62 miles to Cocos and oh, how we worked for those miles. We flew along with just the jib until David noticed a small tear on the leech near the UV. We hauled in the jib, put up the staysail and a triple-reefed main and maintained nearly the same speed. Add a jib repair to the growing list of to-do's. The wind continued to scream with gusts near 40 knots, the following seas building and giving us a sleigh ride of a passage. There were no naps to be had; the cockpit was the most comfortable place aboard. The saloon looked like a hurricane had hit … 10 days of passage including the last two days of rough weather had taken its toll below. A larger Swiss sailboat overtook us and though they didn't respond to radio hails, they waved as they went by. They had a #52 and a rally burgee that we couldn't quite make out flying from their port flag halyard. Hmm … hopefully there's not a rally going to the Cocos. Perhaps, it was a yacht club burgee? Per instructions, we called the Australian Federal Police a couple of hours out to advise them of our arrival. All good, they'd check us in at 2pm tomorrow and we were free to leave the boat prior to that if we wished.
The Cocos Keeling are low-lying islands, but finally about 10 miles out, when we reached the crest of a wave, we spotted a long expanse of palm trees, seemingly growing right out of the ocean depths. We were still showing 6,000 (1,845m) foot depths and there, just in in front of us a few miles, were islands lush with palm trees. We slogged our way into the wide atoll opening between Horsburgh Island and Direction Island, not quite enjoying the cold, wet sting of the waves as they now slapped the side of the boat and rose up, thoroughly drenching us each time.
It was dusk as we rounded the end of Direction Island and watched the depth meter go dramatically from “unreadable – too deep” to 40 feet (12m) in seconds. It was that dramatic. Our electronic charts seemed spot on and the flashing lights shown on our charts were functional. Hallelujah! A small ship was anchored in Port Refuge. We passed by and headed east towards a more suitable depth for Nine of Cups. There is an inner lagoon for sailboats, but the area is dotted with coral heads and negotiating this area at night was not advisable without knowledge of the waters. We were content to drop the hook in 22 feet (6.7m) and call it a day. Even though it was dusk, the water was so clear, I could see our anchor hit the sand on the bottom and coral patches seemed easily distinguished. Dropping the hook, seeing the anchor dig in and finally turning off the engine provided a wonderful satisfaction and relief. A few days R&R (that's repair and regroup) were definitely in order.
We were close enough to the inner lagoon anchorage to count the boats at anchor there … 20! How could this be? This late in the season, we were expecting to have the place mostly to ourselves … perhaps a few other boats, but a whole fleet? Even after we were comfortably anchored, we noted two other sailboats arriving. One was flying a discernible burgee … the ARC! We had checked weather, currents, regulations, things to see and do. We had not checked to see if there were any rallies scheduled to stop in the Cocos.
The ARC, a renowned around-the-world rally from hell, is one of those things that are fun for the those participating and directly benefiting, but definitely not enjoyable for those on the sidelines. They tend to monopolize the anchorages, the services and the locals wherever they stop, leaving non-rally boats at a disadvantage. We plan to find out where they're heading … this might be a passage-altering occurrence.
Back to the arrival … it was pretty much dark when David finished tidying up the deck and I finished de-hurricaning the saloon and starting dinner. We'll have to await morning to get our first real glimpse of the Cocos Keeling Islands. BUT … we're here!