Unexpectedly, my stay at Cocos Keeling has provided a sad reminder of how polluted our oceans really are. At a brief glance this place looks just like it does in the tourist brochures – beautiful turquoise waters and palm tree fringed white sand beaches. But after I took a stroll along the beach at Direction Island a few days ago the reality stared me in the face. Mountains of plastic strewn along the high tide mark and in the most concentrated areas stacked over 50cm high. Not a few isolated patches but all along the south and east facing beaches. Even during one snorkel session I saw some plastic caught on coral a couple of metres under the surface. This plastic waste does not come from the local population, in fact there is a serious recycling effort going on here and beach clean days are organised every so often, the source is Indonesia and South East Asia with the pollution being carried by the ocean currents. Quite rightly, us yachties have to take all our rubbish away with us.
The anchorage at Direction Island is nearly a 2 nautical mile dinghy ride from the next island, Home Island, which supports the Islamic Malay population. There are absolutely no facilities at Direction Island except a few shelters and a large rain water tank which is not potable but good for do it yourself laundry and shower water. A trip to Home Island is required to clear in and out with the Police, visit the one supermarket, obtain drinking water and diesel and find some internet on the wifi hotspot. A ferry only runs only twice a week from Direction to Home Island so most the time I have taken the dinghy which is quite an adventure punching into 25 knot+ plus headwinds and choppy water. Coming back with 100 litres of water in jerry cans and a large amount of food the other day was a good test for the 2.5hp outboard! The Malay people are extremely friendly and helpful and seem very content with their island life. The only other inhabited Island at Cocos is West Island where the Aussie expats live. This is a longer ferry ride away from Home Island and due to the difficulty in matching the ferries from Direction to Home to West and the lively weather I never managed to get over there. Apparently the only thing I have missed out on is the liquor store!
Despite seeing the scale of the pollution here it has been an enjoyable stay and a nice respite from the uncomfortable waves of the Indian Ocean. The perfect place to recharge the batteries before the long miles ahead. There have only been three or four other cruising yachts in the anchorage but a great bunch and new friends I hope to bump into again down the line. We have shared dinners, cold beers, movie collections and snorkel sessions and it has been good fun. Wherever I end up, I always seem to meet great people and for me, more than the places I visit, this is the best part about voyaging by sailboat.
My intention had been to sail from here to the island of Rodrigues with later stops at Mauritius and Reunion before a 1,400nm voyage direct to Richards Bay in South Africa, passing south of Madagascar. But on the advice of other yachties and particularly Des Cason, the generous and extremely helpful ex-cruiser and now weather guru, I have changed my plans. I will sail directly from Cocos to NW Madagascar passing over the northern tip. This is the best part of 3,000nm and a month at sea. After spending a few weeks cruising down the NW coast of Madagascar i’ll hop across and down the Mozambique Channel to SA. This route will provide more places to shelter from the strong SW fronts that blow through on average every 3 or 4 days. If I had stuck to my original plan there would have been no where to hide. I’m looking forward to getting this next long stretch out the way and seeing what Madagascar has to offer. Fathom is full to the brim with food, water, diesel and most importantly I have two new jars of Marmite and Branston Pickle in the stores, a couple of tasty and hard to find reminders of home!