Next morning I made myself known at the Royal Cape Yacht club and completed their entry formalities. I remembered the lady that noted my particulars as we shared the same surname. After a porridge breakfast I walked to the dreary office block that contained several authorities, the one I was interested in was Immigration. A gate I used previously to leave the dock was permanently closed so I had to walk back and find another. I took the lift to the fifth floor of the building and walked into the immigration office and declared my arrival. The official was rude to me even before he noticed that my visa had expired. I arrived in Richards Bay in May and was given a three month visa but I flew to England in June and asked the official at the airport upon my return how much time I would be allowed to stay, Three months was the reply, but this was not the case, my original visa was still valid and expired the day before I got to Cape Town. I was sent to another office where the official sent me back stating that the dock office could give me a token spot fine when I departed. I walked the mile or so across the city back to the dock office and explained what had happened, but of course they didn’t like this solution, they sent me back to the office, in Barrack Street. It was now after three thirty so I would have to go the next morning, only it was a holiday the next day so they gave me an order to remain confined to my vessel. I spent the next day doing small jobs. On Wednesday morning I walked back to the office in Barrack Street and explained that I had been sent back by the dock office. I was informed that I would have to pay a fine of 2500 rand, about 250 pounds, I considered objecting but gave in, I then went with the official to the local police station where he completed a charge sheet. I then had to wait for his call, I went back to the yacht and waited, no call came so, and keen to end this situation I walked back to Barrack Street the next morning. Eventually the official walked with me to the nearby magistrate’s court where I paid my fine. I then went back to the Dock office and had them create a file so that I could depart correctly. Next day Ted, a new crew member arrived from England, a couple of days later Henry also arrived. I went to meet Henry at the airport, which was fortunate, as he was detained by immigration. He was only released when I explained that he was to sail away with me. I hired a car for the next three days in order to show the two newcomers around. We went to Table Mountain only the cable car to the top was closed due to high winds. Not to be deterred, Henry and I climbed to the top, it took us two and a half hours, and it was considerably colder at the top. We took the easy route down, only taking an hour. We bought as many provisions as we could stow on board and after checking out with the authorities we left for St Helena. I was delighted to be finished with their petty autocracy. We started off motoring but soon we sailed, the wind was from the south east and the sailing was good. On the second day the wind increased and headed us. We reefed the main and changed the headsail from number two to three. On taking advice from the locals we made a northerly course to begin with, this had the benefit of passing close to Ludderitz in Namibia should the weather become unpleasant, and sure enough as we watched the forecast on my new laptop and grib reader the future looked difficult. We had to beat for most of the third day and the younger new crew member, Henry suffered mal-de-mer. It was an easy decision to divert to Ludderitz, the weather was much colder than we expected and once in the yacht club there the locals confirmed how unusual the low temperature and rain was. After a couple of days rest replenished with food and diesel we set off again for St Helena.
I collected a new flight plan from the police station opposite the yacht club, one of the members kindly offered to lodge it at the port control office for me. With more fresh provisions I departed just after dawn. Half a dozen ski-boats followed me out, all apparently intending to fish. I motored for all of the first day and most of the second. I passed Port Elizabeth without stopping as the forecast was still good. On the second day, just before it got dark, six o’clock locally, the wind arrived. Initially I sailed with a number three and full main. The wind came from the north east so I sailed as deep as I could. Slowly the wind strength increased, I put one reef in, then two. Finally I dropped the number three as by then the wind was steady at thirty three knots. The south west swell was soon cancelled by the easterly wind and waves. My next possible sanctuary was Mossel bay, many miles ahead. At about three o’clock in the morning the wind eased down to twenty knots and then by eight o’clock it disappeared altogether. I could see mist at the bottom of the mountains rising from the shore, I expected the sun to burn it off, but it was actually sea fog and soon I motored into it. At its thickest I estimated that I could see four boat lengths ahead. I was in a bay so shipping was unlikely to be a concern. A couple of hours later it lifted bringing Mossel bay into view. I prepared warps and fenders and made my way into the port. I heard someone on the VHF hailing the yacht just entered so I responded. I was instructed to pick up a mooring outside the port and ask the yacht club for permission to use their marina. An hour later I was moored amongst the other yachts and fishing boats. An early night was my ambition, soon achieved after a shower on board. Next morning I went up the hill the short walk to the town. A security guard at the port asked me to walk on the other side of the road as I left the dock. So I complied. I bought fresh food and found an internet café. One of my prospective crew from Cape Town onwards left it until the last moment to tell me he would not be coming. The most interesting feature of the harbour was the Sea-lions that scavenge from the fishing boats as they unload. They were all extremely fat. The next day when I left the dock to go to the town the same security guard asked me to go through a turnstile. There was road and footpath but then this turnstile on the side of the security building. This time I did not comply and I informed the gentleman that I thought he was stupid to ask me or words to that effect. After a couple of days I paid the yacht club for the berth and left for Cape Town. For the first four hours I motored south and then more westerly. The swell was large as usual but the period between peaks was long so the motion was easy. Eventually I was able to sail as well and soon there was enough wind to stop the engine. The autopilot used between six and eight amps so it wasn’t long before a battery recharge was required. The evening brought fog again but it was patchy and soon cleared. I managed to grab a few short naps during the night, the longest only thirty minutes. The warm water current was a memory; from now on the influence would be the cold water of the Benguela current. I had hoped to pass Cape Aghulas, the southernmost part of Africa during the day but it was well into the night before I passed the place where two oceans meet. That heralded an important change of direction: North. The next day was uneventful, the same mixture of motoring and sailing and by the evening I approached Cape point, the peninsular south of Cape Town, as I did so I noticed multiple AIS targets on the plotter, all heading towards me. I couldn’t see any lights ahead and the quantity of targets was unusual, around twenty. As we closed I realised that they were fishing boats. I couldn’t alter to starboard as per the rules so I held my course and fortunately they avoided me. They all passed inside Bellows Rock just off Cape point did quick sweep of False Bay and then motored back towards the north. I last saw the Targets when they had overtaken me and entered Hout bay. I soon saw the lights of the city and at three o’clock in the morning I asked Cape Town port control for permission to enter. The wind disappeared as I motored in, I busied myself putting sails away and putting warps and fenders out. From outside the Yacht club marina I could see a vacant berth just inside. I turned the yacht around and reversed into the space. I had arrived at one of my notional milestones on the way home.
The engine was given new bearings, piston rings and oil pump. The head was skimmed and the valves re-ground. I expected it to give many more years of service. It returned fully assembled apart from the alternator. Alex and I together with the engineer’s son and his assistant lifted it from the truck onto a trolley. We were astonished at how heavy it was. We manoeuvred the trolley onto the pontoon and then alongside Queequeg. The pontoon submerged due to the weight of the engine and four people. We then rigged the boom and a bridle and lifted the engine on board. The main halyard took the weight and we lowered it through the third hatch. I presume the hatch was made just big enough for this to happen; it was a very tight fit. We fitted the gearbox and lowered the engine into place. Next day we connected all the lines carrying cooling water or diesel and then electricity from the batteries. I checked the owner’s manual and found that the weight of the engine and gearbox was said to be 333 kilos. The weather window we needed did not materialise so Alex decided to fly to Cape Town and I decided to fly to England. I attended my nieces wedding and enjoyed some fine English summer weather. Alex then decided to return to Thailand to sell a car he had left there. Upon my return to Durban I was therefore on my own. While in England I advertised for new crew and two agreed to join me in Cape Town. I did not know if Alex would return. I suspected not. I collected a new compass, the third, while in England and once fitted the improvement was immediate. There had been a boat show in Durban while I was away and Queequeg had been moved. I took the opportunity to test the autopilot when I moved her back to my preferred spot after the boat show. With a working autopilot I decided to make my way to Cape Town on my own. I cleared out with the port authority, Customs and Immigration. I bought fresh food for two or three days and just before dawn I motored out of Durban harbour. The first possible stop was East London at 250 miles South West. The “wild coast” is the name given to this part of South Africa. I chose a light wind period rather than good wind for sailing. The stromg Aghulas current meant that in South Westerly winds it is very important to avoid the waves made bigger by wind over tide. I took advice before I left on where the best current was to be found but it took several hours before I found it. Much of this time was actually spent in a counter current so the early progress was poor. When I did at last find the best stream my speed over the ground was often more than nine knots. I took ten minute naps during the night, there was not much traffic about but there was an unpleasant swell coming from the South East. On the second day I managed to sail for a few hours although the wind was not very helpful. The work done to the engine meant I had plenty of power if I needed it. I topped up the forward fuel tank from containers stored aft. I could have switched to the aft tank but it is more difficult to fill so I try to use just the forward one. The miles to go figure declined very rapidly and just before dusk on the second day I had covered all 250 miles. I called East London port control to ask for permission to enter and was given the green light. I remembered that there was a pontoon on the northern side of the Buffalo river at a place called Latimer’s landing, but when I got there it had gone. I anchored near some moorings in an area shown on the chart as a swinging place for ships. It was a Saturday night and the dock looked deserted so I took a chance. The weather deteriorated and it rained solidly for the next two days. On Monday I spoke to port control to ask what would be required of me before I departed. Another flight plan was the bad news. So I had to moor alongside the dock wall to get ashore. The swell in the harbour was still uncomfortable and I burst two fenders within half an hour. I decided to return to anchor. Having seen me re-anchor, someone from the yacht club on the opposite side of the river to Latimers landing came out to offer me a space alongside a small pontoon in front of the club. I took up the anchor again and went to the pontoon. A young Frenchman came out in his rib to help me. The pontoon was not visible from the centre of the river due to yachts on moorings. I managed to squeeze in and found that they had a bar and the members were most welcoming. I stayed there for six nights, waiting for a break in the weather. The next nearest port was Port Elizabeth at 130 miles.
At Richards Bay the checking in procedure was a pleasure, the Customs officer came to the yacht and after a very simple form was completed he left. Immigration was a little more interesting. They should have visited the yacht, according to local custom, but didn’t. So after standing by idling for a day I decided to visit them in the town. Early the next morning we went by taxi to the shopping centre, the immigration office was in the same place as it had been three years earlier. The officer apologised for not coming to us and stamped our passports with a three month visa. I explained that I wanted to depart early on Monday, it being Saturday, and expected him to clear us to depart as well. Unfortunately there was a form that was required for departure, known locally as a flight plan. I had to get one and get it stamped by the various officials before we could leave. The dock office was closed when I returned to the harbour, so I had to take a taxi to the port control building, situated high on the cliff overlooking the port, but three miles north, to get one. I then had to get it stamped by the police, who did so without checking anything, the customs, and immigration. I did all this on Sunday and took it back to port control, again by taxi. The weather forecast was for a south westerly gale easing to fifteen knots on Monday morning; unfortunately my laptop malfunctioned on Sunday so I was unable to get fresh weather before we left. We motored out of the port after breakfast straight into big seas. Progress was extremely slow to begin with and I considered returning to Richards Bay but we persevered and slowly our speed began to increase. In the first four hours we made less than ten miles over the ground towards Durban. As the wind eased so the wave height slowly decreased and before long we were motoring along at five knots. We hoisted the main for a bit of stability but it didn’t provide much drive. It wasn’t until mid afternoon that the wind freed us enough to sail, it was rather light so we motor sailed. The further south we went the better the conditions became, as darkness fell the cloud cover faded and we even enjoyed a little moonlight. There were many ships anchored north of Durban, we were amongst them by midnight. Port control had us follow one ship in but then delayed us while another departed. I could see all the details on my AIS display, eventually we tied up at the international visitors berth at about two o’clock. We had a quick beer and then turned in. There were several repairs to be done before the next leg; fortunately there was a good chandler within fifty metres of the yacht, moored outside the Royal Natal yacht club. I sent the main sail and a jib top for repair by the local Quantum agent; I also asked them for a price for a new number four. We removed the boom and replaced all the lines inside it. I found a small pair pf blocks inside the boom which increase the power of the clew outhaul. I then began repairing the winches, several had given trouble since Thailand, like most things on the boat they were Australian, made by Barlow, fortunately the springs were the same size as most other manufacturers but some cogs had teeth missing. I also bought a new warp for the main anchor, a twelve strand multiplat which I spliced to the chain. A few days after our arrival a local man asked if we had a water-maker, I replied that I did but I had not used it as I doubted it was serviceable. He replied that he built and repaired water-makers and offered to rebuild mine. He also put me in touch with an engineer who could make new parts for my Australian winches. The days passed too quickly as I was keen to get to Cape Town where I planned to return to the UK while some of the more important jobs were done. I noticed an oil leak at the front of the engine, worse still, next day I found oil in the coolant. That meant the head had to come off the engine. The man doing the water maker job was called Robin, he ordered a head gasket set for me and I set about getting the head off the engine. I ordered an oil seal for the front pulley as I presumed that was where the oil leak was. Alex and I stripped the engine and eventually removed the head, the oil seal turned out to be a good guess as there was oil outside the one in place and when it was removed we found a wear inside it. I thought it had been changed in Thailand when the injector pump was replaced, if so it only lasted about a hundred hours. As we were delayed I started more jobs that were planned for Cape Town. I pressurised the hot water tank for the first time but it expanded so much it split some of the woodwork around it. I removed it, which meant taking the chart table and the plotter panel out, and shaved off all the insulating foam from both sides. Back in place with more room it expanded even more. All I could think of was to reduce the operating pressure of the water pump so I bought a twenty five pounds per square inch pressure switch and replaced the one on the fresh water system, which had been forty pounds. It was better but not by much, so I removed the tank and took it to a stainless steel fabricator for alteration. The engineer making the winch parts also gave his opinion on the engine, he suggested we lift it out and have it properly tested, there was no sign of wear in the cylinders but the lack of power had to have a cause. So the next morning Alex and I removed it. We positioned two spinnaker poles above it, the aft ends went as far back as the transom, and the forward ends were supported by the jockey pole which lay across the third hatch aft. We removed the gear box first and then raised the engine, which had been stripped of as much weight as possible, by means of a Spanish windlass. We then moved it forward with the help of a halyard and set it down. I then re-tied the bridle so that it turned the engine vertically in order to get it through the hatch. We removed the spinnaker poles and winched it up, more lines pulled it aft, where we tilted it back to its normal aspect. We then tied it to the boom and lifted it ashore. The water-maker upgrade began to near completion and the winch parts were made and fitted but it took longer than I would have liked. The news from the engine department was good, internal wear was good for the age of the engine and nothing untoward was found, the lack of power was found to be due to a badly fitted injector pump, last removed in Thailand. Poor Thai workmanship was becoming the norm.
I spent a few hours in conversation with a female police officer in Toliaro; she asked if she could join me in the bar to practise her English, the conversation was enlightening but not surprising. She explained that there is very little employment available and the government does nothing to ease the plight of the poor. The people live day to day, and hand to mouth. It is not surprising that there was a crime problem. The politics is standard for this part of the world, rare or rigged elections and no accountability. The people have a very poor outlook. The weather forecasts probably kept us in port longer than they should have, when it was almost time to leave the strong winds finally arrived. I had been ashore in the morning buying vegetables, when I returned to the dock I could see that the wind had increased as soon as the car got to the pier. The ride back to the yacht in the rib was slow and wet, I did tell the taxi driver that I would come ashore again at two o’clock to have lunch and buy some bread, I also needed to get departure stamps in our passports from Immigration. But the wind continued to increase until the warp was at risk of breaking. We decided to lay out a second anchor but it dragged twice so we motored ahead to reduce the effect of the wind which was by then more than thirty knots. I hoped that some of the wind speed was sea breeze, which would ease at sundown. I had expected the wind to have a little east in it, giving us some shelter on a west coast, but the sea breeze bent it to slightly west of south. The wind did ease just after dark, twenty two knots seemed very gentle after thirty four. I set the anchor alarm and went to bed, it was early but we needed to depart early. I woke several times but at six o’clock I put the kettle on and called Alex. We had a lot to do before we left. After tea the first thing was to re-stow the third anchor and the spinnaker sheets that would have been the warp, then we pulled up the second anchor and washed the mud off the chain and the flukes before we disconnected the warp. Both were stowed under the tween deck in the forward cabin. Then we put away the storm jib, ready in case we had to sail during the night, fortunately the wind was very light as the sun rose. We washed most of the mud off the decks and began to pull in the main anchor with the help of the electric windlass. With minutes to spare I spotted a man in a canoe waving at me, I had arranged to buy some prawns before we left but I warned the man we were going to leave early. He came alongside in his dug-out with an outrider and with two of his young daughters as well. He spoke a little English and he passed me the prawns, I paid him, probably more than the market price but I didn’t mind. I also passed him a beer crate half full of empty bottles on which he could reclaim the deposit. He seemed happy. I took a new grib file which showed slightly less wind over the first two days than the previous one, the strong winds were forecast to be near Madagascar so the quicker we could get west the better. We motored north to miss the sand bank, with big waves breaking over it and then west, by the time we were at sea the wind had picked up a little so we hoisted the sails and made good progress. After an hour, during which time we ran the fridge pump, we stopped the engine and sailed. The ambition was for a hundred and twenty five miles west after twenty four hours, and the same for the next twenty four. I boiled most of the prawns but peeled the bigger ones to make a curry with. The morning sail was excellent, just a slightly unfriendly swell from the south. The course was directly at Maputo at six hundred miles, or rather the large sheltered bay outside it. We could also run downwind for refuge at a placed called Inhambane but only as a last resort. From Maputo we could choose our weather for the short hop to Durban or Richards Bay. That was the plan. The wind increased during the first afternoon to above the forecast, we reefed the main twice, making it as small as possible. The reefing second line was still outside the boom and susceptible to chafe so once in position the first reefing line was un-tied and put in place of the second. It worked well enough. At twenty two knots of wind the number three jib was too large but the result was excellent speed, we dropped it and re-hoisted it a couple of times during the night until a steady spell of more than twenty five knots arrived. A couple of lines securing blocks to the toe rail parted and were replaced with shackles and the temporary backstay tensioner stretched and so I put the topping lift back on the port toe rail. For the rest of the night we sailed on bare headed. Just before breakfast we dragged the number three jib back to the cockpit and hoisted the storm jib, this made helming easier and added a knot to the speed. For the rest of the day the wind was between twenty and thirty knots, the wave height increased and swell from different directions appeared. Life was a bit more difficult as spray continually drenched the cockpit. The further west we sailed the larger the green area, denoting twenty knots, grew on the forecast. The wind was stronger than the forecast as well. Boat speed was good and the yacht was very impressive at dealing with the waves. Because it is so heavy quite a few were sent into the air and some came inboard, but the hull form and the large lead keel gave the yacht tremendous “stiffness” i.e. resistance to roll. This was fortunate as on the second night with the wind at thirty plus knots I estimated the wave height to be six metres. A certain amount of luck is involved when sailing amongst large breaking waves, if you are fortunate; you are not in that one particular place. That place is just abeam a large one when it breaks with your roll already to the opposite side to the wave. I think we were in just such a place, one that would have caused severe problems to some yachts, but this S+S design would have none of it. During daylight you can often steer around these but at night, if it’s very dark, you have to take what is coming. On the third afternoon we at last sailed out of the windy area, the wave height reduced and we could relax a little. I was lucky with the timing as one of the prawns I had eaten a couple of days earlier, in a Nasi Goreng rather than a curry, gave me problems. Fortunately Alex was able to stand one of my watches as I slept it off. I was able to do my midnight stint but it was hard going, I fell asleep several times standing up. Next morning at six o’clock, I had been in bed only since four thirty, Alex decided to shake out the reefs in the main. He didn’t bother to replace the topping lift so the boom crashed down on the instrument pod and took a divot out of it. I was not best pleased. Later that morning the wind lessened so much that we had to motor, there was one hundred and seventy miles to go to Maputo. We motored all day and I managed to get some good sleep at last. It is much easier to sleep with the engine on, it drowns out all the other noises. We both enjoyed easy living as we motored west; we both caught up on sleep a little and found more time to attend to chores or food preparation. I made my first chapathi’s of the leg. As we approached the bay out side Maputo, with only fifty miles to go the latest weather forecast was slightly more optimistic so we decided to head towards Richards Bay in South Africa. I am sure we would not have met anyone from the Mozambique authorities but I was happier not to go there. The alteration saved us the fifty miles still to go as we then headed south rather than west. The famous Aghulas current was rather elusive but eventually we found it, to begin with the current was slightly against, but this eased and soon we were making more than eight knots over the ground. We motored because there was still no wind. We began to troll a lure for some fresh fish and I had only just finished telling Alex that the fishing in this area should be good when we had a big strike. I looked astern to see a large Dorado leaping above the water. The fish was soon in the cockpit, it was much easier to land than I expected, I think this was because it was so big it took the whole lure with both treble hooks into its mouth, most of the fish I have caught with this lure are foul hooked after taking a bite at it. It weighed twelve kilos and was easily the biggest Dorado I have landed. Alex took off one fillet and I took the other. We motored all night as there was little wind but on the nose so we pressed on with the engine. A few dark clouds dropped some rain on us but no strong winds arrived Next morning we could see South Africa only two miles away, the coast was tree covered, large sand dunes, with very little sign of life. All the next day was with the engine as the wind was still very light, the forecast though was for a north westerly blow at twenty five knots, As the miles fell behind I changed and re-changed my mind several times, trying to get to Durban but wanting an easy night, eventually we called Richards Bay VTS and asked for permission to enter. I had been there before so entering in the dark did not present a problem. We found a space against the small craft harbour wall only yards from a bar. We had arrived in South Africa.
We raised the anchor after our standard breakfast of porridge. The fishing boats that we saw the previous morning were all there again as we hoisted the main and motored past them. It was a sunny morning at last, not much wind but the flat water was welcome, during our stop we had transferred diesel from containers to fill the main tanks and so had plenty, we hoped. Alex wanted to stop at the small town we could see so I could buy more diesel, but I chose to make progress to the west. If the forecast changed and bad weather approached we could always run to the West coast of Madagascar, there were a few sheltered anchorages there. The first night was more of the same, rain, rough seas and strong winds. At one stage a confused sea made our progress very slow. The wind direction veered to head us so we began a beat to the west. The island of Madagascar looked very inhospitable as we sailed along its southern coast; we only saw smoke from two fires and no lights all night. None of the lighthouses shown on the charts were lit. We did spot a couple of local fishermen in wooden boats, risking the waves, but that was all. A split pin at the top of the port checkstay failed and so the stay fell onto the deck. Many would call it a runner but a runner goes to the top of the mast, on Queequeg the stays go to just below the first spreader. The backstay was already a temporary affair so the loss of another support was worrisome. I moved the topping lift from the end of the boom to the toe rail at the port quarter and winched it tight. In twenty four hours we only managed to get seventy five miles from Fort Dauphin bay but then the wind picked up a little and so did boat speed. There were a few other breakages, mostly minor but frustrating nonetheless. We had in front of us a 700 mile passage that would have to be completed quickly before bad weather arrived. The weather forecast mentioned a south westerly gale five days later, a five day forecast is rather inaccurate but something may have been on its way. So I decided to use one of the small anchorages on the west coast. Potentially we might be able to buy diesel and I could climb the mast to replace the checkstay, we could also watch the weather to see what developed. The wind increased during the night and I reefed the main, we made good speed and having decided to stop we were probably going to be a bit early as it made sense to squeeze into this new anchorage during daylight. The watch changed at eight pm but Alex was in bed no more than half an hour when the backstay gave way. It was the new temporary safety wire that failed, I had concerns about the bottle screw or the swaging but the wire itself parted. I shouted for Alex and put the wheel hard over to bring the yacht head to wind, Alex came out in his underwear and I sent him to drop the jib, while I tried to catch the flailing backstay before it hit something or someone. We then dropped the main sail, but without a topping lift or a solid kicker the boom sat on the deck, fortunately the dinghy stopped any damage. The boat was a bit of a shambles but despite the twenty five knot wind it was quite peaceful. I sent Alex to bed and then helmed for three hours with no sails. We made almost three knots, we were early because of previous good speed so it didn't matter, the motion was a bit rolly and Alex came up at midnight complaining that he didn't sleep. We then moved the boom to the opposite side and put on the starboard checkstay, the port one was missing, I rigged a temporary backstay and we hoisted the number three headsail. This gave us six knots and it was then my turn to sleep. At four o'clock we changed again and I steered under just the headsail to the anchorage Androka bay. We arrived just after sunrise and saw a few sailing fishing boats; they were small catamarans with a sail the shape of a shark's egg case. The wind was still steady at twenty five knots but the chart was accurate and we passed between the breaking waves without problem. I continued until the depth went below ten metres and we anchored although we were still a mile from the beach. The sand had created a natural harbour but with very flat land there was no shelter from the wind. We both slept for a few hours, then we began repairs, firstly I went up the mast to replace the port checkstay, I then fitted an improved backstay tensioner. With the wind still twenty five knots I felt that the strain on the anchor rode was too much so we brought out a second anchor, chain and warp. Once assembled, I motored ahead and we positioned the second anchor to leave us sitting to a wide “V”. I was embarrassed to admit to Alex that I had never done this before; I had used a second backing anchor many times but never two separate ones. The result was excellent; neither warp felt under undue tension, we could sleep easier that night. There was a town shown on the chart but even from the top of the mast I could see nothing but sand dunes and a few trees. The next weather picture was bad news, a gale to come in three days time. We decided to sail north a hundred miles and visit a town called Tulear, mentioned in the pilot book as worth seeing. Next morning we set off, the wind had eased a little overnight and so the exit from the lagoon was quite dignified. We picked up the second anchor first and then the bower. I turned the yacht head to wind and the main went up easily with the slides having been freshly greased. I then turned downwind and we pushed on past the breakers on either side. The number three headsail went up next. Fishing boats were passing heading towards the island to the south. Our direct course to Tulea was directly downwind so we sailed at an angle for more speed and stability, the first leg took us about two miles offshore until we gybed and headed north. As the morning went on the wind veered due to a sea breeze setting in, the wind speed increased as well. With one reef in the main we were often surfing down the waves at seven or eight knots, until by midday we were over pressed and the headsail was dropped. This made steering much easier and the boat speed hardly lessened. At sunset the sea breeze faded and we were left with the original wind speed and direction. During the night the wind eased but we persevered and continued to sail until it fell below six knots. We then motored the last twenty or so miles. An hour after sunrise we had breakfast and as soon as it was cleared away we made ready to enter port, The yellow flag went up, the headsail was lowered and unhanked and moved from the bow, The anchor was untied, the red ensign put in place, and the windlass control fitted to the socket at the bow. Alex did most of this while I made sure we followed a safe course inside a sand bank towards a jetty at the end of a long pier. The main was lowered at the last possible moment and I then called Toliaro harbour on the VHF, nothing heard so we crept slowly closer and anchored about a hundred metres north of the pier. We could see that we were watched by people on the pontoon, I did hope for a sleep but within an hour a canoe came out and asked us to report to the port captain. We lowered the rib and I went to the pontoon, I was met by the men that came out to us, who took my dinghy, and directed me to the Immigration office on the dock. The dock was covered in shipping containers and block paved which told me there had been some investment in the port. I noticed a mobile x-ray scanner that must have cost a great deal of money and was surely money badly spent, with cheap labour abundant every container could have been searched rather than scanned. There was an old fishing trawler alongside the dock that looked like it was being scrapped and there were six or seven sailing barges, all with two masts, both of which had a Madagascan flag flying from them. They were very impressive in their own way, all nicely painted. They seemed to be busy delivering sacks of sugar to the quay. The immigration officials seemed surprised to see me, and immediately telephoned someone, who arrived twenty minutes later. The young man asked me why we had come to Toliaro and when I explained that we had come to avoid some bad weather that was imminent he seemed satisfied. We had to pay about fifteen dollars each four our visa but that was all. The Customs and Police also arrived and all wanted to be taken to Queequeg. I took three on the first trip but I advised them that they would most likely get wet so the trip was aborted and I returned to the pontoon. I returned to Queequeg and Alex and I moved it closer to the pier. I then went back for the officials making two trips to get five people aboard. I was then faced with a situation that I had experienced many times before, five people all sat around the table in the saloon looking at me to see what they were going to be given. As soon as I explained that I only had bottled water to offer them they couldn't wait to be taken ashore again. What a pointless exercise. I had to visit all of the offices ashore as well, each of which presented me with an invoice for some nonsense. I had read in the pilot book about the mode of transport called a pousse-pousse a two wheel carriage pulled by a fit young man, there were dozens of them in the town. Fortunately we had managed to find a car driver to ferry us everywhere in his clapped out and dented Peugeot. During one trip, and suspiciously the only time we carried Diesel, the police at the end if the pier stopped us. They asked for my permit to carry diesel onto the pier. Of course it was a scam to get me to part with funds. The weather became pleasant, in fact windless so it was very peaceful at anchor other than the afternoons when a sea breeze blew onshore. Many dozens of fishing boats sailed offshore each morning, they then came back in on the sea breeze. My tour of the various officials was utterly predictable, pointless forms followed by an invoice to be paid. It wasn't a huge amount of money but it isn't surprising that so few yachts visit Madagascar. I heard differing opinions but some said as few as five or six a year come to Toliaro. The bars and restaurants were good with a very high standard of food, many were run by French people. We had a Zebu steak two nights running in one bar, they were nearly perfect. But the French all had something in common; they were all paranoid about crime. Many told me to return to my yacht as soon as it got dark. The problem was that the kitchen in the bar we were in only opened at sunset and we wanted a meal. I had of course commissioned a watchman, although what good he would have been is debatable. You simply can't go through life as if everyone is out to rob you. It happens but my experience is that it is rare. South Africa, next country, is different. We filled the respective tanks with water and diesel, in fact we had four hundred litres of diesel in various containers, enough to motor all the way, and at last we could see a gap in the weather, we hoped.
Our sleep batteries took longer than usual to recharge, we still slept for twelve hours at a time after three days, but eventually we recovered. A few passing pedestrians complemented the yacht but I was surprised that how few bothered to walk around the yacht basin when one considered how close it was to the Port Louis waterfront centre. The centre itself reminded me of the area with the same name in Cape Town. One of the visitors, during a conversation, recommended a marine electronics technician, a nice South African chap who attended the next day to see what could be done to the auto-pilot. We went through the checks that I had completed many times and both of us came to the same conclusion that both of the compasses were faulty. Both had been sent from the UK. Alan the South African attempted to source another one but I was not prepared to wait very long so we left without it. We had intended a three day stop but this stretched to seven, we were by then anxious to get going, so I paid the marina, very little compared to many places, and we moved the yacht to the Custom house wall and moored alongside. I advised the man at the front desk that we would like to clear out and he advised us to wait. Fortunately the Custom house was quite close to the market so while we waited I did some shopping. Vegetables, salad and meat all went into the fridge. We enjoyed an Indian meal at a restaurant only ten yards from where the yacht lay, and as soon as the Immigration official had stamped our passports we left. On the port clearance I advised that our intended destination was Durban. At 1500 miles distant it proved to be too tempting to stop half way somewhere in the south of Madagascar. The first night was quite windy and once out of the lee of the island of Mauritius the motion made sleep very difficult, progress was very good though, I made a course to pass to the south of Reunion, one hundred and thirty miles away. There was quite a lot of cloud next day so the French island was abeam the when we first spotted it. It had an imposing skyline, like something from Lord of the Rings. We continued south west, thinking that would be the last we saw of it, but with nightfall the weather deteriorated. Squally conditions and then increasing wave heights. Our watches continued but sleep would be impossible and then occasional wave found its way into the cockpit. That evening I spotted some lights to starboard, which at first I thought were fishing boats, but upon closer inspection we both agreed were lights from the coast of Reunion. A very large electrical storm began ahead of us and also to our port side, our two possible courses. At the eight pm watch change I offered Alex some choices, they were, hove to and wait for the lightening to abate or alter to starboard and beat our way to the shelter of the island. Checking the plotter an anchorage was thirty miles to the north. We agreed that was what we would do. I brought the yacht up into the wind and we began to sail towards shelter, we hadn't gone too far, about five miles, when the wave heights eased as we went into the lee of the island. This Island, Reunion, was large enough to create a wind shadow that had an effect a hundred miles down wind. It also created a breeding ground for electrical storms. As we neared Reunion the wind eased and we motored the last couple of hours. Rain and lightening were coming off the land as we neared, but fairly minor affairs. At just after one am we anchored 200 metres from a marina. We could hear singing coming from a bar. The anchor held well but it was very lively, the swell came from both directions around the island. I slept soundly in any case. We watched the electrical storm which continued at least until we went to sleep. At seven o'clock the next morning I looked out to see a scene that might have been any French coastal town. People were coming out to fish in their small boats and the buildings were all in French style. We raised the anchor after a porridge breakfast and headed west. I would have stayed for a few days but Alex needed a visa in advance so rather than give the French officials a heyday we left. The surprise was the wind direction, from the west. I think this was also due to the effect the island had on the surrounding area. We sailed upwind for six or seven hours until it veered to come from the east, as the wind in the whole region did. The next two days were as different as any two can be. The electrical storm that we chose to avoid was there again waiting for us the next night. To begin with it was fairly harmless, I watched as huge clouds formed and then began to release rain, most passed by but one or two rained on us. Alex slept and I helmed as the light show began. The majority was sheet lightening but some forked down into the sea. Some of the flashes were so bright I could see the bones in my hands if I held them up in front of me. We sailed reasonably well, and even went under one or two clouds discharging all those volts. At one stage I got caught between two or three active clouds so my wind direction kept changing. I dropped the jib and started the engine so that I could return to my course. After ten minutes the wind went back to normal so I cut the engine and sailed under main alone, full main. We seemed to be getting deeper and deeper into the area of squalls but the wind speed, when not affected by a cloud was only ten knots. At midnight Alex came up to take over. There was no jib set and a full main on so I put a reef in the main and then intended to hoist the number three jib. I could see dark clouds ahead but they looked like all the others, only this one had a bite. I spent a few minutes talking with Alex and then without warning the wind speed became thirty knots, Alex struggled with the helm and I watched the wind instrument reading higher and higher. I went to the mast to put in a second reef but by then the wind was more than forty knots so I pulled the whole sail down and tied it to the boom. I returned to the cockpit to give Alex support and we both watched as the wind went above fifty knots. Very quickly the sea picked up and the motion became very uneven. Apart from the numbers on the instruments the most shocking thing was the noise the wind made in the rigging, a howl like a banshee. Alex struggled to steer, though not for lack of steerage way, we noticed that the boat speed touched seven knots with no sails hoisted. I had him try to keep the wind on the port quarter but if we had had any sails up we would have gybed several times. I sat in the cockpit and waited, I hoped it would pass fairly soon, but two hours later I was cold from the rain that accompanied the wind so I went below for an hour. Whilst there I put out a call on the VHF to see if any vessels nearby had less wind. No ships answered but I did get a reply from Reunion Marine Rescue Centre asking me if I was in distress, I advised him that we had endured 30-50 knots for two hours and that I was seeking any local weather information that might be available. He advised me of the name and call sign of a nearby ship. I called them but they did not reply. I was surprised to hear from Reunion as it was ninety miles away at the time. Their aerial was obviously very high. Our course had been 260 degrees before the squall but running before it we made 320. We then took turns to helm, each doing a thirty minute spell. The fifty knot wind eased to thirty to forty but the whole thing did not pass until just after six o'clock. I had sent Alex to get some sleep by then. The sea was rough for most of the day but we were grateful to have come through the night with no damage. We had been pushed seventeen miles north from our starting point by dawn. We dreaded the next night and what it might bring but we were far enough away to see the lightening behind us but not near us. In fact we motored quite a bit that night due to a lack of wind. The next day the sea was calm and we enjoyed text book sailing, I found the time to troll a lure and we caught a Wahoo quickly followed by a Dorado, both big enough for three people to have a good meal. I bought some new lures in Mauritius and the first one I tried seemed very good. We caught a five kilo yellow-fin tuna the next day. The fridge was full of food, but as we were by then only a day or so from our intended stop in Madagascar I decided to keep fishing. The reason was a decent fish might smooth our path with the harbourmaster at the next port. The next night was another difficult one, squalls, low cloud full of rain, lightening all around us. That meant many sail changes and little sleep. A block for the second reef at the foot of the mast broke so I had to change it. Unfortunately I failed to re-tie the stopper knot and the line unreeved itself, coming out of the boom. Dawn usually brought relief but not the next one, the rain continued all day. The extra wind did bring one benefit, our speed towards our stop increased dramatically. The light gave us more confidence to carry sail. A helpful two knot current added to this and sometimes I helmed at ten knots over the ground. Ideally we would arrive at Fort Dauphin bay in the south east of Madagascar in daylight. I came off watch at midday with forty one miles to go. I expected to be called for the four pm watch but Alex let me sleep an extra half hour, when I did wake I discovered that he had sailed past the best place to turn into the bay. With eleven miles to go we could see a forbidding coastline, dark clouds dropping rain were all around. I had to turn the plotter on to find our route as it was not readily apparent. There were two possible places to anchor in the bay, one near a small town, but not as sheltered as the other, five miles across the bay. The headland was almost north south at that point and the wind was from the east, so I chose there. It was almost seven pm locally so the light was fading but the chart on the plotter looked accurate. There was a lighthouse on top of the hill but it was not working, our chosen spot was due west of the lighthouse but on the inside of the bay. The closer we got to our target the smaller the waves. Just as light faded we anchored in ten metres on sand according to the chart. We saw sandy beaches while there was light so that seemed reasonable. We paid out all forty metres of chain and another twenty of warp. I made a waypoint on the plotter and another on the GPS. I then set the anchor alarm to a tenth of a mile and we were done. We both woke a few times during the night but it was welcome sleep. At daylight the air was full of spray from the waves breaking on the rocks and beaches, a southerly swell had arrived and our motion was a little uncomfortable. When I viewed the scene it was apparent that we were in the most comfortable place, elsewhere all was rough. There were a dozen or so small boats near us, not within waving distance but not far away, each dugout canoe had four or five people in them and I presumed they were fishing. All the boats were very close to each other, I thought surely the fishing would have been better if they were apart. Eventually one came nearer to us; I was replacing a broken batten in the main sail at the time, they paddled towards us, none of the boats had engines, and waved what they called langoustine at us. I had some Madagascan money, swapped for St Helena notes the last time I was in Cape Town, I quickly got out a 10,000 Ariary note and asked for two of their catch, we exchanged a little French and they paddled away. Their dress was interesting, woven jackets and small trilby hats; it seemed a bit South American to me. The weather was poor, low cloud and rainy patches; I didn't envy them living here. Our difficulty was going to be the weather between Madagascar and Africa. The grib files showed either Northerly gales or Southerly gales, of the two I would prefer Northerly as the Aghulas current runs to the south and wind against current produces bigger waves. We would have to time our departure to squeeze between one of the two wind directions. Before that we had a well earned rest. I explained to Alex how to filet a Tuna to make sashimi as we still had the yellowfin to deal with. I reconnected a loose wire to the AIS so that ships could be displayed on the plotter again, I also made several flour balls ready to be rolled out as chapati's. The swell gradually decreased and after another nights rest we departed.
We moved the yacht around the atoll a couple of times trying to find good snorkelling and diving but each time we were asked to go back to Gan by the authorities. Next morning we borrowed bicycles from the resort and rode to the north of the atoll along the connecting road. Afterwards I rode to the airport and inspected the memorial to those lost during the Second World War. All the names were all Indian. Reading the East Africa pilot I found that the ITCZ was probably to the south of us, not the north as I had hoped. We spent the next day doing small jobs and relaxing. The atoll was pretty to look at but not much of interest ever happens, so the next day we checked out. This involved a bus ride to the Northern port of Mithadhoo, a new development. The new causeway was at least half a mile long and we walked along it in company with another cruiser, also checking out. The paperwork went reasonably well and there was no talk about us not having an agent. From what I can tell the agents charge high fees which they share with the authorities, a backdoor bribe. In return the authorities try to insist yachts use agents. Having completed formalities and only been charged 50 Rufiyaa’s for port dues we walked back to the road, and found a shaded spot to wait for the bus. After two and a half hours one sped by and ignored our waves, so we walked. The roads were well maintained and had vegetation on either side, mostly mangroves and palm trees; often the sea was close to the road on both sides where the island was narrow. Many cars drove past but not one person thought of asking if we wanted a lift. It was obvious that we had a long walk as there were no houses or shops for quite a distance. After about an hour we came to a local shop and bought some cold water. Another half an hour later and we came to a small restaurant where we stopped for a late lunch. The shop I had already used was only another one hundred metres so I spent all my remaining local money on provisions. A young man in the shop brought our just purchased boxes of food to the jetty and we returned to the yacht. As quickly as we could we made ready for sea, the intention was to be through the gap in the atoll in daylight. We just about managed this so we began motoring west, there was almost no wind. I initially set a waypoint at a shoal to the east of northern Madagascar. This was purely for comparison as we were bound to go wherever the wind allowed us. It was also so that we could look at a lower miles to go number than the actual destination which was Nosy Be in Madagascar some 1500 miles away. There was 380 litres of diesel on board, some in containers; this would allow approximately one hundred and seventy hours of motoring. At five knots, the most economical speed, that made a range well short of any island with fuel. A considerable distance would simply have to be sailed. The first twenty hours did not bring enough wind to sail, but then a slight breeze arrived, we hoisted the number two and the staysail and with a little help from a west going current we were able to sail. The total lack of waves helped. There was a slight swell but this did not affect our speed. We trolled a lure, as usual, but despite a few bites nothing was landed. We were not short of food though, I bought two frozen chickens and a frozen beef tenderloin in Gan, Alex generally dieted on passage and ate not much more than a porridge breakfast so most of the food would be eaten by me. We also had a couple of cases of diet coke and a crate of beer. Most of all we would need patience, no matter how many times I took a new weather forecast I couldn’t find one with wind on it. Two days out the decision made itself, we would have to head for the Seychelles. No other place to buy fuel was within range, and even then we would have to find some wind to get there, or wait for the one knot current to take us closer. After thirty hours of engine use I transferred a measured amount from plastic containers, both to fill the main tank and to gauge how much we had used. A tiny bit over two litres an hour was the result of the exercise. We still had 300 litres remaining, so no need to worry at that stage. Alex complained that he was always very tired at four AM. Four on, four off, means you do the same hours every day, so I introduced two, two hour dog watches each evening, this meant our shifts rotated. Then Alex said he was too tired at midnight. The nights were such a relief from the heat of the day. Our passage began at 1800 hours so each new day for us starts at that time, Just as the third day started we gradually came closer to a line of clouds running east-west, in an otherwise cloudless sky. The line looked almost man-made, with rain falling from rising clouds every three miles or so. There was a thick line of cumulus connecting these rain clouds from one horizon to the other. As we approached a gap between rain clouds an unusual phenomenon occurred overhead, we could see lighter, higher clouds almost in the pattern of stripes. Lit by the receding sun the stripes looked “Pinkish”. As the sun disappeared so did the stripes. I expected the clouds to produce some localised wind but was disappointed until I came on watch at midnight. At last one of the clouds began to draw air into its base thereby creating some wind for us to sail to. For a few minutes we enjoyed a nice sail with thirteen knots of breeze on our beam. It didn’t last very long, half an hour later we were motoring again. At least I could eat well, my trip through Asia took me to some of the best places for food and I bought many interesting preparations, from Nasi Goreng to Green Thai curry, from Beef Rendang to Butter Chicken Sauce. I could prepare most of the signature dishes of some of the best countries one can eat in. At the start of the fourth day our luck improved slightly, We caught a Big Eyed Tuna at about four kilos and the wind picked up a little, we were able to sail for most of the night, although slowly. The next day we sailed when we could, but it wasn’t much, there were many clouds on the horizon, some of them dropping rain, we often steered towards them but invariably they disappeared before we managed to get under them for shade or a cold shower. The next day there were more clouds than we had seen before, many dropping rain. We always seemed to miss the rain, but one group of clouds brought some wind, we had about thirteen knots, the yacht quickly powered up and we sailed at eight knots. It lasted for two hours, which is better than nothing, but with six hundred miles to go, not much. I topped up the main fuel tanks again and was pleased to find that the rate of use was still two litres per hour. We had fuel for about a hundred hours of motoring left but still 600 miles to go. I took a new grib file each morning but there was always a big blue patch in front of us, indicating no wind. It was frustrating. Even the helpful current disappeared as we went further south. It then became unhelpful, at up to a knot, and finally at two knots against I decided that we could not make the Seychelles. The weather forecasts had been unusually inaccurate and the wind promised did not appear. It was pointless to continue to motor at five knots towards a current of two knots. We would just run out of fuel in a no wind area. I decided to head south, not a difficult choice given that the wind direction was from the west. We could steer 220 which when you take away the variation gave us a course of 213, but the current pushed us further East and our course over the ground was sometimes as bad as 150. At least we were heading towards more wind and hopefully a different direction of current. Having altered course the next most likely landfall would be the top of Madagascar, still some 950 miles distant. Food and water were still plentiful, but sleep was hard to come by. There were many things to be done and the off watch time was too short. Morale was reasonable, the light winds made for easy living, no pitching seas to try to sleep through. The time passed quickly, although individual watches sometimes dragged. Helming was much more pleasant while sailing than motoring; the wheel transfers the “feel” of the rudder to the helmsman, so he can predict which way to turn next. The most important thing to crew on a short handed trip like this is either sleep or the next meal, keep them supplied in big enough quantities and you have a happy ship. The days continued to pass quickly and the sun continued to bake the decks. At seven degrees twenty four minutes south on the ninth day, we passed through the east going current. Our spirits rose with our speed over the ground. We still had a likely nine or ten day sail ahead but the signs were good at last. The wind still did not want us to make progress. The engine was only used if we could not sail at all, which was too common. When we did motor I chose to go south rather than at our destination as I could see that there was likely to be wind at twelve degrees south, at least the grib files thought so. Most evenings we stop fishing after dusk as it is tends to be pointless, but one evening we must have been a bit late in reeling in the line as we hooked quite a large squid. I prepared it the next day and deep fried it in batter. Unfortunately it was like chewing on a tyre, Alex enjoyed it though. The rest of that night was calm, some sailing the rest motoring. Fuel was a consideration but I thought wind would come eventually so I continued to use our limited supply. The next night, in near total darkness I steered the yacht under a big cloud that was drawing in wind, we soon had twenty five knots and I had to call Alex out to put a reef in the main, the cloud also soaked us both with very cold rain. Our course and the direction of the cloud must have been similar as we enjoyed the lift it gave us for a few hours, six or seven knots of boat speed and almost the correct direction was very welcome. Once it eventually passed the wind went back down to the usual three or four knots. The next night we saw what I think was the ITCZ, although it was quite a mild affair, total cloud cover although most of it was very high with a few squalls, although none came near us. By the tenth night the distance to the top of Madagascar was down to 650 miles, but as we were heading south when we did find wind it would very likely come from the east and be directly astern, Sailing to the islands to the south, Reunion or Mauritius, was a similar distance but the course would give us a better sailing angle. We therefore diverted our intended landfall yet again. We still had a couple of days during which we could change our minds again before the distances became too great, so we continued to sail and motor south. We soon passed the point of decision and continued south, a cruising guide advised that Alex, from Ukraine, would need a visa to land at Reunion so we chose Mauritius, it was the nearer of the two in any case. Still the wind was fickle, occasional periods of eight knots but mostly less than needed to sail. The forward of the two main tanks when dipped showed about ten litres left so I switched to the aft tank, fifteen remained in a plastic container, I added this to the forward tank. At that stage we had one hundred and thirty five litres remaining, enough for about sixty hours of motoring. Next day after a better night than most I took the daily grib file download via my satellite phone. This one turned very green after a few days. Green indicated twenty knots of wind, although around our position the forecast was for no wind. We soon left the area of no wind and all the concern regarding the amount of fuel left was soon made irrelevant, because at last the wind found us. At thirteen and a half degrees south the Easterly wind filled in at around thirteen knots. We kept the same sail plan even though more wind was forecast; we debated changing the headsail for a smaller one but decided to keep the number two until the last moment, even though this might mean changing sails during the night. It was not that we were afraid of the dark it was that sleep time was scarce enough and to call out both of us meant a poor night for at least one of us. If we had changed earlier it would have meant lost miles, it was as a simple choice, sleep or miles. With the increased wind the cloud activity also increased, almost every cloud added to the basic wind speed, and many of them added rain as well. At least our speed was better and with careful helming we were able to lay a course directly for Mauritius. Some of the night sailing was outstanding, we were caught out by the predicted increase so the number two came down to leave us bare headed for the rest of the night, a high clewed jib top number three went up the next morning. The wind soon increased to twenty then twenty five knots occasionally thirty. Two reefs were all the main allowed, our only action in stronger winds was to run downwind. Whenever it eased a little, we pointed at Mauritius again. During the night watches I often turned off all the instrument lights and helmed by feel in the darkness, it was quite an experience, the yacht often seemed to jump from wave crest to wave crest and the sensation of speed was enhanced by the darkness. Strong wind from the same direction soon begins to increase the wave height and on the second night of twenty plus knots the occasional wave would break over the yacht. We had to be careful how we steered for fear of being swamped. During one gust Alex let the jib sheet go, the line then flailed across the foredeck catching on one of the hatch hinges which it tore off. All the hatches leaked so it was quite wet inside the yacht. We both moved our sleeping places to a drier spot. By the fifteenth day we were within striking distance of Port Louis, one last night to helm though. Fortunately it was fairly cloud free so the bigger waves could just be made out in the starlight. We could see the loom of the lights of Mauritius from seventy five miles away. When I came on watch again at four AM there were fewer than thirty miles to go before the island would give some shelter. The wind had backed slightly so we were free to sail our course. A few ships appeared on the AIS and just after sunrise I spotted the island. I sailed the rest of my watch slowly to give Alex some sleep before we entered Port Louis. A cruise ship, the Crystal Serenity, entered the port before us. I called port control on the VHF and after a few questions we were directed to tie up alongside the Custom house. Formalities took a few hours, during which time we pulled sails onto the pontoon for folding and drying. By the time we were finished we had the boat in better shape. Whilst emptying the forward cabin I found a spinnaker that I thought I had lost in Phuket, I also found two twenty litre fuel containers, one of which was full. The officials were very polite and friendly; they advised us that we were the first yacht of the season to arrive. Cyclones can come at any time but May is thought of as the first safe month. We moved the yacht to a nearby marina which was very close to the smart town centre. We then enjoyed all the things we had missed for the last sixteen days, like a hot shower and a good nights sleep.
The only drawback to Cochin was the mosquitoes, there were hoards of them. We burned smoke rings all night from before dusk until after dawn. I tied a net above my bed and slept under that, if the smoke coil burnt out I could hear the mosquitoes as they tried to find a way into the net. The Indian people were all charming and polite but I found the lack of forward thinking frustrating, almost all paperwork is hand written. Computers, where they do exist seem under-utilised. A country with so many people seems afraid to modernise in case this makes people unemployed, I long to return though, and the food was wonderful. A new processor and compass for the B+G system arrived from the UK so we made ready to leave, the topsides painting was finished and diesel and water tanks topped off. The boat men took us to Immigration and Customs again and we checked out, it went much quicker than the inward process, but it was still ridiculous. What possible advantage can there be to treating yachts like ships. I never heard of a suicide bomber arriving by yacht. High water at the marina was at about five pm, Queeqeug needed high tide to leave, most of the other boats moved out at high water and then anchored, still in the port until next morning before they left. We didn't bother; we just motored out straight into the channel. There was a large dredger working in the outward route so we manoeuvred around it. After a couple of miles we hoisted the sails and bore away to the south, the engine was rested and we began on a high as the wind was ideal. I assumed it was a sea breeze, but it held well into the night. We motored for a few hours either side of dawn, then, between the two of us we managed to hoist a spinnaker which improved our speed a little but our course a lot, we were able to sail much deeper. Alex made porridge for breakfast almost every morning, either he or I steered; there was no autopilot and no one else. Having seen some privileged information about the number of pirate attacks along the Oman coast I decided that the risk was just too high, so I changed my route home. The only alternative was to sail around Africa, so from Cochin we headed south to Gan, The most southerly atoll of the Maldive islands. I did make enquiries about stopping at Chagos after Gan, but there is now a no diving rule, so I thought it would be a waste of money. The habit of charging yachts to visit is spreading, Chagos, or rather the UK foreign office, charge one hundred pounds a month, but I heard in Cochin that Maldives allow three free days and then charge six hundred and fifty US dollars for a cruising permit. As we sailed south I expected the nights to be eventful. I did see some distant flashes of lightening on the second night but nothing close. There were many low black clouds for us to sail under but none of them generated very much wind, although I did see a waterspout upwind from us just as the light faded. Fortunately it did not come close. On the third day, while I was resting, Alex lost his pillow overboard and decided to have his own man overboard drill. He failed to appreciate that we were towing a fishing lure behind the yacht. This quickly became tangled around the keel. Having caused the problem I suggested he solve it by swimming under the yacht. This he did with good grace. The positive from the exercise was that he discovered that a polypropylene sack was wrapped around the propeller. With the aid of a knife he cleared it. Afterwards we discussed how to recover a man overboard in more detail. Later I noticed some more wind than usual south of Chagos when I looked at a grib file. Interested I took another grib file for the whole Indian Ocean and saw that at least a tropical storm and potentially a cyclone was forming. We were still two days at least from Gan where we planned to stop for three or more days, hopefully it would have moved away before we were due to get near it. The third night was completely cloudless; this made me think that the ITCZ was north of the equator, potentially very good news indeed, the other fact that made me think that this was the case was the grib files showed winds moving across the equator. This is unusual if the ITCZ is there. The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone is the area that separates the two weather systems North and South of the equator. It can be very unpleasant, full of squalls and thunderstorms, with no wind apart from that. During the day it can be cloudy with poor visibility. All who experience it are pleased to put it behind them. The fourth day was a little disappointing as the wind eased and veered a bit, our good speed disappeared but we still made progress. At night the clouds dispersed to reveal a panorama of stars, helming was made easier as we were able to head almost directly at the Southern Cross, just above the horizon. I often turned all the instrument lights off so I could enjoy an unspoilt view. On the fifth day we sailed close enough to get a good look at one of the atolls, but that night the wind disappeared for a few hours so we dropped the sails and enjoyed a little extra sleep. Next day we had a look at another atoll and went in close in the anticipation of catching a fish, we had a few bites but never managed to hook into anything. The afternoon was idyllic, a flat sea, just enough wind to sail nicely and many dolphins around the yacht. That night, the sixth, the wind died altogether and so as we approached the equator, with still no sign of squalls, we motored. We crossed the equator just after midnight sailing very slowly, the light wind from directly behind meant slow speed and a poor angle, the south going current had also become west going. We found the gap in Addoo atoll, the most southerly, just after sunrise, the plotter had calculated that the tide was on the rise and we saw the benefit as we motored through the narrow channel, we could see surf breaking on the coral on either side of us, only metres away. The atoll is about five miles across and this one is free from obstructions inside it. Perhaps that's why it was chosen a base by the British military. Nearing the other side we saw a small group of yachts anchored in a shallow lagoon by a causeway built between two of the islands. I considered joining them but the entrance looked difficult so we anchored in thirty five metres at a place described on the chart as an “Anchorage”. An agent must have seen us and so called us on the VHF, he arranged for us to be visited by the authorities about an hour later. Cleared in we were advised to join the other yachts but the entrance looked very shallow, so I anchored outside and went by Rib to make enquiries, it looked cramped but people from the yachts inside assured me it was safe so we went in. I anchored in two different places but neither gave any margin for error if the wind direction changed, so I moved out again. I looked for shallower water than at the first anchorage but this meant being nearer to the coral wall. We chose a spot not far away, overlooking people sunbathing on a sandy beach below coconut trees. Alexi swam ashore and came back with the report that most of the tourists were Russian, and that we would be welcome to use the facilities, so we did. It was an all inclusive resort constructed around a former camp. The customers paid a ridiculous amount per day, maybe because the Maldives has a good reputation. We had a few beers at the bar, dined at the restaurant and even watched some cricket on the television. Satisfied we returned to the yacht to be annoyed by mosquitoes. During the night the yacht moved a little nearer the coral so after breakfast we decided to move. From intending a short stop to hoping to stay much longer didn't take very long at all. We moved about a mile northwards and anchored in a place that turned out to be ideal, the holding seemed better and we were within a short rib ride of a garage for diesel, a shop, and the ATM. While I checked the weather Alex Snorkelled with his spear gun, He was gone for over an hour but when he did return he called for me to help. He had shot a spotted stingray (correct name TBA) but it was so big he could not land it on his own. I suggested he gaff it and I helped him pull it into the dinghy. The two of us somehow managed to get it on deck. I estimate that it weighed fifty kilos. We took photographs and cut it up for eating. An hour before sunset we were visited by the Customs launch who advised us that we had to move. I had just begun frying stingray so that had to wait, we moved back towards the original anchorage but with a little more wind we were unable to find good holding, finally at the third attempt and with all the rope and chain let out, over ninety metres, the anchor held. I set an anchor alarm just in case. The stingray didn't taste very good so that was a disappointment, the photographs were good though. The next day we made an early start, the chart showed a wreck to the north, which the literature in the resort described as the British Loyalty. We initially motored over the precise co-ordinates, hoping to see a difference in the depth, when this failed we anchored as close as we could, in thirty metres, and took the rib to see if we could find it. Alex snorkelled, but failed to locate it. So I donned dive gear and Alex took me in the rib to a spot upstream of where we thought it might be. I went down to twenty two metres so that I could see the bottom, and searched as much as I could. Purely by chance I surfaced within twenty metres of the yacht, which was just as well, as the first thing I noticed was that there was no rib alongside. Alex had tied the painter one handed and it had come undone. The rib was a mile away. Fortunately we were within an atoll so it couldn't have gone too far, but Alex had a long swim to retrieve it. I think he learned a valuable lesson.
The Port control official was very courteous on the VHF and wished us a pleasant sail as we motored out of Port Blair. The south of Sri Lanka was eight hundred miles away, at which point we would turn West then North and another four hundred miles would see us fetch Cochin. The light airs of the first two days were not welcome, there was a steady six to eight knots of wind but it was directly behind us, so our progress was extremely poor. We gybed to find speed, firstly under plain sail and then to find more speed, under a spinnaker. I took the decision to keep the spinnaker up during the night, despite having two inexperienced helmsmen on board. There was a full moon and the most wind I expected was ten knots so it was a reasonable risk. The first twenty four hours put us only sixty or so miles nearer the waypoint, the second a little better but not much. One the third day ten to twelve knots of wind arrived, as predicted by a Grib file Weather forecast and we began to see the numbers decline more rapidly, we also began to benefit from a south going current. Three hours on and six off meant a reasonable amount of rest, unless the helm is not concentrating and the sails flog. The three hour shift was entirely helming as the auto pilot was not yet working. Several emails to B+G for assistance had failed to solve the problems. We quickly got into a routine, Alex, as the total novice as far as food preparation was concerned, cooked breakfast. Steve with a little more idea, but not much, prepared lunch, mostly sandwiches. I cooked the evening meals. The fridge is worth a mention as everything kept in good condition long after we had any right to expect. Occasionally we enjoyed a single cold beer at lunchtime. Alex had a secret(he thought) whisky at night. Downwind in hot sunny conditions meant little shelter from the stifling heat, in the afternoons we gradually got some shade as the sun moved behind the spinnaker. As well as shade it provided good propulsion. Early on the fourth morning the wind rose to eighteen knots so I called the other two to help me take it down. Safely in the bag the wind kept increasing to twenty two knots, so it was a good decision. The wind changed direction a few times so we gybed to find the best course. Rarely could we sail directly at our target, but most of the time it was quite near. The usual routine set in, watches, sleep, food preparation and meal times, most nights there was some reason for me to help one of the others at some stage, but I could often catch a hours rest during the day. During the afternoon of the fifth day we saw a fishing boat, seeing us it altered towards us and followed us for half an hour, we were making good speed at the time so I believe it was unable to get any closer. I can only speculate on what its intentions were. During the sixth night with the latitude down to under seven degrees we experienced the first squall of the passage, my two inexperienced crew continued to think that our weather came from ahead instead of from upwind as I had briefed them. We reduced sail for the rest of the night and continued, unfortunately the snap shackle at the top of the mainsail opened itself and so the sail came down on its own. We used the topping lift to raise the main again and continued. A snap shackle should not be on the main halyard but I hadn't managed to change it by then. The next day we sighted the coast of Sri Lanka, and altered our course to head more westerly. Our progress improved dramatically. During the afternoon I often made ten knots over the ground, aided by a bit of current. We saw many familiar container ships pass close by, all rounding the south of Sri Lanka. Alexi the Ukraine was fanatical about fishing and paid more attention to fishing than sailing. One evening the lure hooked a fish or maybe some litter and the line ran out, Alex, who was steering at the time, let the wheel go and grabbed the rod, the yacht headed up and the wind went behind the main, the preventer was not able to stop the uncontrolled gybe but worse, the line going forward to a block and then a winch was snagged under the second hatch aft. The hatch was torn from its hinges and thrown across the yacht. That night, just after dark, Lightening started crashing down. On the land at first but soon offshore as well, we had a few near strikes, close enough for me to put my laptop into the oven, not to cook it but for it to act as a Faraday cage and protect it. It was very dark and before long we motored into our first rain squall. We had already lowered all the sails so it was just a case of putting up with the water. Unfortunately it came in through the hatch above my berth. It also managed to get into the old depth instrument we had rigged up in the cockpit, as the new one was not working. During the next day, the ninth of the passage, we had a remarkable sail across the gap between Sri Lanka and the Indian mainland. The wind was much better than the forecast had predicted. I had the first shave for a week as I looked forward to going ashore. We had been very frugal with our limited water supply, but the further we went the more we relaxed the rule. The visibility was poor as we approached land but I could smell burning from several miles offshore. There was little to see until just before darkness fell and then hundreds of brightly painted fishing vessels came out for the night, several approached us and gestured for food. I gave one a bag of old fishing line and they seemed quite pleased with it. We could not have fed them all so I chose not to feed any. It seemed to us that we would arrive in Cochin just after dawn the next day so we planned accordingly. We motored for most of the night as the wind had disappeared completely. Just before dawn we eased the engine a little to time our arrival to coincide with breakfast rather than earlier. As we approached the channel several ships were entering, I called port control on the VHF and after several questions was given permission to enter, I was told to anchor opposite the Malabar hotel. The Maxsea chart didn't show the hotel but fortunately the Navionics chart on the new B+G plotter did. Huge fish traps were on either bank as we entered the harbour, the channel became a waterway rather than a river as there were several Islands. We soon spotted three other yachts at anchor and motored towards them. The water was too shallow near the hotel so we moved out a bit and anchored. It was just after eight o'clock. Alex made a breakfast of porridge for us and we waited to be visited by officials. It wasn't long, the harbour master came on a launch, and fairly soon afterwards a gentleman from the Customs appeared. He had three stripes on his shoulder and wore summer whites, he was very unsure of his balance and I thought he was drunk, I later changed my mind about that, I then considered him to be disabled, probably mentally. The usual boat boy, a man in his fifties, came alongside and introduced himself, the first thing we did was give him three bags of rubbish to take ashore. Then as soon as we had tidied the boat up a little we went ashore with him. That was at about nine thirty, first we went to the Harbour masters office, despite the fact that we had already received him on board and supplied all the usual details again. I was given a small invoice for port dues, which the boat boy went off and paid. Next we went to the Custom house, a short stroll. We met the officer that had boarded and followed him to another room, several people worked in this room, turning over page after page of hand written forms. All around there were shelves of very untidily placed reams of papers mostly tied legal style with string, there were also piles of different coloured ledgers, with presumably import and export cargo details. A group of forwarding agents competed for the official's attention. Our officer presented me with a set of forms, very much like the one I had completed and asked me to sign it, I said I am happy to sign it but it is for another yacht, he did not understand. He gestured again so I pointed to the yachts name Esprit, and said my yachts name is Queequeg. He would not be persuaded so I signed the form. He tried to catch the eye of apparently a more senior official, one not in uniform, but failed, so he stood up and walked out with the forms in his hand. Half an hour later he came back, having photocopied the forms he had taken out. I could see he had my forms but he selected Eprit's form and tried to get me to sign another page. I said, more firmly my yachts name is Queequeg, not Esprit. With that he just sat still staring at the forms for what seemed like ten minutes. He then handed them to the more senior officer, who eventually filled out some other forms, always the same details, yacht name, last port, number of crew etc. and then asked us, for two other crews had joined me by then, to follow her upstairs. We waited upstairs for more signatures and when we went back downstairs to be given a receipt for our registration papers the official had gone to lunch so we had to wait another hour and a half. Eventually we were given a receipt and so we left and hired a tuk-tuk to go to Immigration. Again it was slow service but not as slow as Customs. Cleared in we went back to the yacht, it was four o'clock. After a discussion with the boat boy we raised the anchor and headed towards Bolgatty Island and the only marina. We were too late in the tide and there was not enough water for us to enter the channel to the marina, we ploughed through some mud, but the tidal range that day was so small that I doubt we could have got in even at high water. Our only option was to return to the same place and try again next morning. Anchored again off the Malabar hotel, we waved at a passing boat who kindly dropped us ashore at the hotel, some sort of function was going on and we three scruffily dressed individuals walked through the grounds of the hotel while many immaculately dressed locals queued to be seated. Outside we took a taxi to the old city of Cochin and dined at a restaurant overlooking the harbour entrance. Early next morning, after one of those nights that can only be really appreciated after several nights of disturbed sleep, we picked up the anchor and motored towards the marina at Bolgatty Island. The depth below the keel was often only ten centimetres but we gradually drew nearer and nearer. Inside the marina there was not enough water for us to tie up at the designated pontoon, so we moored to the one next to it. The first thing I noticed was that a large proportion of the yachts already there were American, with the stars and stripes hanging from their transoms. We had heard of the deaths of four of the crew from the American yacht Quest. Quest had left from Cochin on its way West, we learned that some of the people in the marina had known the crew of Quest and had returned to India following their hijacking and ultimately their murder. The Americans all decided to have their yachts shipped through the Suez Canal; loading was to take place in the Maldives. We were very fortunate to have found this marina, the clubhouse was in fact a very smart hotel, with two of the rooms set aside for yachties to use for showers, there was a gym, a snooker room, and even a nine hole golf course. The staff were exceptionally polite and it could not have been nicer. The new city of Cochin was just across the river and a ferry charged four rupees for the trip. We had only been there a day when we heard that another yacht, this time Danish, had been taken by pirates; the mood in the marina was sombre. I don't know why because I was the only one still intending to take the risk and head west. All the others had changed their minds. One of the Americans in the marina was in touch by email with a yacht, also American, in the transit zone south of Yemen, he showed me an email that he had received. The skipper of the yacht on passage had a friend in the US Navy and was able to summon help if required. The names are hidden to maintain confidentiality.
XXXX, unfortunately, we have had 4 incidents along the Corridor in less than 24 hours. Last night we saw a ship being attacked not 5 miles from our position. Flares going off and then a fast moving boat with a red light headed in our direction-then the light went dark. Enough for us to call XXXX who got a US warship to speed in our direction. We had Helo's and an escort the rest of the night. Incredibly scary Then today we spotted a dhow with two skiffs in the middle of the corridor again 6 miles from our position…and even though they get reported, the resources are too thin to respond in time! And at 12.30 sailing yacht Cyan(USA) & yacht Chalupa (USA)reported a merchant vessel was being attacked again in the corridor only 38 miles ahead of us. It is NOT good here. It is very very bad. We are ditching plans for Djibouti and going north to Aden… Yes I have the report on gun fire and rioting in the port of Aden..that IS how bad it is here in the Corridor.
XXXX Yacht XXXX
I got the impression that the Americans at the marina in Cochin thought that if they couldn't cope with the risk, nobody could, or should. Steve left us on our second day at the marina, and while he had no sailing experience, his willingness was welcome aboard Queequeg so he would be missed. Alex and I set about painting the yacht while we waited for a new compass from the UK. We gorged on Indian food and played snooker every day.