We arrived in Port Elizabeth after dark on Saturday evening, the 10th, and, having no local knowledge, spent the night in General Anchorage No. 1 with the big ships. If it was lumpy out there we didn't notice - fell asleep the moment our heads hit the pillows and slept soundly all night.
The Algoa Bay Yacht Club has been closed, but its small marina is operated separately and still functions with a few berths available for visiting yachts. Sadly, the marina is constantly dusted with particulates from the manganese bulk carrier loading activities carried on very nearby, and is assaulted by the most phenomenal surge we've ever experienced in a marina. When we leave for Cape Town at o-dark-thirty in the morning we'll need to remove some eighteen docklines in order to free Mersoleil from her berth. Four lines have already performed this action - they snapped in the surge during the day today - we went out and bought four more, bigger, thicker, longer than those now deceased. Good heavens! We've been running chafe and breakage inspections every fifteen to thirty minutes all day!
So, departing tomorrow for Cape Town, at least that's the plan at the moment, as the winds from today's southwesterly change die down and the seas flatten out a bit.
Rounding Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope, both are featured on this next passage, cannot fail to be exciting and we hope we're are ready for the challenging conditions that we'll surely encounter. Stay tuned!
Oh what fun it has been to ride the Agulhas Current! We still have another nice day of moving water ahead of us and we're having a great time.
Winds have been slightly lighter than forecast, but the current and motorsailing have more than made up for that! We, and a bunch of friends -we are within 12nm of one another, have all found it necessary to motor in addition to the little velocity we can develop from our sails because the wind is dead astern. Mersoleil is difficult to move when the wind is directly on the butt. It's the hardest point of sail ('cept I suppose for wind straight on the nose when she'll actually go backward in full rebellion). Is it backward or backwards? I always wonder.... the nuns did not teach me this, toward or towards, backward or backwards.... Or if they did, I have forgotten.
So! The really good fun began yesterday at 18:30 local (31 54S 029 39E) when we sailed into currents approaching 4kts and our speed over the ground reached 10kts, something we almost never see. Yippee! Then it only got better and better! Top so far, and this record may endure as now the current has slowed somewhat, occurred during my 0200 - 0600 watch just completed when we screamed comfortably along at 11.7 over the ground in current running 5.5kts. Pretty exciting - and very manageable seas with the wind and current nearly aligned. Swells have been no higher than 2m, big and broad and rounded and going with us, so we barely notice them. Can we come here again sometime for another ride? There's a standing joke onboard Mersoleil that all the thrilling events happen on my watch. Don't know why, but we've observed this time and time again. Last night's moment to remember came a mere 10 minutes into my 2AM watch when, shining my torch up into the rigging for a quick ''s everything OK' scan, I saw a five foot vertical tear in the mainsail. No idea how that happened. Perhaps it's testament to all the horror stories about rounding the Cape of Storms. Robbie and I both make sail changes singlehanded, but in any crisis, we like to have all hands on deck, so he came up again after only 5 minutes of repose and we furled yet another reef in the main, leaving us now with a teeny ridiculous little bit of sail. We'll have this repaired in Cape Town (thank God we are in a land of resources) and will probably have a new main built there for immediate use. This sail will go into stowage as a backup. How we wish we could have Carol Hasse build our new sail. Alas, her lead time is a year and VAT/duty in South Africa are outrageous. We'll order a sail in Cape Town from somebody there.
When the sun greeted me this morning, 0355 UTC, 0555 local...
POS 33 15S 028 09E WIND NE 16- 0kts SOG 10.0kts COG 226T Set/Drift 223T/4.9kts Sea state very tolerable. Rolling a little due to the deeeeep wind angle, but huge flat-topped swell of not more than 2.5m and long period.
We've been downloading PredictWind current charts and are setting waypoints to keep us in the best the Agulhas Current has to offer. What a nice ride! But as far as boat records go, I doubt that we'll ever equal the 16.9kt SOG Mersoleil did in the NE Pacific in 2010 in a late March storm packing 49kt winds. Life is good on SY Mersoleil! We are in Africa!
We have thoroughly enjoyed our 4 week stay at Zululand Yacht Club, Richards Bay, South Africa. This morning we press on toward Cape Town, hoping to reach Port Elizabeth before SW winds make us duck for cover again. Several yachts are leaving RB on this window. We'll be in good company! Thank you ZYC!
Mersoleil crossed the Mozambique Channel from Morombe, Madagascar, to Richards Bay, South Africa, in 5 days 6 hours. It was a great passage, even though we sailed upwind most of the way and had some exciting moments when breaking waves punched out the port side window of our windscreen, and split quite in two the plank to which we tie four jerry cans, extra diesel, to the rail on the same side of the boat. No major damage. There's always a new plank at the lumber yard and the window can be re-stitched onto the canvas cover which was unhurt. The jerry cans wandered about on deck for a while, reminding us why we are cautious about loose cannons, but Robbie wrestled them into the cockpit where they remained for the last 3 days of the passage. We felt like birds in a nest with too many eggs.
After initially planning to head south beyond some east-flowing current, then ride the southeasterlies, which never materialized, direct to Richards Bay, we agreed upon a new plan, sailed directly west toward the African coast and then enjoyed a downwind sprint pushed ahead by E, NE, NNE and finally N , mostly 15-25kts. It was quite a ride! By the most direct route, we'd have sailed 767nm. In the end we covered 825nm at an average pace of better than 6.5kts over the ground, pretty good for an upwind run.
Approaching Richards Bay at 3AM local and knowing we didn't want to arrive before dawn, I tried to think of a way to slow down as we barreled along at 9.5kts. The edge of the south-flowing Agulhas Current, 25-30kts of N breeze (highest we saw was 35kts), and the tiny flag of mainsail, raised for stability and prevented out to port, would simply not permit us to reduce speed, so we did the ridiculous - turned around and furled the main, then motored in order to achieve a more sedate pace! Seemed silly to us, but it worked.
Clearing in to South Africa was an amusing experience, filled with confusion and misinformation, as happens upon arrival in many countries, but by noon Mersoleil was berthed at Zululand Yacht Club where four or five club members raced to catch dock lines and to welcome us to their home port.
Lunch at the ZYC dining room was wonderful, just the ticket to the 13 hour nap that followed beginning at 3PM!
Members and staff at ZYC are friendly and welcoming, not at all timid about approaching us and making friends - we're already sorry we'll be here only for a week or two.
South Africa! Hard to believe! We're learning to speak English all over again, 100%! And having a wonderful time.
We've thoroughly enjoyed our short stay in Madagascar, but we're leaving tonight at midnight, actually 11:.50PM) for Richards Bay, South Africa. Now in Morombe, the intended jumping off point, we had such a lovely day here yesterday, despite being exhausted from the overnight sail, that we wish we could stay, but new lands and the change of seasons urge us forward and hence we go.
Noteworthy, we thought, was crossing Banc de Coelacanths on the way to shore at Morombe. This is the place - from East London, SA , in the south to the Cormoros in the north - where the ugly extinct fish you read about in school was first rediscovered in 1938. Coelacanths, imagine! In the 1990s several specimens were caught off the SW coast of Madagascar, apparently right here at Morombe.
Please enjoy these photographic memories of Madagascar.... the last one is a beautiful lobster that I bought this morning from a fisherman and his wife. We end up leaving every country with a little unspent local currency, often useful only in a place we'll never visit again. Having made up my mind to give the next fisherman all our remaining Ariary, I carefully negotiated a price with him for the langoustine, (to be truthful, I don't know how much it was as I speak no French and little Malagasy) then gave him all the money we had. He was delighted, thanked me, and then emboldened by the fact that he thought he had one on the line, asked for clothing for his wife who, he said, is cold, although she was sitting behind him in the canoe beaded with perspiration. Gotta give the guy credit for being enterprising! I dispatched the langoustine to the astral world with a chef's knife, divided him into legs, tail and carapace and put him in the freezer for the victory celebration in Richards Bay about a week from now.
The passage to Richards Bay is about 775nm across the boisterous Mozambique Channel. We'll try to keep you posted.
Ta ta Madagascar! Thanks for a great visit.
It doesn't seem fair that we've told you so little about Madagascar, one of the nicest cruising grounds we've seen since the South Pacific, but the news today is that we're leaving! (Internet speed is not Madagascar's strong suit.)
In an hour or two Mersoleil will begin a 400nm passage to Morombe on the SW coast and when a good weather window appears in early October we'll jump across the Mozambique Channel to South Africa.
Africa! Still can't believe it, but here we go!
August 11 2018 Sailing back from Nosy Mitsio to Sakatia
This has been the most fantastic sailing we have EVER enjoyed on Mersoleil! We've run nearly all the 40nm south to Sakatia with a SW 10-12kt wind just 25-30 degress off the starboard bow. Our speed through very flat water has been around 5-6kts, dropping as low as 2.5kts when the wind pinched to less than 25 degrees, then picking up again when it clocked back toward 30 degrees. In such calm constant conditions it feels as if we were at anchor, Mersoleil cutting alnog quiet as a whisper through the surface. We've never seen her do this before and it's a joy to experience such an idyllic sail!
Now, read on only if you're having trouble falling asleep....
The idle musings of a person on watch who hasn't enough to do, written early on this sail, before the wind increased to 10kts. It's a beautiful day with perfectly clear blue sky, calm sea, and only 5-6kts of breeze gently urging Mersoleil southward from Nosy Mitsio back toward Hellville, Madagascar. We'll stop at Sakatia tonight, if we ever get there going only 2.5 over the ground.
After procrastinating on a repair for three full months since receiving new brown dacron thread in April, I've finally started the dreaded task of re-stitching the leather cover on our grab rail. Dedicating three hours to project commencement yesterday I managed only to remove the leather, pick off most of the old double-sticky tape from the back side, pull out all the old ripped stitches, re-stretch the needle holes with a very sharp awl from my sail repair kit (thank you, Hasse) and reattach the leather temporarily to the rail with a billion little black zip ties. This commentary is about the zip ties, sort of. Idle minds, as I said.
Just before we lost my camera (dang) I shot a photo of the grab rail with the leather held temporarily in place with zip ties every few inches, looking like the Statue of Liberty. Or like the third floor of Chicago City Hall, where pigeons like to roost awaiting the arrival of the lady in two hats and three raincoats who comes with a shopping bag to Daley Plaza every day around eleven and sits under the Picasso doling out stale bread crumbs to the well-behaved birds, the ones she knows and likes best. If/when the camera turns up I'll post that photo....
Of course, all the zip ties will be nipped off one by one and discarded as I stitch across the leather, the third set of twenty zip ties that have been dedicated to this rail, for I've performed this work twice before. We purchase zip ties by the hundred and use them nearly every day on SY Mersoleil, usually for the obvious wire management applications, but also for odd and nutty purposes like this one. We simply could not get along without zip ties. Fortunately, they're available in electrical supply stores everywhere we've travelled, so while they're crucial to Mersoleil day to day operations, I'm not overly neurotic about zip ties.
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy was noted in the 1980s for his series of redneck jokes all beginning, 'You know you're a redneck if...' and including a large number that I find so amusing I've memorized them and could give you without rehearsal a thirty minute standup routine consisting of nothing but this low humor. One of my particular favourites is 'You know you're a redneck if you view duct tape as a capital improvement.' (Duct tape, not further addressed in this musing, is banned onboard Mersoleil. We do possess a roll of the stuff, but any yachtie will tell you blue tape is infinitely better for almost all uses and it doesn't leave that dreadful permanent gummy residue on everything it touches.) But we DO value our zip ties as capital improvements, or at the very least essential equipment so important that they must be inventoried. Over the past month, with Robbie's recent Maestro Electricidad miracles, and now the grab rail repair, we've used so many of the little things, yet another brilliant invention that I wish I'd thought of first, that I reorganized our remaining supply, sorting them by size into two containers and retiring a couple of Ziploc bags that were once full of zip ties but are now available for a new use.
Ziploc bags another inconceivably precious commodity. What would we do without zippered plastic food storage bags!? American zippered freezer bags are definitely on the list of capital assets around here and if you are lucky enough to be living in that land of plenty where you can buy Hefty and Glad products any time you want them, I suggest you drop immediately to your knees and utter a prayer of gratitude. Nowhere in the world, at least nowhere I've been yet, has a product to compare to the small high quality storage bags one can buy at every supermarket in America. One of the bags retired yesterday from zip tie duty still says on its little white patch 'GREEN BEANS W/BCN AUG 9 2012' having served multiple rounds of important uses, being repeatedly washed, checked for leaks, dried and put to use again. We reuse and recycle plastic bags until they are truly too weary to continue and then, with grave misgiving, place them respectfully in the trash bin.
I've shopped for plastic bags in every single country we've visited. The generally available substitute for the American zippered plastic bag does not have a zipper, is made of such thin plastic that one can smell the contents right through the bag, and has a press-together seal that never actually closes or stays closed. It's remarkable the number of disappointing bag products one can find (I've tried dozens of imposters), and a great testament to the quality of Glad, Hefty and Ziploc was Heather Stembridge's remark, 'Oh you ordered more American zippered bags! I wish I had known. I want some American bags!' You'd think high quality food storage bags would be available in New Zealand, but sadly for Hearther, they are not. Neither in Australia, except at the Costco where they sell pinch zipped Glad bags, deprived of the tabs.
So we treasure and reuse zippered bags many many times, gradually downgrading them from 'food quality,' to 'no longer holds liquid,' to 'use for fasteners or spare parts,' to 'mini garbage bag,' at which point they finally go into the rubbish containing fish skin or chicken drippings or stinky cheese trash that we wish to segregate from the fresh air in the galley.
There's a repurposed bag circulating right now that I've seen several times in the past month, a gallon size Hefty refrigerator bag, that says 'yoga pants.' Even clothing lives in plastic bags, my silk scarves that would slide all over the place and onto the floor if I open a locker while Mersoleil is heeled over; sweaters, fleece pullovers, wool socks and whatever else I'll need again when we reach Cape Town's higher latitudes; the dozens of colorful bangles that I bought in India to wear with saris. If it seems superfluous to write 'yoga pants' on the clear plastic bag containing guess what, consider this. The extra large bag we gather around a full canister of smelly saltwater in order to ferry it for cleaning from watermaker to the sink without spilling seawater on the rug looks exactly like the bag in which I keep fresh bakery items. After lunch when the croissants are all gone both these bags could easily be sitting on the counter next to the galley sink and I do not care to get them mixed up! We label bags not so one can tell what is ALREADY inside, something easily discerned without written clues, but so we know immediately what to return to each bag when they're sitting around EMPTY and it's time to put things away! I have purchased zippered bags online and had them shipped to us on other continents - you can buy them by the hundreds at a nice discount from Walmart; begged my sister, Gretchen, to bring them to me when she visits (thanks, Gret); and thus far have resisted the urge to write a whinging email to Target who offers a fine selection that is 'not available for online purchase.' Obviously Target just does not understand how we live. And like Microsoft, who fails to grasp that not everyone has all-you-can-eat Internet all the time, Target apparently can't conceive of anyone living more than fifteen minutes from their nearest retail outlet.
Does this bore you' Does it seem ridiculous' I suppose maybe not if you're still reading, but I wonder if I have conveyed my point, that since leaving shore we have grown to sincerely appreciate small and surprising conveniences that seemed trivial to us in the past, things that (unless you're another cruiser reading this and nodding in agreement) you possess in abundance in your own home and for which it has never even occurred to you to be deeply thankful. Cruising the world has changed us in many ways we did not expect.
Velcro. Yep, Velcro, accept no substitutes and continue using your little Velcro straps until they disintegrate in the sun or simply die of old age. Light in weight, tiny and easy to find at one's neighborhood Home Depot, brand name Velcro is another essential, conveniently schlepped to us by visiting friends. Can't live without it and we have proven sufficiently to ourselves that the Chinese hook-and-loop wannabees are so inferior to the real thing that they're not worth buying at any price. The boat hook and landing net hang outside, strapped to our rails by two Velcro straps each, and there they remain tolerant of frequent use, long passages, high seas and the blazing sun. Velcro maintains order among Mersoleil's shore power cords, coiled and stowed when we're not in a marina; holds down long narrow flaps over the zippers on our dodger windscreen, keeping many of the big waves from filling the cockpit; fastens the little protective vinyl cover around a glossy teak table that's folded down flat when not in use. We could not get along without Velcro, definitely another prized capital asset.
The neck-straining back-breaking fun of re-stitching the grab rail leather will begin as soon as we anchor. It's difficult, time consuming and quite as unforgiving as knitting, in that if I make a mistake I won't see it until several stitches later and I'll have to rip back to the error and resume more carefully from there. It will take about 16 hours and extravagant amounts of self-discipline to keep me on task until it's completed and all those zip ties go in the rubbish with the bag of chicken skin. The things that occupy my mind while I'm on watch. Honestly. One night I made a list on the back of the active sailing log page, the ragedy sheets we keep on a clipboard for recording position and sea conditions while sailing. I listed all the words I know ending in -ment, ornament, supplement, compliment, establishment, impediment, basement and some hundred and twenty more. Then I made a list of words ending in -mental to see how many of my -ment words could accept the further suffix 'al ornamental, sacramental, experimental. The 'mental list was shorted. I was amused. Words are fascinating.
August 9th, Nosy Mitsio
Madagascar's west coast is characterized in winter by a reliable wind pattern of very light land breezes from early morning until noon followed by more robust sea breezes rushing back onto the land for the next twelve to fourteen hours as the earth heats up and draws cooler air off the sea. When we sail down the coast in early October to the point where we'll cross the Mozambique Channel to South Africa, we'll depend upon these alternating breezes to carry us south preserving fuel for the more difficult runs toward Cape Town. Deciding to practice this balance of tack-west-in-the-morning-and-east-in-the-afternoon, we departed Sakatia at dawn yesterday and have come north about 45nm to Nosy Mitsio from where we'll begin our experiment a few days from now. Nosy Mitsio reminds us both of the lightly inhabited islands of Fiji, Vanuatu and French Polynesia. The air is dry, the sky and water both turquoise blue, and during the night a young goat somewhere on shore bemoaned with repeated mournful baa-aaa-aa-a-a-as the fact that he'd misplace his mother. We saw him this morning grazing on the hillside of dry, but still green, grass and feel confident he'll find mom one of these days soon and not go hungry in the interim. There are cattle on this island, too, as we discovered by ear last evening and confirmed visually today over coffee.
Rumor has it there are manta rays too, but it's a large bay and we're not sure where they hang out, so an exploratory dinghy survey is planned for this afternoon. I dropped in a fishing line on the way up here, but the afternoon's effort went three for the fish, naught for me. First, we landed a nice big fish, but he was a barracuda, not esteemed as a food fish and commonly known to be ciguatoxic. I held him up by the line while Robbie rolled out the hook with a pair of pliers and he went back into the drink. The next two hits were wahoos that we never even saw, but they both took signature wahoo snaps at the lure, a black and silver squid, biting off the skirt at an angle first short, then shorter. I did not lose the lure, though, and will keep fishing with it since they seem to like it so well. I've been using a six inch piece of no. 12 electrical wire, twisted first around the lower side rail then around the line, to hold my hand reel up above the deck. I suspend the reel by passing the handline between the ends of the wire, then twisting them once or twice, just tightly enough to retain the line loosely up near the rail. When a fish strikes he snaps the reel out of the twisted wire and it bangs on the deck alerting the helmsman that dinner is at the end of the line. As the Aussies would say, it works a treat!
Every now and then at the market I buy something that I don't especially favour just for the sake of variety and to expand my culinary expertise (read play with it). I haven't yet got as far as okra, which they call lady fingers in SE Asia, and don't aspire to, but a large oval eggplant came home with me the other day so I made an Andalusian eggplant frittata for dinner last night. It seemed odd slicing the eggplant thin and boiling it for half an hour, seasoning the frittata mixture with the unfamiliar combination of cinnamon and coriander seeds, but I must say the result was pronounced a big success by both Mr. and Mrs. Collins and I will write VVG next to the recipe in my Mediterranean cookbook. It was the sauce, really, that got us excited. A mixture even stranger than the frittata itself, with olive oil, honey, a raw garlic clove, vinegar, black pepper and uncooked ap flour, the sauce is blended smooth and drizzled over the frittata. We could have eaten it with a spoon it was so lucious!
I'll happily send you the recipe if you ask, but beware that delicious sauce, making sure everyone you will see tomorrow partakes. When I woke up this morning, I thought the little lost billy goat had died overnight in my mouth. It took a strong cup of coffee and a pastry from the bakery in Hellville to set me right. Robbie and I agreed the sauce would be better than the usual olive oil with balsamic vinegar for dipping french bread before dinner. Or drizzled over steamed green beans. Or on a salad with citrus, radishes and onions. Oooh! So many choices.
Immediately after our arrival yesterday afternoon, as commonly happens at remote island anchorages, a couple of guys in dugout outrigger canoes paddled up to Mersoleil and began calling for our attention. We were tired though, after departing Sakatia in the wee hours, and did not feel like playing the game of bartering for bananas we really didn't need, so we remained inside until they finally went away disappointed at sunset. We've had lots of experience with locals approaching our boat, sometimes even banging right into it with their rustic local craft, and we much prefer to meet local people on shore or in their villages. Approaching us the minute we have arrived is just a touch too assertive for our taste, and often the individuals who have enough chutzpah to do this have come with a list of demands for rope, milk, fishing equipment and other items, even money, they think we might be persuaded to hand over. We do carry gifts, especially toys for the kids, sewing kits, fishing line, laundry soap, inexpensive sunglasses, that we enjoy sharing with others, but, having seen a few aggressive and even nutty characters closely scrutinizing Mersoleil, we prefer to entertain islanders at our boat only after we have become acquainted and invited them there ourselves.
I wish we still had reading glasses from the Lions Club to share with the people here. We became so proficient at setting up and operating our little optical dispensary in South Pacific island villages that we could refract 45 people and fit them all with reading glasses in about two and a half hours. It gave us a marvelous chance to interact with locals, to do something really valuable for them, and our 'clients' were thrilled to find after years of poor near vision that they could suddenly see to read their Bibles, or tie lines onto fish hooks, or sew again. Mizzy mentioned yesterday doing this in French Polynesia if she can connect with the Lions Club in Hawai'i. Do it, Mizzy! It's fun for everybody and a lasting contribution to the village. Even young people in their twenties came to us wanting readers - probably not needing them at all but not wanting to be left out. To these, we gave the 1.00 and 1.25 lenses*, telling them to get them out in the future when they become necessary. To those who found 2.00, 2.25 and 2.50 lenses helpful, we suggested that they would eventually want stronger corrections and could give these old glasses to somebody five years younger. To those who said, 'my sixty-eight year old mother can't see, but she is not well and couldn't come,' we promptly handed over two pair, 3.25s and 3.50s, knowing that the most elderly locals would not be able to come to us and that they'd benefit from the strongest lenses we had, sharing the extra pair with an elderly friend. No one who actually needed those strong corrections ever came directly to us, being homebound with poor health or having already learned from experience that it's safer to remain close to home when you can no longer see where you're walking. While we don't respond very well to the begging of the boys in canoes, we clearly recognize that such possessions as the drugstore reading glasses we take for granted in developed societies are rare and precious gifts in poor, remote communities.
*We observed over and over again that neither does anyone who actually needs a correction as slight as 1.00 or 1.25 come to be fitted for readers. And concluded that either they haven't yet figured out that their near vision is beginning to deteriorate or that the old ego has still not given in to the admission that glasses are necessary. People are funny, aren't we'
August 7, Sakatia Island, Madagascar
The islands off NW Madagascar are lovely. It's dry, but not quite arid, and the waters are generally friendly and calm. We've stopped here for a couple of days while I recovered from a brief bout of not feeling well and Robbie made the social rounds at sundown, then hiked across the island (to another bay that looks exactly like this one) with Phil anf Karel (Tehani-Li) and Phil and Lesley (Pacifique). After I came out of hiding we dined in a group of ten at a beachfront... um.... Well... Restaurant is decidedley too grand a word for the facility, but the meal was fantastic. Have you seen the steeply tilted benches that some cities install at bus stops? They offer a place to lean your derriere so long as your feet are firmly planted on terra firma below and you'll never find one of these occupied by a snoozing homeless person because they're impossible to lie upon without rolling off. Wooden tabletops perch upon wood posts planted firmly in the sand and one or two narrow rough planks, tilted a la bus stop benches, make up the seating furniture. Larger posts support a loosely thatched gabled roof and the proprietors had thrown a lace cloth over the best of their four or five banquet tables. We arrived in the dark and I never figured out whence was produced the food but it was delivered in delicious abundance, a crispy salad of tomatoes, cucumber, grated carrots; two outdoor grilled whole fish, crunchy and flavourful; marinated and grilled chicken that was tasty and piquant; tender octopus in a savory sauce; generous quantities of hot rice; a sweet dessert that Robbie says was some kind of pastry; and plenty of THB, the local Malagasy lager, placed on the table in icy cold bottles. Another wonderful evening among friends and great food and drink, one of the important rituals of cruising life.
Not far from our anchor, but far enough to go by dinghy, we snorkelled the next day with sea turtles. Two hours in the water is a long time for us, but it's mesmerizing, watching these big animals lazily munching their way through the sea grass in just 3 meters of water, swimming to the surface for a gulp of air every fifteen or twenty minutes. They're quite accustomed to humans swimming along and one didn't hesitate to surface just inches away from my face, eyeing me with mild curiosity as he approached, took a big breath and returned to the seaweed. Finally, sufficiently chilled and shivering, Robbie and I returned to Doggie, anchored nearby, for the sometimes humbling experience of hauling our wet, heavy, flippered selves up out of the water and heaving our butts over the pontoon into the boat. This is accomplished, usually on the first try, by clutching the pontoon with both hands, plunging down deep into the water, then with a great kick of both fins, propelling oneself up and high enough to flop onto the boat like a fish that's made a grave mistake. I usually end up with my hips on the pontoon, weight evenly divided between the top of the boat and 'fall-back-in,' and by rolling onto one side, I can change the balance enough to gain victory and swing my legs over the side into the dink. Always humbling, even when successful.
One night while at Sakatia I created shrimp po' boys for us for dinner with fresh shrimp I'd discovered at the Hellville outdoor market. The nice little red plastic shrimp thing my mother gave me years ago does not seem to have made the cut, or I couldn't locate it anyway, but I found a hashi, a Japanese chopstick, proved a pretty good substitute for my slick shrimp sheller/deveiner and I had a billion small shrip peeled in ten or fifteen minutes. Fresh baguettes, shredded lettuce, sliced local tomatoes, homemade remoulade and a quick marinade and dusting with flour produced po' boys substantially equivalent to those I've had in New Orleans and they were a tasty treat for dinner that evening. I keep a list of "substitutes" in my recipe folder (how to make Bisquick when you don't have any, how to sour cream in a minute, etc.) but there was no entry for buttermilk, not too surprising I suppose since I never use buttermilk. I squeezed a half lemon into a cup of milk, it curdled right up, I called it buttermilk, threw in the spices then the shrimp, waited half an hour et voile. Po' Boys! We'll do that again! They were fantastic. All the shrimp shells and heads are now in the freezer waiting to flavour the cream in our next fish chowder. We eat well when near a good local market, and for ten days thereafter. Then it gets a little iffy and, well, I don't tell you about those meals.
August 6 in Hellville, Nosy Be, Madagascar No idea who or why they call it Hellvile, the Malagasy name of the main town on Nosy Be is actually Andoany, Robbie and I spent five or six days resting up after the short bumpy trip from Mayotte and exploring the joys of the town, well suited to the needs of cruising sailors. That's not to suggest that there are any marine services of any kind, but we no longer expect the impossible and content ourselves with a selection of nice cafes, a sufficient supermarket, an excellent local produce market (large and bustling) and, praise the lord in this land of 3m tidal range, a floating dinghy dock connected by passarelle to the concrete wharf.
A local man named Jimmy, who speaks excellent English, works full time during cruising season (May to October), self-appointed concierge to all visiting yachties. He and his assistant, Kool, are down at the town wharf from 7 or 8 each morning until the last dinghy has gone home in the evening to its respective yacht. For a modest daily fee Jimmy greets new arrivals, takes each captain on the obligatory tour of Police (Immigration), Port Captain and ATM, pointing out along the way where one might stop for a coffee, teaching a few phrases of Malagasy and answering any specific questions of immediate interest. And he stables your dinghy while you're ashore, protecting it and keeping it from inconveniencing the many other boats constantly coming and going from the small wharf. One, usually Kool, remains at the busy wharf all day long, jockeying around as many as half a dozen inflatable boats, moving them on and off the dock as water taxis and larger ferries come and go, sometimes dangling several of our floating charges from the end of a ferry while the ferry disgorges passengers, locals coming in to town or tourists dragging all their rolling luggage, and loads the next group departing Nosy Be, before herding his all the little tenders back to the wharf. This service for the rough equivalent of a US dollar a day, a great value, hugely appreciated.
We left one of our two aluminium LPG tanks with Jimmy last week, along with a cash reward for finding any way he could to have our American tanks with American fittings filled with gas. A couple of days later when we and eight others returned from the Scicilian pizza place (pretty good) our filled LPG tank awaited us in the dinghy and I was grateful Robbie didn't have to schlep the heavy thing around town as he has done in other countries, buying little fittings and new regulators that break upon initial use and trying to gravity fill the tank himself. I delivered our second tank, nearly empty, on the following morning and told Jimmy we'd be gone for a week or so, asking him to attend to tank #2 at his convenience and return it to us next time we pull up in Hellville. Almost every country now offers the chain-link fenced LPG station with dozens of cooking fuel tanks available for easy swapping - drop off your empty tank and walk away with a different tank just for the price of the fuel, but that's not an option for us. Our solid aluminium tanks are very valuable, to begin with, and we have no desire to part with them in exchange for a rusty steel tank with a coat of new blue spray paint. Ours are fitted exactly to the locker in which they live, concealed below deck by a hinged lid near the galley, and they don't rust. We have resorted once or twice in desperation to the purchase of a local steel tank when fittings compatible with ours are completely unavailable and we have the rust rings in the bottom of our LPG locker to prove it. Would you like to buy a small grey 4.9l LPG tank that has a rusty bottom and says "Seychelles Gas SEYPEC"' Speak up soon or I'll give it to Jimmy next time we stop in Nosy Be. He'll find a good use for it and now that our own tanks are filled, I'm over it.
Three times on various errands in Hellville we walked past the Cote (caret over the o) Jardin restaurant before finally stopping there one day for lunch. Wooden tables and chairs, all painted distressed white, line the front of the building, and we'd noticed people there before at breakfast time. But the hostess who greeted us at 1PM invited us inside suggesting "you'd like to sit in the garden'" I'm not sure distressed white paint conveys quite the accurate image of Cote Jardin, and I was delighted to see snowy white linens on perfectly set tables as we walked through the indoor dining room, then was surprisingly and profoundly pleased with the garden, picturesque and tranquil with umbrellas to shade each wrought iron table, a separate outdoor building where wood-fired pizzas are prepared, tropical and old world flowers lovingly tended in beds around the few gnarled old trees that shelter the garden. My seafood salad was the most delicious composed salad I've seen since Seattle bearing a creamy honest-to-goodness French dressing, sweet baby shrimp and tender still-warm rings of squid that were perfectly cooked. Fine French dining, I want to try everything on the menu except the zebu. Already I have expressed an interest in celebrating my birthday there next month. I hope he remembers. Maybe Lisa will remind him - Lisa always reads this while His Robbiness does not.
Speaking of Lisa, she said to me the other night at the Scicilian pizza shindig, "There are PHOTOS with your postings!' I had no idea! I've always just read the text I get in the emails that tell me you've added something new!" If you've been making the same mistake, go look at the actual YIT page rather than reading the text-only messages subscribers receive when we post each entry. Those text posts are included for the benefit of cruisers, hampered by lack of Internet at sea, who receive our position reports via satellite email or SSB. If you're online, just click on the link that says www.yit.nz/yacht/mersoleil where you'll see exactly where we are and where we've been on a Google Earth image, and you'll be able to look at the pictures I've uploaded for various postings. The YIT page is prettier and much more interesting! I can only add photographs when I have Internet access, so they usually come a bit AFTER the text is published. Scroll down to review everything posted in 2018. Select a different tab to review our adventures for previous years.
We sailed from Mayotte on July 25, arriving in the early morning of our wedding anniversary, the 27th. Another unexpectedly difficult passage with even Predictwind off by more than 10kts, so we plowed into 25-30kt headwinds and used more motor than sail after the first 50nm took us too far north. Alas, clouds obscured the once in a century long lunar eclipse, but we marveled at the blood red setting moon on the morning of the 27th.
We like the vibe of Madagascar which reminds us more of the South Pacific than anyplace we've been since New Caledonia three years ago.
We'll stay here puttering around the pretty anchorages of NW Madagascar until late September when it will be time to take on the challenging trip to Cape Town.
A Short Visit to the French insular department of Mayotte, not a country, not a territory, too complicated for me. But French, si vous plait.
After a couple of days at anchor off Dzaoudzi we've moved to the 'marina' at Mamoudzou on the Ile Gran Terre. Ferries come and go every twenty minutes during waking hours bouncing Mersoleil and Tehani-Li exhuberantly, but constant wind keeps us off the dock so nothing dreadful happens. Climbing on and off the yacht when it's held a meter and a half away from the dock is a challenge, though. My patented technique involves standing with one foot on the shortest dock line until my weight presses the line down toward the water and draws the boat close enough for me to reach the toe rail with the other foot (or to leap onto the dock). Then, if boarding, I haul myself quickly aboard before she drifts away. The trick is the same as boarding from a bouncing dinghy, really - invest all your weight on one point. Standing with weight evenly divided between left foot and right foot when the boat springs away from the pontoon is a recipe for a dangerous fall into the water between the boat and a hard place. So far so good.
All the reports were correct. I can't say Mayotte offers much for the cruising sailor beyond French wines and delicious cheeses. Happy to stock up on some lovely cheeses and an excellent well-priced merlot. We haven't seen good cheese since New Caledonia three years ago and, before that, French Polynesia in 2012! (F. P., I just learned is neither department nor territory, but a collectivity. Leave it to the French to cook up such funny names for their colonies.)
Another wonderful thing here is the people watching! The ladies of Mayotte fear neither color nor gigantic patterns. They parade billowy garments wrapped round and round their queen-sized bodies, something like a sari, but I'm told they consist of a great wide tube of fabric sewn together at the ends, draped according to the wearer's preference. (Whereas a sari must be installed according to strict rules that vary only slightly by region all across India.) A second piece of material, also colorful but not necessarily matching the gown, and as large as a tablecloth for ten or twelve, is wound fashionably over and about head and shoulders.
Mayotte is a Muslim country where the ladies generally cover fairly modestly, but they follow the rules loosely, preferring to create a strong fashion statement with a casual nod to the normally conservative Muslim practices. No berkas here. In addition to the gowns, splashed riotously with conventionalized sketches of foot-high pineapples or vibrant zigzags in blue, white and orange, a facial masque of yellow mud is conspicuous on dark brown skins. We haven't quite figured that out and it's hard to find an opportunity to inquire. We speak no French and the locals no English.
Our stay in Mayotte has become the stereotypical cruising opportunity to repair one's boat in exotic places. Robbie (with some commiseration from Phil Tenney - thanks Phil) has spent an entire week trying to understand and repair the electrical systems of the watermaker and the navigation instruments, both critical for passages of any length. As soon as the systems are fit for travel, and we can find a suitable weather window, we'll be off for Madagascar, making landfall at Andoany (aka Hellville) about 200nm away on the east side of the Mozambique Channel.
Hard to believe we are in Africa. Africa. Who'd'a thunk?
July 10 2018 on the final run to the lagoon pass, Passe Mtsamboro, Mayotte
We've turned on the iron genny hoping we might anchor inside the lagoon at Mayotte before dark today. We could have pressed forward with tacking, but when the winds dropped below 10kts it wasn't much fun anymore. Closed hauled we can only get 2 or 3 kts over the ground out of an 8kt wind. In addition, we have a new problem with the instruments which makes dallying unattractive. Always something, you know.
Having an additional month to play with before crossing to South Africa, we have decided to add Madagascar to our itinerary, the area from the N tip down the west coast as far as our jumping off point for crossing the Mozambique Channel. We'll probably not remain in Mayotte more than a week or two, then will hop over to Madagascar and have a play there. We're hearing better reviews of Madagascar than of Mayotte.
This morning, Tuesday, 10th July, we are powering along direct toward the lagoon entrance. All is well on board except for the buggered instruments which cause concern. We suspect rebooting the Raymarine system might correct everything. Or that it will not come up at all after shutting down.... so we're living with limited data which seems a lot better than none at all!
Another great passage - this one for challenging sailing on the breezy side!
July 9 2018
Last evening as we rounded Aldabra, a few miles off, NW of the atoll, the winds and sea both calmed down. It was such a pleasure! We continued on a course of about 235T, then 225T as the winds backed gradually toward the E, and are now seeing the winds die off and move more southerly again.
Robbie has just gone up to make sense of the sails, then we'll probably begin a series of tacks down toward Mayotte. Right now we have stays'l and genoa flying, and almost nothing of a main. I have a headache and selfishly decided to curl up in the cockpit and wait for reinforcements rather than free up winches by myself.
That was QUITE a ride from Mahe to Aldabra! I need a nap.
Greetings from Rocket Ride Mersoleil, July 8, 2018
More of the same... that's all we have to report. Winds generally in the 23/28 range, but once in a while they pop up over 30 just to make sure we're paying attention. We haven't seen anything above 35kts. And, of course, it's a pretty boisterous ride so little sleep is happening between watches.
Mersoleil handles the pummeling from waves well. She's a tough boat. Her owners are a wee bit more fragile. We won't need to buy table salt for months. We can simply scrape it off our clothing and faces.
No rain showers in the past 18 hours, at least not fresh water ones. And we have closed within 100nm of our Aldabra waypoint. The wind is often aft of the beam now, but we can't even begin to turn south till we clear the island. Just as well, I'd like to see the winds drop, too, before we bring the it onto the beam.
Please send pizza. Galley is a mess and it's really too hard to accomplish a meal.
Going the long way to Mayotte to avoid high winds
Our weather expert reports that the plume of enhanced winds bending around Madagascar has grown, reaching further north than usual, and he has recommended that we divert to the north to avoid gales. We'll pass north of Aldabra Island, one of the most important islands of the Republic of Seychelles. Aldabra is the largest coral atoll in the world. Seychelles takes great pride in husbanding her, proudly announcing a month or two ago that they had finally ridded the island of the 300 feral goats that used to tend it.
The extra few COG degrees to the north has removed all excitement from the boarding waves we took at 235T and either the seas have subsided by a full meter or we're taking the swell at a much more friendly angle. Mersoleil here, just mushing along at a respectable speed despite the tiny sail plan.
July 6, 2018
Yesterday when Mersoleil reached hull speed, 9.6kts, Robbie decided it was time for some more serious reefing. Now the genoa is furled away and we're sailing fast on only a double-reefed main and the staysail. Have had some good soaking rains, but after the rains we took some saltwater drenching in the cockpit and the rains have not returned to wash things down. Very lumpy out here and I'm going below at the end of this watch to shower off the salt before I can let me sit down.
July 5 2018
As we departed Mahe the wind was decidedly SW, which we attributed to its bending around the island. But even 20nm away and further, we're getting no easterly component at all and now have wind from due S fluctuating only 10-15 degrees either way. Wind speeds have been constant 10-12, but no higher. Robbie said, "I'm only going 4.3, but I'm happy with that. I sailed from India!" (See earlier postings about drifting on glassy seas from Kochi all the way to Seychelles!)
A COG of 235T was completely impossible, so we muddled along at 5kts on a course of about 250, losing even more southing to leeway. We MUST pass south of 06 18S 52 12E to avoid some seriously baaaad water at Les Amirantes, so at 3AM local I tacked and we are now on the disappointing heading of 129T, locked on a waypoint so we'll not suffer any more leeway, but very pinched and making only 3.8-4.8 over the ground. Still, NOT headed for reefs, so pleased about that! Wind down a touch to 8-10kts.
Departing Seychelles for Mayotte on July 4 2018
Originally planning to remain in Seychelles until August, we've decided to move on a little earlier. Mersoleil was burglarized in early June during the night while we were asleep. Even though we lost only our phones before we awakened and scared off the intruders, this, together with the fact that we know of at least half a dozen other similar events occurring in the past month, has significantly dampened our enthusiasm for staying longer. Our visitor permits will expire on the 9th of this month. While the first 90-days was free, extending our stay will cost US$750.00 (not to mention the expense of replacing the cell phones). Besides, we both have admitted to not sleeping very well, constantly wondering 'what's that' at each little sound during the night. Moreover we'll be sailing toward Africa through well-developed trade winds, too, which are generally stronger during August than July. The coming passage will be easier now than next month.
Seychelles has some wonderful places and people and except as noted above we've really enjoyed our stay here. Spending time on La Digue with warm and friendly local, Marie Therese Julienne, visiting the Jai Alai purse seine vessel at dock in Port Victoria, petting and feeding giant land tortoises on Curieuse Island, basking in the sunny turquoise waters of Anse Lazio, Baie de Georgette and Baie Beau Vallon were wonderful experiences that we'll carry away with us. Still we are quite ready to go.
We completed the exit clearance process in a day and a half, made a quick grocery run and a last minute stop at the Taylor Smith Shipyard fuel dock, then motored across Victoria Harbour, beginning our passage in earnest at 5PM today when we turned to the southwest toward the Mozambique Channel 700nm away. It's always exciting to begin a new adventure, heading for a country we can't even picture in our minds and about which we know almost nothing - except that its inhabitants speak French and we do not.
A day aboard the Jai Alai, a Spanish deep-freezing tuna purse seiner.......
It's difficult to decide which to tell you, that we never give one another gifts anymore, there being nowhere to stow additional items on our boat, or that today was a verrry exciting day! Both, I guess, as they go together anyway and both are true.
Our younger son, Chris, is a fisheries scientist working on fishing boats in Alaska as a contract observer for the United States government. We don't really understand what he does. But we do see fishing boats of all kinds and sizes as we sail the high seas. The waters of the Republic of Seychelles are popular fishing grounds for the really big operations and half a dozen to ten huge purse seiners are at dock in Victoria Harbour or waiting at anchor for a berth at any one time. I thought it would be fun to see if we could arrange to visit one of these ships in celebration of Robbie's birthday. He'd understand better what Chris is doing out there, we'd have a much greater appreciation for what we're looking at when we pass these ships at sea, and there would be nothing to store but pictures and memories. The perfect gift!
Samantha Marie and Vincent, at the Port of Victoria, generously helped me arrange Robbie's birthday surprise and at 10:30 this morning Vincent escorted us aboard the two year old Spanish deep-freezing tuna vessel, Jai Alai. The Jai Alai is about 270 feet (89m) long and is equipped with state of the art flash freezing systems that immediately freeze the catch at -60C. (Yes, really. Celsius!) https://echebastar.com/en/deep-freezing-system/
Ander Bustinza, an English-speaking student at a Spanish marine college, now engaged in a summer internship on Jai Alai, joined Patron, Jose Ramon Cardoso, to give us a fascinating and detailed tour of the ship, describing life on board and introducing us to all the other officers. Coincidentally, both Ander and Robbie will celebrate their birthdays on June 27th, one turning twenty and the other I won't say who turning seventy three.
The entire crew of about forty hails from the picturesque seaside town of Bermeo, Spain, spending four months at sea in Seychelles then four months at home. Framed photos of Bermeo decorate the ship. It really does look lovely and we've placed Bermeo on our Mediterranean sailing agenda for 2019.
Chef, Manuel Fernandez, and his busy galley crew were delighted to to show off their outstanding kitchen filled with tempting aromas of today's meals and at the end of the tour we were invited to stay for luncheon in the officers' dining room. This provided ample opportunity to practice our Spanish during a lively conversation over white beans, sauteed pork chops, fried potatoes, roasted red peppers and fresh bread, accompanied by a salty peppery lime pickle that they like well enough to have it delivered to Seychelles from Madagascar. I discovered that I've ruined my Spanish studying Portuguese for the last year but we got by.
Not satisfied with sharing only their time and knowledge with us, Chef Fernandez presented Robbie with two enormous fish for his birthday, a yellowfin tuna and a wahoo, both rock hard at -60C and tied up after viewing in one of the white bags used to package the best of the catch. We are as thrilled as if we'd caught them ourselves! The fish were too heavy for us to carry more than a few steps, so while His Robbiness walked back to Seychelles Yacht Club to fetch our dinghy, I commandeered a fork lift whose operator conveyed our lovely fish to the edge of the wharf. Together, back at Mersoleil, Robbie and I heaved the bag up on deck, and it lies now in our own galley, taking up the entire length of the countertop, wrapped in many layers of plastic and fabric, looking a lot like a dead body, which I suppose it is. It will thaw gradually overnight, I'll butcher it in the morning, give some to everyone we know, and enjoy the rest ourselves over the next several weeks.
What an exciting day! Thank you, Port of Victoria. Thank you, Hartswater Ltd. Thank you, officers and crew of Jai Alai! What a day! Pictures, memories... and two enormous fish! Happy Birthday, Ander! Happy Birthday, Robbie!
With the arrival of every issue of Flying Magazine, to which he subscribed when he started flying small planes, Robbie turned directly to "I Learned About Flying from This" and read with interest the stories of survivors: survivors of equipment failures; survivors of their own mistakes; survivors of freak accidents; survivors of extreme conditions. Here's our version.
WE LEARNED ABOUT SAILING FROM THIS.
Pulling into the anchorage at Anse Lazio, Praslin Island, Seychelles, we congratulated ourselves on selecting good shelter from the SE trades that are beginning to develop, bringing constant breezes from the southeast at 10-15 knots along with welcome relief from the oppressive tropical heat that's typical until early May. Scattered showers of short duration were coming and going around noon under mostly overcast skies. The sky was very dark downwind, to the west, and we were grateful not to be over there!
I dropped the anchor in about 10 meters of water, let out 55 meters of chain and tied on our 3-strand rope snubber which lengthens the chain by another 5 meters and takes strain off the windlass, the anchor winch. We prefer to use even longer anchor rodes, 7:1 rather than 5:1, but there were already 5 other boats anchored nearby with more arrivals anticipated before the end of the day. Nearly all the other sailing yachts in the Seychelles are rental catamarans and catamaran sailors are notorious for anchoring very close to shore on short chains (sorry, friends, but it's true.) They motor directly in to shore in very shallow water, right in front of Mersoleil, let out insufficient chain, and once we're surrounded by cats on short rodes our swing room is severely limited. So I settled for 5:1 scope.
Less than an hour after we settled in, it became obvious that the black sky was getting darker and, despite the winds still from the SE, the storm appeared to be moving east toward our location, not away. Not an hour after that, we were shocked by a sudden 15F degree drop in temperature accompanied by a powerful blast of 20kt winds from the west that spun us 180 degrees putting Mersoleil and all the other yachts close to the classic, dreaded, lee shore. The storm was already fully formed, and brought with it wind waves that rose rapidly to 2 meters, then 3, and higher. Winds rose to 35kts and remained there. This was a big storm, not a tropical squall, reporting a diameter on our radar of 20nm, and we were right in the middle of it! I sincerely wished we HAD set out more chain, and also that the snubber was longer because as the bow rose 3 or 4 meters with each rising wave then slammed back down into the following trough, our snubber was taking enormous shock loads.
One sailor, on a cat very close to us, thought he could better manage the storm by motoring into the wind and waves, thereby keeping his yacht from turning broadside to the danger and possibly broaching. Captains on the other cats did not try this technique and it was clear that the better choice was to hang without auxiliary power on the anchor rode. The driving yacht was all over the place, quite out of control, and sideways to the wind more than any other vessel in the bay. We worried that he might crash into Mersoleil, tried to hail him on the VHF, in fact we called to "any vessel at Anse Lazio," and received not a single reply. We were obviously the only vessel with a radio on.
In skies as dark as dusk, every yacht in the anchorage turned on its navigation lights.
All the vessels that had anchored close to the reef were now within striking distance of the rocks and because they were in such shallow water, where the huge waves were breaking, they bounced violently, both side to side and forward to aft. One by one the captains of these vessels realized they had to run from the lee shore out into the storm or to find themselves on the reef. At least two vessels dragged their anchors, sliding perilously close to rocky reefs before they made the decision to abandon the anchorage. A third dragged past an unused mooring buoy, fouling his anchor chain on the buoy's mooring chain and several people on that boat huddled at the bow for half an hour in outrageously dangerous conditions debating how to untangle from the mooring. We watched with binoculars - the storm was powerful, even though it had not reached it's height yet - and saw not a single person on any other boat wearing a life vest or tether, but many running around on deck unsure what to do. We could feel their panic. Remember, most of these people are not experienced sailors. They're nice German couples and South African families who've flown here for a one week sailing holiday on a crewed sailing cat. Most of the captains are locals, and we don't know how much sailing experience they have, but we do know from our own observations that they do not all anchor as cautiously and conservatively as we do.
Mersoleil remained solidly anchored, maintaining her position despite the incredible forces on her chain, snubber and hull. Doggie was tied behind the boat, about 15 meters away on a towing bridle that we had assembled before we left Seattle in 2011. See the photos below. I thought for certain that Doggie would break free and that we might have to drag him off the beach with a water-filled outboard when all the shouting was over, or lose him altogether, but remarkably he held his own out there, rising high on each wave and plummeting down to the bottom of each trough, getting jerked by his towing line first left, then right, then spinning 360 and snapping to a halt again with his bow toward Mersoleil's stern. I saw his entire underside more than once flying above the crest of a wave and was amazed he didn't capsize. We donned our life vests and tethered ourselves to padeyes installed in the cockpit, something we do as a rule on passage, but very rarely at anchor.
We had been seeing another monohull throughout the week, a smaller yacht, full of guys speaking French, laughing together late into the evening and having a grand time. Their boat was much too close to both beach and granite boulders and it was bucking wildly with, apparently, no one on board. They must have gone to the restaurant on shore for lunch. At one point, looking toward land through his binoculars, Robbie said, "There's something going on at the beach. I think there's a person in the water!" And then a few minutes later, "There are about six people now standing around on the beach." We didn't understand what was going on there, but we had our own fish to fry and returned our attention to Mersoleil.
The storm continued to intensify, showing, according to radar, no inclination to move or dissipate, and we decided to run the engine in case it was suddenly needed. Waves started coming over the bow, big green torrents rushing down the deck and shooting up over the dodger, our windscreen. We were both drenched, first by the torrential rains, now by saltwater, too. About this time, I put away my phone and camera. The pictures I took of the storm were all taken early in the event. As conditions worsened, it was necessary to give our complete attention to what was going on around us and to consider our options should action become necessary.
Someone was on the small monohull now, the French guys' boat, just one person though, not the entire gang. Dark curly hair and dark skin told us it was probably the local captain. He had started the engine and was trying to motor forward into the waves - without even raising his anchor! The boat lurched forward, then moved slowly until it was fairly close, dangerously so we thought, to Mersoleil at which point we saw him run to the bow (sans pfd and tether), struggle with the anchor, and run back to the helm to regain control of the vessel. After two or three of these excursions, we understood that he was alone on the boat, had no electric windlass with which to raise his anchor, and that he hoped to drag vessel and anchor far enough from shore to buy time to go forward alone and lift the anchor by hand. To our surprise and delight the tactic worked for him and we gave cheers and a big thumbs-up as he motored past and out of the bay. He was a great hero, we thought, but a hero who had swum to his boat from shore in extremely hazardous conditions. He was, we realized, the person in the water earlier. He had gone alone to climb aboard a tossing boat and save it from smashing to pieces on the rocks. Foolish to risk his life as he did, but greatly heroic in saving the sailboat. We're trying to find him now so we can buy him a beer!
Mersoleil was the only yacht left in the anchorage. We discussed again whether to run or to hold tight - it's a tough call under such conditions. Our anchor alarms indicated that Mersoleil hadn't budged an inch and the storm was still enormous and all around. There wasn't anywhere to run and surely this couldn't continue much longer, could it?
After two or three hours of intensifying winds, waves and downpouring rains something changed dramatically. One particularly high wave, it had to be 5 meters, rushed toward the bow. I was on watch tethered in the cockpit and saw it coming, thinking ,"oh, man, this is a big one," as it swamped Mersoleil's bow with several feet of green water that flew down the deck, up over the dodger, into the cockpit and over the top of the bimini above the helm. With all the bucking and tossing I was concerned about the chain and snubber and whether they were in position over the bow roller or lying in a mess on the deck, something we saw once before while beating in high seas. Holding tightly to the dodger grab rail, I stepped up on a seat in the cockpit in order to get a better look at the bow and I saw a rope, it could only be the snubber, draped loosely across the top of the primary bow roller in a completely unnatural position. Maybe the bow had dipped into the water and picked it up. In that case, now the fiberglass of the bow, instead of the steel backed snubber fitting, was going to sustain the huge forces of a twenty-three ton yacht being hurled in the air by high waves. That wasn't a good thing.
Robbie and I agreed that one of us must go forward to inspect the cause of this condition, and perhaps, the damage. Both willing to go, we decided it should be me because I have a smaller surface area, less weight, and I would be slightly less likely to be washed into the sea. Pound for pound I'm probably about as strong has he is, but as a smaller target, we thought I might have a better chance of staying on deck.
We have an excellent system of safety jacklines - specially purchased, cut and installed ropes that run from bow to stern along the centerline of the yacht. We clip multiple tethers onto these lines, allowing us to move the length of the boat, never for a single moment untethered; click one on, move forward, clip on the next before unclipping to first, move forward again to the next change point. It's a little cumbersome, but ensures that nobody falls of the boat when we have to go forward in exciting situations. But, you know, we have never NEEDed the safety jacklines at anchor before! They were carefully stowed in their mesh bag out of the UV and ready for our next sail or passage. So instead I clipped two tethers to the front of my pdf, securing the other end of one to the dodger grab rail, then inched forward to the point where I could clip the second onto the middle shroud, returning to retrieve tether number one so I could advance it to a padeye on the cabintop, retrieving number two and crawling forward to the next secure holding point. When I finally reached the bow a few minutes and several warm salty baths later, it was obvious that the snubber had parted. Its frayed end was dangling in the water like a bushy pony tail and all the weight of Mersoleil was now on the chain and the windlass. Not only that, but the chain had hopped completely out of the guides on the bow roller - this was a first! - and was straining over the port side of the bow eating up the protective Starboard pad that we had installed there to protect the bow from the anchor shank and taking big bites out of the fiberglass as well.
I returned tether-over-tether to the cockpit and explained to Robbie. "We're still hooked," I told him, "but now all the strain is on the chain." The yanking on the chain, now hanging over the side, was ferocious. It didn't look like the storm was going to end any time soon and our track on the anchor alarm began to extend into new territory further from the anchor where there had been no track before. When we lost the snubber the chain effectively became about ten feet longer as slack in the chain stretched out. But it was also possible that the weight and jerking of the boat was beginning to drag the anchor through the seabed. We couldn't tell which was the case, so we decided to abandon the anchorage immediately.
There being virtually no way to lift the anchor chain back into its proper path through the groove and over the bow roller, the only solution was to release the entire 100 meters of chain and the anchor and depart without them. This we did. It was our great good fortune to have pulled out from the anchor locker the bitter end of Mersoleil's anchor chain just two or three days earlier and to have removed the twists that build up in the chain over time. Chain links stack up next to one another in a tightly twisted chain, creating a mass too large to feed through the hawsepipe. In order to avoid this problem, which would render us completely unable to ditch the chain in an emergency, we check the last fifty feet or so of chain every so often to make sure it's untwisted and will run freely in a crisis. This was a crisis and mercifully our chain had no twists in its full length. I untied the small red rope inside the anchor locker that holds the bitter end of the chain to a U-bolt, wrenched loose the nut on top of the windlass and the last 40 meters of heavy chain shot off the bow into the sea in a matter of seconds - until it reached the very end! We had installed a swivel on the bitter end of our chain in the stupid hope that it would allow those twists to rectify themselves, working their way off the end of the chain down in the chain locker. The swivel never accomplished that, but it did catch on something on deck and stop the last two inches of the chain from flying off into the water. With Robbie's help from the helm, ... too noisy to yell to him, so tether over tether I crept back toward the cockpit to ask him to give the windass a nudge up... "What!? RAISE the anchor?"... "Yes, just DO it! I'll explain later!" His tap on the windlass button at the helm was just enough to release the swivel from the fitting against which it was jammed and suddenly the rattle of chains was completely gone along with all our primary ground tackle.
Departing the bay was easy, if uncomfortably bumpy, and we motored to the very spot about three miles away that we had departed on Friday morning. There, of course, we had to deploy the secondary anchor which has been ready and waiting for nearly ten years, but never been used. Well, actually, that's not true. We unintentionally used it once, more like a fender, in New Caledonia to spring off a wharf in a 30kt blow, and ever since then our Delta anchor sits on the bow bent and deformed, testament to the fact that it flicked along half a dozen pilings before we could back off that wharf. The Delta had never been on the bottom before, but it was there and ready and down it went at a calmer safer location with 15 meters of chain and 50 of rope rode and eventually we slept well Friday night.
During the night the winds returned to their benign southeasterly direction, and we rose Saturday morning to return to Anse Lazio to retrieve our Rocna and chain. Before departing the quiet anchorage, we checked on Doggie to see how waterlogged he was and found him completely dry inside! We were flabbergasted! It's a great testament to Walker Bay that their Genesis 310 RIB can sustain seas like that without shipping water. Look at him in the pictures!
A point in our favor, to our credit I might say, is that because we follow a very strict anchoring and record keeping protocol we knew the precise location of the primary anchor. Robbie found the end of the anchor chain on his very first dive, he tied a round white fender to one end of a long line and connected the other end to the (wretched) swivel at the bitter end of the chain. He returned to Mersoleil, we raised the temporary anchor, and I motored over to the float which he picked up with a boat hook exactly as if it were just any moorng pendant. It was a fairly simple matter then to wrap the rope around the windlass and haul it up carefully until there was chain on deck again. I snubbed off the chain to relieve the strain while we discarded the swivel, fed the last few meters of chain and its little security line back down the hawsepipe into the chain locker, re-tied the security line to its U-bolt, and begin to raise the anchor in the usual way.
We stopped raising chain with about 60 meters still in the water, knowing the Rocna was stuck well-enough to sustain a 35kt blow, and here we remain a day later telling you all about it! We need a new snubber, which I can prepare in the next few days, but other than that, some relatively minor fiberglass repairs and a few boat bites, all is very well indeed on sailing yacht Mersoleil.
We feel like we spent 24 hours anchoring!!!! And WE LEARNED ABOUT SAILING FROM THAT!!!
Things we did well:
1. Carried the Dog, our faithful dinghy, on a bridle, not on a single rope. Doggie's bridle was never intended to take a punishing like this, but it survived and protected both dinghy and motor. If we were towing him on a simple painter, he'd surely have been lost. The bridle was an excellent investment in planning and labour. It far exceeded our expectations. See photos.
2. We actively, assertively, firmly set the anchor in the seabed. Robbie hates to hear me say this, but we have never dragged anchor, not yet anyway. Inspection of the anchor on the bottom today confirms that it did not move during the storm. Our slightly enlarged track was apparently due entirely to the release of the slack chain that had been restrained by the snubber until the snubber parted.
3. We had accurate records of our anchor location. Our anchoring procedure has protected us in many situations in which others have fared poorly. We back down on our anchor at 2600 rpm for two minutes every single time we anchor and we record carefully the location of the anchor after it is set, not where it was dropped. Baie Chevalier is huge and has a featureless sand bottom. Robbie would have never found our equipment at all, let alone in five minutes, without accurate coordinates.
4 We maintained a constant anchor watch. We'd wanted to go ashore for lunch, but it is our habit to remain on board for as long as necessary to ensure the safety of the yacht. When we saw the storm growing closer, not farther away, we abandoned the idea of going to Bonbon Plume. In fact, there was no lunch on Friday. No dinner either if I recall.
5. When it became necessary, we made the right decision to dump the ground tackle and depart the bay and exceuted our escape in just a few minutes. Once the windlass assumed all the strain remaining at anchor was out of the question.
6. We know our knots and when we needed a rolling hitch, we produced one instantly without going to a book or a knot app.
Things we could have done better:
1. For the first time in months we failed to check the weather. There's no excuse for our not knowing that storm was moving from west to east. We could have been elsewhere! In some locations, the Indian Ocean being one of them, we have found it difficult to obtain synoptic weather charts and forecasts and we have allowed ourselves to become dependent on windy.com and PredictWind for local weather. They are excellent tools, but they are not meteorological forecasts.
2. We probably should have replaced our snubber before now. This snubber has been in use about 3 years and was beginning look a little weary. That said, there's a good chance a new snubber of the same rating would have chafed through, too, in those conditions. It broke at the rolling hitch, not at the thimble, not mid-line.
3. We did not have experience using the secondary anchor. It would have been a little easier if we had ever practiced with the Delta.
4. I allowed myself to be influenced by what other people do. If not surrounded by the less experienced sailors, I'd have let out more chain in the first place. Knowing the anchorage would become more crowded, I limited the scope of our chain as a matter of convenience. And if I had understood that the storm was headed toward us, not away, I would have lengthened the snubber, too. A longer 3-strand nylon rope will stretch more and may not have failed at all. Actually, if we'd known the direction the storm was traveling (and shame on us for not using MARPA radar tools to find out) we would have been elsewhere altogether.
Now (actually Monday 21st) we're helping the owners of a South African catamaran recover their anchor and chain. Their friends' yacht, just purchased a few months ago in Langkawi and on its voyage home to South Africa, lies stranded on the nearby reef nearly high and dry. Tides are minimal here and we're more than a week away from the next full moon that might bring hopes of lifting her off the rocks.
Yep, we learned about sailing from this.
This is so typical of our visit to Rajasthan. I didn't even intend to write about this visit to a Thar Desert village homestay, but going to my February photos at random it was the first thing I saw and I couldn't resist!
February 23-24, 2018
Salawas Village, Kumharon-ki-Dhani, nr. Gosala, Jodhpur District, Rajasthan, India
(Block the line above and put it in Google Earth to see exact location.)
We stopped at Chhotaram Prajapat's Homestay for just one night on February 23rd, wishing as soon as we'd arrived that we could stay much longer. Robbie and I were welcomed with a colorful blessing daubed on our foreheads, guided to the tradition round desert hut that was our home for the night, introduced so rapidly to at least a dozen family members that we cannot remember anyone's names, and informed that we'd all dine together in the courtyard at around eight.
Chhotaram 's family belongs to the weavers caste, having created stunning hand woven dhurrie rugs for many centuries. but they realize that the market for handcrafted rugs like theirs is dwindling and new sources of income are essential to supporting their extended family. They've organized and operate a cooperative for the rug makers in Salawas village and maintain and sell from an inventory that includes their own hand-loomed rugs as well as those of their friends and neighbors.
In addition to the rug cooperative, the family has opened their home to tourists, building seven traditional round huts about twelve feet in diameter, each a bedroom with its own bath and a western toilet. The homestay business now provides sufficiently for the family's needs and everyone plays his or her role as a welcoming host. Guests range from touring travelers like us to the British writer who came for solitude and spent three months finishing his latest novel. Everyone cuddles the baby, this winter a twelve month old little girl, helps the little boys with their homework, carries limestone blocks for the new hand-paved driveway under construction, and moves the strap-woven beds under roof as the evening grows late and people feel sleepy. Before dinner younger brother, Om, treated us to a jeep tour of the village where we visited the local potter, who expertly spins his low concrete wheel with a wooden stick and crouches before it while throwing pots, met an older gentleman who engages in and demonstrated ancient unmentionable local rituals, and spotted wildlife in the bush as Om drove through the dust at speeds only a 17-year-old would think were fun until I told him bluntly to cut it out.
Yes, we bought a rug, how could we not? Someday perhaps we'll have a home in which to put it!
I've thought long and hard about this posting, about what to say about our experiences in India. As you know, I'm not wont to post photos with such captions as 'here we are standing in front of the blah-de-blah.' Really, who cares about a bad picture of us, tiny in the distance, that doubles as a lousy image of the blah-de-blah, obscured by tourists? You'll never catch me doing that. I want YOU to experience India, to feel amazed when you realize sculptural arts you thought long extinct continue to be produced in 2018, to laugh in surprise with us at the cold shock we felt as an elephant hosed us with a 10-liter trunkful of pond water. I want you to sit down to dinner tonight, leaving all the flatware in the drawer, and eat with the fingers of only your right hand, and imagine eating this way every day for two months like I did. I want you to be moved right now to price that ticket to Jaipur and to ask Soni, www.indiaworldwidetravel.com, to plan a tour for YOU something like the one he arranged for us in February and March of 2018. It will change you. And you will be glad.
Blow-by-blow travelogues being as deadly dull as I believe them to be, I've chosen a few perceptions, experiences, observations and impressive moments to share with you. They are uniquely India, at least they are for me. We sailed away from the coast of Kerala on March 24th and, yes, we have arrived in the Seychelles, which surprised me by being in Africa, (what did I think?) Six weeks later India still monopolizes my thoughts.
In classic cruising fashion, this little missive to you was momentarily interrupted by a minor crisis when Robbie returned from a long hot morning at the boatyard. Tropical heat completely exhausts him and as I climbed sympathetically up to offer a cheery greeting in the cockpit, he stepped out of Doggie, threw a leg over the side rail, then turned around to see Doggie drifting away off leash. He looked at me with a weary "I can't do this" expression, asked, "do you mind?" and I stripped off my sarong, dove off the stern, swam out to our departing dinghy and hauled it back to Mersoleil, practicing for the first time in eons the lifesaving sidestroke I learned in Red Cross Water Safety Instructor classes, then rinsed off at the stern shower. I hope the two men installing floating docks nearby enjoyed the show. Honestly, there is never a dull moment around here. (Charlene, I guess it was my turn this time; Heather, you get it next time!)
These little India vignettes will be posted separately, each with its own supporting photographs. Here's the first one....
Robbie ran across a moving story on the Internet told by a young Asian man who remembered well a lesson he learned from his grandfather. This little story has completely changed how we negotiate and purchase in local markets.
The young man recalled, when he was a child, shopping in the wet markets with his grandfather, who, in the boy's opinion, always paid too much for his cabbage, or bananas, or tools, or boots. Other people, he knew, bargained for lower prices and routinely paid considerably less than originally asked. "Grandfather," the boy asked, "why do you pay two hundred rupees for the watermelon? You know it is only worth one hundred fifty."
The reply was simple. "This is dignified charity, son."
Dignified charity. How many times have I enjoyed an outrageously expensive meal, paying far more than the meal was actually worth and then left an additional fifteen or twenty percent gratuity - thinking nothing of it!? Yet, I go to the local wet market and haggle with the woman who rose before dawn to harvest her produce, has carried 20kg of it to the market balanced on a tray on her head in hopes of making enough money to buy her child a school book. And congratulated myself for paying only one hundred forty rupees instead of the two hundred she wanted.
There is so much - of great value - that one does not learn in first world cultures. This is what we came here for.
There's much to report today, not the least of which is that Mersoleil is on passage and has been for nearly two weeks. The most unusual passage we've ever experienced, this one, with virtually no wind for days on end.
We're sailing from India, having reluctantly departed when our visas expired at midnight on 24 March, to the Seychelles, a distance we would normally cover in ten easy days. This season, characterized, Bruce Buckley tells us, by worldwide weather anomalies that have left the central Indian Ocean bereft of breezes, making the run from Kochi to Victoria is going to take about twice as long! Early on we resorted to running the engine when winds dipped below 7-8kts, our usual procedure. But realizing we'd covered a mere third of the distance and expended more than half our fuel, a come-to-Jesus meeting held in the cockpit resulted in the determination that rigorous fuel conservation tactics were required to avoid the two most dreaded outcomes of running out of fuel on this particular passage in low winds: drifting helplessly ashore in Somalia, volunteer participants in the local sailor for ransom program; and running aground on the reefy outer banks of the Seychelles.
It's been an incredible experience to learn what Mersoleil can do with 2-4 measely knots of wind and we've had ample opportunity to test the spinnaker and all combinations of main, genoa and whisker pole. Amazingly enough, this wonderful yacht rewards us with 4kts over the ground in only 5 of breeze when given a chance! Since the winds haven't often given us even 4kts to work with, our progress is slow, but leisurely and comfortable. We haven't even closed the windows yet!
India is now in the rearview mirror with its astounding palaces, temples and havelis, delicious cuisines, bustling bazaars, beautiful ladies in colorful sarees, and its warm, kind, charming people. Alas. When I wrote recently that my favourite country is the next one I intend to visit, I had not yet been to India. I promise to back date and post a smattering of photos and descriptions from our three week tour of Rajasthan, but both Robbie and I have come away totally gob-smacked in his words. Countless times I heard uttered from my own lips, "I have never seen ANYthing like this before," "I am aMAZed!" and the overused all-purpose, "Wow." I've always thought Europe held the architectural gems of the world, save for the pyramids and the Taj Mahal, but I was completely mistaken. India has artistic, architectural and sculptural masterpieces at every turn and each time I thought, 'another fort, gee, maybe I'll skip this one,' then climbed out of the car to tour it anyway, I was humbled again for my condescension and thrilled to yet another magical display of artstry and craftsmanship unlike anything else in the world. Visiting India was the most brilliant travel decision we have ever made. (I understand people take decisions these days. Being an old-fashioned grammarian, I still make them.) I will tell you more about India in future postings, after we reach the Seychelles, assuming we do, when I can post images for you.
Onward to the Seychelles, gently, slowly. Send beer and soft drinks. It's very hot and we're a little bit weary of water. Is it true they're decided to rename the Indian Ocean Lake Placid?
Kochi International Marina, Bolgatty Island, Kerala, India
Our charming and competent driver, Jeni, is now a treasured friend. He dropped us back at Kochi Marina at four this afternoon after a delightful week of fun, exploration and laughter. Thank you, Jeni. And thank you to Mr. Bhagwan Das Soni of India World Wide Travel who conceived and organized our wonderful week in Kerala.
Lakes and Lagoons, Allepey, Keral, India
See all those long rectangular shapes stacked along the edge of the canals? Each one is a traditional Kerala houseboat converted for use as a luxury touring boat with one or two or more bedrooms, and it plys the miles of Allepey backwaters at a leisurely pace while the lucky occupants sip tea and watch and listen to the village life of southern India, the slap slap slap of laundry on a stone, the laughter of kids on bicycles, the casual conversation of two fisherment on a long canoe or four guys standing on the bridge. We were ferried to our private one-bedroom houseboat at noon by water taxi, introduced to the crew of three: Arun, the helmsman; Sattish, the chef; and Manu, helper and asistant helmsman, then served a wonderful luncheon of local river fish, Kerala rice, curry, sambal and hot salty lime pickles. I ate with my right hand as I have done at each meal since we arrived in India. I'm getting pretty good at transporting food to my mouth without mishap. It takes practice, especially for a lefty like me.
Robbie spent the afternoon alternating between his current read, War and Peace, and exploring the passing world with his camera while I napped again in hopes of conquering a cold which has been plaguing me all week. When I appeared for a glass of wine before dinner he announced that this is definitely the life for him! Peaceful, leisurely to the point of decadence, and completely captivating. We never left the boat, stopping only to tie up for lunch and again at dusk for the night. Our houseboat was truly luxurious and we felt pampered and fortunate, watching the sunrise from bed as the world slipped slowly past our leaded glass windows.
Alas, this was only a one night tour. They seem to offer only half-day and full-day tours. We could have stayed a week! I think when it comes to relaxing we may have achieved a higher level of performance than most of the tourist population.
Pamba Hertigae Villa, Nedumudy, Kerala, India
It was entirely my fault that we were four hours late for the home cooked lunch Rajeev Thomas' mother had lovingly prepared for us at Pamba Heritage Villa. After waiting for my 4 new cholis, we didn't even hit the road till lunchtime in Thekkady and it was a long, but scenic, drive back down to sea level. The Allepey area, south of Kochi, is the rice growing center of southern India and is riddled with backwaters, lakes and man-made canals as you can see on this GE image. We had only one night in Rajeev's gorgeous guest room with cozy balcony overlooking the canal, and we gazed eagerly from the balcony at each traditional houseboat passing by.
Tomorrow night we'll be on one of those! Rajeev conveyed our deepest apologies to his mom, he and Robbie solved all the political problems of the world while I took a nap, and we were sorry to depart after such a short stay. I'm just not one of those "if-it's-Tuesday-this-must-be-Belgium" travelers. Give me several nights in a row at my lodgings, please.
Kumily, Thekkady, Keraly, India
Three days seemed too short for our visit to Ferndale Home Stay where hostess, Debby Fernandez, introduced us to the all conveniences of local life. Finally, my questions were answered about the proper use of all the faucets and the ubiquitous plastic bucket and pitcher in the typical India bathroom! The showerheads installed on the walls in tourist accommodations do not exist in a real Indian bathroom. There's just a tub spout a few feet above the floor - not associated with any bathtub - a drain in the corner and the plastic bucket/pitcher combination. One mixes hot and cold water in the large bucket, scoops it up in the plastic pitcher and pours it over the soapy parts to wet the skin or get a good rinse. Perfectly effective, conserves water, why doesn't everyone do it this way? There's also the hand shower near the toilet, a fixture to which we neither of us has warmed, that everyone seems to use to drench the entire room, but most especially the toilet seat, before leaving.
I've written about toilet tissue before. In India, if you're partial to the use of TP, bring your own.
One night while in Thekkady we attended a double-feature cultural show, first an hour of martial arts demonstrations, then an hour of ancient Kerala Kathakali Traditional Dance. And followed it with another delicious dinner at a local hotel where we continued to plead for "spicy spicy spicy, INdian spicy" curries and were served moderately spicy, but wonderful food. They simply can't believe that we know what we're talking about.
I've heard that the cuisine of Kerala is perhaps not as highly spiced as that up in Rajasthan. We shall see.
Debby and her sister, Cheryl, were so complimentary of my Indian clothes, that I asked them to take me shopping for sarees. We three girls piled into Jeni's car and instructed him to deposit us at Debby's favourite saree shop, Mickey, as in the mouse, Tex. Shopping for sarees is not like buying a dress in size 10. One simply eyes a bolt of fabric on the shelves piled high with bright colors, the shop keeper pulls out the one he thinks you're pointing at from six feet away in front of the counter - or the one he wants you to buy - and it is unfurled luxuriously on the counter for inspection. Each saree is several meters long with the last meter or so being the portion intended to be cut off and sewn into a choli, the short sleeved short waisted blouse always worn with a saree. There is no fitting room required. You either like the fabric, the pattern, the price, or you don't. I selected four sarees and we rushed off to Debby and Cheryl's tailor to beg for overnight service.
I love my sarees, indeed all my Indian clothing, but it's going to take some doing to make me comfortable hanging my flabby white midriff out there for the world to appreciate. Nonethesless, when in Rome... so here are some pictures. My sarees are totally authentic, the real deal, donned in the traditional way with an underskirt and, thank God, two safety pins for security. Any time you see a woman wearing a saree who is NOT constantly fiddling with the pallu to keep it up on her shoulder, she is grateful for her safety pin. Those who fiddle are the rigid purists. Maybe I'll get there someday but not yet.
Munnar, Kerala, India
Tata Beverage Corporation operates tea plantations in India in addition to its other business enterprises around the world. They make a dandy tuk tuk, too, and I might like riding in a tuk tuk better if I could ever get a lift in a Tata vehicle! The company provides a complete village to accommodate the tea workers and subsudizes rents, provisions, education and other necessities. In addition, Tata has implemented programs to educate and rehabilitate the differently-abled resident of the village, those whose bodies and minds reflect the results of a narrowly restricted gene pool.
Robbie and I toured the factory where they produce stunning handmade paper products (no trees sacrificed, all from recycled materials), vibrant natural dyes and sumptuous fabrics and garments. We bought a few items in the shop to support the efforts of the good people who labour there. No photos are permitted inside the factory, out of respect for the workers, but their website and these pictures tell the wonderful story.
Tea Plantations, Munnar, Kerala, India
It takes an entire day to enjoy the tea plantations perched along the slopes of the Munnar Mountains and visit the Kanan Devan Hills Tea Museum.
Tea grows best on steep slopes of 35 to 70 degrees, allowing winter's occasional frosty air to move along down into the valleys at a good pace in early morning, sparing the tender plants damage that might result from a freeze. Of course, those slopes make hand picking a challenge for the ladies from the tea plantation village who walk amoung the bushes every ten days pinching or shearing off the top two leaf sets. Actually, the tea pickers walk amoung the bushes every day, returning to pick again when the new growth is ten days old. After visitng a tea factory and learning the entire arduous and heretofore unknown tea making process, Jeni drove us for hours through the beautiful hillside where we demanded photo stops by the dozen. Watching people picking tea is as addictive as watching Cleveland Demolition tear down a fifteen storey building. You just stand and stare, listening to the hypnotic music of the shears as they clip clip clip clip clip the young stems. Now I see why all those gaps exist amoung the bushes wherever tea is grown. They are pathways for tea workers, and for the odd passing elephant.
Munnar, Kerala, India
Mersoleil securely tied to a dock in Kochi, we've decided to tour Kerala State for a few days. First stop, a three-day visit to Munnar, 125km from Kochi, with its mountainous tea plantations, lush forest and cooler temperatures. Warm and gracious hosts of Flower Valley Home Stay, Ancy and Joy, made us feel like long lost family amid their peaceful countryside gardens, bird song and home-cooked meals. Stunning scenery, a luxurious room with our own private veranda, flowers, birds, morning mists and Ancy's home cooking. Can it possibly get any better than this?
Julian has just asked an excellent question.
Boat stamp, what is a boat stamp?
We found it hard to believe such a silly thing could be useful, but long before we left America I worked up this rubber stamp with a local stationer. Being able to smack a faint impression of this thing on clearance documents has established our incontrovertible legitimacy with the officials of many countries. They love rubber stamps, carbon paper and duplicates duplicates duplicates. If your ink pad is drying up, like ours is, and the impressions created by the stamp are very faint, so much the better! No one ever reads them anyway.
Mersoleil has arrived at Cochin, India
Spirit of Africa arriving in Cochin about ten days ahead of us, Miki Stanton had thoughtfully emailed general info on checking in to India, including ‘call Port Authority on VHF when approaching the channel.’ While Mersoleil was still 10nm away Port Authority called us, offered permission to anchor at Malabar Hotel and said they would send someone to us for temporary clearance. Should we call them upon arrival, I asked. Oh, no, we’ll be watching you. They will come. And indeed, five or six guys on a little flat boat that looked like a floating refrigerator with a big black fender (see photo) pulled up before we had even finished anchoring. Two of the men stepped aboard. After brief, pleasant formalities, they invited us to come to their offices by dinghy, tie up at their jetty ‘around the corner,’ which proved nearly impossible to find, and go to Immigration then Customs, all easy to find, big signs, to complete the clearance procedures.
Not easy to find at all, but everyone was kind and helpful, offering loads of erroneous information as we wandered about. Finally we found Immigration, completed our business with them including the aborted use of yet another new clever computer system that would not work (this one for taking biometrics), “all it does is take much more time,” they said. It took an hour to locate the correct Customs office among the many choices in a single building, nobody knew where we were to go, someone finally walked us through a long rabbit warren of hallways, courtyards, even through a construction site, to the department of Import and Bond.
Import and Bond sent us back out to Mersoleil with tall skinny uniformed Mr. Kumar where he had Robbie complete many pages of forms with carbon papers, stamp all over them with the boat stamp, stuck the Iridium Go! in the liquor cabinet then sealed it shut with a signed and rubber stamped paper to be removed when we exit the country. He accompanied us back to the Import and Bond Dept. (I left crumbs this time so we could find it again) and defended us against three men on the street who disapproved of our parking Doggie1 at their jetty, ‘where is your permission.’ They were from the Marine Department (Port Authority) and delayed us another half hour while they made many phone calls and insisted that we had to put Doggie somewhere else. Where??? Do you have a registration for this speedboat? That generated a burst of indignation from me and I informed them this was NOT a SPEEDboat, it was a BABYboat! Finally, we wandered away and they found something else to do. Back at Import and Bond, the manager was not satisfied with the way Robbie had completed the forms and he made him sign a new set all over again. Where is your stamp? I didn’t bring it. It’s on the boat. We can’t finish this. Bring it tomorrow.
The next morning we departed Mersoleil in time for RC to present himself at the Marine Department at 10AM. I dropped him off at the prohibited jetty and returned to Mersoleil and busied myself until time to go pick him up at 12:30 as agreed (for the lunch we missed yesterday). I left Doggie at the hotel in an effort to avoid another confrontation with the port police, walked at 12:15 to the prohibited pilot boat jetty and waited there until well past 4:00. No Robbie.
The curious details of this day would fill a small book. Suffice it to say that I think we are now officially admitted to India, we’ll plan plenty of time for the checking out procedure, Robbie will probably never go anywhere again without the boat stamp, and I received a gift from one of the Mooring Crew guys, a monkeys fist used on his heaving line. I’d explained to Francis that I used an American baseball to weight my heaving line, upon which disclosure he jabbed me with an elbow and told me, “I make mine with a cricket ball.” (see photos)
I started writing this with the intent to record my first impressions of India. They are these….
Ferries run all directions in the harbor, old long flat, slightly decrepit boats that look exactly like the ones in movies about India….
No one hurries, it’s hot here, taking things easy is the norm. Not to imply that people are lazy, they just move at a languid pace out of practical necessity….
Offices in the old public buildings have high ceilings furnished abundantly with long-bladed ceiling fans. Every so often a paper is lifted from some surface, wafts gently through the air and settles at some other location, transferred there by the whim of the fan and there it remains.
The filing system in one department where we spent quite a long while was a classic example of colonial bureaucracy. They don’t use letter size paper here, nor A4, but something I’ve never seen before and it must measure something more like 10” x 18”. Piles of these large sheets are tucked into loose folios and stacked in lopsided heaps all about the room, some three or four feet high, on chairs, tables, desk and the floor, one side higher than the other and looking as if they could slide down at any moment like a deck of fanned playing cards on the casino table….
Everywhere are the marks of British imperialism. Gracious colonial architecture is prominent in all directions. High tea is served at the hotel every afternoon. Elderly couples who have never missed a meal in their lives stroll into the lobby bar, select their favoured nest from the many cozy seating arrangements for two or four or six placed about the space, then the matrons order gin and tonics and the men beers. The interiors of the hotel are clubby and elegant, very British, with warm deep wood finishes, pillows on every chair and sofa, arrangements of fresh flowers on all the tables…. (photos)
Government officials delight in completing their tasks as slowly as humanly possible while making the work appear arduous and far more important that it could possibly be. They actually discussed Robbie’s carbon papered documents for fifteen minutes, three Customs officials in a huddle speaking their local tongue, before asking him to complete a new set and then took additional time concluding that they’d better give him pages without carbon paper and make three copies of the finished documents with a copying machine presumably located somewhere in the building….
Things move slowly here, decidedly so, and one cannot but enjoy the contrast between the life we came from and what we observed yesterday and today. The difference is so outrageously dramatic it’s quaint, charming, amusing. Woeful disappointment is bound to accrue to the northern European or the American who expects or demands the bustling efficiency he remembers from home….
Charter tour boats and ferries ply the habour area all day long, many of them filled with exuberant young people shouting, squealing, cheering together in some unknown-to-us group activity and singing along to the same kind of music one hears from the boom boxes on sidewalks outside the shops of Little India. But, I remembered with delight, this is not Little India. This is BIG India!
Mersoleil is leaving Southeast Asia behind and is headed for India! On passages I have time to think, too much time to think, perhaps, and I've been thinking about all the remarkable places Robbie and I have been. What is the most wonderful place in the world, I asked myself, and I was surprised by the answer. The most wonderful place is the place we are about to visit!!! A place we haven't been to yet. Not everyone will agree, I suppose. But for me, the unknown is so full of possibilities, so very exciting, that nothing I've ever seen or done before can quite compare to an opportunity that is still completely hidden from me. Today, in my book, India is the most wonderful place in the world. The possibilities are endless. And I simply cannot wait to discover what is real, so I can add India to my colorful mental collection of experiences that I know, and remember, and love. Robbie and I were talking recently about what an amazing life we have. This experience of living in one unfamiliar culture after another for years on end never ceases to amaze and humble us. We cannot imagine living in any other way and, if our dotage were not catching up with us, we'd continue this vagabond life indefinitely as indeed some people have. We are truly having the time of our lives and are continuously amazed at how fortunate we are. Now, I must take a moment to boast about my brilliant husband, another subject to which I have recently given thorough consideration.
You know, Robbie and I have very different personalities. We probably see one another more objectivbely than either of us is able to see ourselves and, spending all day together every day, we have ample opportunity to observe the other's personality. Among his many admirable qualities, I marvel at Robbie's tenacity. His ability to stick to a task until he conquers it, or understands it, or repairs it, or completes it, far exceeds mine. Thank heaven somebody on this boat doesn't give up on frustrating puzzles! Here's an example.
Last month we replaced Mersoleil's battery banks with lithium batteries. Most sailors are reluctant to substitute their lead acid or absorbed gel mat batteries with lithium, still of the opinion that it's bleeding edge technology or simply too expensive. Lithium batteries are more expensive than AGMs, but the price is coming down and it seemed like the right choice for us when our eleven month old AGMs died in November (so carefully installed by Robbie, Kevin Butcher and Brian Butcher on Christmas Eve 2016), we decided it was time to switch. Lithium batteries are supposed to have a long life span and are quite happy to be deeply cycled hundreds of times (listen to me!), so in the long run their slightly higher cost generates substantial savings. They weigh a great deal less than conventional batteries. They offer more useable amps per cell than conventional batteries, they occupy much less space than a comparable set of conventional batteries. They are much less inclined to start fires than they were a few years ago. The day of the lithium battery has probably arrived. Well, it has on sailing yacht Mersoleil, anyway.
Alas, there are so many ways in which a new lithium battery installation can go south that it's frightening to ponder! This, I think, is probably the reason so many of our cruising colleagues continue to resist them. The charging regimen is completely different for lithium batteries than for the older types, and the shunts and monitors that are needed to gauge and report their performance, their condition, their state of charge are generally different from anything already familiar. Making the leap to lithium is a daunting prospect. But not for His Robbiness.
He must have developed his excellent research practices in his legal career. Robbie doesn't read the'junk' on new techology, the forum article, for instance, in which one guy asks, "I just bought a new 4JH4TE and its doohicky leaks. Does anybody have experience with leaking doohickies?" And three or four other guys respond, "I don't have a 4JH4TE. I have a 772MRRP. And mine doesn't have any dookickies, but here's what I would do...." Nope. Robbie doesn't read those articles.
He finds the most authoritative technical research on the subject and reads it over and over and over. Eventually what was gibberish on readings one thruogh five begins to make sense to him and eventually he actually understands it. I know this because he uses me as his straight man. He explains it to me until we both understand. (If you really want to learn something, teach it.) Then he finally runs across an expert he knows of and respects, Stan Honey, for example, and he reads everything Stan Hoeny has written about lithium battery systems. "You know," he said to me last week, "Stan Honey refers constantly to two other resources, a guy named Rod Collins and a company called Nordkyne Design, (Go to Sea, Stay at Sea, Live at Sea.) I've already read both of those sources and I thought they were really good. It's reassuring that Stan Honey (who invented the on-field video graphics we see on televised football games, the video lay lines on America's Cup Races and other sporting events) uses them as his gurus." Robbie reads and he studies, I hesitate to use the word obsessively, but... well, enough to eventually gather a glimmering comprehension of yet another thing they did not teach him in law school. By the time he's managed to teach a rudimentary version of this to me, he's really got it mastered.
For three weeksd after our new batteries were installed, he obsessed. He read constantly. He asked me to consider impossible questions to which I said, "Let's call the installer" and to which he replied in the resounding negative. No! He has to figure all this out for himself! (I, on the other hand, think that's what experts are FOR, and I am happy to call for consultation at the drop of a hat.) Robbie must have memorized the entire Balmar 614 auxiliary alternator manual by now. I've seen it next to his coffee cup in the morning, at his desk when he's sitting there, next to his pillow at night, even in the smallest room on the boat! Know what? He's actually got it now! He feels confident that he understands our complicated expensive new battery system, and he has drawn a schematic of a number of small changes he wants to make so the State of Charge will read the same on all three monitors and the amps consumerd since last full charge will all jive, and so a number of other picayune details will meet with his rigorous standards. And it's not just a superficial understanding. I can tell the difference. Robbie really understands this amazing new technology, can tell from a moment's conversation with another litium owner whether the other person uderstand his system or just owns one, and has begun again to sleep soundly at night. Even I, having been only the sounding board, have a fairly comprehensive understanding of our lithum batteries, how they're connected, and their basic care and feeding. And I sleep better, too, knowing that we're not in jeopardy of killing the whole costly system with a single ignorant mistake.
Robbie's tanacity is absolutely amazing to me. It's a quality I completely lack, I can barely fathom it, and I don't even aspire to develop it in myself. But it's indispensible on this boat. And here's another reason I think he's brilliant. He fixed the depth sounder last week after three days of anchoring in waters of unknown depth, a very unnerving experience. We have a tendancy to name things that we consider irreplaceable, things for which we are so deeply appreciative that they're like members of the family. We had never named our depth sounder, though, and after approaching land a few times without one, we understood that not to have named the depth sounder was a matter of grevous oversight. He needed a month or more to master litium battery technology, but Robbie solved this one in a matter of seconds. Meet Johnny Deppth.
We're only 2 days out of Phuket, Thailand, about to sail through the Nicobar Islands. The winds are light, we're not in a hurry, the batteries are happy and we're beside ourselves with excitement about going to India! Life is good.
Where is Mersoleil?
We're in Thailand, about to depart for a ten-day passage to India. Very excited about India! And, yes, we'll tell you all about it here. (I've been on strike since June, when we were dumped off the ferry on the banks of the Mekong River, waiting to hear from you. Please write!)
2017 was a wonderful year for Robbie and me, and for Mersoleil, too! Highlights, large and small, include:
Picking fresh green peppercorns right off the vines in Cambodia
Spending time in beautiful Funchal with my sister, Gretchen, and her friend, Charley
Selecting gorgeous silk scarves in the shops of Hanoi
Robbies brilliant step-down transformer -- air conditioning on 230A shore power!...
Exploring Chiang Mai with our son, Chris Collins
Late night Farkle with Charley and rolling six sixes
Making water kefir and pampering my little colonies
Converting Mersoleil to lithium batteries
Living in bustling, colorful Penang for nearly a year and surviving the heat of SE Asia
Getting over the flu, two or three times apiece
Time with Jody Streepy, who came to Mersoleil from Japan while we were in Europe
Homemade garlic salt, the search is over forever
Finally learning to bloom our coffee... it's all about the bloom
Land travels with friends, Rowland and Miki
Angor Wat, wow
New Years Eve is a fantastic holiday everywhere we go. Last week we bobbed at anchor in Patong Bay with Kevin and Mimi, watching the fireworks on shore and the sky lanterns rising and drifting overhead carrying away everyone's troubles . Next New Years Eve? Cape Town.
And you? (Please excuse the funky punctuation. I don't have a text editor dumb enough to insert an apostrophe. Alas.)
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