Diary of a Passage, the dreaded Mozambique Channel.
Mtwara, Southern Tanzania.
The morning is misty and grey as I drag myself out of bed. I woke up at 4.30 am. A bundle of nerves and anticipation of the journey ahead.
Thankfully there is no wind for the initial trip out the large bay we are deep inside. When we had sailed in, the wind was honking and we were surfing down breaking waves, so the thought of heading out into that had not been pleasant.
Mtwara has been our staging point for this passage, a sleepy little town near the Mozambique border, where we had come to clear out of the country with immigration and customs, restock on vegetables and wait for the weather to be as good as it would get for our daunting passage south to Richards Bay, South Africa.
This usually is the most technically challenging passage on a circumnavigation. The dreaded Mozambique channel can be difficult and unpredictable at times, and this is during the usual sailing season of Sept to Nov, not in hurricane season like we are attempting to do. We are now leaving on the 7th of March, less than ideal…
We had thought we would go to Madagascar and spend 4 or so months there before we did this trip, but they have covid running rife and no plan in place to deal with it effectively, along with their yearly cases of the plague rising again.
Yes, you read that correctly. The plague. Like the oldest pandemic in history. Great. Let’s go there….
So sadly our plans had to be altered and with essential components of the boat having had failures in the last couple of months, we have made the decision to head to South Africa where we can have work done and get things repaired and replaced at a reasonable price.
Tanzania is not effective or efficient at having things shipped to. They gorge you with taxes and import duties, even with our Vessel in Transit status – which should give us tax-free delivery of boat parts. Ha, no such luck here. They will charge you on anything they can, and we dreaded the thought of having the new sail we need to be shipped here. Thousands of dollars of sail means a ton of taxes and ‘fees’ to have it released. It wasn’t going to be an option.
So here we are. Staring down the barrel of the channel in the wrong season and heading off again.
We have waited and waited for the weather to open up a window for us. And finally it has.
Winds looks light very light for at least half of the passage, so a lot of motoring, and then it does fill in and not in the NE/downwind run direction we had hoped for, but a SE direction, which will be fine as long as we choose our path carefully and head out to the middle of the Mozambique channel to be able to turn back in when they fill in. (look at me all sailor and wind talk these days!)
So a calm and windless morning to depart on is ideal.
Anchor is lifted and off we headed, alongside our friends on another catamaran, who we met in Tanga, who are also doing the trip. For them, it is just a hop to Pemba in Mozambique, but it’s nice all the same to have someone else alongside for part of it at least.
Current forecast and weather forecasts are checked for the last time, and we message family and friends frantically as we slowly head away from land and cell reception. We will be offline for maybe 10 days.
The kids beg for PlayStation immediately and we give them the go-ahead, wondering if we give them free reign over their choices for spending their time, that they will get sick of it in a few days…. We will see!
Dolphins swim between the 2 yachts, a goodbye visit for us. We had dolphins on arrival in East Africa, and now we see them swim casually by, as we depart.
It’s fitting really!
A few hours later I go to hand the captain up a slice of banana bread and have something fly out into my face, a bat? A bird?
Oh no, we have a hitchhiker on board….
A tiny little bird, the size of a waxeye, had landed on our boat sometime this morning while we were lifting the engine off the dingy and securing it to the boat.
He or she is now miles from land and will likely die if it heads off.
We catch it and pop it in a container with some water and the kids are delighted with their new hitchhiking bird friend! We say we can keep it until we get closer to land and then release it with a chance of it making the trip.
The joy in their faces! They have long wanted a pet bird, the junior pirates that they are, and cannot believe their luck!
There are naming discussions and questions on what to feed it.
Libby, ever the bird girl, manages to catch the 3 or so flies that somehow also made it onto the boat (flies are generally not on board but we had been quite close to land at anchor in Mtwara), and little Sergent Hoppy, as he has been named, gobbles them up! It’s hilarious to watch and the kids are overjoyed!
They set him up in a home with a bottle capful of water and all kinds of treats in his box, ecstatic that we had a pet for now!
Slowly the wind fills in as predicted and we have a cracking sail for most of the day. Flying along with the ocean folding gently below us, we soon loose sight of our buddies, Waterhorse just won’t slow down. We let air out of the sails to try and slow her, she goes faster still. So with the thought of 1300nm ahead of us, we radio to say bye and we take the run.
Soon they are a dot in the distance before they melt into the horizon, white sails blending with the shimmering ocean.
Dinner is uneventful, aside from talk of the new pet and soon it is time for my sleep.
When we left New Zealand we would do 3 hours on and 3 off for watches. But we never found we got enough rest. As the years have gone by and more passages have been achieved, we have switched to 6 hours each so we at least get a decent rest.
The captain wakes me at 12.30am, my coffee made and him ready for bed.
All lights are off tonight. Normally we would run with our navigation lights, stern lit white and forward lit red and green, but tonight nothing is on. Not even the blue led lights we have in the main area inside.
Tonight we are passing Cabo Delgado area of Mozambique, which is a hotbed of insurgents and fighting at the moment.
This particular area of Mozambique is rich in natural gas reserves and a group of Islamic militants have decided that they should control it and have been causing a ruckus. Late last year there were several events, with the worst being a random attack on a village on the Mozambique/Tanzania border where a large number of people were beheaded and houses burnt.
We had always known this was going on and in the whole 3 years, this is the only really bad area we have come across that is totally necessary to avoid.
We didn’t even really want to go to Mtwara, being so close to it all, but we needed to for clearance and re-stocking on diesel and food.
Mtwara turned out to be a kind and gentle place and safe now with the extra military forces that have been sent to monitor the area by both governments.
But tonight we go dark. We have headed out off the coast by 55 miles too, to avoid it at all costs.
Normally we would have run closer down the coast but not here.
Most of the fighting is land-based and not much of it involves sea-based attacks, but still. No chances taken
We hear that the military has been using helicopters to blow up any smaller boats they see down in the area to try and restrict the ability for these terrorists to be able to move, so that is also a reassuring feeling.
I sit on the roof in the beanbag and drink coffee. The moon is not yet up and there is phosphorescence streaming out the back of the boat, like two milky way galaxies, leaving a trail of stars in the water.
It is magical. Sometimes a flying fish jumps out of our path and makes a bright blue splash on landing.
The winds are gentle and the swell is rolling and I tick away the hours watching Netflix, snacking on treats and making slight sail changes.
As the sun rises the children wake, eager to see their little bird friend.
For once there is quiet in the boat and I’m not having to tell them to shush while the Captain sleeps.
They take the bird down to Noah’s room and let it fly around and feed it treats.
As the wind dies completely, I get Emelia to help me drop the flogging mainsail. Gently, gently this passage, with the broken and repaired parts in place!
The sun rises like a giant ball of lava, slowly making its crawl above the horizon and lighting my morning.
There is something different about an African sunrise, especially when it is so full and round like this. Perfection
I only wish I had a camera that could capture it.
With the motion of the boat changed as we turn to the swell to drop the sail, the captain wakes up and so it signals my turn for a nap! Yussss.
I wake shortly before lunch and get Emelia prepping a tray of nachos, with pre-cooked chilli I had made.
Man, I have a hankering for some sour cream. Adding that to the list of things we will be able to find readily in South Africa. It’s been years since it was in ready supply and I miss it. In fact all dairy has been expensive and hard to find.
The list also includes things like a decent hairdresser. I tried 4 different ones who all managed to ruin and cut off the majority of my hair while in Tanzania, I can confirm there is NOT a competent hairdresser to be found!
Also on the wish list… Good wine, a decent burger, and stone fruits. Oh man, the dreams!
I drag the children away from watching their bird swing in the hoop they have made from the hand towel holder from the bathroom. It’s very cute and it seems very calm and settled, being patted and chatted to.
After lunch we motor-sail over St Lazarus banks. A shallow area of sand and coral in the middle of the big blue. A world renowned fishing area, rising up to 15m depth from the thousands of meters of ocean all around it.
Fish are plentiful here, we see them skipping the surface, big fish chasing flying fish, schools of rainbow runners and mackerels.
All lines are out and we land a decent wahoo. A billfish also had a go one on lure and we saw its fin flash, but thankfully (says me, not the captain) it didn’t take it and we continued on our way. Our slow windless way.
We haven’t hit the famed Mozambique currents yet that run down this coast. Speeds can reach up to 4 knots, and we will be running with it, so that will give us a nice boost on these days of calm.
Suddenly Emelia comes upstairs with the bird. Something has happened. The poor little thing has gone very limp and with a handful of twitches, it slowly dies in my hands.
Oh my. Their faces break when I tell them what has happened. How? they ask? Why?
I’m not sure what could have caused it. Maybe something it had been fed, maybe just being shut up in a boat or maybe it got a fright or hit its head while flying in the bedroom, but it is heartbreaking for them all.
They dissolve into tears while we gently wrap it in tissue and give it a sad goodbye out the back of the boat.
The afternoon is suddenly solemn. They so desperately want to have a pet and miss our giant cats we left at home with the Captain’s parents, but it is difficult to have a pet on a boat, and especially if we are not going to be out here forever.
What happens to a pet when we go back home? What about vaccination certificates and rules for entry into countries around pets. Some places are adamant they won’t let certain birds or animals into their country on a boat.
As much as we would love for them to have one, it doesn’t seem practical sadly.
A quiet afternoon is passed before an early dinner and they settle down to a movie while I head off to bed, with a little bed buddy crawling in with me. Libby doesn’t want to watch their movie so snuggles in as my hot water bottle.
A few hours later I’m woken with a start as I hear the prop whirling below our bed, and the sounds of strong wind…
I head upstairs to see the captain managing the boat in a big squall he hadn’t seen coming. It’s not as easy to notice without a wind instrument!
I ask if he wants to reef the sail, which means one of us going up to the mast and lowering the sail slightly, but he decided it is manageable with the sail we have out and we ride it out, 10 knots of boat speed and counting!
I head back to bed and leave him to it, the sound of the free-spinning prop going crazy, giving me an indication of the speeds we are getting. Sleep comes slowly and fitfully.
Later on, my watch passes uneventfully, which I was glad for. The wind dropped and so the mainsail was dropped altogether.
We are so conscious of the jury-rigged repair on the traveller car, and trying to baby the rig too, that we are just dropping it as soon as it starts to luff. All care on this trip.
Repair #2 on the traveller car, ugly but servicable
Sunrise again takes my breath away with its pastel powder rays extending from the clouds. This time a more gentle light to wake up to for my family.
The PlayStation/movie addicts slip into their games and screens as I slip off to bed after my watch is over.
Emelia makes us bread today, and magnificent bread it is. She is very proud, and rightly so, of the 2 loaves she pulls out of the oven as I get up.
I hate making bread. The endless kneading makes me hot and grumpy so I’m going to pass the job to her from now on.
The sea is flat calm like a pool, zero wind and the current is finally running with us. We are in the thick of the Mozambique channel current and have almost 4 knots running with us so we are racing along at 10 knots of boat speed while motoring! Yes!! More miles done now on easy street means less chance of being beaten up by any potential dodgy weather later on. I’m not a fan of that!
We cross several lines of current, where there must be upwellings under the sea, causing bigger swells and slightly choppy water. We comment that we are glad we are doing this part, the narrowest part, in the calm we have and not with any wind, as it would likely be unbearably uncomfortable if the wind was up.
The ocean is a deep blue, rays of light stream down into its endless depths and sparkle back at us. There is no rubbish here, even when we cross the current lines, whereas in Asia, those areas would have been a trash collection hotspot as far as the eye could see. It was heartbreaking seeing it all back there, knowing the sea life were eating it and that the problem isn’t getting any better.
The Indian Ocean has been noticeably cleaner, whether it is the strong currents that run through it, or the lack of people, but it has been a nice change.
We eat, nap, read, play cards, eat some more and pass this afternoon in relative peace, bar several disputes between children, a punch here and a kick there and off to their rooms they go.
Same thing, different location.
Noah, Libby and I make a pineapple upside down cake with half of a pineapple, the rest too ripe for the kids’ fussy tastes. They won’t touch them if they are just past ripe, so this is a good use of it.
They are cute as they help me measure and pour, mess levels are higher than if I did it myself, but they enjoy the activity and it produces a delicious result for us after our dinner.
As usual, I head off to bed and leave them to the tidy up.
Soon I feel a little person crawl in beside me asking to snuggle in our bed again because she loves cuddles so much!
How do you refuse that!!
She drops off to sleep quickly and I can hear her deep and restful breathing as I lay awake listening to the pelting rain and whistling wind as we have a giant squall roll over us.
It seems to go on forever, when in fact it is 2 pulling into each other and we are the cheese in the squall sandwich. Nice….
In a slightly calm moment, the captain calls me up to help drop the sail. Again, it is banging around for the wind is being sucked in 2 directions, not knowing if it is Arthur or Martha, so I leave my warm bed for a nice cool refresh, wearing my life jacket, tether and underwear – the uniform of all good passage making sailors when they drop sails in the middle of the night, right?
Back to bed I go to lie awake and be rolled around by the uneven seas.
I envy the little person beside me as she dreams away, oblivious to the drama unfolding above her precious little head.
Eventually, I get up, sleep isn’t happening so I relieve the cold and wet Captain from his post and take my place there.
I’m wearing my wet weather gear pants and a merino jumper for the first time in forever, the pants have not been used since the Pacific at least! I’m now glad I got them out before we left, in preparation for the cold weather we are headed down toward.
It will be strange not being in the tropics for the first time in 3 years!
Aside from the brief trip home, life has been shorts and swimwear for a loooong time.
We’re going to freeze!
I watch the radar as the next blob of red and green heads our way. Squall time coming up!
I had planned to turn down as the squall came toward us, but then see lightning flashing in the direction I was preparing to go. Ah, no thanks, I think I’ll stay my course and I plant my feet firmly on the fiberglass (it’s not a conductor, we learnt that last year thanks to Emelia’s schoolwork) and make sure to touch no metal, which we ride it out!
The rain lashes the boat and we surf down the waves. Fast, but steady.
I stand there with a towel wrapped around my shoulders, blowing in the wind like a superhero’s cape.
The superhero of cooking and cleaning and breaking up kids fights and running downwind from squalls in the middle of the night.
That’s me tonight, living the dream! Until my towel flies off and I have to make a mad grab before the wind whisks it away into the inky blackness surrounding me.
I watch the rain in the glow of the navigation lights, forward and aft of me. Glowing streaks of white in a dark surround. Sideways rain.
Slowly the wind eases and the rain decides to go sideways elsewhere and life returns to normal. If normal is flying along in the dead of night on a boat in the middle of the ocean where it’s so dark you can’t see anything, then yes, it’s normal again.
I roll away the flapping genoa, and settle into the next 3 hours of my watch.
Netflix is my friend. I downloaded a bunch of movies and series before we left.
I’ll just put it out there, don’t waste your time on The Last Czars. Worst acting ever, gave up after half an episode.
So I watch The African Doctor. A sweet, funny and somewhat sad movie, but nice to pass my time. It’s a Captain type of movie, meaning it has feelings and that kind of thing in it. Not my usual choice but I’m glad I did.
The clouds clear and the stars come out to mirror the flashing of the phosphoresce shooting out the side of the boat as we cut down the waves.
Sparkling sky and ocean.
What a treat.
I wake to the sound of line screaming off the reel, half in a dream state I rush upstairs to find the captain trying to slow the line as it is almost spooled.
Perfect! Fish time.
We had come in toward the series of sandy, palm tree filled islands that dot this part of Mozambique’s coast, on a tip from our new fishing charter friends we met in Tanzania, that the tuna were here! A slight detour for tuna? Why not!
And they didn’t disappoint with their spot. Boom!
With me at the helm maneuvering the boat and Captain on the reel the fish was slowly brought into the boat.
It’s silvery flashes through the water confirm our guesses that this is a tuna. Tuna do something different when they get on the line, they go deep down with their fight, not leaping like a mahi mahi or running like a wahoo, but deep, deep down.
It makes for an interesting landing of the fish as they tend to run down again when they see the boat, meaning they can get the line wrapped around our props or rudders. Not good.
This one is landed successfully though and we now have a nice chunky 20+ kg yellowfin for the fridges and freezer!
After all the excitement and blood bath that ensues with fish catching, I head back to bed, eager for a bit more sleep.
But what wakes up 2 hours later is…. Grumpy mum.
Lack of sleep has caught up with me today and I’m a pain in the arse to be around. Basically I’m a complete jerk.
Suffice to say the afternoon is not so enjoyable so we’ll skip all that part….
The sailing conditions are absolutely smashing though!
We have current with us again and are flying along at 9 to 10 knots. Nice speeds for a big fat ex charter boat like us!
We scoot along into the evening. Calm seas and consistent wind are blissful and I head to bed with my little snuggle buddy, with the whining of the props signaling the speeds we are doing.
All too soon I’m woken for watch. The stars make it worthwhile to drag myself from bed.
They are like a blanket covering the sky. No light pollution for hundreds of miles in any direction gives the most spectacular show.
I listen to music and marvel at their beauty, while trying not to make my head hurt thinking of the millions, no billions, of possibilities that there are other living beings out there.
If I go too deep in my thoughts, it gets too much!
I see a ship’s lights in the distance and busy myself for a while watching its progress, figuring out which way it is headed and wondering if it knows we are out here. The ship’s navigational lights are much higher up than ours, so I wonder if he sees us, or just on his radar, like I can see him on mine.
What do they do on board during their night watches I wonder…?
Something snaps me out of my contemplation, a grinding noise. Not a good noise.
Shit, the autopilot is not working.
This is bad. Just what we need with the list of broken parts we already are making do with.
My heart sinks.
As I shout for the Captain, the boat starts to spin and the mainsail goes into an accidental gybe, exactly what we have been doing everything to avoid, with the traveller car that is holding it down to the boat already on repair number 2.
I start hand steering while the Captain inspects the issue.
Yep. Autopilot is shot. The gears have ground down and are not working properly anymore.
We had wondered if this was what had been making a slight noise on turning when using the autopilot recently. Very luckily for us, we have a whole spare unit on board that the previous owner had bought.
Thank all the gods of sea and sky as the thought of hand steering for another 720 miles, or 4 and a half days, gives me the fear!
I stand and slowly keep the boat on a comfortable course, while the legendary, fix it all, repair anything, make it good again Captain replaces the entire unit. Not an easy job at the best of times and made less enjoyable doing it while moving.
He’s a fricking legend though and solves all our (autopilot) problems and we are back up and running within 2 hours.
My relief is strong. My hand steering over those 2 hours was average, and we were in calm water. I’d hate to be doing it in the bigger swells that are predicted for the last few days of the trip.
It might be a good time to get some practice in. It is an integral part of the boat and I take it for granted that it will just always be there.
The Captain heads back to bed, while I tidy tools and screw the cupboards back into place he had to remove to access it, then return to the hot seat at the helm to watch the moon rise and daylight make its slow, glowing creep over the horizon toward me.
Slow hump day of the passage today.
No fishing as we really want to get some miles done.
Very light winds so a lot of motorsailing. The predicted wind speeds didn’t happen which is a pain. We could have used a bit more puff to push us along.
The sea is calm and so is the boat today.
Using up the last of the bananas for breakfast that are past their best, we feasted on pancakes and then kids got the art box out I had bought in Mombasa for this type of occasion.
Paints, modelling clay, markers etc. All out to good use to break up the monotony and give them something creative to do.
They had a great time and it also had the added bonus of keeping them quiet while the Captain had a sleep. He struggles to sleep during the day so it was a perfect quiet time activity for the budding artists.
We get several emails from the weather routing man we are using who lives in South Africa. He has been sending us twice daily updates on upcoming weather, and along with our downloads on Predict Wind Offshore, we are keeping up to date with things.
We hear the weather in the channel can change rapidly and we don’t feel like getting caught in something horrible or having the wind blow up.
We had kept a course in the middle of the channel to be able to run down with the SE winds when it comes in, to give us a nice angle into Richards Bay, but now it looks like that wind is coming a bit earlier and likely a bit stronger than predicted initially.
We change course, run an extra passage plan and weather download in the evening and make a plan.
We have bailout stops all along this Mozambican coast for if it gets too rough and so we start to head toward one, which will give us a nice sailing angle (if we get any wind) and also an option once there, to go in and hide or keep going if we feel it is manageable.
I sit at the helm with Emelia, playing cards and trying to educate her on some decent music. I have a 90’s hip hop playlist of music and I play some for her, she’s not impressed and tells me my music sucks.
How can she! She has no respect!! A tribe called Quest, Lauryn Hill, de la Soul, Outkast, Notorious B.I.G, Dr Dre, Angie Stone, Wu-Tang, Method Man and Mary J. Blige….
Come on, this is real music, when it had a story and a meaning and was made proper.
When did this become not cool? Am I really that old? I sound like my mum used to sound to me, probably when I was playing this music to her, haha how did this happen!
Ah, well, maybe one day she will get it! It’s entertaining at least playing it all to her.
Tomorrow I’ll try some rock and see how that goes…
The sun sets spectacularly as I go to bed. There is an argument tonight that Noah wants to sleep in our bed, as he hears Libby has snuck in there the last few nights! She beats him to it though and takes up her place before he gets too much say, and being the little one, she gets away with it, much to his chagrin! I’m sure he will give it another go tomorrow!
Well. Day 6 was the day the perfect passage became the worst 24 hours, maybe ever on the boat….
The day passed nicely, we knew we would get some wind later in the evening and over the night, why why why oh why is it ALWAYS at night…
We were getting weather reports and advice from two South African weather routers and they had been spot on so far, as had our downloads off Predict Wind.
So it looked like 15 to 18 knots of wind, no big deal, we have had that and much more before.
We reefed the sails before bed, 1 reef in each, should be fine…
Well. No. I don’t know what happened to the forecasting but shit went down and it did so in a hurry.
The 20 knots of brisk breeze we had been getting for most of the late afternoon rapidly turned into 20 to 25, gusting maybe 28 to 35. When I say maybe, remember we have no wind vane so no wind information down below to us to tell us wind speeds and direction. That darn bridge in Kenya… Still paying the price.
So I tried to go to have my sleep and left Captain to deal with it.
It was hard to try and sleep. The wind had not only increased but the direction had changed too, so now we were smashing into it.
Ohhhh, my favourite….
With every crash off a wave the boat groaned and creaked, hating the conditions she was being thrown but still handling it like a champ.
The repairs list may grow with this weather hitting us, already we have the aforementioned wind vane, the new genoa we need, this one is patched after a tear while in Tanzania, a new mainsail traveller car, likely other broken bits and pieces the way this is all going…. I mean the list really, really does go on…
So I lay there. Trying my hardest to sleep, knowing that I would need it as it was shaping up to be a hectic night.
Then the Captain comes down and tells me we need a second reef in the mainsail. Oh. That’s no good. I think we have used the second reef only two or three times, ever… That wind had got crazy.
So on go my sailing gears, life jacket and tether strap to clip myself to the lifeline we run around the boat for while on offshore passages. Basically a webbing strap to hook yourself onto with a special strong tether to stop you going overboard in the worst case scenario. I think it would be really hard to end up overboard off this boat but it just doesn’t bear thinking about so on it goes.
Getting outside I got the full picture of what was really going down. It was madness. There were huge breaking waves and at least 30 knots of wind, likely getting close to 40 or more, the wind makes a special kind of sound at that kind of wind speed. Great.
The sail was reefed with no drama but a bit of fear and when I sat back down in the helm with the Captain and saw even with 2 reefs in the main and 3 in the genoa we were still flying down the waves at breakneck speeds. Not cool. It was wild and starting to feel out of control and terrifying for me. I was not happy.
Go get some sleep, the Captain tells me, I got this.
I try. The boat creaks and smashes and groans and whines as she battles through the weather.
This was not what was predicted. This was not fun.
I tuck myself into the corner of the saloon couch as I’ve found that particular spot seems to move less and feel the brunt of the forces less. Not that it matters too much cause shit is going down.
Soon he calls me back again, ‘we need to put the main down’. This makes me freak out and he can see it in my face, the wild eyed deer in headlights fear.
‘Don’t worry, he tells me, it will be fine, we will get there all OK, just gotta do this.’
Ok. So up I go again. Boat turned into the wind to drop the sail, leaping over the breaking waves that are smothering the front of the boat. It makes me feel sick.
I retreat as quickly as I can back to my huddle in the corner of the couch. I can’t deal with this. I start repeating my safety mantra I use in times like this, “we are always safe, we’re always safe”.
Again and again I whisper it to myself while trying to visualise us arriving at the marina, typing the boat up and getting off and kissing the dock.
It’s keeping the fear barely contained and as I listen to the chaos outside I let my mind wander where I don’t want it to go. Liferafts, dinghy down to tie to it, EPIRB, kids into it, grab bag, iridium phone, passports…
But no. This is not it. This is not how it is going to end up.
The Captain knows I’m not capable of getting up there for my watch at this time and he sticks it out. I eventually get an hour or 2 of sleep and I’m Shocked when he wakes me at 4 to say he just can’t keep my eyes open anymore. I hadn’t meant to leave him up there for so long.
I go up. I have to. There is no choice. The waves are crashing into the side of the boat and the ones that don’t roll under us spray the whole boat with angry saltwater.
Hatches that have never leaked have had water gush in through them as it roiled its way down the decks, the darkness intensifies it all and it’s almost too much, but I can’t give up now and I stick it out.
I see a cargo ship’s AIS beacon pop up on the chartplotter. Oh what I would give to be on that right now, 130m of stability and a whole team running the show. Ha, what a thought at this time.
They pass, a shadow and light show in the mess all around me. At least I know If it all goes horribly wrong there is other marine traffic out here….maybe for a rescue.
We run down on almost bare poles with a sliver of genoa out to keep Waterhorse’s nose up and us in a state of control. It is like if a giant picked up your entire home, twisted it from side to side in endless, sharp movements and then occasionally banged it onto the ground with vicious force, rattling the very bones of the entire structure and the ones inside you as well, while still twisting and shaking it around. Yep, that’s what it feels like on board tonight. Sickening.
And then, as if to add insult to injury, the engine I am running to keep up heading right sounds an alarm and I switch it off immediately. We have been having issues with this particular engine, an air lock seems to occur when it is rough or that side gets lifted out of the water often in choppy seas. Great. Just what I need.
I switch to engine 2 and keep on keeping on.
The sun is slowly starting to show its glow on the cloud scattered horizon and I have never been so happy to know it will be light very soon.
The light of day always makes things less scary and more manageable.
Though when it does finally poke its head up behind the giant thunderclouds, it is weak and insipid and the situation still looks as shit.
The kids wake up. Ever cheerful and unfazed with their surroundings, happy to see me and have their breakfast and turn on a movie in Noah’s room, as the Captain is in my corner spot in the saloon. I have no concerns on what they do today, as long as they stay inside.
The galley is a disaster. Everything has been thrown around, both sinks are stacks with bottles of oils, jars of honey and peanut butter that usually sit on the bench, a coffee jar and all the other random items that had decided to go for an adventure in the night. The kids had surveyed the surroundings and seemed so blasé about it. Are they even my children??
I’m so glad they are not bothered by the situation. They must have absolute trust in us and that is a good thing.
Eventually, the Captain wakes up, in a groggy and dazed state.
The sea is calming down ever so slightly and we see on the forecast we download that the worst of it seems to be done. If we can believe this one…
As the sea state rages a little less around us we discuss the jobs now needed to be done.
I head down to the engine bay to clear out some water and wipe down areas that water managed to get into after the waves had crashed their way over the back of the boat last night and the Captain gets ready to do the engine airlock issue.
Both are unpleasant jobs in messy seas.
Turns out his engine airlock was indeed that combined with a blocked carburetor, we think from maybe some sediment from the diesel tank that would have had its daylights shaken out of it and mixed anything in it.
2 hours later, all cleaned, new fuel pump installed, new impeller, hoses flushed and diesel engine no. 1 is back in action. Yuuuus.
By now the wind has dropped to a manageable strength and the waves in turn are slowly dropping, we decide to put the mainsail back up. We are a sailboat after all and have a port to get to. As quickly as darn possible now, too.
Remember the main traveller car that was repaired in Dar by our friend there. Well, it had been holding beautifully. He’d done a stellar job on a tricky part that takes a lot of stress and force. So we had been pretty happy.
You can guess what happens next in the story…
Sail goes up, yay, all looks good, one reef in it. Genoa rolled back out. Wicked! Going nicely, back up to good speeds, I head off to bed to watch a movie with Emelia, and plan to watch till I fall asleep, which shouldn’t be too long when I hear a shout….
‘Anneliese, the boom…..!!’
No. You’re kidding. Not now. After everything else, now this…
Yep, the repair had popped. Metal wire, thick metal wire had shredded. Crap.
Luckily we had a preventer ride to each side of the boat for this exact reason, in case of emergency, as if broke and the boom swung out too much it would take out our whole standing rigging, which holds up the mast, which if that goes down, well then there is a serious issue I don’t even want to think about.
I race upstairs and grab one of the preventer lines and pull as hard as I can to get it more under control as the captain turns up into the wind. I tie the boom off on both sides and we hurry to drop the mainsail.
We can’t believe it.
Anything else ya got for us right now, Waterhorse and mother nature….? Cause we’re about done.
All I can think of is that I am so glad this happened during daylight and in calming seas. Had it happened during the night from hell, I don’t know how we could have handled it. Obviously, we would have and it would have been sorted, but thinking of the conditions of the night before, I am so glad it chose to break at this moment.
So tally of events in last 24 hours….
Fuel pump stopped working.
Main traveller car blown.
Bathrooms repeatedly flooded with seawater x 2.
Kids beds wet from seawater in hatches we didn’t even know had a leak x 2.
Waves taken over the boat, more than I want to count.
Fear and paralysis in crew members x 1 (and maybe a touch for the Captain too)
Fun huh. Go offshore sailing people say, it will be such a good time and such the adventure. Yeah… Tonight I give it all up in my head repeatedly. I dream of stable houses, cars, schools, no night watches…
Well, it is what it is and here we are so we keep on keeping on, because there is no other option. If you really want to know how tough you are, go sailing I say…
Emelia has made us lunch and we sit together at the table outside and enjoy a moment of family bliss and laughter. Kids are a great distraction at times like this.
Plus the sun is shining and the wind has dropped and we are feeling tired but happy.
So tired that after lunch the Captain stretches out on the couch outside and promptly falls asleep.
Sometime while I am up at the helm he moves himself to the bedroom and sleeps for the entire afternoon, waking only at 6 pm when dinner is almost ready.
Just enough time for him and Noah to have another Fifa 21 battle, Noah is getting good now and beating his dad regularly, and it’s quite entertaining.
As much as I love to hear their cheers and battle cries, I am feeling seasick and tired as a dog so head straight to bed. No dinner, I can’t wait. It will be there later, cause I’m still gonna have to get up and go sit up top and do my part to keep us keeping on.
While I was sleeping, the autopilot had an issue again. One of the bolts had come slightly loose and it was not holding its course. Emelia had to go and hand steer in the falling light while the Captain repaired it, and she admitted in a very sweet note left for me that it was pretty scary and she thinks I deserve a medal for all my nights sitting in the wild darkness. I agree, though a large bottle of good red will suffice and I can almost taste it….
The Captain also finds out that the data plan we had bought for the iridium satellite phone has run out too. This is what we use to communicate and get weather updates, this also sends updates to the tracking site so family and friends can see where we are. Uh oh.
We can’t communicate with anyone anymore, and the tracker will likely stop. We can’t email the support guy in South Africa to load more data, as it’s all gone!!
It’s not so worrying for us as we are close to our destination and have a good idea of the weather coming, but more for the guys who have been updating us with reports and also family, who may think something has happened to us if the tracker is not updating.
We can only hope they realise what has happened, and don’t panic.
My watch passes uneventfully, aside from the rolling and sideways motion of the waves. Not the most comfortable angle for waves but infinitely better than the previous night. I’m not complaining. I even get to watch movies tonight. ‘The Boy who Harnessed the Wind’, tonight’s recommendation from me while at sea!
My early morning passes slowly. I see a cargo ship on the AIS and wonder if I contact them if they could send an email to my family to let them know all is OK. If the tracking is stopped they may worry something has happened, not being able to contact us now too.
I try to hail the ship on the VHF but no reply, so I’m guessing there is an issue with that too, maybe connected to the wiring issue up the top of the mast that also services the wind instrument. Great.
No go and they steam on past while we keep our course pointed for Richards Bay.
I head off for a nap and while I am sleeping the captain has the fun of avoiding another cargo ship that had likely not been keeping a proper watch and was bearing down on us. He had hailed them several times and they did not answer until he had changed course dramatically and they were almost alongside.
Their reply was we should have stayed our course. Hmmm, a 190m cargo ship 1.5 miles directly behind a teeny yacht, and they wanted us to trust they would make a course correction? It seems dangerous from their side and not the kind of seamanship-like behaviour we are taught, or expect out here.
After my nap, the kids are banned from their precious PlayStation and movies today.
Instead, when I wake up, jobs are in full effect, the whip has been cracked by the Captain and with a smooth sailing day, they work hard to get things around the boat polished and clean.
Lunch. Cleaning. Motor sailing with 1 engine on and the genoa. Thank goodness my repair on the old genoa has been so effective and it’s not given us grief.
The Captain jokes about if we will see a search plane or have any ships come to see if we are OK now that our tracker is out and we cannot communicate with anyone. Hmmm. I hope not.
All of a sudden fins are spotted in the water behind us! Whales! And dolphins!
I am at the helm and turn the boat to go and see what they are. This is fantastic!
A huge pod of dolphins surround the boat, leaping and playing in the bow wake and surfing down the large rollers in the calm and gentle ocean. It is magic!
The second larger lot of fins start to breach and flick their tails causing all kinds of excitement on board!
They ride up straight out of the water, their rounded heads like a miniature version of what a sperm whale looks like. Pointing straight up then slowly lowering down again, a whole pod of them. Unbelievable!!
Enthralled, we drift around with the 3 different species feeding and playing around us.
It’s moments like this that make this adventure all worthwhile. 200 miles off the coast of the border between South Africa and Mozambique we are treated to such magnificent creatures.
Yet again, welcomed across a border and to a new country with gorgeous marine mammals!
The high keeps us smiling all through the afternoon and even when Noah beats us rapidly in two games of Monopoly Deal, we still talk of our fortune at seeing the dolphins and whales.
The night continues and is quiet and gentle. This is our last night on passage. Tomorrow we will arrive into Richards Bay, and it will all be over.
It’s a funny thing, a passage…
In the beginning, pre passage, it is nerve-wracking and there is a lot of prep. Food prep, boat prep, crew prep, weather and routing prep, and then when you finally leave Port you feel nervous and excited about the days that lie ahead as well as a dread for the sleeplessness and potential issues you will face. Knowing there is no one out there to help you, you are completely on your own and must manage any situation that arises.
You do the first night and see you have made 160 or so miles toward your destination. It feels like there are an endless amount of miles to go. You look on the chartplotter and see the distance needed to be covered and it looks daunting and very, very far.
Then days slip by in a haze of monotony and tasks. Eat, sleep, sail, repeat. With breaks of amazingness that sneak their way in and enthrall you while on this incredible journey across the ocean.
All of a sudden, you look at your chartplotter and track and see your course, and realise that this is almost done and it feels like the time has flown and you wonder where have the days gone?
What happened with the last 8 days of your life and how did something that seemed so endlessly far away and long become so tangible and within grasp suddenly.
It’s a most bizarre feeling. It always feels like it is too much to handle and to take on, but then you just get on with getting on and piece by piece you don’t even realise you have chipped away at it and you have made your dreams, visions, and plans a reality.
It’s quite amazing really, what you can achieve when your mind is set to it.
Over the last 3 years, I have begun to enjoy passage time more. In the beginning, I hated them. The fear and reality of them was sickening. And I think that has to do with the first one being so full-on.
But as they have gone on, they have gotten easier, the weather has been more predictable the further we have gone, my sailing skills and understanding of the boat and the ocean have increased which has given me more confidence.
Yes, we do get surprised still, see back to 2 days ago, but then the enjoyment of the time away from everything is something I’ve grown to like.
No pressures from the world. No media. No news. No fake social media expectations. No pressure to be somewhere or do anything other than what are your day-to-day needs to survive. And I know that sounds dramatic, but out here it all boils down to that one thing.
There is nothing extra.
It is all focused on what is needed for an immediate purpose. No fluff and drama.
And I like that now and again. I think it’s good for us to switch off and be away from it all and I feel we are so lucky that we get to do this. Truly be remote and removed.
It doesn’t happen often enough anymore for people and it gives you a real perspective on what is actually necessary and good for you as a human. When we do go back to the hustle and bustle of city life, we can remember these feelings and pick and choose more carefully what we spend our time doing.
Maybe this is just ramblings of a 7 day passagemaker, but maybe there is some truth in there…
Oh, and because you’re also on your own in the ocean and can’t live out here forever!