Mauritius 2

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 1 Nov 2002 23:50

I am starting to manage the single-handing watch keeping routine better. I set my kitchen timer for 20 minutes and find I am mostly able to make it through the night then catch a few hours sleep in the morning. This was the routine I kept from Reunion back to Mauritius. It was a slow trip with very light headwinds the first night, I sailed 55 miles but only made 20 towards my destination. The wind freshened during the day and remained fairly consistent over the next three days, requiring the occasional reef but mostly I was making good 4 to 5 knots with full sail.

Over the course of the passage back to Mauritius I found myself reviewing my life with Ann, my current situation, my plans for the future and just who the hell am I? I discover I am in the middle of a full blown mid-life crisis. In my lonely fatigued state I start to recognise a strong feminine side to my personality and how much I had depended on Ann for her emotional strength during the course of our marriage. Over the three day passage I feel compelled to record all of my "discoveries". At one level I am thinking that the whole point of getting back to Mauritius was to be able to communicate with Ann, as email facilities were virtually non-existent in Reunion. By the time we get to Port Louis I am feeling desperate.

We arrive off Port Louis at 8 a.m. Tuesday 29 October and I call the Port Control advising them that I need a tow into the harbour. They reply no problems but from here things do not go very well at all. The Coast Guard come out and advise me that they do not tow vessels and I am to follow them to the quarantine buoy. The quarantine buoy turns out to be a huge shipping buoy which I am not happy to sail to. I tell the Coast Guard this and they agree to tow me to the buoy. I ask why can’t they tow me to the Customs Dock only 10 minutes away? I am told, "Orders". After some pretty shocking boat handling the Coast Guard manage to get me secured to the buoy then desert me. After an hour and a half of inactivity I am starting to feel frantic, so I request permission from the Port Authority to proceed under sail up the harbour. My plan is to sail most of the way towards the Customs Dock then motor the last bit, something I should probably have done in the first place. I hoist the mainsail, wait for the bow to pay off the right way and slip the buoy. But by the time I get back to the wheel things have gone completely awry and before I know it the bow has tacked and I am heading straight for an overhead pipeline. I realise that I have left the exhaust valve closed so I race down below, open it and start the engine, but it is too late, the lower shrouds are foul of the pipeline.

I tried motoring clear but it was no use and it was not long before the saloon was full of smoke. I shut the engine down. By this time I have to admit I was bordering on the hysterical, but eventually the Coast Guard respond and tow me off. They have absolutely no idea of what they are doing so, despite my panicky state, I give them some quick instruction on how to tow with an outboard and it is not long before I am secured alongside the Customs Dock.

In the afternoon I clear in and email my insights to two trusted friends seeking their support and guidance. At this stage I really am an emotional mess and feel like I am bordering on a nervous breakdown. That evening I am desperate to talk to Ann, I actually try to ring her but cannot get through. A part of me is relieved because I think that this is exactly the wrong thing to do in my current state.

The next day Sunil organises the removal of most of the outboard parts and a mechanic to start pulling Sylph’s engine out. The mechanic is very good, he works efficiently and I watch and learn quite a few tricks from him. By evening much of the engine is in bits all over the cabin but a stud is corroded into the head and the head refuses to come off. I am left that evening with nowhere to sleep except a small patch of cabin sole. I feel totally at the end of my tether, I shake as I pour two very strong rum and cokes for dinner before collapsing on the sole, surrounded by engine parts, not even able to muster the energy to put a cushion on the floor to sleep on.

The next day we decide the whole engine must come out. To do this the boat must be moved to a marina berth where a flatbed truck with crane can be brought to the boat. Subsequently I organise the loan of a dinghy from a French cruising friend, Jean. Sunil organises another yachtsman to help and the move goes without a hitch. Within an hour the engine is out and the marina management is pressuring me to depart. The wind has picked up a bit but I judge conditions to be OK, so with the help of the mechanic and his son, whose names I regret to say I have forgotten, we cast off lines and start towing Sylph back to the Customs berth using Jean’s 4 HP outboard motor. We are half way back and all is going well when the wind picks up and all of a sudden we are going backwards. At the time I believe that the outboard’s reverse power is too weak so I lash the dinghy alongside and try to use it as an engine tug. This seems a bit better but I am still unable to bring the bow up into the wind I am now starting to get very anxious as we are getting close to a rocky groin. I try one more thing, I rig a bridle on the dinghy, attach a tow line to Sylph’s bow and hope I can at least get the bow into the wind and hold her off the rocks. But even this doesn’t work. Now I am very suspicious of the outboard. I tilt it up and find that the propellor spins freely, the drive shaft has broken. I clamber back onboard Sylph, the rocks are only 20 feet away, a grounding is inevitable. We rig fenders in a seeming futile attempt to minimise damage. Once again my emotions are taking charge, I am panicking, crying and screaming at the boat, blaming her for all of my woes. Fortunately we touch very gently and I am relieved that it is the keel which has found ground. A few minutes later some wash approaches. Again I can do no more than just weep as I imagine Sylph bouncing on the rocks but again it is nowhere near as bad as I fear. The wash passes and I force myself to think. The next step is clearly to kedge her off. So I break out the lightweight Fortress anchor, spare chain and rode, pile them into the dinghy and row the anchor out into the stream. As usual the Fortress works well and we pull Sylph off the rocks. Now all we must do is organise a tow back to the Customs Dock.

I drop the mechanic and his son ashore to seek help from Sunil then return to Sylph. I have absolutely no faith in the local authorities, fearing they will only make matters worse, so eliminate calling the Port Authority or the Coast Guard as an option. As I row back Pamda Bear is departing the harbour, they ask if they can help but are clearly anxious to be on their way and we agree that their small 20 HP engine and limited maneuverability would make it too risky. The skipper Steve however suggests I seek help from an American boat, Feisty Lady. He tells me that they have a good tender and outboard, are very nice people and would be sure to help. They leave me, my head in my hands crying, I really do not want to be here anymore. Pam is saying, "Oh dear, Oh dear," very concerned for me but they must go. I slowly row to the marina to seek help from Feisty Lady.

I come alongside Feisty Lady and on hailing am greeted by an elderly gentleman, Jim, and his young backpacker crew, Sarah. They both recognise and respond to my obvious state of distress. Jim immediately takes charge trying to help me put things into perspective. He says, "Right now you only have three things to worry about. Getting your boat alongside, getting to dinner with us tonight and then getting back to your boat." His calm wisdom and Sarah’s cheerful disposition are a godsend at a very low point in my life.

From there the rest of the day went well. We got Feisty Lady’s tender into the water and back to Sylph where we found Sunil and another yacht already helping out, it was clear Sunil had just worked out that the dinghy’s outboard was stuffed. Now with Jim and Sarah’s help we soon had Sylph back alongside and I was on my way with some other yachties to Sunil’s place for a barbecue dinner which was very pleasant. I stay overnight at Sunil’s place and return on board the next morning.

At this time Mauritius was celebrating Divali, the Hindu Festival of Light, and that evening Will and Cherie from Gallivant and I went to a free concert on the waterfront. We saw some beautiful Hindu dancing and I felt absolutely transported by the dancing and singing and the costumes and lighting. I do not recall feeling such a blissful state in ages. It seemed to make so much of the pain and trouble over the past month, even years, seem worth it for that one short moment. At the end of the evening I think Cherie senses something I have no idea about. When we part company she gives me a very nice hug. It surprises me and I experience a sense of joy and happiness. I am left in wonder.

The next day I was back at Sunil’s working on my engine cleaning it up. Grease and grime, diesel fumes, dirty fingernails, hot sun. By the end of the day I am very depressed again and I fall asleep at his place thinking I am in the wrong place after all.

A few days later Sunil organises a minibus for some of us yachties to tour the island. It is a magnificent day. We visit a sacred Hindu lake and temple complex, Black River Gorge Park and enjoy a barbecue on the beach. Jim and Sarah are there and Sarah and I enjoy each others company. We spend most of the day together and talk and talk, I do not even remember what about. I find out later that she is looking to leave Feisty Lady and wishes to find another crew position to South Africa. It seems perfect.

That evening Sarah and I return to Sunil’s house where Michaella, Sunil’s partner, dresses Sarah in a beautiful Indian outfit called a Churidar complete with Bindi, she looks stunning. We go together with Michaella to a local celebration of Divali and enjoy some singing and dancing. It is not as good as the Hindu dancing but it is fun, and Sarah is certainly a tonic for the soul.

We return to our boats the next day and later that afternoon Sarah comes to me to discuss some problems she is having with Jim. She wants to get off the boat for a while so I offer her a bunk. In return for board Sarah agrees to help me with chores on the boat, something I really needed at the time. She turns out to be a great worker, an interesting person and we enjoy each others company.

Over the course of the next couple of days we discuss many things, and get some work done on the boat. She is a mature young lady and I think we learn some good stuff from one another. We explored options for both of us but a major issue was Sarah’s current lack of money and her dependence on Jim. I am not willing or more to the point not able to take Sarah on as crew under similar terms. In the end we both agree that Sarah crewing for me would be unwise. Sarah investigates other ways of getting to South Africa but in the end decides to fly home to London. I am extremely disappointed to have lost a potential crew but happy that perhaps I have found a new friend.

Now I am alone again. I am starting to enjoy myself more. The dramas with the engine continue, Sarah has flown back to England, I have extended my visa another two weeks and I have little idea of what comes next. It doesn’t matter. Normally I am very much a goal oriented person but for now am finding the flow mode more appropriate. With no clear path ahead I am happy to see where the winds of fortune take me.


I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That have loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known, cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all,
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch where thro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnishe’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were Life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses