SAILING THE SOUTH AFRICAN COAST

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On our Indian Ocean travels, we became accustomed to foreign cruisers approaching us to discuss sailing down the South African Coast. Its notoriety is well known. It is a difficult coastline, the continental shelf lies very close to shore for large stretches of the coast, this together with the warm current which flows down the coast, at times at 4 – 6 knots, creates quite a maritime challenge. I have heard the area compared with the Burmuda Triangle. Ships “disappear” (the Waratah has never been found), bulk oil carriers report seeing and being engulfed by monster rogue waves and all of the nautical charts warn of abnormal waves, especially after a strong Southwesterly blow which happens at the tail end of the low pressures which scuttle past the Cape. These move South during the summer months but still have an influence on the conditions along the coast. After a southwesterly breeze, the swell moves against the strong current creating steep waves with a short wavelength and huge troughs that most ships and all small sailing yachts strive to avoid.

The Piracy along the African East Coast has obliged the global cruising community (an annual rotation of sailing nomads) to head South around the Cape of Good Hope in order to complete a circumnavigation, many of these cruisers have been following Trade Wind routes and have not had to contend with the severe sailing conditions found along the South African Coast on their travels, and so are justifiably wary of this leg of their journey.

We enjoyed the many discussions about “our” coastline, but did not feel any less wary ourselves. If you do not pick the right weather moment you could be in for a rather unpleasant experience. Jeremy and I have both been party to yacht club discussions on the subject of sailing the coast over the years and Jeremy has sailed a few of the Vasco Da Gama races from Durban to East London. On one of these a yacht called the Rubicon disappeared without trace. Most South African sailors have a story or two to tell about rogue waves, unpleasant sea states, 6 knots of current, the most recent story being sthat of a catamaran from Cape St Francis being flipped on the Aghullas Bank.

With this in mind we left Reunion Island with the intention of making South African landfall in Port Elizabeth, since Jeremy’s parents live there and we wanted to spend time with them. Our other motivation was to try and avoid the Transkei Coast between Durban and Port Elizabeth. Half way through our passage to Port Elizabeth our weather files gave indication of a strong Southwesterly blow moving up the coast.This was confirmed by friends ashore who were weather routing for us, and we changed our heading towards Durban. Had we not we would have been caught in one of the seasons big system. The steep low pressure system grew into a “Cut Off Low”, feeding rain and strong winds up the coast creating large swells and all sorts of weather havoc.

We skirted the upper extremes of that low, expecting and being prepared for a 30 to 40 knot breeze. What actually arrived was 25 knots and a steep sea state, just outside of Durban meaning the low was moving East faster than expected which was in our favour. We finally made landfall in the port of Durban on the morning of the 21st of November.

Durban Harbour

Point Yacht Club Marina

DURBAN
As we approached, I radioed Durban Port on VHF:
“ Durban Port Control, Durban Port Control, this is the yacht Jerrican, Jerrican . . . .we are a South African flagged yacht, last port of call Reunion Island, request permission to enter the port”
The radio operator responded positively inquiring as to how we had found the weather out there.
This was followed by a warm “Welk Kum Home” in a most heart warming “Cape accent”. I felt like weeping with both patriotic pride and sheer relief at being HOME on SA soil!

This relief was short lived, however, because looming ahead of us was still the dreaded Transkei Coast, Mbashe Point and the final leg after that from East London, past the southern most tip of Africa, The Cape Aghullas and the dreaded Aghullas Bank, an area of the continental shelf which juts out into the current, resulting in a sharp decrease in depth and the formation of occasional “abnormal waves” at times.

We waited out in Durban for the weather to turn for a week, finally leaving in a light Northeasterly. The coast dropped away from us as we headed out into the current, finding the current just off the 200 metre depth contour where we sailed comfortably and fast along the coast with the current behind us, until the wind turned Southwest a little earlier than expected.

East London Harbour

East London Harbour

Sailing with the Current

Sailing with the Current

EAST LONDON
We headed into the Port of East London to allow the Southwesterly system to pass through. It was an easy decision to do so even though we were just a 120nm from Port Elizabeth . . . the wind had turned Southwest . . . besides we have a good friend living there.
Graham met us on the jetty in the declining light of evening with a flash light and caught our ropes.
Graham and his partner Marian spoilt us with a lovely”braai” and we conducted a nostalgic tour of the City of a East London with a car they kindly lent to us during our 3 days stay there.

East London Port is the only Natural Harbour on the South African coast, and entry into its harbour, the mouth of the Buffalo River, is easy. The working jetty on the wharf side is a little difficult but anchoring is very good and many cruisers anchor in the port while waiting out weather. We were sad to see the decline of Latimers Landing, a small waterfront development that at one point was a thriving Restaurant precinct. Fortunately there are still fairly acceptable showers!

Our friend Graham related a story of a lone sailor who arrived weather beaten into the harbour in East London with a huge dent in his steel boat which needed repairs. He claimed to have been broad sided by a huge wave which dented the 5mm steel of the yacht just off the coast of East London, yet another reminder to treat the sailing of our coast with respect.

With the weather again favourable we departed East London harbour having submitted our “Flight Plan” to the harbour authorities. Shortly afar leaving the port, East London Port Control called us on VHF radio with a question as to the identity of the yacht behind us which was attempting to leave without lodging a flight plan. The French Flagged yacht was hauled back by the coastal patrol boats to do just that.
The filing of a flight plan is a requirement along the South African Coast and although a bit of a hassle, is a measure I do not begrudge. I find this a comfort, given that boats have in the past simply disappeared!

It is reassuring to know too that the Flight Plans are not simply an annoying formality and are in fact passed on from one port to the next . . . when we entered East London the Port Authorities wanted to know why we had not landed in Port Elizabeth since our flight plan submitted in Durban had stated as such. Naturally they understood our reference to a Southwester!

PE Approach

Crazy South Westerly

Crazy South Westerly

PORT ELIZABETH
We sailed into Port Elizabeth with the wind behind us and found our way easily into the marina. The Algoa Bay Yacht Club was the club where Jeremy and I met so it was much like the closing of a very large circle of life events. We both felt very nostalgic. The club house has fantastic facilities, although it is difficult (like East London) to get around as a cruiser without transport. We borrowed a car from Jeremy’s sister and spent time with family and old friends.

The unfortunate thing about Algoa Bay Yacht Club is the Manganese Ore Loading site which lies a few hundred metres upwind from the marina. We found we needed to limit our time there due to this, the ore just gets into everything, so we left a little earlier than our weather files advised, feeling that this was an acceptable risk as we were headed for Port St Francis, the small harbour in St Francis Bay, one hour drive from the City of Port Elizabeth. The passage was supposed to be a short 8 hour hop, but ended up being a 24 hour beat into a dreaded, although light SouthWesterly blow. We zig zagged from close inshore St Francis Bay and off shore to where we found some current. We beat comfortably through the night with the assistance of the dreaded current into St Francis Bay.
We scissored our way into St Francis Bay and motored the last 20 miles, into the winds, since the harbour entrance lies in the Southwesterly corner of the bay.

The Working Harbour of Port St Francis

The Working Harbour of Port St Francis

Cape Clawless Otter

Cape Clawless Otter

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Comfortably Moored in St Francis Marina

 

PORT ST FRANCIS
Port St Francis is a working fishing harbour, which does not ordinarily welcome sailing visitors. We have another old sailing friend living in the area and he arranged a spot for us. The harbour master met us in a small boat at the tricky entrance and guided us in to a very comfortable mooring. We planned to spend a few days here to wait out the southwester, for our final weather window to Simon’s Town. It is always lovely landing in a place with some familiar faces and we enjoyed dinner with our friends Frans and Tania. While on the marina for three nights, we watched Cape Clawless Otter stealing bait fish from the fishing boats and playing on the marina rocks and the many “Chokka Boats” offloading their catches and changing crews twice a day. I loved our stay here. The sea temperature was dropping, the sea life was beginning to resemble that of the Cape Coast and the vegetation takes on the typical small leaved and scented characteristics of the Cape “fynbos” flora. We walked along the long beach at Cape St Francis, over pristine dunes and rocks covered with orange lichen. I began feeling that we were closing in now, on our home port of Simon’s Town . . . just the last hurdle, the last 400 nautical miles to Cape Town, rounding the Cape Aghullas and the inevitable strong Southeasterly blast into False Bay!

Our weather window arrived and we said our farewells to our very dear friends and set off in light winds towards Cape Aghullas. Weather files predicted a very light southwesterly blow and we made our plans for a “bail out” in the event it turned into a stronger than expected breeze. Our “bail out plans” included an anchorage off the Robberg Peninsula, the harbour in Mossel Bay and as we got closer to Aghullas, the anchorage in Struis Baai, all good safe havens should the Southwesterly become unmanageable and threatening. It stayed mild and moderate though and we rounded Cape Aghullas in idillic conditions early on the 15th of December as the winds backed to the South and then to the South East. From here we turned West North West and then North North West towards the Cape. The water temperature dropped significantly and we trailed lines in the hopes of catching a yellowtail or a tuna. No luck on the fish front but we enjoyed the feeling of being in Cape Waters. Gannets circled the boat, swooping low enough for us to see their blue circled eyes and we surprised a sleeping Cape Fur Seal which made me irrationally (almost hysterically) happy! I felt such love for that seal as it gasped and dived and then popped up a little away from the boat, staring at us with glassy eyes. Being alone on watch at that point I wanted to scream with joy!

 

Dolphins off Hangklip

Dolphins off Hangklip

Getting Closer to Home

False Bay Yacht Club, Simon's Town

False Bay Yacht Club, Simon’s Town

FALSE BAY AND SIMON’S TOWN
With the wind on our “good” quarter we enjoyed superb sailing towards Cape Hangklip and Cape Point, the two entrances to the beautiful False Bay (There IS nothing like home waters!).

Just off Cape Hangklip we sailed into what looked like a huge bait ball of sea activity. Birds diving, small fish jumping out of the way of larger predators, seals and a huge pod of Dolphins which stayed with us for four hours, playing in our bow and racing up from behind us to play in the movement of water off the transom. I revelled in the thrill of the “aliveness” of the colder and abundant waters of the Cape. As the sun slipped away the lights of the Danger Point, Cape Hangklip and Cape Point Lighthouses began their communication with ships at sea. The Southeaster wind picked up to a typical 25 to 30 knots and we sailed into False Bay under a reefed Genoa. Just perfect! We were home and Jeremy and I enjoyed a quiet moment basking in the glow of the knowledge that our crazy “shake down” journey through the Indian Ocean had come to an end, safely. Our last hurdle, docking with emotions running high at 2am in the morning was as expected . . . emotional . . . our noisy landing was full of differing opinions as to how we should be tying on to the jetty.

We arrived home on the 16th of December 2014, just in time for Christmas, 9000 nm, 5 months and 1 week after our departure in July.

Ile de La Reunion

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St Pierre Architecture

St Pierre Architecture

Cafe Culture

Cafe Culture

We landed three days ago on the island of Reunion, a days sail away from Mauritius, and yet a continent away in environment and culture. This IS France as Reunion is a French Precinct. But more than this, it LOOKS like France! (Claire our young stowaway/backpacker traveller confirms this).
Here, amongst the people we find a beautiful blend of Madagascan, French, Chinese and Indian heritage. Add all of this to a French nationality and throw in some French mainland tourists, European Union flags and French flags and the Euro as currency . . . and you have what I would imagine Europe to be like? Although the islanders are French, as residents of the Indian Ocean, they apparently identify more with the islanders of Rodrigues Island than with the islanders of Mauritius and this is evident in the vast difference in the feel of the two islands which lie so close together.

Reunion Island is much bigger than Mauritius with the most active volcano in the world. We don’t see evidence of it as the “Piton de la Fournaise is so high up (over 2000 meters) and is constantly covered in cloud. It is a Basaltic Shield Volcano, meaning it is very large and non explosive. The lava is viscous and flows easily. It is (apparently) erupting at the moment, but not in any visible sort of way. The last big eruption was in 2005. As we approached the island by sea we could see from our viewpoint, where the floes have happened in the past.They display river like shapes down the sides of the mountain.

We had decided not to stop in Reunion, but just before we left Mauritius fate changed things. The harbour master at St Pierre on Reunion Island emailed us back saying they could accommodate us after all (the harbour was full before) and we made contact with Aud, a beautiful young citizen of Reunion who we last saw in 2005 when she stayed with us in Cape Town as an exchange student with the purpose of learning English. So we thought a 3 day stop would be good.

Enjoying lunch on board provided by Aud

Enjoying lunch on board provided by Aud

We were made extremely welcome on the island by Aud, who claims French, Madagascan, Chinese and Indian heritage. She prepared us a magnificent Creole lunch which we shared on board Jerrican amongst much discussion on the islands history, culture and politics. We felt so very privileged to meet her again and marvelled at how amazing life can be with its many unexpected opportunities and surprises.

With our limited time here (anxious now to get the last leg of our journey home done with) we decided to choose two excursions, one to visit the town where Aud lives (St Philippe on the South East side of the island where old lava floes flow into the sea) and the other to visit the town of Cilaos, which lies at around 2000 metres above sea level up into the old crater of the volcano. We were told we would enjoy the bus ride . . . . 2 hours up a narrow, winding road with an endless number of hairpin bends! The skill required to navigate these long busses around the smallest of hairpin bends, of which there are too many to count has got to be admired not to mention the two extremely narrow tunnels which the bus squeezes through on the journey . . . . extreme bus travel!

Meeting another bus along the route up to Cilaos

Meeting another bus along the route up to Cilaos

Road to Cilaos

Road to Cilaos

Twists and Turns en route to Cilaos

Twists and Turns en route to Cilaos

The town of Cilaos before he cloud comes in.

The town of Cilaos before the cloud comes in.

We loved this excursion and understand why it has been described as one of the best scenic excursions around the world by some of the cruisers we met who have circumnavigated . . . and they should know!
Once in the village of Cilaos we enjoyed the dramatic mountain scenery around us (we had to get there early, before the clouds came in), the cool air and a 2 hour walk up into indigenous forest (one of many walks from day walks to overnight excursions) as well as plantations of pine. In the forest we found wild Ginger growing prolifically.
Our trip down was a little quicker but no less interesting!

In St Philippe we walked around the town getting a feel for the local way of life on a Sunday. We walked along the seafront seeing dark volcanic rocks and strange seafront trees. Slightly out of town we found the “Garden of Flavours and Spices” a private plantation in amongst prolific indigenous forest up on the mountain side. Spices like Ginger, Vanilla and Tumeric grow here. It was interesting to see raw vanilla and part of the drying process. This is truly a spice island.

The village of St Philippe

The village of St Philippe

I cannot imagine why more South Africans don’t visit this beautiful place. While Mauritius is a true leisure destination, lazy days in the sun, blue bays and white sand beaches, Reunion is the island of raw and beautiful nature, dramatic landscapes, warm sea (there are corals and protected areas to swim) and of course a beautiful French sophisticated Culture with Boulangeries and Pettiseries on every corner? It is not too expensive, even though it is a Euro based economy (R22 for a coffee?) although supermarket food is comparable with SA.

Young people of Reunion waiting for a school bus.

Young people of Reunion waiting for a school bus.

Of most interest to me are the many hikes and walks in nature which we will have to return to the island to explore more of. Reunion is one of the worlds biodiversity hotspots and is truly a place to breathe in fresh mountain air, commune with scented forests and bathe in the sheer drama of an active Volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise, and a mountain peak Piton des Neiges 3069 metres high ( Safricans . . . Table Mountain is relatively low at just over 1000 metres). All of this is surrounded by the deep blue of the Indian Ocean which meets dark volcanic cliffs in the form of huge curling swell. Surfers make pilgrimages here and it is known as the Hawaii of the Indian Ocean.

Fresh Vanilla

Fresh Vanilla

I would love to return here one day and wonder if this will ever be a possibility?

We are now preparing for the last dash across ocean to SA. As we do so, a gypsy boat with parents, kids and grandkids pull up along the quayside. These are gypsies of the sea, endless sea wanderers and I wonder if I am made for the life of the sea nomad. I feel so emotional saying goodbye to each place we visit and our departure tomorrow at 8am is already stirring emotion.

St Pierre Beach Front

St Pierre Beach Front

From Darkness to Light – Diwali in Mauritius

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Mauritius has a very large Hindu population which means that Diwali is celebrated. The festival is celebrated in October/November at the time of the new moon, when the night is darkest. I sensed, a few days before new moon, in the activities of the local population that something important was going to happen soon. Vendors began selling little bags and fold up boxes with pictures of rows of sparkling lamps and the markets became very busy with women buying food and families buying new clothes. On the beach young boys began throwing firecrackers at the feet of passing tourists (ME!), scaring them (and strangely not the feral dogs) witless.

I understand Diwali to be “The Festival of Light”, a celebration of a new year and an opportunity to leave the negativities of the past year behind and to begin again, afresh. It is also seen as a celebration of the triumph of good over evil and hope over despair.

Hindus celebrate the goddess Lakshmi who represents abundance and wealth, as well as the elephant deity Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and a symbol of wisdom. Homes are traditionally lit up with lights and “Rangoli” patterns are drawn in brightly coloured vegetable powders on living room floors or in courtyards.

I took a stroll into town, in the early evening of Diwali and found the local temple ablaze with light and a group of people chanting and singing in accompaniment to indian musical instruments. At first, I stood outside, my Western “Abrahamic” upbringing imposing a hesitancy to intrude. I remembered that the Hindu tradition embraces all systems of belief, so I joined the group in the temple for some chanting and singing which involves one person singing a phrase and the group replying in answer while clapping and ringing “Kartal” (Indian cymbals) to the rhythm set by the drummers on their hand drums. I loved the companionable atmosphere of chanting with the group and afterwards made a donation to the goddess Lakshmi, thanking her for my privileged life. I felt humbled as I was presented with a generous handful of blessed Indian sweets (prasaad).

Diwali Chanting

Diwali Chanting

Happy Diwali to anyone reading this, may any darkness you may carry at present become illuminated with the light of knowledge that . . . like the phases of the moon, change is inevitable and that light follows dark and dark follows light and all is as it should be, even in the world of certain ungrateful and mildly discontented cruising “Yotties”.

There is a Vedic Chant in Sanskrit which goes like this . . .

“Asato Ma sat gamaya
Tamaso ma jyoti gamaya
Mrtyor Ma amratam gamaya”

Lead us from the unreal to the real
From darkness to the light (of understanding)
From (the fear of) death to (the knowledge of) immortality

My attempt at a Diwali Rangoli, on paper though!

My attempt at a Diwali Rangoli, on paper though!

An Honest Look at the Cruising Lifestyle

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I am struggling personally with the aimlessness of the cruising life at the moment. We are surrounded by new things all the time which is fun for a while, but I feel so much an observer to life rather than a participant. This is an unexpected feeling and I am still trying to figure out if it is a good one or an unpleasant one? So what is this cruising life about?
We are at anchor in a protected bay, the sea is a deep turquoise colour, the air is milky warm. Grande Bay is a busy tourist part of the island of Mauritius. It is fun, colourful, there are restaurants and coffee bars, boat charters and people in bikinis under umbrellas over warm sand. There are juices for sale under the coolness of the trees on the beach and music filters over the bay. It is lovely and beautiful. In the Chagos Archipelago, where there are no people, no restaurants , where the sea is a deeper turquoise and it is so clear that the blacked tipped reef sharks can be seen circling 10 metres below and one only has raw nature for entertainment, it is also beautiful.

But why the feelings of mild discontent?

On passage from one place to another I am convinced the cruising life is about getting to our destination, finding land, a safe anchorage, a quiet bay, a coffee shop, ice-cream, fresh vegetables and fruit. Once at our destination for a few days, a restlessness presents itself and I find it difficult to reconcile the feeling of being a simple observer to the places we visit.

Fish Market Grande Bay

Fish Market Grande Bay

Before we bought the boat we were land based and I felt trapped, bored, discontented. I was restless for change, but now, after living with change for a short period of only three months I feel a need for stability, for a feeling of “rootedness”. I am confused at these wide swings of emotion and these constant questions about what is important and what I want and need, in order to find “happiness”.

This confusion calls into question the nature of contentedness. Perhaps there is no such thing as the perfect lifestyle, only choices and consequences and the challenge of finding, or realising a contentedness in whatever one does. I ask myself if being rooted on land, perhaps on the farm which I am so drawn too, would make me feel any happier, any more content or would I soon find myself longing for the space of the sea and for the excitement of change in a new landfall.

While there is much to be said for being the objective observer, the feeling of being aimless and unable to participate on any real level is confusing. On the positive side as the outsider, you possess a certain objective perspective that is lost when living in a place for a long time. This is interesting, as the new observer the mundane becomes extraordinary. I have noticed this with tourists when they visit Cape Town, they stop and notice the small detail, the odd flower, the penguins, a garden an insect, things South Africans take for granted. The cruising  lifestyle offers that freshness. But at what point does one need to participate more, to contribute rather than to simply pass through? I am preoccupied with these questions at present, as I write, on a verandah, above a beach, overlooking a turquoise bay while I watch the weekend beach visitors, the families, friends and the tourists get on with their day.

Grande Bay, Mauritius

Grande Bay, Mauritius

We have a visitor from Cape Town who is helping us repair our steering issue and then we will move on, again, to Reunion Island, for the euphoria of yet another set of new experiences.

From there we will face the challenging trip back to South Africa. Back to family and to the reality of our “land life” for a little while, until once again, life becomes mundane and the need for new experiences begins all over again.

But at what point does the constant change become the ordinariness of life?

The Dog House, Rodrigues.

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There is an old slaughter house next to the gate at Port Mathurin where, on occasions we have seen a cow or a bull standing, waiting. Across the road is an empty lot, fenced with corrugated iron. A pack of feral dogs live here. They are healthy, and organised, presumably because they have a source of food from the slaughterhouse. In the evenings that we walked past we watched them emerge, tentatively from behind the fence, and with the “top dog” taking the lead they bark and whine at rival packs from elsewhere. The dogs are completely oblivious to humans, not acting afraid, nor interested and attempts to communicate with them result in them seeing straight through you. It appears as though humans and dogs coexist on the island, peacefully. One or two families have domesticated dogs, but it does not appear common. It would seem that there is a simple mutualism occurring between dogs and people. These feral dogs “own” this piece of vacant land opposite the slaughterhouse. I peered through a gap in the corrugated iron fence as I walked past the other day, stealing a glance into a secret dog world. There the leader of the of the pack, a tough light brown dog, with some “Staffie” features was lying in the sun, feet in the air amongst the overgrown grass. Quite relaxed as a few of his mottled pack lay sleeping nearby.

On the island of Gan, dogs are not present. We did not see any dogs at all. This is understandable since in the Muslim faith, dogs are considered “Haram” or dirty and forbidden. Seeing a dog as we landed in Rodrigues was an immediate contrast.

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Colourful Rodrigues Island

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Rodrigues Island

Rodrigues Island

“Oh, and plastic bags are banned on Rodrigues Island” said Gillbert, the Port Captain of Port Mathurin, Rodrigues Island. This large piece of information was delivered after a very friendly welcome and an orientation talk on the jetty. We soon realized how habituated we are as shoppers to the plastic bag after a fast paced walk to the local market, forgetting to take our own bag. Here we bought fruit and tomatoes and all things that are impossible to fit into a pair of hands. We are a sorry bunch of consumers! Banning plastic bags does not mean that all plastic is banned on the island, but it is a stand, and a good one to begin with. The locals mostly carry baskets which they hang off the handle of their bicycles or scooters. Basket work is a local industry and while banning plastic bags solves a plastic bag disposal problem it supports the local Crafters.

Rodrigues Architecture

Rodrigues Architecture

Corrugated Iron Style

Corrugated Iron Style

Rodrigues is an island full of colour with a mixture of seventies concrete style architecture and the traditional corrugated iron houses, mostly painted in pinks, blues, yellows and oranges. Many of the people claim African or Madagscan heritage. Colour plays a role in the clothes they wear and in the many colorful flowers in the gardens. Restaurants often have an arrangements of colorful plastic flowers on the tables as decoration. On our first day, a funeral procession walked past, each person carrying a posy of plastic flowers and the graveyards are filled with color too.
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Brightly Coloured Shops

Brightly Coloured Shops

Honouring those gone before

Honouring those gone before

Electricity is generated using diesel oil generators. Water is an issue, surprising given the mean annual rainfall is 1.16 metres. Gilbert explained that there are many boreholes on the island but not enough to meet the demand of the population. Their chosen solution is to build three desalination plants . . . I wonder if it would be necessary if more of the islanders collected rainwater from their roofs, if new houses were built with underfloor reservoirs, or if there was a greater management of the geography and topography in the form of Swales and terracing. I recognize, however that there may be larger issues at play which I might not immediately see.

Market Day Veggies

Market Day Veggies

Market Day

Market Day

The island is a food growing island and would appear to be extremely fertile. Food growing and fishing are the two main industries as well as a fairly new and growing tourism industry. The tourism industry is still very much in its formative stages and as such is fresh in comparison to what some might see as the over commercialization of Mauritious. Diving is by all accounts very good with some unique corals. Claire, enjoyed a dive session where she was taken to 23 metres and encountered endemic corals that change colour when touched, from purple to white. It is an ideal Kite Surfing destination with good, constant winds.

The large coral lagoon which surrounds the island, encircling it in a sparkling blue ring is a playground as well as a fishing resource for the local fishermen who “pole” their way through the lagoon at low tide or alternatively sail when the tide is higher.

La Rose Cut and Brush

La Rose Cut and Brush

being "fussed" by Annique

being “fussed” by Annique

My first priority on landing, other than a visit to the fresh food market for fruit, was to have my hair washed. Sailing is an Androgenous activity, there are no male or female roles in the activity of steering and sleeping and by the time we reach land, any land, I find the need to reconnect with gender roles and my femininity. It is also difficult to wash hair on a moving platform and even more limiting is the fact that water is an expensive resource. We have a watermaker on board, but watermakers consume lots of the sun energy we collect, and quickly. So, for the weeks while we are passage making, I usually plait my hair in two plaits and just live with the dry salty feel and the odd basin wash. So it was with absolute delight that I discovered a hairdresser a short stroll from the Port Mathurin gate. The thought of the luxury of having my hair washed was overwhelming and Annique of the “La Rose Cut & Brush gave a suitable “fussing” for someone starved of feminine luxury.

Our stay on Rodrigues island has been a lovely break after the sail from Gan. We have linked in with the cruising community and have met several “yotties” who have sailed from Cocos Keeling, on their way from the east in order to round the Cape of Good Hope and feel as though we are now part of some sort of sailing global rotation. We leave tomorrow, for Port Louis which should take 3 days . . .

Playing with Baby Cyclones – Gan to Rodrigues

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Wind and rain on a day watch

Wind and rain on a day watch

Our departure point, Gan, is situated just below the equator at latitude 00.04 S and as such falls within the 5 degree latitude band (both South and North) where Tropical Storms do not occur, however, they do occur below 5 degrees latitude. Our destination, Rodrigues Island lies at 19 degrees South. We would be making a slow dash across a band of ocean which could potentially be the playground of a Tropical Storm. This thought lodged itself in my mind.

My Intellectual mind reminded me that Tropical Storms occur most usually in the summer months in each hemisphere.

My fearful mind countered: BUT they can occur at any time, provided the water temperature is over 26.5 degrees Celsius. We left Gan with water temperatures of around 30 degrees.

The dance between calm rationality and fearfulness continued for the first part of our journey to Rodrigues, I became fanatical about reading about Tropical Storms, their formation, in which months, how often, how they move and where.
Out weather files showed a period of light winds which would freshen to East South Easterly Trades of about 20 knots around five degrees of latitude where the earths Coriolis Force begins to have an influence, the winds being the result of this force. They also showed a small “L” the symbol for Low Pressure System, just above the five degree latitude line. It is so small that one almost misses seeing it.

So, we ambled off on our pleasant sail to Rodrigues. By the time we were 30 miles off the “glow” of Diego Garcia which lies at around five degrees latitude, we were experiencing squalls of wind. Soon after, torrential rain set in and the seas built into huge walls of swell interspersed with lumpy rolling chop topped with white “cats paws” which seemed to claw their way up the side of the boat. The little baby “L” on the weather chart had moved South, as if following us. Over the next few days that “little L” developed into two low pressure systems, any of which could at any time develop into a Tropical Storm, given the right conditions. Of course they did not, the water temperature continued to drop, but had the temperature of the water been 26.5 degrees celcius or more, and remained warm for a few meters below the ocean surface, they might have. We had to be content with sailing through a “cut off” Low system with lots of rain and 25 to 30 knots of breeze. During the long night watch I thought often of how were were “playing with baby cyclones”.

Those “cat paw” seas set in for the entirety of our journey to Rodrigues with the exception of the last 200 miles, dumping waves into the cockpit and onto us as we steered. Our newest crew member Claire exclaimed in fright as a flying fish landed into the palm of her hand one dark evening, several others followed and in the following dawn light we found several along the scuppers. This explained the troubling sound of mice I heard above me while in my cabin on my off watch, little rattling and swishing sounds which stood out as different from the hundreds of other wails, bumps, rattles and thumps of Jerrican as she bumped and rolled her way through the heavy seas. The journey to Rodrigues seemed endless. We passed ocean floor landmarks with odd names like The Argo Fracture Zone and The Central Indian Ridge but by far the most ominous, The Marie Celeste Fracture Zone, which we sailed right over . . . for a few days. 150 miles out of Rodrigues the waves softened, the sea colour reverted to a bright sparkling blue and we caught a beautiful Dorado. A fitting reward for a long journey.
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Rainbow at sea

Rainbow at sea

Grant with newest crew member Claire

Grant with newest crew member Claire

A truly beautiful Dorado. Thank you fish for the fresh protein!

A truly beautiful Dorado. Thank you fish for the fresh protein!

A fresh Dorado feast!

A fresh Dorado feast!

Arriving Rodrigues Island

Arriving Rodrigues Island