Day 228, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 9

Day 228, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 9
Date: Friday, June 11, 2010
Weather: Overcast and Squally; Winds SSE 22-24 / 30-35 Knots
Latitude: 12 degrees 01.111 minutes S
Longitude: 051 degrees 29.450 minutes E
Miles to Go: 150

Jessica Price is my sister Patsy’s oldest grandchild and she graduates from high school today. So congratulations to Jessica. It is times like these, when I know family members are gathered to celebrate, that I really miss, but I’m certainly there with them in spirit.

This morning on the radio Mark asked Ed to give his position report and all Ed said was, “Uncomfortable.” That sums up our experience of the last twenty-four hours. Today has been an ugly one-totally overcast with one squall after another. At least we have 30 to 45 minute periods between squalls when things settle down. And we are making amazing progress and should definitely reach the east coast of Madagascar in the morning. If that happens as planned, we will then round the top and be at anchor by afternoon. Evidently we aren’t going to get a break from this weather for another day or so as a weather system is basically sitting on top of us. It should be heading off by Sunday and I’m sure looking forward to sunny skies with no squalls. We had another all-time high mileage day the last twenty-four hours going 170 nautical miles. Yesterday at this time we had 320 miles to go and now we have 150, so progress is definitely being made. We are sailing with almost no headsail and a reefed main, but with winds like these you hardly need sails!

Madagascar: A Little Geography
I keep saying that we are going to round the cape at the top of Madagascar so I’ll take time to give a little background so you will know that that means. Madagascar is about a thousand miles from top to bottom. It is much longer than it is wide and at its closest point it sits only 225 miles from the East African coast, situated parallel to Mozambique. The cape at the very top of the island is called Cap de’Ambre. Once you are over the top and start down the west coast there are three bays, no more than five miles from the top. It is the middle bay where we plan to anchor first. This, of course, is in northwestern Madagascar and this is part of Mad where we will be spending most of our time. If you look at Madagascar on a map it almost looks like someone bit a huge chunk out of the northwestern coast and then they spit out the pieces and these became little islands scattered all along. That ‘bite’ leaves a crescent shape from the Cap de’Ambre out to Cap de’Andre some 350 miles south and west. Islands in Madagascar are called ‘nosy’ so Nosy Be is the island of Be. We will spend a week or so working our way south from Cap de’Ambre to Nosy Be where we will visit Hell-ville, the administrative center where we check-in. The distance is only a hundred miles but there are a number of anchorages on the mainland and a few ‘nosies’ that we want to visit on the way. Nosy Be is about the southern limit of what is referred to as Northern Madagascar. From there south along the coast is Western Madagascar and we will eventually travel the 250 miles from Nosy Be following the crescent-shaped curve of the ‘bite.’ From the southern end of the crescent we will then travel across the Mozambique Channel to South Africa. Geographically, there is also a southern section, an eastern section, and a second eastern section where the capital of Antananarivo is situated. We will only be visiting places in the northern section and some of the coastal western section. If the political situation were different, we might do more travel in the south, but at this time that would require flying in and out of the capital and that is the hot spot for political unrest. So northwest it will be for Windbird’s crew.

Day 227, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 8

Day 227, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 8
Date: Thursday, June 10, 2010
Weather: Repeat–Squally Night; Sunny Day, Winds ESE to SE 28-32
Latitude: 11 degrees 27.099 minutes S
Longitude: 054 degrees 14.055 minutes E
Miles to Go: 320

Another day, another 160+ miles, and all is well aboard Windbird. We didn’t realize we were going to be flying to Madagascar, but that’s how it feels out here. When we talk to Ed and Lynne of Constance on the radio Lynne says she misses looking out and seeing the “birds”—that’s us. But the “birds” flew away and can’t stop. The wind has not let up, and in fact, today it was even stronger, staying around 30 knots, sometimes gusting to 40. For most of the day we had the little triangle of headsail that we are flying poled out to port and we were sailing wing and wing. But the winds got even stronger late this afternoon and turned from ESE to SE, so now we have the headsail back out to starboard. Our speed over ground is over 7 knots due to a positive current of 1 to1.5 knots and if things continue as they have today, by this time tomorrow (Friday) afternoon we will have about 115 miles left to go to reach the east coast of Madagascar. That means we could reach the coast sometime Saturday morning. If that happens, then we can round the top and be at anchor late Saturday afternoon. I think both of us are looking forward to that. This passage has been fast, and it hasn’t been relaxing. We always have to be on alert for the next squall or a shift in the winds. With strong winds like we have been having, there is very little room for error, so once again being at anchor will be a great relief.

We have heard from a number of our sailing friends in response to our June letter to family and friends. It was so good to hear from friends that we crossed the Pacific with in 2006. Randy and Sheri of Procyon are back in California, Tom and Bette Lee of Quantum Leap are in passage to Fiji for one more season in the South Pacific, and Idunn and Rune of Blue Marlin are now living in South Korea where Rune is working as a subsea engineer on an oil rig being built. The twins, Hedda and Marita, are in the International School and all will be heading back to Norway for a summer holiday. Rune will join the rig in Singapore and sail with it to the Seychelles before he joins the rig
again in Tanzania. We will be in Madagascar at that time and he will try to connect with us via radio. Dave and Patti of This Way Up, friends from Australia that we met in the Sail Indonesia Rally are now traveling to the eastern part of Indonesia with another rally. Friends that we met in Chagos on the boat Nepenthe have made it safely to Dar es Salam in Tanzania and Far Niente has made it to Nosy Be in Madagascar. We’ll be catching up with them soon. Neil and Ley of Crystal Blues, friends we met at the Boat Lagoon while our boats were being painted are currently anchored on the north coast of Borneo. At least Ley is there in the boat waiting for Neil to return from a week’s work in India. Soon they’ll be heading back to Singapore. Friends from the Boston area, Susie Klein and Jim Hammitt are headed up the East Coast of the US in their boat Reveille. They sailed Reveille to the Med a few years ago and had it shipped back to Florida last season. So this trip will return Reveille to her home in Padanarum in Rhode Island. And our friends Larry and Angela Beavers in Fall River, Rhode Island, are launching their 24 foot C & C named Isabel this weekend. So our sailing friends are spread far and wide all over the globe and it is great to keep in touch with them.

Day 226, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 7

Day 226, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 7
Date: Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Weather: Another Squally Night; Sunny Day, Winds ESE 28-30
Latitude: 10 degrees 54.810 minutes S
Longitude: 056 degrees 56.731 minutes E
Miles to Go: 479

My day started at 4:30 am with squalls packing heavy winds and rain. Then at 6:50 am when I was getting ready to turn on the radio to report our position back to folks in Chagos, I found Windbird heading in the wrong direction. One minute we were headed West and the next we were headed due East. I looked over at the Auto Pilot display unit and it was reading in digital Chinese and I couldn’t control the wheel as it was still locked in auto mode. I called down to wake Mark and he turned off the Auto Pilot so I could steer. He hand steered while I checked into the Chagos net and then I hand steered while he tried to figure out the problem. We suspected that water getting into the system could be the problem, but in order to check things out Mark had to take our aft cabin bed apart and take down part of the ceiling. The drive unit for the auto pilot is under our bed and the wiring going to the control unit in the cockpit is above the ceiling. By 9 am he had found a disconnected wire, fixed that, but still the main display until was reading in digital Chinese. He brought out the fancy little hand-held remote for the auto pilot and after a few tries that worked and is still working. Mark bought this unit at the Newport Boat Show last fall and I have given him all kinds of grief about the purchase saying that was just another boy toy-not necessary. Well, I take back all of those unkind words back because after hand steering in heavy seas and winds this morning for an hour, I certainly wouldn’t want to do that for the next few days until we reach Madagascar. So praises for Mark’s trouble shooting and for the little hand-held unit. Later in the day I was waking from a nap when I heard Mark say that he was going out on deck-right now! I jumped up to find that he had noticed that a very expensive and very vital bolt that connects our roller furling to the chain plate was loose and about to fall out. We lost that bolt once before and certainly didn’t want to lose it again, especially not in these windy conditions. I cannot express how lucky I feel today. Things could have and still could turn out another way, but for now we have an auto pilot and we have our head sail roller furling. All is well.

The conditions out here are tough. The wind averaged 28 knots all day today with gusts up to 40 and times when 32-35 knots was the norm. That’s windy, but it is from behind us and that helps. The seas are a good three to four meters or nine to twelve feet and they come at us from behind the beam. The good thing is that they are far enough apart to make the conditions not too rough. So we rock and roll a bit and once in a while we lurch so that walking down below is a hazardous sport. If predictions are correct, things are going to stay this way until we reach the coast of Madagascar, so we have settled in and are just happy that things are not rougher.

Day 225, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 6

Day 225, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 6
Date: Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Weather: Repeat–Squally Night & Day; SE Winds 25
Latitude: 09 degrees 59.987 minutes S
Longitude: 059 degrees 23.599 minutes E
Miles to Go: 633

Windbird is more than half-way to Madagascar, we have lots of wind, and right now we have blue skies, so all is going well. Of course, the clearing skies and sunshine just appeared as it did at this time last evening. Today, as yesterday, was mostly overcast with squall after squall. Today’s squalls packed a little more wind than the ones during the night and yesterday, with some gusts up to 40 knots, but the strong winds come from behind us which makes it easier to deal with. The strain comes from having to constantly sit behind the wheel and adjust the autopilot. That’s easier than hand steering, but it does take full attention. So not much is getting done other than tending sails and steering via the autopilot. I must say now that the sun has come out, everything seems much better. When we are not dealing with a squall, the winds have been hovering around 25 knots. So we are flying across the waters even with a double-reefed headsail and single-reefed main. We put in a double reef in the main last night, but have decided to go with the single reef for tonight. If the winds continue as they have, we should make landfall on the western coast of Madagascar on Sunday. If that should happen that would make this a ten-day passage. We were expecting much longer, so we shall wait and see. Constance is now about 30 miles behind us but they are doing well. It’s hard not to move quickly in these strong winds, even with reduced sail. I did get to do a little reading about Madagascar during the night, and I think I’ll continue the research tonight and report on my findings tomorrow. But I’ll end with a couple of questions and I’ll bet you’ll know the answers. What island country is considered to be the world’s only Afro-Asian country? What is the world’s fourth largest island? More tomorrow.

Day 224, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 5

Day 224, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 5
Date: Monday, June 7, 2010
Weather: Overcast, Squally Night & Day; SE Winds 20-24
Latitude: 09 degrees 05.600 minutes S
Longitude: 061 degrees 59.415 minutes E
Miles to Go: 796

The last twenty-four hours have been our most challenging for this passage. Until noon yesterday we hadn’t made any adjustments to sails since leaving Chagos. We reefed the headsail yesterday to slow ourselves down to stay within sight of Constance, but shortly after sending the log in the evening, the decision was made to go on so we will have a chance of making it through the Saya Banks during the daylight hours tomorrow. We had a squally night with no rain, just wind, and then a squally day today with rain and low visibility alternating with periods with almost no wind. So we certainly haven’t left Constance in the dust. They are about 15 miles behind us now and we are still in VHF radio contact. They have had totally different weather from us. While we were overcast all day, they were in sunshine. The clouds are starting to clear where we are and the sun is shining brightly so maybe we are through the ugly weather for now. We still might make the banks by afternoon tomorrow. These are shallow areas and the pass we will go through can have a lot of current and be a bit rough, so we do hope to go through during daylight hours. We can then radio conditions back to Constance. So the miles are ticking away. Once through the banks we have four to six days of sailing to reach the east coast of Madagascar and then we head over the top. We’re getting closer but not at the half-way point yet.

We have had a bit of drama with our email the past two days. We have been able to send emails, but we can’t receive. We receive short emails but when it comes to the longer ones, like GRIB files, we get a strange error message. We haven’t been able to get a GRIB file for 48 hours so we tuned into a South African radio net this afternoon. The net controller is a man named Graham and he was glad to hear from boats in the Indian Ocean. Now that he knows where we are he will have more specific weather for us tomorrow. In the meantime, we are emailing Winlink and trying to figure out the problem.

Another cargo ship just passed behind us and we have seen a few birds today. Otherwise, our time has been spent adjusting sails and keeping ourselves on course. So I have no Madagascar science lesson today. Maybe tonight will be a calmer night and I’ll get some research reading time.

Day 223, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 4

Day 223, Year 5 Passage to Madagascar, Day 4
Date: Sunday, June 6, 2010
Weather: Sunny Day; SSE Winds 12-16 Knots
Latitude: 08 degrees 18.381 minutes S
Longitude: 064 degrees 16.696 minutes E
Miles to Go: 940

One-third of the way there, but things do happen. Both Windbird and Constance were sailing along on a fast track to Madagascar when Ed noticed that the headstay on Constance had broken at the top. The headstay is the heavy wire around which the roller furler and head sail are attached. The halyard holding up the headsail was holding up the whole mechanism, so thankfully nothing came down. He and Lynne were able to roll in the sail and reinforce the halyard with the spinnaker halyards that are not in use. For those of you who are not sailors, the halyards are the lines that pull sails up and down and in this case are being used like a wire stay. Constance is a cutter rig, so there is an inner staysail which helps support the mast, but the sail itself is very tiny. But they rolled that sail out and are sailing along about a knot to a knot and half slower than they were. Not wanting to leave them behind, we rolled in our headsail and put out the staysail. It was then that we noticed that the stay that holds our staysail roller furler and sail has somehow gotten very loose. So we rolled that in and went back to a double-reefed headsail. All of this happened about four hours ago and we are still about the same distance from Constance, so it looks like we have found a way to stay with them. They insist that we fly on, but we’ll continue like this through the night and make a final decision tomorrow on whether or not to go on or stay behind. We are still moving at 5.8 knots which is as fast as we normally go. This trip is faster because the winds are just right and we have a half to a knot of current going with us. The winds are less today, down to 12 to 16 knots, but they are a bit more southerly which puts us on a broad reach. So all is well and Ed thinks once he gets to a quiet anchorage in Madagascar that he can repair the damages. That’s good because there are basically no marine services in Madagascar and you don’t want to head to South Africa without strong rigging. Our friends Peppe and Bob on Far Niente have been in Madagascar for a few days now and they have found the northern anchorages to be VERY windy. So Ed might have to wait until we get down the coast a bit before attempting the repairs.

Another cargo ship passed about six miles in front of us early this morning, but we have seen no other fishing boats, cargo ships, or even birds today. During the night, I used my watch time to read a Bradt Visitor’s Guide to Madagascar Wildlife and the hours passed so quickly. I’ve always known that Madagascar is home to unique plants and animals that exist no where on earth, but I really didn’t know why until last night. If you feel a lesson in evolutionary biology coming, you are right. I’m no biologist, but I just have to share what I learned. We just left the atolls in Chagos which in their current form are very young, only thousands of years. For Madagascar, we have to go back MYA’s (millions of years ago). The Bradt Guide (the only one I have) uses the MYA abbreviation, so I will use that as well. If we go back 200mya to the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the huge land mass of Gondwana was just starting to break apart. This land mass broke apart to form South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Australia. Fast forward to 165mya and scientists say Madagascar, with India still attached, broke away from Africa. Then a ‘mere’ 80mya, India migrated north and left Madagascar as an isolated island. It would have been populated by dinosaurs as they didn’t start to die away for another 15 million years. So Madagascar has been isolated for a very long time and in that time some of the earth’s most interesting creatures have arrived and evolved in isolation. By the way, the oldest dinosaur bones discovered to date come from southern Madagascar. They date back 230 million years, before the break-up of Gondwanaland. So that’s the science lesson for today. I’ll wait to get a correction email from our daughter who is an evolutionary biologist to see just how far off these facts gathered in my wildlife book might be.