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Waiting out a Cyclone

Reunion Island, Southwest Indian Ocean

The Picton Castle is alongside a wharf in the artificial harbour of Port Ouest on the northwest end of this roundish French island of Reunion deep in the southwest Indian Ocean. It is now coming up thick in the cyclone season in the Indian Ocean. Being at Reunion we are almost out of the Indian Ocean, but not quite. When we sailed from Rodriques 17 days ago, we had an area of “disturbed weather” off the northeast corner of Madagascar. This is a hot squally area and basically a kind of incubator for low-pressure systems that can turn into cyclones.

A week or so ago a not-very-impressive shallow low spun out of this area and started to make its way southwest into the waters between Reunion and Madagascar. All the predictions were saying that this was no big thing. All the computer models that the prognosticators use indicated a diminishing system. We expected to get under way a couple of days ago—get some fuel at the fuel station here in the basin, and sail off bound for Toliara in southwest Madagascar. Reunion had been good but we were all excited about getting to sea and Madagascar.

The night before sailing the wind picked up pretty strong in this little protected basin. The weather forecasts still predicted a diminishing system but the sky did not look like this to me. I decided to sit tight. Then a new report came in saying that this low had been upgraded to a tropical storm. Over the next few days this storm got upgraded to “severe” and then down to a “moderate” storm again. This could change back. Now it has stalled right in our way—”quasi-stationary” they call it. It continues to defy the predictors, and 50+ knots is a lot of wind. If you get stuck in like that you get to deal with it, but if you can dodge it that’s all for the good. And when sea-room is diminished by having the east coast of Madagascar downwind, which is like a wall without any meaningful harbours along its shore, it’s better to sit tight in a sweet place like Reunion Island. There is plenty to do here. Everybody’s French is improving, as are their friendships.

The sky is grey. There is a curious surge in the landlocked harbour that makes the Picton Castle tug at her mooring lines in a small jerking motion. The ship is secure, however. The watches continue with meaningful jobs getting done: a new hatch cover is finished and getting waterproofed, the main fife-rail is getting stripped, as are the teak ladders up to the quarter-deck, and a new lower-topsail is getting roped. The free watches are deepening their experience here in Reunion.

Soon we will be gone. Soon we will be leaving the Indian Ocean cyclone season behind as we head for the famous Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of the great continent of Africa. We will pass the Cape in high summer, the best time of year to make such a passage. The South Atlantic has no circular tropical storms. The water is too cold.

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