dambulla to Colombo in typical Sri Lankan bus. Driver very aggressive, endlessly overtaking where we would never dream of doing it, hoots motor bikes and TukTuks out of his way, expects everyone to give way including sometimes oncoming traffic.

Stayed in YWCA, only place at a cheap price in Colombo, everywhere else half decent priced at US$60 plus. Colombo was dead as it was Poya Day holiday, only a few shops and no restaurants open.  Wandered Galle Road looking for Barefoot, a fancy boutique, which was open, had lovely sarongs with equally lovely prices. However, bought two books, including Sri Lanka cookbook.

Sri Lankan food is excellent.  Lovely curries with rice and dhal which are their staples, plus many fresh vegetables, beans, butternut, okra, aubergines etc. with or without meat.  For breakfast, string hoppers which are made of rice flour noodles, with dhal, coconut sambal and topped with egg.  Fantastic!

Eventually settled for airport type Food Hall in a Mall, enlivened with excellent live music playing all western 1960’s retro, plus the whole of the 2nd NZ/Sri Lanka 20/20 which was won by NZ.

DAY 12: Saturday 5th September 2009    .HOME TO A DAMAGED BOAT

To Queens Radio for SSB bits, then immediately on to small A/C bus to Galle, this time with a terrible driver, the worst so far, and that is saying something!

Overtaking far too slowly, often impeding oncoming traffic. He seemed to have a personality defect that once committed to overtaking he would not back off no matter what was coming at us so as not to lose face! Conversely seemed almost afraid of motorbikes, sitting behind them far too close, then drifting past into oncoming traffic.

Home to find a damaged boat. Port bow pulpit and rubbing strip bent and broken  by Sri Lankan navy vessel. Fortunately no structural damage.

Four young sailors came to “repair” the damage armed with a block of wood and a large hammer, and were promptly told to leave the boat!  We have heard no more from the navy, and don’t expect to.

Evening meal at Closenburg Hotel with Henry and Ina to end a wonderful holiday.

Sri Lanka has been a real highlight of our cruising life, the only disappointing being our agents at Galle who are very yacht unfriendly trying and so far failing to make money out of us and other boats here.

Finally we have reached the end of our stay here in this fascinating place, and have just heard that the insurance company will settle our claim , but with a very large shortfall, which is normal in these cases..  So all in all, the dismasting has cost us a load of money, but in the end we will have a safer boat, having upgraded all the specifications, and now having new electronic equipment

Posted by: cherryoak | 14.August 2009


When we planned our cruising route, Sri Lanka was one place we had to go as from 1926 to 1939 my father worked in Ceylon, as it was then, as a tea estate manager. This was when Ceylon was a British Colony and many Brits spent a period of their lives working in the colonies for the benefit of the Mother Country. This covered the time of the Great Depression, so he would have largely escaped the economic effects.

My Father never spoke much about his life there, living as single man, except that it was a fairly lonely life living up in the highlands around Kandy. The Britsh Club was the centre of the expat social scene and we do know that he became a very good single figure handicap golfer and a good tennis player. He also played the flute.

The Harris family must have lived nearby, Frank and Helen, also tea planters and the Harris and Yarrow families were very close, to the extent that Granny Yarrow became their son Ian’s (always known as Tad) godmother when she visited Ceylon in 1929. Father left Ceylon in early 1939, tired of the lonely life and also with the threat of war approaching, it would have been the time to get out or have to stay for many years. He went to work on a farm near Chislehurst in Kent as farm manager and there he met Mary Menzies from New Zealand and in 1940 they married, at the time of Dunkirk, when the threat of invasion was hanging over the country.

Much later, Tad Harris went to New Zealand and married Jill Menzies, who just happened to be mother’s first cousin. Quite a coincidence! They had a sheep farm at Decanter Bay, next to Menzies Bay, on Banks Peninsular. On every visit to New Zealand, I made a point of visiting them, also later when they retired to Little Akoroa. On the first occasion, on my way back from Menzies Bay, I dropped in to say hello and ended up staying the night, a wonderful night of drinking and chatting. It was amazing to be shown a sugar bowl, Tad’s christening present from my Granny Yarrow, with her name Annabella inscribed on it.

Three years ago my brother James and his wife Mea visited Sri Lanka and after they returned home, found out how our father came to be working in Ceylon and other family connections, which now makes it all clear. He went only armed with the estate name Keenekelle, written on a small snapshot taken by father’s (we always called him ‘father’) sister when she visited with their mother in 1929. James went to the Tea Board in Colombo, who found that the estate name still existed and gave him a phone number for the estate. Over the coming days, he endlessly rang the number with no response, only to eventually find it was the local blood bank number! With help of Prasanna, an enthusiastic tuk-tuk driver, crazily driving down rough tracks, they eventually find the estate:

‘the track becomes even steeper with impossible ruts and holes with a precipitous drop down one side.  He has to slip the clutch in first gear constantly – it must be wrecking the clutch, gearbox and suspension!  We must be mad anyway coming miles out here with a suitcase hoping for a place to stay!  It is becoming increasingly obvious that there’s no chance of that.  Is this a wild goose chase?  But young Prasanna is determined to find this place.  The views are stunning with great panoramic vistas over the country and many steep rocky hillsides.  But we are looking for a particular view to match one in a photo taken 75 years ago.

Suddenly, we find it!  We came out on a flat bit of track with some old buildings and there is the rocky outcrop we are looking for, right in front of us exactly the same as in the 1929 photograph – incontrovertible proof that this is where the old tea factory stood then.  This rather pathetic little snapshot was labelled “view from the factory” and there it was now in March 2006, identical, except with different trees, and the same mountains in the background.

The local people came out to see us and Prasanna asks them about the history of the place.  Apparently there was big trouble here in 1983 and the tea factory and the bungalow were burnt down by communist guerrillas.  The remains of the foundation walls of the factory can still be seen and there were some black marks on a wall.  Several people were killed here and we later heard that the English owner or manager probably fled back to England.  These Marxists are not the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), they are a mixed Singalese and Tamil group allied to the JNP party who are still campaigning now.  We saw their recent graffiti sprayed on the rocks not far away.  No doubt they were attacking a capitalist enterprise and in an out of the way place like this, there would be no opposition.

The locals crowd around us and there is much interest in the old pictures.  Apparently there is no one here now who is old enough to remember back to the 1930s so there are no personal memories.  If someone in the photo is a grandfather of someone here, even then they would be most unlikely to know and recognise him.  One man said he recognised the face of a man who had returned to India and has now died.  The people still work the tea estate which is now run by a neighbouring concern, and they live in a tin-roofed settlement just below on the hillside.  One very bright lady could read well and, looking at a photo of a young girl, said immediately “She’s Singalese”.  But how can they tell?  We found out later that the girl was wearing a Singalese ornament.  These people are all Tamils and must be descendents of the original Tamil workers.  Many lively children around.

We drove a little further on to see the site of the old bungalow which has now been replaced by a 2-storey house.  An old chap was there (gardener or caretaker?) who said he remembered the old bungalow.  This was the remote place where Father lived for about 10 years miles from anywhere, way off the beaten track in the back of beyond.  Trying to imagine what it must have been like…  Search is over, no one here remembers Ronald Yarrow, but we are not really disappointed and glad we came.  And what a fantastically spectacular place!’

Tad had died the year before James’s visit to Sri Lanka, so he asked Jill what she knew about the family connections and she put him in touch with Michael Charnaud and suddenly all became clear! Tad must have had no idea that we knew of Michael, so his name never came up. He had come to work on our farm in Hinton Martell, Wimborne, Dorset in 1949, doing his year’s practical as part of his agricultural degree and both James and I remember him vaguely aged 4 and 6! He has filled in all the gaps, having been brought up in Ceylon and he later returned to work there until 1964, so knows the country very well, also many of our family. He and Tad were first cousins, their mothers being sisters, who were at school in Chislehurst with father’s elder sister Gwen. The families became friends and Madeline, Michael’s mother, was engaged to Goodwin, father’s elder brother, who was killed at the Battle of the Somme. In 1920 Madeline married Fred Charnaud and went out to Ceylon as a tea planter. Frank Harris visited on his way back to NZ, met Helen who was there, changed his mind and stayed.

It was through this family connection, father was offered a job in Ceylon and went out in 1926, we think, aged 22. Keenekelle was his first estate but later he took over Albion tea estate, now known as Hakkgala, which Frank Harris inherited when father returned to England.

Mike Charnaud writes:

‘At Albion, where Ron was until 1939, the old bungalow was immediately pulled down by Frank Harris and a new one built on the same site. As kids Tad and I would spend ages in their orchard, eating Chinese small red guavas and mulberries. Whilst the bungalow was being built, they lived in the Tea Makers Cottage by the factory. I loved it there, as there was a small stream out of which we would catch crabs etc. The rocks there are dolomite limestone, hopelessly alkaline for tea but wonderful for growing vegetables. The rocks would have huge chunks of mica which we kids would extract and make transparent windows for our model houses.’

So our main task on this visit is to locate this estate. Unlike James, we have instructions to follow from Mike Charnaud, who has also given us a detailed itinerary for our trip around the country from Galle.

Posted by: cherryoak | 14.August 2009


From Gan we began

Our cruise to the East

But this was not to be.

Before Maldives were passed

We had lost our mast

And sails into the hungry sea,

The wind was strong

It didn’t take long

For the mast and sails to sink

To Neptunes throne

So we had to own

That we had made a mistake

We showed no respect

Neptune would expect

When crossing the line at sea.

So his trident he waved

Summoned the winds to his aid

And took some tribute  took he.

So new cruisers be warned

Neptune’s not to be scorned

pay him the obeisance he’s due

Otherwise you might find

That he’ll rob you blind

Just to show he’s the King of the Sea.

Posted by: cherryoak | 14.August 2009


On 6th August we had a dismaster

We had just crossed the line

That early morning at four am

Alec on his own, on early morning watch

Full moon shining bright, as the boat sped along

Feeling good and happy

Back in his half of our world

With its familiar stars

The plough had already been seen

Pointing down towards the yet unseen

That great guiding star, the North Pole Star

Cherry was all unaware

As she slept on, not feeling so good

Neptune had laid her low for two days past

Twelve hours later, in the afternoon

While Alec slept, then Cherry called

The wind had swung, now from the north west

The sails were all wrong, the boat would not steer

Pointing the wrong way to wind in the sail

Motoring now, straight into the wind

Move the sails across to the other side

Gently does it, not too much

The sky is black, the squalls are near

The wind blew hard

But we had seen it all before

We were not worried

Our boat was strong

Thirty knot gusts

Seven knots of speed

All under control

Out of nowhere, there was a loud crack and a bang

Our rig had fallen into the sea!

On the starboard side, hanging there

Lines everywhere, all very strange

We just could not believe what we saw

What to do?

The boat was OK but it would soon be dark

We must not leave it

We could not move it

Decision was made, out with the bolt croppers

Harness on, clip on

Wind was still howling, heavy rain was falling

Must be safe, think carefully where to cut

Genoa first, undo bolts, cut loose and throw over the side

Cut loose lines next, wire and ropes, Cherry as well

But boom was caught up, could pull down solar panels

Big effort to slide everything forward, mast as well

Now it is clear, cut free and throw over

Now for the mast, still hanging there

Only one line left, must not damage the boat sides

Cut it and over and down she goes

Slowly sinking

Goodbye our mast and sails and all

You served us well, it is sad to see you go

But we could not save you

This is our offering to Neptune

We crossed the line

Maybe we did not show respect

Champagne would have been cheaper!

The deck is clear, it is so strange

Our proud Gypsy Lady has been stripped naked

She is now a motor boat, no more sailing

We have enough fuel to see us to land

We are safe!

One engine only

Three knots of speed

460 miles to go

We are sad and exhausted but cannot relax

Already we are planning, thinking ahead

This should not have happened

Big money was spent on rigging

Questions must be asked

And we must understand the answers

The human spirit is still strong

Our Rainbow dream is still alive

Rainbow Gypsy shall be restored

Riding the seas again, with wind in her sails

We shall continue

Following our destiny

To follow the coastlines all over our world

Until the end of our time

Posted by: cherryoak | 27.July 2009


We left Chagos to a resounding farewell from all our cruising friends on a blustery day, and crossed the reef into the ocean to be greeted by a long slow swell.  Absolutely perfect, we thought, until the  shelter of the islands passed and we were out on a VERY lumpy, bumpy sea indeed.  The wind was a constant 25 knots and we made spectaculart time for us, three days to do 300 nm.  Fantastic.  Only a little seasickness to spoil it and then we got to Gan.

Addu atoll is the southernmost point of the Maldives,and in fact is the only atoll south of the equator. and Gan is the old British army base at  the very tip of the atoll.  Gan is joined to the other islands in the atoll by a two lane causeway  and the little harbour is very sheltered.

Here we met up again with our friends George and Colleen from Affirmation, (Tanga, Seychelles and Chagos)  Henry and Ina on Seute Dern (Tanga and Seychelles) and Berndt on Chimane (Chagos).  The socialising never stops.  We have a more active social calendar than ever we did at home in Kloof.

While cruising we can all keep in touch via SSB Radio on “skeds” (radio schedules) set up ahead of time on a daily basis.  This way we keep track of each other, the weather and are able to offer moral support or advice (and receive it) should an difficulties arise.  The skeds were very well used by Affirmation and the yacht Munera who both developed engine problems while on passage and had long consults with Mata’irea (Sten) who is a diesel fundi.

Maldives is a real eye opener.  Clean and neat, not overrun by tourists and  provisioning is surprisingly inexpensive considering the fact that all basic foodstuffs have to be imported.  This was also the case at Seychelles which we found exorbitantly expensive.

The people here are friendly and welcoming, everyone seems to be gainfully employed and there are no beggars and hawkers. Alec has been able to find stainless steel screws, nuts and bolts and specialised light globes for our navigation lights..  The “supermarkets” are small and poorly stocked, but by going from one to another, one can find almost everything one needs.

Our agent (it is compulsory to appoint one) is extrtemely good.  His name is Ahmed Rasheed, and he can literally arrange anything at all.  Even to fixing the buckled wheel on Alec’s folding bike and getting a new tyre.  This was a very pleasant surprise as the wheel is not a standard size and we really thought we would have to wait until Sri Lanka to get it fixed.

He also managed to find an electronics expert who has repaired our Pactor Modem which is a huge bonus.  We were so thrilled with being able to contact the world again that we celebrated by finishing off the last few drops of Drambuie which we had been saving for a special occasion.  We reckoned there is nothing more special than being able to email again.

There is no public transport here so Cherry has been forced to use a bicycle!! The skills which every kid in the world have , have passed her by and she at the age of 69 is trying to learn to balance on two wheels.  So far she has had two falls, one very minor and one a bit more painful  But she is perservering (under protest) She is convinced that the bike KNOWS that she is a beginner and delights in biting her.

Yesterday (26th July) was Independence Day and a holiday for the Maldivians.  Rasheed invited us to his home, together with Henry and Ina to share a traditional Maldivian feast to mark the day.  “Feast” was no misnomer!  What a spread Ayesha put on, and what incredible kindness and hospitality to total strangers.  She must have worked for hours to produce the buffet.  It was a wonderful day and we  felt honoured to be taken into their home as friends.

After the gargantuan meal, we took a walk along the seafront back to our yachts.  In all the time we have spent here in Gan, we have not seen one cross face, heard one raised voice and no children crying.  Everyone seems to be so very relaxed and happy and so proud of their country.

For a few photos PLEASE CLICK HERE

Posted by: cherryoak | 25.July 2009


It seems almost incredible that it is already a year since we said goodbye to our friends and families and left Durban on 30th May 2008. We were so excited, apprehensive and plain, darned ignorant, with no idea at all of what we had let ourselves in for.  All we knew was that we wanted to cruise, whatever it took.

We initially gave ourselves one year, not completely burning boats and arranged everything so that we could return to Durban and our house in Kloof to live a normal retirement life but this first year has convinced us that that is unlikely to happen any time soon. We both love this life, with all its uncertainties and new experiences, learning new skills and meeting many likeminded cruisers, many also retirement age, though also others who have been sailing for 20 years or more. We reckon we have made the grade as blue water cruisers and this is likely to be our life from now on. Our house sitters, Les and Derek were told some time ago that they are likely to be there for the foreseeable future, if they wish.

So what can we say?  The first year has been the most incredible learning curve, but we have coped (we think, quite well) and come through without too many major scares.

At first, ripping our gennaker seemed like a major disaster, but working in tandem, we pieced it together and re-stitched it.  It is now very difficult to see where we mended the torn sections.  This was a major lesson in getting that huge sail down BEFORE the wind gets too strong – one fact we have recently learnt is that wind pressure increases by the cube of the speed, so a few extra knots makes a huge difference The sight of Alec rolling around the deck trying to get his arms and legs around the billowing yards of fabric is one that will live in Cherry’s memory for many years to come.

Squalls at sea come out of nowhere! Or so it seems.  Our first squall (thank goodness, only a relatively small one) took us complete unawares.  We were sailing along happily just off Mafia Island on our way to Dar es Salaam when we spotted a very black cloud and remarked on it.  Within seconds, the wind had veered and gained strength and we were in our first full blown squall.  Wow! What an experience! Everything happens so fast one barely has time to think, but once again, we coped and learnt a valuable lesson………….watch the skies for big black clouds, or any clouds for that matter.

Another lesson: don’t leave trolling lines out when becalmed or sail the African coast after dark.  Fishing lines are a major hazard and if motoring, can be a recipe for disaster.  Alec has spent quite a bit of time in the water cutting the propellers free from errant fishing lines off Zanzibar and once, even our own lines which we had forgotten we had deployed!

Self reliance is something one learns very quickly.  There are no workshops, supermarkets or friendly helpers out at sea.  When the forestay to which the genoa roller furler is attached, broke at the mast head, it could have been catastrophic.  But thanks to Alec’s foresight, we just happened to have a Stay-Lock fitting and another strange looking “goodie” which coupled together enabled him to re-attach the furler to the mast and we were on our way again.

One thing that has not been satisfactory from day one is the lack of regular communication with our families and friends.  Our Pactor modem has never worked properly, and when we reached Chagos it gave up entirely.  This means that we now have to wait until we get to South East Asia before there will be any chance of having it repaired.  In the meantime, we rely on cruising friends to send any urgent messages for us and to relay any replies.  Not a good feeling.

“Living off the land” is part of our philosophy.  We fish, only to eat, and not for sport.

At times the fishing is very lean, and we have learnt to supplement with the inside core of sprouting coconuts!  These, when cooked with tomato and onion make a VERY tasty meat substitute. (Thanks to Jacqui in Seychelles for this tip.)

Life at sea comes down to living each day as it comes, not worrying about tomorrow and enjoying the incredible beauty of the sunsets, the awesome power of the storms and the vastness of the ocean.  This year has taught us to be reliant on each other and ourselves and we have not regretted giving up our shore based lives for one minute.


Three months in Maputo, wonderful friends, lots of travelling into the hinterland, a “visa run” to the SA border. And lots and lots of PRAWNS.

Ilha da Mocambique in the Mocambique channel.  Wonderful romantic island with so much history and friendly people.

Quelimane where we celebrated our wedding anniversary (see blog for details!)

Zanzibar, exotic, exciting, vibrant……everything we expected and more.

Tanga, a long stay over the Christmas period which allowed for trips to Serengeti and Kilimanjaro. Met some great people, some of whom are here in Chagos with us.

Seychelles, amazingly different from Africa.  Everything well run, well maintained and no crime in evidence.  A very delightful stay, only slightly tarnished by the threat of Somalian pirates operating in Seychellois waters.  We were lucky to leave when we did as we now believe that cruisers have to set up convoys to be escorted in and out of Seychelles at a cost of €9000!!  Here at Chagos so many cruisers had intended visiting those lovely islands but have changed plans and are now going to Rodriques, Reunion and Madagascar.  So sad for Seychelles.

Posted by: cherryoak | 23.July 2009

Seychelles to Chagos

There were a few incidents of the Somali pirates hijacking yachts near Seychelles and many folks were spooked. We. however feel that they are after the big white luxury yachts owned by millionaires who can pay a huge ransom, and won’t even look at us in our 20 year old catamaran, with two old codgers who obviously are doing this cruising on the cheap.

As it happens, we were right……….we had no problems at all and had a wonderful sail from Seychelles to Chagos.  Two days becalmed, but the rest of the time good following winds and fairly calm seas.

We had one very bad squall which caught us with too much sail up   and winds too strong for us to furl in.  This caused the genoa stay to part company at the mast head, but thank heavens the halyard held and we did not lose the rig. Once the wind eased a bit we were able to roll in the sail and managed to secure it to the pulpits and sailed the rest of the way to Chagos with a staysail and storm jib. This sail plan worked surprisingly well.  A few more squall hit us, but nothing major and  which were only to be expected. All in all it was a very pleasant trip which lasted 15 days.  This seems to be the average length of time taken from Seychelles to Chagos.

As we arrived at the north end of the atoll, we were greeted by a squadron of rainbow runners (very pretty fish) who swam in perfect formatiead of the boat. They accompanied us for a few hours, keeping pace with us and not moving out of line.  Amazing.


From the time we arrived at our first anchorage at Peros Banhos, Time and dates ceased to exist.  This is a pristine paradise. There is no noise, no pollution, NOTHING…….. except exquisite tropical, coral islands with snow white beaches and shallow reefs with brightly coloured fish. The bird life is also fantastic.  Heaven!

We anchored off Ille du  Coin, a small island which was inhabited until ome 25 years ago.  when the islands were evacuated by the British Government at the request of the USA who had leased the old airforce base at Diego Garcia from Britain.  One of the conditions of the lease was that the islands had to be uninhabited.  The people were repatriated to Mauritius and Reunion.  Not a happy story.

When the people left, some of their animals had to be left behind.  There were about 17 donkeys on the island of Coin, but now there just one left.  He is well fed and healthy, but lonely.  Poor boy.  He seems to be feral as he will not allow anyone to approach him, but walks quietly behind one as if looking for company.

We went ashore to burn our rubbish and dump the plastic garbage in the bins supplied by BIOT.( British Indian Ocean Territory ) officials who still administer and control the archipelago.

Then we took a walk through the t forest and came to an old house.  What a sight!  It could have come straight out of a scary horror movie.  This ghostly, derelict, double storey house in the middle of a coconut palm forest, looking for all the world like the epitome of haunted houses.  Moss and creepers all over it, and next to the back door (no longer hanging of coursed) was the well.  We removed the cover and drew buckets of clean fresh water and filled our large containers. This is a first for us, drawing our own well water.

The mosquitoes had a field day!! They had obviously not had a feed for weeks and here were two unsuspecting humans, scantily clad as is normal for the tropics, just waiting to be fed upon. We went back to the yacht looking for all the world as if we had some dreadful disease.

The snorkelling is wonderful, coral of all shapes, colours and sizes and the most beautiful fish in abundance.

We took the dinghy out and went fishing.  In 20 minutes we had had 4 huge bites, but only managed to land one fish, as this was our first time fishing from the dinghy. We are not experts at this sport, and have so much to learn.  Anyway, it was a very good fish and made two wonderful meals.

The wind came up and the anchorage was very bumpy so we moved on to Ille Fouquet at the southern end of the atoll.  Here we have managed to repair and raise our roller furling genoa.  It is so easy to say, but took much thought, planning and VERY hard work to do.  Alec feels he could almost attempt the world record at pole sitting as he spends so much time up the mast. Cherry does the winching and adjusting down on deck. We feel a great sense of achievement, having done it ourselves.

This evening we went ashore with friends from the yacht “Affirmation” and had sundowners on the beach. The water was a limpid, pale aquamarine, with no waves.  The sky with fluffy little clouds stained pink by the setting sun and perfect peace.  It is truly a little piece of heaven.

After about six weeks at Peros Bahos we moved on to S

The fishing is fantastic and almost every other day we had a beach braai with fresh fish.  We personally did not have much luck in this department until the arrival of the yacht Dancyn.  John from Dancyn is an expert fisherman and he taught us all how to catch and boy did we catch! The menfolk (excluding the “old man” Alec,0  would go out in the dinghies beyond the reef into the open sea and come back with giant groupers, trevallies and tuna.  This was very risky sport and they lost a lot of valuable lures (Rapalas) to the sharks which closed in on the hooked fish.  Sten even had his dinghy damaged by a shark and came back with one pontoon flat.

Then all the yachts would combine a for a  “pot luck” meals, each onet supplying something and we ended upo having feasts fit for a king. We have never eaten better fish in our lives.

We also tasted heart of palm salad for the first time and it is absolutely delicious. Crisp and crunchy (something we miss as there are no shops where we can buy fruit and vegetables, so all our food comes out of tins) Cherry experimented with the inner core of sprouting coconuts and made very tasty frikkadells.  One could live very healthily on fish and coconuts.

One lady gave yoga classes on the beach, (Cherry declined the invitation ) another taught us how to make sushi, another offered massages, and  Cherry did some sewing and mending for various yachts.

On American independence day, because there were so many USA citizens we decicded  to have a fireworks display with out of date flares.  This almost ended in disaster as one flare went off course and SO nearly hit one of the yachts!  I have never seen people jump into dinghies and race across the water in the dark at such a speed, but luckily the flare landed about two meters behind Moonwalker and not on her deck.

Sadly, all good things have to end some time, and it was time to say goodby to all our friends and move on to Gan in the Maldives.

For pictures of Chagos, please CLICK HERE

Posted by: cherryoak | 8.April 2009


Some History Seychelles Archipelago is a group of granitic islands which were part of the supercontinent Gondwanaland before India split from Africa millions of years ago, and left these very dramatic and beautiful pinnacles of rock sticking up out of the ocean 1000 miles from the African coast.

Mahe is the main island where the capital Port Victoria is situated, Praslin , and la Digue, together with numerous small, virtually uninhabited islands comprise the inner islands.

There are also groups of outlying coral islands, one of which,  the Amirantes, we tried to visit on the way here, but were blown off by our first real storm as you know.

The first European ship to anchor here was British, in 1609 and then 100years later English and American pirates, who had been harried out of the Caribbean, came here to raid ships carrying spices, tea and timber which were crossing the Indian Ocean at that time. One of the more gentlemanly pirates had a mansion here which can be visited and there are still people searching for the plunder which is said to be buried here.

The French first took possession of the islands in 1742 and they named them in honour of Louis XV’s finance minister. During the Napoleonic wars, in 1794 a British fleet of 166 cannon and 12,500 men entered the harbour, unsportingly flying the French flag, resulting in a quick surrender. Two weeks later when they left, as soon as they were over the horizon, the French tricolour was back on top of the flagpole! This was repeated throughout the war, giving support to both sides and flying the appropriate flag.

In 1814, after Napolean was defeated by the Brits, the islands became part of the great British Empire, though largely in name only. The French governor remained and collaborated, even anglicising his name and the French settlers continued to expand their trade and to maintain their language and cultural identity.

Saddled with a poor colony she did not want, the British allowed the islands to remain as a peaceful and old fashioned backwater, with only the occasional steamer calling in. It was during this period of splendid isolation that the culture of the Seychelles was formed, which explains the spirit of self-sufficiency which one can still see today. There is a mixture of African, Arab, Indian and even Chinese, as well as the French farmers, with much intermarriage. An extremely harmonious and stable population has evolved, industrious and law abiding, very unlike Africa.At the same time the Kreol language also developed. 98% of the 75000 population are RC.

Since 1964, two lawyer politicians of opposing parties, have ruled the country. There was an attempted coup at one point when one of the leaders was out of the country. Mad Mike Hoare and his mercenaries briefly hit the headlines in 1981, trying to stage an invasion by purporting to be a visiting rugby team but failed to get beyond the airport. The two leaders then collaborated to develop tourism and the islands have never looked back. They are the embodiment of a dream, a true tropical paradise.

The airport was opened in 1971 and virtually the whole island watched the first VC10 come into land and five years later the islands became independent from Britain. The islands have remained very French and French is the second language for most people, though all those we meet inevitably also speak English. There seem to be a majority of French tourists here, mostly rather noisy to our ears, or maybe we are just prejudiced! Today Tourism is the main industry and there is relatively little else, so everything has to be imported and is generally rather expensive. The Seychelles government is very aware that too many tourists will ruin this idyllic paradise and have limited the number of hotel beds to 4500. No new hotels or lodges are being built, except on a few of the outlying, privately owned islands.

Eating out is prohibitively expensive, everything priced in tourist Euros, (e.g. €10 for a simple ham sandwich!!) so we don’t do much dining out. On principle we refuse to pay in Euros, which we don’t have anyway. We are lucky that we can join the Seychelles YC as visiting members and can get drinks and have simple meals for less than half we would pay outside. Also what a pleasure to have efficient service, so unlike Tanga YC where a meal took anything up to an hour to arrive! Consequently many members are social members only, so the club is always busy, with a very friendly atmosphere and very pleasant to spend time there.

Trips around the Islands

Our first excursion was a bus ride across Mahe to Port Launay to spend the day with our friends George and Colleen, a South African cruising couple who we met at Tanga, doing what we are. They are also retired and are taking every day as it comes.

Mahe has 1000m mountaqins at its centre, covered with what appears to be impenetrable rain forest. It was a very steep and spectacular bus trip up the side of the hill and down the other side.

Port Launay is spectacular, with crystal clear sea and a coral reef very close to the shore. Cherry has at last had her first snorkel over coral and saw the beautiful reef fish for the first time and she is now hooked for life!

We then took off for the outer islands: Praslin, La Dique, Marianne, Felicite and Cocos Isle. We found beautiful isolated coves and anchored up overnight. The coral at Ille de Cocos is reasonably good with wonderful fish. The variety and colours are absolutely amazing. Sadly, much of the coral is being destroyed by tour operators and cruisers who don’t seem to care that their anchors are destroying large areas of reef. Coral is very slow growing, and when up to 20 boats a day throw anchors onto the living reef, it does not stand a chance of recovery. The conservation department tried to police this wanton destruction by installing mooring buoys over reefs, but they got broken and have not been repaired. We have found this very distressing.

We were thrilled to meet up with Ken and Sue from Kloof on a flying visit to the Seychelles.  Fantastic to catch up on all the news from back home.

Our dinghy motor has been very unreliable, and Alec has spent a huge amount of time smelling of petrol and trying to find the fault. Hold thumbs, today it seems to be okay. (HAH! I spoke too soon)

On returning to Mahe, George and Colleen were so enthusiastic about the beauties of the west coast that we have been persuaded to explore this before moving on to Chagos. So we will have a snorkelling trip around Mahe and then set off eastwards.

West Coast of Mahe

A lovely five days and nights sailing, snorkelling and swimming. Ille Therese definitely overrated, the coral not too marvellous. But good clear water. Very exposed when the wind comes up so we moved around the corner to Port Launay which is very sheltered. There, the coral is much better and we had some lovely snorkels, and beautiful sunsets.

Then on the way back to Port Victoria to reprovision and prepare for our next crossing, we discovered an unnamed cove just around the headland from Cap Ternay. Beautiful clear water, good coral and glorious scenery. We spent one night there, but unhappily once again having dinghy troubles, only had one snorkel.

We are now back in Victoria, and hopefully will be leaving for Chagos in two days time. While we were away on the west coast it appears that the Somalian pirates were having a field day attacking fishing boats in this area, so everyone is very “twitchy” and asking us if we really mean to leave.  As we cannot stay forever, we will just go as planned and hope that we are too small and insignificant for the pirates to n otice us.

Our blog will be dormant for about three months, but we will send VERY short emails to all on our mailing list to keep you abreast of developments. Watch this space.

For some pictures of Seychelles please click here.
For some pictures of Alec’s climb of Kilimanjaro please click here

Posted by: cherryoak | 14.March 2009



We were ready for the off, provisioned up for about six months, to get us to Sri Lanka, as the Seychelles were said to be very expensive.

Plan was:

1. Go north of Pemba Island, which is directly east of Tanga, sailing with the north flowing Somali current. We were advised to sail well north of the island to avoid the overfalls at the north end of the island.

2. Leave at the crack of dawn to get past Pemba before the first nightfall to avoid the dreaded night fishing nets.

3. Follow latitude 5 deg south as far as wind allowed, going towards the south if cannot make due east.

4. To reach Seychelles, we would be sailing due east 14 degrees of longitude, so target was one degree per day, roughly 60 miles but likely to be over 70 mile per day of travel to achieve that.

5. We were warned that first 300 miles would be difficult due to NE winds – three boats that we know of have turned back during this period. After this NW winds should start, to sail most of the way on a beam reach.


On Thurs Feb 26th at 6.50am we upped an incredibly muddy and slippery anchor and chain and were off into the unknown. The adventure begins after an enjoyable two months at Tanga YC, where we had made some very good friends. This was our first big test, whether we could do this crazy cruising lark! So many yachts just coastal hop and avoid the big crossings, but surely this is the essence of the cruising life.

First three days all went to plan, though having to sail SE for much of the time to keep moving east. Next three days wind dropped below 10 knots and could only sail further to the south and failed to make our deg longitude. Surprisingly the nights were much better, with stronger winds and more to the east but the days were  slow and extremely hot. We refrained from using the motors as we were still making some progress eastwards, albeit, sometimes only about two knots.

Day 7 was a good day, with winds backing more to the north and for the first time we could sail almost due east, making 90 miles. The following night, the wind died to almost nothing, 1-3 knots and stayed there for nearly three days! The boat became almost impossible to steer, however we were still making 0.8 knot east, courtesy of the Equatorial Counter Current. It was time for motoring, one only, making 3.5 to four knots, going slightly to the north, as by this time we were at 7 deg south, over 100 miles off course!

By Day 10 the sea was flat calm, with not a ripple and a good time for Alec to go into the water (hundreds of miles from the nearest land!!) to try to free our starboard prop of our own trolled fishing line! Our props seem to have an uncanny ability to find any bit of floating fishing line in the sea, but this time it was entirely our own fault. We had foolishly started the motors to straighten the boat when we had lost the wind in the light airs, not realising that our lines had caught up with us and were under the boat. Using a  snorkel and a dive knife  he gradually worked it free, pulling out metres of line, some of which we have been able to reuse.

One of the highlights of the trip were the Red Footed Boobies that frequented our boat, as a resting place for about four days. We had seen them flying around and after some difficulty identified them. Then one morning there was bird shit all over the back of the boat and we realised one was using the top of the mast as a night perch. Next day four arrived and perched on the starboard pulpit, parents and two juveniles, we think, staying there all morning, later joined by five more on the other pulpit. Did they think that they were  starting a floating colony?!

One juvenile got entangled in the lifelines, so Cherry quickly went and freed it, fortunately unscathed. At night they liked to use the wind generator as a perch. Unfortunatley the wind increased and the blades speeded up. Three times in one evening birds were hit by the spinning blades, we hope without damage. Generator is now making a funny noise, so maybe damage to us?

Next day they disappeared, obviously had had enough of our dangerous boat. We have caught no fish on this trip and in fact have not trolled the lines very much. The mid ocean is generally reckoned to be a desert, with few fish around and therefore no predatory fish, which are generally the ones we are trying to catch. We have seen no dolphins or whales, only our Boobies.

But we have eaten very well indeed, thanks to Cherry. We have constant fresh bread, now white as the brown flour we brought and vacuum packed has now run out. No brown bread flour in Tanzania as  Africans only seem to like white bread.  But the white bread tastes wonderful and has the added bonus tha tit keeps better. The brown bread had to be thrown out after two days, as went mouldy and we seemed to do too much of that. Nothing else is wasted and Cherry is the queen of making meals interesting and different. In fact it is doubtful if she has ever cooked the same meal twice in her life!

Squalls are a constant feature of sailing in these latitudes and we have had our share on this trip. Wind backs about 30 deg, with only a black sky to warn you it is coming, which at night is difficult to spot. Most seemed to happen when Cherry was on night-watch and she has coped extremely well, quickly reefing in the genoa or rolling it in completely and motoring, which is often the best option until it is clear what the wind is going to do. Often it will be raining as well, all very exciting at night time! Gradually the wind eases and slowly veers round to its original bearing and the sails can come out again. On one 10 to 2 watch Cherry had two big squalls, up to 25 knots, to deal with and was totally exhausted by the end of it! It is a matter of pride that she only wakes Alec in extremis, which is great!

Finally on Day 11 the long promised NW winds started and for the first time we could comfortably sail due east on a beam reach and had our best day, 95 miles. Up to this point we had been sailing virtually the whole trip upwind, trying and mostly failing to stop us going any further south. This is always a fine balance, as racing sailors know well, getting as close to the wind as possible without losing too much speed. We find we can sail at 40 to 50 deg apparent wind, which is quite good for a cat, which always point less well than mono-hulls.

Generally in light airs it is not too bumpy and roly-poly but as the wind increases to over 15 knots, it becomes increasing uncomfortable. We used Otto our auto pilot for virtually the whole trip. The wind vane does not work below 10 knots and as we were often within that range, we would suddenly find that we were way off course. Otto is more precise anyway when sailing close to the wind.

Then disaster one day, when our one remaining belt broke! We tried sticking it but that did not last long, so eventually stuck it and sewed on a narrow strip of polyester reinforced plastic to the back and that has worked a treat. So we repaired the previously broken one as well, so now even have a spare. Other repair jobs done while travelling were to replace our gas line, which may have been leaking – there certainly seemed to be a slight gas smell in the front cabin. The pipe was old anyway, so needed replacing. And to repair a leaking diesel line on the port engine, very cleverly done without having to bleed the engine. Alec is a very good “bush mechanic” and even though he not really a South African, seems to have imbibed the “boer maak ‘n plan” philosophy.

The one big failure on the trip has been the lack of communications. We have always had poor reception and were rarely able to connect to sailmail through our modem. We also had a sked arranged with another boat but never made contact. So we have been entirely without contact with the outside world and no-one knows where we are!! So that must be sorted before we leave the Seychelles, as the next leg is to Chagos and we shall have no land based comms for about four months.

DAY 12 – APPROACHING SEYCHELLES A very eventful day and it is only lunchtime! Night watches all had squalls to deal with and we are both tired, as not much sleep. On 2-6am watch Alec saw reef approaching, Bertauf Reef which showed plenty of depth, 20-30 metres but coral bommies near the surface can be a risk. In daylight can see them but not at night. Eventually his brain clicked into gear when only 10 miles from it, that perhaps it was not a good idea to sail over it in the dark – our first coral reef in the Seychelles. So made last minute detour, requiring us to sail upwind for two hours into 20 knot headwind, so motor sailed to reduce leeway and hold the course. In her bunk Cherry wondered what was happening and had no sleep, crashing and banging and rocking and rolling!

Chart plotter was spot on, depths of 20-30 metres appearing on our screen, so almost certainly could have gone over the reef but just not sensible in the dark. As day broke, we rounded the end of the reef and saw our first Indian Ocean coral island, where we planned to stop for two days to snorkel. But sea was very lumpy and the sky black, so we were thwarted again and Cherry has still yet to see a coral reef!

WELCOME TO THE SEYCHELLES – OUR FIRST GALE!! As we approached our first Indian Ocean coral island (Poivre – one of the Amirantes Group)  we are greeted by a full blown gale!! We briefly saw another yacht on the horizon, also making for Poivre we think but as the storm hit us, it quickly disappeared from view as the mist and rain came down, as also did the island , now only a few miles away.

Alec had to hand steer, holding a critical course of 150 deg to keep well clear of the reefs surrounding the island and also to prevent an involuntary gybe. We initially motor sailed, with a about 25% of the genoa out, then were able to cut the motors sail only, though kept the engines idling, in case we needed them in a hurry. Cherry did everything else, getting soaked in the process.

One side of our cockpit enclosure blew in,. temporarily held with bungy cord. Water came in from all directions and the sea looked just like those illustrations for books about wild weather at sea with spindrift flying over the water and over us, the first time either of us had seen this.

Lots of rain but we were unable to collect any and none came through our pipe, all blownstraight off our roof. It would have been mixed with sea water anyway. Winds were consistently at 38 knots and our wonderful Deancat took it all in her stride, of course, and all we had to do was made sure we kept control and do what had to be done. No time to be frightened as too busy concentrating.

After a couple of hours, the wind gradually started to ease and when it briefly dipped below 20 knots we quickly gybed, so that we could sail, NE away from the island, instead of SE we had been forced into. After it was all over and the wind had calmed to a more normal 15 knots we patted ourselves on the back, exhilarated by a shared experience. And on the completion of our first ocean crossing. We had made it and were on our way!!

Sadly, no point in staying in the Amirantes in this weather, so planned visit to St. Joseph Atoll was also off the agenda. We set course for Mahe to check into the country at the capital, Victoria, 150 miles away, so two days to sail at an average of 3 knots to arrive at daybreak. It was a return to uncomfortable upwind sailing again, of which we have had our fill, lumpy seas and rocking and rolling again, not so pleasant for those who are susceptible to ‘mal de mer’.

TIME/ DISTANCE: Distance sailed to Poivre Island 980 miles in 12 days, just over 80 miles a day, which we are mighty pleased with.

Total distance Tanga to Victoria, Mahe Island 1150 miles in 14 days.



This being our first foreign landfall, it is interesting to note the difference between the African countries we have visited and this “western?” influenced country.

In this very superficial comparison after only two days, we have noticed

1. no holes in pavements

2. no potholes in the streets

3. gardens outside all buildings are well kept

4. public areas are spotless and well kept

5. no rubbish and the bins are used and emptied regularly

6. no hawkers or beggars

7. no laybouts hanging around waiting to “help” tourist for a fee

8. no one calling out “my friend” Africanese for I want your money

This is truly paradise. Everything is well run, the officials are efficient and pleasant, the people friendly, and it has been wonderful to meet up with our yachting friends from Tanga again.

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