Travelogue #6, Nov 14-23 by Larry Caillouet

“Cruising: the sport and lifestyle of repairing your boat in exotic locations”

Monday, Nov 14

“De part, Boss, de part!” For anyone who wasn’t watching television in the 80’s, this is a reference to Tattoo announcing to Mr. Roark that the plane was arriving (“De plane, Bioss”) bringing new guests to Fantasy Island. De part for the spinnaker pole fitting had arrived at the boat so we quickly slipped our lines and departed from the Caudon Marina.

Sailing down the west side of Mauritius gave us our last view of its volcanic ridges and peaks. Its lights and lume were the only light in the dark sky.

I came on watch at 6 pm. The wind was in the low 20’s and we were making good time in spite of the rolly sea. At this rate we should be in La Reunion no later than noon. But the wind became a prankster. It oscillated left and right and made it hard to steer a steady course. Then it began dropping, so I let out more sail. It dropped some more and I unfurled all the sail. Even with all the sail out our speed fell below 5 knots. Our rule of thumb is to motorsail to keep our speed above 5 knots. Our other rule of thumb is to wait 5 minutes before making a change. The 5 minutes had expired and I was reluctantly getting ready to start the engine when the wind suddenly picked up again. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The prankster wind continued to increase and the sea was rough so the sailing became rather uncomfortable. I put a reef in the sails. The wind increased some more and I put a second reef in the sails. The wind topped 30 knots and I put a third reef in the sails. Suddenly the Genoa gave a loud bang, not the typical sound of a Genoa slatting but something louder and different than I had never heard before. This brought Alex and Joe up to the cockpit. We turned on the deck lights and saw the Genoa fully open—the headstay foil had split and we lost the ability to furl the Genoa. All hands on deck! I fell off 40 or 50 degrees and we opened the staysail to steady the boat, block some wind off the Genoa, and keep forward motion. Carmel came up to handle the Genoa sheet while the other three of us clipped in and went out on the foredeck to wrestle the Genoa down. When we got it down, we lashed it to the lifelines and retreated to the cockpit. This was a terrible beginning to what we expect will be the most difficult part of our voyage.

I went below to try to get some sleep but that didn’t work very well with the boat thrashing about. I tried several awkward positions until I found one that worked.

Tuesday, Nov 15

My next watch was at 0300. Wind and sea conditions hadn’t changed much but the moon and stars were out. I liked being tossed around with light a lot better than being tossed around in the dark. The Southern Cross was looking down from its familiar position and even though I knew it was just stars, it seemed like company for a lonely watch. I could see elephants marching across the horizon so even though I was in the cockpit I clipped my tether onto a strong point nearby.

When I came back on watch at noon we were in sight of La Reunion. It was easy to see that this was a much taller, more mountainous, and greener island than Mauritius. The mountain side was spotted with patches of towns and other developments. A raised highway had been built over the water at obviously great expense to carry traffic around the steep sea coast. We were in the lee of the island as far as waves were concerned, so the sea was smooth and the wind was still 20 knots behind us. With only the staysail and mainsail we were doing 8 1/2 to 9 knots, which is close to the highest hull speed for the boat. We went from the ridiculous to the sublime in just a few hours. And to add icing to this odd cake, a pod of a dozen or more black dolphins came out to frolic around the boat as we neared the harbor.

We docked with the other Oysters against a long concrete wall in the commercial part of the marina. We have shore power and water so it is comfortable here but not pretty and not convenient. It is a working boatyard so the sounds of drills, hammers, and grinders fill the daytime air around us. We watch working boats come and go on the water side of us and work trucks on the dock side of us. The marina

is on the outskirts of town so there are no restaurants or shops or public transportation nearby. We are not in paradise, but we can see it from here.

We now have about one month to reach Cape Town and the first week or more of that month will be spent here in La Reunion waiting for the part to repair the Genoa furler. We will need about 8-9 days to sail 1400 miles to Durban and 5 or 6 more to sail 850 miles to Cape Town. That leaves only a few days to spend waiting for a weather window, and these two legs will be the toughest of our entire passage. We don’t have a lot of margin, but there is nothing we can do to force the schedule. There is a sailor’s proverb that says the most dangerous thing to have on a boat is a schedule. We all know that, and we aren’t going to tempt fate.

Wednesday, Nov 16

We wrestled the genoa into its sail bag so the deck would be clear for the furler repair. That was our accomplishment for the day.

Thursday, Nov 17

Wheels! I rented a car today so we can travel around the island and see some sights and not be dependent on taxis. That’s what I call real “Liberty.”   An owner from another boat took me to the Peugeot dealer to rent a car there. Most of the rental places are on the other side of the island at the airport but this one was close. This little 4-door hatchback had a stick shift but I had no trouble with it. We were free now to move about the island!

For our first excursion we decided to drive down the coastal highway on the west side of La Reunion. We were all very impressed at what a wonderful expressway this small island had. We drove past St. Paul and St. Leu until we reached St. Louis where we turned onto a secondary road that led inland to Cirque De Cilaos, one of three calderas of long dormant volcanos on La Reunion. All three have towns and villages in them now, Cilaos being the main town in this one.

Cilaos was a cute touristy town, a cross between Gatlinburg and a Swiss Alpine town. And this is an Indian Ocean island off the coast of Africa!  But the real thrill was driving the twisting, turning mountain road. It was quite a feat of engineering to build a road that clung to the face of sheer cliffs and crossed incredibly deep ravines and sometimes drilled a tunnel through the mountain when there was no other way around it. (A big pink tour bus got stuck in one tunnel while we were in it. We turned off the engine and waited in the narrow rock tunnel until the bus was somehow freed.)  Someone estimated 250 turns including steep and tight switchbacks where you would meet yourself coming around them. Perhaps this is the origin of the name “Reunion”. ?

I can truly say that I have never seen ravines and valleys so deep and mountainsides so sheer and daunting.

Friday, Nov 18

Lario Andretti was back at the wheel for another mountain excursion. This time we drove east to the Cirque du Mafate. The drive to the base of the mountain was shorter, but the mountain road was just about as twisty as yesterday’s. I had gotten much better at downshifting going into hairpin switchbacks and then selecting the best gear for the speed we could manage on the short straightaways.

When we reached the end of the road ,we squeezed into a parking place and began the hike to the Cap Noir observation point. It was only a 10-15 minute hike but the ground was uneven and bordered by a sharp drop off on one side. We didn’t want to go sliding down the mountain a la Romancing the Stone. At the end of the trail was the lookout where hikers were taking photos of the chasm below us and the majestic mountain peaks beyond it.

In the far distance we could see a couple of small villages and a few isolated houses. “Isolated” describes the entire scene. There are no roads in or out of this caldera. We could see a footpath etched into the sheer mountainside across from us. We had been told that these villagers could go to town only by foot or helicopter. Why would anyone choose to live in such a remote and difficult location? With a little research we discovered that the original settlers were runaway slaves. Now it made sense.

Saturday, Nov 19

Joe and Larry’s Excellent Adventure began with a series of phone calls to the parapente companies in St. Leu. Parapente is what is called paragliding in the US.  We had seen these bright colored kites flying overhead when we drove through St. Leu on our way to the Cirque du Cilaos.  At the right time of day they fill the sky like dozens of giant broad-winged birds. The first five companies I called were already booked for the day, but I struck paydirt with Emanuelle at Amazone Parapente—she could take both of us at 12:15.  

Emmanuelle told us to be there by 12. We were there by 11 to make sure we were in the right place and to check out the activities. From the landing spot near the beach we watched the parapentes gliding in and landing softly among the other gliders already on the beach.  The smell of barbecue from the snack bar and the sounds of chatter and laughter from its patrons embellished the excitement of the day.

The Amazone van took us up the mountain to the launching spot 800 meters above the sea coast.  The pilots buckled us into our harnesses about 6 different ways, so it was certain that we wouldn’t be falling out. Bicycle style helmets were adjusted and strapped around our chins. Joe took off first with a bright yellow and red kite. I followed with an all black kite—the Black Swan I named it.  We each ran a few steps as the kites filled and immediately we were floating effortlessly above the scene below. Houses, roads, ravines, trees, seacoast, and ocean formed the stage for our ballet in the sky. We circled in giant pirouettes gaining altitude on the thermal updrafts while being very careful to watch the other dancers in the sky. There was plenty of room for all of us and we kept our respectful distance.

Toward the end of my hour in the air Emmanuelle asked if I was feeling good and would like to do something more exciting. “Sure!” I said and we zoomed into a giant corkscrew toward the beach. I couldn’t measure the g-force, but I could feel it.  We finished by circling just above the tree tops and landing softly on the beach.  An excellent adventure!

Sunday, Nov 20

The capitol of La Reunion is St. Denis (pronounced San Denni’) on the north shore of the island. We had explored much of the south, center, and west of La Reunion, so it was time to see the north. Going to St. Denis also gave us an excuse to drive over the amazing highway built over the water that we had seen as we arrived.

I was surprised at what we found in St. Denis. Rather than the mix of gleaming bank buildings and run-down shops and crowded urban living that we found in the capitol of Mauritius, St. Denis gave an impression of old money and rich history. We saw houses and government buildings from the 1800’s that had been well maintained or restored to their former glory. Landscaping used tropical plants like royal palms and bamboo, but the designs were formal like you would see at the fine homes and estates of Paris.

When Carmel suggested McDonald’s for lunch, I squawked “McDonald’s! You don’t sail thousands of miles to France and eat at McDonald’s!” Then they reminded me that McDonald’s has milk shakes. Case closed.

Monday, Nov 21

Akoya, the last remaining Oyster other than Liberty, departed for Durban today. We made some invisible progress on our Genoa foil repair when Felipe, the boat repair expert from Mauritius, arrived on a Leopard 53 power cat and docked in front of us. He examined the damaged foil and made arrangements to return on Thursday when we think we will have the new foil section. Keep your fingers crossed for a Friday departure. Besides the small flurry of activity with Akoya’s departure and Felipe’s arrival, it looked like a marina version of the Culhanes on the boat today. We just needed a harmonica and a hound dog.

Tuesday, Nov 22

Dodo Palme is the dive shop in this marina. (Apparently dodos lived on La Reunion as well as on Mauritius.) Joe and I walked down the dock to the shop to see about diving while we are waiting for The Part. “Oui,” they said but they don’t take credit cards or foreign currency, only Euros. No problem , we thought, we will go to an ATM machine. “Where is the nearest ATM?” we asked. They gave us the address of a “close” one—in town. Well, close is a relative term. We walked 3 1/2 miles round trip and now we have Euros.

Wednesday, Nov 23

Work in the morning, play in the afternoon. We motored out to sea to dump our holding tanks and came back to the fuel dock to fill up before The Part arrives. With the other 18 Oysters gone the dock was mostly empty, so we moved down closer to the marina office. The primary benefit of the move was greater proximity to the wifi router at the marina office. Wifi should be much more reliable now.

Play time consisted of scuba diving. We suited up with long wet suits, BCD vests, tanks, etc. and took our places on the dive boat. Joe and I and a French guy who was born in Sacramento formed a team of dive buddies with Lauren, one of the dive masters who spoke English fairly well. We saw two big sea turtles and lots of pretty fish. The dive was gentle, not very deep, and peaceful.

When we got back to the boat, I detected a somewhat somber mood. Alex dropped the bad news on us: The shipment of The Part was bungled by Oyster. It will not arrive in La Reunion yesterday as we were first told, or tomorrow as we were told later, but on Saturday, 3 days from now. When will we get it in our hands? Maybe Monday. When will we finally leave for Durban? Maybe next Tuesday. We could have sailed halfway to Durban by now using the staysail, main and spinnaker. But we were told to expect The Part last Tuesday.


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