Saturday, October 14, 2017

Landfall South Africa: A Whale of a Welcome!

Hoisting the South African flag!
When we entered the breakwater of Richard’s Bay, South Africa, on the afternoon of October 7th, 2017, it was difficult to comprehend that we had just sailed “home”. Our home is now in Florida, but South Africa will always be our homeland, and a trip that usually takes about 18 hours by air from the USA, had now taken us 18 months! 

We left Mayotte a week before, early on the morning of September 30th, and headed out of the southern pass in absolutely no wind at all. But it didn’t take too long, and soon enough we were sailing, heading South, towards the Mozambique coast, and ultimately, South Africa. Our initial track looks like we possibly had had a glass of wine too many, as we negotiated the confusing current. One moment it was ripping towards the left, pulling us East towards Madagascar, the next, it was ripping in the opposite direction, pulling us West towards Mozambique. It was every direction except south, the current assist we were looking for!

Leaving Mayotte:  Not a breath of wind!

Our track from Mayotte to Richard's Bay
On about the 3rd day, we saw quite a few ships, and I felt like radioing them, and saying, “Excuse me, have you seen the current? We’re looking for the Mozambique Current…”, but still it was nowhere to be found. Dave downloaded some current maps, and plotted a waypoint on our chartplotter, and we headed toward a point that indicated the start of the stronger flowing southerly Mozambique current.

We saw this HUGE tanker less than a mile off our starboard side.  We chatted with the radio operator...they had loaded up with crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico and were on their way to India!

And then we found it. It was great…between one and two knots of current assisting us and helping us make good speeds. We soon noticed a pattern: during the day, there was no wind, and we motored. By sunset, the wind would pick up, and during the night, we’d have lovely, south easterly winds, and we were able to have a lovely sail. For 2 nights in a row, with the help of the current, we were able to do between 8 and 10 knots of boat speed. That resulted in a couple of 190 mile days (when our average is usually between 150 and 160). The further south we got, the closer we watched the weather. We could already see the infamous south westerly blows that come up the South African coast on our Predict Wind weather forecasts, and we did not want to be caught in one!

Can you say "becalmed"?!  Somewhere off the Mozambique coast

Soon we were at a crossroads. We could see a front coming through that would hit Richard’s Bay, our destination, around October 8th. We were unsure if we could make it by then, and had to decide if we should stop, and wait for a clear window, or make a go of it. There are 3 safe places to sit and wait out bad weather in Mozambique; Bazaruto, Inhambane and Maputo (Inhaca Island). We knew we could make it to Inhambane, so, although we had heard great reports on Bazaruto, our desire to get to South Africa was much stronger, so we skipped it and carried on towards Inhambane. As we neared the point of Inhambane, we had to decide…do we stop here, and wait, but if we did that, we might be stuck there for over a week, because the weather showed 2 South Westerlies within very close succession, and we would have to wait for the second to pass before we could move again. Or, we could make a dash for it, and, if it got bad, we could divert to Maputo and wait there.

Just as luck would have it around this time, we received an email on our satellite phone from Chris Sutton, an old sailing friend of Dave's that lives in Durban and has been involved in shipping for many years. He offered to send us the latest and greatest weather forecasts that they use to route ships! "Yes please" we can never have too much weather information!!! So with that we received the latest professional local area forecasts from Chris, and together with our on board Predict Wind routeing software, we set about making some tough calls on what to do! Thanks Chris for that help and for organizing us a berth at Zululand Yacht Club!

Sunset as the wind starts to pick up

We decided to keep going, and had one last calm day of motoring. We used this to prepare for the remainder of the trip. Dave topped up our diesel tanks, using the fantastic system he and his dad designed and built. We had used the system many times to top up our tanks from jerry cans, but this was the first time we had to do it at sea. It was nice and calm, so no problem at all. I also used the day to prepare some food, so I didn’t have to cook in rough weather. I made hard boiled eggs,  a big pasta salad, and some potato salad, and secured anything that could go flying. As we rounded the point at Inhambane, we were met by the remnants of the last South Westerly. The winds were not overly strong, between 12 – 15 knots, but we were going straight into it, and it was very uncomfortable. The boat slammed through the waves, up and down and side to side. We tried all sorts of different angles, but nothing really helped. It just was what it was, and we knew it would pass. We still had current with us, and this helped our boat speed, and, in checking on the arrival of the next South Westerly, it looked like we would make it. So we kept on going! 

Dave pumps diesel from jerry cans into the main tanks.  Thank GOODNESS we are able to carry so much extra diesel!

Precious, precious diesel

Grin and bear it...we just kept going!
Overnight the wind died, and eventually the sea state improved. By Saturday morning, October 7th, we were motoring again, and we woke to see the dunes of Kwa Zulu Natal’s north coast on our starboard side. It was a beautiful sight! After 8 days at sea, any land is a sight for sore eyes!

Sand dunes and KZN's wild north coast

And then we started seeing a sight that was even more beautiful…whales! So many whales!! 

Whale Tail!

The entire day, as the wind switched to a northerly, allowing us to put our spinnaker up, we dodged the whales and marveled at them. They were jumping, and tail slapping and fin slapping and puffing and diving and mellowing out of the surface! Eventually Gaby and I sat on the bows, on “whale watch”, and Dave and Ben were at the helm, dodging them according to our instructions!

Gaby on whale watch

Ben spots them through the binoculars while Dave looks on

We were treated to one spectacular show where, we assume, a mother was teaching her calf how to tail slap. A big tail would come up, slap the water, and then a little tail would come up and slap the water, and then it would repeat. For about 20 minutes it continued until they came up together! It was truly a spectacular sight, and one we will not forget easily! What a welcome to South Africa!

Mom and baby slapping tails
Too soon we had to leave the whales behind, and we entered the port of Richard's Bay.  It was a strange feeling, coming "home"...we had 21,000 miles under our belt, and we were two thirds of the way around the world!  We were looking forward to having a rest and spending some time with family and friends and soaking up some of the spectacular beauty this country has to offer!  Cool Runnings had officially made it to South Africa!

The International Dock at Richard's Bay...we tied up in that empty spot

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