Le Reunion

Before I got underway for Le Reunion, as is my custom, I pumped bilges to make sure there were no leaks. I was horrified to find pure black oil coming out. I placed a bucket under the discharge and collected about four litres of what was obviously engine oil. This was not good. I checked the engine’s dipstick. Sure enough it was dry. I topped up the oil and started the engine. It ran without a problem but on removing the dip stick oil oozed out of the hole. I shut the engine down and consulted a maintenance manual. My conclusion, excessive crankcase pressure, meaning the rings were shot and a major overhaul was required. Bloody wonderful! I consulted a few of my fellow cruisers and we decided probably the best option was to push on to South Africa where resources are both available and pretty cheap. In the meantime I should keep my engine use to an absolute minimum. The worst part of this was limited electricity = no computer, and no fridge = no cold beer! That was it, life had just hit a definite nadir.

At 8 a.m. on Tuesday 22 October I weighed anchor and departed Grand Baie under sail only, a pleasant experience and one I promised myself I shall do more often where possible. The distance to Le Reunion was only 147 nm and we had a fresh breeze the whole way so it took only 23 hours from the time I sailed from anchor to arriving alongside in Port de le Galet.

The next few days were a bit of a blur to me as I was still simply trying to cope with the idea of life without Ann. My fellow cruisers, who of course did not know me very well, were very supportive as far as they could be and one couple in particular, Phil and Amie (the vet) from Iwalani, were very helpful. They invited me on board one evening and we shared a little of our life histories. Phil was a wooden boat school instructor and had built Iwalani, a large, solid Colin Archer design. He was 47 and also had had a marriage of 20 years break up on him. Amie was my age, 44, and had also had ‘significant other’ problems. So they were both very sympathetic and the company was probably what I needed the most.

I told them that I was struggling to cope and was thinking about giving up and sailing home to see Ann. They suggested I consider going on to Durban and flying home from there, but before I decided to do anything to give Ann a call.

This I did the next day. I told Ann my intention which was greeted with an emphatic, "No! There is no point." She was really quite unsympathetic to my plight and I did not recognise her. Eventually I got angry and sounded off about her deserting me in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Thankfully she listened to my tirade and then my phone card ran out. I was surprised at how much better I felt.

I went back to the boat to consider my next move. It seemed I had to go on. I have always tried to understand things and picked up a book from my shelves titled Intimate Partners – Patterns in Love and Marriage by Maggie Scarf. I had owned this book for some time but had not read it. I had glanced at it once or twice and thought it all looked a bit too theoretical and would get around to it one day. Also when I bought it Ann had looked at me in absolute anguish, not another bloody self help book and more relationship work!

Well I was shocked, while the book is theoretical in places for the most part it was simple and practical. I opened the chapter "What Marital Problems are made of" and within 20 minutes I had found Ann and I jumping out of the pages all over the place. Over the next couple of days I read a fair bit of the book and managed to identify a number of issues which we had failed to recognise and resolve. Clearly living on a boat and setting forth across an ocean had brought these issues to crisis point and our marriage had collapsed. Undoubtedly I was shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted but maybe next time …

Well the next day I decided to take Ann’s advice and look for crew. I was introduced to Sunil, a Mauritian entrepreneur of Indian background, then in Reunion on business and pleasure. Coincidentally his main business was trading second hand car and boat engines. We got onto the problem of my engine which he offered to have a look at. I started it up and opened the oil filler cap. Smoke poured out. He looked very alarmed and said, "Shut it down, shut it down, now!" I responded with alacrity. We discussed options. Sunil said he would take me around Le Reunion to see a few reconditioned engines he knew of, also to see if perhaps we could find a crew, and I would get a guided tour to boot.

Le Reunion is a beautiful island with a volcanic centre and deep valleys running through it. Around the coast the island is well settled with a population of about 1.5 million. But this day the most interesting thing I was to experience was an insight into a bit of its culture. Sunil was clearly an extrovert who enjoyed scheming and people. Although he was from Mauritius he was well known everywhere we went, but then I also think he said bonjour to almost anyone we passed, with a special smile for pretty ladies, which is no mean feat in such a populated place.

We saw a few reconditioned engines but they were all too big and way too expensive, my cash supplies being decidedly depleted with Ann’s departure. We discussed another option. Sunil had contacts in Mauritius and he suggested I sail back to Mauritius, there was a Yanmar agent there, we would strip the engine down and recondition it within my limited budget. He rightly pointed out that at least we would then know the condition of the engine when finished. My major concern was getting stuck in Mauritius when the cyclone season was starting up, but Sunil was confident that it could all be done in a week. I was less confident but thought two weeks sounded reasonable. Sunil is a man of infectious optimism, I could not but agree to his proposal, and being a true entrepreneur Sunil also had another angle, he wanted me to take some cargo back to Mauritius, namely the better part of a stripped down 115 HP outboard. Of course I was suspicious about the legality of this but he assured me he is not asking me to smuggle, the engine is worth a lot of money in Mauritius but if he pays freight he will make too little profit to make it worth his while. So I agree.

During the day we also visit a few people to investigate crew. A promising lead was a beautiful 25 year old French tennis instructor who is apparently getting a bit bored in Reunion. Ooh le lah! But no, it is too complicated and I am happy that it does not work out.

In the afternoon we end up at a friend’s place, Patrick, where I help Sunil strip down another outboard motor. That night we go to a restaurant for dinner. Sunil’s friends have thrown him a surprise birthday party which I feel privileged to attend. Although I don’t speak a word of French and am largely ignored for much of the evening, I still find it interesting and it is better than twiddling my thumbs on board by myself for the night.

That night I sleep on the floor at Patrick’s place. Patrick is a surfing instructor and his place is right on the beach front in a small harbour called St Pierre.

The next morning I awake first and eventually at 7.00 decide to wake up Sunil, as he had said he wanted an early start to the day. After breakfast we once again drive all over the place as Sunil did a whole lot more small scale wheeling and dealing and catching up with many people. Early in the afternoon he drops me off back onboard Sylph so I can organise clearance for the next day. Later he comes down with the engine parts, which turns out to be a lot more than I expected, but I find room for them all, though I will not be able to sleep on the quarter berth this trip.

I am a little concerned when Customs do not arrive in the afternoon but hope it can be organised for the following day I have organised with the Harbour Master to be towed out of the harbour so I do not need to use the engine. That night I invite a Belgium single-hander Perriot who has been very helpful during my stay over for a pizza and a bottle of South African red wine I had picked up cheap in Mauritius. The wine proves very drinkable and I make a note to stock up with some more before I leave Mauritius.

The next morning, after a lot of running around, I eventually organise clearance out and at 11.30 I am being towed out of the harbour where a short while later, mainsail hoisted, towline slipped, I farewell Reunion and, for the first time this voyage, turn my bows east to retrace the 147 miles to Mauritius.