Last stop before Africa
The one night sail from Port Louis in Mauritius to the French island Reunion was a beautiful trip in the light from the full moon. When we rounded south east of the island just before sunrise, we could almost see the top of the active volcano 3000 meter above sea level. When we before noon arrived in Saint Pierre the harbor was full of yachts, but there was of course room for one more yacht…
As for the French in general, also in Reunion it was difficult to make the inhabitants speak anything else but – French. Cannily after a while we still managed to urge some of the local people to use their English skills. Checking in to Reunion was an easy procedure. With four passports in his hand the Captain said hello to the Port Captain – and if we did not hear from him within one hour or so, everything was considered as OK. That`s EU!
Time flies also in Reunion
Without doing too much, one week had passed in Reunion island. We had managed to check all details on board. We had also managed to stock up on conserves and other long lasting food so that the ship was ready for the next – and last - long passage across the Indian Ocean towards South Africa. In addition we had also managed to get acquainted with Saint Pierre itself, but the rest of the spectacular island was still unknown territory.
Out and about
Together with Lisbeth and Vegar from the Norwegian yacht Pomona and with Lasse and Pauli from the Swedish yacht Satumaa we drove around the island for three days. One of the days we visited a farm where we learned about the time consuming process of refining vanilla. Vanilla is an important export item from the small island. After years with recession in the vanilla industry, the demand for natural (not synthetic) vanilla has increased.
By car we also visited two out of three big craters on the island. The third crater is still active. The scenery is marvelous. Enormous forces once made the volcanic island what it is today. The last eruption was in 2010. The last BIG eruption happened in 2007 and spewed out 3 million cubic meters of lava every day. We drove over one of the lavafields from 2007. Still in 2011 it was steaming from the lava when it was raining!!
The paved roads on Reunion was worth a study themselves, as they winded up and down the hillsides. Sometimes there were so many curves in the road that it was impossible not to laugh. A few times the road curved more than 360˚ and a bridge was necessary to carry the road above itself.
In Cirque de Cilaos we drove around inside the enormous crater and up on top of some of the small mountains inside it. In the crater Cirque de Mafate there were no roads. The only way of transport was by foot or by helicopter. It was a fantastic view from the edge down into the green and lush crater.
The Dipavali festival – a Tamil light festival to honor the gods - was on when we visited Saint Pierre. At the end of the weeklong celebration there was a big parade through the main street – with beautiful costumes, dance, drums and music. The evening was rounded of with an enormous firework – to make the good gods happy and to scare away the evil spirits.
Many of the sailors were a bit afraid of the last stretch over the Indian Ocean – the stretch that also would take us across the Agulhas current east of Africa. Among many of the yachts weather was discussed back and forth.
The voyage from Reunion south of Madagascar to South Africa is so long that you can`t plan the weather the whole way beforehand. Even in 2011 the weather forecasts are not reliable enough for a 10 days sail.
When we finally threw of from Saint Pierre, it was on a good 7 days forecast. When we some days later passed south of Madagascar the grib files for the coming seven days still looked good. What we were hoping to avoid was the strong southerlies irregularly coming along the east coast of South Africa – where the Agulhas current is setting south. Current and wind in different directions sometimes create frightening waves –and in general uncomfortable sailing conditions.
The good fortune is for the lucky ones – we crossed the Agulhas current in a small gale from north. 23rd November, after an unproblematic voyage, we sailed in through the breakwaters in Richards Bay – the northern most harbor on the South African east coast. The day after our arrival the southerlies came through with full force, making not so nice conditions for the yachts arriving in the following days.
With that the Indian Ocean for us were history, and we were excited to find out what experiences awaited us in Richards Bay – and in the rest of South Africa.