National Geographic : 1967 Oct
Tropic isle for his playground, Allan Michon, eight-year-old son of a French scientist, swings on a coconut frond at Nosy Be. Biologists conducted shore studies from an oceanographic research center on this island off the northwest coast of Madagascar (map, page 453). Nearly swamped by surf, boatmen leave North Keeling Island, one of the remote Cocos group lying south of Suma tra. They came to this uninhabited speck from the main atoll, 15 miles away, to harvest coconuts. Far-ranging expedition scientists visited the Cocos to study mol lusks, and found shellfish strangely more akin to Pacific species than to those of the Indian Ocean. Model atoll: Charles Darwin used the South Keeling group of the Cocos Islands as a basis for his theory of coral-atoll formation. In 1827 a Scottish sea captain, John Clunies-Ross, settled on the neck lace of 26 islands enclosing a lagoon seven miles across. Five generations of his family have held it under a grant from Queen Victoria. Some 480 residents -mostly of Javanese descent-work copra plantations. An airstrip on West Island, left, largest of the atoll, serves as an emergency landing field for jet air liners flying between Australia and South Africa. island, somehow riding the winds and cur rents, no one really knows. Such migrations are of a time unremem bered. But over thousands of years, as long ago as the early kingdoms of Egypt, other sailors and explorers in graceful, sharp prowed sailing craft have passed to and fro on the Indian Ocean's monsoons. Arabs and Indians in far-ranging dhows still sail south and west down the African coast on the winter monsoon. When the winds turn, as always they do, the ships go home again to the Gulfs of Aden and Persia and Kutch.* Bob Sisson and I went to Zanzibar, where the dhows still come to trade. But it was May, and the monsoon had already swung. 568 "You've just missed them," we were told. "The only ships still here are a few big kotias from Kutch-the Indians." We walked Zanzibar town's shadowy, winding streets to where they lay moored. Several stood propped on mud flats for work on their bottoms. On their high stern quar ters, above rough-timbered rudders, carved nameboards read "Kutch-Mandvi." They were 2,800 miles from home. We followed the Arab dhows north by air to Mombasa, in Kenya, but there, too, they had come and gone. In their place in old Kilindini Harbor, under the gray battlements *See "Sailing With Sindbad's Sons," by Alan Villiers, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, November, 1948.