Reunion to Durban

Sometimes it is hard to believe… We really ARE 60 miles off the southern tip of Madagascar, about to reach a waypoint where we alter course and head for Durban, South Africa. When Nora started her 7pm watch the wind was 20-25 knots, and we left our small, heavy weather spinnaker up. We were surfing down the waves, occasionally hitting 14 knots.

I tried to get some sleep. But it is different for me without Bill or Tim aboard. I can’t relax the way I can when they are on watch — totally leaving the wellbeing of the boat in their hands. Now it is in my hands, even when I am off watch. My stomach was in a knot. I haven’t fully found my sea legs even after four days. I lay in my bunk and reminded myself that the conditions are perfect for putting this boat through its paces. The small spinnaker is the perfect sail. No fuss. And surfing on waves like this is one way that our catamaran shines. And it was a beautiful clear moonlit night. Gradually the knots eased and I relaxed. No sleep, but a helpful easing of the tension…

Until the surge of the surfing became more extreme, and the boat was yawing wildly, and occasionally the spinnaker would collapse and fill with an explosive bang. I got out of bed to see what was happening. The wind was in the high 20’s; the waves were building; the autopilot was having difficulty holding a steady course. I watched for a while, the moonlight shining under the spinnaker, the night cool but not cold, the beauty pervasive, our speed in top gear. Maybe we could continue okay like this…

But no. The wind hit 30 knots and it was clear the spinnaker had to come down. I woke Liam up, if he was asleep, so we would have “all hands” available. Turns out I needed him, as I was unable to pull the spinnaker “snuffer” down over the wildly flogging sail by myself. The downhaul line threatened to lift me off the deck and throw me in the ocean. But we got it under control, and continued on with the half-unrolled jib, still making 7 knots.

By then it was time for my watch to begin. The boat was fine. Winds occasionally hit 35 knots, but no problem now. I needed sleep, and I needed to keep an eye on the many ships coming and going along the same route we were sailing. We check for ships, and anything else of concern, every 10 minutes. So I could relax on the settee with an alarm set, and doze off for a few minutes at a time. After about a dozen such cycles I felt pretty good. The moon set, and the darkness was intense, but I was far more relaxed than earlier. When Liam came on watch at three, I got some real sleep.

For this potentially stormy leg of the trip we have a “weather router” giving us weather predictions and course recommendations. He’s the one who advised us to “go” four days ago, because the weather window looked excellent. When we left Reunion the wind was bending every which way (around those 13,000 foot mountains). It seemed to be anything but the predicted SE wind. At one point or another each boat was turned back toward where we started. We joked on the radio that Jimmy Cornell had hired the weather router to feed us happy information that had nothing to do with the actual conditions! But after a few hours of moving away from the island we did indeed get the SE wind that scooted us toward our waypoint off Madagascar, 600 miles away.

The third day we had light winds, and we motored for half the day. It was sunny and peaceful. I decided I’d had enough of the dry mouth side effect from the Scopolamine seasickness drug we were all using, and I removed my patch. That may have been a mistake. Usually I acclimate after two days, but I’m still shakey after four. It seems like I’m not getting any credit for the first two days with the patch, and I’ve had to start adjusting from scratch after removing it. Whatever, we are all getting by, limiting our time in the galley, lying down a lot, nibbling on crackers through the day and night.

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What a difference a few hours can make! The wind has gone to near zero, and we’re motoring in relatively calm seas. Bright sunny day. French toast for breakfast. We’ve all taken showers and had naps. Spirits are high, even though I hope we get wind again soon. We also took the opportunity to straighten out the twisted tangle of a spinnaker that didn’t cooperate when we tried to bring it down. Only negative is that despite trying dozens of times, we can’t connect to Sailmail (the way we send emails via radio when at sea). So we aren’t connecting with our families, and we aren’t receiving the updated weather forecast. Will keep trying…

We have to stay alert in this area due to the huge volume of shipping. The ships take the same route we do. We’ve seen as many as two dozen ships at once on the AIS display (that broadcasts and receives info about ships, and about us, too). Normally the range of AIS is about 25 miles, but there must be some fancy repeater system in this area, because we are seeing info from ships 200 miles away. We don’t see Tahawus, though, so they/we must not be tied into this system. Last we knew we were about 35 miles ahead of Tahawus, and 150 miles ahead of Maggie. Also Chris on Tom Tom is following us, three days back. We all check in on the radio morning and evening, but Tahawus wasn’t present at this morning’s check, so after the interesting weather of the past 24 hours, they could be ahead of us. (Y’all at home with Internet can see our positions in near real time, on the Cornell Sailing web site, but we don’t have that info available at sea.) We’re not racing, of course, but we like to be ahead…

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What a difference a few hours can make! After motoring most of the day, a pleasant sailing breeze came up in the evening. Pleasant for maybe an hour…until it built to 25 knots, and Nora was waking me up to put in a second reef. On my watch I put in the third reef. Very “bumpy.” And dawn brought only gray and more gray.

We still can’t access Sailmail and our weather info. We are doing our SSB radio net twice a day, so we’re getting our updates via Tahawus. The outlook for when we expect to cross the infamous Agulhas Current, 10+ miles out from Durban, is not encouraging. A brief strong SW wind is forecast, which is exactly what we don’t want blowing against the current. I reapplied a scopolamine patch, in preparation for potential nastiness. That would be Tuesday evening. I’m thinking we might slow down and cross Wednesday morning, when the wind is predicted to come around to the East. But the weather is “unpredictable” here. We’ll see what update we get from our router (via Tahawus) this evening…

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Made it…Durban…Wednesday morning…nine day passage…pretty quick for 1400 nautical miles. Tahawus arrived 3 hours before us, and we expect Maggie by tomorrow evening.

It was a challenging passage, with a little of everything, but not much pleasant sailing. As Nora says, this ocean is either on or off, not much in between. We had winds to 37 knots (top gust 55 knots according to Tahawus, but I attribute their big numbers to the violent rocking of a monohull, with the wind instruments 60 feet above the deck), and twice we had to motor. Some very lumpy waves. Awesome lightning displays. We did exactly what the experts advise not to: cross the Agulhas Curret with a strong southerly wind. But our weather router assured us that the current was not running strong, and in fact it appeared to be only about one knot. Whales welcomed us to Durban.

Liam and Nora both wrestled with seasickness (me, too, for a while), but they figured out ways to manage it, and they were always cheerfully on time to stand their watches. Good for them both!

At the end of a rough passage I commonly list what broke or went bad. For this one our paper towel holder leapt off the counter and broke its back on the floor! Everything else survived, though it is still a mystery why we cannot connect to Sailmail.

Ed, our BPO contact in Durban, was waiting for us at the dock with a bucket of ice and beers. Nice welcome! We’ve started the authorities maze, but Ed will have to drive us to the various offices tomorrow. Today is mostly about getting our overdue dose of Internet. (But no luck uploading photos here, so I’ll have to add some later.)

It’s hard to believe I’m in Africa. We are in a marina in a huge busy port, buying drinks at a yacht club. I trust I will see another view of Africa before long.

8 thoughts on “Reunion to Durban”

  1. Whew! I’m glad you made it safely. Sounds like an “interesting” passage. I am eager to read your posts about Africa. Happy to hear that the crew is holding up. We missed you at Cliff and Elizabeth’s wedding. Take good care, Zeke!

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  2. Glad to hear the details of this passage. Not the typical shake out leg for new crew. Sleep well and enjoy that part of Africa.

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  3. French toast is no doubt good for the spirit!
    Good to know ya’ll feeling better & pushing on,,
    Safe travels, looking forward to Africa pic’s!

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  4. Zeke, following and living vicariously though you. Plugged back into the business life. Having fun here. Libby is tucked into the Pacific North west until we are ready to go again. Looking forward to catching you in person at some point in the future. Terry.

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