Tips from Maryanne & Kyle aboard the Catamaran Begonia
Sep/Oct 2022: Visiting The Chagos Archipelago (BIOT) (tips and thoughts)
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We visited with our catamaran (BEGONIA) for four weeks in Sep/Oct of 2022. Surprisingly, we were the only cruising boat for the duration of our stay. While this report offers a few tips to future visitors, if you wish to also see details of what we did (and pictures) then check out our blog
Permits are hard to get as there are expensive insurance requirements, and emails and applications seemed to often go unanswered. While this was once a busy village of cruising boats, few boats now visit (we had permit number 6 for the year, issued in September of 2022).
This report is a collection of tips based on our visit in 2022, it includes sources of useful information and our own personal insights that might be useful to those who follow. While a few specific Cruising Guide notes are availble, we've added some info here that others that follow may find useful.
A tropical paradise makes for a great hopping point as cruisers cross the Indian Ocean, just south of the Maldives. Pre-approval for visits is required, and a maximum stay of four weeks is permitted. Cruising boats are limited to two atolls (pretty much everything is a giant marine park). The only inhabited atoll (totally off limits) is Diego Garcia which is home to a USA/UK Military base (and obviously off limits).
- Useful Guides - download, source or purchase before you depart!
- Area Info There are some excellent sources (all available to download).
- RCC (free) download - by Tom Partridge (latest version 2017) - link
- BIOT will also email you a document with a list of mooring sites - BIOT-Chargos-Mooring Site Plots | British Indian Ocean Territory Link
- BIOT also has extensive rules and guidance that you'll need to be aware of link
- BIOT Advice for vessels in Transit / Invasive Species Leaflet link
- Cruiser Reports we found useful (but beware some are already out of date and suggest passages that are no longer permitted now the marine park status exists):-
- The Howarths In Chargos-BIOT - May 2017link
- YOLO - 2015 Chagos Report found on noonsite link
- Ocelot - Hacking Family - Cruising Chagos-BIOT-SVOcelot-Blog (2007 with updates to 2013) link
- Taniwani - Chagos Notes - Beate and Harald Sammer (2007) link
- Bird info - I downloaded several Bird reports for the area so I'd have an idea of what I might expect to see, and the likely names of anything I did spot.
- 2015 species list (Birds of the British Indian Ocean Territory, Chagos Archipelago, central Indian Ocean) - written by Peter Carr link
- 2006 Survey - written by Peter Carr link
- Satellite imagery is really helpful here, making the bommies much easier to navigate. This is great for navigating within the atolls and for planning your snorkeling trips or dinghy landing sites. Use your app/method of choice; we downloaded lots - including within the Zulu offshore app so we had sat imagery to hand on our smart phones.
- Paper Charts are available - Admiralty chart #0003 (for overview of entire archipeligo) and #0725 for more detail of the atolls you can actually visit.
- We had an Indian Ocean chart chip in our chart plotter (compatible), and used the Navionics App pre-downloaded with Indian Ocean data on our smart phones
- BIOT - British Indian Ocean Territory
- MPA - Marine Protected Area - created in 2010 link
- SFPO - Senior Fisheries Protection Officer
The official time zone is BIOT (UTC+5), however this doesn't really match well with local noon, so most visiting boats use Maldives time (UTC+4). Note Navionics tide tables also use the alternative UTC+4 (Maldives time). Hence it pays to be sure, when reporting/receiving times, that you clarify what time zone is being used.
- Permits and fees - Permits to visit are required and processing them can be frustratingly slow, so best apply many months in advance as you can (official paperwork suggests at least 7 weeks, but I would give much more notice if possible). We applied towards the end of April (2022) and only with extensive pestering (and some outside assistance) were we granted a permit in time for our arrival in mid-September. Details of how to apply and the relevant forms can be found on the BIOT Administration website at https://biot.gov.io/visiting/mooring-permits/ .
Once your application is approved you will be required to make the payment with a transfer to the UK bank used by BIOT (and evidence of payment made). We didn't need it, but I had pre-organized with a family member to make the payment on our behalf if we were away from internet once the request arrived. When we visited in 2022 the charge for a permit was 50 UK Pounds per week, with a maximum stay of four weeks. Payment must be made by bank transfer in UK pounds (credit cards not accepted). This must be paid before arrival. There is a small extra charge if you need to do an international transfer.
- Requirements re Reporting your movements - During your stay (and on approach/arrival/departure) you will need to report your movements. First report is once you enter the 200nm military perimeter mark. You can report by various methods: Email, SSB, or phone, and Information regarding reporting is provided within the various documentation provided by BIOT. Note that within the various documents the actual emails are contradictory (we just sent to all until we could establish which was correct).
Even if you intend to transit the area, it is advisable to report in and provide your plans.
- BIOT Patrol Vessel The BIOT patrol vessel was changed in 2021/2022 from Grampian Frontier, to the larger Grampian Endurance. Grampian Endurance is a big red vessel and generally runs without AIS or lights (since one of its key roles is to enforce fishery regulations in the MPA). They may visit you using their RIBs (launched from the larger boat), board and ask to see your permit. Ask for a stamp in your passport if you collect such things. All visits to us were friendly, and professional (and often included generous donations of fresh fruit/salads). We were visited by both UK Military and Fisheries inspectors (separate visits).
- Regulations Lots of things are not permitted, it is your responsibility to be aware of these. Failure to comply can result in fines/arrests and even detainment of your vessel. Here is a selection of some of the things to be aware of:-
- No Videos can be made (!!!) - this is a blanket ban, does not specify above/below water or anything, and I assume is in place to avoid political issues due to the status of the islands ownership.
- No SCUBA diving is permitted (presumably since there is no hyperbaric chambers available).
- Possession and use of spearguns is prohibited.
- Fishing is only permitted by hand line (some documents say hand line only, some suggest rods are OK - I'm not sure which is newest/correct and we didn't fish so it didn't occur to us to clarify).
- Possession and use of drones is prohibited.
- All trash/rubbish/garbage is to be removed - not to be burned/buried ashore, nor tossed overboard. Organic waste can be discharged at sea but only once outside the 3nm range from any island, shallows or reef.
- No possession/collecting of shells
- No collecting/eating any molluscs or crustacean (including coconut crabs)
- Etc - BIOT will provide a long list and provide fine details (and may add more in emails) - you should be sure to be familiar with this before you plan your trip.
- It's a special place for wildlife - From the BIOT 'Invasive Species' Leaflet: Created in 2010, the BIOT Marine Protected Area (MPA) is one of the largest MPAs in the world and protects over 1% of all the world's coral reefs. It is a home for species found no-where else in the world, such as the Chagos brain coral and the Chagos anemone fish. Reef fish here are on average six times more abundant than at any other location in the Indian Ocean.
- Zero Facilities You need to be 100% self sufficient - no stores, drinking water, medical support, etc available. There are plenty of coconuts to collect and enjoy. Some limited fishing is acceptable (check regulations for details), also no collecting of mollusks or crustaceans is permitted.
- Water Ashore, wells do exist (probably on most of the larger islands) but these will be hard to find (except on Boddam), and I would not consider them good for drinking (probably only for laundry water if you can be bothered to haul your laundry ashore to do it). The fresh (filtered rainwater) floats on top of salt water in the wells. Expect to find mosquitoes around them too. We were lucky enough to get a good couple of days of rain an could catch rainwater for our needs. We also had a small portable water maker to be certain we had sufficient drinking-quality water aboard during our stay.
- Prior Inhabitants The history of the Chargosian people (also known as Îlois or Chagos Islanders) is relatively recent. The British officially purchased the islands from Mauritius and ejected/relocated all the locals to Mauritius and the Seychelles (over 50 years ago). Since then there is some international dispute over who actually owns the islands. This is always a distressing situation, and you may wish to read more about it before you visit so you can fully understand its recent history. wikipedia
- Rubbish/Trash/Refuse Keep aboard until after you have departed Chagos and dispose of appropriately. Current regulations permit no burning ashore.
- Absolutely No Cellphone services - due to there being zero population for 100's of miles.
- We used our Iridium Go (satellite connection - slow, with ability to make telephone calls and can be used with a few select internet apps), along with sailmail and PredictWind type apps to download weather on demand. It's expensive, but we already had all the equipment from our pacific passages and a monthly (unlimited data) subscription.
- If you carry an EPRIB (which we assume you do) - be sure it is registered and batteries are in date/test.
- You can use your VHF radio in the usual way, but it can only be used to communicate with boats in your immediate area, if any exist.
- Bring a hand held VHF for your dinghy too - just in case. It can also serve as a backup if your main unit fails in such a remote location.
- If you have AIS/MMSI capabilities - be sure your MMSI number is registered to your vessel
- Carry appropriate flares "just in case"
- You should be able to contact BIOT patrol using the emergency channel if you have a SSB radio - see details in BIOT documents
- FIRST AID! You will be very remote so take extra precautions in everything you do, bring sufficient of your medications and a good general first aid kit for any emergencies, knocks and scrapes.
- Photographs & Backups. You are likely to capture many magical memories - be sure to bring your camera/batteries/charger/memory-cards etc. You are likely to taking up a LOT of data in your device from all these pictures (even if you can't use your drone, nor take movies). Be sure you have plenty of storage, and that you can backup your data regularly while you are offline with no access to the cloud; it would be crushing to lose these memories. If you are using your phone to capture these memories, then consider how you can back-up those pictures during your trip (just in case you lose your phone overboard, or have some other calamity). Brining a dry bag on the trip (especially for dinghy trips) would be useful too to protect your electronics.
- Commercial Fishing is not permitted Any fishing boats should only be transitting the area (and even then are required to report in as are cruising visitors) - we were asked to share with the fisheries team if we noticed any fishing boats and were happy to do so.
- What Can you Do While there? OK - so there are no inhabitants, there is no phone signal, no shops, nothing but nature. If you are still looking for ideas for when you arrive here are a few..
- Beach walking
- Collecting coconuts
- Exploring inland (expect some bushwhacking, and clearing of spider webs)
- Stargazing at night - no light pollution
- Bird spotting - It's impossible not to see Boobies, Frigate Birds, Noddies, and Terns, and likely even tropicbirds. There are plenty of others to see along the shoreline and you can expect to see the pretty little Madagascar Red Fody if you venture inland (easily located by following its trill call).
- Dolphin entertainment - regularly large groups of dolphins visit the atolls, and (especially when the spinners arrive) can put on quite a show.
- Snorkelling - there are lots of amazing fish, but also turtles, sharks, rays (mantas aslo reported), soft and hard corals, moray eels, and octopus. We found the fish large and colourful - it's a magical kingdom below the surface. There is also the odd wreck to check out
- Citizen Science - organize before hand if there is any group that would welcome your efforts while visiting
- Socializing - we were the only visiting boat during out stay in Sep/Oct 2022, but historically there has regularly been plenty of socializing among boaters (check for any lingering COVID restrictions).
- Fire pit - there are two locations where a fire is permitted (see BIOT documents. Also note, burning of trash is NOT permitted).
- Bring your own entertainment - Books, movies, music, table-top games, etc.
- Bring your own toy (Kayaks, Kite surfers, Frisbees, beach games etc).
- Fishing - know the restrictions and catch limits (we didn't fish so I can't advise there)
- So where CAN you go once you arrive? Only two atolls have permitted access - Salomon and Peros Banhos. Both had inhabitants at some point, although by the 1960s only Boddam Island in Salomon was populated.
Diego Garcia is a large Joint USA/UK military base and should be given a very wide berth (min 6 Nm - but verify that!). Some of the other islands have a special protection zone and you must keep 3nm from them. Be aware in particular of the restrictions associated with Peros Banhos if you plan to visit that atoll.
Anchorage/Mooring within the two permitted atolls is further restricted to a few identified areas (documented in BIOT and RCC reports). Note: Any moorings are laid by previous cruisers and should not be assumed safe to use without personal inspection. We preferred to anchor in sand, and therefore avoided those locations where water was deep or coral was to be found on the bottom.
Note: Many of the island names are used in multiple atolls, so be sure to clarify island and atoll where applicable when sharing a location.
- Details re Salomon Islands (atoll). Note: Island marked as YAKAMAKA on Navionics is incorrectly named and should read Takamaka
The anchorage we used on sand patch between I. Takamaka and I. Fouquet - this seems to have a constant current (into the lagoon) and can get quite strong (especially at high water springs) - so be cautious if swimming / bathing off the back of the boat.
Most of the islands have dense vegetation and no clear/obvious paths (Boddam aside). Beaches are most easily accessible at lower tides and often non-existent at high tides
- Peros Banhos Atoll - This is much larger than Salomon, but all the approved anchorages are on the western side of the lagoon offering little protection from the SE winds. Indeed the whole eastern 2/3rds of the lagoon are off limits (protected area, a strict nature reserve). We did not visit this atoll, so are unable to add much more.
There are several potential passes to enter/exit the atoll Ð clearly visible in the charts - HOWEVER the ONLY permitted entrance is the West pass (Passe Del Ile Poule) as the whole eastern 2/3 of the Atoll is a Marine Reserve and a restricted area: it is not permitted to be within 3nm of any of the islands and this rules out all the potential passes to North, East and South of the Atoll).
- Manta Rays: areas of reported sightings at Peros Banhos include
- SW Peros Banhos - S 6° 38.30, E 71°18.83
- Ile Takamaka
- I've seen several reports that a well exists - but we never found it, and indeed penetrating beyond the beaches is bushwhacking and spider-web territory. (same for most islands)
- Easy to circumnavigate at low tides, very little beach at high tides.
- Ashore - plenty of birds and coconuts.
- Ile Fouquet
- There is a catamaran wreck on beach, slowly being buried by sand - I believe the boat was the Black Rose (based on a note on a satellite picture I had). The wreck also has a string of debris in the waters off the beach if you fancy a snorkel in that area. The mast is most buried, but lays flat and but much of it extends into the water from the beach (easy to see at low water springs).
- An additional (ferro-cement, mono-hull, Wreck is on lagoon side of Ile Fouquet is no longer visible above water at low tide, but is a nice snorkel. Actual location is S5°20.330', E72°15.862'. When we were there in 2022 there was a small white fishing float was secured with old rope to the bow pulpit which helped make finding the wreck (even when snorkeling) much easier). Mostly we just swam over from our anchorage.
- Ashore - plenty of birds and coconuts.
- Ile Boddam
- This was the most recent major population center until the mid-1960's. It is well worth a walk around where you will see nature clearly taking over and plenty of ruins. There are paths, but these too are getting harder to clearly see.
- Just to the south of the jetty (position: S5°21.355, E72° 12.447), is the 'yacht club' area with a fire pit (permitted to light at this one location) - we found matches in a jar in the yacht club. Yachties seem to leave mementos of their visit in the building remains. Best access ashore is if you beach your kayak/dinghy immediately to the south of the jetty.
- Expect to see plenty of Coconut Crabs here (once you get inland).
- Visiting in 2022 we could still find and use some of the trails. The old buildings a visible but all have lost roofs and are well into the process of reclamation by the plant life.
- There are several wells ashore, but the easiest one to find is just north of the jetty and besides has obvious clotheslines for laundry - although when we visited in 2022 the drying area was already starting to be overgrown by the foliage.
- Worth exploring - old church (position: S5°21.378, E72° 12.349), cemetery (position: S5°20.91, S72°12.21), and other buildings of interest (in various states of ruin). We could not locate the school, plantation manager's house and other building that should be there (but we didn't explore extensively either).
- Chagosians clearly still visit intermittently to pay respects to those that are buried here, and memorials to various visits can be found scattered about (e.g. just north of jetty and at cemetery).
- In Mid-2022 an Indian fishing boat (?name) was wrecked ashore on the outer reef side of Boddam, it is likely still there if you can find it.
- The RCC Guide has several suggested locations for moorings off Ile Boddam (based on moorings used in 2016).
- Remaining Islands of Salomon
We had time to visit all the islands with our dinghy and/or Kayak. They are generally similar. We were able to walk around them all at lower tides. The tiny Ile Diable was the most rugged with absolutely no beach at any tide (so beware if you have an inflatable kayak/dinghy).
- Snorkelling on Salomon Snorkelling is possible from all the islands, a satellite picture will help you see clearly where bommies are.
Since we were anchored off Fouquet/Takamaka we regularly snorkeled the lagoon side of both these (our faviourites!). Each had similar offerings, but we preferred Fouquet since it was longer, and the currents there were less of an issue.
- The Gap between I. Fouquet and I. Takamaka - we were advised that there were lots of endemic chargos anemone to be found here. We did drift snorkels from both Fouquet and Takamaka, and also used the kayak to drop off deep into the gap and drift snorkel from there. It is a shallow area with scattered corals - we found no anemone at all (later we were told that was '20 years ago') so it seems that either we were very unlucky with our multiple visits, or that the anemones have long gone from this area.
- We snorkeled (lagoon side) at Ile Takamaka, Ile Fouquet and Ile Anglaise.
- Our favourite/regular was the long chain of coral along Ile Fouquet; there were always plenty of large fish, and quite a range of corals and topography. We didn't snorkel outside the reef at all, since our dinghy doesn't have much of a motor and we didn't want to risk finding ourselves stranded or adrift outside the atoll.
- Manta Rays: areas of reported sightings at Salomon include
- Lagoon side - off sand patch between I. Fouquet and I.Takamaka (common anchorage) - S5°19.88', E 72°15.80' Manta rays have been reported by several visiting boats, but we never saw any during our stay in 2022.
- SW ocean-side of Île Boddam, Salomon Islands a large number of manta ray (Manta birostris) regularly seen in this area. - S 5° 21.61', E 72° 12.11'
- Ocean side - between Mapou and Ile de passe - S5° 18.26', E 72°15.66'
Map by Mohonu - via Wikipedia (public domain)
Île de la Passe - the island to the east of the pass
Île Takamaka - one of the larger islands
Île Fouquet - one of the larger islands
Île Sepulture - we saw no signs of tombs, so the name is a mystery to us (Kyle thinks maybe is the coffin shape of the island that gives it is name)
Île du Sel - we saw no salt pans nor pools, so have no idea how the name came about.
Île Poule - We didn't spot any chicken on this island (although there are plenty on the larger ones)
Île Boddam - home of the last village
Île Diable - the smallest of the islands
Île Anglaise - one of the larger islands
Wish to contact us (or send updates or corrections)? We welcome any feedback: MaryanneLWebb via our gmail.com email account
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