May 23, 2015

Next Stop Chagos

Leaving anywhere is always a little bittersweet. There’s the pang of departing a remarkable place we probably won’t visit with the same depth ever again but there’s also the excitement of the new and unknown

And between the two there’s the getting ready.

I’m not sure what causes the mental division between one place and the next. The physical divisions can vary: While crossing the South Pacific, one major line was the equator; another was the jump from one island group to another; in some places the separation is geographically small, but culturally wide. This time the divide is a 300 mile light-wind passage along the same geographic ridge of ancient volcanoes we’ve been exploring for the past two months. But the journey will take us from sparsely populated atolls to unpopulated ones.
We’re going from help-is-available to self-sufficient.
We’re also leaving behind the 4 am calls to prayer.

during squally weather the fishing boats stopped by to give us weather updates and food
Becoming more self-reliant:

For the most part self-reliance is the goal of cruisers. In practice, it’s impossible to plan for every contingency. In the Maldives we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have access to shipping agents from Real Seahawks. When we arrived in the Maldives, Assad met us at our boat (with ice cream and a sim card for our cell phone) then proceeded to answer any question we had—from where to buy x, y & z to what address should we use as a mail drop.

Here in Addu City, Matthi has arranged for our laundry, found us a welder and located carpenters and mechanics for other boats. Mostly he works as a large ship agent. He tells us large ships don’t need anywhere near the service yachts do, and while our fees are less than a ship’s, he enjoys the challenge of helping us on our way.

being invited into people's yards for mangoes and coconuts was a wonderful way to meet locals
Chagos doesn’t have an Assad or Matthi though—so there the reliance turns to helping each other. We’re carrying water maker parts to one boat that needs them from another boat that’s delayed for repairs. But aside from acting as a courier we’ve also been the contributor and receiver of a variety of different spare parts and expertise.

But truly, once we hit Chagos, we’ll need to be as self-contained as we’ve ever been.

Stocking up for self-sufficiency:
This squall reached 60 knots--it kept us at anchor and  food delivery stopped through the Maldives
It’s true that people eat everywhere. But as we moved away from agricultural regions it’s been clear that not everyone eats as well as everyone else. In the Maldives the main dish is tuna—it comes fresh, canned, dried and smoked and is found on the breakfast table, lunch table, dinner table and in snacks for tea. Along with the tuna you’ll find rice, cabbage, red onions, carrots and the occasional bean and tomato. All of these are tasty in moderation—but in the long run they’re both redundant and don’t keep as well as you might hope. So that’s led to a bit of a scavenger hunt for fresh food.

a healthy tuna industry feeds the population a LOT of tuna
Addu city is the second most populous atoll in the Maldives—but that really doesn’t say much. Not even the resorts buy their food in the Maldives—they have it shipped in separately. The rest of the country gets far too many staples from India. The food travels by slow boat and by the time it arrives, and is distributed to the outer atolls, the eggs are 50% bad and the cabbages are nearly sauerkraut.

To make the best of it, we’re dependent on kindness. In one store the shop keeper called me over to see his newest produce—so I could select the best options. On the great egg hunt (eggs didn’t make it to Addu city in the bad weather—and the atoll ran out) one shop keeper took off by scooter and searched shop-to-shop until he found a new shipment of eggs—then he came to find us to take us to the eggs. In some villages we’ve been given fresh mangos and on one the council president, Mohamed gave us a ‘clump’ of about 30 drinking coconuts.

our 'clump' after a week of use still looks awfully big
Once we get the food we need to preserve it as best we can. I’ve been pickling beans, making chutney, sun drying tomatoes and canning meat. We’ll leave Chagos either when we start to get hungry or our permit runs out.

When to go

Much of the ‘when’ was determined by our 60-day Maldivian cruising permit, which has run out. The rest is weather and readiness. The weather looks okay—not perfect, but fine. And there is always, always more that can be done and more food that can be bought—but we’ll leap off into the new and unknown tomorrow. It’s sooner than we’d like, and before we’re really ready but that’s how cruising is.

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