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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One Response to Seven Day Trip to South Africa from Madagascar

  1. SC says:

    Frank,
    The Aghulas current is one of the world’s dreaded currents. Did you take any precautions for this passage?

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