Adieu Ile Maurice

I believe ‘adieu’ is more final than ‘au revoir”? I think this is most likely the case for this crew of Jerrican.

This is our second visit to the island in just more than three months and it has been very different to our first one in August. At that time we were rushing to effect repairs and meet a deadline. On our first stopover we hardly had time to explore and really only got to know downtown Port Louis and the upmarket waterfront development of Caudan Marina.

This time, we spent the minimum amount of time in Port Louis and made our way north to Grand Bay where we spent two weeks at anchor as guests of the lovely Grand Baie Yacht Club. Another reason for not spending time in Port Louis was the arrival of the ARC Round the World Rally fleet of 26 boats, most of whom were over 50ft. The La Caudan Marina was cleared of all other boats to accommodate them.

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We had a minor electrical problem in Port Louis that caused our ignition to only work sporadically, and being a weekend, could not find anyone to assist with repairs. Finding skilled people is challenging enough in your home town, to find a marine electrician in a foreign country is often quite daunting. Fortunately, the noonsite.com website has a referral for a man called Ivan and what a gem he turned out to be! A local youngster, trained on ships and now running his own show. He said he would see me at 16h00 and at 15h55, he called and said he was en route and on schedule. Of course the ignition system worked perfectly for the next ten or so attempts to start the motor and I was starting to feel somewhat foolish until it fortunately failed again! Ivan ran through every wire in the system, ruling out every potential connection issue and eventually we came to the conclusion that the start inhibitor circuit, preventing one from starting the motor in gear, was faulty. It has an electronic switch that needs to close in order to complete the ignition circuit and sometimes it was staying open. Easily fixed with WD40 and so far, so good. I also received a lesson in hot wiring Diesel engines and can now bypass the ignition circuit and start the motor with a screwdriver shorting the starter motor and battery! I’ve always wondered how that was done, it looks so easy in the movies!

Arriving in Grand Bay the following morning after a 2 hour motor up the coast, we went ashore to the yacht club and I met the Club Manager, Phillipe. Formalities took all of five minutes and as far as I recall, the only rules we had to abide by were that we needed to be adequately attired at all times and we were not to bring visitors to the club without his consent! The fee for staying at anchor and using the club facilities was exactly zero for the first month and then Rs 500 per week ($16) thereafter, but this would probably not be charged!

The club is in a stunning location at the NE end of Grand Bay and has upmarket hotels as neighbours on three sides making it a very exclusive position. There are several racer/cruisers on the swing moorings and a few cruiser/racers as well as a couple of out and out cruisers. Racing activity seems to be limited to Saturday afternoons but in the best island tradition, sailing is an everyday affair! The club has showers and wifi, a restaurant and a bar putting it on a par with clubs like False Bay Yacht Club, just without the avid sports fans and Wednesday night racing.

Fellow cruisers in the bay were from Germany, Austria, USA and Israel and several sociable evenings were spent braaiing on a beach adjacent to the yacht club. I am constantly reminded of the collective wisdom, knowledge and experience of a group of cruisers. If anyone has a problem, no matter what, chances are one of the others has had it before and knows just how to resolve it! The tips and advice I received from two cruisers on setting up my wind vane were worth more than any manual or instruction book that came with the equipment.

One of the reasons for spending more time in Mauritius was to resolve a problem we had been experiencing with our steering that had been getting progressively stiffer as we sailed. It was stiff when we started out and I expected it to loosen up with time and use. The opposite was true and although we were always able to steer by hand (maybe that should read, wrestle), we were not able to use the windvane self steering. This was inconvenient, but manageable, while we had a four person crew. When we are reduced to just two of us, it would have made life unbearable. Our friend and boat builder, Jeremy Behrens, exhibiting Customer Care above and beyond the call of duty, offered to fly out to Mauritius and make the necessary repairs to the steering system for us!

I reserved time on a travel lift in Port Louis, but Jeremy was confident he could make the repairs without slipping the boat. As it turned out, he was right and between us we managed to remove the ‘shoe’ on the bottom of the skeg, drop the rudder through the bottom of the boat using the main halyard and a snatch block off the radar arch, and remove the shaft bearings that were causing the problem. An amazing system of blocks and tackle had to be rigged up in order to pull the rudder down and out, due to the friction in the bearings. I would never in my wildest dreams have thought that two bricks bound together with duct tape would be an essential part of a rudder repair kit!

Having removed the bearings, we needed to find a lathe to re-machine them to a slightly less ‘perfect’ fit. Asking around at the yacht club we were given the name of a man with a General Dealer shop, and a machine shop in the back! It didn’t sound too promising, but after a 15 minute taxi drive we were in Gadel’s amazing workshop. He has machines going back literally decades and skilled workmen to operate them. An hour and a half later and we were on our way back to the boat with bearings that were bored 0.5mm larger than they had been before. Within an hour, the whole lot was reassembled in fading light, mostly from under water without the aid of scuba gear! It all worked perfectly! What a relief.

The following day was spent tidying up all the loose ends and getting packed up and ready for a test sail to Flat Island, 6 miles to the north of Mauritius. The test sail was great and Jerrican felt like a brand new boat! One finger steering and responsive like I would never have expected. I’m still not sure whether to be pissed off that the steering wasn’t like that from day one or relieved that it is right now!

In hindsight, we have had a real positive from the situation. We all have learnt to steer our boat in conditions from benign to horrific and that has a value in that we now understand how she behaves, or doesn’t! All that remains now is to get the wind vane working correctly, and passage making will hopefully be a lot less stressful.

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In between the boat fixing, we did manage to find time to explore the island a bit. Hiring a car for a day, we drove slowly around the North of the island, heading east and then south to the airport. The beaches around the Perybere area were really beautiful, as was the ‘wilder’ east coast. Unfortunately, with the amount of development along the coast, one tends to see a lot of boundary walls and not a lot of coast! I was left with an impression that there has been a lot of money made in Mauritius by a lot of people in the last 20 years, resulting in a vibrant and relatively inclusive economy. There is certainly very obvious evidence of South African investment in Mauritius, and everywhere one looks, or listens, there is proof! Pam Golding, Seeff, Woolworths and Mugg & Bean, Spar and Ocean Basket, Spur, Keg, Steers and Nandos make up some of the familiar brands! Mauritius is no longer a remote and exotic island destination but rather a vibrant, bustling, first world country. Seemingly a good place to do business and definitely a destination for high spending leisure tourists to indulge their every desire.

We spent a leisurely morning exploring the Botanical Gardens in Pamplemousse. These are apparently the third largest botanical gardens in the world and were worth the time and money spent wandering around them. Getting there was a short and inexpensive trip on a local bus from Grand Baie.

For cruising yachtsmen, Mauritius probably does not tick too many boxes as one is limited to three options in terms of mooring. There is La Caudan Marina in the heart of downtown Port Louis, Grand Baie in the North in the centre of touristville or Black River in the south which we did not visit, but did hear positive reports about.

La Caudan was relatively inexpensive at Rs 350 per night ($11) which included water, electrical connection if available, and the use of nice clean toilets and showers. The vibrant fresh goods market is within easy walking distance as is the old part of Port Louis city. The downside is that it is in a busy waterfront development and you are always part of the attractions on show.

Grand Baie is free as one sits at anchor and has access to the facilities of the Grand Bay Yacht Club. The downside is that Grand Baie is open to the north and any swell with a northerly element can make for a bit of a rolly anchorage. Sometimes one would be hard pressed to distinguish between swell and wake from the numerous tourist boats, and the Coast Guard, the worst offenders of the lot! Personally, I didn’t mind the activity on the water and we were anchored far enough off shore that the disco music from the hotels at night didn’t worry me at all.

Apparently, Black River is a quieter and more remote option according to fellow cruisers who holed up there while Port Louis was being ARC’d! The anchorage for monohulls is almost a mile offshore so a decent outboard and dinghy would make all the difference!

Officialdom was without fail, courteous and efficient, if somewhat time consuming! Multiple forms had to be filled in, some with several pieces of carbon paper. Many crew lists had to be produced, the details laboriously copied down into ledgers, and then the original stapled to the page etc etc. And every piece of paper had to have the boat’s stamp on it too!

There were things we wanted to do but did not get to do in Mauritius and perhaps that was the best way to leave it? There will always be something to see if we do end up there again!

The weather forecasts for the trip back to South Africa showed a couple of days with very light winds from the north east which would have meant motoring until we encountered better breeze…… but that would have been an unnecessary expense, so when we got an email from the Port Captain in St Pierre in Reunion, it made perfect sense to do the overnight sail to France and wait for more favourable weather in a place we hadn’t yet seen, but really wanted to!

Next stop, St Pierre!

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