Hugo Andreae discovers bath-warm seas, glorious weather and excellent fishing trips when he charters a Ferretti 690 Altura in the Seychelles
Life doesn’t get any better than this. We are anchored off a tropical islet in the Seychelles, sitting on the hydraulic bathing platform of our chartered Ferretti 690 Altura. My son Ned flashes me a killer smile through his mask as one of our smartly dressed crew lowers us into the bath-warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
The sea is so clear I can see a pair of bat fish swimming lazily in the shadow of our hull and the delicate branches of coral sprouting from the sea bed beneath. A few metres off, another crew member is readying the Williams jet-tender for a spot of waterskiing, while a third is prepping some fresh mangoes for a mid-afternoon snack and stocking the fridge with the local Seybrew beer for this evening’s sundowners. No wonder the Seychelles have often been described as the original Garden of Eden.
Cut off from the rest of the world by 1,000nm of Indian Ocean and blessed with a dizzying abundance of beautiful beaches, lush landscapes and impossibly blue water, this tropical archipelago is as close to most people’s idea of paradise as you’re ever likely to get.
If there is a more perfect boating location, I’ve yet to find it. The only irony is that the very remoteness which makes these islands so unique, has also kept them off limits to all but the longest of long-range explorer yachts. They didn’t even have an airport until 1972 let alone a fully serviced marina. But in the last few years the picture has started to change.
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Charter yachts in the Seychelles
It started with the opening of Eden Island Marina in 2007 and has come to fruition with the launch of a number of new boating businesses. Sunsail and The Moorings have had a base here for several years, and more recently both Sunseeker and Ferretti have got in on the act with local sales and charter agents. The Altura 690 we’re on is the flagship of Ferretti dealer Radek Masin’s fleet of charter vessels as well as the boss’ personal boat, which he shipped over from its previous home berth in Croatia. In the saloon there’s a photograph of it covered in snow with the immortal legend ‘There’s a reason we moved to the Seychelles,’ printed underneath.
Now it’s based at Eden Island Marina, spearheading Radek’s drive to open this extraordinarily rich cruising ground to a worldwide audience of customers blinkered by the usual Med or Caribbean charter options. The man has a point. Every time I come here (my wife’s Aunt is a resident of more than 40 years), I keep asking myself why a place as idyllic as this isn’t already heaving with boats?
We meet at Radek’s smart new office on Eden Island to find our three crew busily laying out sunpads and removing the sun covers as part of their daily battle to stave off UV damage. The main island group is only 3¬∞ off the equator and well clear of the main hurricane zones so the biggest threat to a boat’s health is the heat of the midday sun.
On a regular charter there would usually just be a skipper and chef/boat hand on board, leaving the three main cabins for guests, but since we’re only occupying the two VIP suites this is an opportunity for one of the newer crew members to gain some experience too. Not that I’m complaining, three crew to three guests is the kind of ratio I could get used to.
Fishing in the Seychelles
Having explored the main island of Mahe at length by beach buggy and tourist vessel in the days before our charter starts (there are a number of diving schools, glass-bottomed boats and game fishing trips on offer from Beau Vallon beach), we decide to head straight across to Praslin (pronounced Prarlan), the second largest island in the group. Praslin is only 27nm from Mahe’s main port of Victoria so although it’s tempting to open up the Altura’s mighty engines and blast across in an hour or so, we opt to take things a little easier and enjoy some fishing en route.
The Seychelles is home to some of the best game fishing in the world with marlin, sailfish, dorado and tuna all frequenting these waters. Ned is still high from a previous fishing trip a few days earlier when his favourite great aunt treated us all to a day charter on board an outboard-powered sportsfisher. We returned to Beau Vallon beach arms aching and cool boxes bulging with half a dozen yellowfin tuna. But the legendary Seychelles sailfish eluded us and Ned is keen to make amends. Besides, our skipper Francis has promised fresh sailfish sashimi for lunch, provided we can catch him the main ingredient. That’s all the invitation Ned needs to strap on the fighting harness while new boy Steven sets about rigging the lines with lures.
My wife, Rebecca, is more intent on exploring the foredeck sunpads with a holiday read in one hand and an ice-cold Coke in the other. And I’m happier taking refuge under the flybridge canopy, lapping in the sight of Mahe’s 1,000m peaks receding into the distance and feeling the sea breeze on my face. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be afloat in paradise at last.
Ned isn’t having much luck in the cockpit. The sun is already high in the sky, driving the fish to seek respite in the cool of the depths. Only the flying fish remain near the surface, exploding from the water in a blur of flashing fins and silver scales as the Altura’s bow wave threatens to engulf them. Our third crew member, Fred, knows these waters like the back of his hand and is busy pointing out an uninhabited island shaped like a pair of breasts known as Les Mamelles. The local language is Creole, a form of French patois that has evolved over the years from the Seychelles’ early years as a French outpost. I can’t understand a word of Creole but I think I can guess the origins of this island’s name.
Beautiful islands of the Seychelles
An hour or so later and we’re pulling into a small anchorage on the north side of a pair of islands know as Cousin and Cousine. The occasional cotton wool puff of cloud drifts lazily overhead, providing a splash of contrast against the vast expanse of azure sky. Beneath us the Indian Ocean is gradually changing from a royal blue to turquoise to cyan as the depth drops off towards the crescent of white beach beyond. It’s so picture perfect I’m itching to drop anchor and dive into the sea for a refreshing dip but two sailing catamarans have got here first and Francis sees no reason why we have to share this corner of paradise when there are hundreds of other pretty but less congested spots to sling our hook. I’m about to protest that he doesn’t know the meaning of congested but he’s been plying these waters since he was a boy so I settle back and enjoy a glass of mango juice instead.
A few minutes later and we’re nosing into another spectacular bay on Praslin itself. Anse Lazio is famous for being one of the world’s prettiest beaches, although its reputation has been unfairly tarnished by a freak shark attack in 2011, the first such incident in the Seychelles for more than 40 years. The bay faces the open ocean and a buoyed net now protects the beach but the appearance of a pair of fins on the far side of the bay does little to calm our nerves, until it becomes apparent it’s just a pair of playful dolphins.
As the afternoon sun warms our backs we motor round into the channel separating Praslin from Curieuse and drop anchor in the lee of Curieuse. The water is so clear I can see the chain running all the way down to the sea bed below. I can’t resist clambering over the side deck guardrails and plunging in, swiftly followed by Ned and Becca. The water is heavenly. Cool enough to be refreshing but warm enough to stay in it all day. It’s only the sight of Francis laying out lunch on the cockpit table that tempts us back on board. With no fresh fish to fillet he’s served up smoked sailfish salad instead that makes our pallid supermarket smoked salmon seem drab and oily.
After lunch we’re ferried ashore in the Williams jet-tender to visit this former leper colony turned nature reserve. The old doctor’s house has been restored as a museum to the island’s turbulent history but now its primary residents are giant tortoises, which roam freely amongst the ruins. We follow a nature trail through the island’s mountainous interior while Francis points out the copious flora and fauna, much of which is unique to this tiny island archipelago. Foremost among these is the Coco de Mer palm, whose vast nut resembles a woman’s backside. A raised wooden walkway winds through the mangrove swamp. Land crabs and electric green geckos scuttle through the twisted roots as we make our way down to the old turtle pond where the tender is waiting to pick us up.
Safely back on board we up anchor and motor across to the tiny islet of St Pierre. Surrounded by pink granite rocks, sculpted into alien shapes by years of erosion and crowned by a handful of palm trees, it’s every child’s vision of a pirate’s hideaway. In fact its true treasures lie under the water, where brightly coloured tropical fish flit among the coral maze, oblivious to the three of us snorkelling overhead. I’ll never forget the look on Ned’s face the first time he donned a mask aged four and discovered this whole new world beneath him and six years later the wonderment is just as real.
Watersports in the Seychelles
The toy cupboard set into the Altura’s bathing platform seems to have an inexhaustible supply of fins, masks, snorkels and fishing gear. We even dig out a pair of skis and zip across to Anse Volbert on Praslin in the tender for some high-speed adrenaline thrills. The Williams struggles to pull me up on a mono-ski so we call it a day before I break it or it breaks me, and head back to mothership so we can potter the five miles across the channel to our night stop on the neighbouring island of La Digue. Two of our crew grew up here and have managed to secure us a spot on the harbour’s small stone quay.
I had half hoped we’d anchor up in some remote bay with nothing but the sound of waves lapping gently against the hull to lull us to sleep but soon change my mind at the sight of a string of beach-side bars and restaurants. Cocktail in hand we watch the sun dip down over Praslin, lighting up the evening sky with a fiery red glow as it finally sank beneath the horizon.
Bellies heaving with octopus curry and eyelids drooping we stagger back to the boat for a final round of drinks and cards on the flybridge before turning in for the night. Becca and I head down to our luxurious suite in the stern (I’d forgotten just how spacious these aft-cabin Alturas are) while Ned revels in his king-sized VIP in the bow.
The next thing we know the sun is peaking through the transom window and the engines are burbling away beneath us. By the time we’ve dragged ourselves out of bed, we’re already anchored up in another stunning bay and a breakfast of mangoes, bananas, passion fruit and freshly baked rolls is on the table. It sounds absurd but a Seychelles banana is quite unlike the dull, pappy items we’re accustomed to eating in the UK. Every bite of these tangy little wonders is worth the price of the plane ticket alone.
Anchoring in Paradise bays
After breakfast we hop into the tender to explore Ile Cocos, which we’ve anchored next to. This has to be the prettiest of all the islands we’ve visited. Huge granite monoliths sprout from the pearly white sand while tropic birds wheel overhead, their long white tail feathers piercing the sky like the vapour trails of a plane. Ned wanders among the boulders scanning the sand for shells while Becca is happy to sit in the shallows letting the waves wash over her feet.
I can see why the crew were keen to get us here early though, by the time we’ve had our fill of sun, sea and sand, the tourist boats have started to arrive in their droves from La Digue dissipating the magic that comes from having the island to ourselves. This ability to up sticks and find a new corner of paradise is one of the joys of having your own charter boat and in the Seychelles there is always another island to explore. We enjoy a gentle cruise around Les Soeurs, Felicite and La Digue stopping to admire the spectacular rock formations that cut off the remote but heavenly Anse Marron beach from the rest of the island.
Sadly we don’t have time to visit the low-lying Bird Island where over a million sooty terns come to roost each night and hawksbill turtles return year after year to lay their eggs in the soft white sand. Or Silhouette where a French pirate is rumoured to have buried his treasure somewhere on its tall wooded slopes. Next time, perhaps.
That’s the beauty of the Seychelles, with over 100 islands to explore, each with its own distinct character, there’s enough to keep charter guests busy for weeks on end, yet remarkably Radek Masin says most of his clients prefer to book day charters and stay in one of the islands many five-star hotels. More fool them. Waking up in a deserted bay with nothing but the fish for company is one of the great joys of chartering and the Altura even has a gyroscopic stabiliser to prevent any roll at anchor. One day the rest of the world will wake up and smell the coffee, in the meantime I suggest you take advantage of their lassitude. Why share paradise, when you can keep it all to yourself?
Try the Seychelles for yourself
Radek Masin is the official dealer for the Ferretti Group, Chris-Craft, Boston Whaler and Sea Ray and has a number of boats for sale, fractional ownership or charter including the Ferretti 690 Altura shown here. A week on board the Altura costs from €25,700 to €34,170 for six people excluding flights, fuel and drinks, or you can opt for four days in one of Eden Island’s luxury apartments and three days on board the Altura from €3,320 per person.
The Seychelles enjoys a year-round boating season with average temperatures of 24-32°C but the best time to visit is between October and March when the winds are lightest.
Contact Radek Masin directly at email@example.com or via charter agents Exclusive Yacht Services at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in Motor Boat & Yachting, issue February 2014.