Day 48, Year 6 Mossel Bay, Here We Come

Day 48, Year 6 Mossel Bay, Here We Come
Date: Saturday, December 11, 2010
Weather: Overcast, Squally Weather with a Little Rain
Winds: Overnight SW 20-25 to SE 15-20 by 10am, Afternoon S 15-20
Latitude: 34 18.947 S
Longitude: 023 44.820 E
Miles Traveled: 596
Miles to Go: 81
Location: Passage from Richards Bay to Mossel Bay, Day 4

With less than a hundred miles to go, we should be in Mossel Bay tomorrow morning. We no longer have that four knot current with us, but we do still have half a knot and are making good time. I don’t think we’ll ever see a 222 mile day again as the last 24 hours was ‘only’ 165, but it was fun while it lasted! The thing that is most noticeable as we head south and west is that it is getting cooler. We have had to wear two shirts, long pants, wool socks, a fleece vest, and a windbreaker at night to keep warm. During the day we can shed some of the layers, but since there has been no sunshine, it remains cool all day. Last night we added a polar fleece blanket to wrap up in out in the cockpit, and tonight we might have to break out the foul weather gear for the first time since leaving the Chesapeake Bay in November of 2005. The temperature here is 68-70 degrees F which shouldn’t feel so cool, but out here on the water with the wind blowing in from behind us and the dampness in the air, it feels more like 45-50 degrees F to us. It is certainly not freezing, but after spending most of the past year much closer to the equator, it is going to take us a while to get used to these more moderate temperatures.

Our BUOY weather reports warned us that we would have a period of southwest winds, but neither of our weather nets forecast that. So even with the good radio nets, it is still important to keep gathering your own information. Evidently a coastal low has been hanging over us providing the totally overcast skies, dark clouds that pass packing stronger winds and rain for a few minutes here and there, and the southwest winds. The winds are now coming from the south and should be from the south or southeast for the next four days. Closer to Cape Town, they are forecasting very strong winds and we are being told to stay put in Mossel Bay until next Wednesday or Thursday. By that time the winds should moderate again and give us a good ride around Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost cape. Cape Point or the Cape of Good Hope is the one with the famed reputation, but it is just slightly north of Cape Agulhas. We are hoping that we will be spending the next month in False Bay Yacht Club which is located just before the Cape of Good Hope. We heard from our friends Pieter and Carla on Odulphus that they were able to make a reservation at the Yacht Club and we got an email this morning from friends Jean and Ken on Renaissance 2000 back in Jacksonville, Florida, telling us that on December 6 there were 6 slips available. That stressed the immediacy of getting in touch, but we have spotty cell phone service and we have been trying to call and email the yacht club all day. We finally got a man named John who told us he might have a swing mooring for us. That is not what we were hoping for, but it will be something until a slip becomes available. He told us to email him and gave us the address, but both the email address that Renaissance sent us and the one John gave us keep getting rejected. Since tomorrow is Sunday, we will probably have to wait until Monday morning to confirm that we can have the mooring. Thanks to Ken and Jean for sending us that email. The cruiser communication line is strong.

South Africa has nine provinces or states. We drove through parts of Limpopo and Mpungalanga when we went north to Kruger. Richards Bay is in the KwaZulu Natal province. As we sailed south on this passage, we were off the coast of the Eastern Cape Province. And now we are sailing along the eastern most parts of the Western Cape Province. We’ll be spending the remainder of our time in South Africa in the Western Cape and we hope to take advantage of our few days in Mossel Bay to see parts of what is called the Garden Route. There is a steam train that runs two hours inland from Mossel Bay and back that we hope to be able to take. The Lonely Planet says the scenery is really beautiful. There is also a Bartholomeu Dias Maritime Museum in Mossel Bay and I’d like to visit that as well. The Portuguese explorers Bartholomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama were the first Europeans to come into Mossel Bay in the late 1400’s and there is a modern day replica of the caravel (small ship) that Dias used on his 1488 ‘voyage of discovery.’ So that will be fun to see. We should probably sit still and get over these colds that we both have, but knowing us, I don’t think that is going to happen.

Day 47, Year 6 Onward to . . .

Day 47, Year 6 Onward to . . .
Date: Friday, December 10, 2010
Weather: Partly Sunny Turning Overcast in Late Afternoon
Winds: Overnight E 15-45, Morning E 20, Late Afternoon SSE 15
Latitude: 34 02.100 S
Longitude: 026 56.355 E
Miles Traveled: 430
Miles to Go: 246
Location: Passage from Richards Bay to Mossel Bay, Day 3

Windbird is traveling on, to where we aren’t sure, but it will be as far along toward Cape Town as we can get while the weather is favorable. This morning we made a last minute decision to by-pass East London, our original destination, and to travel on to Port Elizabeth. But the weather reports are looking like we can continue on even further, so that is what we are planning to do. When I wrote yesterday’s log we had just found the Agulhas Current and the sailing has been so good since then that we hate to stop. We made 222 miles in the 24 hours between 5 pm yesterday and 5 pm today. That is certainly a record for Windbird! The night was a bit wild with winds that would blow anywhere from 15 to 24 knots, to 24 to 35 knots, to 30 to 45 knots, and then back to 15 to 24. And with a 4 knot current our speed over ground was between 10 and 11 knots all night and at least 10 knots all day today. The strong winds were not forecast but they were directly behind us and we only had the main up with no headsail, so we were quite comfortable. It was a bit scary roaring along in the pitch black night with no moon, but today we have had speeds up to 12 knots and it is quite comfortable. The wind is clocking so right now we are on a beam reach with 15 knots of wind and sometime during the night we might have a period with SW winds, but it should be a short period and not much wind. It is the southwest winds that we have to worry about while we are in this current as winds from the southwest meeting the current from the north can cause high seas. But all weather sources are saying it is safe to press on, so we are going for it.

It’s approximately 1,000 miles from Richards Bay to Cape Town with not all that many safe harbors for yachts. Our final goal is to be somewhere in the Cape Town area for Christmas and the first part of January before moving on across the Atlantic. But Cape Town marinas are full to the brim with racers headed to Rio in January and the ARC ‘Round the World Rally boats. A small bay just before Cape Town is Hout Bay, but when we called them this morning the manager said they are also full with ARC boats. Our only hope is Simons Town in False Bay which is about 30 miles from Cape Town, but nicely situated for the sight seeing we want to do. We tried to call them this morning but only got to leave a message. And since then we have been too far away from land to have cell service. So we are going to try to make it to a place called Mossel Bay by Sunday and make calls from there to find a home for the next month. We really had no idea that we would get a weather window to go so far this soon, so we had not made prior reservations.

We feel like we did on the passage from Madagascar to South Africa. First we were going to Europa and then to Inhaca in Mozambique and then we got the weather go-ahead to make it straight into Richards Bay. The weather rules in this part of the world and it changes so quickly and so often that it is really difficult to make plans. You just have to always be ready to go and be very flexible. So on we go, to where we aren’t sure.

Day 46, Year 6 The Wild Coast

Day 46, Year 6 The Wild Coast
Date: Thursday, December 9, 2010
Weather: Mostly Overcast, Winds ENE 15-20 am, ESE 20-30 pm
Latitude: 31 28.246 S
Longitude: 029 58.314 E
Miles Traveled: 208.5
Miles to Go: 143
Location: Passage from Richards Bay to East London, Day 2

Windbird is having a wild ride down the wild coast right now. That is the name of this section of the South African coast and we think it is aptly named. At about 1:10 this afternoon, after a frustrating night and morning of motor sailing into a two knot current against us, the sky started to clear a little and the winds instantly went from ENE to ESE with absolutely no warning. At first the winds were still in the 15-20 knot range, but around 3 pm the power switched on and the winds are now varying from 20 to 30+ knots True (more like 20-25 Apparent) coming at us anywhere from the rear quarter to the beam as we are bounced around with varying wind speeds-20 knots one minute, 30+ the next. We double reefed the headsail and that helped to stabilize us.. We were sailing along at 7 to 8 knots with a half knot of current against us. But then we finally found the Agulhas Current and we are now ticking along at 9 to 10 knots even with the double reefed headsail. But finding the current mid-afternoon today was twenty-four hours later than we anticipated. During the night when we had not found the current, we made a tactical error and headed further out to sea to find it but all that did was cause us precious time heading offshore where the current increased from a negative half knot to two knots. When we got to the 2000 meter line we gave up and turned back, but we lost a few hours and used a lot of fuel as we had to motor at 2500 RPMs the entire time just to go an average of 4.5 knots and sometimes we couldn’t make that. So we were definitely behind schedule.. But if we can now keep the current with us, we will still make East London tomorrow and maybe even go further south. The weather projections for wind direction keep changing, but it does look like we will at least make East London.

We just made our first weather net contact a few minutes ago. We couldn’t get on last night or this morning or early this afternoon, so that was very frustrating. We did hear from Irene on a boat called Moose this morning telling us that they had not found the Agulhas Current until 31 S inbound from the 200 meter line, so that at least gave us hope. But we were frustrated with not being able to get the weather and not being able to get through on email via HAM radio. After quickly sending the log last night on the Indonesian HAM radio frequency we have not been able to send or receive emails via HAM radio since. There was a time today when we had a cell telephone signal and we quickly sent for updated BUOY reports and a Grib file and neither is showing that we should be getting this kind of wind from the ESE today. So much for weather reports. But all of non-contacts left us feeling a little out of loop. More accurately, maybe we were just feeling loopy!

We definitely agree with the name for this part of South Africa’s coast. It is wild, but it is not unsafe in these conditions. Even though we had a bit of a rough start, it looks like we should be fine. We’ll make a decision tomorrow as to whether to duck into East London or head on to Port Elizabeth. Right now we are just enjoying a nice sail going 10 knots-not a common occurrence on Windbird.

Day 45, Year 6 Happy Birthday, Jed!

Day 45, Year 6 Happy Birthday, Jed!
Date: Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Weather: Totally Overcast, Winds ESE 15-20
Latitude: 29 52.080 S
Longitude: 031 25.092 E
Miles Traveled: 78.5
Miles to Go: 268
Location: Passage from Richards Bay to East London, Day 1

Jed, we are thinking of you on your birthday. Hope it is a good one. We backed out of our slip at Tuzi Gazi at 4:30 am and have had a good first day on our way south. I say ‘good’ not ‘great’ because it has been a gray day with mixed winds and current. But we made 73 miles in our first 12 hours and that is good. All day today the color of the ocean has been steel gray and as dusk approaches, the sky and the sea are merging into one. The winds have been steady from behind us but the three meter seas cause us to roll and lose wind out of the sails. So we have been motor assisting most of the day. We want to get as far south as possible during this weather window, so we are pushing hard. For a period in the morning we had a great two knot boost from the famed Agulhas Current, but we lost it as we got closer to Durban. Actually we got a knot of current against us, but now that we are past Durban we have no current at all. Hopefully at some point we will once again get a boost from the current.

Communications have been challenging today. We have not been able to hear the weather reports but this evening we could hear Pieter of Odulphus who is headed from Durban to Port Elizabeth and he relayed that the weather report is holding. We have until Saturday before the south winds come and we should be East London on Friday. If the south winds on Saturday are going to be from the SE and are light as Pieter indicated tonight, we could possibly make Port Elizabeth on Saturday. We’ll just have to see how the weather plays out. The other challenging communication issue is the availability of HAM radio stations. We have always had India, Indonesia, as well as the two South African stations. But today we could get nothing. Now that it is evening, Mark is connected to the Jakarta, Indonesia station so I am going to sign off and try to send this while we have the chance.