Sailing towards South Africa

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.