Written by: Kate Addison
Recently the training ship Picton Castle set sail from La Réunion bound for Cape Town more than two thousand miles away, around the Cape of Good Hope. We’re hoping for fine weather for this notoriously stormy passage.
It was my first visit to Reunion Island: a dramatic, cloud-topped, volcanic dot in the Indian Ocean, 120 miles to the south-west of Mauritius and due east of Madagascar. It’s the third of the Mascarene Islands together with Mauritius and our previous island port of call, Rodrigues.
La Réunion is a French territory, which means it has the same standards of living as mainland France: the food and roads are first-class, shops are wonderful – and the rush-hour traffic is terrible!
The harbour in Port de la Point des Galets (or simply Le Port) is excellent – a hurricane hole where ships and yachts can weather tropical cyclones. Picton Castle was in the Port Ouest alongside the fish refrigeration dock, where ice is supplied to the fishing fleet and the chilled catch is landed for freezing. The east side is a base for the French Navy, whose ships patrol the Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel against illegal fishing, drug smuggling and piracy.
In the south-east of the island there is a volcano that’s still active: Piton de la Fournaise slowly oozes lava, making an unearthly black landscape of brand new rocks with shoots of vegetation tentatively poking through fissures in the weirdly smooth rock. This is a favourite spot for our crew to go sightseeing on their days off.
I heard from our shipping agent that the volcano was expected to erupt soon. Concerned, I asked if this would be dangerous, but he said no, just bad for traffic because so many people drive there to take photographs!
Inland the landscape is impressive: lush and steep, the mountains are scaled by spaghetti-like switchback roads, damp and green with exuberant ferns, creepers and grass, and dotted with bright, oversized tropical flowers. The views are incredible, except when the cloud blanket creeps down the mountains, obscuring the view with damp whiteness.
The towns are mostly dotted around the coast road next to sunny black sand beaches, and all along the roads were small pop-up shops selling beautiful, plump lychees by the kilo – they call them the Christmas fruit here, because the short season only lasts through December.
Meanwhile the watch on duty were busy working to get the ship ready for the long sail ahead, around the Cape and bound for Cape Town. Some went aloft to work on the standing or fixed rigging. Working suspended high above the deck in a bosun’s chair they greased the wire stays to protect them from sea spray. Our carpenter, Joe from Fiji, made some repairs to our small sailing dory, and it was given a fresh coat of colourful paint. We think it may be the only wooden boat from Nova Scotia, Canada, to be painted in the sun drenched colours of Senegal.