La Reunion to Richards Bay

Donald Begg
Sat 17 Nov 2018 16:34
Now the big one. It’s 1400 miles, which is modest by Pacific and Indian standards, but it’s fraught with uncertainty. You’re out of the Trade Winds and into the Variables. First it’s 600 miles down to Madagascar, the Southern tip of which has a continental shelf protruding for 50 miles and which has a reputation for big sea and current over shallow water. Then you need a weather window for the bomb alley of the Mozambique Channel. This is because lows form further South off the coast of SA and whistle up against the Agulhas and Mozambique currents with big seas. So, you can work out a weather window, but not a realistic one until you’re South of Madagascar, and that doesn’t help you with the timing of your departure from Reunion.
1. Use a weather router for specialist advice. We used Des Cason, who is based in Durban, is an amateur, was recommended by Jonathan Lloyd of the OCC in a recent article in Flying Fish, and proved to be accurate and supportive (sygambit {CHANGE TO AT} gmail {DOT} com). Other boats on the ARC used Chris Tibbs on a professional basis, and there were one or two others.
2. Have a Madagascar courtesy flag and a port of refuge lined up. Two options are Fort Dauphin (25 01S 47 00E) and St Augustin Bay (23 38S 43 37E). Des Cason recommends the latter, his experience tells him that officials in the former are fundamentalist and unfriendly to Europeans. That said, several boats on the Oyster rally went to Fort Dauphin just before us, and apparently had no trouble. A stock of lubricating Euros or USD might be useful. SY Atem, a few days ahead of us, was approached by an unmarked launch near Fort Dauphin with crew brandishing AK47’s. The skipper says that they were in 40 knots of wind and, being a Swan 62, had no trouble pulling away. He sent out an SSB DSC and had a rapid response from MRCC Cape Town but no explanation. The consensus is that it was probably a modestly-decorated government launch.
3. Stick N of 26S until approaching the African coast, this should keep you N of the worst of the weather and of the build up of the Agulhas current.
4. Carry as much fuel as you can, and keep two days’ in hand in case you need to make a final dash for safety. It may be psychological, but I found that the sea in these parts has a less friendly feel to it than that of the Pacific. Just a look at the sea and sky says to you this is Injun territory, don’t tarry.

So, on our way. We sailed from Reunion early on the 3rd November in calm conditions and motor-sailed all day. From then on to Madagascar we had periods of wind, periods of calm, motor-sailing for a while then pure sailing for a while. We didn’t enjoy burning diesel so early in the voyage, but there was no alternative if we were to maintain momentum. On the night of the 4th November, fireworks going off at home, we had a terrific thunderstorm, lightning that would have shaken Guy Fawkes, wind 25 knots on the nose. For the next couple of days we were plagued by squalls, but had a sailing wind for at least half the time, reef in, reef out. South of Madagascar we probably cut it a little fine, running along the 1000m line 30 miles off the coast, and found ourselves with wind and a lumpy sea on the nose,motoring at a frustrating 4 knots over the ground for 12 hours. Then the wind backed to the South and we had a good beam reach across the Mozambique Channel, luck and a weather window were with us. We even had a day of relatively calm sea, and caught up with some sleep. This lasted until 100 miles off the coast, and then it roughed up and we exchanged comfort for faster sailing, daily runs of 148, 162, 165. We offset 30 miles North in order to allow for current, and then came scooting down the coast, wing on wing with 20 knots from astern, 10 to 11 knots over the ground with the current under us. The wind increased steadily, we reduced to yankee alone, and came surfing through the breakwater entrance in Richards Bay on the evening of the 12th November with 35 knots of wind on the quarter.
The benchmark for Reunion to RB is 10 to 12 days, and we did it in 9.5, so no complaints. We did have the engine on for 100+ hours and make no apology for doing so.