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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15, 2011-Mauritius Report


Rodriguez, Mauritius, Reunion: the Mascarene Islands. More than what you would read in Patrick O’Brien, although that is interesting in and of itself, and with more yachts thinking of crossing the Southern Indian Ocean to Africa instead of the higher pirate risk of the Red Sea Route we thought that sharing our experience in Mauritius would be of use to others who might follow in our footsteps.

We stayed in Mauritius for six months after missing the November window which we think is the safe limit of the season for a departure for Africa.

Approaching Mauritius from the NE, as most mariners will, your first sight of land after the long and rough Indian Ocean crossing will be Round Island, some 13 miles to the Northeast of Mauritius’ Cape Malheureux. Mauritius itself will not rise above the horizon until it is quite close, maybe 4-5 miles, depending on the clarity of the air that day, the northern part of the country quite being low. Be cautious of the off lying reefs which surround the Island and take particular care rounding Canonnier’s Point, the NW corner of Mauritius; its reefs are particularly dangerous.
Be also aware that the magnetic variation at Mauritius is around 19 degrees.

The flat water sail down the NW coast will be a welcome relief to the endless swells of your crossing and the entrance to Port Louis is straight forward and well marked. Note that there are two harbors at Port Louis; the southern one is the main port and it is where yachts enter. The electronic charts for this area are generally accurate.

Entry and Clearance:
Call “Port Louis Port Control” on Channel 16 when arriving at the outer markers and request permission to come into the port. This harbor is busy with arrivals and departures of numerous fishing vessels, container ships, and cruise ships and the port control manages the traffic closely. If you enter (or depart) without permission you may be intercepted by the coast guard in one of their orange speedboats.

The port is open during daylight hours; arrivals after 18:00 may not be acknowledged by radio. It is acceptable to anchor clear of the entrance until morning.

Upon obtaining permission to enter yachts proceed to the customs and immigration station at Lat 020 09.6 S, Lon 057 30.0 E. This is a poorly marked or unmarked building for customs and immigration with a small float (orange boats) and to the right of that a concrete wall where yachts are expected to tie. Be cautious of the shallow area to the starboard of the direct line to the Customs Station. Tie to the wall and the skipper can go into the offices to the left and complete formalities. This process can take over an hour as often various officials will need to be called. Sometimes they will board the yacht for inspection. While not strictly permitted crew members can go ashore for a meal or refreshment at the mall directly behind the wall where the yacht is tied without causing undue concern from the friendly officials.

Be sure to get a copy of your clearance papers because it may be required by coast guard boarding parties if you visit other ports in Mauritius. (In every port we visited in Mauritius the local Coast Guard team came out to say hello and check our papers as we first anchored in their jurisdiction.)

One note: No firearms are allowed, and this, strangely, includes spear guns. Declare your firearms and spear guns and the Mauritius Customs will ask you to turn then in for the duration of your stay in Mauritius. You will be given a receipt and told to call them 24 hours prior to departure so that the weapons can be delivered to the waterfront office for your recovery when you check out.

Citizens of most countries will be given a two week visa on arrival which can be extended by application to the immigration office at Sterling House, a short distance from the waterfront in downtown Port Louis. Several forms must be completed and documents provided so it is worth going there a day or two before to get the list of what is needed. Visa extensions of up to 180 days for owners and crew are commonly approved.

Foreign yachts, the vessels themselves, however, are only allowed to be in Mauritius for three months and after that time Mauritius Customs will expect a bond or bank guarantee equal to 15% of the value of the vessel to be presented to their office (New Customs House in the Free Port area).

Officials in Mauritius are courteous and professional, will speak English as well as French and Creole, and they will not ask for any fees or other payments.

Berthing in Port Louis
Just .25nm due west of the customs station is the Le Caudan Marina. Yachts may proceed there after clearing and tie at any available spot. Tying on the outside wall is permitted but yachts there will be subject to wakes. The quay at Le Caudan is concrete and can quickly damage topsides if your fenders are not properly deployed. Rafting is permitted.

If westerly swells are present (uncommon during winter) the quay at Le Caudan is untenable and yachts should move elsewhere, commonly into the “basin” (see below).
Berthing is reasonably priced, electricity and water are included, and the fees are paid at the Caudan Security office across the parking lot from the quay. They will accept mail and packages.

There is a back basin, the Caudan Basin, (the entrance further westward) which is used as a cyclone shelter for all Mauritius based yachts and visiting yachts may go into this basin and tie for free wherever there is room. Be very cautious navigating in the Caudan Basin because there are shallow areas and numerous unmarked wrecks there. Port Louis authorities will need to clear this basin before it is safe for visiting or local yachts.

The other note is that Port Louis is a dirty harbor. Diesel is often present on the surface of the harbor and this will foul your waterline as well as present a strong smell which gave us headaches. Easterly winds, however, usually keep this out of the marina. The water quality is not good in other ways also; after heavy rains the whole Port Louis harbor becomes a sewer.

Facilities in Port Louis
Mauritius has a number of small chandleries and many engineering shops which cater to yachts. There is, for example, a sail maker here with a good reputation (Rob Stevens). There is, however, no yachting directory for Mauritius so perhaps the best way to contact any of the resources is through the helpful services of Rashid (+230 422 5895), a taxi driver who focuses on assisting yachties, or one of the captains of the charter yachts usually tied up in the marina.

Parts and equipment which are not available locally may be ordered and quickly shipped from the US or Europe via FedEx, UPS, or DHL or other carriers. Yachts in transit are not subject to the 15% VAT but customs clearance and delivery fees may add up to more than that amount. Talk to the courier company before your parts arrive to decide whether you wish to pay the vat or the customs clearance fees.

The Taylor-Smith careenage is located nearby in Port Louis and boasts an excellent 200 ton travel lift and a concrete hardstand with professional staff who can complete or arrange most haul-out services for a very reasonable cost.

Several supermarkets and “hyper-markets” are located either within walking distance of the marina or by taxi or bus. Prices for most items in the super markets are comparable to similar products in Asia or the US. Taxi fares are high in Mauritius; expect to pay more than you did in Asia or Australia for a taxi ride. Fuel costs are also high here. Luckily we arrived with most of our low cost Indonesian fuel still aboard.

There is an excellent market just a couple of blocks from the marina with the best selection of fresh produce we’ve seen in our years of cruising. Be careful, however, of the vendors there; they are happy to sell you second quality goods if you are not looking closely when they select them for you. Selecting the items you want yourself is better but many vendors will not let you do this.

Health Services
Mauritius has good medical and dental facilities and would like to develop a “Health Tourism” industry. Services for visitors are reasonably priced but the quality of the facilities are uneven and not consistently up to the standards, for instance, of Australia, Thailand, or Malaysia. That being said, we received excellent care for the medical services we needed while in Mauritius and found low priced prescription and non prescription medicine here.

Cruising in Mauritius
Sailing is excellent all around Mauritius with plenty of wind and waters, once away from the shores, free of dangers. The electronic charts, where present, are accurate. Mauritius is called “The Green Island” for good reason, it is bright green (more so in summer). Mauritius is also mountainous; the vistas for a yacht circumnavigating Mauritius are beautiful.

Grand Bay.
To the north of Port Louis, Grand Bay offers a good anchorage and many attractions ashore. There is a yacht club, The Grand Bay Yacht Club, with facilities available for free for visiting yachtsmen upon application at the office, and an active social and racing program. From a waypoint at Lat 019 59.3 S Lon 057 34.1 E proceed on course 151 true past the Red and White “Pass Mark”, taken to starboard, over the 2.4m flat (sand), towards the barely visible range at the GBYC until you reach the 4m area where the yachts are moored. Further into the bay the depths are 5-6 meters and holding is good. The Grand Bay Coast Guard will visit you as soon as you come into the bay and may board you to check your papers, as will other coast guard units at other ports in Mauritius.

Riviere Noire (Black River)
South of Port Louis, Reviere Noire is the center of the active sports fishing fleet of Mauritius, with the famous La Morne Angler’s Club there, annual fishing derbies, and Black Marlins landed on most days. Entrance is straight forward and anchorage is easy, if surrounded by reefs, and calm but expect an onshore wind most days which will swing you right around and bring a slight chop. By nightfall however the easterly will be back and the anchorage will again be calm.

Grand Port.
On Mauritius’ east shore, Grand Port is both historic and scenic. Grand Port was the first port established by the Dutch in the 1500’s and remained the main harbor for French Mauritius until the early 1800’s when Port Louis was developed by Mahe LaBourdinais. Navigation within Grand Port is rewarding for the adventurous if a bit tricky and you must closely watch your charts; the channels are twisting and generally unmarked. Anchoring in the lee of Ile de La Passe permits easy access to that historic fort as well as other nearby islets but the winter trade winds are unrelenting. Grand Port is rarely a mill pond.

Further offshore are the Cargodos Carajos Shoals, known locally as St. Brandon, some 250nm to the north, which are remote and untouched, and other destinations such as Ile Tromlin and Madagascar, as well as Rodriguez and Reunion which all offer interesting cruising for the Mauritius based yacht.

Land Cruising
Car rentals are easy to obtain in Mauritius, if not cheap, and there are many interesting destinations for a cruiser who takes to the roads. The traffic however can be horrendous so allow plenty of time to get anywhere and watch for pedestrians as well as oncoming or parked traffic which will often be in your lane on the narrow and twisting local roads which cover most of Mauritius. Mauritians use their horns liberally to notify others of their presence so don’t be too startled if you are honked at, it is not meant to be offensive.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Mauritius

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