Mauritius 3

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Thu 5 Dec 2002 23:50

After moping around for a while, getting over the disappointment of Sarah’s departure, life started to seem a bit simpler and more straight forward.

My engine had been scattered all over Mauritius but one afternoon I find myself in the backyard of a mechanic named Gaeton, where the bulk of it has re-materialised. Sunil has a plan for getting the block back onto the boat without a crane, I have deep reservations, and say so. Sunil wants to organise it for that afternoon but it is already 4 o’clock and I am definitely not happy with the situation. Also I am concerned about the original symptom, overpressure in the crankcase, and I ask Gaeton for his opinion. Without hesitation he says, "Rings." He looks at the block, pushes the pistons back and forth, and gives that knowing shake of the head only a mechanic can give, and which the rest of humanity instantly recognizes and dreads as a whole heap of trouble and expense. I look at Sunil, there is a bit of exchange, "But you said …," he replies, "But you said ….." We agree that it’s all Jim’s fault because he said he was an engineer and he is not there to defend himself. We conclude this pointless exercise, acknowledging that regardless of how we ended up in this situation the rings need replacing and now was the time to do it. Any thought of fitting the engine back onto the boat that afternoon or the next is forgotten.

I am worried about the ramifications of this additional problem but there are three mechanics in Gaeton's backyard and they reassure me it is no big deal. Within an hour what isn’t already in bits is now completely pulled apart, the rings are out and the crankshaft disassembled, the connecting rod bearings are also pronounced as shot and requiring replacement. I congratulate myself on having extended my visa for a further two weeks the day before. Otherwise the engine is thought to be in good order and well worth the effort of repairing. Then, like any backyard scene it seems the world over, the blokes stand around admiring their day’s works drinking beer. However, unlike an Australian backyard this one is about the size of your average carport and there are two families living in two small houses in an area a quarter the size of your average Australian home. But all are in good cheer. While I am watching the men work, a small girl and her mother come home. The girl’s name is Emily and she gives me the usual Mauritian female greeting of pressing either cheek to your face with a kiss. She does it so naturally, I feel very touched.

The male greeting I have worked out is the customary handshake, but in Mauritius it is all pervasive, you are nearly always shaking hands, it doesn’t matter who it is or how often you have seen them that day. Also, unlike the Western handshake it is not a challenge of strength, no one tries to turn your hand over in an act of domination or crush your knuckles. Here it is almost little more than a gentle brush, in Australia it would be considered effeminate, which I hasten to add these guys are not, three of them have the statures of Moari warriors. Even when someone’s hands are dirty a wrist is offered instead. It is clearly a simple act maintaining a constant physical intimacy with other people. I feel very comfortable with the custom.

Beers finished everyone decides they should pile into a 32 year old Morris and drive me back to the boat. The gearbox whines and the steering column sits loosely in the drivers lap, wires and innards exposed provoking me to reach for a non-existent seat belt.

At Port Louis we all clamber aboard Sylph, and inspect the hole where the engine should be. I offer drinks but they are graciously declined. They seem content to have seen the boat and have soon left and I am alone again thinking what a nice day it has been.

My engine repairs progress slowly and Gaeton has decided the valves need replacing as well, ordering new ones would take too long so he decides to modify some Nissan valves to suit. It seems my engine is going to be a bit of a mongrel with Mitsubishi rings and conrod bearings and Nissan valves. Presumably it is all going to work.

Just to keep my mind off all my other worries the first cyclone for the season starts to develop over the weekend. Monday night the forecast has the cyclone moving east and not a threat to Mauritius but come Tuesday morning it has changed course, is heading WSW at 10 knots, directly for Mauritius. It is a cyclone category one and a priority one warning has been issued. This means that all small craft must make their way to Port Louis’ cyclone hole.

I am fortunate to have the help of a couple of new cruising friends. Craig, a young Australian circumnavigating the planet in a Hood 23 called Sea Cow and a New Caledonian, Lauren, who is delivering a yacht to Reunion. Lauren uses his boat to tow me and Craig assists as crew.

The cyclone hole can only be described as a complete shemozzle. There are sunken barges and other bits of unmarked debris making the area as hazardous as the brewing cyclone. The docks are not maintained and bolts stick out from the piles. To top it off the remains of a derelict warehouse stands adjacent to the docks with bits of loose corrugated iron flapping noisily in the gusty wind.

Fortunately I manage to avoid having to go directly alongside the wharf and berth outboard of a Spanish yacht, Islero. Islero’s skipper, Issy, has just arrived that morning from Bali having sailed nonstop for 30 days, the last several days of which he has been very anxious over the cyclone. On his way in he had hit one of the bits of debris in the cyclone hole apparently very heavily and subsequently lost all his electrics and was worried about damage below the waterline. He is clearly overtired and overwrought. He doesn’t want me alongside but basically we tell him he has no choice. There are a lot more boats coming and we cannot be choosy about our neighbours under the circumstances.

Other boats are rafting up to one another in incredible numbers. On another section of wharf at least 20 multi-hulls are secured abreast one another, the end one swaying in the breeze like the fronds of a willow. Eventually a tangle of lines criss cross the pond loosely knitting everyone together, but the domino stack does not inspire me with confidence, the whole set up seems incredibly fragile if anything should go wrong.

Once we have wrapped our boats in a web of lines and fenders, Issy and I decide we have done as much as we can for the day and depart the chaos to calm our nerves over a few beers at a nearby pub. When we get back Issy is horrified to find his boat is now the wharf fender for a further five large motor launches which have secured themselves outboard of Sylph. The pressure on his hull is enormous and an ominous looking bolt is threatening to puncture his topsides. Old tires are obtained from somewhere and a baulk of timber is used to lever the whole mass of boats off the wharf as more fenders are put in place and the board strategically placed to cover the protruding bolt.

Issy was to live in stress of that bolt for the next three days as the cyclone passed close to the north of the island. He was also upset about the loss of his electronics. He is being sponsored in his single-handing around the world and he must appease his sponsors on a regular basis with emails and telephone interviews. I am surprised when Craig, who was an electronics engineer in his previous life, offers to fix the problems at $20 US per hour. For me this is not the cruising way. Later I say to Issy that DC electrical fault finding is generally pretty simple and I will help him try to isolate the problem for nothing. If I am unable to get anywhere then I suggest he gets help from Craig. He agrees.

The next morning we gradually restore all his systems and isolate the problem to a short in a cigarette lighter style power outlet. Issy is very happy, Craig is a lot less happy but we all remain friends.

We spend two anxious nights in the cyclone hole, listening to the winds shriek through the surrounding mountains and the loose bits of corrugated iron clatter wildly in the gusts that make their way down into Port Louis. But Thursday afternoon the authorities announce the threat is over, the cyclone has passed clear to the north of Mauritius and boats are allowed to depart.

Despite the winds still being quite strong, the money conscious charter boats leave almost immediately. The rest of us clear out the following morning, Sylph having to be extricated from the labyrinth of small boats by the cunning use of warps and then another tow from Lauren. This time we move Sylph to the marina. Gaeton has advised that the engine should be ready to install over the next couple of days and getting the heavy block on board will be much easier and safer from the marina dock than from the higher customs wharf.

Well of course a further hiccup develops with the engine, one of the pistons rings is the wrong size and Gaeton has to do lots of running around to find a suitable one, this time it’s from a Perkins engine.

While I am waiting for the engine to be installed any day now I stay at the marina which, while a little expensive, is a very nice change, with power and water and showers. I take the opportunity of updating my journal using shore power and doing a little maintenance on the boat. Most days I go to the market for lunch where I can get two rotis and desert for 15 Rp, less than $1 AUS, and if dining on board that night I buy some fresh vegetables. I also enjoy the atmosphere, it is full of colour and life and lifts my spirits just being there.

It seems most evenings there was something going on. Sometimes I am at Sunil’s, one night I enjoy dinner at Gaeton’s house with his wife Doris, or alternatively Issy and I enjoy a few evenings together. One night Issy and I made the acquaintance of some of the crew from a freezer ship. While the ship is Panamanian registered, she is actually owned by a Spanish company and the crew are all Spanish. They are a happy go lucky crowd, probably like most sailors with money in their pockets after weeks at sea, and are fun to be with. I try with very little success to improve my Spanish. Apparently their ship travels around the world buying in fish to fill their ship which, when full, they then take back to Spain. One of the young deck officers relates how they wait around until an area is basically fished out before moving on. He thinks its crazy but he is a seaman and needs a job. Other crew members agree, shaking their heads, and promptly move on to happier subjects.

Eventually the engine is ready to install on Sunday 1 December, almost five weeks after my return to Port Louis. The block and gearbox are bolted into position and next the head. I produce the head gasket I ordered from Australia and am mortified to discover that Minards have provided me with the wrong one. We consult an "expert" who says it will do so we press on.

By mid afternoon the engine is ready to start, I am somewhat anxious because the mechanic is an assistant to Gaeton and I would rather Gaeton was present when we first fire it up. But the young fellow is confident so we give it a go. The engine roars into life, and I mean roar! It tears away into top revs and cannot be stopped. We cover the air intake which slows it down a bit but still it races. Eventually we stop it using the decompression levers, not a good way to stop a diesel but it works.

I am sad to say that it is actually me who eventually works out what was wrong. I consult the service manual and conclude that a spring in the governor has been put on incorrectly. While I guess I am pleased with my fault finding I was rather concerned about what else might be wrong. Eventually Gaeton arrives and half the engine is pulled apart again, the spring fitted correctly, the engine put back together, and we start it again. We are now ready to conduct harbour trials.

We manage to do a spin around the harbour but not without the engine behaving erratically and occasionally stopping. By the time we drift alongside, the engine having stalled again on the final approach, it is getting late so we have a beer and call it quits for the day.

On Monday Gaeton brings down a Yanmar expert. They proceed to fiddle around with the idle adjustments but make no real progress. I suspect the governor again but the experts think it’s the fuel pump. This would be a disaster as it would mean that the whole engine would have to be lifted again, so I suggest to them that they let me have a look at the governor. If I am right then I should be able to fix it within 30 minutes. Gaeton agrees and sure enough another spring has been reassembled incorrectly, is sticking and thereby causing the governor to hunt. When I finish and we start the engine it now runs smoothly. Hooray!

This leaves me only with the 24 volt alternator and fridge compressor to reconnect. To say that I was disappointed to find that neither of them worked when I had refitted them is definitely an understatement. Still no power and no cold beer. Arghh!

With the help of another cruiser I eventually got the alternator going and in the process fitted a manual regulator which I am very pleased with as it gives me much more electrical power than previously. I fix part of the problem with the fridge compressor, namely the magnetic clutch, but when I run the compressor the fridge still does not work and I suspect the fridge has lost its gas. This will need an expert to fix, so for now I give up on it.

Wednesday I spend getting my visa retrospectively extended and attempt to clear out so I can leave in the morning but am thwarted by the bureaucracy, so that has to wait until Thursday morning.

Wednesday night I enjoy my last night at Sunil’s place with another cruising couple, Mike a New Zealander and Emanuelle, a French lady, from the boat Jackanory. We have a pleasant evening and I say goodbye to Nelson and Emma who I have decided to leave in Mauritius. I have come to the conclusion that crossing oceans is not the life for a dog (or most women), nor has it proven very practical or convenient for me by myself. I think in the long run we will all be happier and sense that I am still in the process of deconstructing my former life so I can discover the next.

So, at 12.30 Thursday 5 December, having eventually completed departure formalities, I motor (yay!) out of Port Louis, now totally alone. My next destination is once again Le Reunion and once again Sunil has persuaded me to take some cargo, this time a whole heap of awnings that take up half my living space, but it is only a relatively short sail and I figure I owe Sunil a favour or three.

From Le Reunion? Well … let’s just see what happens in Reunion first.