11/11/2012, 85 miles off Richard Bay, South Africa, Indian Ocean
We should be getting to Richards Bay, as is our tradition, in the wee hours tomorrow (Monday) morning - HURRAH.
The Indian Ocean has lived up to its reputation being changeable (what an understatement) and we have had several sense of humour failures over the past few days, particular over putting up the Parasailor 3 times (no mean feat for only two of us on foredeck wrestling with the pole etc, its a bit like trying to stand up and operate on the back of a trick pony) only to have to take the damn thing down not more than an hour later. ARRGHHH.
We've been eating incredibly well on this passage - lots of salads, curries and even a few gourmet mini-pizzas today for lunch. We've found the absence of a freezer on board is not a handicap at all, and the fridge space more than meets our needs. We've also been surprised by how much water we have left in our tank - over 400 litres left after over a week at sea; not bad.
We have slowed down in the last few days (thanks to light winds and the current not being so favourable) so had to put the engine a lot, particularly as there were worries about a change in wind direction re the current around Richards Bay. Fortunately that now does not seem to be an issue for us, although the winds could be in the uppers 20s when we get there. The winds have got up a little now, and although we are still not making great speed, Matilda likes these conditions a whole lot more that light winds up her rear end.
We forgot to mention in the last blog that we have once again broken our all time 24 hour distance record a few days ago (ably assisted by favourable current off Madagascar) achieving 191 nautical miles - go Matilda! Not bad going for a lead keeled 20 year old boat. Eat our wake...
11/08/2012, Mozambuique Channel, Indian Ocean
It has been a few days since we posted, but hardly surprising considering the conditions so far. We are now crossing the Mozambique Channel and as far as we can tell the systems seem to come through on average every 48 hours or so. We now expect the winds to spin the full 360 degrees with each cycle (but not in an orderly fashion) and then we do it all again. The seas are generally so seriously confused they are in need of deep therapy. To add to the fun, we are in a major shipping lane where some of the commercial vessels have a reluctance to put on their legally required AIS (must want to save their batteries) and love to come up at speed from behind. So with all the sail changes, strong winds, rock and roll and general low level stress, the pair of us are knackered. In fact, its a miracle that the height of our gastronomic mealtime delights haven't been just peeling a muesli bar. However since the purchase of many par-baked baguettes, discovery of some amazing boil in the bag curries and the ton of other French produce purchased in Reunion, we have been feasting and I think I am putting on weight.
Since leaving Reunion we have made a few strategic decisions that haven't quite paid off, so we were near the back of the fleet for a while (as we should technically be, being one of the slower rated boats) but then pay-back time when we pulled off a masterful use of the currents and the right wind angle to cut off a corner south of Madagascar (safely - thanks to Anastasia giving us the way point) and make great speed - Matilda loves strong wind and chop - and now there are only a few division two boats ahead of us! Sadly this state of affairs will probably not last and has been overshadowed by another worrying pressure system developing just in time for us to hit the most dangerous part of the whole trip, coming into Richards Bay over the famous Agulhas Current, so we have a time line to aim for to get in before it. Sadly now when the wind and boat speed drops on will go the engine. Hopefully it will come to nothing but we are thinking ahead, and fortunately the dangerous part is only a few miles out from the coast, so you can time it or hang around outside of it with reasonable safely.
We are really looking forward to South Africa. It would seem from the skippers briefings that the people of SA are going to be putting on a great welcome so we are getting excited (although they will have strong competition from Mauritius and Reunion where the local authorities and people gave us an absolutely outstanding welcome and treatment, I hope they are aware of how wonderful they are and how grateful we all were. A particular honourable mention goes to Natasha from the Tourist Office in Reunion, who set up shop by the quayside and had to deal with the pair of us working out where we wanted to go, what we wanted to do and how to do it on a budget - not easy. If that wasn't enough, we then came across her on her day off in Hell-Bourg at lunch and probably gave her and her family indigestion.
In SA we are particularly looking forward to the ARC tour of a nearby wildlife park, where we should see the big four. We had also thought of doing a weeks horse riding trip on a private reserve, before we found out it was normally a hunting reserve, one where rich people have the opportunity to bag the big four from the security of a Range Rover. We have heard the arguments in favour of it as a conservation tool, but could never support such an undertaking ((just how small does your todger have to be to want do this).
For the present though we are concentrating on getting the boat there safely. At the moment we are between systems and under motor with just 4 knots of wind. In that time what little wind we have has gone round 180+ degrees and we are told we can soon expect a blow (I can see squalls on the horizon) - oh what jolly fun the Indian Ocean is. Roll on Richards Bay (hopefully by Sunday evening...)
11/02/2012, La Port, La Reunion
Take a hack saw to France, chop off a bit of the coastline, preferably a mountainous bit, tow it South to the Indian Ocean, add rum and you have Isle de la Reuinion. There is an African/Indian Creole influence to the food and the people which makes it an even more interesting a place to visit. The food over the last week has been delicious and the places we have visited spectacular. We had a Halloween party on Wednesday night which we think may have been the best party of the ARC so far, with pretty much everybody making a great effort (check out our sailblogs photo gallery for a taste).
The World ARC tour to the active volcano in the North was great - a bit like visiting a moonscape. We had hired a car, so we carried straight on to a village in another caldera called Cilaos where we stopped over night. Next day at sparrow's fart we hiked up and over to the next caldera (Mafete) to a village which can only be reached on foot. It was a little hillbilly (or whatever the French version of that is) but the scenery was stunning, if you have a head for heights. We stopped for an incredibly picturesque lunch on the way back to Cilaos, and I could barely walk by the time we reached the car (my knees are not what they used to be...)
We then drove on to a beach town called Ermitage les Bain and stayed at the Novotel for a little luxury, a swim and internet access. All of that would probably have been enough, but we decided to take the hire car up to the fourth caldera yesterday as it's the only one we hadn't seen. We drove up another amazing road to Hellbourg which is like a small French chocolate-box alpine village. It was All Saints Day, so the cemetery was a very popular spot and absolutely crammed with flowers (again, see our photo gallery). All of the old buildings in the town have been restored and form part of a heritage trail walk. The drive back down took us back past numerous waterfalls plunging thousands of metres from the cliff faces - this really is a spectacular island.
Tomorrow we set off for Richards Bay in South Africa, a leg we are a little nervous about. The weather and currents can be a little volatile as we get closer to the SA coast, although the formation of the lows seems fairly predictable so we hope to have good reliable weather advice. We will keep you posted with a blog or two as we make the crossing, which should take ten days or so. Wish us luck!
10/28/2012, Port Louis, Mauritius
Who would have thought that a 24 hour crossing could be such a pain in the behind. Oh it all started well, they always do when they are about to go pear shaped something to do with a false sense of security and all that. We launched our parasail, taking off on a course that we thought would avoid the wind shadow of Mauritius and with the strength of the winds, who knew, perhaps we could keep it up all night (this is usually a prelude to a disaster but we never seem to get wiser, just visibly older due to the extra grey hairs). We flew and looked to be neck and neck with Gunvor and some of the faster division one boats. Yippee, perhaps we really did deserve our overall victory in the Indian Ocean leg. Yes, in a 20 year old Hallberg-Rassy you really can still be that deluded.
It didn't take long for us to realise that to avoid the sort of wind shadow Mauritius throws we would have to have been halfway to Madagascar. We hit one almighty hole, but we were still under the impression that if we just stuck it out and ignored the cracking of the sails and rig just that little bit longer we would be on our way again. Ho ho. The upshot was that at one point we had a 180 degree wind shift, the parasail did an imaginative attempt to wrap the bell around the foresail - this was despite it still being attached to the pole. Fortunately it resolved itself and after a lot of swearing we got it down below.
After that the evening lost its magic. Whatever sail set we managed to achieve, it was the wrong one barely a few minutes later and around 4am we realised that if we went on in the way we were we stood a good chance of missing Reunion altogether. The only really viable sail we could use that would give us the sort of speed to get us to Le Port in time for the finishing line would be the parasail (with light winds up our arse) and as neither of us was up for that at that time in the morning, on went the donk (keeping up a full mainsail for stability in the confused swell - the rig does not sound to like this sort of decision). Not that the fun and games ended there. As we got close we fell into the Island's acceleration zone and with the various wind shifts, we did some rather objectionable mainsail jibing, finishing up with a drop of the mainsail in 30 knots that almost resulted in me doing a Dorothy (ie being blown up to Oz). Fortunately I knew exactly the correct procedure in this situation - close your eyes, kick your heels and keep repeating "Theres no place like home", strangely enough it did not work this time, perhaps you need the ruby shoes, but miraculously the mainsail came (fell) down and we were home in Le Port with just 10 minutes to the closing of the finish line.
There were some fond memories to be salvaged from the crossing, but they were mainly quiche-related (you may remember we did our entire provisioning from a nearby coffee shop that supplies the most delicious mini quiches). There was almost a full moon so at least it was a bright night - just wish we had more time to admire it.
The welcome in Reunion has been wonderful. As soon as we arrived there were ladies from the tourist office offering excellent information and assistance. Later that evening (last night) there was a cocktail reception where a number of local dignitaries welcomed us to local creole rythms and dancing, and gave us prezzies. Each boat got a bottle of rum and all crew got a showbag of local produce - what is not to like about this place! I think they were very impressed by how ARCers can vacuum up any form of food offered in record time but it is hungry work ocean crossing. This morning we were given fresh fruit with our breakfasts.
Today is Sunday, nothing is open, so we have been spending the day organising our time here and knocking over a few boat jobs. Tomorrow is the official tour and after that we intend on doing some volcano walking and general sightseeing. Reunion sounds to be, for me, a well kept secret. Lots of hikes in dramatic landscapes and exceptional beaches further down with French and Creole food thrown in. I think it would be quite nice to live on top of one of the worlds most active volcanos.
10/25/2012, Port Louis, Mauritius
We have really enjoyed it here in Mauritius and to crown the whole experience, last night Matilda won again. In fact on corrected handicap, we beat the whole fleet on the Indian Ocean leg. We are still not sure how we managed that, but are delighted all the same. The prize was a model of a traditional local boat - a lovely gift that we have dismantled for travelling purposes.
We hired a car for a few days when Brian was here and got to see a bit of the island before the 'official' tour. The highlight for us was visiting the Casela Leisure Park where we got to walk amongst the giant tortoises (unfortunately extinct on this island, but these are from the Seychelles), zip wire flying fox, but best of all, we interacted with the big cats. A South African couple set it up a few years ago and what they do is get the animals to interact with humans from birth and also get them to recognise that if the human is carrying a small stick vertically in front of them, they must not enter that personal space. The result is that you can pay to go into the enclosures and ''interact'' with the white lions or cheetahs. What this meant for us was that I got to pat a cheetah (pictures on the blog) and would you believe they actually purr - very similar to a domestic cat (although the ground practically trembles when they do it). They also had some young white lion cubs, born in August. What they do is have the cubs around the keepers all day and are returned to their mother at night. I think I want to be a lion keeper when I grow up.
Brian seemed to enjoy himself. His hotel was lovely, we know because we practically took over his room, or in my case, his bathroom to actually have a bath again - bliss. I think it is the main thing I really miss about living on a boat. You get a shower to get clean, but for me a bath is more of a meditational experience and I miss it.
The "official' tour was fun. It consisted of visiting a renovated colonial mansion which was very interesting - I think I could have lived the life of a sugar planter. The next stop was "An Adventure in Sugar" and I can now confidently say I know way more about sugar cane and its production than I thought could be humanly possible (or, truth be told, desired). The final stop was the Pamplemousse Gardens (it doesn't have anything to do with grapefruits, its just a name of the district). You have to feel a bit sorry for any passing VIP, they must practically haul them from the plane and take them there to plant a tree before they even get time to buy their dodo memorabilia. Poor Princess Anne's tree looked in need of a bit of TLC, but you will be pleased to learn Nelson Mandela's ebony tree is in fine fettle. (Unfortunately so is Mr Mugabe's, but I suppose it's not the tree's fault.)
The stars of the gardens for me were the spiders and fruit bats. The bats come every year from Madagascar in time for the jackfruit ripening. As the jackfruit has been introduced relatively recently, how on earth did they know this and change their behaviour accordingly? The spiders are huge and occupy some of the trees much to a lot of peoples discomfort. I now know what a camphor tree looks like and how the leaves smell of, well, camphor. I also know that some trees bleed (secrete red sap).
Tomorrow we set sail for Reunion, which I am ashamed to say I know very little about. No doubt it will be a nice surprise. The passage will only take the best part of an overnight crossing so provisioning will be no hardship (a couple of quiches from the local patisserie should cover it). However Jonathan still hasn't satisfied his desperate need for a Dodo T shirt, so we may still have a shopping expedition to do.
10/18/2012, Port Louis, Mauritius
We arrived safely in Mauritius, luckily avoiding the cyclone, although it was a bit tense at times. The guy who does our weather says that it was the earliest recorded cyclone for the region since records began (the season doesn't usually start until well into November) - trust us to be a part of that sort of history making! Two boats were so concerned they fled to the nearby island of Rodrigues until it had safely passed. Today has been very squally so no doubt we are seeing the tail end of it, grateful we are watching it from the inside of a waterfront cafe.
The Indian Ocean crossing passage has been the most enjoyable for us so far. The combination of wind together with interesting sailing conditions and then, to top it off, the formation of the cyclone, meant for no long boring periods - although the wind and the angle of wind made it quite frustrating at times. We have a gap in our downwind armoury between 20-25 knots, too heavy for the parasail, too light to goosewing effectively, so we end up zigzagging. Matilda performed amazingly well though in the conditions; she was particularly comfortable on the day we had 30 to 35 knots all day, handling the bigger swells with ease. One of the best things for us though is to arrive here with full fuel tanks - we didn't even need to run the engine for power generation so we crossed the finish line without having used a drop of diesel!
Port Louis has been interesting, from what we have seen in the first day or two here. We arrived at the marina basin in the wee hours (again, we seem to make a habit of this) but the coast guard couldn't have been nicer and we even got guided in by one of their vessels. When we got to the Town Quay (where the ARC boats have been given pride of place) we were given a glass of the local hooch together with a fruit basket and lots of other goodies and on top of all that we have been told that the berthing is going to be free four our 11 days here. What a great place!
We haven't had much time to see the island yet as we are still recovering, but it seems a really interesting place where the official language is English, but everybody speaks French, Creole, Hindi and Chinese. Our friend Brian arrives on Friday, so we will hire a car for the weekend and do a bit of exploring further afield.