Sailing on The Indian Ocean – from Cocos Keeling to Rodrigues 

It’s a tough journey, say those we spoke to. We are about to take the leap between Cocos Keeling, Australia’s westernmost island, to Rodrigues, Africa’s easternmost island. A two-week journey of around 2000 nm, right in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean looks like a big belly, surrounded by four continents – from Australia in the east, Africa in the west and Asia (Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia) in the north, all the way down to Antarctica.

One good thing about the Indian Ocean is that there are many small islands to stop at during the long passage. We have already been to Christmas Island , and we have three more to visit before we reach South Africa.

The Indian Ocean is also said to be the windiest sea, in contrast to, for example, the Pacific Ocean, which in Swedish is called the calm sea. Here in the Indian Ocean, this season, constant high-pressure forms that start from Madagascar in the west and go east to Australia. They are the ones that create both the trade winds we love to sail on and long-distance swells – waves that we already knew when we started would be 4–5 meters high.

Decision on Departure

We are already in the best season to sail in these waters, as the prevailing winds are from the east-southeast, giving us wind and waves from behind – a must for sailing, on any sea.

Still, there are differences – it’s windy – more or less. Here at Cocos Keeling, we had a gale last week. No one moved, and the cargo boat that came did not unload because of high waves and swells.

What follows are my daily notes and photos from this journey. 
How was it to sail on the Indian Ocean in the high waves and strong wind?

Day 1, Monday 21 August

We set off early in the morning when it was still high tide, the first calm day after the gale. So do even Rondo and Alado, the other two yachts that arrived around the same time as us. The anchor is filled with coral sand, which easily slides off. We announce our departure to the Cocos police, and on the way out we notice that the cargo ship had begun to unload. We see flocks of birds flying close above the water – a sure sign of fish below.

Just after an hour, we set a direct course towards Rodrigues. The wind increases, so we take an early reef in the Genoa and before night falls we take a second reef when the wind increases to 25 knots. Over 20 knots are a lot of wind, and safety is always paramount. We rest as much as we can, and we call our mothers when it’s still calm.

After the sun sets, we encounter two cargo ships, both on a collision course. After some talk on the VHF, they adjusted their course. We have no idea if there will be many boats on this trade, or not. Regardless, every meeting requires careful monitoring, especially at night.

An early warning
An important rule is to always keep our hand on something because we never know when a big wave might cause an overhaul. Cooking is therefore a challenge and a balancing act. We got an early warning today when captain fell to the floor when a big wave suddenly rocked the boat. Luckily, he managed with just bruises and a sore back and elbow. We take out the safety harness for the stove for the first time.

Day 2, Tuesday 22 August

We sail towards the sunset in the west, so the sunrise is always in the stern. On the second day we only see the sun in the morning and in the evening, in between it is a grey day. It feels calmer, we are getting used to 20 knots. The wind continues to increase. We make good speed, 174 nm (nautical miles), on the first day.

We look ahead at the weather forecast and see more wind and high waves for the coming weekend. What is it like to sail in five-meter waves? I’ve never done that before. Is it dangerous? How can we prepare? We cook some food in our pressure cooker and set up the back cover in the cockpit.

Day 3, Wednesday 23 August

The wind is now down to 13 knots, we did 160 nm on the last day. We have already completed 25% of the journey – something to celebrate! There aren’t many boats out here – just two cargo ships on long distances.

Day 4, Thursday 24 August

We measure how far we have sailed each morning to estimate the arrival time – on the last day we did 165 nm, and the wind was around 15 knots. It’s a grey day, and we know this will be our last slow day. We bake bread and a yummy lamb stew. In the evening the wind starts to turn – for seven hours there is no wind at all, so we drive through until the wind increases rapidly at midnight, and soon we take in two reefs again. On the weather maps, we can see that we are on the edge of a high-pressure area.

Day 5, Friday 25 August

We are now in the area of relentless and unstoppable trade winds. It goes fast – we make eight knots, even though we have four reefs taken. We lie on the sofas. What’s a bit strange is that I decided to start writing my story with flowers. It’s a perfect distraction, and it makes me happy to go through all my photos with flowers and write about my love for them. 

Day 6, Saturday, 26 August – Halfway!

It still goes fast, the gusts are up to 30, so we keep the four reefs. The day’s distance reaches its peak at 183 nm. We’re halfway there! It is a mentally important milestone. It is not closer to turning around if something happens. You just know you have to keep going. You also know that the boat can handle open seas and wind.

This day we realized something else, namely that our gas probably won’t last the whole trip. We have two bottles in a cupboard in the stern stowed away, so we just need to change the fittings, usually very easy. On the open sea with waves washing over, even that is too risky. Balancing at the back of the deck, and picking up a few things to reach the locker, is just something we don’t want to do. We don’t go outside the cockpit at all. So, this was a lesson learned. In the meantime, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it lasts, and we’re discussing our options for various canned and cold food.

Day 7, Sunday, 27 August 

The waves get higher and higher, coming from behind and rapidly rolling forward one by one. I force myself to go out and look at them, I know it helps. I see and feel that we are being carried. Very fascinating and astonishing.

Day 8, Monday, 28 August

Today we reach the peak – the waves are 4–5 meters high, and we are still being carried! The difference isn’t that big, we’ve slowly gotten used to the higher levels. The weather is dramatic, with clouds shifting rapidly and suddenly picking up the wind and pouring down rain. The captain feels the contradictory movements in the boat – there is the wind and waves coming from behind (east), but also swell, bigger waves coming from far south.

Day 9, Tuesday 29 August

Finally, it turns – the wind drops, and we take out two reefs and now have ”only” two reefs furled. A nice sign is a bird and a flat rainbow, something I’ve never seen before.

Day 10, Wednesday, 30 August

It’s a great feeling to sail towards the moon. This is early in the morning when it’s on its way down.

Today it is even nicer, the wind blows 15 knots and fills our now-released Genoa perfectly. I take care of sunbathing, which rarely happens. And to my delight, a double rainbow lights up in the afternoon. Captain and I have a good sharing, or perhaps more accurately debriefing time, with each other.

The moon goes up before the sun goes down!

Day 11, Thursday, 31 August

We get a beautiful sunrise and later a dramatic sunset. It’s a full moon tonight, so I am not surprised.

Captain treats us with homemade pan bread made from tapioca flour. Luckily for us, the gas lasted until this day, and we had no problem at all changing to a new bottle.

We are going slower now, the wind is down to 13 knots which means that the feeling of swell increases, as the wind does not match the still quite high waves.

Every rainbow is worth a picture as it is pure magic.

We are getting closer to Rodrigues, with only 130 nm to go. In the evening, we start to see other boats on the plotter. At first, it looks like one fishing boat, but the closer we get there are more and more of them, a whole little armada.

Day 12, Friday 1 September

We are happy to arrive in daylight. As usual, we see land from afar. It takes hours and hours to get closer. We thought we should get some lee from the island, but instead, the wind increases the closer we get.

We shall pass through an invisible reef; we just have to trust the plotter. Captain searches for a transit line without success. After a long while, I see a bright white light on a house in the direction we are moving. It must be for us seafarers. We proceed slowly and when we are inside the reef we take down our Genoa pole before turning 90° to the anchorage. There is a large cargo ship at the dock and a single sailboat. We anchor next to him, and soon we have two people from the border police and one from the health administration on board. You should have seen the eyes of the police officer in charge – so loving. Imagine all the police officers in such strong contact with their hearts!

After the quick meeting, we had to take the dinghy ashore to face customs and immigration, fill out many more papers and show passports. Before we were ready with everything, the sun was almost gone. Tired and satisfied, we celebrated this journey, 2013 nautical miles in 12 days and six hours, as successfully completed.

Saturday, 2 September, in Mathurin, Rodrigues

We are very happy that we managed to arrive in time for the Saturday market. Once a week the local farmers turn up at the marketplace and as we haven’t had a market since Darwin six weeks ago, we were eager to see what they could offer us. We were pleasantly surprised, everything looked very fresh, and the range was wide. We secured eggs and fresh vegetables and went back to the boat to wash, clean and rest.


  • We manage more than we think.
  • It helps to be present, breathing into what is.
  • Worrying about the unknown (high waves in this case) is 100% unnecessary and helps nothing.
  • It’s wonderful to have a boat that is seaworthy, rainproof and can take the waves smoothly.
  • Tasty food is a nice treat, preferably pre-cooked.
  • There is no need to be seasick – preventive pills exist and they work.
  • Take it easy and relax a lot.
  • Unexpected creativity can come even under those circumstances.
  • The ocean carries us, again!


Our next passage will be from Reunion to Richards Bay, around ten days. Stay tuned. 

Christmas Island

In the light of the full moon, we round the northern tip of Christmas Island, a small island in the Indian Ocean, about ten days’ sail from Darwin, Australia. Looking for a mooring, we see lots of flying fish in the light of the flashlight. We also see a huge jetty and some large dark buildings. Flying Fish Cove (the name of the anchorage and bay) is open to the sea, but the high mountain gives sea lee, and the 20-knot trade wind feels calmer here. We catch the third buoy, the one farthest from the jetty, but only two boat lengths to the rocks where the waves loudly announce themselves, along with the many birds that seem to be living on the tree-clad rock wall just behind us. There are two more boats here, from the USA and France, and later we learn that we are the seventh yacht to visit this season (end of July 2023).

Here I share my main impressions of this remote and unique island.

The first impression of Christmas Island in daylight is all the birds. The mountain next door is filled with birds in the trees. We learn that many species only live here, and up the hill, there is a bird feeder for the Boobies, who don’t make it on their own on the first try.

Looking down into the turquoise water, I see many small aquarium-like black fish swimming around the boat. They hang around us all week. When we later snorkel, we see many more beautiful fishes and live corals. Anchoring is prohibited, and they have nine solid moorings (10AUD/night or 50/week) and some huge ones for larger vessels. The local fishing regulations state that we can only pick four lobsters per day!

The third impression is the large jetty, yellow buildings and cranes on the other side of the bay. It is phosphate mining that takes place – the main reason why this island is inhabited. British sailors found this mineral in the late 1890s and claimed the right to the island. (Since 1958, however, it belongs to Australia.) People from China, Malaysia and India came to work in the mining operations. A Silver City with aluminium houses was built for the workers, and they have a huge hardware store with the saying – what’s not sold here, you don’t need.

Of course, there are nice people here too. It started with the super easy and pleasant meetings with the Bio-clearance check and Custom, who took their time on a Sunday. My biggest concern, about having fresh food and eggs on board, wasn’t even a question for them.

There is a shortage of cars. We were too late to book, but luckily it worked out anyway. In the hunt for a car, we were invited to dinner by Nigel and Ruby at Ocean View Apartments. Every Monday they invite those who live in their apartments, friends, neighbours, and sailors to a free dinner. There we met Neesha, a teacher on the island, who offered to show us around!

About 2000 people live on the island, 60% of them from China, the rest from Malaysia, India and Australia. They are said to live in harmony with each other. Well-dressed Muslims with covered hair, living side by side with young people in shorts and tank tops or dressed as mermaids!

As we go ashore, an ultramarine blue apartment building stands out. The Malaysians live here, we learn. They are the ones who go to the mosque nearby, to pray five times a day. My eyes catch the different sofas outside each entrance.

The big thing on this island is the crabs. There are millions of them, twenty different species that live mostly on land, and some only on this island. Once a year they go down to the sea – at the end of October when the rains come – to mate and lay eggs. 

The crabs do a great job – they clean up and keep the rainforest clean and open by eating fallen leaves, seeds, fruit and grazing on new plants.

They also maintain an open and clear understory, aerate the soil and recycle nutrients that help plants grow. 63% of Christmas Island is a national park on ancient volcanoes and limestone, so they have a huge area to look after.

Now, during the dry season (May to October), the crabs hide in the shade and their holes in the ground. Now and then they come out to dehydrate in water. Below you see Red, blue and robber crabs.

The migration procedure begins with the male crabs going down to the sea (taking two weeks) and making a burrow where they mate with the females. Then the males go back up to the forest and the female crabs incubate the eggs (12–13 days), then spawn before dawn during the last quarter of the moon – after this, the females also return.

The eggs hatch immediately on contact with water, and in 30 days larvae develop into megalops. They make it to the beach and transform into crabs that live on the shore for six weeks before returning to the first forest plateau. It takes four years before they become adults.

During this time, a total of two months, the roads are full of crabs. Roads are closed and on the ones that have to be kept open, people use scrapers to get around. They have built low fences on the sides of the roads, to direct the crabs to pass beside the road and through tunnels, and in one place over a bridge.

The good thing about missing this spectacular migration is that the roads are open, and we can see around the island.

Another very spectacular phenomenon can be found here, and that is the so-called blow holes. Water shoots up from the holes in the limestone, makes a loud noise and splashes us wet. Nature has so many wonders!

We had heard that the food supply comes to the island every other Friday and that the fresh vegetables only last a few days. It wasn’t too bad, even after a week they had plenty of onions, potatoes, apples, carrots and some cabbage. A lot of cans and frozen food were available. The prices were higher, but on the other hand, the alcohol was duty-free and offered a huge variety we have not seen since in Europe.

Diesel was only available in jerry cans at the petrol station for AUD 2.90/litre when we were there. 30% more expensive compared to Australia (where we got it duty-free on departure), but in a remote location like this still good.

One last thing from this island to mention is all the beautiful beaches. As sailors, we get plenty of sun and water, so we skipped this, also because the beach at Flying Fish Cove was great and offered nice snorkelling. At cycling distance, we instead found The Grotto – a cave with sweet water at a perfectly cooling temperature.
The last picture shows our magnificent night view from the anchor.