Janneke Kuysters along with Partner, Wietze van der Laan report on the idyllic conditions they found when cruising the Seychelles even during the Covid-19 pandemic
It had been a long time coming but after many days of quarantine onboard, finally finding a Seychelles anchorage a possibility as Janneke Kuysters along with Partner, Wietze van der Laan arrived at the collection of islands in the Indian Ocean.
Are you sure?” my partner Wietze asked I nodded: “Yes, look at that cloud there. It is different, I’m sure there is an island under it.” I can’t keep my eyes off the cloud, and half an hour later am calling Wietze back on deck with cries of “Land! Land, look there!”
Wietze joins me in my joy; we hug and look at the dark mass in the distance. Every time when you arrive somewhere after a long crossing it is special. But this one was extra special: the crossing was only 14 days, but it was the closing stage of 102 days of strict isolation on board in the Maldives. Our bodies longed to walk on terra firma, eat fresh food and meet other people. All that was now within reach.
Once in our quarantine anchorage, we took a long look around at the verdant green hills, every shade of green and blue in the reefs all around us, brightly coloured fishing vessels at the quays, and the local sailing club whizzing by in their dinghies.
“Bonzour!” is the Creole way of greeting. We hand the health officer all our information, he stamps it and grins behind his facemask: “Welcome to Seychelles”, and off he goes with the Pilot cutter. I need all my self-control not to dance around the dock as frigate birds and fruit bats fly overhead.
Idyllic Seychelles anchorage
In the middle of the Indian Ocean, the small island nation of Seychelles offers a welcoming point of respite for cruisers on their way to the Atlantic – never more so than under the travel restrictions of 2020 – and is also an idyllic sailing and charter destination in its own right.
The cruising options are very seasonal: from December to March the north-west monsoon brings hot air and rain; from May to October the south-east monsoon brings hot, dry air. The south-east monsoon is much stronger than its counterpart: especially in July and August when the winds are usually around the 25-knot mark. The Seychelles lies outside of the cyclone belt.
On a choppy sea we sailed to Praslin, the second largest island. Looking at the chart for suitable anchorages it is obvious how these islands seem to be made for sailing year-round: in every wind direction you can find a protected bay.
We loved Anse Lazio, where the contrast between the dark granitic boulders, the azure sea and the incredible white sand dazzled us. Palm trees bend in the strong wind, with boobies circling overhead.
Baie St Anne on the east coast is a very large bay with reasonable – though rolly – protection from the south-east trades. It is a convenient stop to visit the little town of St Anne to provision.
This anchorage is also a short taxi ride to Vallee de Mai, one of the world’s smallest UNESCO World Heritage sites, where the mysterious Coco de Mer can be seen.
Many years ago, ancient seafarers witnessed a strange phenomenon of large coconuts floating up from the depths of the sea. They called them Coco de Mer, sea coconut, and believed they grew underwater.
It wasn’t until the Seychelles islands were charted that the source of these coconuts was discovered: they grow on giant palm trees, but once they fall in the water the green husk falls off and the nut sinks to the bottom.
The flesh inside forms a gas and thus the coconut floats to the surface. They can weigh up to 30kg each. Each palm tree takes a year to make one leaf, as big as a king-sized bed.
The islands of the Seychelles were marked on charts from as early as 865 by Arab seafarers. From the 1500s onwards, Portuguese, British and French ships plying the route to India and the Spice Islands knew about the Seychelles, but never settled on them.
They stopped near the lush green islands in the north-west to hunt for crocodiles and tortoises, pick fruits and replenish their water supply and pirates used the Seychelles as a base, but it wasn’t until 1770 when a group of French settlers came to the islands and started plantations.
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To this day, the historic Jardin du Roi (King’s Garden) still exists: a valley where new crop plants were tested before using them in the plantations.
In 1814 the Seychelles became part of the British empire and the population grew steadily; a mix of people from Europe, India and mainland Africa. In 1976 Seychelles became an independent republic.
Despite consisting of 115 islands, it is a small country with a population of just under 100,000. The three most populous islands are Mahé (with the capital Victoria), Praslin and La Digue. Each island has its own characteristics.
Differing pace of life
Mahé has some hustle and bustle. The capital city Victoria offers an interesting national museum, delicious Creole food and a large open market. In the south is the region of Takamaka, where the first five families that inhabited Mahé set up their plantations. We visit an old plantation house, where the descendants have set up a rum distillery.
La Digue, the smallest of the three populated islands, is idyllic and the pace of life is slow. There are hardly any cars, the most common mode of transport is bicycle. It has a tiny, shallow harbour with a ferry jetty and an unusual collection of boats.
The small schooners which normally ply the waters between La Digue and Praslin with tourists have returned to their old roles as fishing boats during the pandemic.
There is room for a few visiting boats, and on calm days the anchorage outside the harbour is pleasant too. When the monsoon changes, the east side of the island offers a large, safe Seychelles anchorage.
A steep climb up Nid D’Aigle offers panoramic views: the steep slopes of the surrounding islands are impressive in the vast ocean.
In the north-west of the Seychelles are granitic islands: about one third of which are very distinct with high hills and mountains, green slopes and a multitude of pretty Seychelles anchorages.
The rest are low-lying atolls with small islands dotted around them. A lot are off-limits for cruising because they’re private resorts or protected nature reserves although, for some, permission to sail there can usually be obtained with the Ministry of Environment.
All over the Seychelles the walking is impressive. The Seychelles Tourism Board publishes a handy book with the best routes, and at the end of each is a grand reward of views to die for.
We walk through wild crop plants including pineapple, vanilla, pepper, cinnamon and tea, and see blue pigeon, harmless snakes and black snails, as well as the famous giant tortoises found on all the islands.
Cruising the Seychelles practicalities
Seychelles re-opened its borders to foreign yachts on 1 June, 2020. An online form needs to be submitted before arrival. After approval, a yacht needs to be at sea for 21 days.
If the crossing is shorter than that, additional days can be spent in the quarantine anchorage near Victoria. Port Victoria on Mahé is the only port of entry/exit.
The small nation has had a very low amount of COVID-19 infections and is carefully increasing its tourist numbers again. Information through Facebook and government websites is good.
Provisioning is good (although eating out can be expensive); health care is as can be expected from a small country.
Availability of boat parts is reasonable, due to large charter and fishing fleets. There are three boatyards where maintenance work can be done: they differ in price and facilities, but all are cheap compared to Europe.
There is one large marina on Mahé; Eden Island, which is geared to larger yachts and catamarans, but with our 44ft monohull we found a good berth too. Berth prices are on a European level when booked for one month or more, while daily rates are quite high.
On Praslin there is a small marina, which only has spaces available if the resident charter fleet is out. La Digue also has a small harbour that can accommodate visiting yachts. Both harbours are relatively cheap.
Close to Victoria on the east coast of Mahé there are some excellent anchorages. The Yacht Club in Victoria has free moorings and is conveniently near the centre of the city. Temporary memberships for £15 per week allow cruisers to use the facilities.
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