Direction Island anchorage, Cocos Keeling

Cocos Keeling



July 9 - 738 S - 10321 E - underway to Cocos

Left our lovely Krakatau anchorage yesterday morning at 9 am with Estrellita, and motored out Sunda Strait into the Indian Ocean. By the entrance we could shut the engine down, and sail with reefed main and jib in 20 knots, on a lumpy port beat, which slowly clocked around to a fast beam reach. The Monitor windvane is steering. Big slow seas roll up from the Antarctic at a different angle to the windwaves from SE trades, making for a lively motion. Every so often we are spanked by a wave, but the boat is mostly dry. With a favorable current we are making tracks! Only a handful of freighters and fishing boats. We have a twice-a-day radio sched with Estrellita, joined by Taipan in the evenings. This is our first ocean passage in 2 years, and we are regaining our sea legs, getting used to lurching around the boat, re-learning the chimpanzee swing handhold to handhold. Dave just gave me a 6-hour off-watch, thank you audiobooks! 7 am now, and the winds and seas are settling down slightly, 18 knots. All is well.


July 10- 909 S - 10116 E - halfway!

Making excellent time, with a single reef in main. We reef and unroll the big jib a couple times a day as the wind builds to 18-20, then lightens to 10-12, all consistently on the beam, easy on both boat and crew. Bill on Estrellita, 15 miles behind us, describes this passage as "almost comfortable". Dave says our first day we racked up 168 miles, fast for us. A few flying fish come aboard, and clatter until we find and rescue them. Some fishing traffic overnight, and a couple freighters. We should arrive sometime the morning of the 12th if this holds, and gribs say it will. Bill found info that 72-hour advance notification at Cocos is required, so we sent our emails to police@cki.cc and dmwaci@customs.gov.au with boat and crew details, pets, ETA, last 4 ports, next port after Cocos. All is well.


July 11- 1027 S - 9915 E - dampened

Winds a bit lighter last night, so we left a couple ports open, including a side port into our main berth. A random wave popped the side of the boat, gushing in and soaking Dave, asleep off watch, the mattress, pillows and sheets. Salt water never really dries, so all is hanging around in the salon until we can wash with fresh water.

On night watch, Dave noticed perfectly round hotspots on the radar - waterspouts! and spent his watch furling and unfurling the jib and dodging the hotspots. At 4 am these coalesced into a more defined squall line. Once passed through, winds have settled again back to 15-16 knots, on the beam, and we are presently making good time for a daytime arrival at Cocos tomorrow. All is well.


July 12 - Landfall Cocos Keeling

Anchor down, Baraka is safely tucked just under umbrella-shaped Direction Island, located at the north end of Cocos Keeling. It is a luxury to have the boat lying still after 4+ days of rowdy tossing about. A good passage, but the best part for us of any passage is having it over. Our last night underway was punctuated by squalls. We rolled the jib in and out a dozen times. Sometime during the night a squid inked the mainsail. But we flew along in good winds, never firing the motor until we made the last turn into the atoll.

Cocos Keeling is a large lagoon framed by a string of islands. Yachts are welcome to visit uninhabited Direction, and may dinghy to Home Island, populated by the Muslim descendants of copra plantation workers, then by ferry across the lagoon to West Island, also populated. The police launch came quickly in response to our call, and we were cleared in to Australia, with no fuss, unlike mainland Australia which is expensive and cumbersome. Between rain squalls we put the boat back into anchorage mode, stowing offshore gear. Reef sharks circle the boat, sometimes 5 at a time, checking us out. We will draw straws for who has to clean the prop. Meanwhile, we will enjoy a sit down dinner, using both hands, and a full night of sleep. Life is good.

Landfall! Cocos Keeling.

Reef sharks welcome us to the anchorage.


July 13 - Home Island

With the dinghy pumped up, we headed to Home Island, 2 miles away across the lagoon, to explore. Friday in the Muslim community, so everything was closed until Monday, though we located the small grocery, cafe, museum, hardware store, internet, and post office. Home Island has 2 paved roads, modest homes, a huge generator plant, and a defunct wind farm, wind generators prone on the ground. There are a few conventional cars, most people seem to cruise about in ATVs. Coming home, we saw that the refugee ship anchored near us had been towed to sea and set afire. Two more refugee ships are adrift out of fuel a couple hundred miles away. Seems to be a regular occurrence, and explains why customs and immigration keep busy. Our anchorage is lovely. The surf roars, not so far away. It seems to rain every few hours, then we are treated to rainbows in the lagoon.

Refugee ship from Sri Lanka...

...which was towed out to sea and burned.

Home Island Museum.

Dave wants this tiny backhoe. Surely there's room on deck.


July 14 - Squally night

Overnight we were blasted by a series of rain squalls - gusty winds and downpouring rain. The dinghy is full - hooray, enough for laundry! Our anchor must be dug in 5 feet under sand, but held ok, and the wind direction kept us sheltered in the lee. Both of us were up often to check position. Dragging our here would be disastrous, too remote to effect repairs if we get damaged. But the holding is good.

Since I couldn't sleep, I read Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture. This had been recommended by Mearl, our financial consultant at Merrill Lynch. Now I'm going to get philosophical. Skip the rest of this if that doesn't appeal.

Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon, diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Leaving behind a wife and 3 small kids, he decided in his final months to deliver a "last lecture", to impart his values to his students and leave a recorded message for his children. The Last Lecture is not maudlin or sad - it was his message on how to achieve your dreams. It's about having goals, making plans to achieve them, working hard and overcoming barriers. One thing that resonated is that self-esteem can't be bestowed - it comes from achieving goals that were not easy. Randy says he "won the parent lottery". So did I. Both my parents supported every goal I had. He talks about Eagle Scouts, and how important it is to work for achievement. My brothers, father, uncles were Eagle Scouts.

In a way the book is simplistic. You already know this stuff. But it made me apply his statements to my life, and specifically to this voyage. When we left Seattle, our goal was to cross the Pacific. Two years later, in New Zealand, we had to set a new goal. Now it seems we may be in for a circumnavigation, never our original plan, but as you accomplish a goal, it's time to extend the horizon to the next objective. None of this has been easy. We make a lot of plans, gather info, work hard to keep the boat systems at peak performance. The life is physically and emotionally challenging. Each time we cast off, we have to manage our fears. But the rewards are commensurate. At times I feel this cruising life is the ultimate self-indulgence. We aren't working to improve life for others. We are slowly eating down our life savings, and therefore our future financial security. Yet it's hard to imagine another life that could be as rewarding. The mark of a good book is how much you think about it after closing the cover. Most of the time we just plunge along. This book helped me think about why we are doing it.


July 18 - costs at Cocos

After dinghying to Home Island, we caught the ferry to West Island, $2 pp plus 50 cents for the shuttle to the settlement. Currency is Australian dollars. There is an ATM on West Island in the community center but it is rarely stocked. The friendly shopkeepers let us charge our purchases and can give us some extra cash back, but we still wish we'd brought some small bills. A fish and chip lunch for 2 with one coke was $39. The Home Island Kita grocery will let us order food items to be delivered on the Friday flight from Perth - with a $5.40 per-kilo freight charge. I will order eggs, since the refrigerated ones in the store are dated June 8, ok for now but too old to take to Chagos for a month. Everything is pricey so we are happy we arrived with full lockers. Dave got some outboard hose fittings from the dive shop for very reasonable prices. There is a small hardware store, again seems expensive until you remember all those items arrived on the infrequent supply ship. There's an internet shop on each island, slow bandwidth for $12/hr. Fuel is available for one hour several mornings each week on Home Island. But hey, we are out on the edge of the planet, few inhabited places more remote than this. When we leave we will pay the $50/week port charge, also payable by credit card.


July 24 - Cocos Continued

Cocos has been fun, good company in the anchorage and interesting. Twice we dinghied to Home Island, a sloppy ride, and took the ferry to West Island for groceries and internet. Yesterday, riding home, the ferry was full of Muslim teens on their way home from school, boys on one side, scarved girls on the other. They can go through 10th grade here, but must go to mainland Australia if they want more schooling. Tomorrow we will fill our fuel jugs at Home Island, $2.50 per liter, almost $10/gallon, yikes. I ordered 3 dozen eggs to be flown in this Friday for $8.50 per dozen and 10 Snickers bars for $2 each, plus $5.40 AUD per kilo transport charge. There are eggs here, but I want as fresh as possible for Chagos. The ones I bought last week were dated June 8. I also bought a head of lettuce for $8.50 and a kilo of tasty cheese for $18. We can't complain about the prices - just feel fortunate these things are available.

There are currently 3 refugee ships tied to a buoy nearby. The passengers have been flown to Christmas Island for processing. We hear rumors that the survivors who make it here can get mining jobs in Australia for good money. The refugees arrive from Sri Lanka and Indonesia, crowded 30-50 per boat. Hard to imagine braving these rough seas in leaky, listing wooden boats, and there must be more out there adrift who didn't make it. It's thousands of miles of open ocean if they run out of fuel.

Each day we work on boat projects, snorkel, and socialize with other cruisers in the anchorage. Taipan should arrive later today, and Orca will leave in another day or two. Dave has started watching the gribs for a good window to Chagos and we are hoping for a full moon for part of the passage.

Direction Island has barbecue pits, rainwater catchment, and voracious mosquitos inland. On the east end is "The Rip", an inlet through the reef. Current flows like river rapids though the cut. We motor up-current almost to the breakers, hop over the side and hang on to the dinghy painter, and ride the current back into the lagoon, sweeping past reef fish and sharks. On the lagoon side a long arc of floats have been fixed to catch the Rip Riders before they are swept too far from shore.

We have been reading about the history of Cocos, including its role as an important cable station linking Australia to England. The cable was laid in 1901. In WWI the German ship Emden fired on the cable station. The Emden was later damaged and wrecked on North Keeling, and is a dive site. We are also learning more about the history of Chagos. There's a documentary "Stealing a Nation" which we can't stream given the limited internet here, which relates how 2000 Chagosians were displaced to lease Diego Garcia as an American base. We can get a permit to visit 2 uninhabited atolls at Chagos, but the Chagosians themselves can't go home.


July 28 - 3 dozen eggs

Last Monday I ordered 3 dozen eggs and 10 Snickers bars to be flown in on the Friday delivery flight. They came in late yesterday, so today we dropped the outboard back on the dinghy transom. Dave tried to start it, and spent an hour replacing fuel hose fittings trying to isolate an air leak. Finally it was running. Trade winds are blowing a good chop in the lagoon, so we donned rain ponchos in an attempt to stay dry, loaded the water jug, and stopped by Estrellita to ask that they keep their VHF radio on in case we had more outboard trouble. After a sloppy ride across the lagoon we threaded our way through the bommies and tied up to a palm tree next to the Home Island pier. The Kita store was open, and had our delivery - $65. The nice shop-owners let me swap several cracked eggs. I know the 10 Snickers were $2 each, so the eggs including delivery were really $45 AUD for 3 dozen. We bounced back home to Direction Island, happy to have fresh eggs for Chagos.

Dave has been watching the gribs, looking for enough wind to blow us to Chagos. July and August are the strongest trade wind months, though several times Dave has noticed a large calm area to the NW. We don't have the fuel range to motor, so need the wind. I have been baking and cooking passage food, and Dave has made the rounds of all the boat systems. Daily we run the watermaker to top up tanks. On Monday we plan to check out, and leave as early as Tuesday if the winds look right.


August 1 - Cocos Crossroads

More boats trickle in, mostly from W Australia. The trades are blowing strongly, and they arrive with bent gear and tired crews, happy to have this welcome stop. Every few days another leaves, so the number of yachts in the anchorage remains fairly constant. We watch the weather and have started dithering about whether to head to Chagos or Rodriguez. No one else seems headed to Chagos, but the more southerly crossing to Rodriguez is very rowdy - big seas and winds. We were on the verge of checking out when Contrails arrived, and stayed to visit with them, and have yet to set a new departure date.

Meanwhile another 3 refugee ships arrived. The officials say they are maxed out. The crew is prosecuted for human trafficking, while the passengers are flown to Christmas Island for processing, straining the overcrowded facility.

We carved a boat sign to leave behind on Direction Island, snorkel a bit, work on small boat projects, and find ourselves in no hurry to brave the seas. Soon we will feel restless and ready, but not quite yet... We have been here 3 weeks today!

Defunct wind farm behind generator plant.

Enough rain for laundry.


August 2 - Course Correction

Dave and I are discussing whether to head to Rodriguez or Chagos. Though we have paid for the Chagos permit (200 British Pounds for 4 weeks) we are leaning toward the WSW passage to Rodriguez. On the plus side for Chagos: a chance to see a pristine frontier, reachable only by private boat, a shorter (10-12 days) and likely calmer passage, breaking the Indian Ocean into digestible pieces, and better timing for the 8 day Mauritius leg. Downside, we would be going by ourselves, and would miss Rodriguez as we can't point that high from Chagos. Points for Rodriguez - we'd likely have company underway - out of sight but on the same route. Stores and supplies are within reach upon arrival. Downside, the trade winds are howling, with corresponding big seas, and the passage will be wet and uncomfortable. The 2000 miles will take maybe 14-16 days, a full week longer than available weather predictions. The longer we park here, the better the weather - strong trade winds supposedly simmer down come September. One of the joys of cruising is having the flexibility to make choices. Safety and comfort are high on our criteria list. Stay tuned...

Blacktip sharks visit daily.

Water tank painting - not to be used for navigation.

Direction Island residents.

Upright crabs with tall eyes.

The Direction Island rip.

Warning sign.

We dinghy across to Horsburgh Island...

...with its rusting cannon.

South Island Fairy Terns divebomb me.

I am too close to a nest.


August 11 - Cocos Nuts

Still at Cocos! We talked to the police and got permission to overstay our 4 weeks. The trade winds are blowing strong, lovely night breezes in the anchorage, very comfortable temps. Nightly we get reports from boats out in front of us, doing fine in 20-25 knots, sometimes 30, in 3 and 4 meter seas, a lumpy but fast ride. Looks like strong winds through Monday, then they ease slightly. One yachtie flew home to Australia to be with her ailing mother, and had some difficulty getting a seat on the plane as it is packed with refugees being sent to Christmas Island. Meanwhile 2 more refugee ships arrived yesterday, and were towed to sea this morning for destruction. Though some are arriving here, even more are landing at Christmas, many coming from Pakistan by way of Indonesia.

We have decided on Rodriguez, and are waiting for a good weather window. Estrellita took us to snorkel the Phaeton, an 1880s wreck, and we joined them and Jargo to dinghy over to Horsbourgh Island to beachcomb and picnic, where a huge rusting cannon guards the north pass. Not a bad place to be stuck for awhile!


August 17 - ready to move along

We are making passage preparations again, planning to leave Sunday with 4 or 5 other boats for Rodriguez. This morning we dinghied to Home Island and paid our fees - $50 AUD per week, to the Shire office, then met the Shire Police at their office to clear out. We have 48 hours to leave. So it is time for final laundry using the Direction Island rain catchment system, final baking, etc. Dave has the check-off list handy and we are working down it.

Yesterday one of the Swedish boats had a birthday, so the yachties gathered on Direction Island for the first ever Cocolympics, which included salt water carries (to fill a cup), coconut tree climbing, and hermit crab races. They did a great job putting on a fun afternoon. First place was an elegantly scrimshawed coconut trophy.

There are a dozen yachts in the anchorage now. We heard this morning 2 refugee boats were shipwrecked on North Keeling. The custom ship went out to rescue the passengers who were able to swim ashore. Another 17 boats are apparently on their way, monitored by the Orion.

We have lingered here a lovely 5 weeks, but are finally feeling restless. The trade winds are still blowing, though laying down very slightly. Boats underway report confused seas - not a comfortable ride, albeit a fast one. We expect the passage to Rodriguez to take 2 weeks, more or less.

Click here for our Indonesia 2012 journal.

Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved.