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Monday, 31 August 2015

Mauritius Race Day

Close to down town in Port Louis is the Mauritius Turf Club, the second oldest horse racing course in the world.  We're not big racing fans, but a day at the races was recommended and sounded like fun.  With crew from three other boats we dressed up (somewhat) and headed for the track.

The day was fine and sunny, the track was fast and the racing was impressive.  With a population of just over a million people, Mauritius takes it's horse racing very seriously.  Well dressed club members (suits for the men of course) and their beautifully presented partners created a major fashion scene, and the "people watching" in the mounting yard and members area was spirited - not to mention the horses.

The club celebrates its history, and retains old fashioned values that charmed us completely.  Most impressive was a private box (or "cabin") inside the members grand stand provided on a complimentary basis to foreign visitors.  What a delight !

We were very efficiently hosted by long serving staff member "Lalah", who arranged entry to the stand and cabin, and also provided access to the bar so we could order food and refreshments.  This was Mauritian hospitality at its very best.

At Lalah's assistance we then met with the club's General Manager, Benoit Halbwachs.

He continued the hospitality by arranging for us to watch one race from the photo finish booth, where radio and television broadcasters called the race live for local and foreign media.

Great racing, good food and wine, a marvelous day's entertainment.  No, we didn't win any money, losing only a little ...... however the hospitality was fantastic, and we strongly recommend a day at the races in Mauritius.  Contact details for the club are included in our Cruising Services Guide - download it here.  If you wish to take advantage of the club's hospitality do call Lalah in advance.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Passage To Mauritius

We arrived in Mauritius some weeks back, with an extra crew member on board - Sally Kempson, a marine biologist working with an NGO in Rodrigues.  Sally manages education projects for the the local fisherman and research on the local octopus habitat in Rodrigues. This was her first serious ocean passage.  Once again the Indian Ocean showed its ability for delivering nasty cross swells and very uncomfortable conditions, and Sally certainly had an aggressive baptism into ocean sailing, with 20 to 25 knot trade winds for most of the voyage.

Sally & Ley Celebrate Arrival In Port Louis, Mauritius
It took us two days and two hours to cover the 350 nautical miles from Rodrigues.  There are no navigational challenges and we sailed inside the outlying northern islands on approach, though I wouldn't do that if the sea state was up.  The final 16 nautical miles were a marvelous beam reach along the sheltered north west coast of Mauritius, fast sailing in flat water with an off-shore breeze, a great way to arrive.

Entry in Port Louis is simple enough, and after obtaining permission from Port Control we motored into the harbor and tied alongside the designated clearance berth - a concrete dock hosting a gaggle of restaurants.  We tied to the hand railings and awaited the formalities - Health clearance was first, followed by Immigration then Customs and Coast Guard.

We stayed two nights at the clearance berth, enjoying the excellent local Indian food and the beautiful view across the Caudan waterfront, while waiting for a slot to become available in the Caudan Marina.

To be perfectly frank, the word "marina" is perhaps not applicable here, as the basin is surrounded by a fixed concrete wall with a nasty overhang that is just waiting to trap the unwary gunwhale at low tide - careful fendering is required.   However the cost is reasonable, water and electricity are not metered, and if you don't mind being berthed in the middle of car park with no security, it is very good .....

The Unmarked Danger - Click To Enlarge
A word of warning for those following in our path - a rocky shallow patch in Port Louis Harbour is not marked by any buoys.  While it is shown on the charts, many sailors let their guard slip once safe within the harbour confines and three boats hit the rock in the week that we arrived, one needed slipping to undertake repairs.   A direct transit from the clearance wharf to the marina entrance will intersect the rock, so stay well north until you are opposite the marina entrance.

After a week in Port Louis we headed north to Grand Baie, anchoring in 6 meters over good holding sand with excellent protection.  Grand Baie Yacht Club provides a complimentary one month free membership, so we were able to use the club facilities including a dinghy dock, restaurant and car park - now that's our kind of club.  The club also has fuel and water available at the dock. The local National Coast Guard base also provides secure dinghy berthing in Grand Baie.  We rented a car and toured Mauritius from there, whilst also provisioning at the excellent western standard supermarkets.

Grand Baie has a very shallow entrance, around 2.5 metres at low tide, so arrival should be timed for the high tide.  The waypoints we used worked very well and can be downloaded with an entry chart here.

Our Mauritius Cruising Services Guide is now complete, and can be downloaded in .pdf format.  We'd appreciate any additional references for inclusion in that document - email us please !

Grand Baie Yacht Club - Cruisers Haven

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Rodrigues Rhythm

Sega / Blues Session On Board Crystal Blues
Music is an international language.

Since we don't speak French or Creole, it was music that helped us connect on a very personal level with the local folk in Port Mathurin, Rodrigues.

Rodrigues has its own distinctive form of creole music, known as Sega, similar to that played in Mauritius.  The accordion  is the lead instrument, with drum and guitar accompanying.

You can taste the French and maritime musical influence in the Sega music.

This video clip shows a great sample of the local Sega, filmed on the balcony of our favourite cottage in Port Mathurin.

Ley says the Sega music is toe-tapping and contagious - it sure had us up and dancing.  The locals may go to church Sunday mornings, but on Sunday afternoon many head straight for the local night club, opened up to the "older" crowd at 2:00pm with a live Sega band.

Sunday Afternoon Sega Dance In Port Mathurin
The bar serves local pork delicacies and beer, while the patrons fill the dance floor with twirling, hip wriggling Sega movement.

There is also a strong jazz scene here, always served with a tasty twist of the local culture.  Local friends Bev and Sylvio introduced us to his jazz band "Razzamajazz". 

After a fun night's rehearsal I joined Sylvio, Song and Jean Michel for a Friday night performance at Ti Piment Rouge, a popular local restaurant, singing jazz classics and playing percussion.  The audience swelled with cruising friends from yachts in the harbour, it was a memorable night for all - the joy of music !

Friday, 7 August 2015

Tortoise Love - Adventures In Rodrigues

Competing For Attention - Some Of The Smaller Aldabera Tortoise In The Park
Did we say we love Rodrigues ?  OK, we really do.  This tiny island delivers great experiences. Perhaps most surprising was the way these the huge tortoises craved interaction with us humans.  They'll do anything for a neck rub.

Land tortoises were wiped out here several hundred years ago - they're apparently very tasty.  A tortoise breeding program in the south of the island is now re-introducing them, though admittedly they are a slightly different species.

A tour of the Francois Leguat Reserve was perhaps our most memorable experience on the island, a beautiful park set in limestone ravines where hundreds of tortoises roam.  The breeding program is extensive.  Escapee's from the park - apparently they are very cunning creatures - are now populating the heathland around the ravines, and are the subject of separate scientific studies.  We came across one of the bad boys as we walked around the extremity of the park, fairly obvious with the radio transmitter epoxy glued to his shell....

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Port Mathurin, Rodrigues - Old Fashioned Cruising Hospitality

MV Anna, Unloading In Port Mathurin, With Cruising Yachts Anchored In The Basin
From the old fort on the hill above Port Mathurin the tiny harbour can be seen clearly.  All fourteen visiting cruising boats plus the bi-weekly supply ship make it a crowded place, and the yachts must move every week or so to provide clearance for the ship on arrival and departure.  When the ship is away the wharf is open to the visiting yachts.  This "accommodation" is typical of the courtesy shown to visitors here in Rodrigues. 

Port Mathurin Catholic Church
We feel very welcome here.  The local people are friendly and courteous, committed church goers with a strong sense of community.

Rodrigues is home to just forty thousand people, and we are told it feels like the Mauritius of fifty years ago. Fishing and agriculture sustain the population, with tourism adding to the local economy in season.

Though we are still in the tropics, the 1000 nautical mile passage from Chagos has brought us into a cooler more comfortable climate.  The sea temperature has dropped from a simmering 32 degrees in the lagoon at Ile Boddam to a more human 24 degrees here in Port Mathurin.  The lower sea temperature has a direct effect on our daily life - the refrigeration systems run much more efficiently, though the reverse osmosis water maker produces some 10% less water each hour.  C'est la vie.

The most welcome change is the reduction in humidity and daytime temperatures - the "winter" climate here is most agreeable.  For the first time in years we are breaking out trousers instead of short pants, and even occasionally a jacket for the cooler evenings.  We are very happy not to be sweating continuously, as we were in Asia.

The Port Captain and his staff are incredibly helpful to us.

In a typical example of local hospitality, Port Captain Yvan Manuel last weekend organised an outing for us to the kite boarding championship event, held at Port Dud Est in the south of the island.  The walking wounded (Ley and I) were transported in his car, while others used the local bus service.

On that final day of competition we hoped to see the spectacular freestyle finals, but the wind failed us and most of the event was postponed.  The Port Captain has also arranged for local shopping expeditions, whilst dealing with all the other day-to-day issues of managing small vessels and crews from six different countries. 

So what facilities are available here for visiting sailors ?

Sunday, 5 July 2015

When There Are No Shops

Remote Salamon Atoll, Chagos, Crystal Blues In The Foreground.  Photo / Mark, SV Merkava                  
If we had a mission statement for our cruising life it would be shaped by what we truly enjoy - that is travel by boat, to experience new cultures, cuisines and music.  The past few months have offered a smorgasbord of this mix.  But none of this could have happened without a lot of planning. Before leaving Langkawi, Malaysia, all boat systems were checked, upgraded where necessary, the spares list re-checked and every empty space on the boat was filled with food and more than a little bit of wine, before we began sailing through the Indian Ocean.

We provisioned extensively in Phuket, stocking up on bread flour, pork, bacon, sausages and ham. Then we continued in Langkawi, stocking up on tinned and dry food, steak, salmon, toiletries, tinned butter, and duty free wine.  Over the previous months Ley had taken careful note of our consumption per month of all these items. Then we multiplied all this by six, hoping that our supplies would last around six months.

With those stores on board, the real provisioning challenge was fresh food - principally fruits and vegetables. What we can buy in Sri Lanka or the Maldives ? Will it last us for the 6-7 weeks after we depart Gan Atoll for Chagos and then Rodrigues ?

Fortunately the cruising community share information quite freely and efficiently, so we already knew that it was wiser to purchase fresh eggs, pumpkins and fruit in Sri Lanka, as nearly all produce in the Maldives is imported from there (plus India and Pakistan).

The Maldive Islands have very little fertile soil, with most of the new villages being built on reclaimed land.  Very little produce is grown locally.  It is not a great provisioning place.....

So the challenge was buying ten to twelve weeks of fresh provisions and doing our best to keep this produce fresh and edible in the tropical heat.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Indian Ocean Passage Making - Character Building

At some risk of understatement, we refer to our recent Indian Ocean passage to Rodrigues as "character building". It was perhaps a little more than that....

We departed Chagos with a reasonable seven day forecast, expecting the winds to build as we moved further south.  Many large sea birds followed us very closely for the first 24 hours, before sensibly leaving us before we moved south into heavier conditions.

The first three days were hard on the wind, heading generally south into a 15 knot SSE wind.  We then slowly angled off, reaching south of the rhumb line to put the wind behind the beam for the expected heavier conditions for the last two days.  However by day four we were already in 30 knots and for the last two days we had over 40 knots, a solid 45 for the final day.

The usual Indian Ocean multi-direction wave trains made the ride very aggressive.  I had expected these to merge into a single, more predictable, swell as the conditions built, however this was not to be.  After 24 hours with over 40 knots we still had waves from three directions.  When they co-incided the inevitable peaks were enormous curling breakers that broached us several times. 

Sail Bag & Mainsail, A Real Mess On Arrival
One wave broke higher than the boom, taking the sail bag away, pulling the pop riveted bolt rope track right off the boom in an instant.  From that point on we ran on staysail alone, still averaging 7 to 8 knots.   In a curious twist, our Life Sling rescue system itself needed to be rescued when a breaking wave took it off the railings. 

Approaching Rodrigues in thick conditions and constant rain squalls, as expected the waves built higher as we came onto the 60 meter deep continental shelf around the island.  Now it felt like we were skiing !  Slanting off across the huge wave fronts, many at 10-12 meters in height, was exhilarating.  The new autopilot steered the entire distance without fault, thank you Raymarine !

For the final 12 hours we also ran the engine at cruising RPM, which made only a small difference to the boat speed but gave the rudder more bite in the frothy disturbed water on the wave crests.  It also kept us moving in the troughs, when the wind was masked by the height of the waves behind us.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Indian Ocean Weather Forecast Areas

For boats traveling south and west across the southern Indian Ocean, local weather forecasting is hard to come by.

The Saildocs service on the Sailmail email system provides access to a range of forecasts, including those covering the southern Indian Ocean.

The Mauritius Meteorological Service prepares a very detailed short term forecast, available on Saildocs as "Met.8s / Southwest Of Indian Ocean".   It is also available via the GMDSS forecast tab on the Predict Wind Offshore application.

This forecast covers the complete GMDSS Area VIII, including relevant storm warnings and valuable weather interpretations (see today's forecast by clicking on "Continue Reading" below).  However the forecasting is segmented into sub-regions, 1 thru 7, that are not identified in terms of latitude and longitude, within the forecast.  To actually use the forecast you need to be able to identify the sub-region boundaries.

Via the friendly meteo office here in Rodrigues we were able to obtain a copy of the sub-region map, as shown at right (click to enlarge).  You can also click here to download a PDF copy of the map.  The Met Area VIII forecasts now make sense.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

RCYC Upgrades Chagos Infrastructure

- For Immediate Release -

Sir Bertrand Birgus Latro Making The Announcement
Commodore of the Royal Chagos Yacht Club, Sir Bertrand Birgus Latro, has announced radically improved communications and financial infrastructure for the archipelago, with the initial installation of a telephone hotline on the popular island of Ile Boddam.

Commodore Birgus Latro (Who's Who Entry Here) stated the systems were intended to improve the historically "shaky" communications between Chagos visitors and the principal stakeholder, the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) authority.

Using the latest solar power and lithium battery energy sources, the telephone hotline takes advantage of  redundant super-hetrodyne conversion oscillators to piggy back on UBHF (Un-Believably High Frequency) radiation side lobes of  adjacent military satellite uplinks.

Focused coconut shell antenna arrays powered by tidal action deliver steerable antenna functions for the UBHF system.  This innovative approach ensures that errant radiation is in fact re-converted into useful energy and then made available to visitors who require emergency communications, at no cost to users, or indeed to the British tax payer.  Sir Bertrand Birgus Latro noted that the entire antenna system was in fact recyclable, and that his family and friends could commit to complete consumption of the array within days if necessary....

One Happy Cruiser Tests The New Hotline Service
Due to the security requirements covering the entire region, the hot-line is now hot-wired to the switchboard of the BIOT Administration at Whitehall in London.

While BIOT officials were unavailable for comment, it is believed they will monitor the trial closely, and have committed to answering the line "at least after morning tea" each day.

One official, who refused to be named, noted that previous reliance on email communications was obviously an out-moded and in-efficient methodology, and that permit applications and extensions were expected to "be processed more smoothly" now that voice communications were available.

In a further opportunistic and unique partnership, the Royal Bank Of Chagos has installed a mini-ATM that piggy-backs on the new UBHF communications link, allowing cruising visitors to deposit funds directly into the BIOT bank account in London.  BIOT officials are believed to be monitoring that account very closely.

Sponsorship for the new infrastructure was provided by BIOAC, the British Indian Ocean Art Collective.  A spokes-person for the collective was unable to comment, due to an unfortunate but persistent case of tongue in cheek syndrome.

- End - 

The Errant Inflatable ....

Snorkeling on the reef at Chagos, the crew of sailing yacht Anjit surfaced to find their new inflatable dinghy had drifted out to sea, taking with it the new outboard motor and fishing equipment.  What followed is a great example of good luck, plus the support that the cruisers network can provide in times of need.

Firstly the crew of catamaran Banana very kindly offered the use of a spare dinghy they had on board, including a small outboard motor.  So Anjit was able to stay and enjoy Chagos for a few more weeks before departing for Madagascar, with a plan to return the borrowed dinghy in South Africa later in the season.

Then the miracle occurred !  Some three weeks later, Doreen and David on the catamaran Unama spotted a dinghy drifting in mid-ocean, about 100 nautical miles north of Chagos.  By this time it was well and truly swamped, sheltering large numbers of fish, and had a resident population of sea birds as crew.  Heading for Chagos, Unama took it on board and proceeded to the lagoon.  It was soon confirmed that this was the missing dinghy from Anjit.

Charlie Keeping Watch
Communicating by HF radio we were able to advise Anjit of their good luck, however they were already well on the way to Madagascar, and unable to turn back against the trade winds.  An alternative plan soon emerged, with the dinghy now hoisted aboard the catamaran La Papillon, who are also bound for Madagascar.

Within a few months all the dinghy's should be back with their rightful owners.  For now the errant inflatable is being carefully watched over by Charlie, the ever vigilant and infamous four legged bosun aboard La Papillon.