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We’re approaching our third ocean crossing on Starry Horizons, and it’s going to be an interesting one; we will be cruising the Indian Ocean!
The below is just a rough sketch of the paths that are available for cruising boats. There are many paths to take, and cruising boats veer outside of the scope of this post. Indian Ocean routes typically start in Australia, since many boats go to wait out cyclone season (December 1 – April 1) south of Brisbane (26 degrees). They typically end in South Africa, with nearly 95% of cruising boats choosing to sail south of Africa instead of through the Suez Canal. In general, the Indian Ocean is divided up into two routes: the Northern Route and the Southern Route.
When we were first planning our circumnavigation we had already decided to take the Northern Route. Thailand is on our list of places we really want to visit. Instead of one long passage like we did in the Atlantic (26 days) or Pacific (19), crossing the Indian Ocean via will be a series of short hops of less than a week. We will get to visit very remote locations, and hopefully really enjoy our extra time here.
The Northern Route comes up through Southeast Asia before island hopping west and then south down towards South Africa. This route for cruising the Indian Ocean takes approximately 20 months from April 1st, the end of hurricane season, to November 1st the following year in South Africa.
Most boats depart from western peninsular Asia, typically places such as Phuket, Thailand or Langkawi, Malaysia. Phuket is typically as far north as cruising yachts go, as cruising Myanmar gets complicated (see Myanmar on Noonsite for more information). Cruising boats can make the trip to the northern border from the Lingga group of Indonesia entirely with day hops. Malaysia and Thailand are westernized enough that there are decent marinas, American-style provisions, and supplies available while still maintaining a relatively cheap cost of living. Langkawi is popular as a longer-term cruising stop since it is a duty-free island.
From either Thailand or Malaysia, boats typically sail their longest passage on this route (1200 nm) to Sri Lanka. Cruising is not optimum in Sri Lanka, so most cruisers leave their boats for some land travel. We plan on a 30-day visit to Sri Lanka.
The Maldives are a collection of 26 coral atolls with over a thousand islands in Asia. They straddle the equator and cruisers either seem to love it or hate it. Since it’s geography is similar to the Tuamotus, we hope to fall on the love it side. We will be extending our visa to 60-days to island-hop the Maldives. There’s limited provisioning here, so planning for 60 days will be a big stretch.
Just south of the Maldives lies the Chagos group, a small set of atolls and islands that make up the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). In a controversial move, the government ousted native residents in the 60s and 70s to make way for an American military base. Military personnel are the only residents now, and we hope to receive a 28-day permit to visit via boat. This stop is a special treat, as it’s not open to tourists, just boats who are cruising the Indian Ocean.
The next stop brings us to African territory: Seychelles. This popular tourist destination will be expensive, but after 90 days with bare provisioning, we will be ready to shop our hearts out.
Another country that has been at the top of my list to visit is Madagascar. My original excitement was over the unique nature of the island. Now we’ve done more research and have received reports from friends who have absolutely LOVED Madagascar. We’re allowed 90 days.
And finally, we’ll end up in South Africa by December of 2019.
While planning this route, it’s important to note that this route is much more leisurely and relies on visa extensions. If you leave early and don’t apply for a visa extension in the Maldives, you will find yourself approaching the southern Indian Ocean too early for optimum passages. According to World Cruising Routes, the optimum time to leave Thailand/Malaysia is January through March. Our current plan is to leave during the latter half of that time frame.
Further reading from boats who’ve been cruising the Indian Ocean via the Northern Route:
The Southern Route takes about 7 months from April 1st, the end of hurricane season, to November 1st the same year in South Africa. It’s a bit more of a hustle, as it’s a lot of miles to cover in a short time frame.
From mainland Australia, usually Darwin, boats stop at the Australian Indian Ocean Territories; Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling Islands. We did see some advertisements for Christmas Island while we were in Australia. It does have significant tourism, with flights coming in from Perth, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur. Cocos Keeling is two atolls with about 1/3 of the population of Christmas Island. Side note: Chris and Jess of Yacht Teleport, who transited the Northwest Passage, now run an eco-lodge on Christmas Island called Swell Lodge.
From Cocos Keeling, it is a jump of over 2,000 nm to get to the Mascarenes. This island group consists of Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues. Réunion is a French territory (baguette! cheese! wine!) while Mauritius and Rodrigues are the Republic of Mauritius. Many cruisers (like Delos) have really enjoyed these stops.
Further reading from boats who’ve been cruising the Indian Ocean via the Southern Route:
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I’ve made a spreadsheet that plots out several boats’ paths and outlines the best times of year to go.
World Cruising Routes by Jimmy Cornell is the bible of ocean route planning. This is a must-have book on every cruiser’s bookshelf.
We purchased the Indian Ocean Cruising Guide.
That’s our 2019 plans! After cruising the Indian Ocean we will be in South Africa, ready for the home stretch of our circumnavigation. Where will 2019 take you?