Passage to Rodrigues

22 May 2017   Chagos to Rodrigues (Day 1)
It rained a little last night, but we woke to good weather, with a thin layer of cloud and a 10-15 knot South-east wind.  With an eight day passage ahead of us, we didn’t bother to set the alarm, but we were still up at 07:00 and pulled up the anchor an hour later. Despite rather poor light, we safely negotiated the various reefs in the atoll and crossed the fringing reef without any problems. 

For the first 30 minutes, we were in the lee of the atoll, so with 12 knots of wind and flat seas, we had a lovely start to the passage.  The seas soon picked up to 1-2 metres and the wind increased to 15-20 knots from slightly south of south-east. This put us on a close reach with the wind at 60 degrees on the port bow, so the motion became bouncy, but we managed to sail at around 7 knots for most of the day. “Hokulea” left just after us, but being a 53 foot catamaran, they soon overtook us and disappeared ahead.

Leaving the Anchorage

We took the western route around the Great Chagos Bank, so our course started off at 235 degrees and gradually changed to 200 degrees as we skirted the reefs and islands.  Fortunately, the wind backed during the day, so we remained at 60 degrees on the wind.

Just before sunset, we had 18-22 knots of wind and we were screaming along at 7.3 knots with a reef in the mainsail, a full genoa and staysail.  This was far too exciting for overnight, so we completely rolled away the genoa and had a much more relaxing motion at 6 to 6.5 knots.  It was a clear night, with lots of stars, but unfortunately, there was no moon.

After midnight, the wind dropped to 10-15 knots, so we had to unfurl some of the genoa to maintain 5.5 to 6 knots.  The waves also decreased a little, making it a very pleasant sail.

23 May 2017   Chagos to Rodrigues (Day 2)
Just after dawn, the wind picked up to above 20 knots, so we rolled away the genoa again and pulled out the staysail.  By 10:00, we’d cleared the south-west corner of the Great Chagos Bank and were able to try to steer south.

The general trend in the weather for this passage is for the winds to increase by 10-15 knots as we head south – by the time that we are approaching Rodrigues, we are expecting the wind to be SSE at 25-30 knots.  Our strategy is to make sure that we have a downwind approach to our destination by aiming for a waypoint 150 miles east of Rodrigues (19°S 66°E).

Rather than heading along the rhumb line to this waypoint, we want to hedge our bets and keep well east.  We‘re planning to sail directly south for a couple of days (to 12°S 70°40E) and then, as the wind and waves increase, we’ll bear away 10 degrees for another two days (to 17°S 60°E).  That route should put us in a good position for a downwind run to Rodrigues.

Common Dolphins

In the morning, we struggled to head south, only managing a course of 190°, but the wind backed a little in the afternoon and we were just able to sail a course of 180° with the wind at 45° apparent.  Now that we’ve become used to living at a 20 degree angle, it was quite pleasant beating into the 15-20 knot winds with lovely blue skies. We occasionally had a big wave slap into the bow, sending a wall of water along the decks, but we were able maintain 6 knots during the day.

We encountered our first squall just before sunset.  The wind picked up to 25 knots, so we reefed the genoa, but it was very short-lived, nothing like the huge squalls we encountered in the ITCZ.  In fact, the last two days has been the best sailing weather that we’ve had for months.  The wind had been so consistent that we didn’t bother to put in our usual extra reefs as night fell.

However, during the night, we passed through a number of squalls, which gave us variable winds from 12 to 28 knots and some rain patches. On her 10-1 watch, Glenys rolled away the genoa and pulled out the staysail, which together with a reef in the main, gave us a good sail plan to weather the lulls and the stronger wind patches. As the night drew on, the wind slowly backed, so that we were able to lay a course of 180° with the wind at 70° apparent.

By the end of my 1-4 watch, the wind was consistently 20-23 knots, so I put a second reef in the main and we still screamed along at 7 knots with the wind at 70° apparent.  Glenys had 28 knot winds on her 4-7 watch, so she had to reef the staysail a couple of times. It’s getting tougher.

24 May 2017   Chagos to Rodrigues (Day 3)
Daylight revealed grey skies and confused waves.  There was a 2½ to 3 metre swell from the south-east with 1 metre wind waves coming from different directions, churning up the surface of the water.  During the morning, we maintained our 180° course with 20-28 knot winds at 70 degrees apparent, so we were able to bash along at 6 to 7 knots.

Bashing to Windward

The ride became much bouncier and we were taking more water over the deck, with occasional loud bangs as waves hit our port side and sent water hurtling over our sprayhood and bimini.  We have Glenys’ new dodger fastened low on the guard rails and the port side flap zipped onto the bimini, so for the time being we’re keeping most of the water out of the cockpit.

Last night, I could hear an intermittent groaning noise, which I suspected came from the block on the running backstay.  It’s very unsettling to hear a new noise and, in the dark of the night, my imagination ran wild.  In my mind, I saw the running backstay breaking, causing the mast to collapse, stranding us in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  I didn’t sleep very well.

When I got up, I greased the bearings in the block and retied a piece of bungee cord holding the block up.  Thankfully, the noise has stopped and I suspect that it was just the bungee cord rubbing on the rope of the running backstay.

A little more worrying is that the front lower shroud on the leeward side of the mast is loose.  I tightened the shroud before we left Chagos, but it’s still wobbling about when we bash into a wave.  I suspect that the mast is “panting” and bending forward when under load.  When I look up the mast, I can’t see any serious problem, but something is compressing or bending causing the shroud to go loose.  I’ll have to sort it out when we get to Rodrigues, but in the meantime all I can do is to worry.

During the afternoon, the skies cleared and the wind dropped to a more pleasant 18-22 knots, but veered by 20 degrees, putting us hard on the wind again and forcing us onto a course of 190°.  The wind stayed stable into the night, so I amended our planned route.

We’re now heading for a waypoint at 15°S 69°40E, which leaves us on this course of 190° for another 2 days.  We’ll then head for 19°S 66°E, which will put us on a course of 220° for 2 days when the winds are stronger and then it’s downwind for a day to Rodrigues.  I’m glad that we adopted the strategy of heading directly south for as long as we could – I think that trying to sail the rhumb line would give much tougher legs at the end of the passage where the winds are historically stronger.

Tensioning the Rigging

The night stayed free of squalls, so we had a star filled sky – it would have been lovely, if we weren’t heeled over at 20 degrees and being thrown around by the 2½ metre seas.

25 May 2017   Chagos to Rodrigues (Day 4)
At dawn, the sky looked like the depths of Mordor – dark and forbidding.  The wind veered by 20 degrees, so Glenys headed 20 degrees downwind, rolled away the genoa and pulled out the staysail, bracing herself for the storm.  The wind picked up by 3 knots and it rained a bit, then the wind dropped – a damp squib.

After breakfast, the wind dropped to 15-20 knots and the waves settled down a bit, so I tackled the sloppy rigging.  We ran downwind and I tightened all of the lower shrouds by one full turn each and tightened the cap shrouds by ½ turn. It seems to have sorted out my wobbly lower shroud.  The job took 20 minutes, so we only lost 2 miles of our precious easting.

During the day, we crossed the line of the Great Circle route from South Africa to South-east Asia, so we had dozens of big tankers and cargo ships crossing our path.  However, we only knew they were there from their AIS signals, we didn’t actually see any ships.

Life’s very tedious at the moment.  The motion is so chaotic that all we can do is read, eat and sleep (repeat three times a day).  We don’t feel seasick, just bored.  This morning, we started talking about living in a house on dry land – there must be a Freudian reason for that...

In the afternoon, the wind remained at 15-20 knots, but veered a tiny bit more, so that we could only just hold a course of 195° across the ground.  We had one strange event, where we went under a cloud and at the other side there was no wind at all.  We bobbed about, becalmed, for 15 minutes until the wind came back and then we were off again at 5-6 knots.

Crossing the Great Circle Route

I’ve been having a SSB radio chat with “Jackster” every evening at 17:00, giving them a position report – it’s nice to know that other people are out there.  Dave & Jacqui are enjoying themselves so much that they’re going to extend their Chagos permit for a further week - they’ll catch us up in a couple of weeks.

Yesterday, I sent an email to our friends Graham and Karen on “Red Herring” giving them our radio schedule and I was delighted that they came up on air – we’ve not seen them for 18 months.  They’re in Cocoas Keeling and will be leaving for Rodrigues on the 30th May.  It’s a 2000 mile passage, so we should be seeing them in the middle of June.

The night was very pleasant with a 15-20 knot wind and mostly clear, starry skies – unfortunately no moon.  We went through a few patches of light winds every so often, but they only lasted a few minutes, presumably after clouds went over.  The waves were less rough than previous nights. Ships continued to trundle across our route and Glenys called one up in her 10-1 watch to check that he’d seen us.  He’d already spotted us on AIS, but immediately did a course change to stay well clear.