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 Celebrating Arrival At 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 - Cruiser's Haven                                                                  

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Rodrigues Rhythm

Sega / Blues Session Onboard 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.

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

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

Some Of The Younger Aldabera Tortoises 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....

The park has planted over 180,000 trees and plants, many endangered species, to recreate an environment typical of Rodrigues before the impact of mankind.  They have a target to plant over 100,000 more ! The park also has a fine museum of Rodrigues history, and an excellent restaurant.  Its a special place that we highly recommend - take the guided tour for the best experience.

Rodrigues Living

Mauritian people say that Rodrigues is like Mauritius of 50 years ago.