Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Special Mauritian Farewell

The Mauritians surely know how to host an event. From the welcome bags and fresh fruit trays to the prize-giving dinner to the final event: the Blessing of the Fleet, they were wonderful hosts! We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Caudan Basin close to shopping and restaurants – and good Internet! Many curious onlookers asked about our event and journey. They like taking photos of the boats and some were even invited aboard to see inside the yachts.

The prize-giving dinner on our last night was extra special. A number of local authorities spoke and thanked us for stopping at their island. The event was held on the quay and gave us a sample of local entertainment. There were dancers and musicians as well Mauritian cuisine.

Much to our surprise we came in third for the Monohull Division! It is always a surprise when we win as we seem like the little kid who is always trying to keep up with the big kids! We are not the smallest or slowest boat in the fleet; it is just that we don't sail fast downwind. Give us a good wind forward of the beam and we can keep up with the best of them.

The morning of our departure for La Reunion, the leaders of the four main religions led the service for the Blessing of the Fleet. They represented the Christian, Chinese, Islamic and Hindu religions. Each said a special prayer in his or her own language. The Anglican priest then finished the service in English and came around to the boats to bless them with Holy Water and words of blessing for a safe passage. The Chinese set off loud and smoky fireworks to chase away the evil spirits. It was a very nice event.

Chinese, Anglican, Hindu and Islam peacefully living
together in this diverse country with mutual respect.
The Start Line was the same as the Finish Line so just before the 1400 Start, we all left the Caudan Basin to make our way out of the harbor. Jockeying for position while putting up sails in tight quarters is always interesting. This time we also had the tide with which to deal, but all was well and the Start was clean, as they say.

It was only 130 nm to La Reunion so it was an overnight sail so we could arrive in daylight. All was well at the Start as the fleet began to spread out over several miles. Of course, the bigger and faster boats were soon well ahead on the horizon. The wind was good, but the swells coming around the island were somewhat confused making for a lumpy ride.

The blessing of S/V Trillium
Just before sunset and evening roll call, our autopilot began sending error messages that it could not find the compass computer! That means it could not steer the course! Which then means, we had to hand steer and we still had over 100 nm to go! Delta, Alpha, Mike, November!

The Dragon Dance

On the SSB radio call at 1900, I advised the fleet of the situation and asked them not to get too close to us as hand steering the confused swells made it difficult for us to maintain a steady course. Several boats agreed to stay in contact all night to make sure we were doing okay and several who sail at the same rate were on standby for assistance.

Fortunately, we did not need any assistance during the passage, but we were exhausted by the time we reached port. We still don’t know what caused it. We reset the system several times during the night and it would hold for a while and then send an error message and put itself into standby mode. That meant we would go off course with the wind and swells until we grabbed the wheel and went back to steering by compass.

The Dragon Dancers had fun getting close and personal
with the yachties-even chasing the young girls!
Of course, hand steering by compass is the way sailors have navigated for centuries. With modern technology, we are spoiled by setting the autopilot and letting it do its job. The greater challenge is handling the swells. If it were just the strong wind, then you balance the sails and hold the course. With large and erratic swells, the waves lift the bow one way or the stern the other way and sets it down off course so you must steer back to the course.

The fleet leaving Mauritius for La Reunion. We are the
black boat symbol and did well keeping up with the others.
After we arrived in port, others told how funny it looked on their AIS as we were pointing in all different directions at times, including the opposite way we were supposed to be heading! Some thought we were doing several different sail changes trying to win. Little did they know that we were just trying to sail in a relatively straight line!

Since hand steering in the dark requires focusing on the helm compass, it is hard to keep watch on the chart plotter or the sea. Due to this situation, we did six hour watches so we overlapped, keeping two people in the cockpit at all times to help keep watch and to relieve the helmsman from time to time. And to go below to reset the system occasionally. It made for a very long night and by the time we arrived in port we looked like the wreck of the Hesperus!

Next Port of Call: La Port, Reunion
By the end of this passage, I began to believe that either the blessing didn’t work or that the smoke from the fireworks that blew across the Caudan Basin into our portholes trapped the evil spirits in Trillium’s electronics! Fortunately, we arrived in La Port, La Reunion safe and somewhat sound!

Next step: figure out what is going on in the autopilot system! There is probably a loose bus somewhere in the system, but at sea in the dark is not the time to look for it!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Rum Tasting and Hat Buying!

Each stop included rum tasting!
The next stop was at L'Aventure de Sucre, the sugar museum where the tour ended in a boutique and sugar and rum tasting room following a lovely Mauritian lunch. The spices had been toned down for us non-Mauritians! People in warm climates seem to love spicy food! Some of our sailors thought it had been toned down too much, but I was quite happy with it.
The museum had an extensive discussion on the history of sugar in Mauritius. “Once lusted after as much as gold, as much sought after as Indian spices, as sweet on the palate as silk is round a woman’s neck, sugar has enjoyed an extraordinary existence, leaving a profound impression on the history and identity of Mauritius."

"Travelling through the museum, visitors learn about the deeply intertwined history of sugar and Mauritius, how it has all led to the harmonious, smiling and multicultural society it is today.” This is how the brochure describes the sugarcane business in Mauritius.

Interesting displays made it easy to get the story by walking
through the exhibit without reading every word.
Sugarcane is still their main crop. Many people are employed in it. The former Beau Plan sugar factory houses one of the best museums in Mauritius. It not only tells the story of sugar in great detail but also covers the history of Mauritius, slavery, the rum trade and much, much more. There was a lot of reading to do and it was a very large exhibit.

The museum included an art gallery.
The original factory was founded in 1797 and only ceased working in 1999. Most of the machinery is still in place. The museum explains both the factory and the complicated process of turning sugar cane into crystals. At the end of the visit we tasted some of the 15 varieties of unrefined sugar, two of which were invented in Mauritius.

Rum is definitely an important by-product
of the sugar refining process!

Bottoms up!

Pat and I had fun buying our hats!

And our men wonder when we are going to wear the hats!
And how we are going to store them on the boat!

The spring flowers are just beginning to bloom.
A beautiful walk among tall palms.
We also had a tour through the Botanical Garden where we saw the giant water lilies. Unfortunately there were not many blooming as it is early spring here. Some of the trees were amazing - especially the palm trees.

There was one tree that looks like it is bleeding and looks wet, but is actually dry to the touch. It also looks like it has been burned, but the bark is black naturally.

It looks wet, but is dry to the touch.
The Mauritius National Botanical Garden is home to an incredible variety of tropical plants, many of them indigenous. The Botanic Garden, formally known as Sir Seewoosagur Botanic Garden, is one of the most visited attractions in Mauritius. It is located in the proximity of Port-Louis in the district of Pamplemousse just a short drive north of Port Louis.

An early stage of a lily pad developing.
Lotus flowers
The botanical garden stretches over endless acres of land and it may take you more than a week to cover the whole garden. It is populated with more than 650 varieties of plants among which are the famous Baobabs, the Palmier Bouteille, the ineluctable Giant Water Lilies, dozens of medicinal plants, a large spice garden and many more. One of the main attractions of the botanical garden is the 85 different varieties of palm trees brought from different corners of the world. Other indigenous species of plants are also exhibited here.

We learned about the hearts of palm that we often eat. There is only one heart per palm tree. It causes the growth of each frond and creates the annual ring. You can tell how old a palm is by counting the rings - one per year. The rings will be fatter in good weather and water years and narrower in poorer conditions.

Next time you see a palm tree or even a fallen frond, notice the area where it is attached to the tree. It is usually quite curved. That is where the conical heart was on that frond on a particular year. The heart moves on to create the next ones. When the heart is removed, the tree dies. So, every time you have hearts of palm, think about the tree that provided it! No wonder a can of hearts of palm is so expensive.

I was happy to learn later that a particular species of palm is grown as a crop to provide hearts of palms so they do not come from the big older trees. I think it would be the "veal" of the palm trees.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Good Times in Mauritius

The local tourism groups in Port Louis, Mauritius have been great. They provided lists of codes for free Internet in the immediate area, arranged a great World ARC tour and threw a fantastic awards dinner and party on the jetty. There was a Blessing of the Fleet on our day of departure. I am not sure who welcomes groups in our home towns, but these island people everywhere could teach us how to do it! They are always so pleased to have a fleet of yachts visit.

All of the boats are alongside the quays in Caudan Basin and we all have "dressed" our yachts so it looks quite spectacular to the people on land. Many people come along to take photos and chat. We have seen people from many different countries enjoying our presence.

We had another great day of touring while on Mauritius. We visited Chateau de Labourdonnais, an old colonial style sugar plantation, the L'Adventure de Sucre Museum with rum tasting at both locations. I am not a rum drinker unless it is in a frou-frou drink so a shot or two of straight up rum midday is not for me. I dumped mine into some mango juice! And we toured the Mauritius National Botanical Garden.

The Château de Labourdonnais was owned by Christian Wiehe, an influential figure of nineteenth century Mauritius. The construction started in 1856 and three years later, the Wiehe family moved into one of the most beautiful colonial houses of the island.

Inspired by Italian neo-classical architecture, the residence stretches out on two levels. The house was built mainly from teak wood and has a double colonnaded gallery. The layout of the house follows that of the private mansions of the nineteenth century, with a central hallway leading on one side to the dining room and on the other to the main lounge. The bedrooms are situated upstairs. I loved the open verandas on both levels.

After visiting the château, we strolled through the lush gardens and old orchards, displaying the horticultural wealth of the region. We saw hundred-year-old mango trees, spice trees such as nutmeg and clove, as well as several exotic fruit trees such as the pomme jacot, the sapote, the jamalac and the Kythira plum.

The large orchards are used for fruit cultivation such as papayas, mangoes, guavas or passion fruit that are used in the manufacture of the Labourdonnais product range preserving the traditional flavors without the use of any colorings or artificial flavors.

Mango trees were in bloom.
Also, during the walk in the gardens, we came across giant Aldabra tortoises grazing peacefully. Somehow they ended up with three resident ducks and one chicken who share the pen with the tortoises! It was a cute scene. And watching the tortoises move was quite interesting; they sort of lumber a long, one slow moving limb at a time.

Beautiful old floors throughout the house.

The Rhumerie des Mascareignes, the rum distillery on the property, was built in 2006. This is a new industry on the domain which exemplifies the diversification of the sugarcane industry. The distillery operates during the sugarcane harvest so we did not see it in action.

Our guide pointing out lychees on the tree.

In the distillery museum, we learned about the old techniques of agricultural rum and the production of this treasured spirit. Two different rum labels, Rhumeur and La Bourdonnais, produced by the distillery were available at the tasting bar and the boutique at the château.

And, of course, before you leave the tour you end up in the gift shop – or in this case, the Boutique! I don’t think they made much money off our group from the sale of rum, but a lot was tasted!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Land Ho! Mauritius Is Looking Good

Land Ho! Mauritius lies ahead!
We were so happy to see land after 16 days on the Indian Ocean. By landing in Mauritius, we have crossed three-quarters of the Indian Ocean with the roughest part yet to come. We have a week and a few days in Mauritius to rest and repair. (Sailors interpretation or R & R) before moving on to La Reunion which is only an overnight sail 120 nm to the southwest.

While in Cocos Keeling, our friends on Yacht Brizo suggested that their son could bring a new starter motor for the generator from England as he would be meeting them in Mauritius. As the Brits would say: Brilliant! We were so pleased when the parts arrived.

Don blowing up one of the big fenders to protect the side
of the boat from the concrete wall onto which we were tied.
Dennis and another sailor who had worked on Yanmar engines for nearly forty years tried to remove the old starter motor. One bolt wouldn't budge for them. Of course, it was located on the back side of the generator where they could not see what they were doing. Finally, another sailor whose career was working on engines gave us a hand and got the bolt out. He was small enough to actually get in a position where he could see and reach the bolt. Free at last! Then he installed the new part plus a new oil pressure gauge so all is well with the generator!

S/V Trillium all dressed up in Port Louis.
Due to the non-working generator which we need to power the desalination system, we had to conserve water on the long passage. Without a generator, we could not make water. Yacht Brizo had topped up our water tank back in Cocos Keeling so we started with 240 gallons. We put a water conservation plan into action: 1) wash dishes once a day, 2) no showers - just washing up, 3) no shaving, 4) no laundry en route, 5) conserve water wherever possible! The best part was when Yacht Brizo offered their shower to me!

The Caudan Basin was a great location for berthing as the
city was right there with restaurants, banks, shops, etc.
It worked. We arrived in Mauritius with half a tank so we could have used a little more on the way. Now we know how much we need to exist. Dennis and I can go two weeks on a full tank, but we weren't sure about three people using it. Often crew does laundry underway and that uses too much water when trying to conserve it.

It is interesting that when you can make water, you use it freely. I found when I was back in the USA last summer, I used water much more carefully than I used to before sailing off into the deep blue sea. I was very aware of not turning on the faucet and just letting it run. It is a good lesson for all to learn to conserve our drinking water. There are many places in the world dying for clean drinking water!

There was no limit to the amount of water we could drink as it is important to stay hydrated. But I could have showered and washed my hair at least once mid-way across! Now we need to clean the membranes before we can make drinking water from sea water. This may not happen until we get to South Africa so we will still conserve on the rest of the Indian Ocean passage.

Once we got settled at the quay, it was time to explore the area. As you walk from the marina, you enter an open mall area under an awning of colorful umbrellas. The area closest to the marina basin is a very contemporary shopping and dining region with a two story mall.

As you continue past some old buildings and other shops, you enter an older part of the city. The further we went, the more it became like some of the other islands we have visited. And the poorer the area became.

Crossing the street in the traffic was a real challenge. They don't have many lights so you just had to go for it and hope you wouldn't get hit by a motorcycle, car or bus! They use the round-about system so there are not many crosswalks for pedestrians. To cross major streets you had to go down steps, through a tunnel and back up.

A view down the main street in the financial
area. To the left of this street, things change.
It is always great to see the smiling faces of the World ARC Yellow Shirts waiting to catch our lines. We have had three great staff members on this half of the trip: Hugh, Cecilia and Victor. They are fun and do a very good job of keeping us organized and enjoying our adventure. Thanks to all. We had to say “goodbye” to Hugh back in Cocos Keeling and Cecilia in Mauritius. The fleet will miss both of them. Thanks for the great job you did trying to herd these cats!

Our view of the waterfront.

What do you know about Mauritius?

Mauritius lies in the center of the South Indian Ocean and was once was part of a volcanic land bridge that connected Africa and Asia. Mauritius was uninhabited until the end of the sixteenth century. Although Arab and Malay sailors stopped here, the Portuguese were the first to establish residency. It was called the Ilha do Cirne or Ilse of the Swan. As it turns out, the so-called swan was actually the Dodo bird, which is extinct.  Since it was a flightless bird, it was easy prey and was hunted to extinction by passing sailors. Sounds like what happened to the Kiwi bird in New Zealand.

The island has been fought over and controlled by the Dutch, French and British as it is a strategic location on the route from South Africa to Asia. In the end, the British won out and eventually gave independence to Mauritius in 1968. There are over 1.3 million people of Indian, English, French and Chinese descent. English is the official language with others spoken as well.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Collision With A Cargo Ship!

There was a nasty current against us in various place
in the Southern Indian Ocean. Not fun!
As I mentioned earlier, the Indian Ocean is a very lumpy body of water. Even with steady winds in the 15-25 knot range which should be smooth sailing, we were bounced around by the big swells coming from different directions. And there has been this dang current against us the whole way, either moving us north or south while holding back on our Velocity Made Good (VMG). It is frustrating as it is causing us to spend one more day out here!

Several times I called cargo ships to make sure they could
see Trillium on their AIS. They do not always keep good
watches so it doesn't hurt to make them aware of us.
We have daily roll calls with the rest of the fleet at 0900 and 1900 where we report our positions and any issues or concerns. Most of the time it is position report followed by friendly chatting about what we had for dinner or what fish someone caught or wishing someone a Happy Something. It is a nice way to make sure everyone is fine since we are spread out over 300 nm. Knowing the most recent positions allows others to come to assistance if needed.

The first five minutes of roll call is a Silent Period in which emergency information is shared. It is always pleasing to hear nothing during this time. Unfortunately, one evening it was different. One of our fleet yachts had had a mid-afternoon collision with a cargo ship!

The big guys don't always watch for small vessels. It is hard
for them to maneuver so it is better to give way even if you
have the right of way under the navigation rules.
This was indeed unnerving! Our first thoughts were how could that happen? It was a beautiful day with blue skies and just the right amount of wind to move gently over the water. And it happened in the middle of the day! Something happened. It has to be human error.

The captain and owner of that vessel is probably the best sailor out here and we have always looked up to him. Something unusual must have happened. Unfortunately, we won’t know the full story until we get to land. And we were happy to hear he has arrived safely into port while sailing with extensive damage to his standing rigging. Kuddos to his sailing skills!

As a result, our Captain reinforced our watch rules as we had been getting a little too relaxed! If the best sailor out here can tangle with a huge cargo ship in broad daylight, it can happen to anyone. We were able to plot the position of the contact point and have kept track of traffic in that area. It is obvious that we are all crossing a major freighter channel between Cape Town, SA and Asia as most ships have been bound for Singapore or other Asian ports.

This was the freighter traffic one morning during my
watch. We are the little black boat on the screen.
Fortunately, our renewed vigilance has paid off as we have crossed wakes with at least six more freighters in the same area which is quite extensive as they are traveling on a 450 angle and we are all spread out over several hundred miles crossing their path at various points. As I write this, there are two freighters on our AIS screen. I am not on watch so I can do something other than “watch.”

We actually had to change our course last night to avoid a collision. Even though we have the right of way for two reasons: 1) we are a vessel under sail and 2) they are approaching our port side, we believe in the laws of mass and speed. They are just too big to challenge! And they don’t seem to care – or perhaps even keep a good watch – as they steam forward to their destination!

This looks like the same photo, but it is a different day in
a different location. You must keep a good watch for them.
Here we are the little white boat and the straight white line
is our rhumb line between two destinations.
Our friends who had the collision we able to contact the freighter to let them know they had been hit. At least that way the freighter has to record the call in their log book.

It won’t do much good except perhaps for an insurance claim. It will be interesting to hear how the collision happened and what the yacht’s crew was doing at the time. It can look like there is no one for miles and all of a sudden they are on your AIS screen and moving at 12-20 knots right at you. By the time they come over the horizon, there is little time to adjust sails and your course. Thankfully, there were no injuries.

Some days are so calm you must motor sail.
We are working on another Hat Trick! That makes it a Triple Hat Trick on this passage! Here goes:
1) The gudgeon that holds the Watt & Sea water generator on the stern broke – again! I think they need to reengineer these things for long passages. Since it is a French company, we are hoping we can have parts set directly to La Reunion. 

2) The fresh water pump decided it had had enough and retired its service half way across the Indian Ocean! That was fixable with a spare after the swells settled down some, but for a couple of days we could only use the foot pump which gave us fresh cold water directly from the tank into the galley only.

3) Don broke a tooth on a hard crust of bread!

From one extreme to another: too calm or too rough!
All in all, it has been an interesting passage. I had expected much worse in terms of sea state and weather so I am happy. I only had one bout of seasickness the first night and have been fine ever since. That is a huge improvement!
Note: We later learned the full story on the collision and it was due to a crew member falling asleep or reading or ... and not keeping watch! The boat has AIS so the ship would have shown up there for someone to see. And the sailboat should have shown on the big ship's AIS as well. Mind boggling! The crew member was dismissed as soon as they landed.