Monday, January 30, 2017

Now For the Tough One!

We spent a lot of time in their neighborhood!
It was time to bite the bullet and finish crossing the last quarter of the Indian Ocean. We enjoyed our time in Reunion, although the marina was not located close to anything. Our tour with the WARC was great and we got to see the rest of the island with Elizabeth and Martin. But it isn't one of our favorite places.

Everyone was watching the weather and having daily discussions regarding it. There was a major concern about a gale that would greet us as we approached the east coast of Africa. Since we have to sail across a very fast southerly Aguhlas Current, our route had to take us north of the entrance to Richards Bay so we wouldn't be carried past the it. The Aguhlas Current is somewhat like the Gulf Stream off the east coast of the USA, except this one flows south instead of north.

Are we going the wrong way on a one-way street?
After a fleet discussion on the weather, it was decided that we needed to ask the WARC officials for an earlier than planned start for this leg. No one was looking forward to this leg of the journey in the first place. Secondly, no one wanted to encounter a gale at the end of it. It would normally take 8-12 days to sail this downwind course. The WARC agreed and moved the start up by 24 hours.

On Friday morning, the boats began pulling out one by one since we could only have one boat in the marina entrance at a time. It was called a Gate Start where we went out on our own, put up sails and marked our time when we crossed the Start Line.

The sea was settling and the sun was setting. Good!
We were still waiting for the delivery of our Watt & Sea part which we learned had been sitting in Customs for a week and no one had notified us. Victor, our WARC Yellow Shirt, used his native tongue of French to get the part delivered within an hour of his call. Thank you once again, Victor and WARC. He had also spoken to the company in France earlier to get the part sent to us.

Once the package was in hand and having had the autopilot repaired - actually it was only a loose bus connection, we were ready to head off to South Africa. The engine was warming up and Dennis was casting off the lines when I realized there was no navigational data on the chart plotter! YIKES! Stop, stop, stop was my call.

We sought out the electronics technician who had worked on the autopilot. He came right away and check everything until he found that the NEMA connection was not firmly seated. It felt snug when we checked it but obviously we didn't know that it wasn't in all of the way. So we were finally ready to leave but we were three hours behind most of the fleet.

The first 36 hours of the passage were awful: strong winds after we got away from land, high swells and lots of chop. Passage Diet time again! Fortunately, after the first 36 hours, it settle down enough to have a good sail for a while.

Then we hit the doldrums: no wind! The sea had settled down some, but we couldn't sail so on went the motor. We ended up motor sailing most of the way to South Africa over the eight days at sea. We could have sailed at a very slow pace, but there was the gale looming at the end. It was essential to be in the harbor before 1800 on Saturday. Therefore, we put the pedal to the metal.

When the wind is too light for us on a downwind course, we just motor. When it is behind the beam, we need at least a steady 12 knots to move. When it is dead behind us like this passage, the sails just slap as the swells move the boat around and we lose whatever air they can hold. After a few hours of beating up the sails, we took them down and turned on the Iron Jenny! No prizes this time! Who cares; the goal was to get there before the storm.

And there was a lot of shipping traffic as once again we were crossing the main shipping channel between Africa and Asia. At times the screen was covered with ships converging on the same area. We managed to safely dodge them and always gave way even when we had the right of way. We prefer to be at least 1.5 nm away from them, especially at night. A couple of times we were as close as three-quarters of a mile. The skippers were very nice when we called them on the VHF to determine how they wanted to cross our path and what course we should take.

A lot of traffic night and day!
All in all, the passage was much easier than we had anticipated. It became challenging on the day and night before we crossed the Agulhas Current and seasickness struck again. Once that system blew through, we were prepared to make our way across the 4-5 knot current north of the harbor and hoped we could hold to our waypoints. The harbor entrance was a welcoming sight!

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