Day 166, Year 5: Exploring Ile du Coin
Date: Saturday, April 10, 2010
Weather: Very Little Wind from the North
Location: Ile du Coin, Peros Banhos Atoll, Chagos
Latitude: 05 degrees 26.579 S
Longitide: 071 degrees 45.541 E

The weather was just right for our move back to Ile du Coin. The GRIB file says we should have very little wind for three days, so we got up early, checked to make sure the GRIB file was correct, and made the move. I really wanted to explore Ile du Coin, but we also needed water and there is a good well here. Most people don’t drink the water, but use it for washing clothes and dishes, and for showers. I know I have not explained the Chagos water system that we learned from Constance and used the whole time we were in India. It was a lifesaver there as we could not run our water maker and we would have run out of drinking water in the six weeks that we were there. So here’s a description of the system. We bought extra five gallon water jugs in India. We sit one on the top of the cabin and run a short hose through the galley hatch into the galley. It hangs down from a ceiling hook over the galley sink and we attached a shower nozzle that we also bought in India. It is the type of shower nozzle that you have to squeeze the handle to get water and we use this for all dish washing. We have a five gallon solar shower bag that we now hang just above the port in our shower stall. We fill up the bag from the water jugs we get on shore and simply pull the solar shower nozzle into the shower stall through the port. We save all shower water by not pumping out the shower right away and use this for washing clothes. I then take them on deck and use the water from the jugs for rinsing in buckets. The rinse water is then used to wash down the deck. Today we filled all four of our water jugs, so tonight we’ll save the shower water and tomorrow will be laundry day. So for now, we use our water tanks only for drinking water. We can make water here, but that takes power, and power takes diesel fuel. We probably have plenty, but we are trying to be as conservative as possible so we will have all the fuel needed for the 1,500 mile trip to Madagascar.

Before I can describe the island walkabout I think I need to give a brief history. According to the history books, there were no indigenous peoples living here when the Portuguese, the French, and then the English sailed here. The Portuguese came in the 1500’s. Later on the French camped out here, left, and then returned and started exporting coconut oil and copra. This required people and suddenly Diego Garcia, Salomon, and Peros Banhos Atolls in Chagos were populated. The population came in the form of lepers from Mauritius and slaves from Mozambique and Madagascar, but in whatever form, the islands were populated and the copra and coconut oil business flourished. In the late 1700’s the English arrived. Once Napoleon was defeated, the Treaty of Paris in 1814 gave Mauritius, and Chagos as a dependency of Mauritius, to the English. Sometime around 1834 “human rights” was a term being used to force the Brits to start paying their workers, so very slowly the slaves became apprentices and were paid a penny a month for their labors. Hardly freedom, but it was a bit of a step forward. By the late 1800’s palm oil mills were operating in Salomon Atoll on Boddum Island and in Peros Banhos Atoll on Ile du Coin Island. Diego Garcia Atoll was used as a “coaling station” for passing steamships. The hardwood Takamaka trees were also exported. There were few women but regardless, by the 1930’s, about 60 per cent of the islanders were born and bred in Chagos and were known as ‘Ilois’ or ‘children of the islands.’ During World Wars I and II there were some passing ships but it was not until the 1950’s during the height of the Cold War that Chagos was considered as a possible military base. At the same time, the independence of Mauritius was becoming a sure thing and the English didn’t want Chagos to go with it. So in 1965 they separated Chagos from Mauritius and called it BIOT-a British Indian Ocean Territory. Then in 1966 the Americans convinced the Brits to lease Chagos to them for use as a military base. This initial rental agreement was for 50 years and the Americans didn’t want the people to stay, so the English found some obscure clause in the history books that would declare the residents as temporary visitors so that the people could be removed. Lawsuits followed, but the agreement still stands and there are no people other than visiting cruisiers at Peros Banhos and Salomon Atolls and military personnel at Diego Garcia. That is a brief, and possibly not completely accurate history of Chagos, but it is the best I can do from the resources at hand.
So when you anchor close to Ile du Coin the remnants of a large concrete pier greet you. When we took the dinghy ashore next to the old pier, we could immediately see what little is left of a once thriving community. The buildings were roofed with tin and all of the tin has blown off, but the buildings themselves were built of coral blocks and mortar and are quite substantial. We walked down a path with huge elephant leaf plants on both sides and then saw the remnants of what was once the center of the community. The building was two stories with a waist-high coral block wall surrounding it with little pillars at the entrance. The well that cruisers use is on the back side of the house and is covered with tin. It is about twelve feet deep and you just throw a bucket on a line down, fill it with water, and pull it up. The water is crystal clear and cool. We wanted to fill our water jugs, but Jeff and Cathy of Mirage and Ed of Constance were onshore and had already filled their jugs by the time we arrived. They were getting ready to walk around the island, and since they have been here before and know their way around, we decided to follow. There are old orange and lemon trees, bilimbi trees that have fruit that looks like little cucumbers growing on the trunk, guava trees, and some sort of nut tree. There are huge plots of taro growing in the wet areas and a few bread fruit trees scattered here and there. Everything is overgrown, but not so much that you can’t see the remnants of homes and the railway track that carried the processed coconuts from parts of the island to the pier to be shipped. We walked all the way to the back side of the island and were amazed by the amount of coral that has been swept inland during storms. Mark and I also saw the biggest coconut crabs that we have ever seen. Where coconut trees have blown over in storms, there are huge holes where the roots once were. When we would peek into any of these holes, we would see the crabs with their most impressive pincers. We certainly didn’t get too close. By the time we got back to the pier, filled our water jugs and lugged those out to the beach, and got back to Windbird it was almost 5 pm and we were exhausted. Exploring the underwater world here will be tomorrow’s job.

100410 Day 166 Peros Banhos, Chagos–Explore of Ile du Coin