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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Passage to Port Louis in Mauritius

On Tuesday morning we completed the clearances to leave Rodrigues starting at about 9 AM. Our friends on s/v Gryphon 2 decided to leave in the morning as well. Karen and I got in the dinghy and rode back to Tahina, raised the dinghy and prepped the boat for departure. We raised the hook and followed Gryphon 2 out the ship channel. As soon as we were out of the channel, we put out our jib sail and turned off our engines to head downwind for a mile or so until we were clear of the large reef surrounding Rodrigues.

Spinnaker flying

Spinnaker flying

The winds were east at about 12-14 knots, and we were headed west. Sunny with a few clouds, and the seas were pretty calm. Perfect weather for our spinnaker! So, once we were clear of the reef, we put out the spinnaker and were making about 7.5 knots. The weather held all day and we had a delightful sail. By 4 PM, the winds had picked up a little to about 18 knots, and was now coming a bit south of east – as we expected. We were sailing pretty fast (8 to 10 knots), but we decided we didn’t want to fly the spinnaker at night.

So, we took the spinnaker down and went to main and jib. We were able to sail mostly on course the whole night. The moon was waning gibbous and rose a bit before 10 PM, so we had that to help light our way. During the night it clocked a bit back towards the east, and we were forced to “tack” a bit by either going wing on wing or going a bit south of course with both jib and main. In the first 24 hours we had made 177 nautical miles (just past the half-way point since the trip was 350 miles total). By mid morning we were flying the spinnaker again and made good speed on another very nice day of sailing. The seas were up a bit, but were behind us. We again took the spinnaker down at 4 PM, and the winds had clocked to east-south-east. So, we were able to sail at a very good pace with the main and jib with a reef in them.

The night sail into Mauritius was wonderful. I was back on watch at 2 AM with a the moon up. We could already see the lights of Mauritius. We had occasional swells behind us up to 6 to 9 feet, which we just surfed going up to 10-12 knots average. Our arrival time estimate showed us getting there at first light. Perfect! At about 5 AM we passed the northern tip of Mauritius about 2 miles off shore.

The winds actually clocked a bit further to the southeast, which made it possible for us to sail right around the north west side and down south towards Port Louis, which is the port of entry at Mauritius. It was another 15 miles or so, and by that time it was 7 AM and the sun was up. Plus the seas were flat. What a delightful sail!

I awakened Karen 45 minutes before we arrived. We called the port control and got permission to enter the port. Cargo ships were arriving and getting clearances as well. This is a busy port as we saw a couple dozen ships inside and anchored out as well. We dropped our sails at the entrance and motored for the first time since we left Rodrigues. By 7:30 we were at the customs wharf after just short of 46 hours door to door! By 8:30 we had completed the paperwork for everything but immigration. The immigration guy showed up at 9 AM and a few minutes later we were done.

Here is the map of our location. Zoom in to see our exact location in the marina and to get a better look at the waterfront area.

Port Louis and Waterfront

Port Louis and Waterfront

We then moved Tahina across the water to the Cuadan Waterfront where there is a small marina. The waterfront is a nice modern shopping complex with a movie theater, lots of restaurants and bars, and shopping stores. We found several of the boats we knew from Rodrigues still here. They gave us some important tips on the marina and area. Karen soon went back to sleep as she needed rest. I spent the rest of the day getting the boat situated, paying the marina, and washing down the boat with fresh water.

Port Louis is a modern city with all the expected pluses and minuses. Familiar fast food places, modern shopping stores and malls, sky scrapers, and lots and lots of people. It also has the familiar sounds of police and fire sirens, loud music on the weekend nights, and traffic. We are told crime is a bit of a problem here and its best to take taxis at night rather than walking in the city.

We will soon be moving Tahina to a large bay to the north called Grand Baie. This is the preferred place to lay at anchor as it caters to visiting yachts and is not situated near a big city. We can take a bus or taxi, or hire a car, if we need to visit other parts of the island.

It turns out the movie theater near the marina doesn’t show movies in English. Only in French. But, we found out there are two malls that show movies in English at 6 PM. We ended up going to a movie on Friday night with the crew of s/v Solace (a New Zealand boat with Gina and Paul on board). At dinner we ate at a really nice brewery and restaurant called Flying Dodo. We saw “Edge of Tomorrow” which was entertaining, but very Hollywood – not great sci-fi.

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Rodrigues Photo Album

Port Mathurin

Port Mathurin

Tomorrow we are planning to leave Rodrigues for the 350 mile sail to Mauritius. We have had a wonderful respite at Rodrigues after the 2000 mile sail to get here. But, there is a weather window opening for the next trip and so we are going to head out. I’ve prepared a photo album below that captures some of the better views we have seen around the island. The album starts with photos of our arrival at the Port Mathurin wharf (behind the red roofed building on the left), and scenes from the mountainsides above the town including some with Tahina at anchor where we moved after the first week.

Bluff Cherie

Bluff Cherie

The album then moves on to scenes from our driving around the island including Grand Baie, Pointe Cotton and the beaches on the east end, and then the bluff on the south island where I’ve climbed several times to capture views of the lagoon on the south side of the island. Picture of the bluff is seen here.

Tortoise petting

Tortoise petting

We joined the crews of Threeships and Gryphon 2 for a tour of the Francois Legaut Tortoise Preserve. Rodrigues was once home to as many as 500,000 land tortoises, but in the 1700s the Dutch and other sailors visiting and living here decimated the population until they were extinct in less than 100 years. For the past several years organizers have been trying to re-introduce species from Indonesia and Madagascar and now have over 2000 tortoises in their farm location on the west side of the island near the airport. We found out the larger tortoises are not only domesticated, but they very much enjoy having their necks stroked as shown here when Karen tried it. The larger tortoises have a sizable area in a ravine to attempt to confine them. But, some have figured out how to walk up the steps and escape to the surrounding farm land. The preserve also offers a cavern walk, but it was not very exciting if you’ve seen lots of caves.

Here is the photo album with lots of pretty views of Rodrigues and the tortoises. Definitely worth a look!

View full-sized slideshow

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Spherical Panorama from Bluff at Rodrigues

Bluff Cherie

Bluff Cherie

When we rented a car a few days ago to do our initial exploration of the island of Rodrigues, we were amazed at the beautiful views from the many volcanic mountain ridges. Not only could you see the deep blue expanse of the Indian Ocean, but the large lagoon surrounded by reefs extending up to four miles from the shoreline is a beautiful sight indeed. One time we accidentally turned down the wrong road leading towards the shore, and the road ended at this rocky cliff bluff which obviously had a great view of the larger southern reef. Later I went to climb the bluff, and it did indeed have a wonderful view. So much so, I again went back to take a 360 panorama to show the full view to give you a real sense of what it was like. Check out the 360 panorama below (make sure to click the FULLSCREEN option). Below the picture is a description telling more about what you are seeing.

Rodrigues Bluff Reef View in world

The name of the bluff on the local map is “Montagne Cherie” and it is marked as 162.2m in height. I stood on the top of a rock (look down in the 360 to see it), sitting on top of another rock, that was heavily pocked with erosion (almost like limestone rather than the volcanic rock I think it is). You can see the shadow of the rocks which looks odd until I explained the two rocks on top of each other below you. If you look down to the east, you can also see how we are 10-15 meters above the surrounding terrain with the cliffs of the bluff below you. The top of the bluff is covered in grass with a few trees and rocks dotted around. The main lagoon you can see is situated to the south of the island. You can see a pass of darker blue water through the reef. This is the passage of deeper water which boats can use to enter through the reef to Port Sud Est (South East), aptly named since it is on the south east coast.

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Enjoying Rodrigues

Pot Luck Dinner

Pot Luck Dinner

We are enjoying our time in Rodrigues. The first few days were spent getting settled, getting SIM cards for our phones (for Internet), cleaning up the boat and making minor repairs, and finding out what we needed to know about the island. The cruisers at the wharf organized some pot luck dinners (everyone brings some food) near one of the commercial buildings on the wharf. It was a good way to get to know crews from the other eight boats here: s/v Threeships, s/v Gryphon 2, s/v Alibi, s/v Yovo, s/v Delwhinney, s/v Gimat, s/v Coroisk, and s/v Blue Heeler.

Karen and I rented a car one day and just drove some of the main roads to get a feel for the island. I really like the volcanic mountain ridges which provide many ideal locations for houses to have fabulous views of the ocean, the extensive reef around the island, and the fertile valleys surrounding everywhere. It was a good introduction to the island before we started more targeted tours.

We moved Tahina into the harbor because the wharf was getting a bit swelly, and because we just like the feel of being at anchor verses tied to a wharf. We are parked as close to the reef as we can so that when the bi-weekly supply ship arrives this weekend, we may not have to move. All the boats on the wharf will have to move.

Some of the boats that arrived before us have left for Mauritius already. And more are leaving in the coming days. We’ll probably stay a week to 10 days longer before making the 2+ day trip.

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