This happened on Friday the 14th of January, 2022. We received the message that there was enough wind to go sailing. We met our instructor Christopher at the waterfront in La Gaulette where his two small (dinghy) sailboats are at: one catamaran and one monohull.
Click the menu in the upper-right corner so you have the “catamaran” layer on. This map contains the approximate routes of all 3+ sailing classes we took with Christopher.
The Idea + Gaps in Our Resumés
Finding someone in La Gaulette willing and capable to rent us a kayak was very difficult, but finding someone to take us out sailing was no easy feat either. Jonas found Christopher’s phone number on Google Maps and decided to message him. He said he could take us out sailing, but that there wasn’t enough wind. We waited for days until the wind picked up. First, Christopher said Thursday the 13th might be good. But then at 8:00, we received the message that sailing wasn’t going to happen. Finally, on Friday we received a message that sailing was a go.
Jonas and I have never gone sailing together. I’ve done five summers of sailing courses as a (grumpy) child with my cousins: three times in an Optimist as a young’un (aged 9 – 14, approximately), once in a Laser 2000, and once in a very Dutch boat called ‘Valk’ (Falcon).
When hitchhiking sailing boats, people value dinghy sailing experience over all other things (except maybe not being prone to seasickness). It’s when you’ve sailed dinghies before when they know you know how to operate a sailing boat. My entire sailboat hitchhiking career, I’ve been living off those five summers of experience to show competence. But that’s simply not enough. And even my latest sailboat hitchhiking experience happened almost seven years ago by now.
Jonas, on the other hand, has very little dinghy sailing experience. He sailed a small catamaran one day with his stepfather in Mallorca. But he did sail a 12-meter (?) rental yacht in 2018 for a week in Croatia with his stepfather and a few other family members. He was very eager to learn the ropes around the boat and picked up a lot of experience. However, sailing a big boat with multiple people aboard is a very different dynamic to knowing the instant reactions of a dinghy to a slight trim change or a turn of the rudder. And the stakes with a rental boat are a lot higher than those for a dinghy.
Here’s the thing: we both love sailing. We want more of it in our lives. And we want to hitchhike or crew boats on voyages all over planet Earth to help other people’s yachting dreams come true. But thus far we haven’t prioritized this. The month of January brings a certain urgency to things. We had a good talk about this and decided to message a bunch of people involved in sailing in Mauritius.
Make it happen.
Meeting Our Instructor Christopher
Christopher sent us a location pin on where to meet. It was kind of in-between streets, so I guessed it was the one further west. We put on a load of sunscreen, got dressed, and packed a backpack including a tupperware box filled to the brim with mine frite veg from Liverpool snack. Then we hopped onto the scooter to drive to the location. We were there at 9:55 and though we saw the yellow dinghy from the sailing photos, it wasn’t rigged. There was, however, a small white catamaran with the sails already flapping out in the wind.
We sent a message to Christopher with a photo of our location and our non-ideal parking spot, and he said it was close but not the right spot. He came to us, we got introduced, and said he’ll show us the right alley after we’re done. We had to walk through the shallow but wavy and muddy water from the shore to the catamaran. But first, we put on our sun protective sleeves, hats, and my sailing/kayaking gloves. The walk to the boat was a little uncomfortable because muddy parts wanted to eat my shoe off my foot. Once at the boat, we dropped the backpack in one of the hulls, locked it, and climbed aboard.
Christopher frees the boat by lifting the four-pronged anchor and climbs aboard to sail us out of the mooring area. We’re sailing!
I’m sitting on the starboard side of the boat and Jonas on the port side. We’re talking about what we want to get out of (re-)learning to sail. Jonas says he wants to know better what to do on the boat and why we do it. I want to know how to call shit in English and how to be a better mate since that whole… early childhood teamwork thing didn’t really develop.
My First Time Sailing a Catamaran
We’re sailing upwind with close-hauled sails on the port side of the boat. After going a bit through some vocabulary (mainsail, jib) and some stuff about the wind directions, I take the rudder. This is my first time in a moving catamaran and managing the rudder was a different vibe at first. There are two rudders – one on each hull – and they’re connected to each other with a stick so they both move in the same direction.
Christopher says how you can build a boat like this yourself at home. It’s easy. He’s been sailing all his life and also makes the sails himself. For him, it’s freedom, it’s peace, it’s silence.
I am enjoying the shit out of steering the boat. I need to get a bit of a feel of how it works again, but it also just feels completely natural. Christopher points out a small wreck in the lagoon and I need to avoid hitting it. The low-hanging sails aren’t see-through, so I hadn’t even seen it yet. Good lesson to regularly duck to see what’s in your blind corner.
It’s time to tack. After discussing what again we should expect, I throw the rudder away from me. We turn through the wind and the sails flap. I notice this means I’m kind of ‘giving’ the rudder to Jonas, who is sitting on the other side. I tell him to take the rudder since I’m now on the downwind side of the boat. He takes it and the second he’s in control, he smiles non-stop. I grab my action cam in a waterproof case from the hull to snap some pictures.
We tack once more and Christopher tells me to aim for a still-standing boat that’s outside of the reef. I don’t see a boat outside the reef, but plenty within that are mobile One of these? He tells us never to take our bearings from a moving object. I finally spot the boat outside of the reef, starting a pattern of me not seeing where to aim that follows me the whole day. Not much later, the boat outside the reef decides to leave its position. But I know now what’s the good course despite the lack of landmarks.
Christopher shouts something urgent and I understand “Turn!” so I turn. But he said “turtle”, which would have been cool to spot but I missed it. What should I be looking for if it’s in the water?
Sailing to Crystal Rock + Beaching a Catamaran
I have to decide when it’s time to tack again so Jonas can sail us to Crystal Rock. If I tack too early, Jonas will sail well before the mushroom-shaped rock. If I tack too late, he’ll sail well past it. Either that, or we have to change the trim of the sails, which isn’t really an issue but it’s nice if we’re sailing as close-hauled as possible. I tack too late and it turns out we need to open the sails a bit more to close reach. Time for a diagram? Time for a diagram.
But Jonas still did a great job and before we knew it, we were sailing past Crystal Rock and the gazillion motorboats hovering around there. I am reminded once again why I generally hate motorboats unless I’m on one of them; their wake. I hated it when I was 9 years old and inside an Optimist on our local lakes. I hated it when kayaking down the Danube. And I still hate it now, even though the captains on these motor yachts are locals who are generally paying attention unlike the daytrippers in Europe who use their boats to get drunk away from police.
We make our first jibe and then it’s my turn to sail with beam reach to the resort on a place called ‘Island’s Toe’. There are a couple of sailing dinghies on the beach there and some of them have launched from there. We’d tried to go there before when we drove around the inselberg on our scooter, but beam gates and guards make it a very inaccessible spot.
I mention something about all the terrain privé signs everywhere on (particularly this side) of Mauritius. Christopher says he dislikes those too and generally doesn’t abide them. The privatization of trails and the wild growth of huge resorts in Mauritius that try (and fail) to claim its beaches is a serious problem. And most of it is foreign management that displaces locals and then pays them pennies to work in those resorts that bring them (m/b)illions. It’s so early in 2022 and I’m already so done with this.
Once at the sandy bits, Christopher instructs me to first sail close-hauled, then turn into the wind to slow down, then put the boat straight so to beach both hulls. Not bad?
The sails stay up like this. Christopher says we’ll reconvene in 40 minutes. We can have lunch and swim at that corner. He then walks off to greet a bunch of friends who work there.
Lunch on Island’s Toe at Le Morne Peninsula
There are loads of boats ashore and some of them are attached to stuff with tripwires. I learn the hard way. To my happy surprise, there are also two Optimists here that are rather stripped down; no sails, no cushions to prevent it from sinking, no daggerboard, ‘hiking straps’ to hang out of the boat when there’s plenty of wind, and no ropes nowhere. How can I rent one of these solo and how much will this cost me? Because I need to know if sailing these was only good when I was tiny as fuck or if they’re still as awesome as I remember.
We walk to the tip where there are some trees and benches in the shadow. We break out the box of noodles and start chomping. This is the second time we got mine frite veg for takeaway at Liverpool snack to bring it on an adventure the following day.
After eating, I go out for a quick refreshing swim. The waters are so warm here. Then after drying off I decide to not put on my leggings again since they’re very sandy and wet—a mistake. I reapply 50 SPF sunscreen on my face, neck, arms, and legs. Jonas reapplies as well. Once it’s absorbed and I’m dressed, it’s time to head out onto the water again with a beautiful backdrop of Le Morne.
Christopher tells us that tomorrow there will be even more wind. I’m definitely interested in going out again tomorrow, but it depends on how we feel after this.
Chasing a Friend in a Catamaran
Jonas and I decided to switch sides on the boat. This time, I’m managing the port side of things and he does starboard. The plan is to circle Île aux Benitiers counter-clockwise and at some point return and sail with the mainsail and jib in the butterfly position. I’m starting. After we’re moving, I ask Jonas to take some photos of me so I also have something. Christopher takes Jonas’ phone to take a few photos as well.
But at some point, Christopher spots a green sail in the lagoon and says “That’s my friend! Change of plans. Let’s see if we can catch up with them.”
We tack and sail upwind with a few tacks until we almost catch up with the friend. I only see the fellow catamaran with bright green sails after five minutes of scanning the horizon. Whenever Jonas sails, there are these beautiful standing waves behind the boat. And we pass a turtle in the water for the second time, but I miss it again. I’m not sure at this point if sea turtles actually exist.
We eventually meet and I’m tasked with sailing close to the other boat but still in not-an-asshole distance. There are a man and a boy aboard the other catamaran and Christopher has a conversation with them. We eventually overtake them, take the wind out of their sails for a few seconds, and then continue onward to the north side of île aux Benitiers. The wind has picked up quite a bit since our lunch break.
I know there’s a very long shallow sandy bank on the north side of Île aux Benitiers. Jonas couldn’t kayak over it when I walked across the island and he paddled around it, so he dragged the kayak across. But Christopher said we could sail over it. It’s high tide, yes, but still, that seems unlikely/unwise?
Christopher points out the green buoy quite far north of the island. It takes me only 42 seconds this time to figure out where it is. I aim for it and there’s some trimming of the sails where Jonas gets involved. Good, that’s kind of what we wanted to learn and practice next. I realize that the green buoy marks the end of the massive sandbank. I wonder if it’s mapped on OSM nautical charts? Perhaps I should download those for Mauritius if I want to get to know these waters.
We jibe around the green buoy and are now sailing downwind fairly straight. The jib goes in the butterfly position opposite the mainsail. The friend in the catamaran cuts over the sandbank real smooth. So it can be done! Though our catamaran is slightly bigger and might have a deeper draft?
Christopher had already explained that if you sail downwind with the sails open and in the butterfly mode, you’re only traveling as fast as the wind goes and not faster like in a well-trimmed close haul. This explains something I noticed as a kid in the Optimist but never quite understood like I do today. Now either of us can take the rudder, though the mainsail is on my side so it’s better if Jonas does it. Time for an awkward selfie.
Crossing these last few kilometers in the wind shadow of Île aux Benitiers takes a long time, but still not as long as how it was for us in the kayak a couple of days earlier. I decided to lie down for a bit, close my eyes, and hope that redness on my upper legs isn’t a sunburn. Deep down, I already know I fucked up.
Once it’s time to land, we jibe again and it’s my turn to sail the boat to its yellow parking buoy. I have to approach with enough speed to – for lack of better vocabulary – make a U-turn until the boat faces the wind and the sails go flap flap flap. Then we hop out of the boat, grab our backpack and stuff from the hull, and walk to the shore while Christopher anchors his boat. I’m trying not to lose my shoes in the suction of the mud.
Once ashore, he tells us we should drive to the alley one street northward next time to meet him. We pay him and then say we’ll be in contact about sailing again tomorrow on the catamaran or the monohull. He looks a little out on the water and says he’s going to sail some more. That’s awesome. We’re pretty beat but also highly motivated.
We get onto our sun-baked scooter and drive back home.
After taking a shower and washing our stuff, we take a look at the skin situation. My upper legs are burned. Over the hours it becomes even redder. Jonas’ hands are the same because he didn’t put on his gloves (my old kayaking gloves, FYI). Next time he’ll make sure to wear those. I should make sure to have an alternative to the leggings to keep covered. Even my neck seems a little red, what the fuck? Did the ozone hole move above Mauritius, or what is this?
A couple of hours later, we lament the fact that tomorrow will have better wind but we’re too sunburned. We message Christopher to tell him we can’t go out again on the 15th because of that big oopsie. But we’ll heal and make sure to go out onto the water and into the wind another time.
The wind will return. I read somewhere that it’s curious there hasn’t been a (serious) cyclone in Mauritius despite now being the season.
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