Back to Sea – La Reunion to South Africa – 2nd November 2015 – 24 21 South 053 07 East

The last 3 weeks have flown by. 10 days in Mauritius, followed by a 1 day
sail to La Reunion, a week in La Reunion and now back to sea again on our
way to South Africa.

As usual for my writing, it’s the small hours of the day – 0142 to be
precise. The engine is on, all the sails are dropped and we’re motoring
along in around 5 knots of wind and pretty much flat calm seas. It’s been
like this for the last 12 hours and its a good opportunity for us all to
settle back into life at sea after virtually 3 weeks on land. It’s strange
how quickly you get out of a “sea routine” on land and always takes a few
days to adjust back to sea life. This leg has been declared a non
competitive leg – there is no racing. The reason to promote better
seamanship as we have some tricky sailing ahead of us – potentially the
toughest of the whole circumnavigation. There was no official start line –
most boats set off on Saturday – ranging from 8am through to midday with
just Luna Quest setting off the day before. No official racing means we’ve
been more relaxed on motoring when the wind drops, a little less attentive
on sail trim and more fishing (we caught 2 large Mahi Mahi today – one just
less than 1 metre, the other just over 1 metre – the fridge is full).

So why is this leg so tricky? Well, the first part from La Reunion is
relatively straightforward – light to moderate North East trade winds. The
challenges arrive from Madagascar onwards. The first big challenge is the
Aghulas current which flows North to South between South Africa and
Madagascar at up to 6 knots. This coupled with a strong Southerly breeze
means that up to 20 metre waves are whipped up in no time – this is ship
sinking stuff. Add to that the speed with which weather systems round South
Africa and pass along this way – lots of lightening storms and strong winds.
The speed is such that you can easily get 2 to 3 weather systems passing in
the course of a week. Total attentiveness is needed to the weather and if
it’s too rough, the default is to turn 180 degrees and wait until the
weather eases. Approaching Madagascar, we are advising to sail South of a
Waypoint some 150 miles South of the Island to avoid the worst of the
weather. It’s not helped by the speed at which the depths shallows out –
rapidly going from 2 km to 200 metres. Back in La Reunion, it became a daily
essential – studying the weather patterns and becoming familiar with what
lies ahead of us. Together with the other skippers we’d download our
synoptic charts and grib files and compare notes – a very useful part of
being part of a rally. Right now, we’re expecting the wind to build over the
next 2 days from the North East before a front comes through and we get
strong headwinds from the South West and big swells. As always we’re
grateful that Aretha is a big strong boat designed for seas like this.

Mauritius and La Reunion have been 2 very different experiences – so close
together (separated by only 130 miles) and so totally contrasting in just
about every way imaginable. Mauritius – famed for being a Honeymoon
destination, beautiful white sand beaches, luxurious hotels and relatively
flat over the Island, the culture a curious mixture of Asian, African with
English and French influences. In every way a vibrant island inviting
investment and to get involved. In complete contrast, La Reunion has active
volcano’s and is very mountainous – there are precious few beaches and
swimming is very limited to certain areas protected by shark nets (shark
attacks are frequent here). The island is a department of France and is
completely French (read excellent for shopping) and there is little evidence
of any other culture. There is limited industry here (Sugar Cane followed by
Tourism) and the country is propped up largely by EU money and French
Government budgets. We’re told that public sector salaries here are 40%
higher than the private sector and that the Island’s annual income is £250m
compared to a budget spend of £2.5bn! Investors certainly aren’t in evidence
to be queuing up here.

Mauritius for us was a family time having surprise visits from 5 members of
family – the first time for catching up in over a year. The children loved
the surprise and suddenly having so many more people to play with – lots of
happy memories were made and the times were spent exploring the island. The
location for the Yachts was in Caudan basin with one 5 * and one 4* hotel
next door and access to first world shopping on the doorstep complete with
plenty of trades people willing to work on the yachts (it included sail
repairs and stainless steel repairs for us). We were made to feel very
welcome and feel we got a great taste of what Mauritius is all about. At the
prize giving, we won two prizes – one for 3rd place in the racing from Cocos
Keeling, and one for guessing the closest estimated time that we would take
on that passage.

Our good racing fortune continued and on the dash to Reunion (where we
sighted a huge whale next to Aretha), we finished in first place. All good
fun and its good to have the kids involved in the racing. Once in Reunion,
it was fascinating to explore the island and visit the Cirques in the
mountains on roads with a dizzying number of bends and to see the volcano’s
at the top of the Island – all with a very French Alps feel to them.

Family life continues to thrive aboard – schooling has its fits and starts
and the children ever adapted to our life make new friends in next to no
time wherever we go. Nichola is in full flow planning ideas for what she’d
like to do next (a common topic of conversation amongst the fleet) and Max
seems to have settled into our way of life.

Plenty more to write but the wind has caught my attention – we have over 10
knots of wind and it’s time to get the sails up and stop being a motorboat.

Team Aretha in the Indian Ocean some 300 miles from Madagascar, Out,

Ps Directly North of us on the Charts we have Les Amirantes (part of the
Seychelles) the border between Oman and Yemen, the UAE and Iran. Directly
South is Iles Crozet and below that is Mt Codrington in Antarctica!

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  1. Dear Nichola Caspar Bluebell Willow and Columbus, it’s great to hear from you. I follow all your blogs with great interest, l am pleased everyone is well and the children are happy. Take care with best wishes

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