(For Part 1 – click here) (For Part 2 – click here)
After a six day crossing and three days of treacherous storms in the Pacific Ocean, the Stovalls reached Suva, Fiji. “Imagine” proved to be a seaworthy boat with only jib sails to repair. In Suva, Fiji's capitol and largest city in the Oceania Islands, they made the repairs needed. The Stovalls spent three months exploring The Oceania Islands’ mountain ranges, river gorges, mangrove forests and coral reefs. Their favorite island chain was Vanuatu which includes 13 larger islands and 70 smaller ones – a cruiser’s dream come true! Here they discovered active volcanoes and lush rain forests. Many islands are protected by coral reefs so they often anchored off the islands and dingied in.
In December 2011, they flew back to New Bern and Fairfield Harbour to spend the holidays with family and friends. While Shelia was enjoying the grandbabies, Stu and a friend returned to “Imagine” and sailed the 1000 miles passage to Darwin, Australia. Stu checked off another bucket list item when he dove the Great Barrier Reef. The 2,300km-long ecosystem is home to countless species of colorful fish, mollusks and starfish, plus turtles, dolphins and sharks.
In July 2012, Shelia flew into Darwin, Australia, and reunited with Stu. They left the Pacific Ocean and entered the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca, the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. From an economic and strategic perspective, the Strait of Malacca is one of the busiest and most important shipping lanes in the world.
Upon arriving in Singapore, the Stovalls joined a group of 126 sailboats known as the Indonesian Rally. While cruising Indonesia, they fell in love with Malaysia and stayed for a year. During that year they visited Vietnam and Burma immersing themselves in the culture. Stu loved the “magic of Thailand” and felt it was one of his favorite places on earth.
From Thailand, the Stovalls sailed to Galle, Sri Lanka. The walled city with its exotic, tropical flare has stood since the early sixteenth century. Shelia was reminded that the world can be a dangerous place. Even though the Sri Lanka Civil War ended in 2009, the after effect were still there.
They were under close scrutiny upon arrival. Nonetheless, they stayed three months, toured the country staying in bed and breakfasts. Sri Lanka is known for its diverse wildlife. The Stovalls took advantage of the opportunity. They witnessed “The Gathering”, a remarkable migration of elephant herds and were in awe of the leopards and peacocks on the toured safaris.
From Sri Lanka, they re-provisioned “Imagine” and set sail for the Maldives. The Maldives is a tropical nation in the Indian Ocean composed of 26 ring-shaped atolls and known today as a high class European resort destination.
The next port of call was the Chagos Archipelago, 500 kilometres south of the Maldives. Politically, Chagos is constituted as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Britain allowed the United States to build a military base on Diego Garcia, the largest of the Chagos Islands, to refuel jets during the Gulf Wars. Today, the only visitors come by boat and it is home to the Chagos Marine Reserve which is 125 nautical miles from Diego Garcia. Here, the Stovalls lived at anchor. Cruisers gathered daily for potluck and socializing on the pristine beaches. Stu was in heaven. They stayed for 28 days, fishing for grouper and red snapper. The fish were so plentiful, Shelia affectionately called the area – her “fish market”.
Stay tuned for part 4 when the Stovalls cruise 1600 miles to Madagascar.