Lat: 29 25.443′ S
Lon: 31 51.819′ E

While sitting at anchor Thursday afternoon we were hailed by the South African yacht Moondust, whom we’ve never met. They had spotted us anchored north of Inhaca and were also planning to take advantage of the coming weather window to reach South Africa. It was fortunate for us that we made contact with them because we decided to leave together around sunset, which was a bit earlier than I would have left otherwise, but turned out very well for us. We lifted the anchor after enjoying a delicious Thanksgiving shepard’s pie and watching the sunset, then headed offshore behind Moondust.

DSC_0352 Anchored north of Inhaca in SW breeze after the southerly blew itself out.  The lighthouse and leading mark are on the left.

In addition to timing the wind, these short jumps are also about finding the current, which as Moondust agreed, can be a real game of hide and seek, or now you see me now you don’t. We anticipated a counter current between Inhaca and the South African border, and we weren’t disappointed. We made for deep water, hoping the counter current would be less there, and Moondust stayed closer to shore. By heading south initially, they were well ahead of us, but we stayed in contact over VHF through the night and found that the counter current was essentially the same for both of us. There was almost no swell left from the previous day’s blow and we were able to start sailing with easterly winds once we reached deep water and turned south. During the night, however, the wind died as we’d anticipated and we motored until late the next morning when we were able to motorsail and eventually sail without the engine. Moondust was 10 miles ahead and motorsailing 2 knots faster than us, so we eventually lost radio contact with them.

As we reached the South African border and raised the South African courtesy flag, the counter current dwindled and we began to pick up a light favorable current. Both the current and the wind picked up as we headed farther south, making reaching Durban look more like a real possibility. Just in time for our most weather-critical passage to date, the method we’ve been using to download weather information over the sat phone failed. Thankfully, Wes has been forwarding us weather info and we’ve been able to get some additional information from the Peri Peri net, Moondust, and Durban radio. I was initially a bit worried as the timing was looking tight for us to reach Durban before the next round of strong southerly winds, but as evening neared, we started reaching speeds of 8, 9, and even 10 knots. It was just getting dark and Lauren and I both had a spoonful of rice and green curry in our hands when a gust of wind and a large wave made us both look at each other, with Lauren saying “it’s time.” We set down our dinner and went outside to drop the main. As we were finishing up the job, the wind began to blow stronger and with just the jib left up we were still making 7-9 knots.

DSC_0355 This large vessel is inshore of us and happened to pass by us right at the South Africa – Mozambique border

Just like on our way to Quelimane, Lauren had the fast watch where we made incredible speeds with perfect winds and a strong current, but this time it wasn’t as uneventful. I’d only been in bed an hour or so when I heard her on the radio trying to hail a ship. They didn’t answer and she called me up to show me that we were on a collision course with a closing speed of 25 knots and a time to impact of 8 minutes. Luckily the AIS/chartplotter has been calculating time to closest proximity incorrectly and we really had close to 30 minutes. I tried radioing them again, and they answered back, confirming that we were visible on their radar, and agreeing to change course. The vessel turned out to be a large cruise ship headed for Maputo, and as they neared us Durban radio came on the air to tell us that Moondust had been trying to get the cruise ship to relay a message to us that like us, they were doing well and had decided to press on for Durban. The fellow manning the radio station was very friendly and we learned from listening to his side of a chat with Moondust that he was in Cape Town, where VHF radio transceivers stationed all along the South African coast are monitored from a central location. You may call Durban or Port Elizabeth radio, and while the tower is local, the voice on the other end will be coming from Cape Town. His office was also a satellite monitoring station where news of our EPIRB/PLB signals going off would be received if we were to activate them in this part of the world.

After a short chat with the radio operator, I headed to bed, and Lauren spent a long final night watch gibing through a thunderstorm with lightning and rain showers. By the time she got me up at 3 am, the winds had died down quite a bit, but we were getting about 4 knots of favorable current to keep us moving at a nice speed. We were already offshore from Richard’s Bay, with the lights of the city and a half a dozen ships anchored offshore gleaming on the horizon. Just like clockwork, as Lauren was falling asleep the current deserted us and the wind slacked until we were only making about 4.5 knots.

I tried heading farther offshore to find more current, and by the time we checked in with the Peri Peri at 7am, we’d managed to find a little favorable current and the wind had picked back up. Roy in Durban (Peri Peri net operator) let us know that he’d look to find a slip for us today and would try to have an escort sent out to guide us in when we arrive. There’s nothing like a warm welcome. I already have a list of boat repairs in my head that should keep me busy for at least a week, and since we can stay in a slip in Durban for free for the first 2-4 weeks, it looks likely that we’ll take this opportunity to enjoy staying put for a week or two and try to get the boat in shape for the Atlantic crossing before moving farther down the coast. Lauren and I were adding it up recently and we have spent 38 of the last 47 days alone on the boat together, with the 9 days not spent alone on the boat being split between French-speaking Mayotte where we had a lot to get done and Portuguese-speaking Quelimane, where we definitely spent less time than usual exploring. Maybe that explains why Lauren keeps mumbling about things like walking around, speaking English with other people, going to the beach, eating out, socializing, and calling friends and family.