Flying home for Thanksgiving

Rhino mother and baby

Rhino mother and baby

As mentioned last week, we booked our flights and today we are departing South Africa to head home to the US. We are so excited for the opportunity to see some of our friends and family. We wish we had time to do a proper visit with everyone, but that will have to wait until after we return with the boat to the US next summer. We need to return to South Africa right after Thanksgiving, so we can move Tahina to Cape Town before our daughters start arriving to visit us here and go to the game parks. We have a bunch of new photos to share soon from our second game park tour, this rhino is just a sample. I’ve also put up more animals from our first trip which you can see in the album below.

Meanwhile, our friends on other yachts visiting here in Richards Bay have been helping us recuperate from our stressful time with the boatyard experience here. We have been enjoying many nights out for dinner and drinks. The time has also been spent getting Tahina situated and properly stored for our trip. Tahina is pretty much ready to go when we return. We might get a few liters of fuel before we leave, and will need to put some equipment back out on the deck, but we’ll be ready to leave within a day upon our return (if the weather allows).

Here is the expanded album (79 photos) of animals from our first Africa game parks trip:


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Five Years on Tahina

Frank and Karen 2009 - 2014

Frank and Karen 2009 – 2014

On November 14, 2009 we departed from Carolina Beach, North Carolina beginning our circumnavigation of the Earth which we planned to take about 5.5 years. We are now in South Africa planning to return to the US next year by summertime. You can see here a picture from when we first arrived in the Caribbean, and a photo of us this year in the Indian Ocean for a comparison. I think we looked more relaxed in the second photo!

In celebration of our 5 year “cruising-versary”, I created a short 4 minute video that shows a selection of photos from the last five years. It highlights pictures of ourselves, the people who joined us along the way, the other cruisers we met up with, the places we went, pictures of Tahina, the sea and animal life we encountered, and even some of our underwater experiences. It finishes with a few photos of animals from Africa. Hope you enjoy it!

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Post Boatyard Plans

After the boat was in the water, and our important tests on repairs worked, we had a few days of putting our belongings back where they needed to be and a few unfinished tasks for the workers to complete.

Meanwhile, Karen and I took a day off and went on another game park visit and finally got to use our new cameras! I’ll try and process those photos soon, but we are happy with how the cameras worked. We also got to see some new animals, but just barely missed seeing a leopard (a car in front of us saw it and it walked out of view just seconds before we got there). New ones we saw included: a secretary bird (national bird of South Africa), African wild dogs (which are really surprisingly awesome and endangered), close-up encounters with giraffe, and a much larger herd of cape buffalo. We also saw plenty of the other usual animals like impala, elephants, rhinoceros, warthogs, and a huge variety of birds.

The big question after we finished with the boatyard was whether we would try to rush for Cape Town, or stay a bit longer in Richards Bay. We kind of wanted to get the boat moving, but the weather the next seven days was not good for passages. Our original plan had been to try and fly home to the US for Thanksgiving if the yard work got done soon enough. Although it presents a timing risk if we have bad weather after our return, we decided to go ahead and go for it.

So, we’re going to be home for Thanksgiving!

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Tahina Back in the Water

On Friday, Tahina finally got back in the water! We were on the hard for over 30 days and it was yet again a very “hard” time. Despite hiring a team of workers (at seemingly low rates) to do the work, it ended up being costly in both money and time. The “cheap” manual labor took a lot longer to do a lot of basic jobs, and the project managers didn’t always do their job of monitoring the work or checking that things were done right. I had to do a lot of project management myself, and ended up doing a number of jobs I had wanted them to do because it was more cost effective. We also had some rather surprising situations with vendors who were hired to provide material or services that managed to delay us and ended up costing us more money because I was paying the team based on the hour. It made getting the work done stressful, and not what I was hoping for.

That being said, after a month of work, and more money than we usually spend, we did get a lot of jobs done on Tahina that were on our list. We completed about 5 pages of one line items on our list from literally top to bottom on Tahina. Rigging work at the top of the mast to sanding and painting the bottoms. Several cosmetic scratches and small dings on the fiberglass were repaired. We took out all our stainless stanchions for the lifelines and re-seated them with fresh caulking so they won’t have problems for another 5-10 years. We also went ahead and pulled our thru-hull skin fittings (which were stainless and showing signs of corrosion) and replaced them with composite material ones from Trudesign (like the ball-valves we replaced last year). There were dozens of more such tasks done throughout the boat. The good news is that all of the major systems are now functioning well, and the boat is looking like new again.

One of the big items we were worried about for this yard trip was our sail drive that was not working in reverse on the port engine. We had it pulled out and sent to Cape Town to the only authorized Yanmar repair facility. The Yanmar team initially worried me because they said the didn’t really find anything wrong. He said he had checked everything. But, I spoke to them on the phone and described in detail the symptoms and what we had tested. They ended up keeping the engine another couple of days, I was worried because he had said he didn’t fix anything. But, when the saildrive got here one of the main symptoms was a test we could do while on the hard (the prop isn’t supposed to turn in one direction when the gear is engaged) and that was now fixed. So, we kept our fingers crossed.

After we finally got back in the water (the tale of our very traumatic trip on the haul-out device will have to wait for another day), we finally got a chance to test the saildrive. It seemed better when we backed to the nearby dock and parked, but that wasn’t a real test. Over the weekend, we took Tahina out for a real test of the saildrive and had a very troubling experience. The reverse did engage, but the engine started sounding funny. More tests, and it seemed to get worse and the engine was running rough. OMG, we thought, it isn’t fixed! Then the engine even cut off! While Karen steered the boat, I went down and checked the engine and it was really running rough. It even did it in forward. At this point I was pretty upset thinking of the major hassle of having to go back to Yanmar to have the boat hauled out again and the saildrive fixed.

Our friends from s/v Kilkea showed up as we returned to dock, and I started checking the engine more thoroughly. I had noticed it was idling very low so I adjusted the idle. When I tried to start it, it cut off almost immediately. Marian said: “What about fuel?“. And I said: “What a very interesting question!” I went and looked and sure enough, someone had accidentally turned the fuel valve off while they were removing the saildrive! Suddenly all the tests made sense. The engine was just starved for fuel. Duh. We had a good laugh as we all recognized such a classic mistake, but also realizing it was only natural for us to reach the wrong conclusion at first.

So, we went out again a few minutes later and tested the saildrive thoroughly and everything was working. Whew! They did fix it! Yay! Just another day of drama to add to our pile for this boatyard trip. I think the mechanic must have had another look after what I had told him, and found something to fix after all.

Tahina is looking good now on the outside. We have a lot of cleaning and sorting inside the boat because all of the upheaval fixing thru-hulls and stanchions. Belongings had to be moved all over the place. There are a few tasks still left to do that were uncompleted, but hopefully most can be knocked off in the next couple of days. We’re almost done!

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Pride of Lion at Night

Male and 2 cubs

Male and 2 cubs

While on our first visit to an African game park, we hired a guide for a night trip. They have large enclosed jeep-like vehicles with big windows and each row has a big spotlight we got to use. The highlight that night was definitely the pride of lions which decided to park themselves near the road. There were about 12-15 of them spread out over a 100 meter area. There was one male sleeping with two cubs laying next to him, a large beautiful female, and a large magnificent older male (probably the lead male) who were the highlights.

Male and female lions

Male and female lions

The female was awake and moving around a bit. The big male was just laying and half-watching/sleeping until we moved close with the vehicle. After a bit tired of us shining flashlights in his direction (but, trying to avoid his eyes), he got up, did a BIG stretch, marked the territory a bit, and then moved to a new spot. It was truly awesome watching these big cats in their natural habitat only a few meters away!

All of these photos came from a video camera we used because the lighting made it hard for regular cameras to get good photos. Later I hope to upload a video showing the highlights as well. But, for now, check out the slideshow below.


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Way too busy

We are getting down to the final week of work on Tahina in the boatyard. Things have been really crazy this week. Actually, the boatyard wasn’t the biggest distraction. The boat parts (and other things) we had shipped from the US 2 weeks ago was being held up by FedEx for stupid reasons. I may go into the full tale in a later post, but suffice it to say FedEx gave me hell for a week (after it was already here in South Africa) on a package I paid a substantial amount of money for them to deliver. Because the package was “yacht goods” for a “yacht in transit” no VAT or import was necessary. And, because the package was a small parcel, no clearing agent was required. But, a guy at FedEx insisted I had to hire one. At this point we reached an impasse for days. And there were major mix ups. After I elevated the issues up to higher levels (the manager of the manager at the national office) I finally got someone who listened, and immediately addressed the problem and made the people who were harassing me apologize. Still, I won’t be trusting FedEx to deliver a package to me internationally again any time soon. Still, I got the package in less than 24 hours after the manager took over.

We now have the parts needed to finish some of the jobs on the boat, and we should be going back in the water by early next week. The team we hired has almost completed all of the tasks that must be done before we go back in the water. They should be done by Friday for sure. There will still be some jobs the team will need to finish next week after we’re back in the water. I plan to do a post later that tells you more about the stuff we got done in the month+ we have been working.

Karen and I also now both have our birthday presents as well (Karen has a new camera, and I have a new pair of binoculars). And, I also have the new camera to replace the one lost to rain in Reunion. So, now we’re really anxious to go back out to a game park again and take even more pictures!

We are trying to decide whether to stay here in Richards Bay a bit longer, or leave soon for Cape Town. A decision on that will have to be made by next week. Meanwhile, more boats we know have arrived. Our friends on s/v Kilkea II and s/v Solar Planet arrived yesterday. We had dinner with Kilkea last night and celebrated their having crossed the same Longitude the long way (a technical circumnavigation even though it was at another latitude). And more boats we know are on their way.

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Photos of Wildlife from our First Africa Safaris

White Rhinos

White Rhinos

Last week, we took a three day break from the boat yard work to go on our first Africa safaris to see some wildlife. We teamed up with our friends Paul and Gina from s/v Solace and went first to the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Game Reserve. One of the advantages of Richards Bay is that it is near several game reserves. iMfolozi is less than 90 minutes away. So we left early the first day and were driving through the gate by about 8 AM.

African Elephant

African Elephant

One of the first objectives apparently is to try and see the “Big Five” – African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, African Lion, Black Rhino, and the African Leopard. These were the animals that were the most dangerous to hunt on foot back in the day when shooting with guns was more popular than shooting photos. Within the first five minutes we found the Buffalo, and saw many of them that first day. We also found many elephants as well, including some close encounters. Although we found many white rhinos, the more rare black rhinos we never saw at iMfolozi, but we did find them later. We hired a guide for a night tour, and we found the African lions, but I haven’t processed those photos yet – that will be in a future post. On this trip, we never find the leopard – but, we tried really hard. We were told they are the hardest of the five to spot.

Kudu

Kudu

The experience of going to the game reserve was simply amazing! To see the wildlife truly in the wild, with large dangerous animals like elephants and rhinos only a few meters away with no fences or gullies between you is tantalizing. And the animals were so plentiful and so many varieties. It seemed like every moment we were on the edge of our seats not knowing what new treat would greet our senses. One of my favorite photos is of this kudu.

We saw herds of impala, wilderbeest (Gnu), buffalo, elephants, zebra, and kudu. We saw many pairs of rhinos and sometimes rhino calves, and warthogs. We saw a hyena, a cheetah, a nyala, bunch of baboon, a genet, hares and tortoise, bushbuck, duker, banded mongoose, and another mongoose. We also saw many kinds of birds.

Close Encounter

Close Encounter

We had some amazing unexpected encounters. We stopped on a narrow section of road to let a car from the opposite direction pass, when suddenly I looked to the left (I was driving) and saw three rhino just 5 meters away! The closest was a female facing us, and a male was trying to mount her from behind. Karen and Gina on the near side of the car both started to take pictures and I immediately started moving the car forward, but they both said “STOP” (they wanted to take pictures). I said “Are you crazy?!” – that rhino might move any second. I moved us a few feet forward and sure enough the rhinos moved right into the road and stopped the other car from moving. It was an impasse for a few moments, but the female rhino snorted and turned towards the male and he ran off. She was having none of him.

Elephant and tree

Elephant and tree

A few moments after that several elephants crossed the road, we got this great shot of a baby elephant waving its trunk at us. Then as we went down the road we had a large bull elephant appear just a few feet off the road next to us. He clearly saw us and moved to a tree and pushed it up several feet showing us how big he was (as a warning I think). We got some good pictures and moved carefully away.

That night we went on a guided tour and we got to see a pride of lions. All of my night photos were taken with a video camera which I need to process still, so you’ll have to wait for those photos. We also had a close encounter with a giraffe who crossed right in front of our truck appearing in our headlights suddenly. That was when we saw several of the nocturnal animals I mentioned in the list.

The next morning, we hired the same guide to take us on a early morning trip. That’s when we saw our first giraffe in daylight on a far away ridge. The guide also spotted a hyena on a far ridge. We didn’t find the lion in the spot from the night before. We did spot several more pairs of rhinos, another herd of elephant and many impala, nyala, kudu, etc. We literally saw hundreds of animals in 24 hours.

I had been disappointed initially at the fact the weather got cloudy and even sprinkled rain. But, the guide told us far more animals are seen when its not sunny. Before noon, we drove an hour towards the east to St Lucia. There we planned to visit iSimangaliso Wetland Park. They also have a wide range of African wildlife, and lots of wetland animals like hippos. We took a river tour in the evening, a night guided tour (which was a bit of a disaster which I’ll write about later), and a drive through the eastern park the next day.

Hippo Mouth

Hippo Mouth

The river boat tour was the highlight. We saw many hippos in the water, and saw some amazing hippo action. We also saw a couple of nile crocodile, and a wide range of birds. My two favorite birds were the Fish Eagle, and the beautiful large Goliath heron. We went on the evening tour, and it was the best time to go apparently.

Here is a small album of about 25 photos showing a highlight of the animals. I still need to process some of the night photos which include the pride of lion we saw. I’ll try to do more posts with more photos this week.


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Back in the Boatyard

After we arrived in Richards Bay, we were told to tie up at the International wharf which is next to the Tuzi Gazi marina. A local sailboat charter captain gave us directions and helped tie us up. He also gave us a few tips. A little while after we arrived, the customs officials arrived. Clearing in was a simple process and they even filled out the one page of paperwork themselves by simply asking us questions. Unfortunately, immigration took another two days to show up, but the process was also quite simple. We were still able to visit the local shops and restaurants while waiting for immigration, so it wasn’t a major hassle. We only got 3 months on our visas initially, so we will have to extend our visas somehow before Christmas.

A friendly South African couple named Lawrence and Anne, who are members of the Zululand Yacht Club nearby, greeted us shortly after our arrival to welcome us and give us some orientation. Their boat is in the local marina. They offered to drive us around and gave us a brief tour of the Yacht Club. They also helped direct us to a place to buy SIM cards for our phones so we could get Internet. Very nice people, and they try to greet every foreign yacht arriving to the port. They apparently also are organizers for visiting yacht rallies like the World ARC which arrives here in a few weeks.

The day after we arrived, we had a nice gentleman drop by to meet us. He has been following our blog for quite some time, and is also a cruiser himself. He is a co-owner to an Internet service provider in the area and offered to allow us to come to his office if we need more bandwidth. He also does radio work and later came to our boat and helped diagnose and fix a problem we had with our SSB – at no charge. His name is Johan and his business is Planet Communications and reminds me of my old Internet business back in the 90s. Very nice man, and we hope to invite him to our boat sometime after we get back in the water.

We got our Internet on our cell phones, and started evaluating whether we would get our boat work done here or with our boat manufacturer who is at St Francis Bay near Port Elizabeth. It turns out the logistics at our manufacturer were too expensive and would not allow us to stay on board during the work. After talking to other boats who had work done in Richards Bay, we elected to stay here. We also were convinced that there are several excellent game parks within a short drive of Richards Bay, so we would be able to take breaks and do some sightseeing.

Tahina haulout ZYC

Tahina haulout ZYC

So, a week later, we made arrangements to have Tahina hauled out at the Zululand Yacht Club. We got temporary membership at the club, and moved our boat to their marina. We had to wait two nights so the yard could make room for us. Which was good because a gale blew through the area with strong winds for the two days. Fortunately, it blew past the night before we did the haul-out. The haul-out process was similar to others we have done where they arranged a hydraulic lift under our bridge deck and planks and tires in the right places. The process was a little more lengthy to execute, but worked well. It also took longer for them to clean the bottoms and that put us into Friday before it was done. So, the real work didn’t begin until the next week.

We hired a team of guys who would not only sand and paint our bottoms with new anti-fouling, but also handle a number of other projects we had one our list for this haul-out. Tahina is now 7 years old and has some wear and tear needing some TLC. The US dollar is much stronger relative to the Rand, so we can afford the labor here better than in some places. This means Karen and I won’t have to do a lot of the grunt work we usually do during a haul-out.

We hired a car for a month, because we were sure the work would take at least that long. We are using the car so we could go and get parts, get groceries, and maybe do a little sightseeing in the area. There are good shopping centers in the area and the supermarkets have lots of more familiar foods we found hard to get in southeast Asia. And, the prices are really good for us with the strong US dollar. The restaurants are also very good and we have been eating out a lot more as a result. Living on the hard is never fun, we can’t use the toilets on board, so we have to walk to nearby toilet facilities for relief and for taking showers. Laundry is convenient and there is a chandlery on site, and the yacht club has a restaurant with decent food at reasonable prices.

Workers in the bilge

Workers in the bilge

After three weeks, a lot of progress has been made. The sanding took longer than expected, but the work was thorough. A lot of wear and tear issues, electrical issues, a radio problem, etc. have been fixed. We also have had stainless steel fittings re-seated as they were starting to show signs of rust and would have soon leaked if not addressed. This includes cleats, the bow and stern seats, and life-line stanchions. We have had our watermaker serviced, hydraulic steering checked, minor fiberglass repairs, our deck wash pump fixed, our boom derick serviced, and much more. We also are finally having our raw-water intake for our generator moved, and the old thru-hull was glassed over. We have also ended up completely replacing the stainless bits on all our thru-hulls because although we had last year replaced the ball-valves, the old stainless tails and skin fittings were still corroding.

One of the first things done after arrival was the removal of our port sail drive. After the scheduled overhaul we had done in Malaysia last year, that sail drive developed a problem when in reverse where it was only giving minimal thrust. We suspected the mechanic in Malaysia had either made a mistake, or we had a very strange coincidence of a problem developing after we had a routine maintenance on a perfectly working engine. We have been suffering from lack of proper maneuverability since last November. The drive was sent to the one authorized Yanmar facility in South Africa in Cape town. After two weeks, they said the only problem found was a bit of wear and tear on the cone clutch. I got on the phone with them and made sure they understood the problem I was having and they assured they thoroughly checked the innards. They indicated they did everything they could do except for putting it back in the water. I’m a bit concerned that the problem isn’t fixed and we will have a further delay if we have to re-haul and send it back again. Oh, and they would have to pay for that.

We had to order some parts that have yet to arrive. I made the mistake of using FedEx to have a package with the parts sent from the US. The FedEx people here locally first insisted I would have to pay VAT on the goods. They didn’t seem to understand we are a yacht in transit, and that we are not importing the goods into their country. This is a standard arrangement for visiting vessels and provisions are made for this situation in every country we have visited. Eventually they asked someone and found we were right, but still insisted we have to have a clearing agent. This would be true for a large package (say a mast, or big sails), but is not true for small parcels. I will not be using FedEx any more unless I hear they have got their act together again.

While we have been on the hard, a number of foreign yachts have arrived with crews we know. Our friends Paul and Gina of s/v Solace we were particularly glad to see. We have been taking breaks from the boatyard by joining them and other crews at various social functions at the yacht club or at restaurants in the area. We have found most South Africans we have met to be very friendly and welcoming. In a later post, we’ll talk about the culture and other aspects of South Africa we have noticed since we arrived.

Primer coat

Primer coat

The light is at the end of the tunnel on the boatyard work. The picture here shows the primer coat on the bottoms. Since then two out of three coats of antifoul have been added. Despite the cheaper labor, the bill tally has been mounting rapidly. And, we have at least a week of yard work left, and possibly more as we try complete the final tasks. The saildrive repair uncertainty is a big concern. A number of tasks that can be done after we get back in the water will be postponed, so more work will be done afterwards before we can leave to start making our way to Cape Town.

I really hate living through the boatyard experience, but it will be good to have so many things back in working order when we are done.

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Seven Day Trip to South Africa from Madagascar

South Africa Passage

South Africa Passage

We left Mahajanga at the crack of dawn on the 17th of September from our anchorage near Katsepy in the Mahajanga Bay of Madagascar. Our destination was Richards Bay in South Africa about 1400 miles away. Our friends on Solace (Paul and Gina) got up to wave us goodbye! They are such nice people. We were sorry they couldn’t accompany us, but the weather route we had picked was suitable for a boat of our speed (we hoped). Solace wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace and would get caught in foul weather.

This post is rather lengthy, and could be a bit boring if you aren’t into what its like to sail on a multi-day passage. But, the first few paragraphs tell about the bit of adventure we had at the start!

Confident with our maintenance checks, and the repaired main halyard, we raised sail and began sailing down the 125 miles of coastline left of Madagascar before we began crossing the Mozambique channel west towards Africa. You can follow along on our track in the map shown on the right hand side of our web site. We sailed a bit slow in the morning only making 6.5 knots, but by 10ish we were doing 8+ knots. We made a brief 5 minute stop off an island along the coast to dive and check that the props were clean. We wanted maximum efficiency if we needed to motor along the passage.

The afternoon was a delightful sail and we watched many local wooden sail boats going to and fro along the coast. The winds picked up a notch and we were making 9-11 knots on mostly flat water. We were gradually getting further away from the coast as planned and were about abeam of the last bay most people stop to anchor in called Baly Bay. We had just passed a fisherman 10 miles off the coast who was at anchor when suddenly it happened. Our mainsail came down!! I looked up, and sure enough the main halyard had let loose again!

I hit my forehead realizing that the eye splice I thought was good enough when we set up the new halyard yesterday was not a load-bearing eye splice afterall. Ugh. Well, we were going to have to re-run the halyard and this time tie it off. But, we were 10 miles from Baly Bay and it was upwind. So, we immediately turned that way and began motoring. A quick calculation showed we were going to be on a race with the setting sun getting to the nearest anchorage. Ended up running both motors the last five miles to ensure our arrival by sunset.

Setting up to run halyard

Setting up to run halyard

Meanwhile, I spent the time completely prepping to go up the mast and re-run the halyard. We just went through this whole process the day before, so I knew exactly what to do. We got to the nearest anchorage spot, quickly dropped our hook, and within a minute or two I was going up the mast. As I was going up, the sun was setting. We did the job in record time – the halyard was run and we were pulling up the hook in only 20 minutes. We then motored across Baly Bay to the point as fast as possible. The entire delay cost us about 3 hours. Not too bad, I’m just really glad it happened then and not while we were crossing the channel!

Fortunately, that was probably the biggest drama of the passage. We made calls to Solace on the radio the first few nights to give them our position. But, we got out of range eventually and used our Iridium phone to e-mail them reports the rest of the way. We had downloaded detailed current maps from a source on the Internet and mapped our course accordingly. Unfortunately, it turns out the channel is highly unpredictable, and for the first two days we had contrary currents more often than not. We did find bits of the famed Aghulas current as we turned to head south. But, it was not all we hoped it to be.

Spinnaker flying

Spinnaker flying

Fortunately, our wind forecast held true (or even better than true) and we were sailing at a good rate. Enough to make up for the contrary currents we experienced. We had several days where we ran the spinnaker during the day, and used the main and jib as needed in downwind configuration at night. We had excellent sailing overall, although there was plenty of work as we had to change sails numerous times due to changing conditions and conservative sailing at night. We also had to keep watch day and night and keep alert for the many ships we passed along the way. We did go through a few rain squalls, but nothing too exciting, and no lightning.

We did run into the south east wind that had been forecasted. This meant we were more on a tight reach and we were trying to avoid being pushed too far west where we would get too close to shore. One night, as the winds were still 25+ knots, we were expected to reach an area where the aghulas current would be going opposite to the winds. This could mean the waves would get quite large. They were already 3-4 meters at this point, but the swells were far apart and Tahina was handling it fine. But, we were needing to run our generator to charge the batteries, and we didn’t want to run into the waves at night. So, we just “hove to” – we turned the boat into the wind with the sails stopped and the rudder turned the other direction. The boat then just lazily sits held into the wind and maybe drifts backward at a knot or so. It’s a great way to take a rest during a blow – its like anchoring at sea. We then fired up the generator to charge up and went to sleep.

At dawn, I started up an engine and turned us back into the wind and we started sailing again. The winds had calmed a little. Soon we were in the current, and the good news is that it helped push us more south so we weren’t going too far west. A few hours later the winds gradually clocked from the southeast to the north east. This was the last segment of the trip as we were passing Mauputo, Mozambique and were going to make the last 2 day run to Richards Bay. We did have to motor sail a bit to keep up our speed until the wind filled in. But, the rest of the way we sailed right down to Richards Bay. And we had the Aghulas current adding 2-3 knots behind us much of the way!

Final stretch

Final stretch

We had 25-30 knots of wind mostly behind us the rest of the way, and were sailing with heavily reefed sails. We were averaging 11-13 knots with a nice push from that current. At dawn that last day, we finally saw the coast of Africa for the first time. It was a momentous moment for us. The last time we will see a new continent from our boat on this trip. You can see the African coast in this photo showing our reefed sails. We were just a few hours from arriving in this photo.

As we were going down the final stretch, we saw a number of humpback whale. What a great welcome! We were very pleased, and lucky, to have made the journey without having to divert to an anchorage along the Mozambique coast to wait for weather. It is not all that common to make this run without a stop due to the fast weather changes. We made the trip in 7 days and 7 hours. That’s an average of 190+ miles per day! I’ll talk about the final arrival at Richards Bay in the next post.

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Mahajanga

Our last planned stop in Madagascar was the city of Mahajanga. We planned to do one last provisioning run there before we left to sail down the Mozambique Channel to South Africa. We had a weather window that looked good for Tahina, which indicated we might be able to sail the entire way. The weather is highly variable in the channel and you can end up with days of motoring, or having to stop along the coast of Mozambique to wait for the right weather, or get caught out in bad weather, or you can be lucky and sail the whole way.

Moramba to Mahajanga

Moramba to Mahajanga

But, first we had to get there in time. That’s why we only stayed briefly in Moramba Bay. We sailed another 25 or so miles after our morning visit at Moramba and got to the mouth of Mahajambe where we anchored in a small semi-cove. We had sundowners with Solace and discussed plans to leave at the crack of dawn the next morning. The next passage to Mahajanga was 60 miles which is a long day for Solace which doesn’t sail as fast as Tahina. The map here shows the first day in red, and the second day in green (click for larger version).

Racing local boat

Racing local boat

Thankfully, we had wind in the morning and we left shortly after Solace. We had to use our topping lift to raise the mainsail again, which took us a few minutes to get sorted. We soon sailed out the mouth of the bay. As we were rounding the headland, we saw a local boat on a converging course who had crossed the mouth of the bay. They were moving fast. We started turning along the coast so we were on a better point of sail. We had a race! They tried to catch up to pass in front of us, but I was having none of that. As we got closer to the wind our speed picked up and we were now up to 9 knots. Now they couldn’t cross in front, but they still tried to pass on our other side. The winds picked up even more and we started doing 10+ knots. That was beyond his ability and we finally gradually left him behind. I was really impressed these boats could go 9 knots like that! I think they were disappointed not to show how their boat could pass a modern boat. Later they probably passed Solace, so maybe they felt better then.

Red cliffs

Red cliffs

We had a great coastal sail the rest of the day, with a land breeze, and passed many of the local boats along the way. The coastline was interesting with sandy beaches, little fishing villages, an occasional resort hotel, river mouths, and big cliffs with lots of the classic Madagascar red soil exposed. There’s a reason they call this “The Big Red Island”.

We saw a big resort beach which we later found is called Plage du Grand Pavois or Amborovy. They had dozens of umbrellas on the beach, jet skis, sailboats, restaurants and bars. Quite the popular place. I was very tempted to divert in and stop and get a beer! We had been sailing so fast, we had plenty of time to get to our anchorage before dark.

One of the most populated cities in Madagascar, Mahajanga is on the coast on a peninsula with a big bay with several rivers leading to it. Along the sea coast side there are several resort areas and beaches. On the bay side, they have a port which is harbor for many cargo vessels. Across the bay, to the south, is a mostly muslim town called Katsepy (we took to calling it Ketchupy). There is a small cove there which we had been told is ok for anchoring. The city is too populated, with too much crime, for anchoring at night.

We continued down the coast and as we started rounding the peninsula to go to the port of Mahajanga, we had another race with a similar local boat. He was right next to shore and we were a mile off initially. There was a break wall coming up and we both converged to cross near the end of it. As we got close, Tahina was winning. But, there was a local fishing boat at anchor and I ended up having to go outside of him to avoid a collision risk. We continued racing the other boat until we reached the port, then we dropped our sails and motored into the harbor. The port looked fine for anchoring, so we re-raised sails and sailed the 5 miles or so to Katepsy. There were a lot of local boats sailing all over the bay. We anchored a fair distance away from what looked like a pretty poor town in what was flat water.

Solace arrived a while later and investigated the town. They managed to find a small cafe and got a beer. Later they came to Tahina and we discussed plans to go to town the next day. Over night, the winds changed and it got a bit bouncy in the anchorage, but it was ok.

Mahajanga harbor

Mahajanga harbor

The next morning we sailed both boats to the harbor and anchored close together. Using our bigger dinghy, Paul took Karen, Gina and I ashore and dropped us in the small boat harbor. This is a very crowded harbor as they seem to rely a great deal on these smaller sailing vessels for transporting goods in Madagascar. We found a small wooden dock and got ashore that way. Our first objective was to find the grocery store we had heard about. We went there, and it was pretty good. We got the provisions we had hoped for and then went to a fresh market and got veggies and fruits. Paul picked us up and after dropping the provisions and Gina and Karen off, Paul and I went ashore with gerry cans to get some diesel. The little motor tuk tuk had just enough room for all the cans and we soon had them filled at a gas station, and back to the boats after calling Gina to bring the dinghy to pick us up.

Later, Gina and Karen and I went ashore again to get lunch and do a bit of sightseeing. We found a little row of restaurants and picked one called “Pub Loock-ness”. We had seating in the shade next to the street. The beers were cold, but the food was only so-so. Later I had reasons to regret the food. After lunch, we walked through the city and took lots of pictures. It was early afternoon and many of the stores were closed for lunch. We stopped at some souvenir shops along the way. The photo album below shows these and other photos of our experiences in Mahajanga:


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Mahajanga reminded us some of Diego Suarez. But, it actually seemed less crowded. Perhaps because the city is bigger and more spread out. It is also more of a tourist town than Diego Suarez.

After the lunch walk, we went back to our boats and sailed back to Ketchupy. Paul came over and helped us run our halyard back up the mast. We used a gadget Paul had made to run a lead line through the mast and then pulled the halyard through. After a few system checks including oil checks on the engines, we were ready for our passage. Paul and Gina came for one last get together and to say goodbye. Their boat isn’t fast enough to keep up with us on the 1200 mile passage to South Africa. They wouldn’t make the weather window before bad weather settled in. Our plan was to leave at the crack of dawn the next morning.

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