Ten days after returning from Italy, I finally received Port Clearance from the Maldives at 6pm on Friday 18th August. I filled the days battling the bureaucracy, overcoming the obstacles for diesel, gas & water, preparing the boat and finishing the day with a cold beer at the nearby Equator Village – Gan was a British military base until 1976 and the white washed resort is a deserted relic of a past era. Anyhow, with half an hour of light left, I decided to weigh anchor and get out of there faster than a dog booted up the backside.
Ben has returned to Australia before heading back to the Gili Is. in Indonesia to complete a Dive Master qualification and then resume his studies at the Australian Maritime College. We sailed 6,600 nm together and I’m glad the trip has been a catalyst for him to find his own path. Like many things, sailing has a dual nature; on one hand, ocean passages can be monotonous, dangerous, cramped, wet, hot, & tiring and on the other hand adventurous, exciting, beautiful, challenging and satisfying. In that context, sharing the highs and lows together has given us both some lifetime memories to treasure and perhaps we know each other better than we did at the start of the trip.
I put a listing on findacrew.net which is like a dating website for boats and crew – there are literally thousands of people, of all sorts, out there looking to crew boats. While I had some interesting offers, I wanted to avoid creating more of a problem than I was solving with the wrong person. Plus, I was keen to do a solo passage.
So, I’m sailing single handed now and with a hasty departure, the checklist remained in the chart desk.
After motor sailing with the jib through the reef passes at dusk, it was time to hoist the mainsail. Naturally, the halyard had been overlooked and the fun began setting the mainsail in darkness – it jammed 2/3 of the way up & wrapped around the lazy jack, so it all had to come down and be unraveled. By the time it was sorted it out I was seasick and fortunately sailing upwind – the waves were washing over the deck and kept it clean. While I paid the price for setting out on dusk, I was, nevertheless, underway to Reunion Island, 1,600nm SW of the Maldives. Reunion was chosen because a) the French require a simple 1-page document for arrival, b) it has great surf and c) the Harbour Master building is inspired by the Sydney Opera House!
The wind is also from the SW so I tacked W & S for 2 days until I was far enough south to pick up the SE trade winds, which built to a peak of 30kts before settling around 20kts for most of the passage. Galaxy was readily making 7+ kts with 2 reefs in the main and a shortened jib.
The seasickness faded after a few days and there was little work to do, other than trimming the sails now and again, updating the weather forecast, position fixing, keeping an eye out for shipping, sleeping and preparing food, which was more like a self-body weight workout in a pitching cabin.
I did pass by and kept well clear of Cardagos Carajos Shoals where Volvo 65 Team Vestas Wind ran aground a few years ago (see earlier blog, Lessons Learned). I would also pass one or two ships a day and several of them passed quite close or had to alter course to avoid me; it seems uncanny with hundreds of miles of ocean in every direction that they would be so close. Perhaps it’s some sort of game the captains like to play and I haven’t come this far to be mowed down by a 250m long ship, so I was on the radio to ensure someone was on watch and Galaxy didn’t become prop wash.
There is also time to relax with some kindle and audible books which included The Fountainhead, Man’s Search for Meaning, Good without God and New Market Wizards. Not exactly light entertainment and fascinating nevertheless. Where else could one find 32hrs for The Fountainhead?
I last visited Reunion 25 years ago and I loved surfing left-hander at St Leu.
I remember there was a crazy local with a machete, who used to chop the boards of tourists to intimidate them to stay out of the water – somehow, I avoided his wrath. Sadly, after about 20 tragic attacks since 2011, sharks have kept surfers out of the water much more effectively than the machete guy.
There is plenty of material about the Reunion shark crisis online and I thought the Telegraph article ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/reunionfrance/11790510/Reunions-shark-crisis-when-will-it-be-safe-to-go-back-into-the-water.html ) was as good as any. There is an interesting graphic in the article that shows there have been as many attacks in Australia during the same period – it’s when you convert the data to a population or coastline basis it looks safer. Sifting through the articles, the interesting questions include; why has Mauritius, which is nearby with a higher population, avoided the same increase since 2011 and what changed around 2011? Considering all the variables and speculation, it seems to me the change in fishing practices is the most likely hypothesis and a visiting expert, Geremy Cliff, KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board expressed as much “But I recommended that they start properly fishing again, too – even in the face of opposition from conservationists.” I find the compulsion of South Africans to speak their mind an endearing quality, while others find it annoying in equal measure. I have booked a scuba dive and the instructor commented that they never see sharks and would like to….. I’ll also go for a drive, talk to some locals & see how many people are out surfing………..