Mauritius to South Africa Day Twelve - ARRIVAL - 28 47.644S 032 04.745E

Mike and Liz Downing
Tue 12 Nov 2013 20:16
We've crossed the Indian Ocean and are in Africa!!

But the last day was not an easy one. Had little wind overnight and so motor-sailed again to keep up 5.5kts, the speed needed to arrive in the daylight today. At 09.00 this morning the engine went off as the wind started to increase, as had been forecast. By 11.00 it was blowing 25kts, the upper end of the forecast, By 11.30 it was over 30 with big rough seas. It's amazing how quickly the sea can change. We had set a waypoint 20 miles to the north east of Richard's Bay on the basis that the southerly flowing Agulhas current and the northerly wind would both take us south. Making that waypoint was not easy and meant sailing into the current, wind and breaking seas, several of which came on board in a cascade of green water that hit the windscreen and went up over the sprayhood. All our wet weather gear was needed and it was not pleasant, but after an agonising hour or so we made the waypoint and could turn south west, away from the wind and put the seas on our quarter. Still not nice, with the sea a mass of breaking water, but much better. We were crossing the feared Agulhas current in 30kt winds and churning seas - that was not in the plan! But the wind was from the north, not the dreaded south. The only sail set was the new furling storm staysail and it earned it's keep yet again. Considering the state of the sea, the motion under the staysail was so comfortable - down below you would never believe the commotion outside. We called Port Control to check that it was safe to approach and enter in these winds and seas and they assured us that it was so we kept coming. Just to make it even more 'interesting' a huge ship decided to enter through the breakwaters at the same time. There was no way we could have waited for it, we couldn't turn into those seas. The winds and seas were behind us and there was only one way we were going and that was in! But the entrance turned out to be big enough and the ship passed as we went through the breakwaters at 15.00. The sea didn't settle down until some way into the harbour. The strong winds, which were much stronger than forecast, are set to continue for the next few days, so we're really pleased to get in today. We suffered it for 4 to 5 hours - there are 3 other boats that are 2 or 3 days behind us and they will have to suffer it for a couple of days at least.

We're in the small Tuzi Gazi marina and still waiting for Immigration to arrive. Customs have paid their visit and we used out boat stamp again. They wanted it in Mauritius and again here. It looks very official with the ship's name, registration number etc on. We had it made before we left in 2008. Mauritius and here are the only places that have requested it. There's a time and place for everything! This evening the elements put on a fantastic electrical storm - rain, vivid lightning lighting up the sky and thunder. Haven't seen anything like it for a very long time.

The passage from Mauritius was 1,567 sea miles and we covered it in 12 days. Apart from today and the short burst of 30kt winds we had a few days ago, it's been a very light wind passage and very pleasant, and we're very thankful for that. As said before, light is good! This passage is one that every yacht was facing with a great deal of apprehension. It probably ranks as one of the most feared passages in the world. There are 3 reasons for it. Firstly Mauritius is in the cyclone belt and the cyclone season starts at the beginning of November. So it's important to get well clear before tropical storms start arriving. They don't normally start to occur until later in the month, but the bad weather that delayed us in Mauritius after having the rigging replaced, was the remnants of a tropical depression that some forecasts (including Passageweather) were showing as a tropical storm with 50+kts of wind at its centre and heading straight for Mauritius. It didn't happen, but it was a warning.
The second reason is that the southern end of Madagascar which you have to go round is a breeding ground for freak waves! These are the huge waves that you read about. The recommendations are to go at least 80 miles south of Madagascar, more if the weather is expected to be poor, to help avoid them. We didn't turn until 160 miles clear - didn't want to take any chances! The third reason is the dreaded Agulhas current. This runs south from Madagascar along the South African coast almost all the way to Cape Town. It's a fast current (5kts or more) and when it comes up against the southwesterly gales that predominate, especially during winter, it creates huge rough seas - seas big enough to sink oil tankers! A contributing factor is the shallow continental shelf. The Admiralty chart warns of abnormal waves along this coast - waves of 20 metres (65ft) high proceeded by deep troughs. Yachts do not leave harbour if the wind is in the south! If you're already out there approaching the coast, you heave to (stop!) and wait for the wind to change. We are pleased this passage is behind us! Now for some uninterrupted sleep (hopefully!).

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