This place is unlike any place we have been. For starters, what place has parentheses in the official form of its name?! Cocos is two atolls, 15 miles apart. The northern one is small, no harbor, no people. The southern atoll is a ring of islands around a lagoon four miles across. Three islands are of importance — Direction Island, Home Island and West Island. Culturally, each is entirely different from the others.
Direction Island is where we are anchored — in fact, it is the only place where yachts are allowed to anchor. The anchorage is beautiful and well protected, and the island has the nicest beach of the atoll. But nobody lives on Direction Island. Twice a week a ferry comes here from Home Island, two miles away, and brings people who want to “go to the beach.” There are several little shelters…walking trails…a big cistern of rainwater…a few hammocks and beach chairs…a barbecue hearth…and a wifi internet router that we can access right from the boat… Except on ferry days, it is just us yachties. No fishing boats, nobody paddling out asking for handouts. Just sitting on the boat in the trade winds and gazing at the beach and palm trees is delightful.
Home Island is where the people of Malay descent live — about 500 people, very Muslim. There is a well stocked grocery store, though prices are high — a banana costs about $2. There is a restaurant that opens on certain nights if there is enough interest…a post office…a bank that opens for a few hours a week…a primary school…the Shire Office, where we pay $50 (Australian) to anchor here for a week…a marine services building with impressive tools and equipment…a crafts shop that they opened for us when we showed interest (but nothing compelling inside)…several other little shops…and a fuel depot that opens at 7:30am for one hour twice a week, and two hours on Fridays. No cars, but some golf carts and motorbikes and 4-wheelers. The pace is pleasantly slow.
Then there is West Island, with ferry service from Home Island half a dozen times a day ($2.50 each way; half hour ride). About 150 people live on West Island, most of them white, most of them government workers and their families, and ex-government-workers who liked it here and didn’t go back home to Australia. There is an airport with a few flights per week. (And apparently the USA would like to base a fleet of drones there.) There is a well stocked grocery store…some tourist shops (but not many tourists; as TC says, most Australians have never heard of Cocos)…a “hotel”…not much else. It all seems rather unreal…artificial…out of place. It’s all pretty high end, over-infrastructured. There is a bus that makes three stops, mostly because the ferry landing is several kilometers from the “town.”
The division between the Malays on one island and the Aussies on the other, plus the yachties separate is…well…interesting. I don’t mean this in a negative way. It was an interesting history that even got this atoll inhabited in the first place, and then its strategic geographic importance gives it additional unusual history. You might want to read about it on Wikipedia. The Malay people originally were brought here in the 1800’s as a harem (and slaves) for a white sea captain who wanted to create his own little world apart. The recent incorporation into Australia was agreed to by a close-to-unanimous vote.
We are 600 miles from the southern tip of Sumatra, and 1100 miles from Western Australia.
To get to Home Island we have to take the dinghy two miles through waters studded with coral. We managed to find our way through it all until we grounded 50 yards from the jetty! Later in the day I noticed that there was a lot of water in the dinghy. But it might have been the combination of rain showers plus the spray we shipped on the two mile ride back. So I just pumped it out and forgot about it, until I was in bed and almost asleep. I got up to check, and found four inches of water aboard! After pumping it again I lifted the dinghy on our davits for the night.
I feared in the morning I would look under the bow and see a big crack or a hole, and we’d have to figure out a way to epoxy it before we could go anywhere. But I saw no damage under the bow. So we dumped several buckets of water into the boat to see if it would leak out. Sure enough, it appeared that the drain plug in the back was dripping. The plug has always felt rather loose, so we wrapped tape around it, like you might do on a plumbing joint. But it made no difference. Closer inspection revealed that it wasn’t the plug, but the fitting it plugs into that was leaking. It was tricky to take that fitting apart, but we did it and we drew upon out vast collection of O rings to put it back together with no leak. Fixed — in time to still dinghy into Home Island and catch the ferry to West Island for our exploration there. Apparently it was pure coincidence that the leak developed on the same day when we grounded the dinghy.
Another little coincidence: I took advantage of the rainwater ashore, and I shaved for the first time in 6 weeks. Later I put on my dive mask so I could scrape the barnacles off the bottom of the boat. With my beard gone, I expected to have an improved watertight seal of my mask against my face. Instead I found that water was rapidly coming in, and I couldn’t get a good seal at all! How weird that shaving would have that backwards effect. But later I took a closer look at my mask, and discovered that the purge valve had come loose. It was a five minute fix.
Today is fuel day. Since we motored so much before we picked up the trade winds, we want to get some diesel. The cost is nearly $8 (US) per gallon here, but I’d rather not be worrying about running out on our upcoming passage. It isn’t easy to get, though, since the depot is only open from 7:30am to 9:30am today (it’s Friday, when they stay open the extra hour), and we will have to make two dinghy trips to get the 20 gallons we want. Plus we will have to buy petrol/gasoline to fuel the long dinghy rides.
Then we will attempt to check out, so we are free to leave over the weekend, when the police won’t be working. The police boat is nearby checking a yacht in (five more boats have arrived since Maggie got here!). The police say they will stop by after to clear us. And today is laundry day. I’m going to take my bedding ashore to wash in the rainwater, as it is a good drying day today. (Now that the squalls have gone away, it is beautiful beautiful beautiful here.)
Tomorrow is shopping-for-produce day. We are told that a freighter arrives today with produce, so tomorrow morning is the time to stock up. We want a two week supply for our run to Rodrigues.
After shopping we might leave. No hurry though…maybe we will stay another day. Our mooring fee and our internet fee are both for a week, so staying another day is “free.” We will study the wind predictions, but I don’t think a day will make much difference, one way or the other. We’ll see what Maggie wants to do…
I feel so GOOD here! The air temperature is warm, but the constant wind feels cool. The anchorage is protected, the holding solid — makes for sound sleep. Shaving makes me feel lighter, as does cutting my hair, which I did just before leaving Padang. Our needs for food and fuel, and for dealing with the authorities, are getting met. It is quiet — we are far from the generators and the mosque in town. The things that have been going wrong are getting fixed quickly. We splurged and bought a case of expensive beer. The good internet has allowed me to get my “fix” of online Scrabble with Hallie. Swimming is wonderful, the water clean and clear (and the sharks are pretty small and don’t bother you). The air is clear and clean. I now have clean sheets and pillow cases. I washed my hair. My body feels good; my soul feels good; no worries; no hurry.