Stolen Kiss

Stolen Kiss

August 30, 2006

Sensual, Sensational Seychelles Experience.

Just a slight deviation from course.
We arrived in Chagos with every intention of heading back to Phuket at the appointed time, but departed heading west to Seychelles. I had to be happy with that!! That’s cruising, where plans are made in the sand at low tide. Our plan was to leave in company with Time Out (as usual) on June 1st and of course we did! We had good winds, SE 10 – 15 knots. The last two days before departure also saw good winds, so with the benefit of hindsight, it could be said that we missed the weather window by two days having to motor, against current, the last 180 miles into Mahe. It could also be said that our timing, as always, was perfect.

The passage to Seychelles took us 7 days 18 hours, a total of 1017 miles, arriving in the outer harbour at 0230 hours. We had excellent following winds, the usual Indian Ocean cross swells, many squalls that were more wet than windy, (although maximum gust was 37 knots sustained for an hour or so) and saw more marine life/birds in an ocean than we had ever seen. The ocean was boiling with fish, with many pods of dolphins (more than 60 in a pod) coming to visit Stolen Kiss and wish her a safe journey. Time Out pulled away after day 3 and sat 30 miles ahead without a drop of rain!!

Other yachts that followed had a less successful sail in terms of less wind or too much wind and more squalls. So it just goes to show, yet again, it is better to be born more lucky than rich! Although we kept the wind on our port quarter for most of the passage, eventually we had to make our way north which meant we had to be square running unless we wanted to increase the miles with gybe angles! Our downwind preferred sail configuration in winds over 10 - 15 knots apparent, is to drop the mainsail and go wing wing with two headsails. This gives us the option of using the end of the boom as another ‘pole’ if need be. It slows us down to about 6 knots but effectively, if a severe squall hits us, we can then furl the larger headsail and just run with the smaller one.

Our Cetrek autopilot had an intermittent compass error fault and has a habit, on occasion to turn itself off. Having no main removes any possibility of an involuntary gybe in the middle of the night! Both Stolen Kiss (and us) are quite comfortable and relaxed in this mode.

After completing (he says enduring) one of his early morning watches, Peter had two pearls of wisdom he wanted to share. Firstly was ‘One day you are the rooster and the next you are the feather duster, but that is yacht racing’ (as we thought we could keep Time Out “in the bag” the whole way across) and the second was ‘An ocean passage is like politics. A week is a bloody long time!’ I am pleased to report that some 2000 miles later, Peter is almost enjoying the passage making! So with a deviation from course by approximately 2100 miles, the question is ‘was it worth it?’ Absolutely!

The Seychelles consist of both granite islands and coral atolls strewn across the Indian Ocean, with a varied history from Arab traders in the 7th Century to the Portuguese, Spanish, French and of course British influence/occupancy. Stories of piracy, hideouts and treasure abound. Socially, Seychelles today is a funky place with a French/Creole flavour. The people are a mix of East African, Arabs, Indians, West Indians and Chinese. Rastafarians are numerous and as you walk around you hear music, often loud, with a Bob Marley influence. The people are happy, always smiling and friendly. There is no racial tension and an overall simple acceptance of people, regardless of colour, race or religion. The much laid back culture was relaxing and enjoyable. What an absolute privilege to experience such a culture.

The Seychelles have got it right with regards to tourism as many resorts are unobtrusive, being engulfed by their immediate surroundings. The lack of high rise hotels has maintained the feeling of isolation and a sense of the unique natural environment. The dense, varied rainforest which covers the main islands are in stark contrast with casuarinas that cover the extensive land reclamation areas.

Mahe itself is very dramatic with a huge mountain chain separating the east and west coasts. Of course, from a yachtie’s point of view, this ensures you being pummeled by wind bullets at anchor! There were two surprises for us – the cool temperature of the water and the air, and the amount of rain! After all, it was the SE monsoon and the dry season. The wind we expected, as it blows 15 – 25 knots consistently in this area, but we were told the rain was unseasonable! At least it was not cold! Warm and wet is far more acceptable than cold and wet.

Our first anchorage was in Victoria Harbour, the inner harbour, which was shared with many yachts, mostly whom we had met in Chagos. It was a tight fit with stories of poor holding and boats dragging. However, for Time Out and Stolen Kiss it was anchor down with a good hold first time! We sat and watched yachts having to anchor and re-anchor.

The yacht club in the harbour offered a good meeting place for yachties and a safe tie up for our dinghies. We had dreamt about our first meal ashore as it had been almost 3 months since we had had any fresh food! Peter and Bill had large (enormous) pots of beer and we all indulged in salads and french fries and later, ice cream. Having such full tummies, it was no more than a short stagger back aboard and a good sleep.
We had just over a week to enjoy as much as Mahe as we could before our respective guests arrived; Di and Gordon coming to visit us for 10 days and Elena, to join Bill.

We spent the time exploring the eclectic mix of shops. Some were modern, but most were small ‘sheds’ that sold an odd array of goods. We found some great Australian Wine in a shop that sold baby apparel! The supermarkets were stocked one day and empty the next! During the first week, there was much excitement as a new two story supermarket was to open with many new goods – a western supermarket. The crowds were amazing as people queued for hours on end. We waited for a week before we even tried to go in. We were not disappointed!

In Chagos we had coffee with ‘Ad Astra’ who had just arrived from Seychelles. They provided us with a wealth of information, as only yachties can. One vital piece of advice was the Indian haberdashery with mattresses outside in Benezet Lane that was the black market money changer where we able to get double the exchange rate! One has to be very discreet doing this as it is very illegal. You had to first ask quietly to see the manager, and then after he got to know you, it was a simple twitch of the eyebrow and slipping of the USD into his palm, without anyone else watching. In mid exchange one day an armed man in uniform appeared which gave both the gentleman and I a bit of a surprise. We were quick to mask the transaction. Bill and Peter very bravely stood guard outside the shop – or was it that they got lost in the bakery?

The days passed quickly whilst we were waiting for our guests. There was the World Cup Soccer in the evenings (we watched the finals in the pool bar of a resort with locals, which added to the entertainment), checking out the local yachting facilities like Charlie's haulout/boat yard and the exploration of Mahe by bus and a hire car.

The narrow winding roads up, down and around mountains added to the adrenaline rush one got from experiencing the competence of the bus drivers as they hurled the bus around the corners. Were we ‘holding on?’ Of course! We were almost up the proverbial one day as we had a near miss with the septic waste truck on a corner, going down a hill. We scraped by with literally 2cm to spare! Thank goodness it was them and not us on the verge of the cliff! So we felt quite at home on the bus, having similar experiences in Malaysia and Sri Lanka and felt that there was no competition from theme park rides!

After a few days of observing so many women and children, we began to ask the locals about the appearance of a gender imbalance. As it turns out, the men, over the history of the islands, could leave on fishing boats and the like, but the women could not. A gender imbalance has, over time, resulted in the Seychelleoise having a more liberated sexual lifestyle. Most children are illegitimate and it is very much part of being a woman to have children at a young age. There is no social stigma attached to single mothers and a positive social welfare system helps to support the families, even though it is contributing to the bankruptcy of the fragile economy. We are not sure of paternal rights and what happens with regards to this.

For us, this was a source of amusement as Peter was quickly singled out by women for his good genes! One woman had Peter bailed up against the wall! I missed this but according to Bill, she took Peter by surprise and he did not know what to do! Bill stepped in and told her Peter was a deaf mute and he would do any translating!!! A Rastafarian who hung out at one of the resorts must have had some luck in picking up western woman as he tried to chat me up and offered me a good time. His name was Antoine! Peter and Bill looked at me in surprise that I had asked his name! Having had no offers in 10 days, Bill felt a little left out. We told him not to worry and that if he stuck with us, we would find him a woman! We were true to our word as Elena arrived that night!

As soon as Di and Gordon hit the tarmac, we had them running! There was a day tour of Mahe before setting off across the seas for La Digue, some 25 miles away. Of course that was not our intended first anchorage, but with 25 knots of breeze and a two meter swell running, we thought that we may find a quieter anchorage on the horizon! The course put us on a beam reach and we felt more like a submarine, having the most water over our decks than we have had since leaving Fremantle!

The upside was the energy we saved with Di once again ‘araldited’ to the helm! As the world changes when you only draw 1.2m, Stolen Kiss was able to moor (Mediterranean style) in the small harbour of La Digue. It was well protected and quiet, (and the only option compared to the very rolly anchorage outside the harbour) even though we had several charter yachts come in and miraculously squeeze into the diminishing space. La Digue has only recently been allowed to have a small number of service vehicles operating on the island.

Although we could have opted for the ox and cart mode, our choice of transport around this beautiful, serene island was by bicycle and by the end of the day we had legs like jelly after cycling on almost every track, up and down the hills! We found the picture postcard sights and a small isolated house built into granite boulders over looking the ocean! Getting the materials to the site (especially all the makings of the cement) must have been an enormous task. We had Gorbar to enlighten us on the geological aspects of what we were seeing. Remnants of old coral reefs, now well above the waterline, edged around the gargantuan granite boulders.

On our return to Stolen Kiss, several yachts had come into the very small space between us and the harbour wall. Whilst we were having our afternoon tipple of Gin and tonic, the charter fleet kept on coming! We were amazed at their adeptness of anchoring and reversing into our ever diminishing space. We were not overly concerned as each catamaran had a local skipper who drove the yachts so expertly. They had done this before!

Di and Gordon had woken up the next morning to go and get a photograph of the horse and cart transport that is still used on the island. Sadly, such efforts were wasted as Di’s camera was stolen after it being left behind at the bus stop. Strangely to us, a lady on the bus saw us get on, leaving a small bag behind!!!! She failed to alert us to this at the time!

Our next anchorage was on Praslin Island, the second largest island in the Seychelles. Given the swell and SE winds, we found a small bay on the north east, Anse Petit Cour. Although this was a marine park, we were only charged 5USD for one night, when we were there for several over our entire visit. As the cost of a mooring (charter yachts use this anchorage) was the same as anchoring, we decided to give the anchor a rest! Our beach landings were calm (a treasured feature of the anchorages we experienced!) and as the resort allowed us to use their facilities, Di and I thought it would be a suitable Pina Colada venue! Well, the idea was there and the purse willing, but sadly the pool bar was out of pineapple juice! We settled for Bailey’s on ice!

Our main aim was to visit Valley De Mai and nearby Curieuse Island where the giant tortoises stroll around. The tortoises here have been brought from Aldabra, (approx 600 miles south west of Mahe), their natural habitat in this part of the world. The main tourist attractions did not disappoint us. Valley De Mai, (our visit kindly sponsored by BeBe) home of the famous coconut, not just any coconut, but the largest coconut in the world and one that is said to represent the female buttocks! What is more fascinating is the very large phallic male seed. (Eat your heart out boys!) We strolled through the dense forest for a few hours marveling at such wonders! Our official photographer, Gorbar, was very meticulous in recording our time here. He undoubtedly had the best photos!

Apparently the ‘most beautiful beach in ‘THE WORLD’ was Lazio, just around the corner. Of course a discussion of what constitutes such a beach entertained us for a short while. Lazio was indeed picturesque, with over hanging palm trees, a white sandy beach and granite boulders. It was also a little rolly with a 1m surf break on the beach! Well, we thought we would see how the landing would be and decided that a small sand patch in the middle of the granite headland might offer a good spot to land and have a track to the beach. Hmm! Leaving Gorbar in charge of the good ship Stolen Kiss, Peter, Di and I went for a reckie. Peter jumped out of the dinghy at the appropriate time, but before Di and I managed a leg over the side, a swell rose behind us and we surfed, in the dinghy, up the beach! Well, we were still up the right way!

Not having had enough fun, we then thought that the beach might be ‘do able’! We had notes on possible landing spots (the beach conditions were the norm here), so Captain Peter chose one and we sat behind the breakers waiting for an appropriate moment. We managed to get the beach but had to drag the dinghy up someone’s path to their house as it was high tide! Needless to say we managed to find a break in the swell and made a successful rapid exit off the beach. As we are cruising for the long haul, Peter and I decided that we would like to keep our outboard for a little longer rather than run the risk of it ending up in the surf. So next day it was up anchor and over to the west coast of Mahe.

Celebration! We caught a small bonito which turned into a Thai red curry! Bay Ternay was our overnight stop, which although was reasonably flat (as in not rolling), had us skating from side to side due to the bullets coming through the gap in the mountains. The landscape was stunning as we were surrounded by huge granite cliffs, almost vertical.

Anse a La Mouche, a smallish bay further to the south offered us good shelter from the SE winds and as the south of Mahe is less mountainous, both the wind gusts and rainfall were significantly less. As Time Out had been there for a few days, we had a little inside information! So as we could access Victoria by bus (even though it took us a few long walks to get the right one), the beach was flat and calm (offering a long walk at low tide!), there was a good restaurant (where we could get water for laundry) and mini marts to boot, this became our ‘hang out’ for over a week.

We had many beautiful walks from there and explored art galleries, beaches and restaurants. Di and Gordon got to see a different side of tourism! As we waited for a bus one day in the rain, Peter was crouched under his blue black poncho, looking something like a giant tortoise might fancy! It is also here that we took Di and Gordon ashore at 0400 hours to catch a cab to the airport. Unbeknown to us, they waited for an hour for their taxi! Being the nice people that we are, we went back to bed!

June was certainly the month for holidays in Seychelles. Peter and I made an effort to go into Victoria for Independence Day celebrations. We were sardines on the bus, but the spectacle more than compensated for this. Just to add to the excitement, it was raining! For a small nation, the resulting floats on display were amazing. There were over 70 floats, each representing some aspect of Seychelles Culture. They were colourful, imaginative and diverse, which I guess reflects the population. The streets were crammed with joyous and proud people.

Time was moving on and we decided that we could go back to Beau Vallon (NW bay) where it is a short bus ride into town. From here we could do our final provisioning, clean the bottom of the boat and check out. We anchored in the south corner of the bay – being close to the Meridian Resort we found a Wi Fi signal and had free (slow) internet. A reef in front of us made the beach landing easier and a bus stop nearby offered us a closer walk with all our provisions.

One of the yachts we met in Chagos came around to visit for a while. They had not ventured outside of Victoria Harbour, having been there for a month. They had a lucky escape when they were caught unawares at the beach when a wave overturned their dinghy. An upturned dinghy with a 15 hp engine still running and dealing with the surf is not a situation you want to be in! Alls well that ends! Jerry spent a few hours driving around the bay to dry the out the outboard. He briefly visited us to tell us of the tale; hanging onto the side of the boat, not wanting to stop the engine. Wanting to assist with his recovery, we plied him with strait rum before he went on his way. Poor Jer could still be seen at sunset, tooling around the bay!

One of the resorts in Beau Vallon has a resident astronomer and a huge telescope! Time Out organized a great night where we had a technical talk about the heavens (the man was very interesting but a little boring) then a look at some stars before the heavens clouded over! We managed to see the moon through the telescope – all the craters were very visible. It was a truly remarkable sight and a worthwhile adventure.

As one thing leads to another, the astronomer gave us the number of the duty forecaster at the airport with whom we made contact. He was very helpful in providing accurate information regarding the location of active cells and wind between Seychelles and Maldives.

After the formalities were completed, Time out and Stolen Kiss sailed over to Anse Petit Cour for our last few days. We met up with Zorana and Mr Curly, whom we met at Chagos. It just so happened that the World Cup Soccer Finals were on and the resort that occupies our small bay was televising the game (France V Italia) with alcohol at local prices! What a bargain! Peter, Bill and I enjoyed the game with the locals. Viva Italia! We finally caught the bus to the restaurant at Lazio that had been recommended. After waiting for a bus for an hour in the rain, few surprises were in stall for us. We caught the bus to Zimbabwe (so we made it to Africa after all!) which did not go all the way into Lazio! We sat on the edge of a drain waiting for Elena and Bill; Peter talking to Sam on the phone whilst making observations of the building going on behind us. With Bill and Elena, we very bravely puffed and panted (some more than others) up and over the hill! Nice view! We opted for taxi back! As for lunch – it was ok.

I have serious issues about going backwards, but as the wise (old??) men say: (apologies to Peter and Bill!) think of it as a new adventure! We now turn and have the setting sun on our backs as we return to Phuket; a 2700 mile sail!

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