Diary of a Passage, Seychelles to Kenya.
Day 1. 24 September, 2020.
It was an early morning start for us, wanting to get away as soon as the light was good, and the movement of boats were allowed. In Seychelles, you are not permitted to navigate your vessel out of daylight hours.
As we waved goodbye to our friends on other boats, tears were barely held back. We had decided on a course of travel that none of the other yachts were going to follow and I have my reservations on how it will be, being all alone again for likely close to a year.
Is this the right decision? I had been ok with it all up until now, the snap decision that it was, but as we watched the other yachts disappear in the morning light, I did wonder if it was going to be the same kind of experience on our own.
No adults to have downtime with. No other kids to relieve the intensity of having our kids around 24/7. No other kids for them to interact with, kids who understand the boat lifestyle.
It was a big change from our initial plan, and a pretty snap decision if I have to be honest.
We had always planned a stop in Tanzania or Madagascar and then down to South Africa, Cape Town for Christmas and then the long haul up to the Caribbean, with a stop in some of the offshore Brazillian islands.
Well, Covid certainly put the stop on most of that. Madagascar is closed. South Africa is restricted on what you can do (although it is changing), Brazil is a no go, and their outer islands are also looking like you will not be able to stop there.
We had been messed around with a new boat purchase, yes – we were trying to buy a new boat during Covid times so we could own two, sensible…right??!! So due to that we were now restricted in the time we would have been able to spend in Tanzania, the only country that was open to us. It would have been a fleeting few weeks, for a part of the world that holds a deep interest for the whole family.
We felt that we had come this far, this distance away from home to a continent that we will likely not get to again for a long time, distance wise and price wise to travel with 3 kids. So a mad and crazy suggestion came out of the Captains mouth…
“Why don’t we go and live in East Africa for the year, while we wait for some of the countries we want to go to, to open up?”
“Ahhh, ok. Yeaaah…” (Thinking for a moment….) “Sure, why not, what else have we got to do?”
And so with a bit of quick planning and some emailing to the local weather routing guy, plus some research on sailing seasons, we decided to flip our lives completely on their heads for a year, as if we are not already crazy enough!
So here I find myself, standing on the bow of the boat, waving goodbye and watching my friends fade into the distance as we round the island of Mahe for the last time.
We need 14 days of quarantine for entry into Kenya, and sea time would count for that so we planned to take a route along some of the islands below the main Seychelles islands, take some time and have a few stops, break up the 1100 mile passage and use up time.
So we set a course for Alphonse Island, a renowned fly fishing and sport fishing lagoon, excited to be on the move again.
Downloads were crammed into the phones, we tried to use up every last bit of the data we had remiing before we lost internet connection.
The lines were out and the sun was shining, the sea was calm and we were all feeling excited about the journey.
In Seychelles, so far the fishing had been hit and miss for us, but today we could not stop catching tuna. Yellow Fin were leaping onto the lines! Everywhere there were flocks of birds, showing us the work ups and without even turning to chase them, we caught tuna after tuna! We kept only 2 due to lack of freezer and fridge space and played catch and release for the rest, giving the kids a chance to hone their fishing skills.
After a while, turning up into the wind to stop the boat (as we had full sail up) got tiresome and we put the rods away. Enough was enough and we had places to go!
The kids and I were settled into reading, when all of a sudden we had a shout from the Captain… “WHALE SHARK!! Right here by the boat!!”
And it was! A monster of a Whale Shark, just cruising out in the middle of nowhere, feeding on the tiny fish the tuna were also attracted to. We loitered around, watching his huge fin appear out of the turquoise water, until he came alongside the boat again. He was monstrous, almost as long as our 14m boat!!! Much, much bigger than the ones we had swam with in West Papua. A truly unbelievable sight to have pop up while sailing along.
Had Chae not spotted a strange shape in the water we may have hit him initially, as they are such slow moving creatures.
What a treat! It’s just a shame I was too slow on the camera to capture it.
The day passed slowly, the waves getting bigger as the day went on. We knew we would have a fair bit of wind for the first few days, but it was getting stronger, earlier than predicted, and of course from the wrong angle! Ha ha, sailing! Gotta love it.
Dinner came and I was glad to have a pre-made meal, as it was a little uncomfortable by this stage, bearable but not the nicest.
It was a quick meal and off to bed to avoid the motion of the boat, sailing slightly upwind and with seas a bit confused in the directions of the swells, no one wanted to sleep in the front bedrooms, so the big kids tucked into Noah’s room and Libby commandeered ours. (which by the way she never left for the whole trip!)
As the night wore on it got more and more uncomfortable. We must have had a series of current lines we had to cross as every few hours or so the already alamming motion of the boat would turn into slamming and swinging and rolling all over the place while the ocean tried to sort herself out. It made for a looong and uncomfortable night for both of us on watch.
It dragged. It was painful, and I wondered what the heck we were doing, making it so hard for ourselves again…
Day 2. 25 Sept, 2020.
Well, the wind angle certainly slowed us down from midnight until early morning and dawn finds us further from the island of Alphonse than we had hoped.
With the angle of the waves it had been truly uncomfortable for us to keep pointing toward it, we didn’t want to continue on this path and potentially break something, which is a likely thing to happen when a catamaran (or monohull) smashes into weather for a decent period of time. Instead we decide to try our luck at one of the islands close to us.
It looked like it could be promising. A teardrop shaped island that may offer some protection for a night of sleep and a swim.
We cut a path toward it, and asked Emelia to look it up on our offline Wikipedia (internet is looong gone now).
There are buildings there, and technically we are not allowed to stop, but for a night of rest you are usually permitted to anchor and not go ashore.
Turns out we won’t be going anywhere near this one. As we sail slowly by, dreaming of the white sandy beaches that ring the island we learn it is a prison island, with 98 inmates and 30 Gurkha guards. Ah, no thanks. We won’t stop here!
The next small island looks untenable too, so we have a quick discussion and make a course change directly for Kenya. This whole new year of sailing we have chosen seems to be a lot of snap decisions so far!
To visit the lower islands like we had hoped to would be several days of very uncomfortable sailing. We just don’t want to break anything so we make the sensible choice to turn downwind and head up to Kilifi.
I guess the passage proper has begun. Only 850 miles to go… Seeing as we just did around 200 or so, in the wrong direction!!!
We feast on tuna for lunch and watch waves roll under us.
No fish bite our lines today, which is probably a good thing as we have the sails set and are flying along. Turning up into the wind to land a fish in these waves is not the best of fun. Downwind sailing is so much more enjoyable and you forget the strength of the wind and how the waves make the boat feel when you point into them, until you do it and it’s gross.
Dinner is shared at the table outside, my conversation is limited as I am tired and looking forward to my sleep before the night of watches begins. I wasn’t ready for this today!
I leave the kids and Chae to clear up and slip to bed for a well needed sleep, before being woken, ever feeling like it is never enough!
On my first watch we have a boobie land on the lifeline up the bow of the boat. He must have incredible balance to wrap his giant red feet around a 6mm line, but he does, preening and gently rolling back and forward as we slide along the ocean.
Later his friend, who has been circling the boat for at least an hour, decides the solar panels are his spot for the night, and he too settles into his cleaning and bedtime routine.
I wonder if they do not land on a boat, do they sleep in the water? Or if they do hitch a ride, do they wonder where the heck they are when they wake up and go to fly off in the morning…?
The moon finally slips down behind the clouds and the night is now darkness intensified. Complete. The breaking tips of the waves glow green-white in the darkness. The only light I see.
Bed is what I dream of as I sit at the helm, droopy eyes being propped open by my coffee, gone cold so quickly, in the whip of the wind around me.
Day 3. 26 Sept, 2020.
The morning watch starts painfully slow. The sleep deprivation is real on the second morning. The whole body aches with the pain of getting out of bed into the blackness that is outside. That wild feeling blackness.
The wind is up and the waves too accordingly. At least we are downwind and it is mostly comfortable, but being whipped along and pulled around by a double wave that meets under the hulls always gives me the feeling of a roller-coaster ride. I hate roller coaster rides by the way!
I eek out the time on things to do, make a coffee, check the iridium mail, play some offline games on my phone.
A cargo ship appears from nowhere. And of course we are on collision course according to my AIS. How hilarious that out here, 2 days from land we have one ship that is headed straight for us.
As we are sailing and I’m a bit restricted on where I can go to avoid him, as we would usually do to 300m ships, I call on VHF and ask if he would mind passing to my stern due to the sailing angle I am on.
He is kind and willingly responds to my request. At first he could not even see me on his AIS, so his receive data must have been not working.
He eventually passes astern, close enough for me to see the ship in full, but nice and safe. Made me think of how calm it must be up in that giant tower they all live in, steaming along at 11 knots, cutting through the waves like butter.
My boobie friends leave me as the sun comes up. Stretching and flapping their wings they lovingly preened for so long the previous evening. Leaving behind their present of stinky fish poop as they fly off for another day at sea.
Slowly the kids wake and make their breakfasts. Mornings are slow. The kids are quiet this morning. I put on podcasts and audiobook for them to listen to while Chae sleeps.
He eventually wakes, talking about having crazy dreams with an American sounding child in them. Turns out the podcast on Pizza vs Tacos the kids were listening to made its way into his sleep!
I drop into bed. The last 5 hours have felt like a whole day.
I wake around lunch, and Emelia has made a meal for us. A vegetarian fried rice, a change from tuna for the meal as we are all getting a little tired of it. It’s delicious, and even better that I did not need to cook it myself.
No fish bite our lines again today. Noah and the Captain spend time changing lures and mucking with fishing gear, but all to no avail.
Captain and I nap intermittently during the day, ever trying to catch up on that elusive sleep. The kids are bored, they read, they make mess, they eat and play games but time passes slowly today.
Tuna for dinner again, a sort of fish and chips, with delicious roasted potatoes and lightly seared fish.
Again I head straight to bed after dinner, sleeeeeeep is calling me. Well, 3 hours of it anyway.
Day 4, 27th Sept, 2020.
My boobie friend is there again when I wake up for my watch. 2 nights in a row now! It’s like home for him.
We watched 3 boobies around us during the day, catching the flying fish that scoot out of the way of the boat, diving and swooping to get their meal. I think how long they must travel as we are 500 miles from land in each direction. It’s a long flight home for them so a passing boat is a nice rest stop I’d guess.
I’ll put up with their poop again tonight, cause they are so pretty.
He flies off at dawn again, to join the other 2 that have been circling the boat all night.
Same same routine again today.
Breakfast. Kids awake, podcasts, drawing, watching, reading. Make food. Weather download for the day. Coffee. Sail trim. Break up fights. Tidy dishes. Sleep. Eat. Sail. Repeat.
You get the idea. Today is the repetitive day in the middle I guess.
Wind goes up and wind goes down. Sail goes up and sail gets put down when it starts to bang without wind in it.
Lunch is had. Dinner is had and sleep is had before, you guessed it….
Sail. Coffee. Sleep. Repeat.
Grumpy from not enough sleep.
Day 5. 28th Sept, 2020.
My birthday rolls around as I sit on watch. The wind is dropping and I am motor sailing along in the middle of nowhere, missing family and friends at home.
I sit in the cloudy moonlight and think of what I would be doing at home today. Time with friends? Family for dinner? Internet? Facebook and Instagram emotional boosts…. Fake feelings from social media but feelings all the same on a birthday.
I’ve not had a passage birthday before, so isolated and switched off. It’s different.
I wake Chae for his watch and am greeted with birthday hugs, then to head to bed to snuggle into the little heater named Libby that has invaded our bed this passage, firstly due to it being rough in her bedroom and now she has just stayed, crawling in each night trying to pretend she isn’t there until we tell her we don’t care and she can stay. It’s cold at night here, pants and sailing jacket cold so having her in the bed is a nice treat when you come off watch with cold hands and feet..
She rolls over and tells me she loves me and happy birthday mama before we both fall to sleep.
Waking with a start at 6am I freak out as it’s 2 hours past when I should have been woken. Has something happened to Chae, is he still on board? Is it my worst fear and he has fallen over while I slept?
With panic, I head upstairs to find him reading quietly, eyes falling out of his head as he had tried to give me more sleep for my birthday!
There is not a lot the two of us need, or want, so we don’t really do presents anymore, so this is a sweet gesture. He knows how much of a dragon I become with no sleep so I guess it’s a bonus for us both!
He tells me he is making water for my birthday present, a funny inside joke, as he always wants the water tanks to be low on passages due to weight, but I get all panicky if we don’t have them full!
As he heads off to bed I make breakfast and watch the sun rise proper on the gentle ocean.
The kids come up to me, one by one as they wake, all with handmade cards and love for me.
We have breakfast and watch a documentary I had downloaded, about Kenya, that I had watched during the night.
This is real now to us, we are going to these places we have watched for so long!
A cake is planned and executed while I have a mid morning nap.
Emelia makes lunch again, she has taken this over and is doing a fine job of it each day.
We celebrate with a beer, just the one, as drinking on passages is not our thing normally – but it’s a special occasion!
The afternoon passes with mess, noise, naps, dishes, mess, kids fighting, kids making up, more reading and the afternoon treat of my birthday cake.
Emelia and Chae have outdone themselves, and this year there is no fire explosion, cake burning drama like last year! Thank goodness as that was full on…!!
The wind drops through the day. We motorsail to keep moving and stop the wallowing in the swells. It is gentle and easy.
We catch no fish. We ate the last of the tuna yesterday (thank goodness, we were all so sick of it).
Soon it is time for dinner, birthday burgers in the evening light.
It’s been a different, but lovely day. Far away from all I usually would do, but special all the same.
Another night comes, another set of watches to take.
Another birthday done and dusted and another year older I roll as I watch the clock tick again from midnight into tomorrow.
Day 6. 29th Sept, 2020.
We had a giant argument today. The whole boat, well actually the 2 adults and the almost teenager.
It kind of ruined the day. The whole day.
Living on a boat in an ocean in the middle of nowhere with no family support or other friends can certainly make you pay the price sometimes.
Tempers and feelings were raging and there’s nowhere to go to cool off, go for a walk, do anything when this happens on a passage.
It put a bummer on the whole day really.
Living the dream certainly wasn’t what we were doing today!
Plus we didn’t get any fish again. There was a strike, and we saw the mahi mahi leaping out the back on the line, its iridescent colours flashing against the gently rolling ocean, splashing and thrashing on the end of the line, for its life. And it got off.
Lucky mahi mahi that lived for another day.
Switched up the watch timing, and that did work well. We did a 6 hour stretch each rather than the 3 hours we usually do. Made for much more restful sleeps and probably less tired parents, and a mother less likely to flip out at her almost teenage daughter!
So yeah, today was average.
Are we doing the right thing, coming all the way here with no other kids or friends for the year…? Times like this make me question our decisions.
Tomorrow will be better.
Day 7. 30th Sept, 2020.
180 miles to go! We are so close and I cannot believe it has flown so fast!
Gently pushed along by the sweet winds of the Indian Ocean, the destination is tantalising close now!
Daily on this trip I have questioned our radical decision. It was made at a moment when we were really stuck in what we were going to do for this next year.
Obviously Covid has changed things for everyone and we didn’t want to rush past this part of the world.
By all accounts it is incredible and it would seem so sad to miss it. Being from NZ, Africa is so very far away. In both distance, culture and costs to get there.
When we left on this journey of adventure we did so to seek out new cultures, to try new experiences, to show our kids there was more than Northcote, Auckland, New Zealand and the very comfortable life we had there.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against that life at all, but we felt they, and we, could benefit by seeing how other cultures live and feeling new experiences along the way to shape who they will be as adults.
The first year was exciting. It was remote. It was different. We loved it! The Pacific is a gem. An unchanged and culture filled gem.
Then we had Indonesia. Which was a whole experience in itself, one we relished. One we would go back to in a heartbeat. The people were kind and generous, they were caring and welcoming. The country is varied and interesting and full of the most amazing natural spectacles, both underwater and above.
Thailand and Malaysia had their moments, but it was not an adventure anymore. It was well populated and touristy. Not what we enjoy. We searched and searched for quiet spots and less travelled locations and there were none. It didn’t excite.
Then there was the Indian Ocean. Always my nemesis in my mind. Always the big scary ocean that I never wanted to sail. I thought it would eat me up and spit me back out.
But we chose to go there, for the adventure that it promised.
It has been a funny year in that yes, there was some adventure and culture, Sri Lanka ticked some of those boxes, but it wasn’t cruising as we knew it. It was land life.
Then came Covid to play games with us all.
The Maldives ended up being a bit of a holding point for us.
Again it was stunning, and the experience we had there, although incredibly frustrating, was enjoyable. We spearfished, we dived, we got to live out a 3 month lockdown in an incredible location.
But again, it wasn’t adventure.
Chagos WAS adventure. Chagos will always be my most favorite Indian Ocean stop. Chagos was a dream. But then there is nowhere else in the world like that place. (Yes, I know, I still need to finish my writing about there…!)
Then there has been the Seychelles. The Seychelles was so good to us. They let us in when no other countries would let boats in. They realised that sea time is a good quarantine time and that yachts bring money to their country (take note, New Zealand, with your harsh ways)
They welcomed us there with open arms, the friendly people, the gorgeous islands and the incredible wildlife.
This was adventure again, albeit on a more civilised scale. But the culture was very similar, and the lifestyle was very like we could have at home.
As much as we adored it, along with all the friends we met and time we spent exploring, it was still not what we were searching for.
Maybe Africa is this for us? It is so different and foreign to us as a family. It is so out of the way and less explored on boats.
It is wild. It is cultural. It is a stark difference to the life we led at home and this is what we want. This is the experience we crave.
Each day as we have sailed closer to our destination, my fear and internal questioning has started to subside. It just feels right. It feels like a crazy choice in a crazy time, but maybe it is meant to be like this.
My fears and worries have slowly left me in exchange for excitement and a good nervousness about the change up ahead.
The questioning has washed away, like the ocean swishing beneath our hulls has cleaned off the hull growth from the Seychelles.
So we sail along today. Again it is almost windless. The sea is gentle. The clouds are fluffy and the family is happy again.
We stop the boat mid ocean for a swim, tying ropes out the back for the kids to hold onto while they do bombs off the side then swim round to the ladder.
We feel the fear of having nothing for 3000 meters below us. What is down there, waiting to eat our feet!?
We splash and play and wash the passage tiredness away in the crystal clear, sapphire water. It is refreshing and delicious.
The wind picks up in the afternoon, and with the sea still flat, we fly along. The current is assisting us and so we make crazy speeds.
Laundry is done, rooms are tidied and things put away again in preparation for arrival tomorrow.
The washing flaps gently on the lifelines, the warm African sun drying it quickly for me.
Soon it is dinner, and then afterward the kids and I watch the sun, a huge golden orb, slip slowly down the line of the Genoa, into the millpond of the ocean in front of us.
The moon is already a companion behind us, bright in the sky on this night of its fullness.
Our night passes gently. We are both well rested for the arrival tomorrow.
Our passage is practically done and it has been one of the most delightful sailing experiences we have had to date.
I had feared the Indian Ocean since we started this trip, thinking it was going to be a nightmare, but it has been gentle to us so far.
I plodded along for the last 6 hours of my final watch, slowing the boat down as much as I could in the crazy current that was speeding us toward our destination, miles creeping under our hull, regardless of the sails being out away and one engine at very low revs.
As day broke over the gently rolling sea, the smell of smoke filled the air. I had smelt it during my watch, and it was to become a daily aroma of Africa, I just didn’t know it yet…
A huge pod of dolphins appeared out of nowhere to greet us near the entrance to the Kilifi Creek, where we were headed into.
There were many, for at least 500m around the boat there were dolphins, coming to the boat for bow riding and playing, then leaping as they headed back away before they would return to delight our sleepy faces with their sleek antics.
It is funny how many countries we have had this welcome at. On the way into a pass, or coming into a new country, seeing them leap and play at our bows, the ultimate welcome committee!
We were here. We had arrived. We did it. 8 days at sea, and here we are for a new experience.
As the famed blimp flying explorer, Charles Munch says in the movie ‘Up’…. “Adventure is out there!!”