From There to Here … Into the Indian & on to Africa

From There to Here … Into the Indian & on to Africa

There's always a bit of regret when we leave a place we've enjoyed and been comfortable. There's always a bit of apprehension mixed with anticipation and exhilaration as we haul anchor and head out of a harbor and across a vast ocean. What's out there? How will the weather be? What will break this time? How long will it take us?

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Crossing the Indian Ocean

mauritius mileage
Rodrigues to Mauritius

Day 1 – 350 nm to go

We were up early and the day seemed to fly by. We were busy making Skype calls and doing last minute e-mails before we left. Though the passage will be much shorter than the last two, we still wanted to be as up-to-date as possible.

By 10am, we hurriedly gathered all our paperwork together for our checkout scheduled at 10:30 at the Port Captain's office. Captain Gilbert Mallet has been unbelievably helpful and friendly to all of us cruisers. With the supply ship at the dock, all the cruisers tie their dinghies to Albion which is rafted to the tug, Solitaire. It's a scramble getting across the boats and onto land. Customs, Immigration and Coast Guard were waiting for us. Voila … it was done in a flash.

Technically, once Immigration stamped our passports, we weren't allowed back into the port. Our bad … we should have been more organized and gone to the market early as we did last week. But we didn't and Captain Mallet gracefully forgave our faux pas and let us go to the boulangerie and the market to pick up some last minute things. You'd think after all the times we've left on a passage we wouldn't have this last minute scramble, but we always do.

Back aboard Nine of Cups, we hauled the dinghy and it needed scrubbing. While David scrubbed, I stowed the groceries, made a passage soup (Lemay Special again) and began prep below decks for the passage. When David finished with the dinghy, we deployed the whisker pole so it was ready to go and then we sat for few minutes, caught our collective breaths and I made us some lunch. Whew!

We were planning on a late departure … around 4pm … so that we could slow down if necessary on the other end and arrive in Mauritius during morning daylight hours. The wind was a brisk 20-25 knots from the ENE. Everything was stowed and Cups was ready to go. We read for about an hour, but our impatience finally got the best of us, and we raised anchor and headed out through the small channel about 2:45.

On our way to Mauritius...

Day 2

Day's mileage: 89 nm (19 hrs)

Miles to go: 261

With a 3-day forecast of winds 15-20 knots, we braced ourselves for stronger winds based on the typical Indian Ocean trades we'd experienced thus far. We were fast off the mark, charging out of the channel at 7 knots, with a wicked rocking motion that just wouldn't quit.

The wind lessened as did our speed , but the rocking continued ... worse when we slowed. The motion of the boat coincided well with the jostling of our bodies ... especially our stomachs. We were both nauseous and feeling a bit green around the gills. We hadn't taken Stugeron, thinking it wouldn't be necessary. We still had our sea legs. Au contraire! We could have taken it after we were sick, but kept thinking it was a temporary condition. Instead, the nausea nagged on and on along with a slight headache.

A reader had suggested wearing an eye patch. I didn't have one, but kept one eye covered for 30 minutes or so. I found I needed two eyes when I was heaving. Perhaps, I didn't give it a fair enough try. Another reader suggested physical exercise (beyond puking maneuvers). I did some arm and leg exercises while sitting and it did seem to help momentarily, but then the boat rocking increased and so did the nausea. This was not an "I hope I'm going to die" sort of seasickness. It was more of an inconvenience. This is probably the only time on a passage I get bored because I feel crappy and I can't read or write without feeling worse, so watches seem very long.

We'd slowed to 3s and low 4s. We tried different sail configurations, but the wind just wasn't there ... only the continuous rock.

No birds...no marine critters in the scuppers. Just rocking. Ugh!

Day 3

Day's mileage: 109nm

Miles to go: 152

Neptune is known for enjoying the pranks he plays on sailors. This is a good one. No wind in the tradewinds? We've been lumbering along, making low mileage, feeling better, but now off course to take advantage of what little wind there is. We're cautious about complaining too much. "Be careful what you wish for."

The days have been gloriously sunny. No squalls, no showers...just the incessant rock and even that has dissipated with the light winds. We had consciously planned our departure time for late in the afternoon to give us the best chance of a daylight arrival in Mauritius. Neptune, being the prankster he is, sent the light winds to insure we would arrive later than anticipated and certainly after dark.

Our morning cuppa was pleasantly interrupted by the appearance of a whale about four boat lengths off our port beam. He was heading for Mauritius, too. David scrambled for the camera, but too late. Our visitor gave us the big eye and then headed off rather abruptly. He obviously wasn't interested in poking along at our slow speed. David identified him as probably a Bryde's whale based on his hooked dorsal fin and our location.

Day 4

Day's mileage: 61

Miles to go: 91

And we thought we were moving slowly yesterday. Well, there's slow and then there's SLOW. Saying that we're moving at a snail's pace would be an insult to snails and definitely overstating our forward progress. We've had 1-2 knots, mostly on the beam. You can't go too far in a sailboat without wind unless you want to crank on the engine. We don't ... we prefer to go slowly to burning diesel. We considered fabricating some oars and drawing straws to determine who'd be the galley slave, but in the end it sounded like too much work, and, as you know, we're lazy sailors. We're I content to just poke along.

There's plenty to do to keep us occupied. David whipped lines. We re-calibrated the wind vane. I began polishing the stainless. No sense wasting time in port on chores we could be doing at sea. Reading, a game of Sudoku or two, writing, cooking, cleaning up, chatting, making plans ... we certainly haven't been bored.

Sooty shearwaters have been flying lazy circles around us ... like vultures maybe?

Finding Solitude...and Lunch

We had dedicated a couple of days to boat chores and so I didn't feel guilty about negotiating another day for seeing more of Ile Rodrigues. I'd read of two endemic birds that seem to hang out in the early morning near the Forest Station in the tiny village of Solitude, a quick bus ride from Port Mathurin. We confirmed what bus to take and were on our way by 0745. When the bus stopped at a tiny bus stop in the middle of nowhere and the conductor pointed to a path through the forest, we were a bit skeptical, but we got off and headed down the steep path. Sure enough, after a couple minutes on a heavily rooted, dirt track, the path merged with a road and we spotted a bright pink building down the way which turned out to be the Forest Station.  

forest station

 

We were looking for the Rodrigues fody and the Rodrigues warbler. No, we're not really twitchers … birdwatchers, although we enjoy identifying birds. But there's something about seeing endemic animals that occur nowhere else in the world that's kind of a thrill. The Forest Station guy wasn't really interested in talking to us (could be my terrible French!). We asked the best place to spot fodies and he said “in the forest”. No kidding! We continued along the road, two tracks of cement with mud in the middle, up a steep hill with forest on both sides. We saw a warbler. No pic, but we saw him.

 

forest road

 

We walked for several kilometers and saw lots of goats, a dead mouse, more huge spiders than I care to acknowledge, several feral chickens with chicks, several Madagascar red fodies, scads of ubiquitous mynahs and house sparrows, a sleeping pig, banana trees, several odd looking flowers and plants, but no Rodrigues fody.

 

collage of stuff we saw

 

When we spotted the Majestic King Lion Nightclub at a small crossroad, we figured we'd reached downtown Solitude. There were several rudimentary houses scattered here and there up the hill and the ground level of the nightclub seemed to offer some basic supplies like CocaCola and Phoenix beer and junk food.

 

majestic king lion night club

 

We retraced our steps back to the Forest Station, standing under the dense forest cover during intermittent showers. We found the ranger guy again and lamented not seeing any fodies. He blamed it on the rain and gave us an “oh, well” shrug. We did spot some common waxbills, which actually weren't common at all to us and finally left Solitude, deciding to walk the two klicks back into town.

 

common waxbill

 

Our walk down the very steep, switch-backed road to Port Mathurin was a bit dodgy. There are no sidewalks and the roads are narrow and quite busy at this time of the morning. At one point, we climbed down a bank to avoid walking across a very narrow bridge with no place whatsoever for pedestrians. We had seen a lookout platform high above the town and found it on our way back. The views were terrific. We could see Nine of Cups at anchor and the whole town spread below us like a colorful mosaic.

 

lookout view

 

It was mid-morning and we were back in town. Surely, this shouldn't conclude our day. What to do? Another cruiser had mentioned the tiny beach town of St. Francois. He had gotten there on a motorbike, but thought perhaps the bus went there as well. We checked, it did, and we boarded the next bus out of town. The bus chugged up the same hill we had just descended and finally headed towards the east end of the island. The views were great and different from what we'd seen on our way to the Tortoise Reserve.

 

view with a goat

 

We arrived in St. Francois just around lunch time. Our friends had bragged about a little thatch-covered beach resto that served fresh-caught grilled fish, lobster, chicken … whatever was available for their oil-drum-cut-in-half grill. We spotted Robert and Soulange's little place about a kilometer or so from the bus stop. They only had about six tables and, lucky for us, one was available.

 

robert and solange resto

 

The place was charming. We sat in plastic chairs at a plastic table, our feet planted in beach sand. The sun was shining and we could hear the sound of the surf not far away. Small sparrows peeked from the bamboo rafters of the thatched roof and swooped down every once in awhile for bread crumbs in the sand. Soulange put a fish on the grill for us, while Robert hacked at coconuts for other guests. The meal was excellent … grilled fish and chicken, salad, bread, drinks, espresso and a coconut tart … all for 500Rps (about $17US).

 

robert and solange resto

 

We walked along the beach afterward. It was high tide and there wasn't much beach, but the view was stupendous on such a glorious day. We reluctantly headed back to the bus stop. It was a long walk back to Port Mathurin if we missed the last bus. All in all, a terrific day exploring a bit more of Rodrigues. And now, unfortunately, it's time to move on.

 

beach

 

And lest you thought we forgot … Happy Hallowe'en everyone!