Posted by: catamarantwooceans | May 21, 2013

Sailing to Mauritius

8.5.13 – Wednesday – Our original plan was to sail to Mauritius via the island of Rodrigues but doubts were gnawing below the surface for quite a while. There was another option – going by way of Cargados Carajos  Shoals (also called St. Brendan) described in Noonsite as "a large reef area lying some 200 miles north-east of Mauritius… Over fifty islets and cays make up this small archipelago which abounds in marine life".

As we made our way to the exit of Peros Banhos, I went over the pros and cons of the two routes with the crew: the course to Cargados is 228, to Rodrigues 209; with the southeast trades the former would be an easier and faster voyage. The total mileage to Mauritius will be 99 miles less. Cargados is uninhabited, save for fishermen who make a base on some of the islands, so there would be no provisioning. On the other hand – the lure of wild nature was more appealing.

The benefits of better sailing conditions tipped the scales; I sensed Muki and Ishay were leaning in the same direction I did so I said:"Let’s go to Cargados!".

One last look at Chagos, a farewell visit by a pod of frolicking dolphins and we were on our way.

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A light southwesterly necessitated motoring until 1600 when it backed to the south and let us shut the engine down and sail the way we like best. Nothing special to report until midnight.

   9.5.13 – Thursday – A quiet night passed and the 0800 position revealed that we sailed 117 miles in the last 24 hours. The day progressed with no change in the weather; we were hoping for the wind to back and strengthen a bit. Maybe tomorrow.

10.5.13 – Friday – 24 hours run – 126 n.m.

We found that the 2 kg of flour we bought in Gan were actually corn flour; I tried making tortillas out of it and the result was barely edible. We don’t have enough bread until Mauritius; I must consult Gili about this.

During the afternoon the wind freshened and backed, we were now going faster, sometimes 8 knots. Around 5 p.m we had a big dolphin show, always a spirit lifting experience. We put in the first reef in the main, no point in bashing against the waves at night.

We had a rude reminder of the necessity of closing all hatches when a rogue wave climbed the saloon top and sneaked into the galley area where the hatch was not completely shut. Some spray got to my laptop; I quickly dried it and it seems O.K.  Muki had the first watch and I tried to get some sleep before coming on deck at midnight, feeling that the boat was a bit over-stressed.

11.5.13 – Saturday  – I met Muki on deck at midnight. He said that for some minutes, during a cloud passage, it blew 28 knots. I looked at the instruments and the numbers were O.K for the sail configuration we had. Non the less I decided to go to second reef on the main. This turned to be a good decision when a few minutes later we had gusts of up to 30. I reefed the jib some more.

24 hours run – 164 n.m. We’re going fast; We passed half the distance to Cargados . the Time To Go numbers keep jumping according to the changing speed over ground and show anything between 60 to 90 hours. Adjusting our arrival for daylight will be necessary.

A pattern emerges: during the afternoon clouds build up and around  four p.m they start influencing the wind. Guess in which direction… This is the Indian Ocean, not a calm pond, at times you see 4 meters swells and one hour later they disappear with no change in wind velocity.

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                    Smudges are from salt spray

12.5.13 – Sunday – At 0800 we are 399 miles to destination; 169 miles done in 24 hours. We start calculating our ETA and it seems that we just might make it Tuesday evening. The problem is we have to get there in good daylight. "Can we make the boat go faster?" asks Muki. Yes we can, but at a cost. Up to now we were sailing "cruising style" trying to achieve good speed without sacrificing comfort. "We can raise the main to first reef but we’ll have a bumpy ride" I say.

Bumpy ride is O.K if it saves you a night at sea! We do it and the pace quickens. We reef back at 1700 when the apparent wind reaches 27 knots but still do 85 miles in twelve hours.

I have the first watch, reading inside the cabin and going out every few minutes to look around. At 2150 I am surprised to see a vessel carrying bright lights ahead. I call Muki to the cockpit, turn 15 degrees to port and we pass what was probably a fishing boat; no AIS and no reply on VHF.

13.5.13 – Monday  – There were no further excitements during the night. As morning came, the crew gathered in the cockpit; 0800 showed 230 miles to the entry to Cargados, a point from which we had to go another 6 miles to the anchorage near Raphael island. We sailed 169 miles in the last 24 hours and had to keep the same average speed or greater in order to save ourselves another night at sea.

We decided to change gear to "Racing" and go as fast as we could. This meant stretching our conservative performance envelope, keeping more sail at higher wind speeds and changing sail configurations frequently to suit the changing conditions. Whoever had to go out of the cockpit had to wear a harness and secure himself to the boat.

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A decision point was set at 1630; if at that time we will be 170 miles or less from Cargados we’ll go for the early arrival; more than 170 will mean slowing down and another night at sea.

"Two Oceans" did not disappoint us, sometimes surfing down four meters swells at 10 knots and more on the GPS. 170 miles was reached at 1605.

14.5.13 – Tuesday – During the night conditions abated somewhat but we were still going strong. At 0800 we were only 55 miles from the entrance to Cargados Carajos, having sailed 175 miles in 24 hours. Big rain clouds passed our track with all sorts of special effects; some took away the wind completely while others brought strong winds, maximum seen was 38 knots.

We tried to anticipate the wind, reef or increase sail area in time to maintain the "Racing Style" we decided to employ. I really put "Two Oceans" into conditions she has never been to. The result – we got to Raphael island, our planned anchorage at 1630, one hour before the our deadline, thus avoiding a night out at the raging sea.

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                                     Ile Raphael

Half an hour after we anchored a motor boat came  with Coast Guard men. One of them boarded, checked our papers and filled a form. This was done in a friendly and courteous way. He told us they had VHF and were alerted to our presence by our call to a fishing vessel at anchor by the island. He told us not to go ashore on the big islands, small ones were O.K and cautioned us against aggressive sharks in the area.

15.5.13 – Wednesday – We all slept very well at night. Around ten o’clock we started out, looking for a nice place to spend the day. A sort of bay, right inside the reef near Avocare island caught our eye and skirting a few reefs and shoals we made our way over there. The depth in the area is between 10 to 18 meters and when passing over a small reef a jack took our lure; two meals for the crew!

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It was noon as we were nearing Avocare island, where we could see a big motor boat. We decided to anchor there for lunch and on the way to the anchorage approached "Gryphon" and had a few words with its skipper – Julian. He and one of his crew came over for a chat. They are a charter boat for fly fishermen, who pay a lot of money to catch bone-fish and release them. He gave us some information about the Cargados; we were glad to hear that the island we thought was Coco island was in fact South island and had a fishing lodge belonging to his company with moorings we could use.

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We decided to stay put for the night.

In the evening Ishay went fishing a took out a fish that looked like a gar, long one with a bill full of sharp teeth.

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It was promptly used as main course for our dinner.

16.5.13 – Thursday – The target was Coco island, so named on the charts although Julian called it "South island". The first 7 miles of the route were sailed in depth of 10 meters with occasional shoals reducing it to a little less than 5. We used the reefed jib only since it blew 25 knots and we wanted lower speed for "shallows management" and fishing. The next 7 miles to Coco were obstacle free. As we got nearer we saw two yachts, a cat and a mono in an area that had the good color of a sand bottom.

The wind was still strong so it was two anchors in tandem once again and 50 meters of chain for a depth of 8 meters; excellent anchorage –    16 48.621 S 59 30.431 E. The one mooring we saw was occupied by a Mauritian Leopard 45 catamaran named Ingwe.

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We took the dinghy ashore looking for Gabi, who is the man in charge. We met him and his wife, Mary Therese, both were very friendly, asking whether we needed anything. We admitted we did and said we wanted to buy some flour and oats. Mary Ellen gave us both and refused any payment. I promised to come the next day with something for them.

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          Mary Therese La Reine de Ile Coco

Putting on a somber expression; she normally is full of smiles!

                 

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                                 Gabi

The couple lives on the island from September to June, which is the fishing season. At that period they have eight people on the island.

A quick stroll around revealed the island was a refuge for sea birds, mainly noddies, which were everywhere. Back to the boat, Ishay lost his watch overboard, trying to climb out of the water without the use of the ladder. I found out about it later in the evening and told him I’ll look for it the next day. "I’m good a retrieving things underwater" I said.

17.5.13 – Friday – All night the wind blew fiercely, 25 – 30 knots; small waves were building and slamming against the hulls but we all slept well. We started the morning fishing and took out a nice grouper.

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Fishing over, I prepared to make good my promise about the lost wristwatch. I took a diving weight belt with 3 kg on it and snorkeled searching the white sand bottom. One dive  – nothing found; I widened my search circle and with the excellent visibility the clear water allowed I saw the watch on the bottom, 8 meters below. A quick vertical dive and Ishay had his item back.

Later Ishay and I went ashore and brought Mary Therese and Gabi the corn flour we could not use and a bottle of Rum, which they appreciated greatly. "Leon, the cook, will be very happy about this" said Mary Therese. Leon, who was not aware we were bringing anything, prepared in advance a nice quantity of Crepes and some apple jam he made himself for us to take to the boat.                       A walk around the island (about 1600 meters) concluded our visit.

The wind was still blowing 25 – 30 knots; downloading the forecast, we saw improvement on Sunday morning. We decided to set out to Mauritius, 240 miles away, the next afternoon, arriving Monday morning, if all goes well.

18.5.13 – Saturday – Morning and no respite from the wind. A grey cloud bank approached ominously, we saw 31 knots on the dial and then it went away. I was a bit apprehensive but determined about going out; we might suffer a few hours but it was time to go.

At 1400 we started winching the anchors out (we had two down, remember?) and as the chain came up we saw that the rope holding the aft anchor chaffed, leaving the 30 lbs. CQR on the bottom. I was not going to give it up, so I jumped in with a rope, dived down to 8 meters accompanied by at least 10 big remora fish, tied it back to the chain and lifted it on board. Not an easy job when free diving! I realized I connected the second anchor too far from the main one; with the strong wind the chain was pulled back and up ruining the rope. I should devise a better attachment there and put it not more than 10 meters behind.

Out with two reefs, the sea was quite rough with swells towering up to 4 meters, but as we left the 55 meters shelf of the islands, it gradually calmed down. We had dinner, roasted chicken and couscous and started the night’s watch system.

19.5.13 – Sunday – The night was relatively easy but when morning came conditions worsened. We went to third reef and still sailed fast. During the maneuver Ishay succeeded in inflating his life jacket, which almost strangled him. After we helped him take it off he sat there pondering how to deflate it.

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As we gained distance to the south the wind backed and abated, the sea became less agitated and gradually we went all the way back to full sails.

Just after 1600 the GPS Plotter put out a warning: "No Target" and all information disappeared. Last time this happened was on the way to New Zealand, when the GPS antenna fell off. This time it was some other unexplained cause. We continued with our backup – a small Garmin GPS connected to my laptop.

It became evident that we will reach Port Louis, Mauritius around 0100, so regular watch keeping was changed a bit; actually nobody wanted to sleep. Just before sunset one of the peaks of our destination was seen on the horizon. Night fell, half moon lighted the sea as we were gliding towards Port Louis. Some anxious moments as we slalomed between anchored ships toward the place we chose for our anchorage.

A sip of whiskey and then to bed; 240 miles in 35 hours, almost 7 knots average, not bad for the prevailing conditions.

20.5.13 – Monday – At 0830 we entered the Port Louis harbor; "Two Oceans" will stay here, at Caudan marina for the next two months.

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