From August to December 2009, we crossed the Indian Ocean from Australia to Africa in three long passages.
We chose to go south of Madagascar to avoid the Somali pirates whose range had greatly expanded that year. Ellen’s article “Staying Clear of Piracy” recounts this decision and resultant route. We left Darwin, Australia after six weeks of some of the toughest repair/restoration work we did on Heretic, but then drifted in a calm for six days before catching the wind and finally reaching Ashmore Reef!
The wind held thereafter, and we had a quick passage to Cocos Keeling atoll in the middle of the South Indian Ocean, 2000 nautical miles from Darwin.
Cocos Keeling has a diverse and interesting culture, following a strange history of a Scottish family and their Malay laborers and also combat during both World Wars. It’s also gorgeous above and below the water! We snorkeled almost every day despite frequent rain and squalls.
Our next passage, 2000 miles to the Mascarene archipelago off Madagascar, was the roughest of the Indian Ocean crossing. Heavy swell, frequent squalls, and winds never dipping below 25 knots! Wet! But also fast: only 15 days, pretty good for a heavy old boat with only a 27-foot waterline!
The arid island of Rodrigues, a territory of Mauritius, was a welcome respite. Heretic lay tied to the wharf in the capital town for two weeks, and we explored on foot and by bus.
We visited the giant tortoise reserve where they breed Seychelles and Madagascar tortoises. (Like the Dodo bird of Mauritius, most of Rodrigues’s own endemic animals, including 2 tortoise species, died out in the 18th and 19th centuries after the first humans set foot in the Mascarenes.)
There were also caves to explore (both underground and underwater!), lovely coastlines and hills to hike, and the vibrant town to visit.
Mauritius, another 350 miles further on, was much lusher and more mountainous with beautiful white beaches. More boat work kept us in the capital city – with its strong Tamil culture – for most of October, but at our departure we had a beautifully repaired steering system.
Our last stop in the Mascarenes was the French island of Reunion. Politically it’s part of France in exactly the same way that Alaska is part of the States. Although we only spent a week there (hurricane season was fast approaching!) we managed to hike all over the stunning volcanic calderas. In one, Cirque de Mafate, the terrain is so rugged that no roads can be built.
On December 1, shaving it awfully close to cyclone season, we left Reunion for our last big passage on the Indian Ocean, bound for South Africa.
(Read about earlier adventures on the Australia page 🙂 )
All text and photographs © Ellen Massey Leonard and Seton Leonard, 2015, All Rights Reserved.