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Chatty log | Chagos

Chagos

18 May

John: Oh yeah! Caro (always the first to wake) is up and running around at about 02:00 in the morning, closing hatches as the wind rises and the rain begins. Suddenly we are all in action, the kids scrambling to get their sleeping stuff below as the wind drives the rain under the awning with Caro and I getting the table put away and the steering wheel on in preparation to motor if the anchor drags. It is dragging. Fortunately we are not on a lee shore, so I stumble up to the bow in the pouring rain (seeing precious little through my rain-streaked glasses) to let out the rest of the chain. We're in 27 m of water, so we need all we have. The boat hauls up to her anchor, having dragged about 100 m. I stay up another hour to be sure she holds and that we are done with serious wind. I'm awake again soon after sunrise and go out to find the cockpit completely soaked with all the cushions wet and a huge amount of water pooled in the awning. I rig the water-collecting system and an unbelievable torrent of fresh clear water begins flowing into the tank. Not the paradise we went to bed with yesterday, but hardly all bad either.

Caro: What happened to the weather? These grey windy rainy skies remind me of northern Europe. Oh well. That means it's a good time to work on the log and sort out the images. We hear on the radio that Infidian (with a 10-year old on board) will be heading to this anchorage this afternoon. Another boat called Tess (with a 7 and 10-year old) is coming over from Salomon. Upon hearing this news Alex starts dancing around, he's so excited about getting other kids to play with. We re-anchor a little closer to the reef to get a bit more protection from the waves. There are already 2 other boats for anchor here. The nearest boat sends out an emissary who, without even a hello, blurts out we've anchored too close to them, they're here for solitude. We're a little taken aback by this show of welcome, but not wanting to upset anybody we pick up our anchor again and move forward 50 meters. It clears up a little in the afternoon. The kids take the dinghy and go explore the island again. John and I have a snorkel first and then go for a walk ashore. Under a few palm trees we find a kind of camp. Somebody went through a lot of trouble to rig benches and making a cosy hangout with a fireplace. Must be a 'yachties get together for a bbq' spot. The sky is threatening to rain again, so John quickly swims back to the boat to close the hatches. I'm following him but cannot tear myself away from the reef. I've got the little underwater camera with me and get absorbed in finding and photographing pretty subjects. There are many giant clams strewn over the reef and some are beautifully blue. I also nearly bump into a juvenile hawksbill turtle who's not pleased with the encounter. Finally I've had enough and swim back to the boat just as the kids are coming back too. Infidien and Tess have arrived and Casper and Alex go over to play. For sundowners we're all invited over on Infidien where we meet all of the crews. It's very enjoyable to be chatting and drinking with other cruisers, exchanging information and experiences.

19 May

Caro: Again, in the middle of the night, I had to get up in a rush to run around closing all the hatches. In the morning it's still raining and the sky is a solid grey wherever you look. What a difference with the weather we had on the passage here. I'm a little annoyed with being cooped up on board. The kids do their school work, I read a lot after working on the log. After lunch it's cleared up enough to go out. Casper and Alex head for shore to meet up with the crew of Tess. John and I take a leisurely snorkel to the beach. I took some nice underwater photos yesterday and have the camera with me again. The water is pretty murky though. Suddenly I get a big fright when I see a huge black shape materialise in the murk and swimming towards me. It's the biggest eagle ray ever (the size of a manta ray). Then he sees me and its clear he gets as big a fright as I did. A flap of his wings and he's gone. I'd like to see that one again in better viz. Ashore we meet up with Angela from Tess and a little later Rick and Patti from Infidien show up too. Today we're having sundowners on board Jocara.

John: Shortly before our guests arrive I realise that I'm acutely embarrassed about the state of the boat. For a start, someone could end up in the drink if they grab hold of the lifelines since the starboard stantions are now completely shot. Even the state of the cooker is embarrassing! So the first arrivals find me with power drill in hand, still working on securing the stantion bases as they climb on board. We enjoy the company and pick up some useful information about the Maldives, exchanging info about the Seychelles and points west. That's the cruiser way!

20 May

Caro: Being tired of having to get up in the middle of the night I decided, before going to bed last night, to close all the hatches and to put all the cushions inside. It worked, it didn't rain all night! The weather is looking a bit better today and we move a few miles to Ile du Coin, where there used to be a settlement. Just as we're preparing to drop anchor near the remains of an old jetty, Alex catches a nice Jobfish whilst reeling in the line the put the rod away. Tess and Infidien also come over to Ile du Coin and we all meet ashore when exploring the ruins of the old settlement. In the nearly 40 years since the inhabitants were forced to leave Chagos, many of the buildings have been destroyed and the area is totally overgrown. The kids have fun playing around and Casper helps Rick with dehusking a pile of coconuts. There are so many hermit crabs. Quite a few of them are a purplish colour and are probably juvenile robber (coconut) crabs. Late afternoon Tess and Infidian move back to Ile Fouquet. Tess is planning to leave for the Seychelles tomorrow. We stay put with the idea with might move to Moresby Island in the north of Peros if the weather is good tomorrow.

21 May

Caro: Some nasty squall came in during the night and I had to run around again closing everything. In the morning it's still horrible. I'm getting really tired of this weather. After I finish my book I really want to get off the boat. It's kind of dry, so we head for shore with our snorkeling gear. The kids stay on the beach where a horizontal palm tree makes for a nice jumping board. The water is all stirred up with sand and no good for snorkeling. Instead we opt for a walk around part of the island. We see many big hermit crabs and some feisty coconut crabs. In the evening it looks like it's maybe clearing up a bit.

22 May

Caro: I wake up just as it's starting to get light. To the north the sky is lead grey with towering cumulus on top. Very beautiful. To the south it's much clearer. As the sun climbs higher in the sky the cloud cover seems to evaporate and the morning is calm and sunny. We move a few miles north to have a look at a pass in the hopes of finding good snorkeling. John stays on board and the kids and I take the dinghy to the outside of the atoll. Suddenly we see a couple of fins ahead of us. Dolphins! We quickly get in the water and see 3 bottlenose dolphins. They have one look at us and disappear. Casper and Alex are really happy they finally saw dolphins underwater. There's not a lot of coral, but many big snappers and groupers. We also see a fat shark, small Napoleon and a huge turtle circles us a few times. Getting back in the dinghy we have trouble with the outboard engine. Fortunately, we have a radio with us to let John know. He comes to the rescue with Jocara and we anchor on a shallow shelf near the fish.

John: I was really feeling like I wanted to have some time to myself on board rather than face struggling with all four of us in the dinghy with all our snorkeling gear. Besides, I had my doubts that there would be anything very interesting to see in the pass. Just as I had settled down to a cold beer and my book ('The shadow of Kilimanjaro' by Rick Ridgeway) the radio squawks and it's Alex calling me to up anchor and get them because the outboard wouldn't start. Bah! Lucky I did stay on board though, it would have been a long paddle back against the current. We anchor outside the pass for lunch and I get to dismantle the carburettor and clean out the jets and filter bowl to get the motor running again. That seems to do the job but it makes me feel less than great to be bounced about in the dinghy while alternately blowing and sucking on various tubes of petrol and oil. Then Casper and Alex want to go fishing with the dinghy. Caro and I want to snorkel, also with the dinghy as there's a lot of big sharks about. We let the kids go first. Big mistake. After 10 minutes they're back, paddling. I'm, told that the fishing line is caught round the prop and may need to be cut free. On inspection I find a big wad of monofilament jammed in the prop bearing, which is locked solid. I swear if they blew up the boat and it sank they'd tell me they'd spilt some water down below and they thought I might need the bilge pump to clear it. So naturally I'm not in the best of moods or health when I've finished getting beaten up in the bouncing dinghy for the second time today, freeing up the propeller, especially when I realise that the new fuel filter I fitted an hour ago is broken and I have some more petrol-soaked work to do. By now I've had enough of the rolling and can't face staying out here any longer. So I don't get to see this reef at all and we head for shelter inside. Casper seems down in the mouth and I'm feeling sorry for him because I figure he's feeling stupid for having messed up a few times this morning. In an attempt to cheer him up I find that he's not feeling sorry for himself at all, he's mad at me that he can't go fishing again now I've got the outboard running again! Later on we find a neat little isolated reef, no more than 50 m radius, in the middle of the lagoon. We anchor and explore. It has a lot of fish, many medium-sized groupers and a couple of turtles. Casper is hell-bent on catching somethng and pushes the pole spear into my hands. I miss, then Casper wants his turn and low and behold hits a grouper. Somehow he gets off the prongs on the way back to the boat (we're intent on getting back quickly in case some local sharks take an interest) and we lose him. Casper is all for trying again, and I only restrain him with difficulty. I don't feel right about losing the first one and then taking another, even if there do seem to be quite a few here. We end up at Moresby Island, picking up a mooring that 'Infidien' told us about.

23 May

John: Last night proved remarkably swell-free and quiet, but the weather is far from settled and, judging by the clouds around, we can expect some showers to keep us hopping around the boat opening and closing hatches. Caro and the kids are up early, raring to get onto the beach at low tide (it's almost full moon and the reef is well exposed in the early morning) to see what critters they can find. Coconut crabs are also reputed to be about until just after dawn and indeed Casper finds two decent-sized specimens on their way back to their lairs. I elect to stay on board to enjoy my coffee and catch the morning sched. I also get a quiet moment to practise my typing; I'm finally learning to touch-type after all these years.

Caro: Early morning is a good time to go ashore. It was really low tide and we had to walk over exposed mostly dead coral to get to the island. In some of the little tidepools we saw eels that got really unhappy when they saw us because they had nowhere to go. One spit up its dinner, a good sized octopus. Once ashore we saw that there were beautiful red-footed boobies up in the trees everywhere. It's the end of the nesting season. The juveniles have brown plumage, but a few small chicks are fluffy white. Casper and Alex found some coconut crabs, not the fabled 3 feet in size, but sure pretty big for a crab and nicely coloured. Back at Jocara John and I had a quick snorkel. There's a healthy looking reef right by the boat, the mooring is on the edge of it. What a fabulous place this is, I hope we can stay a few days. Later in the day John and I took the dinghy and we didn't invite the kids. They have to do some cleaning up and school work, besides we need a break from them sometimes. We found a little pass through the reef to the outside. We snorkeled for a while on the reef near the drop-off. It's great to see big groupers that are not hiding, but swim quite closely to you. We'll have to come back here for a long snorkel and check out what's a little lower down the reef slope.

24 May

Caro: It's a gorgeous sunny day. The sky is clear and crisp and the sea intense blue and turquoise. The reef under the boat is clearly visible through the smooth surface. It's about time we did another serious snorkel. The kids first plunge into their course books, Casper is preparing for his advanced course and Alex for his confined no.3. John and Casper take the dinghy to the outer reef to check out the drop-off. Alex and I go for the inner reef. Unfortunately, there's a lot of current and we cannot do exercises, we're being dragged along. We manage to fin our way back to the boat and opt for a fun snorkel on the reef under the boat instead. Alex is getting the hang of things and is having fun chasing fish to get their picture. We find a grouper and a tiny pretty flatworm. For sundowners we meet the 'Infidien' crew on a small sandy island with tons of hermit crabs. Every pretty shell has an inhabitant. Shortly after sunset we see a spectacular moonrise. The moon is a huge orange ball when it pokes up over the horizon, very impressive. Back on board we have the delicious fresh barbequed grouper John and Casper caught.

John: So today I was remembering when Casper finally got to do his exciting and scary deep dive. I could only take him to 30 m of course, and he'd already been that deep. I was supposed to show him how his reg didn't breath so easily at depth, only it was a scubapro and it breathed just fine. I gave him the wooden Chinese puzzle to do. He completed it in 38 seconds, exactly the time it takes him on dry land. It takes me a lot longer, if I can do it at all! So, negligible nitrogen narcosis. The day was so bright and clear there was no colour shift when I shone my light on various objects, so that little trick didn't work either. He did just fine, so the big dark scary deep dive turned out to be something of an anticlimax. But now here we are freediving and Casper is also getting better and better at this, extending his bottom time, until he can reach 15 m and stay there for a while to hunt. Today we go with Caro along to take photos and we agree that I will take first stab at anything edible. Low and behold, Caro finds a good-looking grouper and I take my first dive on him. He scuttles away behind some coral but I have a lot of air in my lungs and stalk him slowly until I get very close, where he's pointed directly at me and watching me warily. Lining up the pole spear for a head-on shot I slowly bring my arm back to strike. When I thrust the water explodes, the grouper firmly skewered through his open mouth. Casper feels a bit cheated, my having speared our dinner on my first dive and first attempt; he didn't even get a look-in! I, of course, am inordinately proud of myself. There's something very primordially satisfying about successfully hunting down food for my family. Somehow paying for a trolley load of products from the supermarket with my Visa card just doesn't give me the same buzz.

25 May

John: This morning we set off with another cruiser to go searching around the reef flat at low tide for interesting critters. The moon is full and the tide very low. We pick our way in the dinks through the sand river pass as far in as we can, but still need to walk a long way in to reach the beach. We make our way past the coconut trees full of boobies and, in the taller trees, frigate birds, to reach the corner of the island near the pass where there looks to be good habitat for lobster. Surprisingly, we find none at all. Cutting inland, we switch to looking for coconut crabs and we soon start finding some good-sized ones sheltering in their burrows under fallen coconut tree bases and in other hollows. Their lairs are marked by shredded coconut hairs strewn about the entrance. Some have claws (the right-hand side usually larger than the left) the size of my fist and measure perhaps 0.75 m across when spread out. The island seems to have a thriving population. Caro splits off to photograph birds. Soon after the kids get tired of stomping through the undergrowth and Casper opts to make his way back along the beach. By the time we are done Caro has taken her snorkel gear to swim back to the boat, and Casper has meanwhile found a ray in very shallow water and got some great photographs of it digging a pit very much like the ones we saw in the Seychelles in the turtles foraging grounds. Back on the boat we are all tired from our exploring, so the kids set about getting some of their schoolwork done. This is a continual battle, their required hours now having risen to 13/week and going up again to 14 next month. Later in the day the chine-built French boat we came across in Isle Fouquet turns up. It turns out that they are the 'Madrigore' (sp?) who put in the temporary mooring we are occupying. We vacate and anchor next to 'Infidien'.

26 May

John: We decide it's time to get another fish for the table and set off with our tri-point pole spear. There is talk that spearguns are not allowed in Chagos, along with diving (which seems unlikely) though we've also heard that the rules are generally revised with each change of commander, so the guide books are quickly out of date. We are using a hand-held pole spear, so I guess we are OK. We consider ourselves environmentally responsible, but if a species is obviously doing well and not over-exploited we see no reason not to selectively take a few for the table. Our fishing impact on the environment certainly pales in comparison to the Sri Lankan fishing boats that (reputedly) illegally take tons of shark, manta ray, turtle and sea cucumber from these waters and which the local British fisheries protection boat seems hard-pressed to prevent. Casper freedives while I tow the dink behind so that he can get his catch into the dink and out of the water in case sharks show up with an interest. Casper is frustrated at not yet having got anything. We switch and I soon find myself a grouper (there are many around) and I spear it; so now we have fish. This is enough for our family so we quit for the day, though Casper is again thwarted in his attempts. Still, he's doing very well, moving smoothly and with patience. He has also built up his endurance, giving him quite a lot of bottom time in up to 15 m water depth. It's only a matter of time until it pays off. Soon after we are on the beach with Rick, Patty and their daughter Jessie from 'Infidien' baking the fish on an open fire in tinfoil. The sun sets in a stunning display of rich reds and scarlet while we enjoy our first beach bar-b-que since Cocos.

Caro: Alex still needs to finish the next confined session (no. 3) that we didn't manage yet because of the surge. Behind 'Infidien' is a shallow sandy area where the water is really calm, perfect for the exercises he needs to do. He quickly does all the new exercises without any problems and I decide it's time to go back to the 'no mask breathing' exercise he's got problems with. The problem has grown in his mind and to start with he's not even sure he wants to try. We try to find a 1 meter spot on the reef where he could stand up if need be, but that's on the reef and where the surge is. Back to 3-4 meters on the sand. Let's start over again. First step, get him to let a little water in his mask and clear that. That he can do. Next step, let water completely fill mask and clear. Also no problem. Big step, take mask off and replace it. After a few deep breaths he's willing to go for it. He takes his mask off, finds it's fine and tells me to start counting the time. Problem solved. Whilst we're on a roll we continue with the 'no mask swim' and now he thinks it's fun swimming underwater without a mask! So, that's great, it was the only thing he had a problem with, mostly in his mind. We continue with the next confined session (no. 4) exercises and finish that in no time. Jessie and Patti are also doing exercises and I suggest a few more. Jessie is only nine, but clearly already comfortable. Alex is very happy and proud.

27 May

John: Today was rainy and dull, with the kids driving us nuts with their bickering all day. Bitch and moan, bitch and moan. All day. I tried, believe me I tried, to ignore their irritating little fights, but it took its toll. I ended up yelling at Alex, then trying my best to explain how I felt (sh!tty) and make up to him. I sent them both off the boat to go fishing, but still they argued about everything from how to hold the dinghy so the other could get in to where to sit to balance it. Then they had outboard trouble. Still they went at it, I could hear them yelling about how to paddle back as they were 20 m behind the boat while I was inside at the nav. station. I'd started to get an eye muscle twitch from the stress. I finally blew it with both of them, giving them each 5 hours of penalty time. Well, that certainly quietened things down, though the atmosphere was less than joyful! I keep telling myself that these kids of mine are the ones who are going to choose my nursing home in the twilight years to come, so I'd better not be too hard on them! It's become a standing joke; Alex describes how he'll pick some really seedy place, how it will look and how horrible the food will be, just not quite the worst so I'm still fearful and respectful in case he takes it in mind to move me to a worse one still!

28 May

John: Casper wants to go fishing! I've promised him first go this time. By agreeing to hand the pole spear back and forth after each try and giving him first strike he is encouraged to select his strike carefully, particularly when he feels that I might very well bag a fish on my turn without giving him a second chance! Sure enough, he moves carefully and then spots a grouper that escapes into a hole before he can strike. He comes up for air and stalks his prey on a second dive, choosing his moment and deliberately moving off to one side to strike partly side-on so as not to miss. He is successful and brings up a big grouper, right at the end of his air endurance. It's amazing how having a fish in one's sights extends the ability to stay down on a breath of air. Casper's determination not to let this one escape would have had him drown before letting go! Casper swims for the dinghy while I tow his fish back, he's too spent. Later in the afternoon Caro and I take some time out to finally snorkel the outside wall together, something that Caro has been after for a few days now. There's little to see at depth so we're happy to cruise in the shallows amongst the Gorgonian fans and rich purple anenomes with their classic 'Nemo' clownfish, such characters! We work our way onto the top of the wall and hang out on the reef flat for a long time. We got pretty cold, but the wonderful variety of fish life and healthy coral was delightful to see. For dinner we had half of Casper's grouper on the bar-b-que, marinated and wrapped in foil. Maybe it didn't cook slowly enough, but it came out tough and not nearly as good as the ones we baked on the open fire on the beach the other day. This is my third bar-b-que failure in a row; the previous one tasted slightly of white spirit (which I'd used to light the charcoal, having run out of lighter fluid) and the one before remained raw inside when the coals burnt out and then it got overcooked in the oven! This is surely a lean patch in my cooking, hopefully soon to be broken, but I'm getting increasingly nervous about each new attempt!

Caro: What a beautiful snorkel! So many things to see. I had the video camera with me and filmed a lot. I never get enough of anemones and clown fishes and keep trying to get better footage. On the reef flat the light was very good and the fish prolific. I got some good footage of a clown triggerfish, a bizarre looking fish with white polkadots on black, a yellow beak and a yellow stripe under the eyes. We heard that this reef was pretty dead after the bleaching event and in 2002 there were only very small corals. Now the reef is covered with big table corals. It's nice to know it can grow back so quickly, though I guess with loss of diversity.

29 May

John: A funny day, peculiar rather than laughable, though it had it's moments. My big priority task for the day was to see if I could fix the DVD/CD-ROM drive on the Bohemian Rhapsody, which has been giving increasing trouble since the paint peeled off a pirate DVD inside the drive the other night. Taking it apart, I found it well-peppered with curls of paint, some of which was gooed up in the lens transport mechanism. Just as I was about to attempt to put all the tiny screws back two odd-shaped metal pieces and a spring fell out from somewhere on the underside and gave me a little puzzle to work out what they did and where they fit. This is quite a challenge on a rolling, pitching boat with my middle-aged eyesight! It was about this time that Caro called out "We've lost the dinghy!" Fortunately (?) we are on a lee shore, so the dinghy was still visible, washed up a half-mile behind us. The weather was pretty grobbly, grey with squalls about, so Caro and I went through what she and Casper should do in the unlikely event that Jocara dragged while I and Alex went off to get the dink. Swimming ashore turned out to be something of a challenge, with sizeable breakers crashing on the shallow reef and a vicious outgoing rip down the only passable channel I could find. I sent Alex back, I think he was rather glad to be relieved of his escort duty! Just when I had finally struggled into knee-deep water, safely past the breakers, the UHF radio squawked. Grumbling about having to dig it out of the water-tight bag, I got hold of the radio to find Alex excitedly garbling at nineteen to the dozen about something. Not a good sign. It seemed that Jocara had indeed chosen this time to drag, the batteries were too flat to start the engine and that Caro and Casper had their hands full bringing the boat back under control, now within a few tens of metres of the reef behind her. I was apparently wanted on board. So, back into the drink and a long hard swim back to the boat. I arrived exhausted and breathless, noticing the dinghy painter neatly wrapped around the propeller with the bitter end twirling in the prop wake as Caro idled in forward to take the strain off the forward anchor line. What a mess! So, some sorting out to do with anchor rodes, getting the awning down and so forth to secure the situation (though Caro had it under control already). A big dose of fried rice for energy and I was set to go back out for the dink, now about a mile away and threatening to get washed through the gap on the rising tide. I got the dink this time, no real damage, and we settled in to weather the 20-30 knot squalls and wind from all kinds of funny directions as the cockpit became soaked. Dripping towels and cushions everywhere, we huddled below to watch a film to cheer ourselves up.

Caro: As usual, and not surprising anymore, the timing was great. John was a long way off when the drift alarm started screaming and we were quickly drifting towards the reef. This was, of course, also the time that the engine decided not to start. Fortunately, we immediately knew what the problem was, low voltage, and Casper started the generator. With that going the engine did start and I could steer Jocara away from the reef. Then Casper let out more anchor chain and the situation seemed under control. But what if the wind blew up more? So, it was better to have John come back and make sure both anchors were fine and the boat in better bad weather shape. 'Infidien' wasn't happy staying in this anchorage and left for Ile Fouquet in the south mid-afternoon.

30 May

John: Last night was smoother than we had feared, but this morning I find myself little rested and not in the best of form, probably because I've been sleeping fitfully all night, sensitive to the gusts and rain showers for the least sign that either anchor is dragging or has given way. Being broadside, even slightly astern, the wind woud grab the boat and do terrible things if one or other of the anchors gave way only 30 m from the reef. It's not my favourite sport, but I guess we should up anchors and move to a safer spot later today. Just as we're about to tackle that, a friend from another boat called by in his kayak to give us some oranges and papaya. He has been around these islands for many years, on and off, and long ago planted many seeds in various places only he knows. He spent the whole day yesterday kayaking over to a neighbouring island to gather 40 kg of wild oranges. He talked about Chagos and the Maldives, giving us lots of useful info., and Caro gave him 2 Tanga cheeses. After lunch the weather looks slightly more settled and less threatening so we all head out to shoot some photos (Caro) and fish (Casper and Alex, with his home-made Hawaiian sling). We go to the reef right behind the boat, but there's little there and after a half-hour we decide to move on to another site. Fat chance. The outboard quits again. I'm so sick of this stupid thing. We have two so-called outboards, neither worth a gnat's fart as far as I'm concerned, despite having both serviced (at considerble expense) in Singapore before we left and having them both repaired repeatedly since. I'm about ready to dump them both overboard and save myself the grief of trying to fix them ever again.

Caro: This weather is so frustrating when there's so much to explore outside, but you're stuck on board. When we first got to Chagos I was slightly disappointed. The coral didn't look very good, the islands had lost their native vegetation and were covered in coconut trees and there were rats. Now I'm starting to see what keeps people here for many months. It's a place where you could intimately get to know and become part of the environment. It may not be the way it used to, but it is a healthy ecosystem and the water and air are unpolluted. Here at Moresby island the coral is very healthy looking and easily accessible both on the lagoon side and the outer side. With time you could really get to know life on the reef.

31 May

John: First job of the day: fix the outboard. I gather my tools and jump into the dinghy to set to work on the little beast. It starts first pull and purrs like a regular kitten. I can't fix something that works, so I move on to other little jobs, like the cooker knobs and aft hatch hinges (you don't want to know). The kids are at their usual lose-lose game and within the hour I'm begging them to give it a rest, having already been reduced to a seething tension. How do I deal with this before one of us dies of the effort? Although the dawned bright and cheery, it deteriorates quickly, but not so far as to stop the kids going ashore. We let them go on their own so they can have some time out from us. Providing they have the UHF radio it should be OK even if the outboard quits. Just after they leave I realise that they forgot the radio. They are gone for ages and just as we are getting worried I see them through binoculars on the beach, getting ready to come back. The outboard seems to work OK and they are back on board just in time for lunch. They have lost our big knife along the way somehow. Could have been worse! After lunch we all set off in the dink; Caro and Alex to have a fun snorkel on the outer reef edge, Casper and I to hunt for lobsters and a snapper or two. We drop Caro and Alex off and motor on round to the corner of the island where we hope to find good lobster habitat. We find none, but that's the luck of the draw. The snappers are very cautious, so we don't get within range of them either. The other half of the family does better, enjoying a great snorkel. Naturally, the outboard quits and we have to paddle back, this despite my having put tools in the dink to threaten consequences. The outboard does not behave rationally, then. Then there's the usual nagging, water bottles in the fridge replaced with just a dribble in them to save a little effort filling them, washing up not done/half done, gear just dropped on the deck instead of being put aside to dry; the usual stuff we remind them about every day. By dinnertime I'm ragged as the kids argue about who gets what part, what one has just actually said if only the other had bothered to listen... did I teach them all this? Oh my, what monsters I have created! I beg for just a little time out so we can all enjoy dinner together, but the kids can't stop themselves. I blow up and remind them of just how close they are to losing not 5 (as last time) but 10 hours penalty if they don't give it a rest. That quietens things down, for about 15 minutes. Then Alex is delaying on his galley duties and has to be reminded (like every day they do this) and he's arguing with Casper on the coach roof about who gets which side to sleep on (like every day they do this) and I've had enough. I had not seriously expected them to keep on going with 10 hours' penalty hanging over their heads, but they did. They really can't stop themselves. Threats and punishment only work with rational entities. They are not behaving rationally, so I'm stumped, beaten. Note to self: kids and outboards are not rational entities. There has to be another way, I just gotta find it. Later, I have a chat with them when they're both in bed on the coachroof to explore what happened and get their input about how we can move on to something better, something that works for all of us, because Caro loses big time in all of this, too. Alex grasps the situation perfectly; Casper doesn't want to share his thoughts. But at least he said that much! Alex tells me a golden home-truth: I'm expecting too much from kids.

Caro: The snorkel was great. Alex is getting the hang of it and he obviously loves being immersed in the underwater environment. This reef is so beautiful with so many fish. We were handing the little underwater camera back and forth, taking turns in photographing everything we saw. Back on board things deteriorated. When John has had enough and the kids keep going, I can see it coming and feel powerless to do anything about it.

01 June

John: Up at 06:30 to find the wind on the stern and thick black clouds bearing down on us; looks like another grobbly weather day. We button up the boat and, sure enough, the rain comes a few minutes later. When the wx clears a little I venture out to have yet another go at the outboard. Once again it works just fine, so I can't fix it. I'm beginning to think that there's an electrical problem that only shows up when hot. Coil breaking down? A new 4-stroke is beginning to look awfully tempting! After lunch we all set off to snorkel ashore to video shallow reef critters, maybe find some rays in the sand inside the breakers and booby chicks ashore. Casper and I patrolled the reef edge looking for something to spear but without finding a target, other than lots of groupers (which we have decided not to take for a while) and other species we don't really want. We are getting picky, wanting snapper. The groupers seem active on the reef this afternoon and aggressive. I got close enough to one to be tempted to stab at him with the pole spear, catching a few scales on a prong. He didn't rush off to escape, oh no, he flashed out of the way then turned and glared at me, teeth bared, defiant and angry. Ashore we stumbled on a large coconut crab, just sitting out in the open. Caro videoed him. Then it was time to rush back to the boat to close hatches before a big black squall line hit. Amazingly the outboard worked without a hiccup and we got back just in time. Casper and Alex then set off to get something and came back with a squirrel fish; not bad for a pasta sauce. As he cleaned the fish Casper had the bright idea of tossing the bits he was cutting away with a big hook embedded, lined onto one of the big rods. He got a major strike and, indeed, up came a beautiful 10 kg red snapper. Just what we wanted! A second attempt briefly hooked a shark, so we called it a day.

Caro: There is so much to see on the reef. We saw an octopus out in the open. It is truly amazing how they can change colours. It was a solid dark colour when swimming. Then it landed on some coral and in a flash it was a light mottled colour and barely distinguishable from the reef. They are also escape artists, this one folded itself into the branches of the coral. If it hadn't moved we would never have seen it. We also came across a big blue trigger fish and spent a while watching it turn over a sizable chunk of coral to find some juicy bits to eat. Ashore I noticed that the smallest booby chick had grown quite a lot in the last few days. It was very active, stomping around its nest and didn't seem the least worried I was there.

02 June

Caro: We have decided to go to Salomon today, a smaller more protected atoll about 25 n.m. to the east. The sky is still very grey, but it is calm which is perfect for picking up the stern anchor. The anchor is completely buried in the sand and John has to snorkel down to find it and dig it out. It's too heavy to lift, but he can tow it with the dinghy back to Jocara where we can winch it back on board. It all takes a bit of work, but it's not as troublesome as we had expected. Motoring out of the atoll we pass close by a little island that has huge clouds of birds flying above it. We have never seen so many birds in one place. Very nice to see. For hours, as we motor east, we are followed by young boobies. It's impossible to tow the fishing lines because these silly birds keep threatening to go for the lures. It is fun to watch them fly so close by the boat and see them turn their head for a better look. The wind picks up a bit and is right on the nose, but it's not too choppy. Late afternoon we arrive at the pass into Salomon atoll. The weather has deteriorated and we have a swell pushing us into the lagoon. Not ideal conditions, but we have the forward looking sonar. Boats inside the lagoon have been giving us advice as to where to enter and we have no problems going in. Once inside it's just a few miles to Takamaka island where we plan to anchor. There are a few bommies on the way, but the forward looking sonar gives us enough warning to take evasive action. Still, it makes me nervous. When we're looking for an anchoring spot a bommie is slightly to our port and therefore does not show up on the sonar. It's just suddenly there on our port without warning. We steer starboard and find another spot. I wish we had a circular looking sonar!

03 June

Caro: It's nice to be in a protected anchorage and not having to worry about dragging onto a reef. But this weather is depressing, solid grey skies and drizzle most of the time. Bah. The kids do some school work, John a few jobs and I make dough for a focaccia. Before lunch we go for a short exploration to the island. The hermit crabs seem a lot smaller here than in Peros, but there are boobies in some trees. After lunch the kids do more school work. The rain increases and we don't fancy going out in this. John spots a boy on another boat and just when Alex is getting ready to go check him out he kayaks over to us. Diego is Italian, 9 years old and has been here for months. They go off to the beach together to see if they can shoot one of the wild chickens. Well, they didn't even see any chicken, but they had some games and fun.

John: We hear on the radio chatter that a boat heading from Chagos to Malaysia got hit by storm-force winds and had a couple of knockdowns last night. The scariest part is that none of this was forecast. Umm.... The evening brought a spectacular red sky for about 10 minutes, filling a huge swath of the sky. Good weather tomorrow, if the old saying holds.

04 June

Caro: We woke up to a blue sunny sky, finally. So, the plan is work in the morning and play in the afternoon. The kids get into school work and John and I head for the beach. There's a well on the island where I can do some laundry and John gives the bottom of the dinghy a good scrub to get all the barnacles and algae off. We're starting to meet some of the 'locals', people who spend months on end in Chagos and come back many years. We're invited to a lunch ashore, Isabel (Spanish) is organising a paella on the beach. With the crews of 5 boats it's quite a crowd. There are also 2 boys of Alex's age and a 17 year old. The Italian boat brings home-brewed beer, the French boat fish and the Austrians bake cookies on the fire after lunch. It's a lot of fun. The kids do a bow and arrow target hitting competition. Ricardo, Isabel and Ricky entertain us with guitar music and Spanish songs. When the dark ominous sky that has slowly been encroaching all afternoon is nearly overhead we head quickly back to the boat to get the dry laundry inside. What a great afternoon.

John: Ten minutes of scrubbing the bottom of the dinghy on the scorching beach and I'm gasping, drenched in sweat. Come rain and clouds or sun and blue skies, there's no pleasing some people! Meanwhile Caro is getting eaten by mosquitos, so there's no peace in the shade either! The washing camp is a neatly-maintained spot with its little well, covered by a protective wooden hatch, washing lines to dry stuff and benches made from bits of driftwood and cast-offs. There really is a little community here, with some folk spending a year or more at a go and many returning year after year, sowing seeds deep in the interior of remote islands to harvest on their return, setting up moorings around bommies, salvaging hardware from the beach or wrecks. If anything close to the 'Robinson Crusoe' life can still exist in the 21st century, it is here. The afternoon paella get-together is an amazing affair, with paella, cookies, coffee all cooked over an open fire, music, games and a bunch of very friendly and self-sufficient cruisers from all over the place relaxed and sociable. There's no hidden agenda, no insecurities, no fear of living in these people. They are who they are and are confident and comfortable in their choices, outside of caring what other people think. If there is a general criticism to be leveled, it is that cruisers tend to be self-centred, divorced from caring about the crazyiness perpetrated by the majority of the human race. Well, maybe they care, but not enough to do anything about it, choosing instead to opt out and enjoy their own lives their own way.

05 June

John: Apart from the outboard playing its usual tricks, today worked out great. Alex and Casper both got some schoolwork cracked off in the morning; we keep an 'account' that needs to show 14 hours a week and today is the end of the week with some shortfall yet to make up... Then Alex went off to the beach to play with his new-found friends Yanni (Austrian) and Diego (Italian). Diego has a bow and real arrows, so that's great fun and the kids organise archery competitions. Alex is very keen to do well and very hard on himself when he falls below his own expectations... wonder where he gets that from? Oh my, the mixed legacy with which I burden my offspring... at least Caro's genes can be counted on to lighten the load a little. Casper sets up with Ricky (17, Spanish) to go fishing. He's suddenly too old to play with 10 year-olds. They set off around 14:30 and are back with a dink full of fish within the hour. Casper is impressed with the speed with which Ricky nails three fish. Casper speared a small grouper (which he might have left alone if he'd not felt under such pressure to get a fish quickly!) and the Spanish family gave us a small jack, keeping their grouper and a beautiful parrotfish. Caro and I rowed (damned outboard!) ashore to deliver some cool drinking water to the boys on the beach and then on to the bommie we almost ran over on our way in to check out the coral scene. Water clarity was pretty poor and there was not much of excitement to see; we've been spoilt by Moresby Island. The outboard still wouldn't run so I rowed back to the boat, getting my excercise for the day. Casper wrapped up the rest of his schoolwork and set off in the dink with a rod and scraps from cleaning the jack to see what he could get on a rod and line. He had to row back too! Still, when he finally turned up we found he was carrying three gorgeous great red snappers, apparently caught one after another on the same bait and hook. He was mighty proud of himself I can tell you! His fishing/hunting manhood restored! No way do we need three great big snappers, so we figure we'll go over to the Spanish boat to give them one. Casper would love to do it himself to see their faces, but he's too tired of rowing so he cleans the fish and I go. Dinner was a truly sumptuous affair; Steamed seafood in a mayonnaise sauce, jack and steamed grouper in soy sauce, oyster sauce, chopped onions, garlic and ginger with a side dish of sauteed cauliflower. All washed down with a very pleasing 'Kumara' Chardonnay Semillon from the Western Cape, South Africa. Delicious! Even the cats got a look in with a little jack that was left over.

06 June

Caro: The weather is changing every 5 minutes it seems, but mostly it's dry. We start with chores and school work in the morning, then an early lunch. Alex is eager to go ashore to play with Janni one last day. Casper is not interested in joining them and opts to stay on board by himself. John and I want to see if we can walk over the reef to the outside. First we have a walk on the island. Alex leads the way to a huge banyan tree which has put down roots in a hundred places. It's impressive how widespread one of these trees can get when there's nothing to stop them. Back on the beach we leave Alex to play and head around the island. It's high tide and in places there's no beach left and we have to wade through the water. Arriving at the southern corner it becomes immediately clear the outside reef is too far. But the area between the us and the next island looks interesting. It is shallow with bits of reef and a good current. We manage to make it across the rip to the other island by finning hard across the current. We walk up-current along the beach and then enter the water again for a drift snorkel. In the very shallow water are rays and tiny sharks, deeper there are big schools of parrot fish and small snappers and a little turtle feeding with his head deep in the coral. Returning to the beach we suddenly notice that the British fisheries boat is for anchor in the lagoon. John thinks it better to return to Jocara. I'm taking the long way home exploring the reefs between the beach and the boat. I find a lovely big cowry, but mess up photographing it. I do manage to get a few shots of a black-tip shark that comes to check me out. Coming back to Jocara I see the hull is completely overwhelmed by gooseneck barnacles. I ask for a scraper and spend the next hour trying to get rid of as many as possible. There are plenty of crabs on the hull too and even tiny lobsters in a few of the through holes.

John: So, with considerable trepidation I set about bar-b-queing one of the snappers that Casper caught the other day. Since the outboard is really not running at all now the fuel tank is on deck and provides the easiest way to put some petrol on the coals to get them going. It is when the petrol-soaked charcoal refuses to light, even under the blast of my blowtorch, that it dawns on me that we may have some seriously contaminated fuel here and maybe that's the cause of our outboard woes. At least something good came out of my bar-b-queing attempt: the snapper fillets just curled up and went rubbery. Well, at least they didn't smell of petrol!

07 June

Caro: Today we wanted to move to Boddum island, but the weather is horrible. We need good visibility to make our way between the numerous bommies there. I think it's too risky.

John: The afternoon cleared up a bit so we decided we could salvage something of the day by getting ourselves over to Boddam Island. We only have a few days left before we have to get going to meet Oliver in Male on 25th June. Just as we got rigged to go a big black roiling line of clouds appeared to the NW, the direction from which the squally weather engulfs us from time to time, so we cancelled. We need good visibility to spot the bommies on the way over. So instead I stripped down the carburetor, fuel pump, filters, float bowl and all that good stuff and flushed out some of the bad fuel to get the outboard going again. I test it. Fine. Phew! I feel good about at least achieving this on this dreary day. Then Casper and Alex take the dinghy out to go trolling. They are specifically instructed to go upwind so that if the outboard quits they can easily row back. No surprise, then, when they call up on the UHF radio to report that they are directly downwind and the outboard has quit... "How do we get back?..." In the end they did get the outboard running again, to save the day just as the light was failing.

08 June

John: Wow! We awake to a bright sunny day and Caro immediately declares "It's time!" So within half an hour we up anchor and are on our way, coffee cup in hand. The kids are shell-shocked and not really up to the (very serious) job of standing at the bow, searching for bommies. By 9:00 we have arrived at Boddam and been very kindly directed to a mooring fairly close in by Michelle from 'Lustic' who swam out to identify the buoy and make sure the lines were in place. This is a mooring put in by a cruiser who, unusually, has left it in place after leaving, it seems. Terry on 'Cristata' provided guidance on the way in on avoiding the many bommies; we passed and recorded the positions of three large ones on the way in (see places page for GPS positions). No sooner have we hit the water to explore our new environment than the tell-tale black squalls roll in from the NW and we go from wearing sun-screen to collecting water in the awning. It clears in the afternoon and Caro and I take the opportunity to explore the path ashore a little. We work our way around the island to the outside, where the swell crashes noisily on the beach, and stumble into the graveyard. A mysterious place with many broken-down graves, no inscriptions legible. We also find several coconut crabs of good size, though a bit on the small side compared to Moresby (what a coincidence...) out in the open, one on an old crumbing wall. Come 4 o'clock the cruisers gather ashore for volleyball. Almost all the boats (10) are represented. A couple we have met before, one in Tanga, another in Cocos. Heinz from 'Papagena' has brought yellowfin sashimi; he caught a couple this morning outside the pass. Many are 'hard-core', like Michelle who has been here 14 months.

09 June

John: This morning dawns bright and apparently quite settled, with a light breeze from the SE. Maybe it will stay fine today! Time to get going and explore, snorkel, all that good stuff. But the kids seem mired in lethargy; Casper only wanting to fish, Alex not wanting to try to do very much in one day. I set about charging all the dive tanks, so at least we can be ready if the opportunity arises for a good dive once we leave Chagos. I spend much of the day studying my ARRL book to take my General License Ham Radio test. It seems there is to be an exam session in Langkawi in November.

Caro: Alex got his act together and we went for a snorkel. We finished off the last exercises of the confined water and then did an open water freedive session. It's easy for him now. He quickly did the exercises and we had plenty of time for looking around. There's a lot of coral everwhere around the boat. Some of it is bleached, but there's so much and lots of small fish. At 4 o'clock we're ashore to join in the volleyball and chattiing. The 4 of us are hopeless at the game, but that doesn't matter. There's also a great swing, a half buoy tied up to a rope hanging of a coconut tree that stands at a 45 degree angle. Alex climbs up the tree, puts the buoy between his legs and jumps. It's a great swing, out over the water and back to the tree, just missing it.

10 June

Caro: The weather is all grobbly again. I'm glad we're tied up with two lines to this big bommie. It feels quite save. Most of the day we're better off on the boat, but come 4 o'clock it's dry and we're at the beach playing volleyball. I'm starting to improve slightly, most of my serves now make it over the net.

John: The wind got up in the night, followed by rain, and the creaking of the bow lines made me nervous. If they parted (perhaps through wearing at the fairlead) we'd have little chance of keeping Jocara off the many coral patches that surround us at close range on three sides. I don one of our Helly Hansen jackets (though wearing absolutely nothing else, which would look alarmingly deviant in other contexts) and stumble out on deck with my headlight to rearrange lines. Once up, even at 05:30, I'm disinclined to go back to bed so switch on the HF to catch Rowdies net out of Thailand, then the local chat on 4033 MHz at 02:00 UTC with boats recently departed for points west and east. It sounds as though the weather from Male to Phuket might be nasty at times, especially in the squalls. One boat recently had a couple of knockdowns in this area and apparently this is not so uncommon in this season. This sets us to thinking... maybe we should consider changing our route plans. After all, what's the point of visiting the Maldives if the anchorages are deep and poor holding so we daren't leave the boat and if the weather is squally so we can't see much of anything?

11 June

John: This miserable weather is good for only one thing: collecting water in our awning. I calculate we have put something like 1000 litres in our tanks since arriving in Chagos. The awning has a catchment area of around 30 sq. m, so when it rains it flows. Caro and I go ashore in the afternoon to do some washing and burn our rubbish. We take time out to walk the other way along the network of paths and come across an old church and many other ruined buildings of the old settlement. It is spooky how fast the fig and other vegetation has reclaimed the land, growing over, round and through the man-made structures. One building has grafitti/poems/drawings from visiting yachts. Apparently the cruisers used to make use of a number of these old buildings and had made some constructions ashore in 'camps' but all that was torn down a few years back when the Brits got harsh about not allowing any structures or cultivation ashore, presumably in political response to the Illois' winning rights to return. Subsequently things seem to have evened out a bit, though some friendly (but unofficial) acts of generosity by some of the Brits on duty have apparently been rashly reported by a cruiser on a website, resulting in a backlash and clampdown in case others come to expect such favours.

12 June

Caro: Glorious weather, sunny with a light breeze from the southeast. Just what you expect this time of year. It's amazing how a sunny sky improves my feeling of well-being. Casper spends a lot of time fishing from the foredeck. The local fish are never far away because they never know what nice scraps might be coming next. Some of them have a feast every time we flush the toilet! Those fish we call 'shit fish' and we don't want to catch these. But Casper sometimes catches a grunt or a snapper with some bait fish. The kids are also into collecting and husking coconuts. We have bits of coconuts as an appetizer with our drinks ashore. Talking with the other cruisers I have become convinced I do not want to go to Malé. Strong winds and lots of squalls are not very attractive. After dinner we did a night snorkel to photograph the bioluminescence on the reef using different filters. It was amazing to move over the reef and see parts of it glowing green. A very alien looking world, kind of spooky in a nice way.

John: Priority job for today is to fix the weatherfax system. The radio seems to work fine, as does the modem and both appear to communicate with the PC software yet... the received fax is no more than a dizzying Rorsach blot test, even when my ears can hear the rythm of the fax and that the signal is certainly good enough to print. Finally, I find the problem. It has to do with a recent software update, resetting baud rates on the modem port; boring and arcane tech stuff. I'm delighted to have cracked the problem; now we can finally get wind and pressure analysis charts from Australia, critical to our planning to go east. The first fax I get confirms the prevailing advice of the experienced cruisers here who have done this route a few times: don't go too far north or risk getting pasted by strong trades and vicious squalls. It is probably best to head directly for the northern tip of Sumatra from here, making northing only as necessary. The day here is serene, with almost no wind at all for most of the afternoon so that we are finally spurred into action to take some pictures with the special filters that Liz supplied to investigate coral flourescence at night. It is a chilly snorkel, made directly from Jocara and exploring a shallow reef/bommie nearby, but the lights and filters work well and we get some interesting images. It was quite a struggle setting it all up but we are glad we made the effort. Some of the most unlikely-looking pieces of reef turn out to be brilliantly active. It also seems that bleached parts of a coral head do not flouresce, though the healthier parts might be very luminescent.

13 June

Caro: The weather is still nice, it seems settled now. There's a lot of activity among the cruisers helping each other fixing things. Poor Michelle was all ready to start her first solo trip to Malaysia (after 14 months in Chagos), but when she went to start her engine it wouldn't go, it had seized. The cruising community immediately jumped in to help fix it. Mario on 'Good Life' has a radio problem. Since we have the same radio John could be of assistance there. It's a small, but very supportive community.

John: Well, what a delight to have two good days in a row! I had my doubts when the wind got up at 05:20 this morning. It was a squall, but it brought no rain and seems to have blown clear. Listening into the morning net the boat 'Tau' is headed east from Gan and is reporting good wind and a 2-3 knot current! Wow! Now that's a current to be reckoned with. I don't want to be on the wrong side of that circulation... We are now veering towards a compromise amended route; avoid going as far north as Male (which will lead us into heavy wind and squalls) but start by making the 300 n.m. north to Gan in Adoo (at the southern extremity of the Maldives) to get fresh fruit and veg and hopefully still be able to rendevous with Oliver (who could take a link flight down from Male). I spend a good part of the day rooting out some ATF to pour into Michelle's engine to lubricate the bore in an attempt to free the piston, and working with Terry on Mario's radio/tuner problem. Neither is resolved by the end of the day but we have some progress on both fronts. I keep re-assuring Michelle that her diesel will and must free up in due course with a little patience and continued efforts. Our volleyball session ashore is good fun; I have now graduated from being truly hopeless to displaying moments of semi-coherent action among my wild and ungraceful contacts with the ball. Caro and I solemnly share the very last can of beer from Jocara's beer store. This is a truly grave concern. We must leave immediately!

14 June

John: OK, joking apart, it really is time to move on. Caro is frustrated that the rest of us seem less than excited about exploring more of the islands around Boddam in the little time we have remaining. I for one am mortified at the prospect of setting out for any considerable distance with this good-for-nothing outboard and being stranded with it failing us far from the boat. In the end we drop Casper and Alex ashore to collect coconuts for our trip east while Caro and I dinghy out to a little island we've been told has pretty reefs. The outboard gets us there, just, then quits as I throttle down to negotiate the shallows. The reef is very shallow, and the light good so we get to see some good coral and photograph some rays and 'ornamental' kind of fish. I carry a set of tools around in a bucket these days, so stripping the carburetor and cleaning the plug is but a moment's routine and we make it back with only a little rowing. Caro stops off at Jocara to prepare lunch while I retrieve the boys from shore. They have over 20 coconuts. I help husk a couple to finish the job. After lunch we drop our secure bommie mooring and motor carefully across the atoll, finding quite a few new bommies along the way (see places page for GPS positions), rounding up under Isle De la Passe mid-afternoon. The Pacific Marlin is anchored just inside the lagoon. We might be receiving visitors from her tomorrow, I guess, unless she's just in for a night's rest in her relentless pursuit of the elusive Sri Lankan fishermen. There have been Sri Lankans ashore at one of the Salomon islands, the fishing vessel having offloaded them and presumably standing off at a safe distance.

Caro: I love this cruising life and I know it will come to an end soon. I want to make the most of exploring these wonderful natural environments whilst I can. The snorkel was very good. An eagle ray swam by within a few meters of me and a sting ray half buried in the sand let us approach to within 5 meters or so. We spotted 3 puffer fish hanging out together. We weren't even close to them yet when they suddenly all rushed into the coral and puffed themselves up. It looked so bizarre, three black balls with mouths. Then they unpuffed again and swam off, one attaching itself to another one by putting a fin in its mouth. We couldn't make any sense of it. After lunch we let go of the mooring and threaded our way through the bommies to Isle de la Passe. Here the bommies are less numerous and we found a good anchor spot not too far from the beach.

15 June

John: Not a great night's sleep for either Caro or I, but the morning dawned bright and blue with stable-looking cumulus clouds about and a stiff SE breeze kicking up creamy whitecaps. We set off to find the reported passage into the beach, easily found, and proceeded to spend the morning ashore. The kids husked coconuts and prepared the camp for a bar-b-que tonight (Caro found some lamb chops she'd forgotten, lurking in the bottom of the freezer) while Caro and I set off to walk across the island, returning by the western shoreline. We found a huge number of very large hermit crabs, coconut crabs, boobies and terns. The interior has lots of open spaces and better tree species diversity than we've seen on many other islands. The rocky beach on the northern side was covered in scuttling crabs, hunted (to our amazement) by several individuals of the species of grey eels we've seen before in the tidal pools at low tide. This is such a pleasure, the kids are obviously enjoying themselves enormously... maybe we could stay just one more day?

Caro: What a fabulous island. We really enjoyed the cruiser community at Boddum, and now it's great fun to have an island to ourselves. The little camp ashore is very pleasant and the last people that were here left it nicely tidied up with the fireplace ready to be lit again. The kids are very excited about having dinner ashore and are getting coconuts ready to roast. There are a lot of crabs scuttling around, including some big ones. Sitting there under the stars enjoying a fabulous dinner that was prepared on a campfire, I feel this is a very special experience. Chagos is a very special place and this night is perfect, all of us so happy. After dinner we have a walk into the interior to see how many crabs we can see. They are much more active at night and indeed there are a lot of big coconut crabs about. One is climbing a tree, which I know they do, but I still find it amazing to see. Our camp has also been attracting crab life. The ground is covered in an army of hermit crabs and at least 4 coconut crabs are trying to sneak to the fire where the roasting coconut must be smelling irresistable to them.

16 June

Caro: Our last day in Chagos. First it's time for chores and school work. Now that we'll meet Oliver in Gan and we'll get more PUFs we've decided to do one last air sample. The kids want to play ashore whilst John and I have a snorkel around the coral. We put a buoy on the bommie nearest the boat to mark a site for a snorkel tonight to do some more fluorescence work. The coral close to shore is not so good and we quickly get bored with it and go ashore too. We tidy up the camp and prepare the fire place for the next people to come by here. After an early dinner we get ready for our night snorkel. Whilst were diving the kids are roaming on the island with a few flash lights looking for big tree climbing robber crabs. The snorkel was good. At night I always find it hard to get enthusiastic about getting in the water, but once I'm in I love it. Playing with the different filters and seeing what fluoresces is interesting. Knowing more about fluorescence might tell you a lot more about the state of the coral. We've noticed that bleached coral does not seem to fluoresce. In one patch of the same type of species you might see different levels of fluorescence. If you know how to interpret these levels there might be a lot of information to obtain.

John: We squeezed a lot into our last day; taking the dinghy outside to explore the outer reef edge (which turned out to be boring, mostly rock) checking out bommies inside for edible fish, a good night snorkel where we got lots of great flourescence images and the kids had a 'commando' type mission ashore to seach out coconut crabs in their natural nocturnal action. But enough is enough; if we want to keep a day to clear in to Gan before Oliver arrives then we really do have to leave tomorrow.

 

 

 
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