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Pierre van Rooyen

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Twelve days and nights at sea in a small boat.

We have a friendly orangutan on board named Thaba Nchu. He is only a stuffed toy although a large one.

Caption to pic: Faith’s hand-drawn chart of Salamon Atoll. More info about this coral strewn lagoon below.

A funny thing about Thaba Nchu is the despondent look on his face.
Faith and I tease that he got that look on his face when he heard we
had to beat (sail against the wind) a thousand miles from Seychelles
to Chagos.

The trouble with crossing oceans is that they are miles deep and one
cannot anchor.  So you keep sailing day and night. With only husband and wife on board, this plays havoc with sleep patterns and neither one gets more than three hours sleep at any one time.

It took us twelve days and Thaba Nchu’s face got longer and longer.

In going to weather, we have to trim the sails and steer the boat
perfectly so as to sail as close to the wind as possible. And every
time the wind heads us off our course, we have to go about onto the
other tack to get back on course again. For a thousand miles, day and

And of course night-time squalls bring thirty knot winds and downpours of rain. Lots of fun for whoever is down below being called up on deck at two a.m. to help reef the sails.

Sometimes conditions are too rough to cook even though we have a gimballed stove. When we hit a wave, pots and pans go flying around the cabin. More than once, we have opened a tin of baked beans, shoved a teaspoon in and passed ‘dinner’ to and fro between us. Lots of fun.

Our last night approaching Salamon Atoll in the Chagos Archipelago was miserable. Squalls right on the nose, Senta down to 50% sail area,
beating into the rain at three o’clock in the morning, lightning all
about us illuminating palm trees on the atoll ten miles ahead.

But sailing at five knots, ten miles took us two hours until around five a.m. with only a mile to go, we hove to as we could only enter the atoll in strong sunlight.

Salamon Atoll (see chart above) measures five miles by two, is twenty to forty metres deep, and strewn with coral heads. More than one yacht has been wrecked there. We know of three. Depths in the pass range from only two to seven metres, so you must navigate through the pass to avoid running aground.

We cannot handle the weight of more than twenty metres of anchor chain, so we look for ‘shallow’ places to anchor (usually at our twenty
metre limit) and as far away from coral heads as possible. We deploy
two anchors on sixty metres of chain. It is a helluva job for Faith
and me to get this ground tackle up again, but it does allow us to
sleep at night. Only occasionally, if there is a fierce squall, do we
sit anchor watch.

The link below takes you to Faith’s diary of what happened on passage and which other yachts we met in the atoll.




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