Archive for 'Mozambique to South Africa'

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.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lat: 25 57.751′ S
Long: 32 58.634′ E

In our race against the southerly wind, we seem to have won. We arrived at the northeast tip of Inhaca Island just before sunset on Tuesday. There wasn’t time before dark to get around to the other side of the island where there is a bit of tourist-based civilization, so we dropped anchor by our lonesome here in about 15′ of water over sand. There was already a stiff breeze blowing and whitecaps starting to form around the boat. With the tide coming in, the boat was oriented perpendicular to the wind, and we were rocking back and forth moreso than we typically do at sea. We hadn’t seen anything yet, though. Just as predicted (I’m amazed by the accuracy of the forecast around here), the strong southerlies picked up late at night, and we listened for the anchor alarm through the night to ensure that we didn’t drag toward the reef, a mere 500′ away.

anchor The semi-circle shows how the boat shifted around according to the wind

The strong winds continued all day Wednesday. We hadn’t seen anything like it since we were in the Kermadecs and saw the solar panels dislodged and outboard flipped. The wind generators seemed like they were spinning out of control and at one point were putting 33 amps into the house bank, the most we’ve ever seen. For the most part, the motion on the boat wasn’t too bad, but when high tide rolled around again and we were sitting perpendicular to the swell, we were picked up and slammed down by steep waves — a pretty wild experience considering we were at anchor! I’m just glad we weren’t bashing into them out at sea. All that time spent motoring in light winds on the way here really paid off.

Today (Thursday) is completely different. The wind has died down, and the forecast shows a brief weather window that should allow us to get to Richard’s Bay and maybe even Durban before the next buster is due to arrive on Sunday night. We’re going to give the seas a chance to die down a bit and probably set sail first thing in the morning.

We’ve been passing the time here at anchor by playing cards and watching movies. The southerly winds brought us a break from the heat, and in fact it feels a bit like fall. I can imagine that it must be like this back home (probably a bit colder) where everyone is gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving. Dallas and I are both fond of this holiday and wish we were home to enjoy it. We had talked about sharing some turkey and pumpkin pie with our American friends on S/V Bahati, but it looks like we are going to have to wait a while as they are already heading south from Durban. For now it’s just us. In the absence of a nearby grocery store, I’m having a hard time thinking of something special to make to mark the occasion, but I think some homemade bread will suffice.

For a brief time, we had a pet. Toward the end of the last passage we had a small, black seabird on board that was not at all shy. It began by resting out on the bimini but soon found its way inside and seemed to prefer hanging out with us, sheltered from the wind. Having it fly over and graze my head a couple of times led me to shriek in a stereotypically female way. Then it disappeared for a day or two, so I was pretty surprised to find it resting on the fan over my head when I woke up one morning. Unfortunately, I shrieked again yesterday when I pulled a pot from a top shelf in the galley and found it lying lifeless against the wall. I’m guessing that it got hold of a tablet used to kill roaches. R.I.P. little boat bird.

bird L.B.B. (Little Boat Bird) hanging out on the nav-desk light

The only other company that we’ve had here at anchor was a few dolphins that swam around the boat yesterday. If only it were a little warmer, I would have been swimming with them for sure. We’ve been out of the tropics for less than a week, and I’m already missing the heat! Not really. This is a welcome change, and there should be a nice blend of warm and cool days on the east coast of South Africa, depending on the winds. When it’s warm, I’m planning to soak up a bit of sun on Durban’s beaches.

With a population of 3.5 million, Durban is South Africa’s 3rd largest city. We haven’t been anywhere like that for quite a while. It will probably be a bit of culture shock after two months of minimal contact with other people, but I venture to say that I’m ready for it!

The D-Sail

Lat: 25 28.947′ S
Lon: 33 46.086′ E

This five day weather window has been without contrary winds, but the winds we have had have generally been pretty light. If we’d taken what the winds gave us, we’d be anchoring in Inhambane, two weather windows and probably two weeks away from South Africa. Instead, we’ve made liberal use of the D-Sail (diesel engines) to motor and motor-sail our way south. At this point, we’re set to reach Inhaca (in-YOK-uh) Island, near the Mozambique capital Maputo, just after sunset tonight, right before strong southerlies begin blowing. We were hoping to find a helpful current along the Mozambique coast once we reached the Bazaruto Archipelago, but if anything we seemed to have a bit of a counter current. When we finally sailed closer to the coast to “turn the corner” toward Inhaca and reached depths of 600 ft or so we found a southbound current of 0.5-1.0 knot or so that has stayed with us until now, and it seems to be turning south as we make our way farther west. With the light and variable winds, sail changes happen several times a day, with the main going up and down, the jib in and out, and yesterday the spinnaker even made an appearance for a few hours.

Most mornings have started with several squalls and light, cool westerly breezes off the land. Both dissipate about the time Lauren gets up, leading me to joke with her that the sun here waits for her to get up. We’ve enjoyed starting the day with fresh mangos and pineapple from Quelimane and since we reached Bazaruto, where we’ve sailed closer to the coast, seeing dolphins has been at least a once daily occurrence. They’ve been playful as usual, but yesterday’s batch were a little odd. They were smaller than the dolphins we’re used to seeing and instead of fully clearing the water in graceful arcs or leaps, they just jumped out sort of lazily until all of their body except the tail was nearly vertical and out of the water and then fell back onto the surface, landing on their sides with a flop. It looked more like the flops whales make than what we’re used to seeing dolphins do.

The days have been a mixed bag of overcast and temperate with enough wind to sail or clear and hot with very light winds. With such light winds, the wind-driven waves are almost nothing but the sea has never been flat. A slow, rolling, and sometimes large swell from the southwest serves as a reminder that that are some big winds over the horizon in the Southern Ocean with no buffering land mass between us.

DSC_0335 Sun setting over the Mozambique coast as we sail south close to shore

We’re nearing the end of a stretch where we’ve covered 8000 nm between Cairns, Australia and South Africa in 4 months, and we’re definitely looking forward to only having to cover 700-800 miles of South African coast in the next two months. Even though it’s the most dangerous area we’ll have to sail in from a weather perspective, we have the time to pick good weather windows and enjoy plenty of time ashore in an interesting place.

With just the two of us aboard, we’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the trip and how it has impacted us as a couple. Living in such close proximity to others when there were 4-6 of us, dealing with the needs of the boat, trip, and crew on a daily basis, and then sailing 8000 miles in 4 months with only infrequent contact with other people definitely puts some strain on a relationship in a way that most lifestyles don’t. On the other hand, we’ve enjoyed some incredible experiences together, done something that few people have the opportunity to do, and had the time for days filled with conversations and reflection. From what we’ve observed, it does seem like sailing at this pace is a bit easier for couples who have been together longer and have a better idea of who their partner is and how they relate to each other than it is for newer couples still learning about each other and their relationship and finding that they’re getting an opportunity to do that in a much more intimate and sometimes intense setting than they could ever imagine.

I remember the first circumnavigation that I followed online in the mid 90’s. It was a middle-aged but relatively new couple from Houston sailing a small, traditional boat via the Panama and Suez canals on a 2 year itinerary. Somewhere in Asia, the man wrote on the website that his partner had left for a stint back in the states and he didn’t know when or if she would return. If I remember right, she returned somewhere near Singapore or Thailand. I remember seeing the boat back in Houston after their return and being surprised by its small size, cluttered decks, and the broker’s comment that after 2 years at sea the boat stank. It definitely put some reality alongside the glossy cruising magazines.

In New Zealand, I spent a fair amount of time with Jimmy Cornell’s “World Cruising Routes”, working out on a piece of paper the distances, passage times, and optimal months for covering the distance between New Zealand and South Africa. The itinerary I worked out on it has been been our guide since then and the last line (Nov Madagascar to SA (~1500 nm)) is becoming obsolete more or less on schedule. It’s really amazing to take that piece of paper from inside the cover of the book and to look at it now. Something that seemed so daunting and unimaginable just 6 months ago is now nearly complete. Today I started another piece of paper for the Atlantic — South Africa to Florida. The South Atlantic should be a much friendlier bit of sailing and after crossing two oceans, the third doesn’t seem quite as daunting. The distance from the BVI to Florida, about 1100 nm, used to seem huge, but now it’s going to feel like we’re right next door to the Florida coast that we sailed from Amelia Island down to Key West before setting sail for Panama 19 months ago.

DSC_0340 Inside cover of Cornell’s “World Cruising Routes” with the itinerary I originally worked out in New Zealand

Lat: 20 25.402′ S
Long: 36 00.475′ E

Quelimane certainly was an experience, and looking back, it seems to be one of those times on the trip (like when I started the bottom job in N.Z.) that we got by with a little help from our friends. Although we spent most of our time on the boat, each time we ventured out into the city (usually accompanied by Garth), we felt more comfortable with our surroundings and the language and a little more savvy. And as usual, the negatives (e.g., getting charged 50% more the second day I went to buy bread from the street vendor) were easier to swallow with a spoonful of humor.

We motored back out of the river around 4 p.m., and most of the fisherman had returned to their villages with the day’s catch. We could see hundreds of people milling about the villages attending to their afternoon chores. Meanwhile at least 50 children were by the water’s edge taking turns jumping off of the wharf. We threw a couple of soccer balls in their direction, which seemed to be a big hit.

village A busy village

swimming A good day for a swim

After a very windy night at anchor at the mouth of the river, we weighed anchor around 6:00 the next morning in very calm winds. We motored out of the partially marked channel with care as the channel itself is only 10-20′ deep and surrounded on both sides by sand bars and breaking waves. By nightfall the wind had picked up and from the ESE, and it carried us southward through the night. Today it has moved farther south, but at the moment we are sailing close-hauled at 7 knots in calm seas with the main and jib. Not too shabby! So far we (or more accurately, Dallas) have been able to find opportune weather windows for getting farther south, thereby avoiding the southerly busters that are known to produce large, steep seas here in the Mozambique Channel. We should be able to ride this one out for 2-3 more days which will get us to Inhambane or even Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Once in Maputo we will be able to breathe a little easier knowing that we are out of the cyclone zone, and we’ll be only a hop-skip-and-jump from Richard’s Bay, South Africa! There is a game park near there that looks quite interesting…