L O G B O O K - by John Philp

NOSY SHARKS AND MISSING YACHTS (Enjoying Coco’s, and sailing to Rodrigues Is)

TUE 21 SEPT - Tau is anchored in the Coco’s Island lagoon (Eastern Indian Ocean) for the week.

WED 22 SEPT - Our week here is spent exploring and relaxing. Coco’s is a turquoise coloured, coral atoll lagoon, seven miles long and 10-20 feet deep with seven islands dotted on it’s outer rim. The perfect playground for windsurfing, snorkeling, and fishing.

After lunch Sefo and I take John from the yacht Nyora spear fishing. We shoot about a dozen small fish. The local heavies - a pair of reef sharks, appear every time we spear a fish. Each one is six foot long and built like a Nadroga rugby player. They have a look about them that says non negotiable, and circle dangerously closer each time, so we leave before too long. The fish is barbecued on the beach that evening.

THUR 23 SEPT - The facilities ashore at Direction Island are first class and include a public phone - quite a sight out here on an otherwise deserted island. Off the back corner of the island, in the strong tidal rip, is a fish sanctuary. It is crowded with all kinds of fish.

The central attraction on the island is a simple corrugated iron shelter dubbed ‘The Yacht Club’. Each evening the yachties go ashore with beers and meet for a social drink. A great opportunity to glean useful information about the weather and other ports. Yachts over the years have left mementos of their passing and there are now over a hundred of these hanging from the rafters. Some are simple plaques denoting the yachts name. Others are more elaborate... someone left a marine toilet with a poem on it; there’s even a full size toboggan! Tony resolves to construct something unique, so later he lugs our portable generator ashore, finds a large slab of coral stone and uses a hand grinder to carve Yacht Tau - Fiji Islands ‘99 on it. The sign is accented with crushed charcoal and a weathered piece of rope, and takes pride of place at the front of the shed.

We meet some interesting characters here. One of them is an elderly gentleman called Peter Robson who is being paid to deliver a yacht solo to Perth - this is against the prevailing wind so he'll sail South towards Antarctica for 800 miles or so, then tack and sail 1800 miles East to Perth. Probably a 30 day trip - alone... a serious trip. He smokes, and drinks like a fish, and handles the job like it’s a grand joke. Some of his stories are amazing. Peter was boarded by pirates in Asia. He was on his own, and the four pirates were armed. Because it was dark and they didn’t know his boat as well as he, they got fouled up in his rigging and a couple of them ended up in the ocean. In the confusion Peter ended up on their boat, his yacht drifting away, and him with no idea of how to get back to his boat. Luckily the current changed bringing his yacht back to him. He managed to get away in one piece.

Peter was in the British Army and when he found out we were from Fiji he began to tell us about the Fijians he knew, including a Mr Labalaba from the SAS who was killed in action during the Omani war.

FRI 24 SEPT - I go over to explore the surfing on the main island, and discover a post card perfect surf beach. The wave is a left hander breaking over coral less than a hundred yards off a tiny sand beach. A little hut sits on the beach with about thirty surfboards stacked under it. No one bothers to take their boards home here. That evening I go to the Coco’s Club with some visiting Australian surfers - it’s the only bar within 500 miles!

SAT 25 SEPT - Tau departs for Rodrigues Island in the Republic of Mauritius. The distance - 1,990 miles. We set out downwind in a light breeze.

SUN 26 SEPT - The wind is very strong today, 20-30knots. We hook a Mahimahi at sunset but lose it pulling it on deck We are now well past the 90th Meridian which puts us one quarter of the way around the globe.

MON 27 SEPT - Since Sunday afternoon the wind has been gusting very strong -in the rain squalls up to 35 knots. Sefo and I use the opportunity to take rain baths on deck. No fish today but something large has a go at the line and bends the hook. A large shark swims past only 30 yards away. Later a large school of dolphins pay a visit.

Tau is making great time but with the wind gusting as it is we have to be careful we don’t damage the sails. Though they are brand new we need them to carry us another 20,000 miles back to Fiji. Yesterday we took down the Fisherman (a light wind sail) just as the first wind squall approached. Too late! We discovered a meter long rip in it when we got it on deck. We may miss that sail for the next eight or nine days before we can have it repaired in Mauritius.

Ahead of us somewhere is an abandoned yacht drifting towards the West. Three weeks ago a storm in this area sunk one yacht and rolled another. The yacht that rolled carried an Australian couple. The lady was badly injured in the incident and her husband was forced to put a Mayday call out. A nearby freighter came to their rescue and lifted the pair onto it’s deck. They then tried towing the yacht for a while but eventually had to leave it to the ocean.

The skipper - Rob received word ten days ago that someone had sighted his yacht. He was trying (unsuccessfully) on Coco’s to find a search boat. We took note of the yachts last reported position and promised Rob we’d keep an eye out for it on our way to Rodrigues. Today we are passing within 60 miles of that position but so far there’s been no sign of it.

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