Sailing the Seychelles

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Somewhere beneath the tranquil surface of the remote archipelago that is the Seychelles lies a fortune in gold and precious stones.

The story goes that French pirate Olivier le Vasseur buried a hoard of treasure here in the 1700s. Rather disappointingly for would-be fortune hunters though, he went to the gallows with a show of bravado and his lips firmly sealed as to its exact whereabouts.

But besides fearsome skull-and-crossbone pirates and bloody battles for the island’s bountiful treasures, there is no denying that the Seychelles, the oldest oceanic islands on earth, do ‘different’ rather well. For starters, think Jellyfish trees, the planet’s heaviest tortoise, and the Coco de Mer palm, which produces the largest seed in the world.

The Seychelles consist of an inner group of granite islands, forming a cluster around the principal islands of Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue, notable for dramatic rock formations. The 72 Outer Islands are formed of coral, and none is higher than about 15ft above sea level. These include the islands known as the Amirantes, and most remote of all, the Aldabra group.

Although most islands are linked by ferry and air services, chartering a yacht and pottering about the archipelago is the most idyllic way to take in this Indian Ocean utopia. All types of charter are offered here, but the two most popular are catamarans and super yachts. These can be chartered as both bareboat – without crew – or crewed for your sailing holiday.

The Inner Islands offer safe moorings and easy sailing distances with tremendous diversity and breathtaking natural beauty. Mahé, the largest island, has 70km of scenic coastline featuring safe anchorages, over 65 beaches, and an abundance of secret coves and romantic hideaways. Its granite backbone rises to the towering 905m peak of Morne Seychellois before falling in a jumble of cinnamon, palms, and hardwood trees to a coast littered with powder-white beaches. Mahé is where Victoria is, one of the world’s smallest capital cities, a raffish place with a villagey atmosphere. Its claim to fame is Seychelles’ only set of traffic lights. Soak up the atmosphere and satisfy your shopping itch by plunging into the explosion of colour that is the town’s Sir Selwyn Clarke Market, named after a former Governor of Seychelles. Besides a profusion of kingfish, parrotfish, and barracuda, there is a mind-blowing array of local handicrafts, parasols, straw hats, pungent spices as hot as the sun, sprigs of whatnot, and cohorts of delicious juicy-hued fruits. Where better to stock up on provisions?

Leaving Mahé, head for La Digue by sailing along the coast through Ternay Bay, great for snorkellers, and Port Launay, limited to the southeast by the Pointe de l’Escalier, a strange geological phenomenon that has built up a giant stairway leading to the sea with steps hewn from rock. Delve deeper on tranquil La Digue where time moves at moves at a snail’s pace,by renting a bike to explore the island.

There are no cars here, only bicycles and ox-drawn carts, while boats are traditionally made by hand. The island’s forests are filled with giant Indian almond and takamaka trees. One of the archipelago’s ‘must sees’ is the spookily beautiful Jurassic Park-like Vallée de Mai, a primeval rainforest on Praslin, second largest island of the Seychelles and just a 30-minute boat ride from La Digue. Home to the elusive black parrot and one of the islands’ two UNESCO Heritage Sites, it is whispered to be the original biblical Garden of Eden. Some of Seychelles’ most glorious beaches are here, including Anse Lazio, which locals claim to be the world’s most photographed beach. The yacht anchorage here is particularly striking, surrounded by thousands of Coco de Mer palms.

Cruise among the inner islands and enjoy dazzling white beaches fringed by turquoise sea where you can snorkel and revel in the underwater treasure house of Seychelles’ Marine Parks. In fact, you will see that Seychelles is every bit as spectacular below the waterline as above it, as you swim alongside electric-coloured striped zebra fish, eagle rays, sea turtles, snappers, and sweet lips, sparkling like neon lights.

Outside the cyclone belt and offering a year-round sailing season, with moderate swells and gentle tides, there is no better way to enjoy these magical islands than by cruising the pristine waters and exploring the extraordinary bounty of Seychelles at your own pace.

Mahé, Seychelles
Distance: 3,335 km
Flight Time: 4 hours, 55 minutes
Frequency: Beginning December 12, Qatar Airways will operate a daily service from Doha

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