October 2017 - Madagascar to South Africa

1 October 2017   Baly Bay, Madagascar
Low tide was at 08:00, so we upped anchor and moved over to the east side of Baly Bay.  There’s a 4.5 mile tortuous route through sand banks to get to the anchorage next to a large village and we wanted to do it on a rising tide.  We had a tide of about 2.2 metres and the minimum depth that we saw was 4.5 metres.  The Navionics charts on our Samsung tablet were surprisingly accurate.

Visitors at Baly Bay

The waypoints that we used were:  16°00’.87’S 45°20’.06E; 16°01’.85S 45°20’.65E; 16°01’.94S 45°21’.13E; 16°02’.41S 45°21’.40E; 16°02’.79S 45°22’.14E; 16°02’.44S 45°23’.19E; 16°02’.08S 45°23’.40E.

We anchored 200 metres off the village at 16°02.04S 045°23.45E in 8 metres on good holding sand/mud.  Within ten minutes a steady stream of dug-out canoes came to visit.  Of the five boats, only one bothered to bring out something to trade - he gave us some tomatoes, so we gave him some good stuff in return - a wind up torch, a nice t-shirt, a rope, etc.  The others were mostly kids, so we handed out writing pads, pencils and a couple of balls.

Then a guy called Domiye paddled out, who works as a tourist guide and spoke reasonable French.  He said that the chief was away today, but he’d show us around the village.  He asked us not to hand out any more things to people who paddled out, he said that it’s better to take things ashore, so we agreed to meet him later.

After lunch the wind picked up and it was blisteringly hot, so we decided to have a chill-out afternoon and let the villagers have their siesta.  We had one more visit from a middle-aged couple in the afternoon, who brought us two eggs and then had a row with each other seemingly about what gift (“Cadeaux” ) they wanted.  We gave her some flour and him some fishing line and they drifted off still arguing.  

Domiye paddled out just before dark asking when we were going into the village.  He’d probably been waiting for us, so we made an excuse that we’d had some jobs to do on board and that we’d be going in tomorrow at 09:00.  These villagers are so demanding. 

2 October 2017   Baly Bay, Madagascar
At nine o’clock, we ventured ashore carrying six bags of things to give the villagers - it was everything that we had left to give.  Glenys had sorted through all of her provisions and donated all her flour. We had glass bottles; plastic containers; clothes; hand tools; fishing line; wind up torches; penknives; etc.; etc.;

We were met on the beach by a score of excited kids, who enthusiastically helped to pull our dinghy up the beach.  Domiye appeared and so did the Chief’s wife.  All of our bags of gifts were whisked off to the Chief’s house, where we assume they were going to be dished out to the villagers. Our guide then led us on a tour of the village accompanied by a gaggle of kids.

Welcoming Comittee

It’s quite a big village and slightly different to the others that we’ve seen in that each family has a fenced off enclosure for their huts.  The fences are territorial and not for keeping animals out because goats were wandering everywhere. There is only one well for the whole village and we were taken into a couple of houses to be shown weaving and some of the vegetables that they grow - chili peppers and tomatoes.

The best bit of the tour was the children.  They were fascinated by us and gradually became braver, holding Glenys’s hand.  I took loads of photographs and they loved looking at the camera display to see themselves.  At one point, Glenys taught them how to play “Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses” and there were howls of laughter at the “All Fall Down”.

At another place, I stopped and made a great show of rooting around in my rucksack. The kids gathered around and were aghast when a small hand puppet dog appeared.  At first they didn’t know what to make of it and I had several of the boys jumping backwards in the dirt when the dog lunged at them with a terrifying growl. They were soon laughing in delight and I gave the puppet to one of the little girls, who clutched it for the rest of the morning.

After our little tour, we went back to the boat, where I dug out all the odd lengths of old rope that I could find for Domiye – he’s building a boat and asked me for rope.  Glenys found a couple of half-full bottles of suntan lotion  for one of the ladies and I printed out a dozen photographs of the children that I’d just taken.

I popped back the beach and had fun handing out the photographs to the kids – they loved them.  While I was giving out the photos a large crowd of villagers had gathered around the dinghy including half a dozen young men, who were eyeing up the bag of rope – I had to stop one guy from taking some of it.  I gave the whole bag to Domiye, but one of the gang of young men snatched the bag and ran off.  The gang gave chase and a scuffle broke out while they grabbed lengths of rope.  I was a bit annoyed that Domiye didn’t get any.

Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses

I’m not too sure what to make of the villagers.  The people are desperately poor and take anything that we have, but they have very little to give, so there is no real concept of trading like we saw in the Manamo River in Venezuela.  We found it a bit weird to just give all our bags of gifts to the Chief’s wife to be distributed, but having experienced the jungle rules on the beach, I think that if we’d have tried to hand out the items ourselves, it would have turned into a bun fight.  

Back on the boat, I had an email from Des Cason from “Gambit”, he’s a cruiser who has retired to land and now lives in South Africa.  He’s done the passage from Madagascar to South Africa many times and has offered to give me routing and weather advice for our crossing. Des said that the strong SE winds, which I was concerned about yesterday, are not showing on the latest GRIB files. 

I checked the Grib files that I downloaded this morning and the next strong south winds along the Mozambique coast are on 9th/10th , so it looked like a good idea to leave early tomorrow morning.  “Red Herring” and “Luna Blu” arrived in the outer anchorage yesterday, so I chatted to them on the radio and they are planning to leave tomorrow.  It only took us a couple of minutes to decide to get on with it, so we upped anchor and sailed back to the outer anchorage.

We had a strategy session with “Red Herring” and “Luna Blu”.  We all have similar ideas on the best route and our overall plan is to leave early in the morning at 2 or 3 o’clock, to catch the easterly land breeze; get around Cap St Andre as best we can and then head roughly on a course of 245° until we catch the Mozambique Current.  I’ll be using qtVlm to plan my route using GFS and RTOFS Grib files.  You can read more about Route Planning or qtVlm in the Cruising Information section of this website.

All of us are hoping that we will be able to make it to Maputo (25°57S  32°59E) before the southerlies on the 9th, otherwise we can stop at Inhambane (23°47S 35°31E) or if we are really slow we can stop at Bazaruto (21°39S 35°26E).  We’ll be keeping a close eye on the conditions and modifying our plans accordingly.

Sunset over Baly Bay

The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing for sea. Glenys cooked three evening meals and I stowed the dinghy on deck.  We then pulled the Series Storm Drogue and spinnaker out of the front berth locker and generally tidied up.  By 18:00, we were ready to go and cracked open a cold beer.

3 October 2017   Madagascar to Mozambique (Day 1)
The alarm went off at 03:00 and after downloading the latest GRIB files, we were soon pulling up the anchor.  “Red Herring”, “Mowana” and “Luna Blu” were already 10 miles ahead of us as we motored out of the Bay with hardly any wind.  Out at sea, we found ourselves beating into a 5-10 knot wind from the south-west.  The sea was surprisingly choppy, making it difficult to sail with the waves stopping us regularly - we turned the engine on several times during the next few hours. 

At 09:30, the sea-breeze finally arrived giving us 8-12 knot winds from the North-east, so I poled out the genoa to starboard.  By noon, the wind had backed to the North and dropped to 5-10 knots, so we dragged out our asymmetrical spinnaker, which added a knot or two to our boat speed.  We had blue skies all day, so it was lovely sailing.

The wind gradually backed more, moving forward of the beam and slowly increasing to 12 knots, so mid afternoon, we dropped the spinnaker and pulled out the genoa again.  The remorseless rotation of the wind continued and by sunset, the wind was back to SW - dead on the nose, so we were forced to sail more and more south.  

At the start of my 7-10 watch, we were on a course of 200° - a long way from our desired course of 245°, so anticipating the wind to continue backing, I tacked onto a course of 310°.  By 01:00, it increased to 20 knots from the SSW, so we were back on course again with one reef in the mainsail, beating upwind at over 6 knots.  The seas were fairly flat, with 1 metre waves and we had a full moon with scattered clouds so it was pleasant enough.  Unfortunately, we had a current of 1 to 2.5 knots against us which slowed us down a lot.

Spinnaker at 12 knots

It was a hectic 24 hours, using all of our sails on all points of wind.  Let’s hope that the wind speed and direction stays more consistent for the rest of the passage and that we can find more favourable currents.

4 October 2017   Madagascar to Mozambique (Day 2)

Our position at 07:00 was 16:27S 043:12E.

The wind gradually dropped, so at dawn Glenys turned on the engine.  The others in our little fleet have encountered the same counter currents, but “Red Herring”, who are 25 miles ahead of us, said that the current seems to be slackening off as they are approaching Ile Juan de Nova.  We have our fingers crossed – it’s a little depressing to be motor-sailing at 6 knots and only doing 3.5 knots over the ground.

After breakfast, I downloaded new Grib files and plugged them into qtVlm.  It generated a route that passes to the north of Ile Juan de Nova and then heads roughly south-west.  The RTOFS grib file shows a 150 mile diameter, anti-clockwise rotating current centred around 19°06S 39°10E.  This current is up to 3 knots, so the routing algorithm is taking us around the top and down the west side of this “eddy”.  Hopefully, we’ll be in a favourable current tomorrow.

We were 20 miles short of our planned target yesterday and only did 117 miles in 24 hours.  We will have to exceed our projections to get to Maputo before the strong southerlies on the 9th.  This seems to be very unlikely, so I’ve changed our planned destination to Inhambane.  We have 665 miles to go and qtVlm is forecasting an arrival on the afternoon of Sunday 8th – the southerlies arrive at Inhambane on the morning of the 9th.

Other than that, the grib files showed E/NE 8-10 knots today and then lighter NE/N/NW winds tonight.  It looked like we’d be doing a lot of motoring, so I checked our fuel - we have about 390 litres of diesel in our fuel tank and 63 litres in jerry cans.  Our average fuel consumption is 2.5 litres per hour, so we’ve enough fuel to motor for 182 hours, which is 7 days, so I’m not worrying yet.

Genoa Poled Out

Mid-morning, the wind picked up to NE 10-15, so I poled the genoa out to starboard and we were able to roll along at 5.5 to 7 knots, albeit still with a 1.0 knot current against us.  We had a great sail for the rest of the day, with blue skies.  After sunset, the wind backed to the NW and dropped to 5-10 knots.  We slowly sailed at 4 knots for a while, but we still had 1-2 knots of current against us, so I cracked up at 20:00 and started the engine. 

By midnight, we had variable wind (less than 5 knots) and a current against us between 1.5 and 3 knots.  We’re heading on a course of 250° to try to get west and find the elusive Mozambique current. 

I’ve been using the RTOFS current data, which so far, has not compared well to the actual conditions encountered.  I downloaded a Grib file containing OSCAR Current data and the currents are very different to RTOFS.  For example, at our present position (17°23S 42°00E), the RTOFS file says that we should have 1.2 knots setting North and the OSCAR file says that we should have 1.2 knots setting South – in reality, we are heading West and have 2 knots against us.  It’s three o’clock in the morning and I feel like screaming in frustration.

If the current data is unreliable, then the routing produced by qtVlm is also unreliable, which is a problem.  As an experiment, I produced three routings in qtVlm – no Current data, RTOFS Current data and OSCAR Current data.  Without any Current data then the routing is a rhumb line – not very helpful.  Interestingly, despite the differences in the data, the two routings produced using RTOFS and OSCAR data follow roughly similar paths, crossing over each other with a maximum difference of 20 miles.

When I plot a route that averages out the OSCAR and the RTOFS routes, then I get a route that roughly follows the 2000 metre depth contour about 100 miles off the Mozambique coast.  This seems like a logical thing for a ocean current to do, so I’m going for that. 

Planned route around a swirl in current

In retrospect, I think that we should have headed straight west until I picked up the Mozambique Current, which is what Des Cason originally recommended.  I thought that using the Current data would enable me to “cut the corner” and give me a more efficient route.  Sometimes traditional experience is better than new technology.          

5 October 2017   Madagascar to Mozambique (Day 3)

Our position at 07:00 was 17:30S 041:36E

Dawn brought us a nice ENE 10-15 knot wind, so Glenys was able to turn the engine off and sail on a broad reach.  Even better, was that after motoring for nine hours, the damn counter-current finally disappeared.

When I woke up at 07:00, I downloaded new Grib files and plugged them into qtVlm.  I created two routings to Inhambane – one based on RTOFS and one based on OSCAR Current data.  I imported these routes into my OpenCPN chart plotter and then created a route that was an average of the two.  It was more or less the same as the one that I created in the small hours of last night, so I’m using the new route for the next 24 hours and we laid a course of 250°T.  At 07:00, we had 524 miles to go, but in the last 24 hours, we had only done 115 miles over the ground, which is a pathetic 4.8 knots.

Strong south winds are still forecast to arrive in Inhambane at 01:00 on Tuesday 10th, so we want to arrive there at 12:00 on Monday 9th, which will give us a 12 hour safety margin in case the front arrives early.  We have 4 days to get there.  This is an average of 5.2 knots or 125 miles per day, which should be easily achievable, provide that we do not encounter any more unfavourable currents.  I’ll be keeping a keen eye on our progress.

During the morning, the wind gradually backed to NE 10-15, which allowed us to pole the genoa out to starboard on a broad reach.  It was a glorious blue-sky day and we bowled along at 5.5 – 6.5 knots with no noticeable current.

As usual, we’ve soon dropped into the routine of a long passage – we do three hour watches from 19:00 at night; breakfast at 08:00; Glenys goes to bed for a couple of hours in the morning; I have a two hour kip in the afternoon; dinner is 20 minutes before sunset; we both have a shower and then I take the first night watch at 19:00, while Glenys goes to bed.  It’s like Groundhog Day.

Current calculations in the middle of the night

The wind started to drop in the late afternoon and at sunset we started to motor  - we had less than 5 knots of wind all night.  At the change of watch at 01:00, we encountered another slight counter-current of about half a knot.  This was really frustrating because I knew that the Mozambique Current was somewhere to the west of our position - we’d chatted to Wairima yesterday on the SSB and they had 2 knots of good current on their track 35 miles west of us.

I did a little experiment to see the effect of our heading on the speed over the ground and I was surprised to find that a 20° change in heading caused a 0.4 knot change in speed over the ground (7.5%).  Our speed through the water was 5.9 knots.

Heading COG SOG
255°T  270°T 5.8 knots
235°T 248°T 5.4 knots
215°T 226°T 5.0 knots


I wondered whether it would be better to cross the adverse current rather than fighting it?  I grabbed a piece of paper and did some basic trigonometric calculations.  Wairima’s track in the south-setting current was roughly 225°T, so if we continued to head on a course of 248°T then it would be 70 miles until we crossed their track.  If we headed west, then we would cross their track in only 35 miles.  

The extra distance doing this dog-leg track would be only 6 miles, but if we picked up the 2 knot current sooner, then I calculated that we would take 11.4 hours instead of 13.1 hours to reach the same waypoint.  I altered course to take us straight west - it felt much better to have a faster speed over the ground.


6 October 2017   Madagascar to Mozambique (Day 4)

Our position at 07:00 was 18:22S 039:25E

The wind picked up at dawn again, so Glenys was able to get us sailing on a port broad reach.  Last night’s cunning plan didn’t go as well as I expected – we had a favourable current this morning, but it was only 0.5-1.0 knot rather than the 2 knots that we were expecting.  Still, mustn’t grumble.

Another Sail Adjustment

Interestingly, at 08:00, we had small “puff ball” cumulus clouds, which are caused by the convection rising from the warmer south-flowing current, but by 10:00 we were back to solid blue skies.  We’re only 6 miles east of the position where “Wairima” reported 2 knot currents, but we can’t find these elusive strong currents.

The weather forecast this morning shows that the strong southerlies, which were expected to arrive in Inhambane at 01:00 on Tuesday 10th (Monday night) are not going to arrive until 18:00 on Tuesday 10th.  This gives us an opportunity to try to get to Maputo, which is 210 miles further down the coast.  To achieve this we’re going to have to average 6 knots over the next 4 days, which is achievable if we continue to get favourable currents.

Mid-way through the morning, the wind backed, going more behind us and reduced in strength, so I poled the genoa out to port.  This worked for a couple of hours, but the wind dropped even more to 5-8 knots, so we dragged out the spinnaker, but even with the main sail and the spinnaker, our boat speed dropped to 3-4 knots.  We took advantage of the calm conditions to run our water maker.

While we were bobbing along, a huge pod of dolphins joined us to swim in our bow wave.  It wasn’t terribly exciting for them because we were drifting along at only 4 knots, so they entertained themselves by making huge leaps out of the water, spinning 2 or 3 times.  Unfortunately, they did this at random times and places, so I have many photos of huge splashes, but none of dolphins spinning majestically in the air.

At 15:00, our water tanks were full and we needed to get a move on, so we dropped the spinnaker and turned on the engine.  In these calm conditions, our boat speed was 5.7 knots at 1700 rpm and we were doing 6.7 knots over the ground.  Maputo here we come...

Dolphins

Glenys produced a Zebu Curry and rice for dinner and we watched another lovely sunset, by which time, the wind had picked up to SE 10.  We pulled out the sails and set off on a close reach, which in these calm seas, gave us a boat speed of 5.4 knots.  The current has picked up to 1.5 to 2 knots so we were doing 7.0 knots over the ground - I’m so glad that we’ve found the current.  

With nothing else better to do on my night watch, I did a little analysis of our performance compared to “Wairima”, which is a similar sized monohull.

Alan and Vicky took the “classic” route by heading west until they found the Mozambique Current at about 16°15S 41°10E and then followed the current along the coast. They had 1 knot of against them for 130 miles from the drop off at Cap St Andre across the Mozambique Channel, but after that had 1 to 2 knots of current with them.

We “cut the corner” trying to go a shorter distance and use the Current data in grib files to make the best use of the currents.  This strategy didn’t work very well because we had adverse currents of between 0.5 to 3 knots for 250 miles from the drop off at Cap St Andre.  Our route was only 20 miles shorter than “Wairima’s”.

“Wairima” left Baly Bay 24 hours ahead of us, but at 0800 this morning, they were 250 miles ahead of us.  Assume that for the last 24 hours, they have done 6.5 knots average with the current, then they have gained 94 miles in 3 days (and shortened their passage by 14 hours.)  If I ever do this passage again, I will definitely be heading west until I find the current.

After a beautiful sunset, the first half of the night was idyllic, sailing in flat seas with a full moon, clocking speeds of up to 8 knots over the ground.  After midnight, the wind increased slightly to ESE 15, so we were screaming along at 9 knots.  In the 12 hours up to dawn, we covered 95 miles, which is an average of 7.9 knots over the ground – probably one of the best overnight sails we’ve had in ten years of cruising. 

Cracking Sunset

Unfortunately, just after dawn, the wind suddenly dropped to 6 knots and backed to the East, so we had to turn on the engine.

7 October 2017   Madagascar to Mozambique (Day 5)

Our position at 07:00 was 20:29S 037:28E

With very light winds, we spent the morning motoring south, achieving 6.5 knots over the ground.

Today’s weather forecast shows that gale-force southerly winds are expected in Maputo on the 10th at 15:00 - a few hours earlier than forecast yesterday and the low pressure system causing the southerlies has also deepened bringing stronger winds.

Des Cason has been sending me an email every day and today he said,  "The small cut-off low which would have brought light SE to Inhambane/Maputo on the 10th has intensified. A high pressure has ridged in behind it bringing some pretty hectic SW/S winds along the coast. 40+ knot winds are expected off Richards Bay on the 10th. This will spread up the coast to Bazaruto and persist up to the 13th at least in the 25kts range. At 21:00 on the 10th, the low will be at 30S 37E, 1007 Mba with SSW/S 40kts at the epicenter. By the 11th it has moved to 29S 42E, 1003mba, SSW/S 30 kts."

Our plan was to head for Maputo and then dive into Inhambane if we thought that we weren’t going to make it before the front. However, Des has warned us that after a few days of NE winds, the outside anchorage at Barra Point, Inhambane will “not be fun with 1.5 to 2 metre swell”.  The inner anchorage at Linga Linga doesn’t sound good either because there’s a shallow 0.4m sand bar at the entrance, which means that we can only enter and leave at 2 hours before high tide, which is very restricting.

Weather forecast 6 hours after planned arrival in Maputo

So, we had two options: 

1.  Head for Maputo, which at 07:00 this morning was 430 miles away.  If we give ourselves an 8 hour safety margin and aim to get to Maputo at 07:00 on the 10th, then for the next 3 days, we will still have to average 6.0 knots (143 miles per day).  We have averaged 150 miles per day for the last two days and the last 24 hours was 168 miles. If we retain the favourable current and have good winds, then we should make it.

2.  Head for Bazaruto, which is 115 miles away. We could be there tomorrow morning without any problem.  We then hide there, leaving after the system goes away, probably on the 13th.

The risks of heading for Maputo are that we may lose the favourable current and the low pressure system may develop faster.  If we have light winds, we’ll have to motor hard for up to 3 days and if the engine has a problem, we’re doomed.  If something doesn’t go as planned, then we will be trapped at sea in a serious storm (up to 40 knot winds and 6 metre waves) for several days.

The only disadvantage with going to Bazaruto is that we’ll be delayed getting into Richard’s Bay by at least a week, but we’re in no hurry – our son isn’t coming out to visit until the 17th October, so we have plenty of time.

So, we either have three days of stress, racing to beat a big storm or we chill out in a secure anchorage for five days with some other cruisers.  It was a no-brainer - at midday, we turned west towards Bazaruto.  

I chatted to “Red Herring” on the SSB radio and they have also turned back to Bazaruto. “Luna Blu”, “Continuum”, and “Mowana” are already on their way. “Wairima” are now south of Inhambane, so they will make it to Richards Bay.  My only concern is that we might not have enough beer.

Approaching Bazaruto

We had a very relaxing afternoon, sailing along at 3-4 knots in the light north winds, which carried on into the night.  After midnight, with only 40 miles to go, the wind picked up to NE15, so Glenys rolled away the main and we ran on a reefed genoa at 3 knots until dawn. Unfortunately, we had confused,  sharp 1.5 metre waves, which made us rock and roll all night.

We encountered some strong currents in this area, which would suddenly change direction and alter our course through the water by 20 degrees. There were also noticeable changes in the sea state as we went from wind-with-current to wind-against-current.  I guess that these are eddies being generated at the edge of the continental shelf.

8 October 2017   Madagascar to Mozambique (Day 6)

Our position at 07:00 was 19:43S 061:27E

At dawn, we had light north winds, so we were only able to sail at 3-4 knots.  This was okay because we wanted to wait until midday, when it was low tide and the best time to start to negotiate the channel through the sand bars.  Unfortunately, the sea was still very confused, making us bounce around unpleasantly for six hours.

We had a bit of confusion with time zones.  Our Ship’s Time was UTC +3 with all our clocks set to Madagascar time.  Our normal source of tides is the Navionics Chart app on our Samsung tablet.  It told us that low tide was at 12:00, but indicated that the tide was in the “Central Africa” time zone, but what was that?  Was the low tide really at 11:00, 12:00 or 13:00 in Madagascar time?  The last thing that we want to do after five nights of sleep deprivation is wrap our heads around the conundrum of time.

Fortunately, technology came to our aid.  We configured our tablet to automatically set the local time zone and it used it’s GPS position to work out that we were now in the Central Africa time zone (UTC +2) - an hour earlier than all our other clocks.   Phew!  So low tide was actually at 13:00 (Ship’s Time).  To avoid any more confusion, we turned all our clocks back one hour, so Ship’s Time is now UTC +2 and low tide is now at 12:00. (I think!)

Welcome to Mozambique

We started our approach into the channel at 11:00 (UTC+2), following a set of waypoints published by Des Cason.  They were spot on, but we were eye-balling the water depth all the time, using the colour of the water.  There are many sand banks along the 12 mile route, but the water is clear and the lighter colour of the shallow spots is easy to see.   We had to do a bit of a dog-leg around one shallow sand spit - 21°35.711S 035°24.441E and 21°35.930S 035°24.819E gets you around it.

All the way points are:  21°30 00E 35°25 00S; 21°32.50E  35°23.40S; 21°35.50E  35°22.40S; 21°35.90E  35°24.10S; 21°35.711S 035°24.441E; 21°35.930S 035°24.819E; 21°38.77S 035°25.60E.

“Red Herring” and “Luna Blu” came in with us and there was much debate about where to anchor because the normal anchorage north of Ponta Gengare was very gnarly in the NNE15 winds, which had picked up as we came in through the channel.  Eventually, we all headed to the south of the point and anchored at 21°40.39S 035°25.87E in 12 metres, which was much more sheltered.

Once settled to anchor, we had a shower, an afternoon nap; a few cold ones; dinner and early to bed.

Today’s weather forecast shows that the low pressure system is not going to produce very high winds, but the south winds are hanging around the coast for longer (until the 15th.)  This means that we won’t be able to start heading south for a week - at least our time here in Bazaruto will be pleasant without any storm force winds.  Of course, that could all change tomorrow.

9 October 2017   Ponta Gengare to Ponta Milixa, Mozambique
We slept like logs and spent most of the morning pottering about, tidying up after 5 nights at sea.  Glenys made a couple of loaves of bread and I ran the water-maker to top up our tanks.  Our dinghy is still on the front deck and I couldn’t motivate myself to put it into the water, so I’d resigned myself to spend today on-board.  Fortunately, “Red Herring” called by and offered us a lift ashore - I went but Glenys decided to stay on-board and chill out.  Oliver from “Mowana” also came with us.

It was approaching low tide when we landed ashore and the water was very shallow a long way from shore, so we had to carry the dinghy 100m from the water’s edge and left it high and dry to fend for itself.  As we walked onto the dry beach, we attracted a lot of attention and a small crowd of adults and kids soon gathered, but mostly kept their distance with a few braver children approaching us.  

Rondavels

Being low tide, the beach was a hive of activity.  Kids were digging for lug worms for fishing bait and people were wading in the shallow water looking for clams, which they dry on platforms on the beach. 

A couple of National Park wardens came over and chatted to us in broken English - they speak Portuguese, but none of us speak that language.  The wardens were very friendly and nicely told us that we would have to pay $10US per person (plus $10 per boat) entry fee into the National Park.  We said sure, but we had no money with us, so they’ll have to come out to the boats later.

The island of Bazaruto is mostly made of huge sand-dunes and it was a very steep climb up to the village above the beach.  The villagers live in round huts called Rondavels made from wood and some kind of cane - we’re definitely in Africa.  We walked around looking at the way of life on this barren island.  The people appear to live in family groups with a few Rondavels for living/sleeping and one Rondavel for cooking.  Each family had a rough set of shelving outside their cooking hut which held the pots and pans.

It was very arid, sandy ground, but we saw coconut palms and payaya trees growing.  Each family has a garden area where they looked to be growing some kind of yams.  The Park Wardens said that the villagers survive by exporting sea food to the mainland, which is used to buy rice and vegetables.  It looks like a tough life living on a sand-dune.

Back at the boat, I found Glenys painting a Mozambique Courtesy Flag - we hadn’t managed to buy one before we left Thailand and we were hoping that we’d not have to spend any more than a couple of nights here.  There are rumours that the authorities are red-hot on having a courtesy flag and have even fined people for having a courtesy flag smaller than the boat ensign.  Ridiculous I know, but the officials are even more corrupt than in Madagascar and will take any excuse to lever money out of westerners - we hope that we don’t meet any officials. 

Painting the Mozambique Courtesy Flag

The wind is forecast to be NE 15 tonight and tomorrow morning, but will then veer around to 20+ knots from the south tomorrow night.  The plan is for our small fleet to move tomorrow to an anchorage at Benguerra Island 10 miles further south, which we hope has good protection from the strong southerlies. 

We all moved a couple of miles further down the coast to an anchorage at Ponta Milixa  at 21°42.56S 035°25.86E (7m LAT on good holding sand).  The anchorage wasn’t as good as the previous one and it was a bit bouncy in the NE20 winds at sunset, but at least we’ve probably escaped the $30US park fee.      

10 October 2017   Ponta Milixa to Ponta Gengare, Mozambique
The NE wind continued blowing strongly until the early hours of the morning and, to make matters worse, the current switched at midnight and turned us so that our stern was pointing into the wind and the waves.  We have a “sugar scoop” stern, which is a low angle extension to the hull, designed to increase the waterline length and make the boat sail faster.   Unfortunately, it’s hollow and when waves slap underneath it, the loud bang is amplified and it sounds awful in the back cabin where we sleep.  There’s nothing worse than being “slapped up the sugar scoop” to keep you awake.

After breakfast, the Park Rangers arrived in a small power boat and we had to pay $10US per person and $20US for the boat - we didn’t escape after all.  I tried to negotiate them down and didn’t want to pay for the boat, but they produced an official looking receipt with the tariffs clearly shown, so I paid up.  We’re not cleared into Mozambique, so we want to keep a low profile and don’t want any trouble with the local officials. 

A cynic might say that the money we paid out will go into their pockets, but we’re clean - we’ve paid what we should officially pay.  I’ve heard that one scam is to put a piece of card behind the carbon paper, so that nothing is imprinted on the “office copy” of the receipt book.  They then later write in lower figures on the “office copy” and pocket the balance.  On the other hand, they may be honest…

Mozambique Boat

I downloaded the latest weather forecast and the southerly winds expected after midnight have intensified to 25 knots and could possibly be slightly west of south.  We were all planning to head down to an anchorage at Benguerra today, but the prospect of SSW winds made us rethink because Benguerra might not be so good in that wind direction.  

After some debate, our mini-fleet upped anchor and sailed back north a couple of miles to anchor to the North of Ponta Gengare, which is better protected from the SW.  We dropped our anchor at 21°38.66S 035°26.43E in 5 metres on a huge area of good holding sand.  (There’s a recommended anchorage closer to the point, at 21°39.13S 035°26.04E, but there seemed to be too many coral patches for my liking.)

As a matter of interest, if we’d have tried to out run the storm, hopefully we’d be approaching Maputo today.  Gale force winds are forecast to hit Richards Bay at 14:00 and Maputo at 18:00, so the forecast that we had a few days ago was very accurate.  The low isn’t coming up north as much as the earlier forecasts, but at midnight, the winds 100 miles east of Richards Bay are forecast to be 40 knots with 6.5m seas - you wouldn’t want to be out there.  

At sunset, we had NE 15-20.  It was a little bit bouncy, so we hunkered down below and watched a movie.

11 October 2017   Ponta Gengare, Mozambique
At 02:00, the wind veered around to the south and picked up to 25-30 knots, blew hard for a few hours and then settled down to 20-25 knots.  As forecast, the wind was SSW and soon a swell was hooking around Ponta Gengare bringing in 2 foot waves from the south-west.   This made it a bouncy, noisy night with the waves slapping on the side of the hull.  

We’ve heard that there were 70+ knot winds in Durban and 50 knot winds in Richards Bay yesterday, which caused damage and flooding in the heavy rains.   The BBC News is calling the storm that hit Durban a “Super Cell” - 3 cargo ships dragged closing the entrance to the port;  harbour patrol corralled yachts that had broken free from moorings and yacht club pontoons were damaged.  Richards Bay escaped damage (although the yacht club bar was closed last night.)  This weather is not to be taken lightly.

Another Southwesterly along our route

The forecast for today is for the wind to drop overnight and become East 5-10 knots tomorrow.  Our plan is to move to Benguerra tomorrow before the next set of strong southerlies arrives late tomorrow night.  These winds look to be more SE, so we should be good at Benguerra.

Yesterday, it looked like we had a 4 day weather window on Saturday 14th, but that has now closed up with SE20-25 hitting Maputo on the afternoon of Monday 16th.  These systems are very closely packed, so I think that we might have to do short hops to Inhambane - Maputo - Richards Bay.

It would be good to try for Maputo on the 14th.  We would have to leave at 9:00 (high tide is at 11:00).  That would put us out into SE10 for 8 hours, but we can cope with that if we know that it will turn East and then NE.  That then gives us 56 hours until the SE 20 hits Maputo, which is 330 miles away - we’d have to average 6.0 knots.   This is a very tight plan, but we'll see how the weather develops - with luck the southerlies will be delayed…

Apart from a brief route planning session on “Continuum”, we spent the rest of the day on board - Glenys did some chores and some more research on places to visit in South Africa, while I edited photos and played the guitar.

12 October 2017   Ponta Gengare to Benguerra Island, Mozambique
We had blue skies at dawn with a light South 5 knot wind - a beautiful day.  It was Graham’s 70th birthday, so Karen arranged a tea party on “Red Herring” in the morning, which was fun.

At midday, the fleet of 5 boats set off for Benguerra Island, 15 miles south.  The route was a little torturous passing through a shallow area, where we did a dog-leg west, but the minimum depth that we saw was 4.5m at low tide (3.2m LAT).   

The fleet heads south

Our waypoints were:  21°42.96S 035°25.02E;  21°44.78S 035°23.33E; 21°45.46S 035°23.28E; 21°46.73S 035°23.12E; 21°46.49S 035°22.19E; 21°47.07S 035°21.83E; 21°51.20S 035°23.75E.

The entrance into the anchorage was very shallow.  There’s a 0.4 mile long channel leading to a deeper “pool”, which went down to 2.4m (1.0m LAT) at one spot.  “Red Herring” and “Luna Blu” anchored in the 7m deep pool, which is ¾ mile from the shore and exposed to the south, so we went further to see if there was somewhere closer to shore to anchor.  Unfortunately the depth dropped to 2.1m (0.7m LAT), so we turned around and anchored back with the rest of the fleet.  We slowly dragged (on weed?) a couple of times before settling at 21°51.29S 035°24.42E in 8 metres of water.

It’s not a very good place to be.  We’re ¾ mile from land and exposed to SSE winds; the “pool” that we’re in is only 200m wide and surrounded by very shallow water.  I’m not a happy bear.  If the wind picks up from the south tonight, then it will be very, very unpleasant.  The plan is to go to another anchorage tomorrow morning.  High tide is at 09:00, so we’re planning to weave our way through the sand bars starting at 07:00.

As it was Graham’s birthday, we all piled into dinghies and went ashore hoping to be able to buy a beer or even have a meal at the holiday lodge ashore.  It was actually an up-market resort catering to honeymooners, so we weren’t allowed to buy anything.  After a short walk on the beach, we retired back to “Red Herring” for a rum or three.


13 October 2017   Benguerra Island to Benguerra Sand Spit, Mozambique
We had a restless night.  The wind swung to the south before we went to bed.  It was only 5-8 knots, but we were worried that it was going to pick up and make the anchorage very uncomfortable.  It was also annoying that when the wind veered, we ended up a couple of boat lengths directly in front of “Continuum”, but it was so dark that we couldn’t re-anchor.  

Proposed Route to Sandspit

We were up at 05:15, with the wind at 10-15 knots from the south bringing 2 foot waves into the anchorage.  There was a discussion on the VHF and the consensus was to move at 06:00 - three hours before high tide.  We had some waypoints through the sand banks to our next anchorage, which were a mixture of some waypoints from previous cruisers; information from a local boat; and inspection of Google earth images in KAP Charts.

The route looked deeper than 5 metres for most of the way, with the shallowest point being at the beginning.  A local boat had told us that there’s a channel heading NE from our anchorage, but it didn’t look promising with wind waves and overcast, early morning skies.  I dropped our dinghy into the water and picked up Graham from “Red Herring” to go and look at the “channel” using our portable depth sounder.

It wasn’t good.  We recorded depths of 2.1 to 2.4 metres and it looked shallower further on.  We were at half tide with a tidal depth of 2.5m.  We’re approaching neaps at the moment and high tide is only 3.2m.  Graham and I agreed that it was too risky to head off across uncharted sand banks especially because the wind would be pushing us forward and making it hard to stop.  Not that I’m superstitious, but it’s also Friday the 13th…

There was a rapid change of plans.  “Continuum” and “Mowana” with their shallower drafts, elected to stay at an anchorage a little closer to shore (at 21°51.27S035°24.90Ein a depth of 2m LAT).  Meanwhile “Red Herring”, “Luna Blu” and we headed back north, re-tracing our route and then looping back south along what looked to be a much deeper and safer channel.  It was 15 miles, but we were hoping that our destination would be a well-protected anchorage and it’s close to the pass that we will use when we finally go out to sea. 

The start of the route south goes over a shallow sand bar and we were unsure what the depth would be.  Fortunately, there was a local sport-fishing boat going out (“Big Bob”) and he told us that he had a minimum depth of 3.4m over the bar.  We put a trace on his AIS and followed his track over the shallows and then down the channel - I love AIS.  The minimum depth that we saw was 3.4m (0.2m LAT) and most of the route was over 7 metres deep. 

Benguerra Sandspit

The anchorage is close to a long Sand Spit and there’s a shallow-looking sand bar to the west of it, so we sailed very close to the end of the sand spit and then along the shore.  The minimum depth that we saw was 7 metres (3.8m LAT), so we’ll be able to get out of the anchorage and into the pass at any state of tide.

(Our waypoints were:  21°44.68S 035°24.03E; 21°44.95S 035°24.76E; 21°45.44S 035°25.22E; 21°46.63S 035°25.23E; 21°47.23S 035°25.50E; 21°48.31S 035°26.62E; 21°48.48S 035°27.59E; 21°48.67S 035°27.60E; 21°48.92S 035°27.51E.)

We anchored at 21°49.03S 035°27.48E in 10 metres on good holding sand.  It’s a huge anchorage about 0.5 miles long by 0.2 miles wide.  The sand spit is a beautiful set of sand dunes - white coral sand, tufts of grass and nothing else.  By the time that we arrived at the anchorage, the wind was blowing 20-25 knots from the SSE, but we were very comfortable with just 1 foot wind waves and no swell.

The weather forecast was not good reading.  The SE winds will reduce tomorrow and then we will have north-east winds for 48 hours.  If we left here tomorrow, we wouldn’t quite make it to Maputo before 25 knot winds arrive on the afternoon of the 16th.  We could go down to Inhambane, but we’d then have to spend 36 uncomfortable hours in the strong southerlies in a poor anchorage and then wouldn’t be able to get to Maputo in time for the next southerly on the 19th.

Our only hope (Obiwan Kanobi) is to wait here until the afternoon of the 20th when we should have five days of favourable East and North-east winds to get us directly to Richards Bay.  Such long range weather forecasts are inaccurate, but all we can do is wait and see what develops - at least it’s a beautiful anchorage. 

Benguerra Sandspit

After lunch, we had a quiet afternoon, catching up on some sleep and reading.  Our relaxation was interrupted by some Park Rangers stopping by, wanting us to pay park fees.  We produced the receipt from the rangers at Bazaruto and they were happy.  So it is an official fee…

We had a quiet night, hunkered down below watching a movie.  It’s very cold in this strong south east wind and we’re wearing thin fleeces in the evening.  I guess that cold air is being brought up  from the Antarctic by the low pressure system that is trundling eastwards below us .  We’d better get used to it; it’s going to get colder as we head south.

14 October 2017   Benguerra Sand Spit, Mozambique
The wind blew at 20 knots all night, but the anchorage is well protected from the south-east, so we slept like logs.  I downloaded the latest weather forecast, which now shows a small chance of leaving in the late afternoon on Wednesday 18th. The southerlies that arrive in Maputo on the afternoon of Friday 20th build up slowly, so we might be able to sail on a reach into Maputo with 10-15 knot SE winds, before stronger 20-25 knot winds arrive on Saturday morning.  We’ll wait and see.

The sports fishing boat, “Big Bob” arrived and anchored close by us, so Graham and I went across to have a chat.  He told us that this is a good anchorage in NE and SE winds, so we’ll stay here until we leave for South Africa.  I asked if he had any fish and was delighted when he dragged out a couple of kilos of frozen Spanish Mackerel and didn’t want any money for it.  The skipper told us that there’s a freshwater lake over by a large sand dune to the south of us that has Flamingos.

Walking on Benguerra Sandspit

In the afternoon, we went for a walk with “Red Herring” and “Luna Blu”, aiming to find the flamingos.  It was tough walking on the soft sand and after an hour or so we’d only walked 2 miles and had reached some buildings on the island at the beginning of the sand spit.  This turned out to be a conference centre with two beautiful buildings constructed from traditional wood and reed.  It was deserted apart from two guards who were very friendly and told us that the flamingos were normally on the sand flats, but weren’t there at the moment.

We decided to head back to the boat and, on arriving back at the dinghies, found that the beach had been invaded by 20 or 30 tourists that had been brought from some of the lodges.  The guys from “Big Bob” were having a beer on the beach as well and told us that the sand spit is often busy being a popular day trip from all the lodges.   Apparently, we should have walked a mile further along the east shore to find the flamingo lake.  It’s something to do another day.

15 October 2017   Benguerra Sand Spit to Ponta Dundo, Mozambique
We had another settled night and woke to 10 knot NE winds.  I have a morning routine now - I post yesterday’s diary to our “At Sea” blog (blog.mailasail.com/yachtalba) and then get the latest weather forecast.  Today’s email from Des Cason gave a glimmer of hope:

“The latest grib shows a nice big fat high pressure system developing at 32S43E next Saturday 21/10 which will bring mainly E/NE conditions down the channel all the way to East London, south of Durban. All things being equal and if the forecast holds this indicates possible departure Bazaruto 18/10 00:00UTC with E15 or 19/10 06:00UTC with ENE10.

On Friday 20/10 06:00 you will get SE25 just south of Inhambane, but it doesn't come up the channel due to being blocked by a 1016mba High at 21S40E. By Friday 20/10 18:00 this SE has turned to ESE20 and then drops off and turns E and progressively NE as you get closer to Richards Bay.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the high to set in and open the gap.”

This sounds very good.  If we leave at dawn on Thursday 19th, we will have 12 hours of beating/heaving-to on Friday in SE25 winds, but we should be able to sail well from Saturday morning and arrive in Richards Bay at 18:00 on Sunday 22nd.  The next southerlies arrive in Richards Bay on Monday 23rd at midday - a nice 18 hour safety window and, if the window closes up, we’ll have plenty of time to get to Maputo.

Topping up the fuel tank

We did some chores in the morning.  Glenys baked some bread and I topped up our fuel tank with the 63 litres of diesel from our three jerry jugs.  I reckon that we now have 320 litres of fuel in our tank, which is enough to motor for 106 hours i.e. 586 miles, so we could motor all the way to Richards Bay if we need to.

The North-east wind picked up through the morning and, by lunch-time, we had 20 knots, which was raising 2 foot waves in the anchorage.  There was a quick discussion on the VHF and then we all left and headed across to the south west corner of Bazaruto to Ponta Dundo.  There’s a deep water channel quite close to the shore next to some trees and the least depth that we saw while going across was 7 metres.  

(Our Waypoints were:  21°48.22S 035°27.56E; 21°47.87S 035°27.44E; 21°47.72S 035°27.20E)

We anchored at 21°47.61S 035°27.12E in 12 metres (9m LAT).  We’re only 80 metres away from the shore, but it felt like good holding sand when we backed up on the anchor.  There’s a swell hooking around the corner making it a bit bumpy, but it seems much more protected from the North-east winds than the previous anchorage.  Ashore are some huge sand dunes that are obviously a tourist attraction, judging by the number of local boats and tourists milling about.

By the time that we’d run our water-maker to top up the tanks, the day was over.  It was low tide at 18:00, so the bouncy waves reduced and we had calm conditions for our dinner.  However, by 21:00 the tide was coming in at full flood, so the boat turned to face south with the wind from the north-east, making our rigging rattle and shake.  It didn’t bode well for the night. 

16 October 2017   Ponta Dundo to Benguerra Sandspit, Mozambique
It was a turbulent night as the tide pushed us back and forth.  When the tide was ebbing we pitched into the wind; we rolled when we were sideways; and we were slapped up the sugar scoop when the tide was coming in.  However, the wind was only 20 knots, so it was just very uncomfortable and not dangerous.

After breakfast, we went for a walk with “Red Herring” up the huge sand dunes.  It was fabulous walking along the wind-swept ridges of pristine sand.   It was very reminiscent of walking along snowy arêtes in the Alps, but we were blasted by sand instead of snow by the strong NE winds.  From the top, there was a good view of our proposed route out to sea, which goes over a sand bar, but it was hard to see the best route through the many sand banks, some of which were breaking.

Sand Dunes

After a short stop overlooking a small lake packed with Herons and Ibis, we walked down to sea level and strolled back along the shoreline.  When we arrived at the anchorage we could see mayhem as the boats were all pirouetting around in the strong current against the wind.  Alba looked very close to “Luna Blu” and we couldn’t see whether or not we’d dragged, so we rushed back to the dinghy.

We hadn’t dragged, but it was very unpleasant on board.  We were bouncing about, lying side onto the wind and “Luna Blu” were sailing around on their anchor - sometimes they were 100 metres away and within five minutes they’d be 20 metres away.  I didn’t fancy the prospect of another boisterous night being only 80 metres from the shore, so we upped anchor and headed back to the sand spit anchorage.

We had a bouncy trip across, but it was only a mile or so.  Once in the anchorage, the waves settled down and it seemed okay.  We reported back to the rest of the fleet and they all decided to come over to join us.  

Unfortunately, by 15:00, the tide was going out and once again, we had strong tidal currents pushing us against the wind.  The afternoon was gnarly with the boat pointing sometimes downwind and sometimes sideways with NNE 20-25 knot winds hitting our stern.  At least this anchorage has more space and we’re not close to a rocky shore.  

The wind is forecast to continue from the NNE until tomorrow afternoon, when it will slowly veer to SE - I can’t wait because this anchorage will be nice and flat again.  The SE wind will continue at 20-25 knots for 36 hours and, by the morning of Thursday 19th, the wind will have reduced to E 10-15.  Fingers crossed, that’s when we will start heading south towards South Africa. 

Benguerra Sandspit Anchorage

On passage we’re expecting E to NE winds for 24 hours and then the wind will come around to S20 - straight in the nose and not really what we want, but it’s fairly light and will only last 12-24 hours before backing East and then we’ll have NE winds to carry us to Richards Bay, hopefully arriving Sunday 22nd. 

17 October 2017   Benguerra Sandspit, Mozambique
The weather forecast looks even better today.  The south wind expected on the second day of the passage to Richards Bay is looking to be very weak and quickly passed, so we’re all planning to leave Thursday 19th at 14:00 which is just before high tide, which will give us the best conditions for exiting the bar. 

The wind blew at NNE 20 all night which was OK until the tide started to go out at 03:00.  Our bow turned south into the strong current and the waves remorselessly slapped our stern.  The boat would turn slightly and then sail across the wind, heeling over 5 degrees.  A few minutes later we would gybe, with some resounding slaps up the sugar scoop and then slowly sail the other way, heeling over degrees to the other side.  It was irritating.

We dragged ourselves out of bed at 07:00 and all the boats were still pointing downwind with waves hitting our sterns.   After breakfast, we went for a long walk with “Red Herring” - the other boats in the anchorage politely declined when we started talking about making sandwiches and taking lots of water for the hike. 

Our aim was to walk 3½ miles along the windward beach to the huge sand dune at 21°52.17S 035°27.20E and hopefully find a lake that has Flamingos.  We had a pleasant walk along the beach and after a couple of miles after a small pine tree wood, we headed up into the small sand dunes, where we could see a path leading inland.  A local guy shouted to us and said that he would show us the Crocodiles, so we went with the flow.

Looking down from Huge Sand Dune

Our guide led us along narrow paths which eventually came out to the south end of the larger of the three lakes.  On the way I enquired about palm trees that had been chopped down to a few feet, the tops of which were covered by Small Baskets.  He showed us that they were extracting sap from the palms, which was then fermented, turning it into palm wine - an alcoholic drink.  He gave us a taste of the finished product which was quite pleasantly bitter, reminiscent of lemon.

We were then led around the west side of the larger lake, but alas the crocodiles weren’t to be seen.  Our guide led us to the smallest lake, which is directly below the huge sand dune, where there was a solitary Flamingo, so I took some photos and we said goodbye to our guide.  We hadn’t expected to meet any one, so we hadn’t taken any “gifts” with us, but Karen gave the guy an old pair of sunglasses, which he seemed pleased with.

Our next objective was the huge sand dune, which I guess is a few hundred feet high.  The first section up the face was very steep, but once on the ridge it was easy going. The sand dune is a bizarre geological formation, isolated and high above the rest of the land - I have no idea how it would have been formed.   We had our sandwiches on the summit, staring at the fabulous view.

After a long walk back along the beach, we arrived back at the boat at 13:15 - a 4½ hour trek, so we were shattered.  However, no peace for the wicked - it was high tide at 14:30, so we had slack tide at 14:00 and had to jump in the water to scrub the hull and replace the anode on the propeller.  As well as the usual green slime, we’d picked up an impressive collection of goose-neck barnacles, which had to be scraped and scrubbed off.

Waiting for a weather window

By 14:40, the tide had changed and there was a significant out-going current, which brought the job to an end.  We’d managed to remove most of the barnacles, but we need to have another go tomorrow.  We chilled out for a few hours and went ashore for a sunset beer or two. Back on board, Glenys rustled up Chicken Mole, which we had with our last bottle of wine - it’s definitely time to go…

18 October 2017   Benguerra Sandspit, Mozambique
Overnight the wind veered to the south-east and picked up quickly.  Just after midnight, I was woken by the uncomfortable motion and found that the wind was blowing 25-30 knots with the tide against the wind, raising 2-3 foot waves.  Yesterday afternoon, “Fortuna” arrived and anchored near to us.  When the wind picked up and swung us around, they’ve ended up only two boat lengths from us and at times they were less than that directly behind us.

We couldn’t raise them on the radio, so I resorted to shining our powerful search light at their hatches and blowing our little fog horn.  They’d just arrived after a long passage, so it took a while to wake them up.  Being the last boat to anchor, it’s their responsibility to keep their distance, but it was bad conditions to be trying to re-anchor in the dark without a moon, so they agreed that they would keep an anchor watch until the tide changed at 03:00 and hopefully conditions settled down. 

Glenys and I didn’t sleep well and I got up half a dozen times to check that “Fortuna” were still clear of us.  I’m annoyed with myself for not telling them to move yesterday afternoon, but if this was a normal anchorage, then they would have been fine, so it was difficult to tell them that they were too close.

By dawn, the wind was blowing hard from the SSE at 30 knots gusting to 35 knots, so it was gnarly and “Fortuna” were only 20 metres to our starboard side.   Thankfully, after a bit of persuasion, they re-anchored at 10:00 at low tide, slack current, 100 metres away from us.   I’ll sleep better tonight.

Sundowners

The weather forecast looks good.  These strong SSE winds should start to abate this afternoon and then will back to ENE 10 by morning.  We’re still planning on leaving at 14:00 tomorrow and during the first night we should have ENE 10.  The second day looks like NE/ENE 10 and the south winds just don’t reach north enough to affect us.  After that it should be NE to E winds at 5 -15 knots, which will be good for our south-west course to Richards Bay.  With the lighter winds, we expect to arrive at dawn on Monday 23rd.  The next southerly hits Richards Bay on the 25th, which gives us two days safety margin. 

This weather never ceases to amaze me.  The switch from NE to S happens within a few hours and it’s interesting to watch the barometer.  It reached a low point of 1005mb yesterday afternoon and then started to rise, which heralds the switch from NE to S.  By dawn this morning, the barometer read 1015mb and at lunch time it was 1016mb.  When it starts to drop again, then the wind will slowly back to the east and we start all over again. 

I find it very strange that we get no rain with these radical changes in wind direction and strength.  We haven’t had any rain for six weeks and that was only a short-lived squall.

I drank my last beer on the beach last night, but Karen from “Red Herring” said that she could give me a six-pack.  At midday, the wind was still blowing a hooley, so I couldn’t get into the dinghy to go to collect it without getting soaked through.  At 14:00, I cracked up, donned my swimming shorts and a cagoule; and set off into the 30 knot winds.  I spent a couple of hours on “Red Herring” sorting out some computer stuff and chatting about the plan for the passage.

The wind remained strong, but at sunset it had dropped to 20 knots and the sea state was much calmer.


19 October 2017   Mozambique to South Africa (Day 1)
At dawn, the wind was 10-15 knots and then slowly backed to the NE.  We spent the morning tidying up, running the watermaker and getting ready for sea.  There wasn’t much to do, so we were ready to go by 11:00 and then had to wait for the tide, so that we could get over the sand bar in the pass.

Heading back out sea

We were planning to leave two hours before high water at 14:00.  This would ensure that we had an incoming tide which would flatten the incoming swell from the east.  The worst time would be to try to leave in an out-going tide, which would mean that the current was against the swell and would cause steep “overfall” waves.  The other factor in our timing was that, just before high tide, the tidal current would be less and we would have more water over the bar.

“Luna Blu”, “Continuum” and “Fortuna” cracked up early and left the anchorage at 12:00.  The least depth that they saw was 5 metres and the sea was fairly calm, but they had to battle against a strong current over 3 knots.  “Fortuna” have an engine problem and can only run at low revs, so they were only making 1.5 knots over the ground.

We were good little bears and stuck to the plan, pulling up our anchor at 14:00 together with “Red Herring” and “Mowana”.  There was still a strong 3 knot current against us in the narrowest part of the channel between the two islands and the water was very turbulent, pushing us around.  However, it calmed down to 0.5 to 1 knot after that and we made good progress - the waves also settled down to a smooth 1 metre swell.

Our route went along a channel to the south of the shallowest sand bar - the lowest spots were 6.5 metres (2.5m LAT) in a few places after 21°48.10S 35°29.05E.  (Our way points were:21°48.23S 35°27.55E; 21°48.05S 35°28.09E; 21°48.10S 35°29.05E; 21°47.56S 35°30.21E; 21°48.06 35°31.02E.)

Once clear of the bar and in deeper water, we turned SSE and reached away from the reefs.  There was a smooth 1-2 metre swell from the east; east 10-15 knot winds; and we had current with us, so we made good progress doing 6.5-7.5 knots over the ground up to midnight.

Heading South

On our 19:00 SSB radio net, Luna Blu was 13 miles ahead of us, with the rest scattered about, going in slightly different directions trying to find the best current.  Our strategy was to slowly creep away from the shore to a point 15 miles off Barra Falsa and then maintain that distance off shore.  It seems to be a reasonable plan because we had at least 2 knots with us at midnight.  

“Jackster” came up on the radio – they left Madagascar four days ago and are only 70 miles behind us, so they’ve had a good passage.  They are 53 foot long (10 foot more than us), so they are much quicker and, despite the fact that they left Madagascar 10 days after us, they will probably beat us to Richards Bay...

We encountered several trawlers on our route, moving at 3 knots in surprisingly deep water (>300 metres).  They were well lit, had AIS and a very consistent course, so they were easy enough to dodge.

At our 01:00 watch change, we altered course more south, which put the wind at 50 degrees to our port aft quarter, so we gybed the genoa and poled it out to port.  Unfortunately, an hour later, the wind dropped and we were only doing 1-2 knots of boat speed, so I turned on the engine and we motored for the rest of the night.

20 October 2017  Mozambique to South Africa (Day 2)
Our position at 07:00 was 23°28S 35°52E.

As the sun came up, the wind picked up to E 10-15, so Glenys dragged out the sails.  Again, it only lasted a few hours before the wind died again.  The weather forecast shows light winds until tomorrow, but there’s a chance of sailing later today providing that the wind veers to the ESE (in front of the beam) as forecast.

Setting up the spinnaker

There are at least nine boats heading for Richards Bay all expecting to arrive about the same time, so it’s going to be chaos in the port.  There’s very little space in the two marinas in Richards Bay and they refuse to take advance bookings, so it’s first come, first served.  To add to the problem, the marina at Durban, which is only 80 miles away, sustained damage in a big storm 10 days ago and cannot accommodate any visitors at the moment.

It maybe that we can’t get a marina berth at either port, so we might be stuck on a concrete visitor’s wall in Richards Bay.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem to us, but we have our son Craig coming out for a holiday starting on the 18th November and we want to be sure that we have a confirmed, safe berth, so that we can go land travelling with him for a week.

To add to the complex planning, we want to haul-out to replace the cutlass bearing.  One solution is that we haul-out for 5 or 6 weeks, so I’ve been trying to arrange something by email, but it’s slow going with their reluctance to commit to dates.  I sent off another load of emails this morning to the boatyards in Richards Bay and Durban, so hopefully, I’ll get a reply today.  Today is Friday, so if I can’t resolve it today, I’ll probably have to wait until after the weekend (when we’ve arrived) to sort it out.  It’s so frustrating.

We continued motoring until 13:00, when the wind picked up to 8 knots, which was enough to fly the spinnaker.  It was a nice afternoon of sailing.  The wind gradually increased to 12-15 knots and at 17:00, we pulled down the spinnaker and switched back to the genoa.  By dark, we had E 18-22 knots and were romping along at 6 knots on a port broad reach with a reef in the main; a reef in the genoa; and at least a knot of current with us.

Wind picking up

The strong winds lasted for a few hours and then slowly dropped. At midnight, we were back to motoring for a couple of hours; and then we had 10-12 knots from the east; and then the wind backed, forcing us south; and then a trawler was passing by just when I wanted to gybe; and then after I gybed the main, the wind veered, forcing us further north...  It’s tiring stuff this sailing lark.

21 October 2017  Mozambique to South Africa (Day 3)
Our position at 07:00 was 25°35S 34°56E.

A couple of hours after dawn, the wind died and Glenys turned on the engine.  At 07:00, we were halfway with 250 miles to go. If we average 5.2 knots, then we will arrive at Richards Bay at 07:00 on Monday 23rd.

I downloaded two GRIB forecasts – at 1 degree and 2.5 degree resolutions.  Worryingly, the low resolution forecast showed pleasant, light 10 knot ESE winds for the day, whereas the high resolution one showed strong S 20-25 knot winds 50 miles ahead of us.  There was a very defined north-south line between the strong southerlies and the lighter north-easterlies.

Des Cason sent me an email saying “If you go west of 34E you will cross a shear line between two systems – the southerly component on the coast and the outer west edge of the high pressure south of Madagascar generating the NE/E conditions.  By 1800UTC, it’s back to SE10.”  We changed from our south-west course and headed south down the 34°50E longitude line.

The other worrying change on the weather forecast is that the next strong southerly will now hit Richards Bay at midnight on Monday 23rd instead of the morning of Wednesday 25th.  Our current ETA is 07:00 on Monday, so we now only have a 18 hour safety window to get to Richards Bay – the race is on.

High Res Grib showing shear line

I had another flurry of emails about berthing and haul-out  - it’s great having email via our satellite phone.  I contacted Jenny Crickmore-Thompson, who is the Durban representative of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC).  We’re planning to become members of the OCC when we get to South Africa and, despite us not being members yet, Jenny has taken up the gauntlet and contacted the various people at Durban marina and boatyard.  

The admin office at Durban marina contacted us and offered us a berth in their marina from Monday.  Unfortunately, Durban is 80 miles further than Richards Bay and the strong southerly winds are due to get there only three hours before we could make it, which is too tight for me.  Perhaps we’ll spend a week in Richards Bay and then head down to Durban to haul-out and be on the hard when Craig arrives from the UK.

We continued motoring south with zero wind until 14:00, when I cracked up and changed course to south-west heading directly for Richards Bay.  The nil wind conditions continued for a couple of hours and then, within the space of 10 minutes, the wind increased to 15 knots from the south.  We put a couple of reefs in the main and sailed hard on port tack heading WSW rather than SW, but at least we were sailing again.

The wind was fluky for the next 3 hours, varying in speed and direction.  We had steep 2-3 metre waves from the south, so in the lulls, we were being stopped dead by the waves.  It was frustrating – I had to turn engine on a few times because I didn’t want to keep reefing and un-reefing the sails.  

Eventually, by 19:00, the wind settled down to SE 15, so with all the sails out and a single reef in the main, we were able to sail along at 5-6 knots with enough power to get through the waves.  Our route took us along the 1000 metre contour towards Jesser Point and, at 26°31S 34°15E, we had 2.5-3 knots of current with us.  

A large pod of Dolphins hunting

On our radio net at 19:00, everyone gave their positions and our little fleet is spread out over 100 miles. Alba is roughly in the middle, with the faster boats 40 miles ahead of us.  Some of the boats that are ahead of us crossed the 34°E shear line early this morning and had tougher conditions with 20-25 knot south winds all day, so I’m glad we headed south this morning.

However, the weather wasn’t going to let us off lightly and a persistent drizzly rain set in.  The wind picked up to 20-25 knots from the SE for a couple of hours putting us on a very bouncy close reach. I had to reef a few times, ending up with 2½ reefs in the main and just the staysail.  Even with that small sail area, we were cracking along at 6.5-7 knots , which combined with the strong current was 9.5-10 knots over the ground.

On Glenys’ 10-1 watch, we passed through some kind of localised weather system. The wind backed and died off to 8 knots from the north-east and it rained. Despite changing the sail plan to wing on wing, the wind and sea was so confused that she had to run the engine for an hour before it settled down to SE12-15.  The seas calmed down, so the remainder of the night was pleasant, but very dark with no moon. 

22 October 2017  Mozambique to South Africa (Day 4)
Our position at 07:00 was 27:14S 033 19E.

Dawn brought us 100% cloud cover; SE 10-15 winds and more than 1.5 knots of current with us.  At 07:00, we had 120 miles to go, so there was no way that we would make it to Richards Bay before sunset.  If we average 5.5 knots then we’ll arrive at dawn tomorrow. Once again, we’re having to slow down to arrive in daylight.

Entering the main port of Richards Bay at night is not a problem, but visiting yachts have to go alongside a concrete wall next to the Tuzi Gazi small boat marina and it looks like a tight place to manoeuvre.  Some of the bigger, faster boats will get in about 21:00, which will okay as long as there’s someone around to help find a berth and tie up, but I don’t fancy attempting it in the pitch black after midnight. 

Still doing 7 knots over the ground

The weather forecast is for the SE winds to back to the NE and increase to 20-25 knots overnight.  This won’t be too bad because the wind will be directly behind us. However, with the Agulhas current pushing us south, we might struggle to slow down tonight, so we dropped the main sail and spent the morning bobbing along at 3-3.5 knots through the water (still 5 knots over the ground).

It was a very pleasant morning, the sun came out and the motion was comfortable.  We even had a pod of dolphins pass by.  It was a huge group and they were in hunting mode, leaping out of the water as they pursued their prey at high speed. They didn’t bother to come and play in our bow wave.

At midday, we were surprised to hear an announcement on VHF 16 for a weather broadcast from Capetown Radio.  There are repeater stations all the way along the South African coast and we picked up the weather transmission on VHF 03 (other channels in the area are 01, 24 &25).  We were 20 miles from the coast and it’s nice to know that we’re now within radio range of the authorities. Just after lunch, Glenys spotted land and we turned south, with only 80 miles of coastal sailing remaining to Richards Bay.

The wind slowly picked up during the afternoon and, by 16:00, we had NE 25-30 knots and 3 metre seas throwing us around.  Our sail plan had been reduced to a tiny 3 sq.m. of genoa, but we were still doing 7 knots over the ground, pushed along by a 3 knot current.  Fortunately, the wind dropped to 20-25 knots at sunset, so we were able to slow down a little bit.

Our friends on ”Jackster” had been gradually catching us up and, when they were within 20 miles, I was able to have a chat with them on the VHF.  Jacqui had the GPS coordinates of an anchorage that “Yolo” reported (at 28°48.2S 32°04.7E, 8m deep), which is just next to the main channel inside the port.  “Jackster’s” plan was to sail comfortably and anchor at this spot if they arrive at night. 

I had not seen this anchorage when researching into Richards Bay and was uncertain whether the Port Control would allow visitors to anchor there, so I fired off an email to various cruising friends.  Des Cason came back and said that the Port Control don’t care where you go once you have entered the port.  Tom from “Adina” replied with GPS coordinates and depths, suggesting that we anchor a hundred metres further north than “ Yolo’s” position to keep further from the main shipping channel.

Approaching Richards Bay

Glenys and I discussed this additional information and decided that we might as well sail at a comfortable speed and if we arrive at night we enter the port and anchor.  We let out all of our genoa, our boat speed picked up to 5 knots and the boat’s motion became much more stable.  I wish that I’d done my research a little better because we’ve wasted our time fighting to slow down all day.

By 21:00, the wind had dropped to N 15-20 and the motion was pleasant, apart from the occasional monster roll when a wave caught our stern.  With a speed over the ground of 8 knots and only 40 miles to go, we’d be there in 5 hours.  The sail just got better and better, the seas calmed down and we made good time, approaching the outer port limit at 01:30.

Before I could call the Port Control, they must have spotted our AIS because they contacted us and asked our intentions.  They took basic details port of registration, number of people on board, etc and then gave us clearance after one huge tanker exited and another smaller boat entered.  It’s a very busy port specialising in coal and there were a score of ships at anchor waiting their turn to pick up cargo.

On AIS, Glenys watched “Nathape” go into the Small Boat Harbour, so she called them up.  They said that the harbour was brightly lit and there was a space for us on the concrete Visitor's Dock.  The wind had dropped and it was very calm in the main port channel, so we went past the anchorage and directly into the Small Boat Harbour, where we managed to dock in front of “Red Herring” without any dramas.  

We collapsed into bed at 03:00.  We’re in South Africa…  

23 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
Neither of us could sleep past seven o’clock because we were too excited and wanted to experience this new country.  The Health inspector turned up at 08:00, quickly followed by the Immigration officer, who dealt with all of the seven boats who have arrived in the last 24 hours.  We had to get a taxi to the Customs office which is a few kilometres away, but we all shared a couple of cabs, which were very cheap at 70 Rand (£4) each way.

Meanwhile Glenys walked to the Zululand Yacht Club and managed to get us a space in the marina for a couple of weeks until we get hauled out on the 7th November.  The damn ARC World Rally has a load of berths booked and is clogging up the system, so we’re lucky to get a spot.   There was a forecast for some bad weather arriving later this afternoon, so we told them that we would go in tomorrow.

International Dock

With our administration done, we had a cold beer with lunch and then chilled out in the afternoon – well actually, we fell into an exhausted sleep.  A strong south-westerly arrived at 17:00, accompanied by lightning and rain – we’re so glad that we are here and not trying to race to Durban. 

The large group of newly arrived crusiers went out for a meal at a restaurant next to the dock - it was a loud evening with lots of tall stories.

24 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
We had a slow start to the day, waiting for high tide, so that we could go around to Zululand Marina. Glenys had her hair cut for the first time in three months and picked up two big bags of laundry.  Meanwhile, I sorted out my photos and brought my blog up to date.  I entertained myself by working out a few statistics.  Since we left Thailand 9 months ago, we’ve visited 9 countries and sailed 6,200 nautical miles with 450 hours of motoring. 

For lunch, Glenys went to local shop and bought some “Vetkoek” with a chicken mayonnaise filling.  This is a traditional Afrikaner fried dough bread, which is like a savoury doughnut.  It was very greasy and probably contained my saturated fat limit for a week.

We finally moved at 16:00.  I was a little worried about getting out of the corner where we’d tied up, but it all went well.  There was no wind and with the help of a few touches on our bow thruster, we glided backwards out of the harbour in complete control.

Vetkoek

There’s a shallow spot at the start of the channel to Zululand Yacht Club.  It’s next to the green buoy where you exit from the main channel.  One of the locals told us to cut the corner and the minimum depth that we saw was 6.5 metres until we entered the “dredged” channel to the marina.  Our waypoints were:  28°48.24S 032°04.93E; 28°48.19S 032°05.08E; 28°47.84S 032°05.01E; 28°47.80S 032°05.01E.  The shallowest spot was at 28°48.064S 032°05.052E, which was 2.2 metres LAT.

We were soon safely tied up in the marina.  Initially we went in bow first, but the French guy next door said that we’d be better off pointing south, so that when there is bad weather from the South-west, we take it on the bow and don’t get slapped up the sugar scoop.  As usual, backing into a marina berth was a trauma, but with a lot of pushing, we got in without a single bump.

As darkness fell, we wandered to the Yacht Club bar where we met some of the club members and had a good time.  A bottle of beer or a big glass of wine is £0.60.  They do meals in the evening that are also very reasonable - a huge curry and rice was £2.00.  We’re going to enjoy it here.

25 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
We caught a taxi to the airport to pick up a hire car that we’d booked online a couple of days ago.  The online price was only £10 per day, but when we came to pay for it, the price had magically risen to £30 per day - they automatically added the “super” cover insurance at 200% of the car hire price!  After a bit of hassle, we got them to give us the most basic insurance with an excess of £1,000, but the insurance was still £10 per day. What the hell, at £20 per day the car hire is a bargain. 

From the airport, we headed for the Boardwalk Mall, which seems to be the centre of Richards Bay.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a paper map (I left it on the boat) and having no access to Google Maps, we literally went around in circles in a residential district.  The second time that we passed a children’s nursery, I pulled in and asked for directions.

Land of the Braai

There’s no wi-fi at the marina, so our first stop was to get a couple of SIM cards, so that we could get online.  We bought Telcom cards, but we later found out that the coverage is very poor, so you’re better off with MTN SIM cards.  After wandering around the shopping mall for an hour, we’d had enough and ran away. 

It’s a sad fact of life that “first world” civilisation means huge, air conditioned, soul-less shopping malls.  There doesn’t seem to be any town centre in Richards Bay, just a series of shopping malls surrounded by residential estates.  We drove to the “village” nearest to the marina (Merensee), but that was just smaller and just as soul-less.  There are a couple of supermarkets, a few shops and lots of fast food outlets - KFC, Pizza, Burgers, etc. We're definitely in the Land of the Braai, because there are shelves and shelves of BBQ stuff in the smallest supermarket.

In the evening, we went out to the Yacht Club bar again and had the special which is called ”Eisbein.” This is a local delicacy and consisted of a huge slab of smoked ham hock on the bone - it must have weighed a kilogram.  The meat was very fatty and not something that we’ll have again.  To our surprise, one of the yacht club staff presented us with a bottle of champagne for being an international arrival.  I had to give an acceptance speech, which was very monosyllabic because I’d been extensively sampling a bottle of excellent South African red wine.

26 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
We had a very quiet day chilling out and recovering from our excesses last night.  We wandered off to do a bit of shopping in the afternoon and, in the evening, met Paul and Monique from “Full Circle” in the bar - we had a bit of catching up to do since we last saw them in Madagascar.

27 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
It blew a hooley last night.  We’re a bit exposed on the end of the pontoons, so it was bouncy.  We had another quiet day, enjoying being static after 10 months travelling. I pickled the water maker because we’re unlikely to use it until we leave South Africa in January - I think we’ll be mostly staying in marinas in the towns along the coast.

A south-westerly gale

Glenys spent most of the day working out where we want to go travelling - South Africa is so large that it’s difficult to decide what to see.  In the afternoon, we went shopping buying an ice box and a pair of binoculars ready for our safaris.

28 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
We were up at 05:30 because we’d booked ourselves on a tour to visit Eshowe about 80 kilometres away from Richards Bay.  The main reason for going was that for the past two weeks the Zulu followers of the Shembe religion have been gathering in their tens of thousands for a religious celebration. 

Each year from the 15th to 31st of October, more than 30,000 Shembe followers gather for a month of religious celebrations in the village of Judea near Eshowe.  The village literally springs up overnight at their yearly gathering place.  There is a tremendous emphasis on traditional dress and dance, praise singing, and the blowing of the Horns of Jericho.

There are two sessions of prayer and traditional “prayer” dances performed by five distinct groups. At prayer everybody dresses in long white robes (the elders dress in green).   At the dance, the men dress in traditional warrior-type gear, and older women in modest black and beautifully beaded dresses and headgear.   No shoes, hats, smoking or alcohol is permitted.

Shembe has 4.5 million followers.  The current Shembe, who is the fourth successor to the founder of the religion, is regarded as a miracle performer in the mould of Christ.  After services, thousands queue, kneeling to be blessed and cured.  

The Nazereth Baptist Church was introduced to the continent of Africa by Prophet Isaiah Shembe in 1910.  The Nazerenes believe in God the father (Jehova), God the Son (Jesus Christ), God the Holy Spirit of Ekuphakameni (Shembe).  The church observes the Sabbath Day.

Shembe Church

A Nazarene takes a vow that they may not partake of any liquor, shall not shave his/her hair.  Males will be circumcised on reaching 18.  They must be baptised in a pool of water.   They are not allowed to eat food which is “cast out” - like other Jewish-based religions, pork is singled out strongly.  These basic requirements need to be fulfilled to attain holiness. 

The Nazarenes can observe traditional values which are not in conflict with God’s will -  traditional African attire, dance and the Zulu tradition of speaking to their ancestors is not in conflict with the religion, so many Zulus are a member of the church.

Our guide Joe, was a 30 year old Zulu, who lives in a village close to Eshowe.  The idea of his tour was to see and understand the local way of life.  We started in the main town of Eshowe, which is like any other small South African town, with a KFC and a Spar supermarket.  The first thing that struck me was the lack of any white people walking around - just Zulus.

Joe took us down some back streets to the shop of a traditional healer called a Sangoma.  Generally the healers work from their village, but with the growing number of people living in towns and the townships, this Sangoma has set up a shop in town.   People can go into the shop and request remedies, which include bark, roots and tubers.  

Simple illnesses such as headaches or warding off evils spirits can be sorted out over the counter and the shop had a huge number of bins, tubs and bottles containing weird-looking stuff.   A popular request is for a Love Potion.  Joe showed us the outrageously pink liquid, which is smeared onto the face with the hope of attracting the opposite sex.

Zulu Traditional Medicines

The Zulu people believe in communicating with their ancestors and in traditional healing.  They believe that the Sangoma has supernatural powers of communicating with the ancestral spirits on their behalf.   If the illness or problem is complicated then they will ask the Sangoma for a private consultation during which bones may be thrown and read to determine the future and the root of the problem.

We headed out of town to the Shembe gathering.  Unfortunately, there were still rain showers passing through, so the dirt road was slick with mud and rutted.  We joined a long line of vehicles, some packed high with camping gear and people.  About ½ mile from the village of Judea, when the queue ground to a snail’s pace, we parked on the side of the road, donned waterproof gear and walked the rest of the way.

There was a real festival atmosphere, with tents erected on any spare bit of ground, cars parked everywhere and church officials dressed in white gowns directing and pushing cars around.  Whole families were piling out of their cars, donning traditional gowns and walking barefoot through the mud towards the church. 

We cheated a little and wore our sandals until the entrance gate into Judea, where we then had to go barefoot (with thick mud squeezing up between our toes.)  Glenys wore a sarong and I had long trousers, which seemed to be acceptable.  The “church” isn’t a building - it’s a circle of white stones.  The Shembe pray in the open air and fortunately, it stopped raining.  Men, women and unmarried women gathered in separate areas and there were so many people sitting on mats, that we were uncertain where to go.  

There was some confusion at times - Joe wasn’t a member of the Shembe church and made a few social mistakes… The church “wardens” eventually told us that we had to sit down - it appears that it’s rude to stand during a service.  

Glenys grabbed a prime spot next to some of the ladies, while Joe and I continued to squelch through the mud and eventually found a dry spot in between cars parked at the side of the road.  There were already two guys and three boys sat on mats and they graciously squeezed up so that we could share their mats.

30,000 people at a church service

It was a little bizarre - all I could see was the sides of the surrounding cars.  The preacher was being broadcast on loudspeakers, but I couldn’t understand a word because it was all in Zulu.  I eventually gathered that the preacher was reading from the bible, which went on interminably.  The only redeeming part of the service was when they sang a hymn.  The sound of thousands of people singing together sent a chill up my spine.  The harmonies were very reminiscent of the singing in the Cook Islands - beautiful.

We stayed put for 20 minutes to make sure that we were seen to be respectful of their service and then we sneaked out.  It was an interesting experience, but I wished that we could have gone tomorrow, when there will be lots of traditional Zulu dancing in traditional dress - it’s supposed to be spectacular.

Joe took us to his village about six miles outside Eshowe.  It’s in a beautiful hilly area and the village is very spread out.  Each family typically has a couple of hectares of land (a cricket stadium is about one hectare), so there’s lots of space between the houses.

A family has a number of buildings.  Traditionally the houses were circular with living/sleeping huts, a cooking hut and a separate building for the Spirits of the Ancestors.  Nowadays, a family might have one large house for most of the family with perhaps a separate building for the older, married children. 

The one common denominator is the Ancestors’ House.  Even if someone has a modern, fancy house, they will still have a traditional round house for the Ancestors.  The building is normally empty apart from a few mats on the floor.  The family will have sacrificed one or more animals to attract the Ancestors’ spirits to remain in the house.  

Zulu Family Enclosure

If someone dies away from the family home, then someone in the family will go to the place where the person died; talk to the spirit; and bring the spirit back to the Ancestors’ House.  Small branches from a tree are used to help the spirits return and there are often dried branches hanging in the Ancestors Houses.    

Joe showed us their Shembe Church, which is a circle of white stones.  The Zulus also place white stones around the enclosure for their houses to ward off evil spirits.  

We asked Joe about marriage and he told us the standard dowry paid to the wife’s family is 11 cows, which rises to 35 if the lady is in a chief’s family.  With a large number of people living in towns or townships, there isn’t enough space for everyone to receive 11 cows, so a cash settlement is negotiated between the families.  The number of cows is first agreed and then a price is negotiated for each imaginary cow.  The going rate is 5,500 Rand per cow, which makes a dowry about £3,360 - a lot of money for a villager.

It was a strange disjointed day, but we learned a lot about the Zulu traditional life.

29 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
It was a lovely sunny day, which was good because we’d arranged a cruiser’s Braai at the yacht club.  Des Cason, who had provided us with great weather forecasting and routing advice, came to visit us. Most of the boats who had come down from Madagascar came over to meet Des and his wife Nell.  It was a nice day, very relaxed with a few cold beers consumed by all.

30 October 2017  Ithala Game Reserve, South Africa
It was holiday time - we’d booked ourselves four nights in Game Reserve Lodges.  We were heading north to Ithala Game Reserve, but made a slight detour to the entrance to Hluhluwe Game Reserve to get a map to allow us to plan for when our son Craig comes out to visit in a couple of weeks.  We saw our first Elephant right next to reception building.

The main road goes straight through the Game Reserve and we saw some Impala and another antelope - very exciting.  We turned on to Route 66, which was good at first, but suddenly turned into a rutted, gravel road.   It seemed to go on forever, but it was only about 10 kilometres.  It felt very unsettling being in a little compact car, driving through the middle of nowhere, especially because we were down to ¼ tank of petrol and no sign of a petrol station. 

Nice Lodge

The road finally improved, but there was no petrol station until we arrived at the small town of Louwsburg, where there were two…  It seems that petrol stations are only in towns - townships and villages don’t count.  I think that it will be different as we get towards Cape town, but Zululand is very rural.  My tip for the day is “Don’t pass a petrol station when you have less than ½ tank of fuel”.

After buying some cold beer and wine, we drove to the Ithala Nature Reserve and to the main centre where we were given a lovely one bedroom chalet.   The “resort” is situated amongst trees at the bottom of an impressive set of cliffs.

In the afternoon, we went on a guided game drive, which was fabulous.  We saw White Rhino, Black Rhino, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, loads of Zebra and several types of antelope. The game drive cost R250 (£14) per person, which is a bargain for a three hour tour with an experienced guide.  The trucks take 9 people and there were only 7 of us so there was plenty of space and it was good viewing from any seat.

We had the evening meal in the restaurant – a buffet which was ok. They had completely run out of red wine because they had a big party of 30 people last night and another 20 person party tonight, so I had to walk back to our chalet and pick up a bottle a wine.  As always at a buffet, I ate too much food - when will I grow up?

31 October 2017  Ithala Game Reserve, South Africa
The alarm went off at 05:15 to go on an early morning game drive which started at 06:00. The animals are more active in the early morning and tend to hide in the bush in the heat of the day.  It was a little cold at first because we are in a mountainous area, but it was a great three hours.

Black Rhino

We saw the same animals as yesterday, but also found three Elephants on a steep sided hill.  There are 180 elephants on the reserve, but they are shy and difficult to find.  The park is 290 sq.km, but can only sustain 100 elephants because a larger number will strip too many trees and cause long-term damage to the environment.  The park’s solution to this growing problem is to shoot contraceptive injections into the elephants.

The highlight of the drive was the Rhinos.  White Rhinos graze on short grass and are very placid - almost like huge cows.  There are many White Rhino in Ithala.  There’s a huge problem with poaching for Rhino Horns, so many of the Game Reserves cut the horns off the White Rhino, which are easy pickings for the poachers.  

However, the Black Rhino (who browse on branches of trees) are much more aggressive and dangerous - the parks leave the horns on the Black Rhino.  We came across a male Black Rhino, who was very, very grumpy and almost charged our truck. We then saw the reason for his bad temper - a female, who our angry friend was trying to seduce, with no luck... 

Hiking in Ithala

We left them in peace and when we returned 30 minutes later, he’d gained favour and we saw them mating. After the event, he looked very serene with a post-coital smile.

We were back at the main centre by 09:00 and had a huge buffet breakfast.  After chilling out in our chalet for a few hours, we took some sandwiches and went for a little drive by ourselves.  We were very restricted because we didn’t have a 4-wheel drive, but it was nice to be able to spend more time watching the few animals we saw.  Impala are beautiful antelope, but they are so common that the guides always drive past quickly.

At 15:00, when it was starting to cool down, we went for a short 2 hour hike along the hillside above the resort.  It was a nice walk to a rocky view point.  After only one day at a Game Reserve, I’ve turned into an Experienced Animal Tracker and noticed that there were lots of signs of African Elephant - piles of droppings and the remnants of branches broken off and chewed.  It was a little worrying, especially as evening approached and there was more chance of elephants moving about.

There are more photos in our Photo Album section.