Out of The Reunion Shadow

Thu 19 Nov 2020 05:54


Out of the Island’s Shadow to the Ageing Trade Wind

27:44.92S 37:55.46E

Zoonie is nosing due south under engine in light airs at the moment about 250 miles east of the African coast. We have been acting under the advice of Des Carson who knows these waters well after exploring them for thirteen years with his wife Nell. Their best personal knowledge is of the Mozambique Channel; Richards Bay, Tanzania, Madagascar and Kenya and over the past four years he has guided over 400 yachts from all points east to Africa, around the south coast to Cape Town. His final tally last year was 120 but will be less than half this year because of Covid. We are number 41. On our passage across the Indian Ocean Des provided another weather source for us to use in our route planning but now we needed his advice too.

While Des and I hold the same Yachtmaster Offshore Certificate I am always willing to listen to and act on the advice of someone who holds that rare and valuable cache of information; local knowledge. So our route as we approach the last three days of the passage has been anything but direct and has been designed to avoid the worst of rough seas around SE Mada where the contrary winds from two weather systems were meeting and now we are preparing for our approach with a frontal system passing NE with strong southerly winds converging with the south flowing Agulhas Current, a situation to be avoided at all costs.

So back to the beginning of this blog which started in the charming creole restaurant, Ny Ravinala, which maybe means ‘ravine’ because it wasn’t far from the one that enters from the mountain onto the town. A haunt of locals we were welcomed nonetheless and I could see the waitress was smiling behind her mask because her eyes narrowed as her cheeks lifted. The food was simple and lovingly prepared and the house wine was of the best vintage.

The next day had Rob off to the launderette early and me making a big main dish of lasagne to store in the fridge and use on passage as and when we felt like it and sending lots of emails while we still had the advantage of multi-use internet, for sending forms to the Government in South Africa, sending photos and surfing for information.

Our leaving day arrived, the 9th November and we were expecting Customs to visit around 9.00am. Remember Maurice’s advice about our forestay bolt before we left Emu Point? It was around the wrong way, as you will see in the photo, so the weight load was partially on the split pin instead of on the bolt head. So Rob decided we would turn it around before leaving. Looking at the rust from the pin I think it was a wise move. But the idea and the process turned out to be two different things. I put the red line around the furling drum to keep the forestay in place while Rob loosened the backstay so the forestay would hopefully slacken enough for us to whip out the bolt, turn it around and pop it back in. HAH!

The bolt move back so it was clear of the forward half of the forestay fitting, but there it stayed with sufficient pull still on the forestay to keep it wedged in place. The uniformed customs officials were on their way down the pontoon so Rob quickly duck taped the bolt so it could not suddenly pop out and go overboard, ooh imagine that just before you are going to leave!!

There were five officers to clear us out, “Bonjour tout le monde” (I haven’t said that since my last French lesson on the Isle of Wight!). They took only moments to complete our Cleared Out form before taking their nice smiles and kind wishes for a safe passage away with them.

Back to the bolt.

“There’s only one thing for it Barb, take the genoa off.” A few groans on my part and about four minutes later, with the foresail a pile of white on the foredeck the forestay became beautifully light, Rob held it while I pulled out the bolt, turned it around and replaced it with a new split pin through it ready for Rob to bend open the ends with the pliars. Job done. OK Maurice?

Marina Manager Angelique and her assistant arrived along with a French couple and Mydog to see us off and after hugs and a scratch behind the ears (for Mydog) and many thanks for a truly enjoyable stay in their lovely marina I took the lines aboard and Rob backed Zoonie gently away from her berth.

Just a few metres out of the harbour we were off soundings and Rob set Zoonie on course for the first Waypoint to the SE of Mada, there was little wind in the island’s shadow so we were motoring.

My log entry for 10th Nov reads; ‘Progress could not be more comfortable, 4.5 to 5.5 knots sailing in a wind of 14 – 17 knots off the beam. Occasional groups of dark clouds pass but come to nothing, just a little more wind. Sighted another sail @ 1300hrs off the stern port quarter, could it be Jori? Rock a Bye Baby Days, gentle wind, light seas, soft roll. Altered onto run on Des’ advice from 192’ to 212’. A little refreshing rain.’

But I wasn’t feeling too well. A distracting ache was forming behind three of my upper right teeth and my joints were beginning to ache too. I think I was developing an abscess in the root area. So onto my anti-biotics Co-Amoxiclav and painkillers, can’t take the risk of a full blown infection at sea. It is now over a week later, all is well, and the infection gone; maybe it was chewing on the French bread and Croissants!! Tasha at Richards Bay says she will fix both of us up with a dentist as soon as we arrive.

Rob was on lunches, French bread (chewed very carefully on the other side) spread with ripe avocado and just a little salt and pepper, yum.

Later that afternoon we came across three mystery vessels two of which showed up on the AIS as 33ft long, 20ft wide with no draft and about five miles apart. These two were moving due north and parallel to eachother,drifting with the current. Thinking they might well be linked we took Zoonie to the left of them both and we peered across the water as we passed them but there was nothing to be seen. Were they linked, had drift nets suspended between them, who knows. Soon after we were past Rob saw the lights of a fishing vessel moving toward the other two. They did not respond to our call up on Channel 16.

We were heading for a position well away from the shelf around the coast of Mada where, as we know, things get very rough over the shelving seabed in certain wind situations. As it was, Zoonie was rolling quite a bit and despite the lunch menu being an incentive to tuck in I was feeling nauseated most of the time in our approach to the weather system. I just needed to catch up on some sleep.

At midday on the 12th a wet squall came over us and washed the windows and stainless steel a treat, but it didn’t bring much extra wind. It did show that the settled weather was on the change and with the arrival of FRIDAY 13th we were experiencing life in the fast lane at the end of a wind convergence zone. Hours of sheet lightning flashing threateningly all around us and overhead. With each one we feared for Zoonie’s electrics. The sky was parchment yellow and the cabin lit up like a film studio. Frequent heavy showers flattened the crazily confused sea. 32 knots of wind from different directions made sailing impossible, so we furled the genoa, brought the main amidships to steady Zoonie and proceeded under motor like a drenched skulking cat, ears down and watchful. Mada Madness Weather.

Big waves on a heavy swell from the SW (as Stein, our Norwegian friend from Lovinda Two, who had been through here in ‘17 had mentioned) slammed into Zoonie’s port bow stopping her dead and rattling everything on board. I was sick once, my last Reunion croissant ended up heading for Davy Jones Locker, but at least my teeth were much better.

By the 14th Zoonie was happy on her new course westwards, occasional squalls passing harmlessly overhead, the lightning gone for now and the wind so light our minds turned to the Diva, our cruising chute. Would she like to come out of her dressing room and put on a performance? The wind was a perfect 8 knots as we entered the Mozambique Channel.

She was keen as always but as soon as she was in full voice, her gossamer blue gown raising Zoonie’s speed 4.5, 4.6, 5.2, the wind itself rose to 16 knots so fearing she would be overwhelmed, down she came for her own protection, we’d be needing her in the Atlantic!

The next day we appeared, for the first time since Fremantle, to have a healthy current with us. Was this the famous South Equatorial Current that has so far eluded us? We were also in the company of many ships on route to Malaysia or the east coast ports of SA and the southern route around to Cape Town and all points west.

Des wanted us to stay above 27’S above the top end of the Lows to the south so we turned Zoonie to WNW onto a starboard tack and pulled the genoa out to port. I confirmed to the Richards Bay and Durban authorities and our contacts there that we intended to clear in to Richards Bay. Before we left Reunion the long term weather forecast showed a Low Pressure system building over the Durban area and this problem had been in the back of our minds since the start of the voyage, how would it develop and how would we deal with it on our final approach taking into consideration the all-important Agulhas Current flowing hard southwards?

That afternoon I made a cherry crumble for supper. It was tasty but because my first sleep is from 7.00pm to 10.00pm my system had no time to absorb the sugar in it and my legs and arms twitched with energy, eliminating any chance I might have of getting some sleep. So I caught up the next morning!