Gear Failure!

We had a frustrating start to our short passage from Mauritius to Réunion, but it got even worse. We left on a nice sunny day, with flat seas on the west side of the island. The breeze was very light and shifty at the start. The shifts appeared to be due to the land verses sea breeze effect near the island. Once we got further out, I hoped we would get the east wind that was forecasted. Instead, we had a WSW wind of about 10 knots for the next 2 to 3 hours – which was the direction we were going! The forecast appeared to be dead wrong.

Broken Block

Broken Block

Once we got about 30 miles away from Port Louis, and well past the southern end of the island, the winds finally started coming from the SSE. This meant we could raise our sails, so we did. I had just tweaked the mainsail for a close reach by letting off the topping lift for the boom, and tightening the main sheet to flatten the sail. We had some sloppy seas at this point and suddenly the boat lurched and the boom got tossed a bit. Then “Bang!” and the mainsail came down in a flash. After I shouted a four-letter word, I looked and saw that the block that attaches to the head of the sail had broken and the halyard was now left at the top of the mast (not broken). See the picture to the right of the broken block.

Apparently the sun had created some wear and tear on the plastic sheave, and it cracked when we tightened the sail with the winches, and the boom smack just finished the job.

The rest of the trip we just motor sailed with the jib. It was light winds anyway, so we just got there a few hours faster than we would have if we had sailed part of the way (and a bit poorer thanks to the extra 15+ gallons of fuel we spent). We were just glad this happened on this short 140 miles trip, and not at the beginning of the 2000 mile trip from Cocos Keeling to Rodrigues!

Today I found the block we need at a US company and ordered it over the Internet to be delivered here as quick as possible. With any luck it’ll show up sometime next week while we’re doing sightseeing here in very beautiful Réunion!

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Next Stop Réunion

We plan to leave today for the French island of Réunion. It is only about 140 nautical miles from Port Louis, Mauritius (where we are now) to Le Port, Réunion. It will be an over night trip and we aren’t leaving until after noon so we don’t arrive before dawn tomorrow.

Passage to Réunion

Passage to Réunion

Réunion island has some spectacular terrain and scenery. Since it is a French island, they reportedly have some nice roads which give you an opportunity to drive around the mountains. There are also some excellent hiking and backpacking treks available.

It turns out Google Earth has some high resolution 3D terrain for Reunion. You can see the amazing mountainous terrain by zooming in and tilting your view.

Reunion in Google Earth

Reunion in Google Earth

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Fueling Adventure

Last Wednesday, I went ashore to evaluate getting fuel at the Grand Baie Yacht Club. When we got our free membership a month ago, they told us it would be possible to get fuel at their fuel dock – that there would be just enough depth for us. I had noticed when parking the dinghy that one end was quite shallow, but it looked deeper along most of the dock. The manager confirmed that it should be fine at high tide, and so I suggested we come back the next day at high tide. Later that day, the winds picked up and I checked the weather. Oh boy.

We were planning to leave on Sunday to move the boat back to Port Louis in preparation for our trip to Reunion. Grand Baie is the only good place for us to get diesel fuel for the boat. But, the weather forecast was showing strong winds 25-30 knots for the next three days. On Thursday, the winds were indeed strong, and so we didn’t go fill fuel as planned.

Friday around noon, I went to talk the the yacht club about whether they were open on Sunday. He said only in the morning, but the high tide wasn’t until mid-afternoon. The winds were more variable at the moment though, and he confirmed it should be possible to tie up since it was close to high tide.

After preparing the boat with fenders and lines, we raised the anchor and proceeded carefully between the shallows and the boats and moorings. The winds of course picked up to 20-25 knots at this time. We tossed the bow line to the one guy they sent out to help. I tried to get the stern closer, but the winds kept pushing us away. Eventually we got a stern line out and with some help from the motor while the winds died, and brute strength, we managed to finally get the boat tied off on the dock. Whew!

The fueling proceeded fine, and we got the tanks topped up. As I was putting the hose away though, the nozzle tipped down and leaked fuel a bit and the wind blasted splatters right onto my clothes! Ugh.

After paying for the fuel, we went to toss the lines. The small cleats they had at the dock, and the strong winds, caused the knots in the lines to get knotted up too tight. It took us a while to get them loose. We even had to use a screwdriver to help pry them loose. But, finally we were able to cast off the lines and head back to anchor. Our two hour fueling adventure was finally over!

In the map below you can see the fuel dock on the lower right, and the mark showing where we are anchored on the left. The winds were coming from the lower right (east-south-east).

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Faster Arrival Back to US Planned

Apparently some of you weren’t aware, that due to our extra year spent in Asia (because of the eye treatments in Singapore), it had a ripple effect on our plans to get home. We had changed our original 5.5 year trip to 6.5 years. We are spending this year getting across the Indian Ocean, and arriving to South Africa close to the end of the year (during their spring/summer). Then we were going to cross to South America and spend next year’s hurricane season with the boat at a marina (in Brazil) while we traveled over land to the many countries there. Then, during the winter months in the northern hemisphere we were going to make our way across the Caribbean and Bahamas and return in the summer of 2016.

During our lengthy time here in Mauritius, we have decided on a new plan. We’ve been longing to get back home and take a break from the travel, and we decided we can do the South America sightseeing later (with or without the boat). But, we still very much want to complete the circumnavigation. So, we are going to attempt to sail at a brisk pace from South Africa early next year and get back to the states before next year’s hurricane season in June. So, June 2015 instead of 2016.

We are excited by the prospect of getting back to the USA sooner, but we have a LOT of sailing to do between now and then (over 10,000 miles from Mauritius back to North Carolina). Things have to go very smoothly for us to get through the Caribbean before the hurricane season. These plans have a chance of being delayed due to circumstances beyond our control (like weather, boat issues, health, etc.). But, there’s a good chance we can make it happen.

Karen and I have not figured out what we will do after we finally get back to the States. We don’t know where we will live, what we will do (travel, start another business, buy a house, settle somewhere, or continue to live on the boat). We expect to initially head back to North Carolina (where we started) and spend some time reconnecting with family and friends. We hope the best ideas for the future will come to us between now and then.

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Cuadan Waterfront Spherical Panorama

Someone told me the latest Google Camera app does a much better job of stitching spherical panoramas (or as Google calls them: #Photospheres). I did some testing, but found it is still important to keep the smartphone camera in the same place to improve the quality. It occurred to me that using a stick (a walking stick for example) would make it easier to hold the camera in place. The smartphone’s camera lens still requires about 25 pictures to do a complete sphere, requiring you to turn around 5 times plus straight up/down shots. This only takes about 1-2 minutes though thanks to the fast camera speed on my Galaxy S4. Even more amazing is that it only takes 1-2 minutes for the software to stitch the images into a single panorama.

While Karen was doing some shopping at the Cuadan Waterfront shopping center, I tried out the new app in between the stores. They had recently put in a decorative “roof” of colorful umbrellas in the corridor and set out some tables and chairs. Unfortunately, there was a lot of foot traffic for this test, so the stitching ended up with a few parts of people missing, and a woman with a cast on her arm appears 4 times. But, I was amazed at the quality of the stitching otherwise, and my feet don’t appear either. All this for less than 4 minutes of effort! I will be taking more panoramas this way for sure. Here is the resulting panorama:

After you click on the “PLAY” button, make sure to select the FULLSCREEN option to see the full detail. An interesting thing to note is the detail on the sculpture close by. Are they fish kissing or people?

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Tahina Moves Down the Coast

We spent three weeks at Grand Baie, a nice place to park the boat. Nice access to restaurants, grocery stores, and shopping centers. And, we were able to pick up free WIFI from a hotel. Last week I went to an eyeglasses store. My right eye has had time to stabilize after the cataract procedure I had in March, so it was time for new prescription glasses. I ordered a complete set of distance glasses, reading glasses, and sunglasses.

Over the weekend, I researched what we needed to get our visas renewed because the immigration officer when we checked in only gave us one month. Apparently other boats got two months, but for some reason our official wasn’t so kind. It turns out that we needed a bunch of paperwork to apply for an extension, and one item is a bit difficult. They wanted proof of where we would be staying for the next month. Saying you are “at anchor” isn’t good enough. Fortunately, the marina at Port Louis is aware of this problem. When you go to the marina you get a “contract” that is valid for a month or more if you need it. You’re not obligated to stay there each night.

So, we moved Tahina down to Port Louis on Monday and after getting our contract went to the immigration office in town to do the paperwork. The officer required us to write a letter explaining everything (already evident from the paperwork), then after we got him copies for everything (about 10 pages of documents) he looked things over. Of course, he found something else he wanted which required me to go back to the boat. Mind you, this had nothing to do with immigration, it had to do with the boat (a customs thing). But, it’s better not to argue with a bureaucrat, so I asked if it was ok if my wife didn’t come back with me – which he said was fine. So, an hour later (after lunch) I was able to go back and complete our visa extension for another month and get our passports stamped accordingly. Its funny, but I barely get upset anymore by these things. We’ve endured much worse hassles and there’s really not much you can do.

It was nice being in the marina actually. We got to rinse off the boat, top up our water tank, take showers with unlimited hot water, and we visited with some other boats. Our friends on s/v Solace were there one last day. We got to have dinner with them and the next day they left for Reunion. We met up with s/v Blue Heeler who arrived from Rodrigues two weeks ago. Four more boats arrived from Rodrigues – two French boats, a German boat, and a Canadian – all mono-hulls. Apparently they all arrived shortly after we departed Rodrigues.

On Wednesday, we got some fresh veggies at the very nice market in Port Louis and recharged Karen’s phone. Then we left Port Louis and sailed south to the Black River anchorage. The views of the mountains of Mauritius are quite beautiful as you go down the coast. We had increasingly faster winds as we went south. By the time we got to Black River we were on a tight reach, double reefed and had to make several tacks with 30+ knots apparent winds. But, it was actually a very enjoyable sail.

We plan to stay here at Black River a few days, and then head back north to Grand Baie to pick up my glasses. The views of the mountains here are really nice though, maybe we’ll stay longer. Here is a map showing our new location. I’ll post photos later.

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Sightseeing in Mauritius

Finally getting around to processing the sightseeing we have done in Mauritius. We spent two days with Paul and Gina of s/v Solace visiting some of the main sightseeing destination of Mauritius, and I’ve been meaning to share the photos. Below is a summary of the sightseeing.

Sugar factory museum

Sugar factory museum

On the first day we went to Pomplemousses (a town) which is home for the Sugar Factory museum – L’Adventure du Sucre – an outstanding museum with lots of information about the history of Mauritius as well as about the sugar cane industry here. You could easily spend many hours here, so come prepared to spend some time. There’s a nice – but pricey – restaurant on the premises.

Water lilies

Giant water lilies

Next we went to the state-sponsored botanical gardens of Pomplemousses – the highlight here was the lilie pad ponds. They also have tortoises, deer, lots of interesting trees, and, of course, many flowers.

At Chamarel Falls

At Chamarel Falls

The next day, we took a car to visit the south part of the island around the Black River Gorges National Park. We started with the Chamarel waterfalls and the Seven Colors of Earth exhibit (a strange natural phenomena of exposed colorful geological Earth that has no growth due to metals in the soil), then we went to the Chamarel rum factory and did some rum tasting.

Next we drove through the Black River Gorges and I took a 360 panorama of the gorge overlook (see the post), then we went to Grand Bassin Road which is a hindu pilgrimage area to the Grand Bassin Temples. There are some huge hindu statues along the road.

Finally we went to the Bois Cherie tea factory. The factory wasn’t operational at the moment, but we went to the tea tasting restaurant they have at the top of the hills there with a stupendous view island. Because of limited time (they were closing soon), and it being late in the day, we forgot to take pictures!

Here is a full slideshow of various images of our visit here in Mauritius, including the sightseeing:

View full-sized slideshow

Since the sightseeing tour, we have been mostly sitting idle on our boat in Grand Baie just dilly-dallying around and playing on our computers. We have had lots of time to wait here in Mauritius while we stage for our next move to Reunion – which we expect to make within the next 2 weeks or so. Our days recently have just been filled with going to the grocery store for fresh bakery items, eating out at restaurants, visiting with other boats, and planning future trips.

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First Mauritius 360 Panorama

A couple of days ago, we joined up with our new friends on s/v Solace (Paul and Gina who are originally from New Zealand, but also are US citizens having worked and lived there for 20 years), and hired a car to see some sights around Mauritius. Our focus was to see some of the sights on the south end of the island. We visited a rum factory, a tea factory, a geological sight, a Hindu temple, and the Black River Gorges National Park. We stopped at the Gorges Viewpoint at the top of the ridge, which has a great view of the gorges, and I took a 360 panorama there. The view starts with the Gorge view. There was a couple embracing near the fence who showed no signs of leaving, so I took the picture anyway :-). You can see a waterfall on the cliff wall the to the east. Paul and Gina can be seen sitting in the picnic shelter to the south.

Here is the resulting panorama (Make sure to click on the FULLSCREEN button after you start it up):

Black Gorges Viewpoint in world

This 360 was taken with an SLR with a Sigma 8mm fisheye lens, and processed with PTGuiPro for stitching, and some other photo editing tools.

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Grand Baie in Mauritius

Grand Baie Yacht Club

Grand Baie Yacht Club

After a few days at Port Louis – the port of entry in Mauritius, we moved Tahina 10 miles north to Grand Baie – which is a large protected anchorage. This is the preferred location for cruising sailors to keep their boat during their stay in Mauritius. The shoreline is dotted with beaches, beach bars, restaurants, and resorts. The Grand Baie Yacht Club welcomes foreign sailors with a free 2 month membership – which includes access to their showers, cafe, bar, and fuel dock. The picture here is from the yacht club cafe (it only shows a small part of the bay).

We have spent over a week at Grand Baie getting settled and learning what’s available to us during the next few weeks we are staying here. One of the highlights at Grand Baie is a new hyper-market/shopping center called “Super U” a half-mile away from the end of the bay. The supermarket portion is just like any large super market you would see in the US, with the addition of a nice selection of french-style bakery choices. So, we are all set on supermarket foods. We also have sampled some of the restaurants and found a nice happy-hour bar for inexpensive drinks at sunset.

Yesterday we took a bus and did some sightseeing inland. And today we are hiring a car to travel to the far end of the island to do more. I’ll post about the sightseeing later.

Here’s a map showing our location at Grand Baie. The map is interactive if you want to zoom in and see more.

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Underwater Photos from The Rip

The Rip

The Rip

Our favorite snorkeling spot in the Cocos Keeling Islands was right next to Direction Island in a narrow channel known as “The Rip”. The channel allowed waters from the windward side of the island group to enter the lagoon. The speeds at the surface seemed to be going at 4-5 knots at least. Despite this, you could easily snorkel across the fast part with fins in a minute and find yourself in slower currents above beautiful coral reefs with lots of fish.

The Rip is a marine protected area that allows no fishing or poaching of shells or coral. The fish here are not very shy of humans, and so you have the chance to observe grouper and other fish absent from most locations. They are attracted to the feeding possibilities brought by the currents. Frequently seen here are larger fish such as grouper, titan triggerfish, shark, napoleon wrasse, jacks, and sweetlips. And, the usual collection of smaller reef fish. One thing we did not see were any anemone or clownfish.

Although we previously shared a few underwater photos, I wanted to share a larger album of photos from The Rip. Make sure to click on the larger version below:

View larger version

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