Indonesia to La Reunion
11th August to 3rd September
Raffles (Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles) is best known as the ‘founder’ of Singapore, and is now a part of the Singapore brand. He was one of those incredibly capable, energetic, ambitious and visionary men who carved a place in history.
He journeyed home after his time in the east over this same Indian Ocean some 200 years ago.
He and his wife and two remaining children had set out from Bencoolen (now Bengkulu in Sumatra) on the Fame, bound for England. But less than 60 miles from shore the ship caught fire and sank.
They lost everything: all Raffles’ collections, writings, artwork, gold, jewellery, “135 hefty crates, apart from the live animals” (which included a living tapir, a new species of tiger and unknown types of pheasant). They were lucky to survive with their lives. Any further offshore and they’d have been unable to row back.
Remember, they weren’t sailing for fun or for adventure. They just wanted to get home. I don’t suppose they enjoyed it at all. But that was the nature of international travel until not so long ago: dangerous, uncomfortable, slow.
Eventually they found another ship, the Mariner, and left Sumatra in April 1824, reaching St Helena (Napoleon had died there three years earlier) in July, and England in August. Imagine rounding the Cape of Good Hope in mid-winter storms.
(While they were on their way home, the Treaty of London between the British and Dutch was signed. This ceded British stations in Sumatra to the Dutch, and removed Dutch opposition to the British in Singapore. Another bit of the colonial jigsaw was fixed.)
You may not find that bit of history interesting but I do. It puts our own Indian Ocean sailing adventures into perspective to realise how relatively easy and safe are our modern day travels.
For me this was an unexpectedly long crossing, the bug having shut off stopping en route at Cocos Keeling (Australian territory – I was curtly told that to stop there I’d be contravening both the Customs Act 1901 and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Emergency Management Ordinance 2012. Just imagine what horrors might await an errant Pom. I sense this guy was longing to clap me in irons.)
And so it was just over 3,000 miles to the little bit of French territory, La Reunion.
The Southeast Trade Winds are well established now and wind direction steady.
Where else can you sail 3,000 miles on one tack, reaching all the way, over clear deep blue sea, scarcely seeing another vessel, and with warm sunshine most of the way? It was the kind of sailing you might enjoy one day in fifty in Northern Europe. And it went on for 23 days non-stop.
The downside was that half of it was a bit rough and windy. The other half was very rough and very windy. Both Henrietta and I felt a bit bruised by the time we reached Reunion.
At an average of just over 1,000 miles a week (6 knots) in just over three weeks, it was my second longest non-stop solo passage.
Henrietta has performed well, of course. The mainsail has rarely been needed, just a reefed genoa had us zipping along for most of the time. Hydrovane self-steering never in doubt as we skedaddled down the deep blue white-crested waves.
A few seabirds appeared, some boobies, a couple of gorgeous tropicbirds, and shearwaters magically soaring and swooping over the waves, somehow travelling upwind into 30 knots of spumey sea. And suicidal flying fish occasionally end their days on deck.
It does occur to me sometimes that aeroplanes may be pretty dull and spew a lot of carbon dioxide, but they are oh-so quick and pretty comfortable too. They cover in less than two hours what takes most yachts at least a week’s continuous sailing. But aeroplanes make me nervous. Plus I’ve really appreciated no news, no contacts, no gloom, no land-dwelling anxieties, and none of the silly stuff we tend to live with for so much of our lives.
Above all, slow sea travel can bring you such fabulous happy feelings: the endless majesty of ocean swell, the unsullied ocean breeze, sparkling starlit nights; and then the heart lifting and body-tingling joy that comes with landfall after a long time at sea, the emotional high of a new unknown island.
I approached La Reunion before dawn. There was indescribable otherworldly beauty in a town in the north (Saint-Denis, the capital) with its twinkling lights glittering like gold dust scattered up the dark dark grey mountainside, all set beneath the bright silver globe of a full moon. And little bits of phosphorescence flashed in the passing sea.
Arrival in Le Port, Reunion a few hours later was quick, easy and efficient. Though the port approach seems to be in an acceleration zone where wind was over 30 knots, the marina is calm.
Staff and neighbours give warm welcomes and Henrietta is tied up in two minutes, customs officials arrive and clear me in five more minutes. All done. No charges, no excessive paperwork, no passport stamp (luckily Britain not yet sufficiently Brexitted for that)…just a freshwater shower…..and I’m off to a boulangerie and U Express supermarket down the road. Yum! ( N.B. If you sail here, you should submit paperwork before leaving your last port).
I’ll probably stay here a month or so. Lots to do……