Onward to South Africa

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…