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Eye of The Wind - Newsletter

There was a favourable breeze blowing as we crossed the start line of the Darwin to Ambon Race, laying astern of the melee of yachts that were vying for poll position as the starter's gun exploded.

With all sail set and an ebb tide under us, we proceeded down the sound. In the heat of the moment, one poor competitor got caught up with the anchor chain of the Australian Navy starting vessel, and there must have been a few anxious moments for him before they were disentangled.

Fifty sailing craft were competing in this year's event-well down on the record turnout the year before.

Five days of close hauled sailing across the Arafura Sea saw us ghosting into the vast crater harbour of Ambon on a pitch black night. With numerous unlit local fishing vessels and also unlit competing yachts appearing oufthe of the gloom, we decided for safety sake to power the last hour to cross the finishing line.

Even though the heavens opened and part of one's attire became oilskins and umbrellas, the local village Ambonese proved to be splendid hosts, with many cultural events and displays organised.

After gaining our clearance papers we headed to the islands south of Sulawesi, Karangkapatta, a sunken coral atoll, was our first opportunity to dive and snorkel in Indonesian waters. The foreshore of Bone Rate was a shipbuilding mecca - up to 50 local bugis schooners were in various stages of construction. These ranged in length from 8 to 20 metres, all being constructed of grown frames and knees and extremely short planking held together by wooden trennels into frames and corresponding planks. Very few power tools were in evidence, and caulking between the seams was a fibrous bark. Some of the crew had fleeting thoughts of returning to purchase a local craft, as the going rate of hull and rigging was under US 5.000.

We anchored off Ruiang Bay in Central Flores to take the opportunity to visit the mountain region to see the fabled extinct crater lakes of Kelimutu. The local Bus we hired to take us was extremely comfortable by Indonesian standards - those in the front thought they had hit the jackpot with a little more leg room, but as the temperature of the engine rose to an unbelievable level, they weren't so sure.

The trip to the mountains was fascinating as we passed through many different climatic regions of vegetation and some dramatic landscapes. There were villages dotted all along the way, with most of them being subsistence farmers, but must admit we did spot the odd satellite dish on a few houses. After the heat of the coast, it was a relief to get up to the coolness of the mountains, where the hillsides were dissected by rice paddies. We stayed night at a very basic guest house (with extremely hard beds) at Moni, but for AUD 2.00 per night who could complain?

The crew - click to view larger pic!At 4.00am we headed up to the three coloured lakes near the volcano's summit. The vivid colours of the water have changed radically over time, and are now turquoise, green and black. The turquoise lake literally glowed in the predawn light, but unfortunately just as the sun rose, a layer of cloud descended which decreased the spectacle a little.

Moni was renowned for its Ikat weaving, where the threads are intricately tye-dyed before the weaving begins. Everyone took the opportunity to see the looms, and many bought examples of Ikat which is reputed to be some of the finest traditional patterned weaving in the world.

Isolated by strong currents, the Komodo National Park lies west of the island of Flores. Komodo and Rinca are the homes of the Komodo Dragon, the world's largest lizard and land reptile. The dragons may reach a size of 3 metres, and it is estimated that there are 2,000 adult individuals restricted to these islands. They are competant predators as well as scavengers, and we heard stories of attacks on deer, wild pig, water buffalo and wild horses, and even the odd person. They lie in wait along the animal trails, bite out a chunk of flesh and wait for the victim to die of blood loss and infection from its toxic saliva.

At the port of Abuanbajo we were lucky to employ two English speaking guides who knew the Komodo National Park both above and below the water, and we managed to find some underwater sights that gave both the divers and snorkellers an adrenalin rush.

Through the strong and fickle currents which cause a line of whirlpools and waves that seemed to stand up and dance with the colliding current, our first destination was the island of Rinca.

During our shore excursions, we were guided by a Park Ranger. Climbing the dry savanna grass covered ridges, there beside the track was a very large lizard, sunning himself on the rocks. The whirr of cameras and our presence did not seem to disturb him at all. The views from the top were spectacular, down the open fields to the surrounding islands. The best sighting of the day was an extremely large specimen, busily drinking the soapy shower water coming from the pipe at the ranger's hut.

All too soon, Bali was in our sights. The end of an extremely fascinating voyage through an island nation of such diverse cultures, crafts, stunning beauty and friendly people.

As we approached the anchorage in Benoa Harbour, a small boat came alongside and a man who we first met as a youth in 1977, welcomed us to Bali. Bali is a shopper's paradise with a diverse range of very appealing goods. The shopaholics went to town, particularly as now with the currency collapse, Indonesia is extremely cheap. All the crew's (and Emma's) saving budgets went out the window as the frenzy spread.

At sunset we departed Bali and on clearing its southern shores, we set sail for Christmas Island. During this section of the voyage an incredible amount of flotsam was sighted. Nowhere else in our travels have we seen such an amount of plastics and garbage.

Once secure between mooring buoys in the deep anchorage of Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island, interesting shore excursions were undertaken. An uplifting coral atoll which has been extensively mined for its valuable nitrates, its isolation and rugged terrain has made it the home of numerous seabirds and a spectacular array of various species of land crabs. The annual migrations of millions of these crustaceans through the streets must be a nightmare for the locals. We received a complimentary coating of guano dust blown across from the fertiliser loader in Flying Fish Bay before we had a chance to leave, and it stuck to every possible surface, and was -extremely difficult to remove.

The crew - click to enlarge!A gusty, trade-wind passage carried us on to Cocos Keeling. It was a little different to when the ship had last been there 18 years ago on Operation Drake. Then John Clunies Ross still had control of the family ancestral home and the crew were privileged to visit and have tea with them. Unfortunately the house is now slowly deteriorating as no one lives in it. These days Cocos is part of Australia with all its associated infrastructure, including the Department of Social Security who provide for the unemployed, which, we were informed, was 70 of the population.

The Ross family originated from the Shetland Islands and controlled the islands for many years and with the Malay workforce, provided some of the finest coconut oil in the world which was primarily used for lighthouses throughout south-east Asia. Several catastrophes, both natural and man made have brought hardship to the island. In one cyclone they lost 300,000 palms. During the First World War the German raider 'Emden' attacked the Cable and Wireless radio station on Direction Island, and the German survivors from the battle with 'Sydney' escaped in the Ross' beautiful three masted sailing vessel.

Everyone experienced the exhilaration of snorkelling and diving 'The Rip' which is a passage on the southern side of Direction Island. The current whips through at the rate of 4-5 knots - one glides along the passage as a swirling myriad offish stem the incoming waters.

All aboard settled into ships routine for the trade-wind passage to Chagos - a group of islands that form part of the British Indian Ocean Territories. The most well known is Diego Garcia, which has been in the news of late - it is leased to the Americans and is their main supply base and airstrip for their forces in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf.

bbq on Diego Garcia - click to enlarge!The delightful Salomon atoll is now uninhabited except for the countless cruising yachts which sometimes spend many months in its turquoise waters (the regulars even have gardens ashore). One has a choice of anchorages, numerous islands dot the fringing reefs. These palm covered islands have fine white sand beaches, and there is a true Robinson Crusoe atmosphere. Ashore we bbq'd and played volleyball and snorkelled and dived in the lagoon.

Every month the British Marines call at all the islands in the archipelago just to keep an eye on things, and bring a Doctor if anyone is in need of medical assistance. They very kindly invited us to a bbq on one of the far islands. It was en enjoyable afternoon and they were extremely pleasant young men, but the best part was being taken over in their inflatable assault boat. It is the type they use for beach landings and does 45 knots, which is quite scary at first. You have to sit with your feet in stirrups so you don't fall out, and you need to keep your eyes turned s away from the wind, or it feels as if they will be blown out.

After a promising start for the passage to Seychelles, a tropical depression formed to the south of us and for several days, light airs were experienced. The iron topsail came into its own, and the miles slipped away - the highlight each day (especially for Emma) being an afternoon swim in what can only be described as the 'big blue'. Even experienced swimmers and divers felt disorientated and overwhelmed if they dived too deep into the endlessly deep blue water.

The keen fishermen aboard kept us supplied with good catches of tuna, and dorado and Spanish mackerel. Dolphins were often sighted, but alas very few whales - although we sighed a few blows in the distance.

For sheer beauty, the Seychelles were quite spectacular. The main islands are formed of granite, which were left behind millions of years ago when the continents of Africa, India and Australia split. All other islands in the world are either coralline or volcanic, but in the Seychelles huge granite boulders, white sand beaches and lush vegetation combine to create this spectacular group. However, while there are 115 islands, most are privately owned and you are either refused permission to go there, or have to pay substantial fees to set foot ashore.

We did a two week sojourn through the inner islands. La Dique is one of the most charming, with very few vehicles. Most people arrive by ferry and the main mode of transport is ox cart, bicycle or foot. The bikes are a lot of fun, if not a little clapped out, and the perfect way to see this island. The Union Estate was well worth a visit, with its still working copra plantation and ox-powered coconut oil crusher, along with old plantation houses, graveyards and a pristine beach. The beautiful but endangered Seychelles black paradise fly catcher is found only on this island.

As our divers and snorkellers entered the underwater world, they at once became aware of the extensive coral bleaching which has happened to this the once pristine reefs. We were later to learn that in March and April 1998 the water temperature had risen to more than three degrees above normal. Sadly this has happened throughout many tropical regions - the effects of El Niño year and no doubt global warming. The waters somehow still supported an abundance of tropical fish.

On Praslin is found the famed 'Vallee de Mai', which is one of the country's two World Heritage sites (the other being Aldabra). In this valley is found the coco-de-mer, which is a species of coconut that only grew on two islands in the world. General Gordon (of Battle of Khartoum fame) said it was the valley of the Garden of Eden. He believed it was the tree of knowledge used to test Adam and Eve as the extremely large nut (weighing up to 20kg) has a voluptous feminine shape. It has been surrounded by myth and legend for hundreds of years.

We gained permission to land ashore at the sanctuary of Aride Island, which was entrusted to the Royal Society for Nature Conservation by the Cadbury family, the former owners. Ten species of breeding seabirds nest on the island, the rarest being the roseate tem and red tailed tropic bird, as well as one lonely specimen of the critically endangered magpie robin. We had some extremely knowledgeable local guides to show us around, and all enjoyed a BBQ on the beach.

Whilst in Mahe (the capital) we managed to obtain a copy of William Travis' 'Beyond the Reef - a highly recommended book about life in the Seychelles in 1950's and 1960's. Travis was involved in collecting green shell and shark fishing. By his accounts of the prolific sharks we fully expected to encounter a few of the monsters of the deep, but world-wide commercial fishing has decimated their numbers as sightings by local divers are now very few.

Aldabra (the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean) lies roughly 700nm SW from Mahe, and is the world's largest raised coral atoll. Charles Darwin landed here in 1874, and even at that early date realised its importance to the survival of the giant tortoise. Fortunately its remoteness, harsh landscape and lack of water helped to protect one of nature's wonders from commercial exploitation, and thanks to scientific intervention, and an attempt by the British to site a military airstrip there. Now a World Heritage site, the island is the home of 150,000 giant tortoises, the world's largest population. The average age is 60-70 years and average weight 50 kg. Apart from these there are many rare birds and plants that are only found on this atoll.

We were made most welcome by Susan and Mike, the wardens, and with their rangers we roamed the areas which are open to their infrequent visitors. Access to some of the islands are prohibited to limit the impact of human visitation in an attempt to truly preserve the many unique species.

For the bird fanatics we sighted the flightless rail, Madagascar night-jar, Aldabran sunbirds and saw the large colonies of nesting boobies and frigates, and were enthralled by their aerial displays.

For the leisure fanatics, the island has an extremely comfortable visitor's centre (with TV and videos), so while the tortoises collapsed in the midday heat, our lot collapsed in front of the video screen.

In the cool of the early morning and evening, 100's of tortoises lumbered forth to forage on the grass and plants. Snorkelling and diving was excellent, enchanced by the crystal clear waters and an abundance of fish.

Madagascar square sails - click to enlarge! Our entry into Madagascar was at the island of Nosy Be. The past few years we have had Angela to come to the fore when French was required - this time we had to rely on Ian Anderson who did a magnificent job (particularly organising a load of excellent local beer). Everyone enjoyed the local market (except for the meat section), and many embroidered cotton goods, fresh vanilla, pottery and baskets were bought from the local ladies. Only one strong and hearty sailor had enough fortitude to purchase the local rum (US1.00 per litre - bring your own bottle).

On Nosy Be we were lucky to meet up with a Scottish woman, Josephine Andrews, who had dedicated her life to studying the black lemurs of Nosy Kombi. She gave us an extremely interesting lecture about the difficulties the communities faced re deforestation, tourism and employment. The Madagascan's have even invented a solar cooker to use in the dry season to try and eliminate the need for cutting down trees for fuel. She took us on a visit to see the lemur park they are trying to establish in the village, and hopefully the people will realise the economic benefits of not destroying the lemurs last few remaining habitats.

Ellis on the helm - click to enlarge!For ten days we roamed the offshore islands. We experienced some of the best diving so far in the whole Indian Ocean around the basalt formations known as 'The 4 Brothers'. Strong currents sustained a multitude of soft and hard corals, and huge caves, overhangs and rockfalls made it world-class diving.

Too soon our time was over, and on departing Hellville on 21 November 1998 we experienced one of ocean's strange phenomenons and had it been 100 years ago we would all have been extremely scared. It was a very calm, sultry evening after a red sunset. We were powering to get clear of the island, when suddenly the ship was surrounded by an area of sea, several ship lengths in radius, which was intermittently lit up by patches of luminescence. Each patch was approximately three metres across. The whole pattern was like a checkerboard. It was quite freaky as the light patches switched on and off all at once, and you had the impression of a rhythmical repetitive heartbeat every three seconds. The ship seemed to be the hub of a radiating wheel of bioluminescence blobs, flashing on and off as precisely as if they were flashing lights on a Christmas tree. The effect lasted for half an hour or so as it gradually disappaited. Every one was ready for a tot of rum by then to calm the nerves.

A good passage down the Mozambique channel, with sightings of whales and numerous catches of fish. Richards Bay was our port of entry into the Republic of South Africa, and gave everyone the chance to go to the Zulu-Natal area to see some of the big game.

A number of cruising yachts had gathered at Richards Bay awaiting a favourable weather slot to make the passage down the eastern seaboard and finally around the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town. Once again lady luck was with us - we departed with a passable four day forecast. We were fortunate to experience a strong NE for the first 36 hours and with the Agulhas current beneath us, the miles sped by. An expected southerly change did eventuate and we followed the textbook advice to close the shore to get clear of the continental shelf where giant, freak waves have been known to engulf both large and small vessels. Within 30 hours we once again had a favourable breeze which held for the remaining passage around Cape Agulhas and Good Hope. The few South Africans who had joined us for this hop couldn't believe our luck.

The sun's early morning rays lit up Table Mountain with its light mantle of cloud hanging above. Our pilot boarded us and we proceeded to the Inner Harbour at the Victoria and Alfred complex. A most rewarding and enjoyable voyage since our departure from Sydney on 1 June 1998.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this newsletter, which is possibly the last you will receive from us as custodians of 'Eye of the Wind' When we first bought the hull and began the restoration, our aim as group of friends was to have our own square-rigger to sail around the world. No great thought was given to future plans. After 25 years of full time work, the ship has left her wake across many oceans and made many friends along the way.

We have agonised over this major and difficult decision, and the many factors which affect the future. Emma will be nine this year and needs the opportunity to go to school so she will have options in her life. She has had a wonderful beginning, not least in the contribution of so many people who have been aboard. Thank you all who have given her such a special extended family.

The ship has provided us with an extremely fulfilling life, and we have been privileged to have gone to many wonderful and remote destinations, as well as enjoying the company of those who have sailed with us. I hope you have experienced some of the exhilaration, freedom, friendship and the beauty of the natural world that we have.

I feel I need an extended break and that it is now time for us to part with the ship and have a life ashore for a while. It is my dearest wish that 'Eye of the Wind' forever continues to sail to adventure, and I sincerely hope she brings as much joy to her next owners.

None of this would have been possible without the expertise of our very loyal and dedicated crew members, many of whom have returned again and again over the years. Nor forgetting the countless 'friends of the Eye' who have helped in innumerable ways since the very beginning, and also all the voyage crew who have sailed with her.

I take this opportunity to pass on my extreme gratitude - for keeping the dream alive, and for making the old girl what she is today. She is a credit to you all, and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible before I leave.


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