Sailing The Seychelles - part 1

Day 1 - Mahé to St Anne (5 km by boat)

We decided to go to The Seychelles when, on looking at a map, we realised it was just one flight away from Africa, and sailing seemed a nice relaxing way to finish our African adventure. The flight from Johannesburg was 5 hours long and we did not arrive on Mahé, the main island, until well after dark ..... consequently, our first look at the Seychelle Islands would have to wait until the morning. It was an impressive first look - out of our window, the verdant green vegetation covering granite slabs rose steeply out of the fringe of flattish land that had been reclaimed form the sea. Mahé is a mountainous island.

Heading down to the port at Eden Island, we checked into the yacht company and then wandered around this rather exclusive enclave on the island. Here we were told the news that the air conditioning on our catamaran was not functioning and could not be fixed for this voyage. Now having done several small boat trips and never had air-conditioning, this did not phase us ...... so the offer of free beverages on board to compensate for this was just a big bonus.

Eden Harbour

The magnificent mountains of Mahé (photo: Raul Scheibner)

The "Costa Rica" - a Mojito 78 catamaran

At 1pm, we met our skipper and crew, plus our fellow voyagers (two Italians, two Swiss, two Austrians, two Australians (us) and 14 Germans) and were taken out to our catamaran, the "Costa Rica" - at 12 years old not the most modern, but, at 78 ft (24 m), a very big catamaran that comfortably took all 22 passengers in double cabins with private ensuites. Then it was time for lunch, based on fresh salad, fish and pasta - if we eat this well all the time, this is going to be a good trip.

Cloud-capped silhouette of Mahé Island

On the beach at St Anne Island

Heading to St Anne Island

Lunch and meeting other passengers over, our skipper, Kevin, fired up the big diesel motors and took us out of Eden Harbour, as the tips of Mahé's mountainous centre capped in puffy white cloud dominated the skyline behind. Some twenty minutes later, we anchored near the shore of St Anne, one of two islets protecting the north-east shore of Mahé.

Our crewman, Danny, lowered the zodiac and took some of us into shore - a chance to wander up the white coral sand beach of St Anne and swim in the warm, shallow and very salty waters of the islet. It was a short but relaxing way to start our trip.

Our first Seychelles sunset

The sun set behind the hills of Mahé and the lights of Victoria, its main town, sparkled across the water, as the sky darkened and a gentle cool breeze wafted across the deck. There is something about a tropical night that calms the restless spirit.

Day 2 - St Anne to La Digue (62 km by boat)

Breakfast at eight, sailing at nine - the rhythm of the trip had commenced. Rounding the southern end of St Anne, the"Costa Rica" turned onto a north-east bearing and headed across the open ocean to the northern islands of The Seychelles. With a 5-10 knot south-easterly it would have been perfect sailing on a long reach, but, sadly, as well as having lost the air conditioning, our catamaran had damaged its mainsail in a storm the previous week (skipper Kevin said that "Costa Rica" could reach 14 knots under sail). Instead, we motored across to the gentle rise and fall of the Indian Ocean swell.

Cloud capped Mahé faded into the south and the silhouette of Praslin and La Digue rose out of the northern horizon. Our bearing took us to the southern tip of La Digue, threading the needle between Caiman and Shark Reefs on the way. From there, we cruised past the east coast of this verdant island, before resuming a north-easterly bearing at its northern tip towards the the tiny islet of Coco.

The old catholic church on La Digue

Leaving St Anne Island

Heading to the northern islands

Sailing by La Digue

View across the fringing reef

Coco - halfway between Felicité and Grande Souer Islands - where the tropic birds, with their long white tail plumes, circled high above and the dark shapes of fruit bats flapped their way languidly between Coco and nearby Felicité. The area between Coco and the nearby group of sculpted granite rocks was to be our first snorkelling spot.

The snorkelling area of tiny Coco Islet

We donned masks and fins, jumped off the catamaran into the azure sea and headed over to the islet. It was both disappointing and impressive - disappointing because most of the coral lay smashed and bleached on the sea bed, impressive because a great diversity of colourful fish still inhabited the area. The region around the rocks was better - interesting subaquatic chasms and an even greater variety of fish.

The beach on Coco

It was a good start to "Underwater Seychelles", though the mass bleaching, a consequence of severe warming in this part of the Indian Ocean in 2016, made us fearful for the coral reefs of the world. Climate change is not something to vaguely worry about in the future - it is here now and it is destructive.

Some of the undersea life .....

.... around Coco Islet

Once back on board, we pulled anchor to head back to the shelter of La Digue for the night. Perhaps sensing our disappointment of motoring across, our skipper unfurled the genoa and off we sailed. How impressive our catamaran would have looked had its huge mainsail been functioning.

Stream flowing down to the sea

Late afternoon on La Digue

Once anchored at La Digue, Danny took those who wanted to go ashore in the zodiac. It was good to stretch our legs on land again, walk along the shady roads of this pleasant island, say hello for the first time to a giant Aldabra tortoise and watch the sun set golden over the neighbouring island of Praslin. This truly is a beautiful tropical setting.

Giant Aldabra tortoise


Evening silhouette of rocks in La Digue harbour

La Digue sunset

Then it was back to the boat, to enjoy that best period of tropical latitudes - when the breeze becomes cool and the sky darkens to reveal the panorama of sparkling lights - those of the gently swaying mastlights on boats around us in the harbour, those of the houses on La Digue to the east and Praslin to the west, the faint glow on the horizon from distant Mahé and the glorious display of the milky way and the equatorial night sky.

As we lay on the deck mattresses looking up at this infinity of stars, the world seemed that little bit better.

Day 3 - A day on La Digue (16 km bike ride, 17 km by boat)

La Digue is often referred to as a possibility for the Garden of Eden - with its rich green forest covered slopes and postcard-perfect shoreline. However, when we woke, it was grey skies that greeted us, and soon a gentle warm rain begain to splash upon the ocean surface. By the time we had all had breakfast, it was getting quite heavy, and, by the time the "Costa Rica" berthed at the busy little harbour, where foodstuffs, building materials and tourists were being discharged, it looked like it was setting in for the day.

When we went ashore to hire our bikes, it was still falling. However, 15 minutes later, as we began our exploration of La Digue by bike, the sun emerged to chase the rainclouds away.

A Seychellois fishing boat heads out to sea

Setting off for our bike ride around La Digue

The rugged coast-line of north-east La Digue

A roadside shrine

The fair Nello and I headed north, along the narrow concrete road beneath a canopy of tropical trees. Passing the tiny, but beautiful, beach of Anse Severe, we rounded the northernmost tip of La Digue to explore the western side of the island. This is the wild side, where the green slopes plunge straight into the sea, with only a narrow fringe of dwellings and a 100-year old tortoise sleeping on the road.

The fair Nello stops for a chat

Arriving at Anse Fourmis, the concrete road came to an abrupt halt - not even a footpath continued, so we retraced our route,with views out to sea to The Sisters Island and Coco, where we had snorkelled yesterday.

Anse Fourmis - end of the road

Sculpted granite outcrop

Cycling through the old vanilla plantation

The impressive south-eastern coast of La Digue

Once back in the centre of town, we continued south to reach the old L'Union vanilla plantation, one of the original settlements on La Digue and a place where you ride between rows of old vanilla vines to get to the start of a series of beautiful beaches. The sun shone brightly as we parked and locked our bikes, and headed off down a sandy track alongside the strangely sculpted granite boulders of Point Source d'Argent.

The beach at Source d'Argent

Anse Pierrot - with its boulders and clear blue water

A good spot for lunch

The path to the beach

On a la Digue country road

Local house on La Digue

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, sitting next to the fluted boulders, beneath the low-branched tropical trees and palms, with the turquoise water of the Indian Ocean lapping at our feet.

This is a beach that postcards are made for - though full marks for beauty but less for swimming, with beds of sea-grass and a rough coral rubble bottom beyond the golden sand fringe. That, however, did not spoil a great afternoon of swimming and lazing on this lovely southern end of La Digue.

Time drifted by and we eventually had to pack up and head back to the harbour, with a detour into the interior of the island, up through the local houses at the base of the steep tree-clad hills, before descending again to the harbour.

The "Costa Rica" was soon there to pick us up and, not long after, set off for the one-hour voyage across the channel to the bigger island of Praslin, along its protected northern shore-line and through the channel between it and the island of Curieuse. It was a pleasant trip .... sitting at the hull tip with a cool tropical breeze blowing and a glass of chilled rosé in hand.

Big granite outcrope near L'Union

Some original island vegetation

The "Costa Rica" arriving at La Digue

One tree islet

A good place for sunset watching

The sun set in the west as we sailed and darkness had begun to settle on the ocean by the time we reached our anchorage at Baie Chevalier. The dinner bell sounded soon after, with yet another feast of creole fare. We had begun to settle in to the cruising life-style.

Day 4 - Baie Chevalier to Praslin Harbour (25 km by boat)

The fine weather had returned, but the wind had strengthened somewhat, as we left the shelter of Baie Chevalier and its protection of steep green-clad slopes to round the western end of Praslin Island. As soon as we did, the "Costa Rica" was in to the 12-15 knot south-easterly.

The "Costa Rica" under sail

Rounding Pointe Miller

At the helm with the wind in my hair

With an increased swell and a few white-caps, Kevin decided to unfurl the genoa and sail south towards Cousin Island. It was not far, but I was able to take the helm for the crossing under sail - a 78 foot catamaran is a different beast to a 43 foot one. It was good fun.

Cousin is a small flattish island and is a bird protection reserve, a nesting site for many species of sea-bird. Visits are restricted to between 10-12 each morning, and boat access to its steeply banked sandy tip is only via the island dinghies. Quite a few other catamarans and day-tripper boats from Praslin had also assembled there and it took 45 minutes for the passengers to be disembarked. We were then divided into two groups for a tour of the island - one English-speaking (about 50 people) and one French-speaking (about a dozen). The fair Nello and I looked at the group sizes and quickly joined the Francophones. C'était le bon choix.

Juvenile moorhen

Lesser noddy on nest

The broad sand beach of Cousin

Fairy terns

Tropic bird and chick

The endangered magpie-robin

It was a good tour, with lots of interesting facts and explanations as we wandered through the lowland forest, where noddies and fairy terns nested in the trees, and tropic birds found hollows at the base of tree-trunks to introduce us to their fluffy chicks. Meanwhile, shiny skinks watched from logs on the forest floor. Several times on the walk, we came across the giant Aldabra tortoises - some well over 100 years old from their size.

Giant Aldabra tortoise

Hermit crab

Seychelles skink

Then it was the reverse exercise - getting people off the steep wave-washed sandy beach and back by dinghy to their respective craft. Once we were all aboard and had lunch, the "Costa Rica" set off, under motor this time, across the big swells south of Praslin Island, to reach its harbour in a large sheltered bay on the eastern end.

Leaving Cousin .....

.... and arriving at Praslin

Some people headed to town and some to the beach. The fair Nello and I joined Raoul and Angela (one of the German couples) and hired a taxi to visit Valleé de Mai, a world heritage listed site that protects the six endemic palm species, the star being the coco de mer, with its 18 kg nuts the biggest seed of all plant species.

Coco de Mer (left) .....

.... and other species of endemic palm ...

.... in the Valleé de Mai

We had a pleasant stroll through the steep-sided valley, beneath the shade of the giant fan leaves of the coco de mer and the other palm trees in this dark forest. The palm forest is also the only place that the Seychelles black parrot calls home, and there are less than 900 of them - we heard it, but did not see it. The number of endemic species in this isolated island group is amazing.

View across the Valleé de Mai towards La Digue

While we were out walking, "Costa Rica" was being cleaned and prepared for the second part of our voyage. That included replacing the damaged mainsail - lets hope we get a chance to raise it and see what this big catamaran can really do.