Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Light wind

Last night, we were able to hoist the gennaker and to increase our speed
to almost max at 7.7 knots. Unfortunately at midnight (it always happens
at midnight), the guy broke and we had to take it down. I did not want
to rehoist it in the middle of the night and decided to wait for the
morning. By that time, the wind had dropped to less than 10 knots, and
although we put the gennaker up again, we are now crawling at 4 to 5
knots. Not very good for the nerves.
We have another 513 miles to go for Durban and 832 for Port Elizabeth on
a straight line. It appears that a low is likely to be moving up the
coast thursday or friday, and then another one on saturday or sunday.
None of those two appear to be threatening but they need to be watched
carefully. Both the weather guys from South Africa and my weather router
from Australia agree that we have to wait another day before making a
decision whether we head for Durban or go for Port Elizabeth, staying
outside of the Agulhas current.
Obviously, in this kind of area, the weather is the ultimate judge and
the decision will only take the weather into account, not our
preferences in terms of location.
As it's often said and very true in our case, time will tell.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Up the conveyor belt

Since we left Reunion, everyday I notice that we cover less and less
distance over the ground, although Papy Jovial seems to be going quite
the same, except for one night when we had numerous showers, whirling
wind and erratic course.
But today was the worst. Every time we looked at the speed on the GPS,
we were getting figures 2, 3 even 4 knots below that of the speedometer.
Eventually, I decided to request a grib file showing the currents, which
I rarely do as the grib file is a lot heavier, takes more time to
download and therefore costs more, with the sat phone at $ 1.20 per minute.
But it was worth it. We discover (I should have checked that before
leaving Reunion, when we still had a fast internet connection) that
there is a strong current going down the east coast of Madagascar, which
when it gets further south turns back and create a strong counter
current in which we got caught. We had sometimes more than 3 knots
against us, and the day turned out to be a miserable one in terms of
progression towards our destination. Anyway, having found out about it,
we altered course so as to cross that counter current as quickly as
possible and then move into the favorable one. Hopefully, we should get
into that current before midnight and then take advantage of it fore
around 100 miles.
So far, the weather still looks OK for us to proceed directly to Port
Elizabeth rather than stop in Durban. Early days yet, this can change.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Danger zone

The area towards which we are sailing is deemed to be one of the two
potentially most dangerous sailing areas in the world with the Cape Horn
It earned its infamous reputation first because of the presence of the
so-called "rogue" or "freak" waves, more commonly called abnormal waves
which can be as high as 100 feet. Fortunately, so waves do not occur at
random in terms of time and location. For those waves to exist, the
university of South Africa has found that, whenever damage was caused to
shipping or yachting by those waves, three conditions had to be met.
First, the Agulhas current, which runs down the east coast on a SSW
direction, has to be at its maximum strength, which is around 5 to 6 knots.
Second, there has to be a "buster" or coastal low, racing up the same
east coast and generating SW winds of up to 70 knots.
And last, you would have to be in an area which is east of the 200
meters depth line, 20 miles out, between the latitude of Durban (in fact
a little further north than Durban) and Port Elizabeth.
If you are in there and a buster is showing up, if you are in a small
boat, race inshore with a smaller depth, and if you are on a big one,
get the hell out of it and go off shore.
If you don't believe that it can destroy a tanker, google "World Glory
disaster", which occurred on May 31st, 1968, when a 50,000 tons tanker
belonging to Niarchos shipping, sailed over a freak wave, broke in two
and sunk.

Sailboats planning to sail around south Africa out of the Indian ocean
should first aim for a position around 150 miles south of the southern
tip of Madagascar and then aim for a position halfway between Richards
Bay and Durban. Statistically speaking, the storms and the abnormal
waves don't go that far north. Once you are off Durban, if you have a
nice 2 to 3 days weather window, then aim for East London. Otherwise,
hunker down in Durban. After East London, you need a 36 hours window to
get to Port Elizabeth, then another 36 hours to go to Mosselbay, then
one day to an anchorage in the lee of Cape Agulhas, and then. once you
get a nice SE wind, you are only 125 miles from Capetown.

Needless to day that to undertake this kind of voyage, you need to be
well covered weather wise and have a boat carefully prepared for an
eventual storm.
On Papy Jovial, I regularly check via email (using my iridium sat phone
as a dial up modem) the grib files (a weather map that you can overlay
on your chart plotter providing up to 7 days forecast) from 3 different
systems, MaxSea, which is my navigation software, UGrib, a free system
from Grib US and Expedition LT from New Zealand.
I also have outside help.
First, Tom, previous owner of the boat for 22 years, whose son used to
to weather in the Navy, and who has been with me everyday, sometimes
twice a day, by email, to provide me with weather outlook and forecast.
Second, Bruce, professional weather router, who works with the national
sailing team of Australia, with ARC, and has been in this business for
more than 30 years.
And then, the South Africa Mobile maritime network on SSB, run by
Alistair and Graham. I first made contact when I was still 3,300 miles
away, and since, when at sea, I talk to them and get the weather ahead
of me.

I am still a little nervous, since you can never be 100 % guaranteed no
problem. In fact, most people say that this passage should only be done
around November. Yet, the worst storm in decades that damaged most of
the marinas of the south coast of South Africa occurred in November. I
am confident that I will get to Capetown safely and comfortably.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The brotherhood of the coast

Often during my voyage, people have told me "why are you in such a
hurry, why don't you take the time to visit the Galapagos, the
Tuamotu. the Fidji, why go to Noumea from Tonga when the regular route
for everybody else is to go direct to New Zealand,etc....".
I have a hard time explaining that I am not just cruising around the
world. For me, this is a voyage to visit the brothers of the coast along
the way while I am sailing to the Worldwide meeting of the brothers in
Sydney, and then sail back home, again visiting the groups of brothers
on my way back, even if it sometimes mean taking a few hundred miles detour.
Again, since some of the people who read this blog are not sailors or
even less brothers of the coast, maybe I should explain a little.
Since there are more than 3000 brothers of the coast worldwide in some
30 countries, there are probably 3000 definitions, each of them as good
as any.
Mine is that The brotherhood of the coast is a community of seafarers
who share the same love of the sea and practice among themselves the
same solidarity as if there were blood brother in a closely knit family.
To belong to this community is an honour that has to be earned. It
cannot be purchased or granted on a simple request. One has to
demonstrate over the course of several years that love of the sea and
strong sense of solidarity are among your key values and that you can
fit well within the group whith whom you are acquainted. Then the group
might invite you to join the community.
I have been a brother of the coast for 24 years and I hope that I will
always remain worthy of belonging to the brotherhood.
And this is why now that I have left Australia and the meeting in
Sydney, my next big stop will be Capetown and Saldanha bay where there
are brothers of the coast of the South Africa brotherhood.
I am very very much looking forward to meeting brothers that I have
never met before in any of the international meetings that I have
attended. This is for me where the value and the purpose of this trip
lies and it is very much worth taking the path around south africa and
the cape of Good Hope.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

This is it !

Those last two days in Reunion have been hectic, as expected. Laundry
(which took three trips), shopping, oil change, surrendering the mobile
broadband 3G USB key that I had borrowed, taking the car back to the
rental car place in St Denis, 32 kms from the boat and get a ride back,
preparing the boat for the big trip, rechecking all the leaks. And a
wonderful dinner party on Monday night at Jean-Louis's house.
We had an appointment with customs at 7:00 on Wednesday to get the
outgoing clearance. This was the only purpose of their coming to the
boat. They came at 6:30, which is good, but they did not bring any
clearance form with them, which is not so good. They had to use my
clearance from Maurice and make corrections to it to show that it was
clearance from Reunion ! I hope the South African customs will accept that.
After topping up the water tank, we were ready to go and we exited the
harbour at 8:25, on our way to the danger zone between Madagascar and
Durban, 625 miles away. Not a glorious start as we had to motor in the
lee of the island for three and a half hours, but at noon sharp, the
wind showed up, strong, and we finally got going. If all goes well, we
should reach the southern tip of Madagascar on Sunday and start crossing
the Mozambique channel. The current forecast calls for a strong system
to form around the end of the month, when we will already be in the
channel, but we should be able to dodge it by aiming for Richards Bay at
We shall see.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

La Reunion

La Reunion - 57
Originally uploaded by brisegalets
We've done so many things in the past week that I am not sure I can remember everything.
We arrived on Tuesday, early afternoon as planned. At first, it seemed that it was going to be smooth sailing getting into the marina as we were expected and the marina got in touch with us via VHF. But it turned out that they had no space available inside the marina and we were to tie up alongside a wharf where it was quite acrobatic to get off. But we had electricity and water, which is all that matters. Customs were nowhere to be seen, be apparently, it does not matter here. My only concern is to make sure I get a clearance out of here to be able to clear in South Africa without problem.
Shortly after we arrived, Antoine showed up with the rental car and we were able to go to town and register the car, as well as taking Antoine home. It took us a little while to get back home, being in unknown territory with almost no signage, but we got back OK.
Wednesday, the whole morning was dedicated to waiting for customs, but they never showed up and in the afternoon we went to town to try and solve the problem of getting an internet connection. Not easy in a place where apparently you need as much justification and documents as if you were purchasing a nuclear submarine. Eventually, the last shop we went it, finally admitted that they could lend us a 3G USB key against a deposit, and we were set.
On Thursday, Antoine came to the boat early on his motorcycle (he lives 60 kms from the marina) and we took off for St Pierre on the south coast as I wanted to see the place and check out whether we could go there with Papy Jovial. Also, Olivier had made contact with the sister of a friend of his who lives there, and we were invited for lunch.
This was a very windy day, and after lunch, very pleasant in a nice house overlooking St Pierre, we went to the marina and could see that on a windy day, there is no way Papy Jovial could get in there safely. On the way back, we stopped at the house of Jean-Louis, skipper of "Loulou", contacted through STW (french association of cruisers) who had offered to lend us a couple of jerrycans to top up our fuel tank. Wonderful old creole house, a garden with all kinds of trees, figs, mango, bananas, etc... and a few turtles, the same kind we saw in Rodrigues. We then filled up the cans and went back to the boat where Antoine recoverd his bike and went back home.
Friday morning is the day of the biggest street market in Saint Paul and I was on a mission to get some vanilla, which had to be "ile de la Reunion" and had to be made either in St Philippe or Bras Panon. I also had to find some "kaloupile" (don't know what it is, apart that it is a spice). Mission accomplished in less than an hour and then we went back to town and to the customs house to do the clearance, since it was obvious that they would never come to the boat.
After that we drove to the crater of the only volcan still alive on the island, with activities almost every other year. The road was fabulous but by the time we got to the crater, we were in the midst of thick clouds with no visibility at all. Fortunately, there was another crater nearby, dead this one but just as spectacular, so we had no regrets.
After we went back to the boat, we went out again to have dinner with Antoine and his room-mate at a posh restaurant in St Denis. Pleasant evening, as always when you share a meal and a bottle of wine with friends.
Saturday, it was just Olivier and myself, and we drove all around the island. The other side, the windward one, is much more pleasant than the one on the lee side. We truly enjoyed that ride which also includes to drive through the streams of lava that came down from the volcano over the years. The last one occured in 2007 and was still hot and fuming. Very interesting. We touched the stones and they were quite warm. Then, as we were driving through St Denis, the capital city of the island, we stopped at a huge supermarket, kind of WalMart, to check out what was available as far as shopping is concerned. We will be leaving on Wednesday morning and we need to know what we kind buy.
Sunday, for the first time in this trip, I did a day sail, as Antoine and his friend wanted to go out and see the whales, which are supposed to hang around near the coast. We left around 8:30 in the morning, and luckily enough, they were there and even did us the favor of swimming past the boat at less than 15 yards. Then we anchored near the coast, in front of a popular beach for lunch and went back to the boat.
These last two days, today and tomorrow, we will take care of Papy Jovial and prepare her for the big jump towards South Africa.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leaving Port Louis

Port Louis - 39
Originally uploaded by brisegalets
This last Sunday in Port Louis was, as I expected, one of the highlights of my trip. Francis came to pick us up around 10, spending some time first on Papy Jovial and telling us a lot about Mauritius over a glass of white wine. Then he took us to his house which is sitting right on Cap Malheureux, in a wonderful setting, with his only little marina, swimming pool an a great view over Flat Island.
And then around a delicious schrimp curry, the four of us, Francis and his wife Maryse, Olivier and myself, we continued the conversation and explanations about Mauritius. After that, we returned to the boat and spent a last quiet evening in Caudan.
Next morning, we went to the market for the last provisions. The market, not the supermarket. Lots of fresh fruits and vegetable, but we can only take so much that will keep on the boat. What a pity, as the quality and price of those veggies and fruits were really great.
Early afternoon, we had the visit of a senior customs officer, who was bringing back the salute cannon and the blank rounds that we had been carrying since Norfolk when Stew put it on Papy Jovial.
After we had signed all the papers, we got the cannon back, but the customs guy then asked us "when are you leaving ?" - Well I said, probably within 10 minutes, just time to cast off the lines.
Oh, in that case, we must seal the cannon.
Where ? We don't have any compartment on the boat that we can lock.
Well, it has to be sealed.
So, eventually, we sealed the damn thing inside the overn where we could put the customs seal around the handle to open the over.
Great fun.
The actual formalities at the customs house (health, immigration, customs again, coast guards) took a little less than 1 hour and by 15:00, we were under way, getting out of the harbour at 15:20.
It took us around 22 hours to get to Port Louis, good wind all the way except for the last 6 miles when the wind abruptly disappeared and we had to motor in.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rain check

Port Louis - 20
Originally uploaded by brisegalets
Up early on Saturday morning, one look outside, and all I want is to go back to bed. It's raining, but this kind of fine rain that is going to last all day, coming with a mist that guarantees no visibility.
So, after breakfast, I had to call the taxi and cancel. And then we devoted the day at some minor shopping, sorting out things here and there on the boat without real conviction. We went to the chinese district (the famous Chinatown) for lunch and went back to the boat not doing much.
In the evening, I took Ollivier to Pizza Hut, only because they have one table, at the corner of their outside patio, where the internet connection is good and free and I wanted to upload some pictures.
Never mind, tomorrow we are having lunch with my long time friend Francis who will tell us a lot more about the island than what we could learn visiting it on a taxi.
And since it rained all day, we could verify that the mast does not leak anymore and that the leaks from the portlights are no worse and no better than what we anticipated.
Life is good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's not over until it's over !

First we repaired Firmin, the windvane. We felt good. Then we had the shipyard work on the leaks, particularly the one where the mast goes through the deck. They worked three days on it. They lifted the deck plate, cleaned it real good, cleaned in fact everything about this deck plate, then they caulked it fresh with a good compound, then they hosed it down with high pressure water, no leaks. We felt good.
Then I find water in the bilge. Traced the source. Find that the dummy plug for the speedometer had an o'ring missing. Put the real speedometer sensor in place. It does not leak. Felt good. Went to lunch. Went back from lunch and found water again smelling urine. Did not feel good. We checked out the heads, found that the outlet was blocked, took it out. Found that it had holes in it and was bloked by calcaire. Cleared it. Went to town to find a similar hose. Put it back in place. Tried the head. It works OK and does not leak. Felt good.
That's where we are right now. For the first time we had dinner on board, convinced that at last, we got the better of the leaks. The drain from the chain locker is now clear, the sensor of the speedometer does not leak, the forward head works fine and does not leak. The passage of the mast through the deck at last seems to be watertight. But we know that only at sea we shall know the truth.
Meanwhile, we have been roaming the streets of Port Louis extensively looking for a hinge, an o'ring, a replacement hose for the head, etc . . . and we are beginning to know the town quite well.
The striking thing about it is the mixture of ethnicities, of cultures, of religions, all that in harmony and with everybody having one thing in common, the french language. I must say that it is quite astonishing to go to a chinese shop, with everything written in chinese, and hear the chinese shopkeeper talk to you in perfect french, just with a touch of Mauritius accent. And it is the same with a hindu waiter, or a blackman from Madagascar, or a white man coming from God knows where. Like in Rodrigues, almost every public sign is in english, but everybody speaks french. Strange !
It is very definitely a lovely place. Saturday we plan on visiting the southern part of the island, especially Mahebourg which would have been the capital if the french had had their way. This week end, there is celebration out there to commemorate the naval battle of Grand Port where the french navy had one of their very rare success against the british navy, 150 years ago.
We are still set to leave on Monday, although the weather looks like there is not going to be a lot of wind. We only have 120 miles to go, but the iron sail might have to come into play.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Back on my feet

With force anti-inflammatory and a lot of rest, I am back on my feet for this last week in Mauritius. So far, I have only seen the town and I can't wait to see a little bit of the island. I know it is going to be very very different from Rodrigues, still there is a lot to discover.
Where we are, the marina of Caudan, is like a little island of prosperity, with top notch hotel, shopping mall and expensive restaurants. It is isolated from the downtown area by 2 underpasses guarded bysecurity. The town itself is quite pleasant, again with lots of small shops and vendors, but unlike Rodrigues, big shops and banks as well.
Being unable to walk long distances, I have not seen a lot yet. Instead, I have been concentrating on the boat and today we can almost say that we are ready to go. The deckplate has been cleaned and lifted a few millimeters, just enough so that we could clean it real well and hopefully recaulk it tomorrow. Could not do it today as they was intermittent rain all afternoon.
I still have to learn how to post the pictures properly on the blog. The new trick is that instead of copying a link to the picture in Flickr.com, I now have to copy and paste the html language which does not seem to include whether it should go left or right. As a result, it goes in the center and the text does not flow around the picture.
Patience, patience . . . .

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Out of commission !

It hit me almost as soon as we tied up. At first, I believed that it would not last longer than the first night. But since we have arrived, I am almost paralyzed with a very painful lower back, and I feel totally useless. Even sitting in front of the computer for some time hurts me so much that I have to go and lay down for a while before continuing.
We still managed to have the windvane repaired and the exhaust pipe replaced. On Monday we should see some progress on the leaks through the mast.Arrivee a Port Louis - 14
Yesterday, I could not take it any more and I decided to bite the bullet and go to the local clinic. I spent there most of the day, had a CT scan performed, and ended up with a prescription 2 pages long. At first, I was tempted to throw away all those drugs, but the pain got me to take the anti-inflammatory and a gel to ease the pain. After two days, it seems to work a little bit. I still have tomorrow Sunday to rest and try to get rid of it but next week I need to be able to move.
The boat is now ready, but I want to visit the island a little bit and we still have to sail to La Reunion which is not far but still some 120 miles away, which we should do in probably 18 hours.
Blogger.com have changed their software and I have to learn from scratch how to post the pictures. The albums are still there, this had not changed, so to see all of them, it is best to go there. As for the blog, I will have to ask you to be patient.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Papy Jovial express

From Cocos to Rodrigues - 15Thanks to very steady and quite strong trade winds we did not waste time getting to Port Louis from Port Mathurin.
We left at 9:15 on Sunday morning amidst squalls and showers, and very soon we found ourselves again in big southeasterly swell and 25 to 35 knots of wind. It was a bit taxing for the electric autopilot, as it would be for any autopilot having to steer a heavy boat on broad reaching and strong swell. But it did the job most of the time and we covered the 347 miles in 51 hours and 45 minutes. Through the water, we achieved an average speed of 6.98 knots, better than I ever did with Papy Jovial.
It took us almost more time to go through the formalities once in Port Louis. Slight exageration, as it was over in 2 1/2 hours, but it seemed like taking for ever. Health, Immigration, Customs, Customs again to search the boat, Coast Guards, and then almost all over again in the marina.
So here we are. We tied up in the afternoon at the Caudan Waterfront marina. Not an ideal marina as it is located by a parking lot and we have a constant flow of people talking, watching etc... But we have electriciy which will allow me to equalize the batteries, we have water and we are downtown.
In the evening, we were having dinner a Grande Baie with my friend Francis Piat, whom I had not met for almost thirty years, back in my working years with Shell. Very pleasant evening updating each other with our lives.
This week will be devoted to fixing the windvane, trying to fix the leaks, washing the boat inside and outside with freshwater.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

So long Rodrigues

So, we are off again, this time bound for Mauritius. But we are a little
sad to leave Rodrigues which certainly has been one of the most pleasant
stop on this voyage.
I bet that a great number of people have no idea that this island even
exists, and even more have no idea as to where it is located. And this
is a small paradise, roughly 12 miles long and 8 wide. It remained
desert until the end of the 18th century, the first settler being
Francois Leguat in 1691. Eventually, it was populated by freed slaves
from Mauritius and the descendants of those slaves constitute the great
majority of the 40,000 inhabitants of the island. There is however, a
small minority of chinese and indian shopkeepers who started settling on
the island at the beginning of the 20th century. The language used by
most is french and a local creole, but curiously enough, one of the
official languages remains english and all public signage is in english.
There is only one town, Port Mathurin, with about 4,000 people. The rest
of the population lives all over the island in small villages and
hamlets. In Port Mathurin, most of the public administrations and banks
are located, together with a great number of small shops selling almost
everything. No big shop or supermarket, but one can find almost
everything, except for what is specifically boating stuff.
We were of course tied up at Port Mathurin in the main harbour, which is
the only place where one can tie up. No facitlity of any kind there,
except a well sheltered harbour. No water, no electricity and of course
no showers, laundry, toilets, etc...
However, after some searching, we found a shop where we could take our
laundry and got it washed, dried and ironed. We also learned that at
certain hours and in certain locations, we could get free wifi from
public administration builings.
And more importantly, plenty of restaurants, some little tiny snak bars,
some looking like real restaurants, some event with live entertainment.
On Friday, we hired a cab to visit the island. Among other things, we
visited a park where a project has been started only a few years back to
resettle giant turtles which used to cover the whole island before it
was settled. Unfortunately, seafarers believed that eating the flesh of
those giant turtles would help them fight many illnesses and as a result
those turtles were totally exterminated on the island. Today, the
project counts more than 2,000 of them and it seems to be going well.
We also visited a large cavern, well organized and very interesting.
The remainder of the island is essentially devoted to agriculture and
fishing. There is a little bit of tourism, unfortunately not much. But
there are a few resorts to welcome visitors and there are 2 flights per
day out of Mauritius.
The one thing about which all visitors are unanimous, is the
friendliness and cheerfulness of the population. Everybody is smiling at
you and greeting you everytime they come across you. It really makes a
difference and we enjoyed our stay tremendously despite the fact that
this island does not have much to offer in terms of comfort and luxury.
But what a great people !
So remember where it is, and if ever you want to spend a couple of weeks
in paradise at a very affordable price, this is it !