Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mea culpa, mea culpa - an ocean behind #2 (to Cocos I)

From Christmas to Cocos-Keeling Island is about the same distance as Bali to Christmas. In total it is about 1100 miles from Bali to Cocos Island, which is actually an atoll with several islands around a very shallow lagoon. The sailing was lovely although we ran into the same problem of going too fast so we would arrive at night - and you really, really don't want to try to enter here in the dark.

And the crowd says action shot. Every so often you have to fix something in an awkward location. One of 'Morley's' (the Monitor vane) control lines snapped on the way to Cocos so it meant climbing down to attach new ones. The point of attachment is about mid-calf with my feet dragging in the lovely water that was almost 30C. Harness is attached because it is a  long swim to anywhere. Note the fishing line with rubber snubber behind the vane. We enjoyed five mahi-mahi on the trip across the Indian Ocean - Kristian was a very keen fisherman.

Cocos is also Australia territory, but has little practical value except for its strategic location well out into the Indian Ocean. There was action here in WWII and even WWI when a German raider was sunk by an Australian cruiser. It was also a refuelling stop for military aircraft in WWII and for early airliners going between Australia and Africa. Today it extends Aussie sovereignty far to the west. Other than that it is only a drain on the Australian economy. The only jobs for the population of 600 are with the government and most people receive some form of welfare or unemployment insurance. There is a minor tourist industry but it is very costly place to get to, so few tourists come. But it is loverly!

Cocos is also a significant destination for refugee boats although these ones come from Sri Lanka which is much further away and hence a more dangerous trip in the crappy old boats they use, with no trained or experienced crew. There is a small naval vessel on watch here and while we there they took several boats that been seized out to sea to burn.

For most of its history, Cocos-Keeling was owned by a Scottish family who imported labour to produce copra (dried coconut). As such it was part of the British Empire. After the family business went belly-up, the islands were British. A referendum was held to decide if they should become part of Indonesia or part of Australia. In spite of proximity and cultural links, the people chose to be part of the rich, democratic country rather than the poorer, autocratic (at the time) one.

The beach at Direction Island is stunning.

Cocos has excellent snorkelling including through 'The Race' a pasage next to Direction Island. You drift through here with the current and see what there is to see. These pictures were taken with our new underwater camera. It is built into a diving mask so you just point your head and reach up and push the button.

Cocos is very susceptible to cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons - call them what you will). Also the entire island is only a few feet above sea level at most. Storm surge would easily cover the entire island. They have a robust cyclone shelter on Home Island just in case.

Memories of Suwarrow in the Pacific. The lagoon in Cocos is well-populated with sharks. The ones in the lagoon are black-tipped reef sharks which we have swum with before and are now used to. You don't have to go very far to find tiger sharks though and they are an entirely different thing.

No comments: