Sanctuary in the Seychelles, Part 1…
We took a bit of a risk in leaving the Maldives for Chagos as we did.
The world had closed all borders and we were banking on the fact that the Seychelles would open for us. There had been a directive issued by the Seychelles government that on the 1st June, the border would re open for private yachts in the Indian Ocean. We took the chance that things would continue in a less Corona-type way for them and the border would still actually open when we left for Chagos.
Seychelles had been spared from the high rate of Covid cases, and later we were to find out that many people think they had had it late in the previous year, when no one knew it was around. Kind of like us in Thailand – when we got incredibly sick in late November. What we thought was a mix of food poisoning and the most vicious flu any of us had ever had (or maybe even dengue at one point it was so bad). We suffered for nearly 3 weeks with it passing between the 5 of us, none escaped it on board.
So with our visa coming toward its end for Chagos, we made the decision to cut it short by a few days and be there in the Seychelles as close to June 1st (opening date) as we could, to avoid any change of mind by the officials. Had they decided to do so, we would have been really in a hard place.
The only other country open in the Indian Ocean at the time was Tanzania, which although a great place to go, it was another 1000 miles from Seychelles, and we were very low on diesel and getting that way on food!
The passage of approx. 900 miles was delightful. All downwind sailing with us having to creep lower and lower to catch the winds. It was light and lovely. The waves were large at times but as it was all coming from behind we had a pretty easy run. Have I matured into a sailor finally… or are we just better at picking the weather…?
We blew our asymmetrical spinnaker on the second day (anyone want to buy us a new one…?), which brought with it a necessity to head to a slightly lower latitudes to seek out the more favourable wind angle and speeds.
Our days at sea passed swiftly. Big rain squalls rolled across us, dumping the most incredible amounts of water on us. The children played in them on deck when the waves and daylight hours combined themselves together, making for a most delightful time.
Rain on the boat is still one of the things our kids love the most. It delights them every time. They turn into water sprites, playing and catching water, throwing it at each other and during one rain dump, it was so heavy we made them wash their hair in it up on the front of the boat!
Squalls rolled past, bringing their stronger winds for short periods of time. We turned and ran with them to avoid too many sail changes, we chose to keep heading downwind to depower the boat rather than turn up into the wind and waves to reef the mainsail. The speeds in those moments were exhilarating and made for some exciting sailing.
We were kept abreast of the news in our future destination, and in the world in general, from friends and family on our satellite phone. Increasingly the world was closing even more and what we were hearing felt like insanity. Could this really be going on out there? With the lack of Internet for the time in Chagos, it was feeling strange hearing all the news coming to us.
With us in a bit of a bubble, it felt so odd to be hearing reports from good sailing friends stuck in Canada and people back home.
We had to send in new information and fill out documents for the upcoming clearance formalities while at sea, via satellite email, to people ashore in Seychelles. The process was helped by a yet to be met new friend that we had been put in touch with by Chae’s cousin in the UK. She sounded super friendly and we were excited to get there and meet her and her family!
The Seychelles was like a green goddess rising out of the ocean as we approached her on the last morning of the passage.
Lush green hills smothered in iridescent jungle. Clear water, rushing between our hulls as we made the final approach. Sea birds of all variety checking us out as we sailed on in.
We passed over the Great Seychelles Bank hoping for a fish or 3, as this is regarded as THE place for game fishing, but we were without a catch as we finally rounded Isle St Anne and into the quarantine anchorage, to join mega yacht ‘A’, who was also siting her quarantine time.
With a VHF ariel that had been damaged in the rough trip from Maldives to Chagos, it was hard communicating with the shore teams to give information so immigration and health could come out to the boat.
After many crackly and broken conversations, we finally connected and they came alongside, masked and gloved, with one member of their team jumping aboard – nervously I might add, with thoughts of the pandemic no doubt!
As we had been at sea for 7 days, along with the isolated time in Chagos for 3 weeks, and the pretty much enforced isolation in the Maldives for 3 months, we were immediately cleared in, welcomed with open arms into the lushness that is the Seychelles!
What a place. What a dream come true. What an achievement. And what a time to be doing it all!
Seychelles has always been on my bucket list. My brother stopped here on the mega catamaran he worked on for many years, back in the 00’s and raved about the place. Since then it has held my interest and fascination and I could hardly believe we had made it here.
Each destination this year has felt like a super achievement for me, as we had initially made the plan to sail for 2 years or to Thailand – and just that was a huge achievement in my mind.
A little family from New Zealand, their first proper boat the one they decide to go offshore and sail the world in. I mean, it’s quite the story (cue multi million dollar publishing deals and sponsors…!!) and quite the progress, really.
I know lots of people do it, but for me, this was a real highlight.
We had made it.
And not only had we made it here, but we had made it here in a year of the most difficult challenges and upsets in the world, and we had been relatively unscathed by it all – which in turn made it more dream like.
Covid-19 was feeling present for us, but in the way that your neighbours legs being broken feels present to you. Yes, you are understanding and you commiserate with him on the unfortunate and tragic situation, but as it is not directly affecting you it feels, well, weird. I don’t know if it makes sense to people who were in country wide lockdowns, like back at home, but it was surreal to be here.
From the first minute we had cleared in we had freedom that other nations were not experiencing.
Bars and restaurants were open, albeit with no customers, but they were open, so the first place we headed was to get pizza and beer! We toasted the achievement with a Canadian boat that we had spent some time in Chagos with and had sailed across the ocean ‘nearby’ each other.
It was good to be there!
Then came the invitation from the friends of Chae’s wonderful (and of course, very handsome) cousin, Joshi. They also welcomed us with open arms, a delicious home cooked meal, along with loading us up with bags and bags of fresh food when we climbed back into the dinghy to head home to Waterhorse.
Allie, Henry and their gorgeous daughters were to become firm friends, their kind and welcoming nature turned into a wonderful friendship, the kind that will keep for life.
We were truly lucky.
With no restrictions and formalities fully completed, we were free to roam. And what a place to be let free to roam in!
The fresh market was packed with delicious fruit and vegetables, that we had been sorely missing. The shops and supermarkets were open and we were seeing things that we had not be able to since we left Asia. Albeit at exorbitant prices, but things were available to us again and even better, we were allowed to choose what we wanted. Not have it delivered by a boat captain, where it had sat for how many days rotting in the heat, like in the Maldives. The island was a lush tropical green with many places in the city to explore for us.
We could walk and go where we please, the novelty of being able to do normal things again was immense for us!
We explored the city of Victoria, walking just for the sheer pleasure of it. Our legs were not used to so much exercise! Chagos had been good in the fact we were able to go ashore and exercise, but the 3 months stuck in the Maldives with no shore time had really atrophied our muscles!
Our two kid boat friends were on their way too, so we stayed around Mahe Island, eagerly waiting for them and enjoying the marine parks close by and the convenience of being able to go and get a loaf of bread from the shops instead of having to make everything yourself!
Boat repairs were made with the help of the mostly well stocked marine stores. Being in a place where the charter industry is huge meant everything we needed was available, which was a nice change!
The place was deserted though. When we spoke to people there, this was not the norm. The waitress at our regular sundowner bar told us that normally we would have to make a booking far in advance and no walk-ins would be accommodated, as it would be so packed with people. We were, most of the time, the only ones in the bar now!
People were suffering, businesses were closing, income was gone. The charter fleets in the marina, hundreds of yachts, were all tied up and going nowhere.
As a small island nation that relies heavily on tourism as its main income earner, this was sad to see. It made us think of home, and how people were feeling the same things there – except New Zealand is lucky as the Kiwi population is so much larger that there is still opportunity for local tourism and hospitality, once things came out of lockdown again. (Out of interest, Seychelles has a population of approx. 97,000 people, pretty small.)
So for us, we were in the best place that we could be, at the moment that was happening in time. We were safe. We had 3 month visas, that were able to be extended if necessary. We were healthy with zero risk of Covid (if you can catch it twice… still waiting to find an antibody test for us all), we had everything we could need – including new friends to pass the time with, and a stunning set of islands to explore.
The beer was cold, although not cheap, and the fresh food was plentiful. We found fish to catch and warm water to swim in, with beaches and islands to explore.
We could not ask for more.