Map: Mauritius Island. Rodriguez is the small dot on the right. View Larger Map
The boats M'Lady and Joggins accompanied Suka out the channel. We sailed in their company for a time, but eventually diverged away to the south. As we angled ever southward, out of the trades and into the variables, the wind fell light. Laggardly progress notwithstanding, though, we celebrated our crossing the circumnavigation's antipode. San Diego lay some 8,000 miles directly below Suka's keel, so we had sailed half-way round the world.
During our third evening at sea, we approached a tremendous wall of black cloud extending from the north-east to the south-west horizons. This was the typical manifestation of cold-frontal activity in the southern hemisphere. Quickening to this portent of impending gale force winds, we battened Suka tightly, reefed the sails, and prepared for the worst. Oddly, though, the frontal system was not approaching quickly, and we sailed into it perhaps an hour later. The wind died - the next indication of an imminent lambasting gale. Yet even after we had motored into a virtual wall of rainfall, the wind remained inanimate. Nevertheless, Heaven's floodgates had been thrown open; the downpour was astonishing.
Half an hour later we emerged from the backside of the deluge, and met once again with clear skies. Looking aft at the unbroken wall of black cloud, we saw that it resulted not from a cold front, but a compression wave streaming off the island of Mauritius like a volcanic plume.
Throughout the night we motor-sailed onward into an ever-heading breeze, while the lights of Mauritius beckoned temptingly, 30 miles to the north. Reunion stood another 120 miles farther on, and here we decided that rather than slopping about and motoring into head winds, we would detour from our course and visit Mauritius for a few days before resuming the jaunt under hopefully more favorable winds.
Nearing the south end of Mauritius.
Suka sails past a commanding, 1,800-foot high bastille of rock called The Morne.
The air was so remarkably clear that Mauritius appeared to stand fairly close; but incredibly we spent the next 15 hours closing the coast and motor-sailing along the island's seaboard to Port Louis. At the south-west corner of the island stands a commanding, 1,800-foot high Bastille of rock called The Morne, and farther along the west coastline rise the gantries of several spectacular peaks. These provided a striking backdrop, while in the foreground a few local fishing prams sprinted homeward with surprising agility.
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At dusk we sailed into the small port, and found a dozen yachts rafted clamorously together in the back of the harbor, dancing out of step with the rhythm of the incoming surge. The packet seemed ridiculously over-crowded, and unaccommodating to yet another yacht, so groping in darkness we motored about the harbor searching for suitable mooring.
We decided to tie alongside the wharf between two large ships berthed against the port's sou-southeast wall. The evening's off-shore wind was now blowing with some vigor, necessitating that I keep Suka moving briskly in order to maintain steerageway. About 100 feet from the jetty Suka's keel struck the bottom with a bone crunching jolt, and she shuddered to a standstill. We had heard many warnings about Mauritius, but none included the danger of grounding within the principal harbor. How ironic, I thought, to have safely crossed most of the infamous Indian Ocean without mishap, only to converge with a submerged pile of rocks within a major harbor.
We inflated the dinghy, and Jenny pulled a line aft and made it fast to a gargantuan buoy. Then I nearly wrenched one of Suka's primary winches from the cockpit coaming while attempting to grind the brig free. After unshipping the Danforth from its chocks on the foredeck, we flaked its line from its naval pipe, then Jenny rowed and deployed the kedge athwartships. I rove the kedge rode through a block, which I made fast to the halyard and hoisted aloft. From there the kedge rode led to an aligning block at the toe rail and thence to the other primary winch. Essentially pulling from the masthead, we heeled Suka far over, but even with both of us grinding full strength, and with Perkins straining mightily in reverse, the ketch remained grounded.
Speaking into the microphone, I summoned assistance. "Suka calling M'Lady and Joggins. Hey you guys, we've run aground!"
A French yachtsman named Michel Martin radioed the French speaking Port Control on our behalf, and asked for suggestions. Michel then related to us that a tug could be dispatched, but at great expense. Otherwise, we could simply await the rising tide. Well, I reasoned, at least we had obeyed one of the fundamentals of running aground: doing so on a flooding tide.
John and Ned came to our aid, and helped pull the heeling anchor rode. This rolled Suka a little farther. Finally the rising tide, with the added help of my winch grinding, lifted Suka's keel free of the rocks, whereupon she sprung backward, relieving the stretch of the bar-taut stern warp. Not wishing to have another go at the wharf, we made fast between two mammoth buoys, using long lines as though Suka were a freighter.
“Oddly, John fell asleep at the table during his own party. But then, the day had been a long one for us all.”
"You two come over to Joggins," John admonished. "We caught a beaut' today, and everyone's invited over for dinner." Oddly, John fell asleep at the table during his own party. But then, the day had been a long one for us all.
The following morning after we had checked in with the officials, the immigration officer asked if we had any booze to sell, as though we were bootlegging. "But don't tell the customs officers," he implored in a transparent tone that suggested a collusion.
After visiting the post office we set sail on the 13 mile jaunt north to Grand Baie, where one could anchor anywhere within the expansive cove, and reputedly, from where one could ride the bus back to Port Louis to check out. M'Lady sailed with Suka in close formation, and for such an occasion the respective crews had exchanged cameras, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to obtain photographs of our respective yachts under sail. The entrance to Grand Baie proved remarkably shallow, but Suka negotiated it without grounding. And indeed, the anchorage was pleasant, save for two inconveniences. Potable water was scarce, and the surrounds, in fact the entire island, seemed to be infested with thieves. For example, rumor had it that five yachts had lost their dinghies here during the previous month.
The brine was transparent, so wearing mask and fins I dove overboard and surveyed the keel for the damage undoubtedly incurred during the grounding. All I found, though, were a few insignificant scratches.
The bus ride to the generally sordid city of Port Louis proved interesting on a once-only basis. The countryside comprised small fields of sugar cane surrounded and interspersed with large piles, up to 15 feet high, of big rocks. These rocks had of course originally festooned the fields, and the farmers had laboriously cleared them by hand. Statistically, this island supports the third most densely populated country in the world, with over 500 persons per square kilometer. As such, the second half of the bus ride was through unending urban sprawl.
In the city we visited the offices of customs and harbor revenue. Then after a long walk in search of the immigration office, stopping a few times to ask directions, we located the sought-after office. There, a supercilious functionary refused to grant us clearance, until such time as we had brought the yacht back to Port Louis.
There was no arguing his decision, so from his office we ambled to the thronging market, and mingled with the locals while conversing with a few of them. Fresh fruit and vegetables were bountiful, and the vendors worked over their displays industriously. The market place was redolent of herbs, spices, incense, and flowers, baked bread and sweets. Live chickens were caged in wire crates, stacked half a dozen high. Recently slaughtered beef seemed to abound. I found the kaleidoscopic sights and smells intriguing. Central markets are unique, for here the visitor can interact with the locals as they buy and sell their produce and wares, and one has the opportunity to be a part of the everyday scene. This was the same feeling I had experienced at similar markets at Papeete, Vava'u, and Suva, and even at Rodriguez.
With our day-packs loaded with fresh food, we wandered among the outdoor stalls where craftsmen and vendors peddled their wares. These people were oftentimes more aggressive; men, women, and children clamored for our attention, insisting we come inspect whatever they were selling.
Not far from the waterfront we located the Merchant Mariners Club, where yachtees were welcome. Inside the high fence, the grounds were clean, well groomed, and delightfully shaded and cool. Indoors we escaped the bustling, dusty sidewalks, and while relaxing each with a cold drink in hand, quietly we visited with a few other yachtsmen.
The afternoon passed quickly. Soon we caught a bus that jostled us for two hours back to Grande Baie. We were weary from our day of dealing with officials, and of shopping in the boisterous city, so we were glad to paddle back to our quiet home.
A few days later we sailed back to Port Louis, and after gaining our clearance papers we filled away, happily taking leave of the moiling din.