Enjoying Rodrigues

12 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
It was another squally night.  Unless you’ve lived on a boat, it’s difficult to appreciate how unsettling it can be to spend a night at anchor in strong winds.  We have great confidence in our anchor, but there’s still the nagging feeling that it might drag and we’d be on the reef before we could blink.  Other concerns are that our neighbours might drag onto us and that the bimini might shred in the heavy gusts. 

Last night there were periods of low wind and then a 30 knot gust would hit us.  A typical squall might be:  

Another night of Squalls?

We hear the shriek of wind.  The boat heels over and the rigging begins to rattle.  Halyards flap, clanking against the hollow aluminium mast.  The wind generator accelerates until it’s a high speed whine and the bimini flaps like it’s being ripped off the frame.  The boats veers sideways and wind-waves gurgle against the hull, sounding like the boat is flooding with water.  

The anchor chain straightens, snatching the boat back into the wind and the snubber rope groans against the bow roller.  A wine glass tips over in the galley and falls into the sink, rolling around adding to the commotion.  The rain starts to hammer down.  One of us reaches up to close the hatch above our bed.  We wait for ten minutes, until the squall passes over, dreading to hear the crunch of coral against the hull. 

Having survived the night, we had a sunny day, but the wind remained high, so we stayed close by the boat.  The weather forecast is for the winds to gradually decrease this week and we’ve decided to head for Mauritius on in a few days’ time, before the next high winds arrive early next week.

13 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
We had a couple of mega-squalls go through last night and we had a dull overcast start the day.  However by 09:30, it brightened up a little and I was getting cabin fever, so we caught a bus to the other side of the island and went for a hike.  We started off at Anse Ally, which is the stop before Pointe Cotton and walked west along the rugged coast line.  

There are various coloured paint marks on the rocks, so we roughly followed them, but made some detours to walk along the rocks along the shoreline.  There were some impressive waves pounding against the fringing reef, a few hundred metres out to sea.  We came across some lovely isolated bays and had our Baguette and Saucisson sat on a cliff overlooking one with a nice sandy beach.

Lovely Coast Line

It took us a couple of hours to walk to Le Gravier, where we were able to catch a bus back to town.  We had a nice day out, with stunning scenery and were so glad to be off the boat.  

In the evening, we had a get together with the other cruisers in a sheltered area at the dockside.  Good to finally meet everyone from the other nine boats in the anchorage - we’ve all been doing our own thing in this dodgy weather.

14 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
It was a peaceful night and a nice morning, so we hired a scooter and went to explore Rodrigues.  You have to love the relaxed island life here.  I left my driving license on the boat and the hire company needed to take a copy of it.  Prepared to walk back, I was amazed when the guy lent me a scooter to drive to pick up my license - how nice is that?

Geographically, Rodrigues part of the Mascarene Islands, which also includes Mauritius and Reunion, which we will be visiting in the next few weeks.  The island has volcanic origins and is about 360 metres high with some lovely winding roads through the lush farmland on the hills..

The island named after the Portuguese explorer, Don Diégo Rodriguez, who was the first European to discover the uninhabited island in 1528.  There were no attempts at colonisation until 1691, when the there was an abortive attempt to set up a farming colony of Protestant refugees.  Farming was not successful, but there was an abundance of tortoises, turtles, birds, fish and other seafood.

During the 18th century, several attempts were made by the French to develop the island.  African slaves (ancestors of the present population) were brought to Rodrigues to develop stock-breeding and farming.  In 1809, after a brief battle with the French, British troops took possession of Rodrigues and with British occupation, slavery was abolished.

Tortoise Heaven

In 1968, Rodrigues was joined with Mauritius when it attained independence from Britain and now there are 40,000 people living on the island.  The economic mainstay is fishing, agriculture and low-key tourism.

We called in at the François Leguat Tortoise and Cave Reserve, which is a delightful place and the major tourist attraction on the island.  They have a nice little museum, a system of caves and they breed giant tortoises. 

Giant tortoises used to live in great numbers on the Mascarene Islands.  Unfortunately, in the 1700s, the French colonists and visiting sailors thought that tortoise meat tasted very good and it was very convenient that a tortoise could survive in a ship's hold without food for many months.  The Mascarene Islands soon became a favourite stop on the trade route from Africa across the Indian Ocean and colonists on the larger island of Mauritius set up a lucrative business selling tortoises to passing ships.

Unfortunately, the tortoises were soon hard to find in Mauritius, so the colonists started harvesting in Rodrigues.  Between 1759 and 1761, 22,000 tortoises were slaughtered.  By 1770, they’d killed off so many that they were hard to find; and the last sighting of a Rodrigues Tortoise was in 1799. 

The Tortoise Reserve have imported three species of Giant Tortoise from the Seychelles and Madagascar and started a very successful breeding program.    In 2006, they started with 555 tortoises and now have more than doubled that number.   We took the (compulsory) tour with a very informative guide, who took us through the delightful grounds past breeding pens and into an fabulous gorge where hundreds of huge Aldabra Giant Tortoises live in luxury.

Harder, Harder

The tortoises are very used to visitors and came lumbering up to us as we walked around.  The guide gave us some small branches of their favourite food and it was fascinating to feed them.  But what the tortoises really want is to have their necks scratched.  As soon as you touch their necks they stand up tall and stretch their heads up - just like cats.  It’s a strange feeling. 

Our guide then took us into the impressive limestone caves, where we had to wear helmets - a good thing too because the ceilings are low at some places.  The whole tour cost $15US each, but we were well entertained for 1½ hours.

We jumped back on the motorbike and continued around the winding south coast road, where we saw Octopus Drying on rough wooden frames.  They catch the octopus on the shallow reefs and then stretch them out to dry for five days in the sun.  Glenys bought one from a small hut at the side of the road, which we’ll be having for dinner soon.

15 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
With the good weather that we have at the moment, quite a few boats have already left for Mauritius and we’re getting ready to leave on the morning of the 17th.  It’ll be a Saturday, but the customs and immigration don’t charge overtime as long as we do the formalities before midday.  The added advantage is that we’ll arrive in Port Louis, Mauritius on Monday or Tuesday and won’t have any hassle with customs there.

Rodrigues Market

In the morning, we pottered about doing a few chores, running the water-maker and researching future destinations.  We still have four months to explore Mauritius, Reunion & Madagascar and we’ve suddenly realised that we have time to fly home to the UK for a few weeks in July.  It’s been over a year since we visited our family and our next opportunity will be in South Africa in January.  So, we’ve extended our booking in the marina in Reunion and Glenys is now looking at flights, which being complicated by the shockingly slow internet connection here.

After lunch, I put on my 3mm wetsuit and jumped into the water, which is only 23°C and feels freezing to me.  I was shocked to find hundreds of small Gooseneck Barnacles all over the back of the boat, stretching from the middle of the keel.  In addition the rudder had grown a mat of 3 inch long weed, which was so thick that it’s swirling about in the current.  The propeller wasn’t too bad with a light covering of slime and a few barnacles.  I laboured away for an hour and I've cleaned the propeller, the rudder and the aft 3 metres of the hull.  It will have to do until we get to a calm anchorage.

In the evening, we invited Alan and Vicky from “Wairima” over for a beer or two - they arrived yesterday from Cocos Keeling and had a tiring 12 day passage with waves of 6 metres and 50 knot winds at one point.  

They left Cocos Keeling two days before our friends Graham and Karen on “Red Herring” and have been in radio contact with them.  Unfortunately, Red Herring’s autopilot has failed, so Graham and Karen are hand steering, which is very tough and tiring in these conditions.  They still have 260 miles to go which means that they’ll arrive here in a couple of days, probably after we’ve left, which is a pity.  No doubt we’ll catch up with them in Reunion.

16 June 2017   Port Mathurin, Rodrigues
It was a very calm night, which unfortunately brought the mosquitoes out into the anchorage, so I was up at three o’clock, zapping mosquitoes, putting up the mosquito screen in our cabin and plugging in our vapour mat heaters.

Dhall Puri on Roti

The weather forecast for our 3 day passage to Mauritius is for light winds, I topped up our diesel tanks from our jerry jugs.  I then took the dinghy up into the small fishing harbour and landed at a concrete slip about 20 metres from the town’s petrol station, which is very convenient (and they take credit cards).  Back at the boat, I poured the three jerry cans into the main tank, making it a total of 126 litres added, so our tank is almost full.   

We then wandered into town and, while Glenys did some provisioning, I went to the Customs and Immigration offices to arrange for our clearance at 0930 tomorrow morning.  The Customs is called the Mauritius Revenue Authority and is in a small shopping mall behind the Mauritius Bank, just around the corner from the boulangerie.  Immigration is in a small office on the ground floor of the Police Station.

While waiting for Glenys to finish shopping, I couldn't resist sneaking off for my last Dhall Puri on Roti. Definitely the best food in Rodrigues...

We had a quiet afternoon. Glenys prepared some meals for passage and I tidied up.  It’s amazing how relaxed we are about going on this 340 mile trip.  We’ve sailed 3,500 miles in the past five months, so we’re pretty well geared up to leave at any time and I know that everything is in good working order.  (Although after hearing about “Red Herring” hand steering for days, I did a quick check of our autopilot and steering cables…)