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.  Geographically, it’s 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 the blighters, 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, so I topped up our diesel tanks from our jerry cans.  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 09:30 tomorrow morning.  The Customs is called the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) 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…) 

In the evening, Glenys cooked the dried octopus we bought the other day and produced an Octopus Curry.  She soaked the (three) dried octopuses in a bowl of cold water for 15 minutes, meanwhile cooking up a Caribbean style curry sauce.  During soaking the octopus swells up a tiny amount and softens a bit, but is still fairly tough.  Glenys chopped the whole thing up into 1” long pieces and then cooked it in the curry sauce for 20 minutes in the pressure cooker.   It was chewy, but very tasty. (See Dried Octopus.)

Downwind at Last

17 June 2017   Rodrigues to Mauritius (Day 1)
There was hardly any wind in the morning with frequent showers - not the best weather to start our three day passage to Mauritius.  I looked at the weather forecast and it’s going to be another five days before the wind picks up again.  We’ve enjoyed Rodrigues, but we couldn’t face another week here, so we went ahead and cleared out, knowing that we’ll be motoring for the first 24 hours.   

The simple clearance process was done in the small offices at the port entrance.  The Immigration officer was already waiting for us and he put exit stamps in our passports, despite the fact that Rodrigues is the same country as Mauritius - we will be issued with new visas when we get to Port Louis.  Customs turned up as soon as we’d finished with immigration and he handed over our port clearance.  There was only one form to be filled in by the coast guard, so we were done in 20 minutes.

Back at the boat, we prepared for sea – I lashed the dinghy on the front deck, while Glenys cooked up a lamb stew for the first two meals on passage.  We were on our way at 11:00.

The weather brightened up and it was sunny as we motored out of the harbour.  However, as forecast, there wasn’t much wind, so we motored for an hour to get away from the island and then tried to sail for a couple of hours.  I rigged up our spinnaker pole and we ran wing-on-wing for a while, but when our boat speed dropped below 3 knots, we had to turn the engine on.   

By night fall, we’d rolled away all of our sails.  We normally leave our mainsail up when motoring to give us a little more drive and reduce rolling, but the apparent wind was going all over the place and causing the sail to crash and bang.  Fortunately, the waves were only about 1 metre and from our stern, so we didn’t roll too much without sails.

Beef Vindaloo

At our 01:00 watch change, the wind finally picked up to 7-10 knots from the SSE, which allowed us to sail on a starboard reach (after 20 minutes dancing on the front deck, swapping the pole from starboard to port.)  We then had a lovely sail for three hours, under a bright half moon, but the wind gradually petered out and we motor-sailed for the rest of the night.

18 June 2017   Rodrigues to Mauritius (Day 2)
At 07:00, the wind picked up to 10 knots from the south-east, so we were able to start sailing on a broad reach with the genoa poled out to port.  It was a lovely day with mostly blue skies and 25% fluffy white cloud cover, although we had a couple of showers.  The nice thing was that the showers didn’t alter the wind strength too much, although the wind veered and backed a little causing us to gybe the genoa a few times.

As the afternoon passed by, the wind picked up to 12-15 knots and, with the slight 1 metre seas, it was fabulous sailing.  Glenys produced a tasty Beef Vindaloo curry to end a pleasant day.  The first half of the night was very dark, but the good wind continued.  The wind gradually increased to 15-20 knots, so the second half of the night was more boisterous and we had a few showers, which increased the wind by 5 knots and had us reefing and gybing the genoa a couple of times.