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Last Updated on August 26, 2020 by Amy

On December 9th, 2019, we crossed 20 degrees east to exit the Indian Ocean after over 500 days of cruising and sailing over 10,900 nm!

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. The below is just a rough sketch of the paths that are available for cruising boats. 

For this post, I’m lumping the Lakshadweep Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the East Indian Archipelago into the Indian Ocean. Read more about the boundaries of the Indian Ocean.

We Took the Northern Route

When we were first planning possible circumnavigation routes we had already decided to take the Northern Route while sailing across the Indian Ocean.  Thailand was on our list of places we really wanted to visit. 

Instead of one long passage like we did in the Atlantic (26 days) or Pacific (19), crossing the Indian Ocean was a series of short hops, with our longest passage being eight days.  We got to visit very remote locations and enjoyed the experiences.

However, sailing the Indian Ocean is hard. We had very little wind from Thursday Island to Chagos. Sea states, especially in the southwest corner of the Indian Ocean tend to be very choppy. We didn’t visit any place we really loved (it’s hard to compete with the South Pacific). Formalities were complicated and expensive.

Here’s what we did:

  • We left Thursday Island, Australia on July 21st, 2018 with the Sail to Indonesia Rally and cruised over 100 days in Indonesia.
  • Starry Horizons was docked for a week in Singapore at One15 Marina.
  • In Malaysia, we made a short stop in Puteri before spending three weeks in Langkawi.
  • From Malaysia, we cruised the west coast of Thailand to two months.
  • We stopped in Sri Lanka for three weeks, touring inland for 12 days.
  • In the Maldives, we hopped down the chain of islands for two months.
  • We got a special stamp in our passport when we spent two weeks in Chagos.
  • Seasonal weather conditions kept us in Seychelles for over three months.
  • We enjoyed the remote and underdeveloped Madagascar for a little over a month.
  • On November 11th, we arrived in Richard’s Bay, South Africa and then on December 9th we passed 20 degrees longitude east to enter the Atlantic.

Alternatives

Several boats we know opted to stop at the Mascarene Islands (Reunion, Rodriguez, and Mauritius) instead of Seychelles. Our friends said Reunion is absolutely amazing.

A few boats went from Thailand south to the west side of Indonesia before jumping off to Chagos.

  • 22 South sailed from Indonesia to Chagos

Statistics of Sailing the Indian Ocean

  • Departed Thursday Island July 21st, 2018
  • Passed Cape Agulhas on December 9th, 2019
  • Sailed 10,957 nm over 506 days

Passage Reports

Highlights

  • Komodo, Indonesia – We loved Komodo for its quintessential cruising qualities: stunning and remote anchorages, clear water, and exotic wildlife. Nowhere else in the world can you see Komodo dragons in the wild, and we (and many of our cruising friends) had amazing encounters with manta rays. Diving was superb.
  • Kumai, Indonesia – Kumai was a highlight, not so much for its cruising value, but for its conservation and wildlife. We hired a klotok for two nights on the Kumai river and saw such a huge variety of wildlife while taking our private tour.
  • Singapore – One of the biggest cities in the world, Singapore deserves a mention as One15 Marina was the nicest marina we’ve ever been to (and not that expensive!). The amenities were amazing, and having easy access to explore Singapore was worth it! It’s such a green and beautiful city with excellent food.
  • Sri Lanka – This island nation is not a cruising ground – Starry Horizons anchored in one spot the entire time. But spending 12 days touring inland and seeing the rich culture of Sri Lanka was amazing.
  • Seychelles – A small island group, Seychelles is well developed (one of the top 5 richest countries in Africa), but not overly so (in my opinion). It’s full of beautiful beaches, creole culture, and unique species. Plus, some stellar hiking!
  • Madagascar – While Madagascar is incredibly poor, it’s a beautiful cruising ground. Anchorages were easy, we got in plenty of great hiking, finally swam with whale sharks, and explored other exotic and endemic species.

Reports from Other Boats

Further reading from boats who’ve been cruising the Indian Ocean via the Northern Route:

Ceilydh: Notes from the Northern Route

Lisa Dornfest

Totem: Indian Ocean Lookback

Southern Route

Sailing 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:

The Voyage of Fathom

Raya

Delos

Spreadsheet & Resources

I’ve made a spreadsheet that plots out several boats’ paths sailing the Indian Ocean and outlines the best times of year to go. This includes more details about each of our stops as far as timing.

Indian Ocean Planning Spreadsheet

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.


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21 Comments

  1. We are also crossing the Indian Ocean coming up here soon—in Darwin now and will head to Bali for a few days then onto Cocos then Rodriguez, Mauritius and reunion. From Reunion to Durban really has me in knots but we don’t really have the time to go over north of Madagascar. Piracy issues seem to be increasing over the north of Madagascar as well….there is no easy way out for sure! Maybe we will see you out there ! Cheers! Molly and Matt and three kids on SV Nimbus

  2. All your options are fabulous… If you decide to go north – you explicitly mention Phuket – then please also consider researching places like the Similan Islands, reportedly one of the top 10 dive locations in the world. Was last there in 2011 and it was stunning. Pushing up as far as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands might take you too far north, but if you come further south you’ve also got the British Indian Ocean Territories (SV Delos had fun there) and of course the Maldives.

    Wherever the winds take you, have fun!

  3. So excited to sail The Indian Ocean virtually through your lens. We loved it so much that we are seriously considering a second circumnavigation. Fair winds and following seas (once you get out of the boat yard). Thank you so much for including a link to my website in your post. Am here if you have any questions as you make way.

  4. I’m out of touch with that area (we’re just heading to the Bahamas soon) but trying to plan ahead – is there anyone that you know of going from the northern route through the Suez Canal to the Med?

  5. After wandering around the relevant noonsite pages and poring over Cornell’s books, I was still just as lost as ever about how we wanted to go through the Indian Ocean (some day), but your nice, trim sunmary here painted such a clear picture for me. Love your videos, they are lots of fun, but your blog posts are so helpful with all the nitty gritty details.

    1. Aw thank you so much Laura! I am so glad you have found it helpful. If there’s anything else I can help you figure out, feel free to drop a line!

  6. Wow. So glad hope to see you in Cape Town SA. Will love to show you this magnificent city and all she offers. Waterfront marina is fantastic and in the city. Shopping and restuarants at your ‘browstep’ . The marina is clean and has good wifi. In and around Cape Town you have fantastic hikes and places to visit. I do not know of anyone that has not fallen inlove with this city. You may not want to leave

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