Monday, January 30, 2017

Now For the Tough One!

We spent a lot of time in their neighborhood!
It was time to bite the bullet and finish crossing the last quarter of the Indian Ocean. We enjoyed our time in Reunion, although the marina was not located close to anything. Our tour with the WARC was great and we got to see the rest of the island with Elizabeth and Martin. But it isn't one of our favorite places.

Everyone was watching the weather and having daily discussions regarding it. There was a major concern about a gale that would greet us as we approached the east coast of Africa. Since we have to sail across a very fast southerly Aguhlas Current, our route had to take us north of the entrance to Richards Bay so we wouldn't be carried past the it. The Aguhlas Current is somewhat like the Gulf Stream off the east coast of the USA, except this one flows south instead of north.

Are we going the wrong way on a one-way street?
After a fleet discussion on the weather, it was decided that we needed to ask the WARC officials for an earlier than planned start for this leg. No one was looking forward to this leg of the journey in the first place. Secondly, no one wanted to encounter a gale at the end of it. It would normally take 8-12 days to sail this downwind course. The WARC agreed and moved the start up by 24 hours.

On Friday morning, the boats began pulling out one by one since we could only have one boat in the marina entrance at a time. It was called a Gate Start where we went out on our own, put up sails and marked our time when we crossed the Start Line.

The sea was settling and the sun was setting. Good!
We were still waiting for the delivery of our Watt & Sea part which we learned had been sitting in Customs for a week and no one had notified us. Victor, our WARC Yellow Shirt, used his native tongue of French to get the part delivered within an hour of his call. Thank you once again, Victor and WARC. He had also spoken to the company in France earlier to get the part sent to us.

Once the package was in hand and having had the autopilot repaired - actually it was only a loose bus connection, we were ready to head off to South Africa. The engine was warming up and Dennis was casting off the lines when I realized there was no navigational data on the chart plotter! YIKES! Stop, stop, stop was my call.

We sought out the electronics technician who had worked on the autopilot. He came right away and check everything until he found that the NEMA connection was not firmly seated. It felt snug when we checked it but obviously we didn't know that it wasn't in all of the way. So we were finally ready to leave but we were three hours behind most of the fleet.

The first 36 hours of the passage were awful: strong winds after we got away from land, high swells and lots of chop. Passage Diet time again! Fortunately, after the first 36 hours, it settle down enough to have a good sail for a while.

Then we hit the doldrums: no wind! The sea had settled down some, but we couldn't sail so on went the motor. We ended up motor sailing most of the way to South Africa over the eight days at sea. We could have sailed at a very slow pace, but there was the gale looming at the end. It was essential to be in the harbor before 1800 on Saturday. Therefore, we put the pedal to the metal.

When the wind is too light for us on a downwind course, we just motor. When it is behind the beam, we need at least a steady 12 knots to move. When it is dead behind us like this passage, the sails just slap as the swells move the boat around and we lose whatever air they can hold. After a few hours of beating up the sails, we took them down and turned on the Iron Jenny! No prizes this time! Who cares; the goal was to get there before the storm.

And there was a lot of shipping traffic as once again we were crossing the main shipping channel between Africa and Asia. At times the screen was covered with ships converging on the same area. We managed to safely dodge them and always gave way even when we had the right of way. We prefer to be at least 1.5 nm away from them, especially at night. A couple of times we were as close as three-quarters of a mile. The skippers were very nice when we called them on the VHF to determine how they wanted to cross our path and what course we should take.

A lot of traffic night and day!
All in all, the passage was much easier than we had anticipated. It became challenging on the day and night before we crossed the Agulhas Current and seasickness struck again. Once that system blew through, we were prepared to make our way across the 4-5 knot current north of the harbor and hoped we could hold to our waypoints. The harbor entrance was a welcoming sight!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tricks and Treats in Reunion

I was a pirate and Dennis was my captive.
The Dodo Café held a Halloween Party that was great fun. Creative costumes were the theme of the night and yachties rose to the occasion! From future tellers, island girls, witches, pirates, Disney characters to who knows what they were, people were in the mood for a party. A great band and dinner completed the evening.

The real treat: Since La Port is not a very interesting marina and there are few amenities, I was very happy when our friends Elizabeth and Martin on S/Y Caduceus invited me to ride along to town several times. Of course, we were dealing with another public holiday so most things were closed on one of the trips, but I was able to get to the supermarket and to the boulangerie for fresh bread and fruits and vegetables. I would go one more time before we depart for South Africa.

Elizabeth and Martin with Dennis planning our route.
They also invited Dennis and I to join them on an excursion which turned out to be a drive around the whole island seeing various new sites pointed out by the tour guide from the WARC tour. We saw beautiful seascapes, the lava fields, lush vegetation and much more.
The area has suffered from several major eruptions and lava flows on the southeast end of the island. Unlike the lava fields of Kilauea in Hawaii, the lava is more textured instead of the smooth asphalt-looking lava in Hawaii. It is amazing how the plants manage to rejuvenate themselves in the lava, which is obvious rich in nutrients, but tough growing conditions.

Beautiful waterfalls ...
While we had not intended to drive all the way around, by the time we got to the lava fields in the southeast section of the island, we were three-fifths of the way around so we kept going. This was a treat for us since the car rentals were out of vehicles as it was not only a holiday, but also the beginning of their tourist season. We would not have been able to explore on our own. And it was a real treat for us to get out of the marina for a day. 

And seascapes all over the island.
Our friends Paul and Susie on S/Y Firefly arrived from Mauritius and were rafted to us when we returned. I figured they were tired and probably low on food, so I had invited them and Elizabeth and Martin over for dinner. The three of us had started the circumnavigation together in January 2014 and they had all gone to New Zealand with us and then they went on to Indonesia while we went to Australia. Brizo had also started with us, but they have five on their boat and I couldn’t fit all of us around the saloon table.

Everyone was carefully watching the weather for the passage from Reunion to South Africa. This leg and the trip around the Cape of Africa are two of the toughest passages to plan - and navigate. It is a long way across the final quarter of the Indian Ocean and you have to go around the bottom of Madagascar. This is an area of turbulent seas and unsteady weather. This is the one I have been dreading the most. Although, I have been surprised that so far the Indian Ocean has not been any worse than going south in the North Atlantic Ocean in November.

The lava fields are immense and very rugged.
Due to a possible gale that may hit the Richards Bay, South Africa shore about the time we were scheduled to arrive, the fleet decided we needed to leave a day earlier than the WARC schedule. Victor sent a request to World Cruising Club asking to move the schedule up a day so a Friday departure was announced. Several of the smaller and slower boats left three days ahead of the fleet.

We were all set to leave with the fleet on Friday morning, but we were still waiting for our package from France. We found out it had been there for a week, but no one had reached the marina office to tell us that we needed to sign some papers. The same thing happened in New Caledonia - I should have thought of that! We finally received the package about an hour after the fleet had left the starting gate.

Amazingly, vegetation manages to push its way to the sun.
Just as we fired up the engine and began to release the dock lines, I realized the chart plotter in the cockpit was not showing any information! Yikes! This is our key chart plotter. The one below on the navigation station was working just fine. Dennis quickly got the French electronics guy back on board to check it out. After checking every connection, he discovered that the NEMA cord was not fully engaged in the connector. WHEW! All was okay - or so we hoped.

We thanked him and tossed the lines. We were a couple of hours behind the fleet and the wind was light so we motored for a while to catch both the fleet and the breeze. Once we were away from the island, we had a very stiff breeze and it was time to hoist the sails. We were off! South Africa here we come!

The lava fields flow right into the sea.
Dennis has always said that if we land softly on South Africa, we will be adequate sailors. And we will have had over 36,000 nautical miles behind us. So I am planning on a soft landing at the Zululand Yacht Club in Richards Bay, SA.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Viva l’ France!

La Reunion
Oh, how we love to visit the French territories! Baguettes, bistros and cafes, French food and good wine! We have been looking forward to dining out in La Reunion.

Reunion is a little island in the middle of the South Indian Ocean and is a small French Overseas Department. And a nice stop on the way to South Africa. It has a large resident sailing community with the best yachting facilities of any island in the Indian Ocean. Hopefully this means we can get the repairs and parts we need. The Watt & Sea is a French product so maybe they will have the bracket we need.

We were berthed along the wall on the left side of the little
basin just inside the entrance. It was a long way from
everything and there was nothing near us. Not great!
Although Reunion was discovered by the Portuguese, it was uninhabited and frequented by the Arab, Malay and European sailors just like Mauritius. In 1946, the French settled on the island and Reunion became an overseas department of France. With a population of 800,000 of mostly French and some Indian and African minorities, the main languages are French and Creole. The capital is Saint-Denis, but we won’t let the “Saint” part go to our Captain’s head.

We are nearing the top of the mountain to see the volcano.
Unfortunately, La Port is no Noumea, New Caledonia! It is very disappointing. The marina is a 25-minute walk from town. Other than some marine services, a fuel station and one restaurant, The Dodo Cafe, there is nothing here! So much for the idea of going for an early morning walk for baguettes! Apparently, this is the largest of the two ports in La Reunion and the only one large enough to hold the fleet. As it is, we are rafted side-by-side on the wall.

Like the others, this is a volcanic island. The interior is lush and mountainous and there are large craters called “cirques” with sheer walls that are some 6,562 feet deep! There is an active volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, in the southeast region. It has recently altered the landscape with black lava. It seems a volcano blows whenever we are near one, so let’s hope this one doesn’t know we are in the region!

Piton de la Fournaise, which means The Furnace.
Our World ARC day tour took us to see the Piton de la Fournaise, which means The Furnace. As the bus passed through villages and wound its way up to the higher altitudes, we could see the diversity of the terrain, climate and vegetation. We went from beaches to rain forest to forests to volcano.

The culture and ethnicity is as diverse as the environment. They call themselves The Rainbow Island with its multiracial population is around 850,000. The people are a real melting pot of racial and religious backgrounds. Interracial or interreligious marriages are very common throughout the island.

The voloncanic area looks like a moonscape.
At one time, the island population was 80% Madagascar slaves. Today it is a mix of French, other Europeans, Chinese, Tamil Indians (Malabars), and Muslim Indians (known ‘z Arabes). Since they are an Oversea Department of France, they send representatives to represent them in the French Parliament.

One of the beautiful vistas on the way up the mountain.
Most people work in the two main industries: sugar-processing and rum-making. There is actually more sugarcane grown on Mauritius than on La Reunion and every island seems to have its own rum!  Another important product here is geranium essential oils. They harvest the geranium leaves every two months to distill the oil.

On our trip to the volcano, we passed through Saint-Paul, which was the capital at one time, and it is where the notorious French pirate La Buse, ne’ Olivier Le Vasseur is buried. People are still searching for the buried treasure he supposedly left and refused to tell where it was located. We stopped to view the Piton Maido, which means burned earth, and to see the view down the Mafate crater’s “valley of death” named for escaping slaves.

We passed through Saint-Gilles-les-Bains known for its luxury resorts and villas. It is the vacation area for yachtsmen, game fishermen and surfers. La Reunion is not known for its beaches. They are black sand from the volcanic rock and are infamous for sharks! At Saint-Gilles, there is a sanctuary for sea turtles where over 25,000 turtles have been reared from eggs deposited on uninhabited islets offshore. For years and even now in some areas of the world, island people have eaten sea turtles and their eggs, which has let to their endangerment.

Working our way down with a number of hairpin turns, we
traveled across the volcanic fields to reach the cauldron,
Saint-Leu was the next village we passed on our way up to the top of the volcano. The view of the coast is breathtaking from the highway above. It is said that the highway is the most expensive one in the world because they had to build so many bridges over the gorges created by the three volcanoes that formed La Reunion. It was a beautiful drive.

Once we turned off the highway to wind our way up the volcano, the road became very narrow and full of hairpin curves. The bus and the cars could not pass each other on the curves. This took us through a forest that felt very much like being in the European Alps. Even the architecture looked alpine. The air was cooler and the clouds were closer.

The cauldron lies ahead here, but it is not a red hot
fire-type volcano like the others we have seen. It has been
quiet for a few months, but they expect it will go off soon.
Then we left the paved road and took a very bumpy ride across one of the cirques toward the main volcano. Cirques are inland valley basins created by the erosion of the Piton des Neiges, an extinct volcano. It looked like a lunar landscape as we crossed it. It was bleak and moor-like with basalt rock formations We stopped to view the Paine des Sables before crossing the stony track that ended at the Pas de Bellecombe. We were then at 7,710 feet of altitude. Unfortunately, the volcano was quiet so we could not see any smoke or fire. It had blown in September and since it usually only goes off once a year, it may be a while before it goes again.

Here at the restaurant we felt like we were in the French Alps.
On our way back down to the port, we stopped for a traditional lunch. And our driver accommodated us by stopping at a roadside stand where we all bought fresh fruits and vegetables. These are the items we run out of early into a passage. Everyone wanted salad! He also stopped at a boulangerie where baguettes and pastries were purchased. We were all happy sailors at that point!

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!