Please … can we have five euros for every time we said WOW on this enchanted, tropical island. It will pay for the complete re-rig we’ve just forked out for.
We’ve been on dramatic Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean – 1000km off the coast of Madagascar – for the last six weeks.
This 970 square mile island was entirely created and shaped by volcanic eruptions. It’s best described as a chunk of France, transported to the tropics, with culturally diverse Indian, African and Chinese influences.
Our arrival from Darwin, Australia, back in mid-October, was limp. Baggy’s old bones had taken quite a beating crossing the Tasman Sea and Indian Ocean.
We found significant strand failure on the shroud’s we’d had fitted in New Zealand. There was no other option – if we wanted to continue sailing we had to replace the lot.
Sadly that wasn’t all.
The steering had to be dismantled and serviced as it seized up pulling into the marina.
Winches needed servicing … tri-colour light fixed … fridge hinge replaced … heads (toilet) serviced …. bilges cleaned out … and on … and on!
We also have a leaking water tank. But, as it only leaks when it’s full and flexing we’ve left it, for now. It’s not mission critical … we’ll cope!
Reunion Recovery: Week One
For the first week we were tied to the boat – organising French riggers, scraping, washing, polishing, swearing and sweating.
But our first week wasn’t all work and no play. Baggy’s crew needed rest and recovery from our 37-day passage too.
With DJs, live bands, big speakers and dancing, the Farmers Markets here are thriving community events.
Every Wednesday morning was market party time! We LOVED them and have been gorging ourselves on local, seasonal fresh food and vegetables grown in the rich volcanic soil of this verdant island.
Better still, the produce has happy slugs and caterpillars (no nasty pesticides); the avocados are the size of melons and it’s all ridiculously cheap.
NB. All slugs and caterpillars were safely relocated. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the mosquito that bit us over 20 times in one night and the large cockroach that ran across us in bed. RIP.
We also celebrated Paul’s birthday with a day off jobs and a wobbly leg walk.
For just two euros each we enjoyed a one-hour, hair pin bus ride to Dos D’Ane in the jagged Cirque Mafete, above Le Port. Here there are no cars, just soaring mountains, giddily deep ravines, the whirling of helicopters and thick forest – WOW.
And that evening, special thanks to Paul’s mum and dad, we enjoyed our first night out in months, starting off with a WOW French dinner.
We ended the day at a local bar, where curious locals bought us beers; we sang along to a French covers band and stumbled back to the boat at 1am! It was quite a celebration!
Reunion Recovery: Week Two
By the second week we’d made good progress on all the jobs and were ready for a proper break from the boat.
Our arrival had coincided with ‘The Grand Raid’ – a mountain ultra-marathon race. Over 2,000 runners pounding 100 miles of extremely tough terrain, with 9643m of elevation. It’s one of the hardest foot races in the world and we were in awe of these wiley athletes … though (naively?) discussed coming back and giving it a go one year!
Anyway, it meant that all the hire cars on the island had been nabbed. Our only transport option, other than buses, was a small van.
And so it was, we hired a Citroen Belingo for a week, threw some food and camping kit in the back and took to the hills.
Our first overnight stop was a back garden in a village called Entre-Deux, filled with hobbit huts and tree houses.
A river flowed through the garden and we spent two restless nights serenaded by high decibel frogs, cockerels and barking dogs. And were woken by countless church bells ringing across the valley.
With chickens walking into the hut and ‘help yourself bananas’ growing outside our front door it was a surreal, but memorable experience.
Despite little sleep we embarked on a steep, six hour hike into the Grand Bassin in the Cirques Cilaus; and back up again. There are three cirques (amphitheatre valleys formed by glacial erosion) and they form a grandiose UNESCO World Heritage site.
The next day we climbed Piton de la Fournaise. An ear-popping 2354 metre high volcano; the most active in the world with over 200 eruptions in the last 350 years.
Given that we’d walked for six hours the day before, we struggled with the rebelling muscles in our boat legs.
And, WOW, it was worth it. Seismic activity had closed the volcano to walkers the week we arrived. So, to have the chance to walk across a lava field, trek up and around the caldera on a clear day and stare into its cavernous crater was beyond thrilling.
Unfortunately, on the long trek back, Paul skidded down a crater. He hyper-extended his knee, which painfully swelled up and put an abrupt end to any more adventurous trekking.
We were supposed to be camping that night, but opted for a ‘shed with a bed’. By the time we arrived at the campsite we were too knackered to put the tent up. And too tired to be bothered to take a photo.
The last two nights we camped in Hell-Bourg, up in the Cirque Salazie. It’s an area encased by mountains and a biodiversity hot spot.
The driving here is, quite frankly, awesome and terrifying in equal measure. It’s all about sheer drops and hair pin bends.
Waterfalls cascade at every bend and road signs say Pisse en l’air – a warning to shut your windows before water crashes onto your vehicle roof from a great height.
But, safely parked up, we relaxed and took time to enjoy the shifting colours of the mountains, local gardens, shrines, flowers, the blissful serenity … and apricot scrumping.
Reunion Recovery: Week Three
Day and night diving: Reunion’s not a diving destination with sexy beaches, but the west coast’s marine nature reserve is teeming with Indian Ocean life. We saw dolphins and green turtles, snake and moray eels, barracuda, big shoals and fish we’d never seen before.
And as we waited for the rigging work to be completed we had time to savour the quirkier side of Reunionaisse life!
For example – if you want to get off the bus, clap twice!
Wash your car? Use the public park hose pipes and drinking fountains!
The freshly baked boulangerie bread is irresistible. At the last count we’ve (mostly Paul) eaten around 35 white baguettes, 12 wholemeal loaves and 20 pain aux raisin.
Rum Arrange: is the local after-dinner hooch – basically white rum with fruit in it. Reunion Island is a big sugar cane producer and we were ‘lured’ into tasting ten types and buying the green banana bottle!
It’s a dog’s life: Well fed, mostly friendly, collar free and dirty. They run into the roads, eat out of bins and sleep all over the pavements.
They’re good fun, but dog poo and incessant barking is annoying. And a large dead dog on the pavement by the marina quickly became a horror story.
Two gorgeous stray dogs live full time on the pontoons in our marina. They had both been abandoned by visiting sailors; became friends and are now rely on being loved and fed by visiting yachties.
We found a real pirate grave. Before he was hanged in 1730 famous French pirate ‘La Buse’ (The Buzzard) threw a cryptogram into the crowd and shouted ‘my treasure to those who understand’. His stash of gold and gems is believed to be worth 4.5 BILLION EUROS. It’s somewhere on or near the island and it still hasn’t been found! WOW!
There was always something free going on. We enjoyed the Diwali Festival of Light celebrations with the local Hindus; an African Brazilian Electro night on our local shopping street and DJs in the local bars.
Oui, la Reunion le gadiamb (Reunion is lovely, in Creole).
So, what now?
By week five the rigging was fixed, the job list ticked off, Paul’s knee was better and the ocean was calling us to sail to South Africa. But, the weather had other ideas and storms in the southern Indian Ocean meant it would have been unsafe to leave. It wasn’t till week six we eventually had our green light.
Now it’s official, we’re sailing to a marina at Zululand Yacht Club in Richards Bay, South Africa (just north of Durban) – home to hippos and rampaging monkey’s.
An important staging post for circumnavigating sailors, the 1350 nautical mile passage ahead of us is notoriously tough and described as ‘tempestuous’.
We’re expecting light winds running down to the bottom of Madagascar and then potentially very strong tail winds as we go around the southern end, where the wind typically accelerates. We should also have up to three knots of favourable current which will help us make good progress.
Once we reach the southern end of Madagascar we’ll head due west until we get a safe weather window to head directly to Richard’s Bay. It’s essential we avoid a scenario where strong southerly winds blow against this south setting current; this is when infamous sea conditions of six metre plus breaking waves can develop. And we DO NOT want to be in this middle of THAT. We also need to steer well clear of tropical revolving storms coming down the Mozambique channel.
To help us cross safely we’re using the support of a retired sailor, Des from Durban and our old mate Paddy from Norfolk. They’re sending routing advice and weather updates to our Yellow Brick. What stars!
The voyage should take us around 12 days. And trusty Yellow Brick will be pinging our location every six hours.
We’ll be relieved to get this gnarly passage behind us. Then we have Omicron to contend with (the South African Covid variant). Of all the countries we’d want to steer clear of right now it’s South Africa, but we don’t have any other option. It’s also unknown if we can get our booster jabs there, but we’ll be looking into it as a soon as we arrive.
We set sail on Sunday 28 November … so there’s still time for a few more tots of banana rum and a couple more baguettes to see us on our way …