Pondering on a Night Sail to Reunion Island

First Mate Kirk

21 August 2011 | St. Pierre, La Reunion

For avid readers of this blog, you surely would have heard of some of my antics aboard SV bubbles, but for the first time I have decided pick up the laptop and tell a bit of this epic saga from my point of view. We’ve had to deal with some major repairs and our recent blogs are starting to read like maintenance forms from an ailing vessel barely afloat. But despite the copious editorial space we have dedicated to repairs ion the last couple of blogs, still we’ve failed to mention all the repairs. Which bring my attention to MD (motor dinghy) Holes. Well, not surprisingly the night after Keshan’s family visit and dinghy ride we found MD Holes limping to one side looking rather deflated, in both sense of the word. Apparently the night before we had tied MD Holes on the back of Bubbles, and when some swells came during the night, our wind steering vane (which also happens to be broken) had punctured the starboard tube on MD Holes. After a quick patch job and some other unmentioned small repairs Bubbles departed for the island of reunion. Once again we were reunited with our old friend the steering wheel, yes the steering wheel we have become so intimate with hand steering across the Indian ocean, and have grown apart from on land, had came back like a sentimental lover that refuses to part. So during my watch shift, drifting westward in the obscure night once again I felt the arc of her curvature and suppleness of her leather covering with a row of stitches that fit firmly into the jagged calluses of my palms. Which bring me to the grating point that our auto pilot is still broken.

There is something hypnotic about steering a yacht alone on a night lit up by the full moon. The lackadaisical moon beams covers ocean’s surface with an ethereal slivery gild, and in those early morning hours my thoughts wonders unreserved in a way that only the vast space of the open seas could allow, and the images in my mind began to melt with the ever undulating scenery around me. For some reason despite the many paths it may take, my mind always ends up in one place, the only true love of my life, ma petit francaise, divine Valentine. Everywhere I looked that night I seem to see the sight of her, in the rotund full face of the moon I saw her delicate features, with her effervescent smile beaming down at me in each soft ray of moonlight; with every passing wave, locks of her long brown wavy hair seem to be brushing gently past the hull of Bubbles; even the jib sheet laying lazily by my feet seem to trace out the delectable curves of her lissome body. I could have pondered every square inch of her body until the moon finally set in the western sky, but was only distracted when the wind suddenly gusted like an unruly beast out of the east. 12 Knots!! (not that I would know precisely because our instruments were broken) I woke up Alex and we put up some sails, not bad, we movingly along swiftly doing about 6 Knots. When Alex went back to bed, and I turned off the engine, and as its erratic syncopation finally came to a stop, my mind was able to comfortably drift again…… back to sweet Valentine, and I wonder that maybe in Paris she could be staring up at the same moon as I or perhaps her sky was shielded by clouds and robbed her of the moonlight.

As the Dawn brought in the first glimmers of light from the eastern sky and before Apollo had risen above the horizon with his golden chariot, I handed the wheel over to Alex and went below to sleep. As slumber greedily covered my eyes with darkness, there she was again, my little Valentine, more lively and engaging in my dreams than when I had seen her during the night. She seduced me with her bedroom ways and as I was about press my lips against hers, each half, pink and shaped like a crescent moon, I was awoken by Alex yelling “KIRK….WHALES”. I threw my Disney blanket on the floor and hopped on decked. There off the port side were two columns of spray indicating a humpback mother and its baby, early cruisers departing from their breeding grounds off the coast of Madagascar. They splashed at the surface seemingly curious about us as we are about them. This is when Alex decided to climb the mast for a better look, as I kept bubbles on course. When he got up there, he yelled at me “turn to port….. get close to them!!!” I begun to have flash backs to the last time when Alex was yelling at me from on top of the mast to drive closer to something. That was in Thailand on a small islet just off the island of Kho Phiphi where the movie “the Beach” starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. That time I ended up driving the boat into the cliff, am I going to hit some whales this time? Luckily as we got close the mother and baby dove, and we were left with just the drumming of the diesel engine.

We continued to motor towards Reunion Island, and were about 50 miles away when we sighted the silhouette of her volcanoes sticking up from the sea. More prominent than Rodrigues or Mauritius, the sight of Reunion brought to our minds images of steaks, ice cold beer (as the fridge on bubbles doesn’t keep the beer icy cold even on the rare occasions when it is working), and of course loose women. Just as we felt the urgency to reach land the engine coughed a few times and sputtered to a stop. By now we all know this means something had gotten into the fuel line, gunk or air, maybe we just ran out of fuel. After a quick inspection, sure enough there was some bubbles in the secondary filter. So Alex bleed the injectors and fire the engine back up, alas that only solved the problem for about 20 minutes before the engine conked out again. So we repeated the procedure and notice that air was being pulled into the fuel line in a small continuous stream. Deciding that we can’t be bother with the silly engine anymore we hastily hoisted some sail and decided to accept the 3 konts per hour we were making toward land. At this speed it would take another 17 hours before we reached Reunion. Alex hot and tired from working on the engine decided to take a nap. I was left with my old friend the steering wheel once again to keep bubble on the right heading as she drifted tediously toward land. ………well I’m not gonna go back to the same ole tiresome prose about the little French darling that had tickled my fancy so many times in the past.

When Alex woke up with the renewed ambition to get the engine running, we bled the injectors a few more times without solving the problem, and finally resorted to filling the fuel filter with diesel from a plastic water bottle every time air collected in it. We started filling every 20 minutes and extended the time between fill a little bit each time to try to beat the previous record. After about 6 fills the problem disappeared as mysteriously as it had appeared and we decided to coin the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Then I took a small nap and woke up to steer the final hours until we got to our destination port of St. Pierre. As I steered just 2 miles off the shores of Reunion something fell into the water from the sky, as it seemed to me, at about 50 meters behind the boat. I turned around just in time to see it flop into the water and was ever perplexed as to what it could be, a big suit case or small body maybe. But my eagerness to reach land overcame my need to explore the curious anomaly, and I kept course towards port instead of turning around to see.

By the time we got within sight of St. Pierre and we were face with the prospect of entering a strange port in the dark. As we line up the range markers to take the correct heading into port, we almost hit a small fishing vessel, luckily Alex shined the flash light at them as a collision was avoided. When we got close to the channel entrance we saw that the channel was a narrow gap of water with 10 ft breaker waves on either side. We drove the boat through as if we were threading a needle which was made evermore hair-raising because our depth sounder was broken. Having tied up the boat on the waterfront dock reminiscent of St. Tropez, we jumped off the boat and headed straight to the nearest bar. Suddenly we were transport from the middle of the Indian ocean to a place that seemed to be, well it is, France. People sat in bars and side walk cafes enjoying the gentle breeze that came off the sea with a after dinner cocktail, and everywhere gorgeous French girls strutted around in stylish evening dresses and high heels. May be this is just the perfect for me to forget my nagging yearning for that other French girl…….what’s her name…….oh yeah, Valentine

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