Tortoises, treasure and tropical paradise islands are all part of small ship sailing with Variety Cruises.
A hush falls over the dining room as Captain Bahnasy tells us he has good and bad news. The afternoon’s planned beach stop is cancelled because unfavourable weather conditions mean Pegasus can’t moor in the small harbour and will have to remain anchored at sea. However, some passengers can travel to shore in the ship’s rigid inflatable boat (RIB) while others can go in kayaks and he will provide umbrellas for the former.
We momentarily exchange looks before he breaks into a broad smile. Seconds later everyone is laughing as it becomes clear some of us have fallen hook line and sinker for his joke. The real good news is that although the excursion has been abandoned he has arranged for us to be taken ashore to another island by RIB where a bus will pick us up for a guided hike through the lush countryside.
The scenario neatly encapsulates two aspects of life aboard one of the small ships operated by Variety Cruises; in this instance a 44-passenger catamaran which is the only cruise vessel to sail year-round in the Seychelles.
Firstly, the ships are akin to being with a floating family where the captain, officers and crew mingle with guests and join in activities such as a Seychellois dance demonstration with optional audience participation later in the week. Secondly, while there is a planned itinerary on the round-trip sailings from Mahe, the gateway island in the scattered archipelago of 115 isles – the majority uninhabited – things can change and you need to be prepared to literally go with the flow.
However, this in turn can lead to unexpected cameos. On the impromptu guided hike along a trail that would be way off the beaten path for most visitors to the Seychelles we pass a hilltop home with a homespun sign proclaiming “eco house, no photos”. The owner comes over; initially appearing to make sure we observe his request. But he soon warms to our group, and in a complete role reversal invites us into his organic garden and shins a coconut tree to collect fruit, which he breaks open to share the milk. Not without some irony, the spontaneous detour ends with him posing next to several group members for photos.
Our guide Roddy, who knows the semi-recluse who gave up a high-flying day job for an alternative lifestyle, says he has never known him invite anyone in. Roddy is aboard Pegasus with us for the week-long sailing, accompanies us on every excursion and provides in-depth insights everywhere we go and handles all our questions with his encyclopaedic knowledge from a lifetime in the Seychelles.
As we sail between islands typified by striking granite cliffs, golden beaches nestling in hideaway bays and emerald green forests, it’s easy to see why British General Charles Gordon thought he had arrived in the original Garden of Eden when he arrived on Praslin, one of the three main inhabited islands, in 1881.
He was not the only Brit to be captivated by the destination. In 1962 Yorkshire-born Brendon Grimshaw bought the tiny island of Moyenne for £8,000 to start a new life. With the help of
Seychellois sidekick Rene Lafortune, the real-life Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday set about restoring the natural beauty of the overgrown island that had been abandoned for 50 years and where the scrub was so dense even coconuts couldn’t fall to the ground. Today, the island is the world’s smallest nature reserve. Following the scenic walking trail, created by Grimshaw and Lafortune, we come across some stone graves, two marked ‘happily unknown’ (pix 5 and 6). We listen intrigued as Roddy tells us they are believed to be the resting place of pirates that buried treasure on the once secluded isle. Although Grimshaw, who is buried next to them, looked for the hidden cache nothing was ever found.
Another big draw, quite literally, are the giant tortoises native to the Seychelles. Grimshaw introduced them to Moyenne and we meet others roaming free on Curiese, a former leper colony where nature is again at the forefront. After meeting some of the giant residents we walked across boardwalks covering dense tidal mangroves for lunch and an afternoon on another sweep of unspoilt beach.
Pegasus is small enough to moor off tiny secluded bays for swim, snorkel and sunbathing stops and, as we found, if plans change there is always a Plan B waiting around the next cove. Along the way we also visited famous tourist attractions such as Praslin’s Vallee de Mai nature reserve that’s home to the giant, and unmistakably shaped, female Coco de Mer and La Digue’s stunningly beautiful Anse Source d’Argent beach where scenes from the Tom Hanks’ film Castaway was shot.
Giant tortoises aside, for me it was the smaller and uninhabited isles that proved to be the most captivating. These included the bird sanctuary of Cousin, where species such as white-tailed tropicbirds nest on the ground with their chicks as they have no predators or fear of human visitors. Then add to the mix some of the unplanned moments, such as our cross-country hike.
A small ship is a fitting way to explore these diverse and natural wonders. Treasure or no treasure, you’ll discover riches of a different kind on this sailing around the Seychelles.
Pegasus sails on year-round cruises in the Seychelles ranging from three to seven-night itineraries. Sailings, including all on board meals and most excursions, can be booked cruise-only or as inclusive holidays with flights, transfers, and a three-night post-cruise stay on Mahe.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Variety Cruises and you can find out more, get a quote and book on 0800 412 5678.