It’s places like Cocos Keeling that drive my love of the world and how diverse it’s landscapes and peoples are. It’s truly unlike any place I’ve ever been. It’s a tiny island atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean, an Australian territory, and has a population of about 600 (500 Malays and 100 white Australians). It’s basically a small, outback Australian town on a tropical island 1000 miles away from anything.
We sailed in to Direction Island, an uninhabited island that is part of Cocos Keeling, around 5pm under heavy winds of around 35 knots. We had to come over a shallow reef but everything went well and we dropped anchor and got a great night sleep on flat bunks.
We took the dinghy over to Home Island, one of the two inhabited islands and where most of the Malay population live (about 500 people). There was a grocery store and a couple of other small shops but not a whole lot else. We took the ferry over to West Island, where most of the 100-120 white Australians live, and which is the only place to buy alcohol. The rest of the crew bought a case of beer and took the last ferry back to Home Island but I decided to stick around and check out the local scene. The pub opened at 5 so that’s where I headed first. I ordered a beer and immediately started chatting with a local guy. He told me tonight was table tennis night and shortly after another guy showed up and we went in to a back room and started playing and drinking beers. A couple more people came and we started playing doubles. Everyone was really laid back and friendly and we got along right away. I was planning on setting up my hammock on the beach but one of the guys offered me a place a to crash and I took him up on that.
I ended up staying on West Island for the next 3 nights, lounging around and surfing during the day, hanging out at the pub at night, and camping out in my hammock on the beach at night.
On Thursday Jessie and I played in a golf tournament. It was a team scramble to raise money for beast cancer and it was just as much about the beer and camaraderie as it was about the golf. The course shares grounds with the airstrip and there are a holes where you actually drive the ball over the runway, as the shirt I bought says, “it’s the only place in the world where you can scruff your nut on the runway”.
As much as I was enjoying West Island I needed to go back to the boat for a day to get clean clothes. I also wanted to go fishing so I swam to a reef about 200 yards from the boat and spent a good 2 hours swimming around and checking out all the wildlife. There was a huge variety of fish including several black tip reef sharks who seemed to be following me around. Eventually I speared a nice looking snapper, and because I’d been told by the locals the sharks will come after your catch, I started swimming back toward the boat as fast as I could. About half way back I turned around and three sharks were swimming up on me. I held the fish in one hand and my spear in the other and started kicking backwards so I could keep me eye on them. They were taking pretty aggressive passes and the fish in my hand, despite me prodding them with the spear, and eventually one practically took it out of my hand. The string from the spear was still through the fish’s head, so I had to hold on tight while he thrashed at the fish. Eventually he bit through my line and swam off with my fish. Luckily I saw where the spear went and was able to swim down and get it. That was the closest encounter with sharks I’ve ever had and by far the most aggressive sharks I’ve ever seen. I know they were only interested in the fish but it was still pretty scary.
This was a Saturday and West Island was throwing their annual barefoot ball. It was a beautiful setup on a beach in an uninhabited part of the island. They slow roasted a lamb and had a really nice spread for dinner along with music and dancing. We partied until the early morning and I grew to love cocos and its people even more.
We had originally planned on leaving on the 31st, but everyone has having a blast so we decided to stay longer. We went with some of our new local friends on their boat to Direction Island and hung out on the beach, wake boarded, and showed them around our boat.
We all went back to the boat, along with a few new friends, and had a big bond fire and BBQ on Direction Island. The crews from the other 4 boats that were anchored joined as well and it turned in to a pretty fun party. I camped on the beach under the stars, continuing to enjoy time away from the boat and with new company.
I had no idea what to expect coming in to Cocos, and it totally surpassed any expectations I could have possibly had. The people took us in like family and the natural beauty of the islands rivals anything I’ve ever seen. I made a lot of awesome friends on Cocos and even picked up a few different nicknames including worms (because I’m always eating), local (because I pretty much moved in on West Island), and mustache man (obvious reason). I’ll remember my two weeks here for the rest of my life and, with any luck, I’ll be back to visit again one day.
We’re sailing out later today for our longest passage; 2,000 miles to Rodrigues.