29:52 S 31:00 E La Reunion to Durban

Conor & Marion Wall
Sat 10 Nov 2012 09:42
Well we arrived in Africa on the 10th November having left La Reunion on the 30th October. Most definitely the most difficult and worrying sail to date. We had been waiting for a weather window as there had been some terrible weather in the weeks leading up to here. I was watching the grib files like a hawk and felt happy that we could get most of the way to Africa before another system rolled in. It is not possible to predict the weather with any accuracy much more than four to five day ahead and this passage was going to take anywhere between ten and fourteen days.That was fine so we set off on Tuesday the 30th October with light winds. The sailing was good for the first day and then became light through the night so the motor went on until the wind picked up again. Normally we will try to sail even if the speed drops to 3 knots but for a lot of the Indian Ocean we raised the game to 4 knots and for this leg we raised it another knot. We were anxious to get this leg over as quickly as possible as the winds were so unpredictable in these waters.
Furthermore we had the mighty Agulhas Current to contend with as we approached Africa and we did not relish the thought of being caught in that in strong South Westerly winds. The current can be as wide as 100 miles in places, is constantly shifting and runs in a southerly direction at up to 6 knots in places. It starts out in the Mozambique channel between Madagascar and Mozambique and runs all the way down the coast of Africa to beyond Cape Town. Waves have been reported in this current reaching 20 meters in height and large ships have foundered in such conditions. This is not a place to mess with.
We had been reporting our position and weather conditions on the Peri-Peri SSB (Single Side Band Radio) Net that has been operating out of South Africa for many years now. It is basically a safety net run by enthusiasts, one located in Johannesburg, one in Durban and another in Mozambique. None of the operators are experts but they have been doing it for so long that they have a good feel for the weather in this region. They also have at their fingertips the most up to date forecasts from the internet so when they give advice it should be seriously considered.
It was with this in mind that when we spoke to them on the second day at sea and they suggested that we should turn around and wait a couple more days to start out that really worried us. There was a big system passing over and the associated front was extending further north than they had ever seen it before bringing with it some major winds from the SW the wrong direction for us. I had calculated, before we left La Reunion,that by the time we got to the area of this low pressure system that the guts would have been blown out of it and that we should not suffer too badly. According to the Net Operators that was not going to happen and they suggested that if we did not go back that we should at least slow right down or even stop to delay the onslaught. We took this advise and slowed to a crawl for 24 hours, prepared the boat for a blow with the storm jib and three reefs in the main. By the time the front arrived at our position some 36 hours later it really was not as bad as forecast and although we had two days of strong South Westerly winds and mountainous seas to go with them ‘Toucan’ behaved well. The lightning that came with the front was also spectacular all be it worrying. You will remember my blog from before Australia where our friends in the boat ‘Ambika’ were hit by lightning and  lost all their electronic stuff. This now plays heavy on my mind whenever we have lightning.
Once the front had passed and the lightning display over the winds came back to normal and for the rest of the journey we had a mixture of very light to very strong winds, each day bringing something new.
Our most worrying moment was not in fact the weather but a cargo vessel that almost run us down during the last night before we arrived at Durban. We had observed this tanker for some time on our AIS system and by my calculations it was certain that she would pass in front of us by about one mile. The wind was very strong and the seas were big so we really did not want to alter course unless necessary. For some crazy reason the Skipper of the tanker decided that he was not going to make it past us and turned full to starboard to go behind us. This he should have done half an hour earlier. Because of the size of the tanker it took a very long time for him to make the manoeuvre. So we now had a dilemma. The wind was coming from a northerly direction and we were pretty much hard on the wind with the storm sail and well reefed main. Had he kept on going I would have had no trouble dropping off the wind to go behind him but now my only course of action was to tack. We watched and waited and were ready to tack but fortunately he managed to clear our bows just in time. I reckon that I could have spit the distance to his tanker and was so angry that I almost did.
We arrived the following morning in Durban in reasonably light winds and had passed through the Agulhas current without mishap. We were so glad to be in Africa.