A Lift from the Acceleration Zone around SE Mada
Life in the Fast Lane
Approach to Richards Bay
It is quiet and cool alongside the concrete international jetty here in Richards Bay this morning, 24th November, as the clock turns 5.00am, 3.00am your time in the UK. The birds are chattering, we have a pair of golden eye lookalikes nesting in the hollow sign next to us and fortunately our new presence has not put them off their daily tasks in the slightest, in fact they seem to be telling us all about what they are up to.
Yesterday we had our Covid tests, mine down the throat, I didn’t realise the nasty taste to expect from the cotton bud and Rob did a little wriggle as his went up his nostril. The big grey monkeys are getting ready for their daily migration from this corner of the harbour to the trees on the other side to commune with the resident local hippo. We should get our results today and then the clearing in process starts, which could drag over in to tomorrow. Still, we have booked a place in the lovely friendly, rural marina just around the corner and also in the V & A Marina in Cape Town from the beginning of January in readiness for our voyage up the Atlantic, correctly Northwards to home. Plus we have dental appointments for next Monday at 11.00am, should be interesting.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, back to the voyage.
Finally, on the 15th November we appeared to have current with us for the first time since we left Fremantle. Since arriving here we have discovered that Swedish Nicolas in his 30 foot Bavaria with his crew friend Pele, also from Sweden, who left Reunion on the same day as us, also found the current against them right the way across the Indian Ocean. But it was short-lived and seem to be behaving like the tides in the English Channel, a few hours with and a few hours against.
We were also entering the acceleration zone around the SE corner of Mada (Madagascar) with the NE winds intensifying and whisking us along with it. There is only one word to describe sailing against the wind and current in this corner of the world, and that is; dangerous. So we didn’t do that.
Des had sent us on a route to miss the rough seas over the shelving coast and during that night the wind rose to 35 knots so a second reef went into the poled out genoa and the main rested snug inside the mast. Zoonie’s progress was ace but the sea was short and disturbed so no sleep was had by either of us.
I remember getting up at 4.00am and thinking, where are all the cushions, we had a cushion free saloon? I soon found out when opening a cupboard to retrieve two bowls for breakfast; Rob in masterly fashion had stopped every single tedious rattle and thump of the cupboard contents against the doors and hull so the only noise was from the wind and water outside.
During the day we both had blissful sleeps as the wind eased to a nice gentle breeze. Before daylight arrived I had two ships who appeared to be magnetised onto us. One, the Alpha Cosmos was sufficiently big to need a little time to alter course, but when I called him up he answered immediately that he had us in his sights. The other vessel was a big white fishing boat raiding the seas riches, the Wakashiomaru No 58 who did not answer but proceeded towards us passing slowly and closely around us before going back from where he had come. Maybe a woman’s voice drew him out of curiosity. It is always uncertain as to what are their intentions, these big white, anonymous fishing boats, especially when you read the stories of some of the mischief they get up to. Soon three voices were chatting in Asian tongue about the odd sailing boat they had seen with its solitary woman aboard.
There are some interesting and unusual weather patterns around here. See the picture of the centre of the High and Low systems, sitting together like Mr and Mrs Smith, with only a couple of millibars between them. That was just off Durban and we were keeping an eye on the weather forecast as the Low that concerned us developed in that area, but before we arrived there we had a wide frontal system to deal with in a couple of days’ time, so let’s enjoy the gentler weather first, even though it started with a lot of motoring.
Good sleeps and lovely showers abounded and we wondered why, upon one morning, everything outside was dripping with fresh water and everything inside was damp. A bank of fog Rob thought was the most likely source.
We were warmed by all the lovely emails we were getting from family and friends and our constant, curious peering over the blue expanse of water was repaid with numerous ‘blows’ from what appeared to be humpbacks, they were a long way off (thank goodness!!) but we both detected their little dorsal fins.
The sea was too irregular for the Diva and she flounced about in a huff and puff before we guided her back to her dressing room in the focsle. A solitary gannet came past to say ‘good morning’ and then two flesh-footed shearwater joined us and became our constant companions for at least one day.
They both had different flight plans. One, the smaller female would fly in a big circle around us, swooping along the wave tops with barely a wing movement while her partner would lift and circle right and then do a long circuitous exploration to the left, searching our wake for food scraps, swing round across our stern and with a flutter of its wings land, legs down, just behind us. He soon got left behind and became just a black dot before he did exactly the same flight path again, hundreds of times, all day long and into the night. There were two with us the next morning, could they be the same ones? He was persistent, bless him, despite the mean pickings from us.
The ocean is vast but we were never alone for long.
Rob took the opportunity to top up the main fuel tank from the diesel cans and on our daily check of the emails we read Des’ plan for our approach to RB and watched as the wide front you can see moved inexorably towards us. We were all for slowing right down and delaying a day to ensure the front came across us long before we reached the Agulhas Current but Des said turn due south for the next 24 hrs to position ourselves in a less strenuous part of the system. We were hoping it would bring some wind as it was sucking our supply away from us and into itself at the time. So you can see that that is what we did.
We had small flocks of terns visiting us now, announcing their arrival and staying a short while before continuing on their way and ships passed by on parallel and reciprocal courses all to or from Richards Bay, a busy coal port.
On the afternoon of Mr and Mrs Shearwater and before the arrival of the front a Welcome Swallow found us, flying through the cockpit so close to us its draft lifting the hair on Rob’s forehead. It perched on the handrail and looked at us for just long enough to let me take the photo.
(A temporary distraction from my writing. 06.20am and already 27 degrees of heat and the monkeys are raiding the rubbish bin near us, along with the odd person. The monkeys take scraps of food while the people take items that can be re-used. The monkeys have left now, off to see the hippo.)
As evening crept towards us so as you can see the sky warned us of the Front’s arrival. In fact it hit quite suddenly at 11.30pm and it was great to be able to put out a little sail and turn the engine off. The wind was a generous 25 knots plus but the sea was short, steep and unforgiving of Zoonie.
Des had formulated a plan of approach. Now back on 260’, nearly west, we would continue until about five miles off Cap St Lucia and within the A Current and then, when comfortable turn for a point 20 miles north of RB and ferry glide towards our destination. I used a ruler to mark the chart in pencil if you can see it in the photo. The closeups of Zoonie on the chartplotter show her bow pointing to the nearby coast while her route will take her to Richards Bay, the crabbing angle as shown by the blue line from her hull is the mighty Agulhas setting in.
The aftermath of the front allowed us to continue under sail for a while and that night the sea was an occasional miracle of phosphorescence, sparks from squid, and above a heaven laden with stars and the Milky Way astride us.
Our angled approach meant we would not be targeting the river mouth from the deep and across the current, a potentially deadly line of approach because of the risk of being bowled over sideways, instead we were running with the current. “Best get as close to the first breakwater as possible, too far off and we could still be flipped” I ventured. Not a problem for our leviathan friends and not for us either as it turned out. The current was running at only 1.3 knots we estimated and we made our gradual turn to join it further out than Des suggested and in a rising wind. We ditched the main as we would have even if Des hadn’t mentioned it; thus reducing the chance of a broach, (a knock down after a rapid descent down a wave followed by a sideways turn in the path of the next big wave) and Zoonie pottered on under her reduced genoa.
Two shearwater, Mr and Mrs Shearwater (?), circled us all morning, watching, caring? The bilge alarm went off because of the water she had taken in during the front through leaking stanchion bases etc, small accumulative leaks, so Rob did a quick pump out and I caught him with the camera! This factor had significance later when the battery monitor packed up.
“Clear all the way now, so don’t f…k it up,” Des warned.
Home for the next three months appeared as a thin line of sand dune with intermittent trees and scrub, it is the St Lucia wetlands reserve, which is teeming with plant and animal life and is a much loved place to visit.
Later in the morning the big ships in their anchorage came into view. “What if one is coming in and the Port Control don’t want us in when we get there, we can’t turn around or even slow down much in this?” The prospect of flying straight by the RB harbour entrance was worrying me. “Let’s find out then” Rob replied. The lady Port Officer told us to proceed but watch out for the big ships.
There was one un-laden vessel on his way in and Rob set Zoonie for the green buoy next to the beacon that marked a wreck, with a determination I rarely see in him and we squeezed around the corner with the big feller, bone in its teeth, coming quickly up behind us.
(Ooh, monkey on board squawking loudly, Rob goes up to shoo it off and away it flees around the end of the jetty.)
We had to pass one entrance, to our marina eventually after we’ve cleared in, and then turn sharp right between two yellow buoys to the international jetty. Just after we’d done so the big boy ship slid past and there would barely have been room for us next to him. Just out of the channel are shallow sandbanks, so that wasn’t an option. The lady in her concrete tower would have been watching the whole spectacle. I congratulated Rob on his brilliantly timed approach.
Nicolas was there to take our lines. They arrived the day before us after taking a more direct route. After a beer with them in the evening and another lasagne meal from the giant I made back in Reunion we hit the sack at about 9.00pm and were comatose until 6.00am despite the comings and goings of the tug and pilot boats near us with their thumping engines.
Rob traced the battery monitor cable back to where it attaches to the battery bank under the aft berth and found the drain hole beneath was blocked with cable tie bits and wood shavings mixed up with grease. Hence the water on the connection. Electrical problems on board are almost always a matter of faulty connections!
That was yesterday. And in the afternoon our friends from Anna Caroline, Janneke and Weitze came around and sat on the jetty with cans of coke to bring us up to date with their news. A mine of information are these two clever journalists, who make good money from selling their articles in Holland. So in response to their recommendation we are today waiting to hear back from Rhino Ridge Lodge to see if we will be going on safari with their passionate and knowledgeable guides. Fingers crossed.