Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Friday, 29 December 2017

Friday, 22 December 2017

UK Maintenance programme

Since getting home on the 8th of December there has been a whirl of social life catching up with friends and family in Reading, London and Trotton, and spending a few days with my parents in Oundle.

As well as looking after Tin Tin there was a concentrated round of Skipper Maintenance when I got home. So my Christmas thanks go to the team at Riverbank Medical Centre for health checks, blood tests, vaccination updates and prescriptions, to the Nuffield for biopsy and removal of a nasty growth on my arm, to SpecSavers for checking my eyes at short notice and to Lavant Dental Centre where Murray also gave me some useful bits for our medical kit.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Exploring the Cape


Our land activities manager, Richard, had a great programme for us.  He hired a car and we headed off to Simonstown for brunch.  The seaside feel with the smell of sea weed and salt in the morning sun accompanied by the evocative call of the seagulls (Cape Black Backed) was quite unlike anything we had experienced for a long time.  The lovely old colonial architecture of the town, with slender pillars supporting upper floor balconies, deserved more time than we gave it. I hope to go back for a longer look with Anne in January.

From there we drove on to the Cape Point Nature Reserve and, once through the toll gates, drove across an extraordinary landscape of low fynbos vegetation, peppered with grey boulders enlivened with streaks of orange and green grey lichen. Rounded clumps of intense white flowers mirrored the boulders across the flat terrain.  Ahead the Cape rose up and we were soon parked and joining a steady stream of tourists climbing the long path to the lighthouse.  A funicular runs up the hill, but we enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs.  There were spectacular views down to the Cape of Good Hope, with richly emerald blue water surging in towards a white sand beach on which a flock of cormorants stretched out their wings in the sunshine.  The swell broke heavily against the Cape rocks, and out at sea tiny white specks turned out to be fishing boats far, far below.  I found a wall and settled down for a quick sketch of the Cape.    But I hadn't left enough time to add paint because I had spent ages gazing down the vertiginous cliffs at the nesting cormorants with their orange patch below the beak, and various other birds too.

We were soon off again towards Franshoek, which turned out to be a long drive along twenty miles of sandy beach on the margin of Cape Flats, and then we turned up into the mountains, stopping periodically at viewpoints to admire the great depth of the landscape.

We were getting hungry by the time we stopped at La Petite Ferme, the first winery on our way down into Franshoek.  They had a lovely restaurant overlooking the valley and the mountains, and our spirits rose at the thought of lunch. But they said they were too busy to feed us, and some started to leave, until Richard wisely suggested that we taste their wines anyway.  At R$220 (R$18/£) per head we were introduced to 6 wines produced there.  Richard, as the undoubted wine connoisseur, rated the Sauvignon Blanc as acceptable, but had reservations about the Bordeaux blend (which unusually included Pinotage), and was not impressed by the Cabernet Sauvignon with hints of aromatics from the eucalyptus surrounding the vineyard.  As our lively Sommelier took us through the wines, he kept referring to delicious food which it should accompany, until I protested that they hadn't allowed us to eat!  Thankfully he took the point, and arranged for us to be delivered a delicious cheese board each, as we sat out in the sunny gardens overlooking the mountains and rich green of the valley full of vines.

Time was running out, but we managed to try another vineyard, La Couronne, where they also managed to produce wonderful pizzas.  The combination of bobotie and banana was inspired. Bobotie is a traditional Afrikaner dish, with Indonesian origins, made by softening old bread in milk, frying onions, cumin and other spices with mince meat and combining them in a big pot to stew.
The sound set dramatically wit ha flare of that rich evening colour over the traditional Cape Dutch architecture and the glowing vines, with the backdrop of the mountains rearing up like a wall behind.

It was along drive home, but Maria s the designated non-drinker, did a great job of getting his happy passengers back to Tin Tin.

The next morning we rose early(ish) and set off to climb Table Mountain via the Plettenklip Ravine.  It's the steepest ascent, and gave spectacular views across table Bay as we climbed.  Someone had put in a huge amount of effort to place flat rock steps up the path.  We passed other climbers descending who said that the cable car was not running so we would have to climb down later.   As my legs were feeling quite tired this was alarming news.    Up and up we climbed, with the ravine getting narrower and narrower between wonderful towering cliffs closing in to frame the view.  I was delighted to see a sun bird very close to me feeding on a species of Erica, with half-inch long red flowers arranged in a ring around the stem. So unconcerned was the sunbird that I was able to get my phone out of the rucksack, and hold it within a few inches of the feeding bird.  William later identified it for us as an orange collared sunbird - unusually a new one for him!

Mark and Richard were going strong, but my legs were definitely giving out! But I was determined to get to the top even if I had to come down all those steps on my bottom.   Maria was also struggling and, far more sensibly, turned round to descend when another climber asserted that was at least another hour to the top and that the cable car was not running.  That was a pity, because if we had managed to help her onwards it turned out, as evidenced by Chinese tourists in stiletto heels, that the cable car had started running again.  But by then it was too late and Maria had the hardest task of all which was an hour and a half descending the steps to the car.

Richard flew home that afternoon, and he kindly deposited us at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on his way to the airport.  Here we said goodbye after a wonderful adventure together, and then went off to explore the wonderful gardens.  We were so lucky to join a free garden tour and to meet out guide  Jill.  She took us for three hours through all the different areas of the garden, so full of knowledge and enthusiasm, leaping from boulder to boulder across the streams, and giving us an extraordinary and invigorating afternoon.

I'm very lucky to be coming back here on holiday with Anne, Alice, Felix and Matt in January before I sail onwards.


Cape Town


With Richard and Maria on board we set off from Port Elizabeth with a fair wind for Cape Town. As we sailed out of the bay we had amazing displays of sea life, with hundreds of dolphins herding sardine,  thousands of diving gannets enjoying the feast, plus a pod of humpback whales blowing and leaping nearby..

As the forecast was for strong winds from the south on Saturday, I had set our course for Cape Town. However I was keen to look into Knysna on the way, and so we held our course along the coast all night, reaching the Heads at midday.  There was big swell and we watched it thundering against the cliffs and wondered whether it was safe to enter.  We could see a catamaran inside close to the bar, presumably trying to judge whether it could leave through the surf.  The weather forecast had improved overnight allowing us to linger with a couple of days in Mosselbaai, but Richard and Maria were keen to push on and enjoy Cape Town, especially as there were flights booked not far ahead.  As we passed I made sketches of Plettenberg Bay and Knysna Heads.

The winds came and went and we had to motor sail most of the way, rounding Cape Agulhas in the evening and then the Cape of Good Hope in the morning.  I busily sketched and painted both. As we rounded the Cape of Good Hope the air temperature dropped dramatically and the sea started to smoke, turning from deep green to a beige colour through the thin layer of steam.  Drifts of vapour lay in the troughs of the swell, and fog began to rise around us, until we were completely engulfed.  I blew the fog horn and ran the radar as we motored along, wrapped up warm against the icy air; wooly hat, jersey and full sailing suit.  I really needed gloves as well!   The Benguela Current brings cold Antarctic water northwards and meets the warm Agulhas Current running south, making a remarkable junction between the two bodies of water. and leading to a great richness of sea life thriving on the plankton fed by the upwelling nutrients.

Eventually the fog bank cleared, and we closed the coast to look for the wreck of the Clipper race boat which had inexplicably made a sudden turn to port off Oliphantbospunt, running aground on the reef there.   All were saved successfully, and we didn't see any sign the wreck, presumably poured into bits by the surf.  We did however see humpback whales feeding very, very close to our bows and later a lot of dolphins.

Th great flat top of Table Mountain eventually came into  view, with a table cloth of cloud draped over the top.  I sketched it as we went past. I will try to add these pictures to the blog later.

Finally the great city of Cape Town appeared with a bustling of boats on the water, with a fleet of smart Cape 34 racing yachts tacking round a course, and speedboats buzzing around.

I called Port Control, and then Bridge Control, getting permission to enter and then being awarded a bridge lift at 13:15.  We hung about in the outer basin surrounded by a helicopters landing at the heliport, and gazing at the rich visual environment of skyscrapers, Table Mountain, and many different boats.

The white swing bridge finally rotated to one side, and the next blue bascule bridge deigned to lift one half, so that we could squeeze through to find our berth.  It was hot and sunny. We heaved a sigh of relief - we had arrived!


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Table Mountain

The "table cloth" draped over Table Mountain as we sail past Llandudno.  

Friday, 1 December 2017

Cape Agulhas - the most southerly tip of Africa


Here's my sketch of Cape Agulhas as we rounded the most southerly tip of Africa into the Atlantic Ocean

Off to Cape Town

By the time Maria and Richard had arrived in Port Elizabeth and settled into their cabins, it was late afternoon. We took a taxi to The Boardwalk and strolled along the seafront, watching triathlon swimmers making their way along the coast, and a lone yachtsman having a quiet evening sail close to the shore. We met Lauri's niece, Tula, in a beachfront cafe but, as burgers didn't appeal, we followed her guidance to a sushi restaurant, which provided a wonderful array of dishes.

The following morning we breakfasted early, and once the Flight Plan had Ben submitted and marina fees paid we set out to sea. Sadly Maria had an accident which, thankfully, wasn't as catastrophic as it might have been. As she jumped down to the concrete pontoon, a gust blew the boat away and she landed in a foot wide gap of water, striking her chin on the concrete and hurting her wrist. Fortunately no bones were broken and, although very shocked, she felt able to continue. The ship's hot water bottle was needed, and the vast medical kit on board Tin Tin was looked at approvingly, even if no more than Savlon and a bandage were needed.

The forecast allowed us to make for Cape Town in a three day leg, but sadly precluded stops en route at Knysna and Mosselbaai, where we would have been held up by head winds and been unable to get to CT on time.

Our departure from PE was a spectacular display of wildlife. First, there were humpback whales close off Seal Point breaching and blowing quite close to us. Then hundreds of dolphins appeared leaping from the water in a mile wide rush towards us. Large numbers of crisp white gannets sitting in flocks on the water soon took to the wing and then wheeled above the shoal of sardines fleeing from the dolphins, and dived relentlessly like a rain of white arrows. It was breathtaking to watch, and we were thrilled by the great mass of dolphins all around us.

The winds were very light and eventually we motorsailed when the sails started to flog uselessly and this continued all night. It was an amazing sight as we passed miles of coordinated flashing red lights on the wind farms........ no I'm wrong, that was two days previously just before arriving in PE.... Here the coastline showed lights from towns, and the comforting regular sweep of the lighthouse beam.

By mid morning on Thursday 30th November we were travelling along the shoreline between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna, in a big southwesterly swell. It's wonderful to be close enough to study the coastline and I had a go at sketching the great cliffs with the distant mountains pale beyond, rising to 1650 metres.

We were joined by leaping Cape a Fur Seals which followed the boat, arcing smoothly out of the water to look at us. We also saw them lying on their backs with their flippers in the air, soaking up the sun.

I ran the weather forecast again, and was pleased to find that it had changed, giving us the option of stopping in Knysna and Mosselbaai for a few days before catching the Easterly winds to Cape Town to arrive on Tuesday 5th December. However on consultation we stuck to Plan A.

Knysna Heads opened up to show a dramatic passage through to the inner lagoon. Great surf breaking high on the rocks either side, and in the passage itself was a large catamaran, which looked as though it was trying to decide whether to risk an exit. The warning lights were flashing red and orange, and from outside it was impossible to see whether the big swells were breaking over the bar.

So we altered course for Cape Agulhas, and with a fresh 25 knots of wind were delighted by a fast sail into the west. We toasted our last Indian Ocean sunset with gin and tonic. It took several attempts before the new crew had worked out that the drinks tip over if left unattended in a swell!

Overnight, however, the wind slowly died and now at breakfast on the 1st of December we are again motoring and should turn the corner into the Atlantic this afternoon.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

East London to Port Elizabeth.



Saturday 25th November 2017
It was great to finally arrive in East London after the battering of the previous night. The sun was shining and Port Control answered promptly when called, advising where to anchor out of the way of a car carrier  that would need to turn later.  As we passed it we could see it was loading thousands of new C class Mercedes, which are manufactured here.

At the head of the port, below the rail bridge, we moored to the trot moorings, which have ropes strung between buoys. One has to come alongside the floating rope without getting it tangled in the propellor or rudders, catch it and tie up to bow and stern to lie in line with the river flow. It was a very tight turn between the lines, but it worked! We found Roland, Ditty and Sam already moored in the aluminium yawl, "Horizon".  We originally met in CuraƧao in January or February last year.

There was a loud yell from the Buffalo River Yacht Club advising that a) the rope wasn't very strong and we should add our own, and b) that the rugby was just starting and come over to have a beer.  We obeyed instructions!  At the club we were welcomed by friendly members, and cold Castle beer. The smell of woodsmoke from the braai (BBQ) was enticing.  In the end we were still there at sunset, and had pizza delivered before retiring to bed.

On Sunday 26th I arranged a tour to the Hogsback driven by a charming Afrikaner, Deon Goosen.  We hadn't fancied an "Elephant Encounter" morning at the local game park, and I'd read that JRR Tolkien had been inspired (possibly) by his stay at the Hogsback (aged 2!) and that its dramatic scenery in the mountains was worth a visit.  Mark didn't fancy 4 hours in the car and set off bravely to walk into East London across the railway bridge, and had an adventurous day exploring. Despite all dire warnings by the locals he was neither mugged nor murdered, thankfully!  He climbed the great sand dunes, rescued a giant beach ball blown up the slope in the gale, and was then invited to a braai by the black Zimbabwean owner of the ball who had been futilely chasing it.

Meanwhile Justin and I enjoyed the chance to see some of the countryside. Our drive took us out over a vast rolling landscape, where great vistas stretched out around us.  Large clusters of housing were grouped across the land, mostly comprising lines of concrete houses with tin roofs, often painted in many shades of colour.  Notably there were many plots without a house but, like the occupied plots, these all had a concrete privy with a lean to roof and a vent pipe sat on a concrete foundation.  There was rarely any sign of electricity or water being supplied, but even on the most basic shack of wood and corrugated iron one might spot a satellite TV dish.   This area was the Siskei, a Xhosa "homeland', now renamed the Eastern Cape.    We wonder what employment was possible for this great population miles from anywhere.  There were cattle and sheep herded on etc green prairies, but very little sign of organised agriculture, apart from  few insignificant vegetables plots by peoples houses.  

We drove through King Williamstown, with avenues of purple jacaranda, and faded elegance of colonial era mansions with pillars and porticos.  Ahead the hills rose into great flat topped masses, with parapets of stone, deeply fissured.  As we rose higher we left the grassland and scrubby trees and entered woodland, rising fast to Hogsback amongst ancient trees.  The Hogsback Inn was reminiscent of an English country pub, and served up excellent home made pie and chips.   Then we set off to stroll along the winding paths and  across little streams on quaint bridges up to a lovely cascade in the Arboretum. Everywhere there were white arum lilies growing, the sound of flowing water, and great redwood trees and oaks. From there we drove past places called Rivendell, Bilbos Rest, and Hobbiton, to visit a backpacker hostel called Fairyland, renowned for its great views, and also for the white enamel bath set on the cliff edge, where one can lie in hot water fed from a wood fired boiler! Needless to say I got into the bath (dry)...

Monday the 27th dawned and Mark and I took a taxi to shop for provisions, while Justin packed and cleaned.   Our taxi driver, a young red-haired Afrikaner, was into fast car racing, and had lots of stories that surprised us.  He said that road rage wasn't much of a problem (although car jacking was).  However he said that someone got angry when he wouldn't let him into the traffic, had then followed him for a long time. He had asked his boss what to do, who suggested going to a police station, but instead he had driven to a remote area, where the other car had pulled in front of him to block his way.  The other enraged driver got out and turned out to be a soldier.  The taxi driver walked over to him, hit him on the jaw and knocked him unconscious, took his keys, locked the car and threw the keys in the bush before driving off, leaving him lying there.  He was surprised that he was taken to court!  

Time was running out and sadly we didn't get to the museum where the first coelacanth discovered is on display. Luckily I've seen one in the Natural History Museum in London.  The fishermen occasionally catch them in the very deep water off this coast.   The other attractions at sea are the great white sharks, and Southern Right Wales, which we will be keeping an eye open for.

We said farewell to Justin, leaving to fly home to the UK, and then cast off at 14;00 to set sail for Port Elizabeth.   We picked up 4 knots of speed from the Agulhas current, and were soon speeding along at 10 knots through the night.  it was perishingly cold, and despite all my warm great I felt frozen after my 03:00 to 06:00 watch and needed big bowl of hot porridge.  To cap it all Mark thinks he has just spotted penguins!

Then, as the sun warmed things up, huge flocks of Cape Gannets swarmed round us, diving incessantly into the sea like white spears. We saw that they were following large pods of dolphins which were rounding up the shoals.

We will meet Richard and Maria in Port Elizabeth today who will help us with the leg to Cape Town.  The challenge as always here  is to get the weather windows right.  I hope we will be able to get there in good time for their return flights on 6th December.




Saturday, 25 November 2017

South African dawn

The weather front, predicted to  bring 25knots of wind arrived with a bang just after we had triple reefed, bringing 3 hours of sustained 38-48knots of wind from the south south west and torrential rain. We could not hold our course and began to be driven towards the Wild Coast. The rain and wind flattened the water into a seething hissing whiteness, but as time wore on the waves began to grow and I was conscious that the 3 knot Agulhas current could eventually make them very uncomfortable, if not dangerous.  The recommended strategy is to run for the 200metre line to get out of the current, and our course had just about reached that point after 3 hours when the wind dropped suddenly.

Justin and Mark took over the nextvtwo watches and when I came back on duty at 03:00 we were motoring dead to windward in light airs.   The sun rose at 04:49 and I took this photo of the St. Mawes Sailing Club burgee and our Cornish ensign. The African coastline to starboard was dark under wonderfully coloured thunderclouds.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Wild Coast

Friday 24th November 2017. Position. 12 miles offshore Port Edward. 31* 11.83S 030* 23.68E

Having arrived in Richard's Bay at midday on Monday 20th November, exactly a week after leaving Port Dauphin, it was great to be tied up at the International Arrivals Dock with yachts two or three deep, creating a friendly community of sailors who had washed up in the same place with similar experiences, and many tales to tell.

It took me until 16:30 on Tuesday to have finally completed all the immigration, health, border police and customs formalities. Then looking at the weather forecast I decided to leave on Thursday to get south to East London. This meant submitting my Flight Plan which involved a lot of time on Wednesday going from office to office by taxi to get stamps from all. Unfortunately I missed the final step that no one told me was needed. So as we motored out into the channel, when I radioed Port Control to request permission to leave they said NO! I was told that I had to go to the Zululand Yacht Club in another harbour so that they could fax the final documents to Port Control. Thus we didn't actually get away until 14:00. I felt exhausted and annoyed by the process. Thankfully, Michael from Cesarina saw me waiting ages for my final clearance at Zululand YC and bought me a beer to relax me. It helped a lot!

Nonetheless, once at sea the calming rhythms return and we relax. That is .........almost! But the passage ahead is the most difficult one yet and our weather window has a nasty little bit of strong wind forecast midway. So I am watching the weather anxiously, and hoping that we are not about to experience the dreadful sea conditions that this coast is fabled for.

Now on Friday evening we are half way to East London, and the strong wind patch should happen tonight and ease off in the morning. We have reefed the mainsail and Genoa, and got full foul weather gear on.

Up to this point however the winds have been rather light and we have motorsailed for a while to maintain speed. Now however the wind is, as forecast, strengthening into the thirties and with the Agulhas current we are making nearly 10 knots under inky black clouds about 12 miles offshore. If the current creates dangerous waves the strategy is to head inshore for six miles to get inside the 200 meter depth contour where the current lessens and the waves are less dangerous.

The forecast for tomorrow is for the wind to ease and eventually die completely for a while so we will be motoring again. I aim to get to East London while it is still light. Here we will wait a day while the next storm front passes and then, if possible, make a dash for Port Elizabeth where Richard and Maria will arrive on the 28th and from where Justin will fly home.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Nearly there!

We have motored steadily under completely clear skies for 24 hours, with a wind too light to be useful, and a long high swell rolling in from the old storms in the south raising us high and then taking us down into deep valleys. Our companion yacht, Cesarina, is about 12 miles north of us and we chat occasionally with Dietmar on the VHF. Then last night the wind picked up from the north as predicted, and we are now roaring along on a broad reach at 7.5 knots expecting to arrive in Richard's Bay at noon tomorrow, on Monday 20th November 2017.

Looking at the weather forecasts for the coming week I can see that I will have to spend a couple of days in Richard's Bay before grabbing a weather window for the 90 miles to Durban. Here we will have to wait 4 days for the next weather window, which I hope will be long enough to get to East London or Port Elizabeth. After that it's going to be the same pattern I suspect, hiding in port until he southerly gale blows through, nipping out behind it to push on to whatever shelter we can find along the coast before the next depression comes through a day or so later. It's the most difficult and stressful section of our voyage, and I will be exceedingly glad to get safely to Cape Town!

Our distressing current leakage has stopped, and the terrifying flicker of red lights on the current detector, checked and logged every hour, have suddenly gone a reassuring green. I have been unable to work out what is causing this yet, but must do so some how once in port. Visions of the hull fizzing and dissolving inhabit my uneasy dreams at night.

Since leaving Madagascar I have been ardently reading books about South Africa before we arrive, starting with James Michener's "The Covenant" which shows how the original Dutch settlers, devout Calvinists, interpreted the Old Testament as a direct message from God that South Africa was the promised land and that they were the chosen ones, the new Israelites. The awful conflicts with England in the Boer War and with the Zulus and others on whose lands they encroached are vividly populated by several well drawn families. What is new to me is how the intense hatred of the English by the Afrikaner has been held close and fostered and grown from generation to generation, founded on the intense belief that they are God's chosen race. That each town has monuments to battles by perhaps thirty brave locals in the Anglo-Boer war and that the great injustices were constantly referred to by the Church kept alive that resentment. Somewhere along the way interpretations of the Old Testa
ment were used to justify the, ever more repressive, separation of races until the full horror of apartheid was instituted. It's at this point that Michener ends, before the great hopeful era of Mandela arose, and so it is to him I have turned next, reading avidly through his "Long Walk to Freedom". I find it very humbling to discover how little I know of these times and struggles, and rather urgently need to revisit my first attempt at a novel set in South Africa, "Black Sugar", for criticism of which I already owe much to a true South African, Robert McAdie, and to Rebecca (not enough sex!) However ten potential publishers didn't want it, so if I want to get the story to work I must obviously do several rewrites..........or did they just miss one of the great novels of our time??! Anyway next on my reading list is "Cry, The Beloved Country", and I need to revisit JM Coetzee, read long ago.

Now the real South Africa awaits us!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Out the other side

It's 3pm on Friday 17th November and the sun is shining as long silver swells roll towards us from the south west. The stronger winds during the night have eased a bit to 30 knots, and in fact were never as much as the 50-60 knots I was concerned about getting hit with. We have reefed sails but are making a pleasing 6+ knots close hauled into the waves at about 60degrees to the wind (not great, but the best we seem to be able to do!). Occasionally one breaks over the bows and thunders back across the sprayhood, drenching the helmsman, if not tucked into the shelter. The current is being kind for once and is going our way at 1.5 knots, so we are making respectable progress in a northwesterly direction.

We seem to have lost contact with the other yachts in the radio net we briefly joined, and miss hearing the ketch Peregrine and solo sailor Jackie in her yacht Shanti. She reported rigging problems that were then jury rigged in Rodriguez with the help of the father and son crew in 28' Beguine, and the she had some further repair in Mauritius, but it doesn't sound as though it is properly fixed. I suggested dropping into Madagascar to wait out contrary winds, but I worry about her trip across to South Africa as it seems impossible to miss the storms that come through every three days.

We have just picked up another yacht on our AIS, some 7 miles astern of us. I gave them a call and determined that they have a rigging problem as well, which means that they have to stay on port tack till the weather moderates. Our own rigging creaks and groans a bit, bit seems to be holding firm. But the dreaded current leak is still with us and has got stronger, giving me nightmares about the hull dissolving away. So far nothing we can do has revealed the source of the problem. Time to get the meters out (especially a new ultrasensitve one sent to me by friend George) and start tracing wiring, but to be honest I still get queasy doing that in a big sea, so it has to wait till things calm down.

Anyway, the worst of this blow seems now to be over, and we just have to get across a big area of no wind, and then blow south in a northerly gale. I anticipate arriving in Durban on the night of 20th November, a where we will wait out the next southerly buster for two days, and then try to get south to Port Elizabeth before the next one three days later!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

in the Eye of the Storm

The wind has been howling in the rigging all morning, and we reduced sail to just the staysail, which is too small to be much use except in a hurricane, which this isn't......yet! So we rather stalled and pottered along at 3-4 knots while it rained heavily.

Then the wind eased and the sun came out, and it feels very pleasant, so we put up a bit more sail. But the regularly updated weather map shows that in the next few hours we will get very strong winds from the south, known locally as a "southerly buster"!, accompanied by 5-6 meter waves. So we await this with a degree of anxiety, trusting that the good ship Tin Tin will see us through OK....

With luck we will emerge the other side on Saturday in one piece, at which point the wind will die and we will have to motor, until the next gale hits us from the north, blowing us down towards Durban, or maybe to closer Richard's Bay. There we will have to wait out the next southerly buster before trying to make our way to Port Elizabeth to meet Richard and get Justin onto his plane home on the 28th. We might just make it if the weather allows!

Fortunately Mark has been busy in the galley and we have enjoyed the smell of fresh bread baking, and then a banana cake to use up all the very black bananas in our fruit hammock. However with our freezer now dead, we have been hurrying to eat up any once frozen supplies, and a sad procession of mouldy food keeps flying out of the galley window as each watch tries to prepare a meal....most frustrating!

On the positive side the loss of the freezer means that our batteries are holding out much better and I don't need to jolt Justin awake each night when I fire up the generator, cunningly hidden under his berth.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Stormy Waters

Wednesday 15th November, two days out from Madagascar, and the gale has abated a bit and we have a clear sunny day. The wind pushed us south a lot and we are now clawing back northward , hoping to get above the big storm that is coming our way. The weather forecasts vary a bit in where and when it will hit us, but whatever we do it is going to be very very rough. Confess to having butterflies in my stomach about this one, and long to be safely in port in South Africa!

Monday, 13 November 2017

When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now!

Will you still be sending me a Valentine?
Birthday greetings Bottle of wine?.......

Etc etc 

I had a lovely birthday breakfast in Port Dauphin Madagascar

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Madagascar

Port Dauphin Saturday 11th November 2017.
After a long night tacking south along the coast we finally dropped anchor in the little bay of Port Dauphin, narrowly missing an unmarked rock just below the water. The yacht Cesarina had motor-sailed and was anchored before us.

The scenery is spectacular, with mountainous Pic Louis rising beyond the white sand beaches, it's cliffs faced with great smoothly rounded slabs of rock. The town appears to include many half built structures along the beach. Lots of boys playing football on the sand.

No one seemed to pay any attention to two yachts anchored off the little harbour. Many large dugout canoes paddle out to sea to fish, but none approached us, although we managed to get someone to wave back from one. No outboard motors in sight, and no modern boats! Madagascar is rated by the World Bank as the poorest nation in the world not in conflict.
I rowed over to Cesarina and mentioned to Dietmar and Michael that I was going ashore, but they were horrified and said that under no circumstances would they do this because of the outbreak of plague! This was news to me, so I consulted Family experts in medicine and foreign affairs and found that the bubonic and pneumonic plague epidemic did not appear to be in the south. Nonetheless we stayed on board that afternoon, tired after our 550 miles from Reunion, and I spent time downloading weather reports and planning our next leg to South Africa. A big storm is on the way, and it is going to be tricky timing our exit to get across safely.

Having determined to stay at least another day, this morning I was determined to head ashore. Justin declined the risk, so Mark and I set off, rand to our astonishment our German neighbours hanged their minds and got a lift ashore with us.

Arriving in the crumbling harbour was impressive, with seventy long dug out canoes drawn up in a semi circle on the beach, and a rusting barge sunk in the inner harbour. We tied up and clambered onto the dock as the centre of attention of a crowd. As we walked up to town a smart pickup truck arrived and a pleasant young man got out to introduce himself as the immigration official. However he kindly waived the formalities on Sunday so that we could wander round, but asked that we didn't get into trouble as he hadn't issued visas!

Up at the town we strolled round, and collected a few hangers on, including a young student, Alexandre, who stuck with us all day as we explored. Our route took us round the headland to look into the next bay, and we spotted a humpback whale breaching out at sea.

It became obvious that things were in disrepair. There were restaurants and little hotels that had once been splendid but which were now ruins. We came across a few little roadside stalls selling fruit, and then surprisingly a patisserie which stocked pain au raisin and icecreams! However without money we couldn't buy anything. Back in town we found a hotel that had two or three guests having coffee and nearby aa ATM enabled me to draw out some local currency, the ariaray. The smallest amount was 20,000 ariaray but I was unclear how much that was worth in pound. However it turned out to be worth 4 beers at the hotel, and a euro seems to be 3,000. Here we got chatting to some South African contractors working to refurbish furnaces at the local mining operation, that produces illuminite, whatever that is? Mark kindly went back out to TinTin and brought Justin ashore for a beer, and then we returned for supper as the weather turned to mist and rain. Now, later on Sunday,
it has cleared and the sea is dotted with little lights as the fleet of dug out canoes bob around fishing for squid.

Tomorrow is my sixty fourth birthday.....a number that seems so unreal that I cannot relate to it. I am so lucky to be able be adventuring like this,, and to feel vigorous and moderately youthful. Thankyou to all my family and friends for making this possible!

Port Dauphin, Madagascar

Thursday, 9 November 2017

We are not alone!

It's 7pm on 9th November and as I sit on watch with the sky darkening, replete with a hot meal of aubergine, chickpeas and tomatoes with rice prepared by Justin I look across 100 yards of quiet sea at an amazing sight. It's another yacht! The 55' Swan, Cesarina, which has closed track with us, has been in contact by radio over the last few days. A few miles away another German boat, Joshua, is in contact by radio as well, and we chat twice a day and exchange information. It seems that the PredictWind service that I use is giving a far more comprehensive look ahead than they can get, so it helps their passage planning.

One hundred and twenty miles ahead lies Madagascar, and a change in the wind is due very soon as a front passes us and the wind goes from NE to SW. We should get thunder and lightning and rain.

Most of the day I seem to have been wrestling with weather forecasts and different passage plans. The tricky problem of southerly gales on the South African coast is still there, with all four forecasts showing different scenarii, making planning very difficult. If we carry straight on it looks as though we encounter 40-60 knot winds with waves in excess of 6 metres as we arrive off Durban. The Agulhas current will turn these into breaking monsters, and so that is not advisable. However if we stay a few days in Madagascar, then the next storm will be upon us a few days later repeating the difficulty!

At present my plan is to wait a day or so in Port Dauphin before I make a decision. Meanwhile Cesarina informs me that one ARC boat has turned back with rigging problems me and another has an injured crewman on board, is running late and s unlikely to get to Richards Bay before the storm hits. Apparently he broke ribs and shoulder mountain biking in Reunion!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Towards South Africa

The World ARC fleet left on Saturday, leaving behind the 55' Swan yawl Cesarina which had to replace her stays which had started to snap. On Monday Justin & Mark took the car to get fresh vegetables and fruit, post letters for me, and then returned the car. I stayed on board to eat with Customs, plan the route and deal with marina fees. We cleaned, stowed food, filled the water and diesel tanks and thoroughly washed the decks to get rid of the covering of red dust. Laundry adorned the rigging flapping happily in the wind and sun.

It was a relief to set sail on Tuesday morning and to watch the great volcanic cone of Reunion slowly diminish astern. It had been wonderful to have a holiday in Mauritius and Reunion with Anne and Alice. The exploration ashore had been interesting, but mooring in the concrete dock in Reunion was rather grim, and as the days went by the anxiety of managing the difficult leg to Durban has been weighing on me. A 10-11 days voyage is too long for me to get a reliable forecast for the critical last hundred miles or so across the Agulhas current, but rounding the southern tip of Madagascar is only 4 days away, so that can be planned for with reasonable certainty.

Now after 24 hours relaxed sailing in sunny weather and light NE winds, our speed has been dropping from 6 knots to 5. When I came on watch at 06:00 this morning the sails were flogging nastily and we were down to 3-4 knots. Mark got the Parasailor out and we soon had it pulling away nicely, bringing peace to the boat without all the flapping.

We held a radio net at 10:30 with Cesarina, now 20 miles ahead, and Joshua, sailing about 6 miles astern, and discussed weather tactics. My plan is, for the first time, based firmly on the Predictwind weather routing system, which has got all four forecasts agreeing for once. It suggests a route towards eastern Madagascar, to 24S 48E and then sailing down the coast in the 2 knot current. We will pass Port Dauphin, site of the first French settlement, and reputedly graced with some excellent restaurants :-). There's a big depression coming past southern Madagascar and if needed we could find shelter there, and even get a new stamp in our passports!. Once the storm passes we will head south 100 miles with the wind from the West, and then as it backs to South and then East we can curve towards a South Africa.

However it is at that point that the trickiest decision must be made. The long range forecasts already show a second southerly storm due to come up past Durban. I must at at all costs avoid crossing the Agulhas current at that point, as gigantic waves can form which deter cargo ships as well as yachts,and we may need to heave to well beforehand and ride it out for a couple of days, or I could wait in Madagascar for a bit.. Timing is tricky as Justin has booked his return flight home from Port Elizabeth, so I can't delay that long. We are also meeting Richard there, but that's less of a pressure if we are a day or so late.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Hellbourg and Cirque de Salazie

Here are a couple of oictures of the colourful mountain village of Hellbourg and the beautiful rugged terrain.

Cornish connections in Reunion!

Our Cornish ensign and St. Mawes Sailing Club burgee flying nicely as we make landfall in Reunion.   

To our amusement a workboat skippered by a Camborne man saw our flags and now plays Cornish music specially for us on his loudspeaker system as he comes back to port.

The King of the Tamarinds

Today Mark, Justin and I hiked for an hour through tough terrain to visit this 400 year old tamarind tree.  High on the slopes of the ancient volcano, it is shrouded in cloud blowing through the upper branches.

Maid, Reunion

We drove to the top of the mountain to peer over the 2,200metre cliff into the caldera, but the cloud was pouring up the cliff so we just had to imagine it.  Down below the community can only get out in foot or by helicopter- it was a secret place of refuge discovered by escaped slaves before slavery was abolished in 1848 in France.

Reunion

Our sail to Reunion was rough in big seas which broke across the boat from time to time.   Once out of the shelter of the island we found it was blowing 30-40 knots and double reefed the main and genoa.  Anne and Alice took their daylight watches steering the ship, but by supper time Alice was feeling very green, and sensibly took the night watch in her bunk.   Anne however was up at 3 a.m. to stand watch with me coming into Reunion, and by 09:15 we had entered Le Port and tied up alongside a long concrete wall in the old fishing harbour. We found all the World ARC boat moored in a long line ahead of us, and greeted Dietmar on "Cesarina", last seen in Niue.

The old fishing harbour is not a convenient spot, as it's a long long walk round to town, but I negotiated a key from Angelique, the Harbour Master, which enabled us to take the dinghy across the port and use the newer marina which is close to facilities.

It turned out to be almost impossible to hire a car because of high demand, but luckily we found the last one in the island, and I commandeered it for two days to explore with Anne and Alice.

The interior of Reunion soars into clouds on great volcanic slopes, riven with astonishingly deep gorges with vertical basalt walls.  We drove an hour up the flank of the ocean to the rim of the caldera at Maido, where thousands of people had had the same idea.  looking over the 2200meter cliff into cloud streaming vertically up the face was dramatic, but we did get a brief glimpse through a break in the mist down into the valley far below, and across to the Piton des Neiges (3070m).  The community down in the Cirque de Mafate initially developed from runaway slaves, who found this inaccessible place as a refuge.  They still have no roads to the outside world, and can only get in or out on footpaths through the gorges or up the cliffs, taking goods on pack animals, which can be a three hour climb.   Essential supplies come in by helicopter, and they now have solar power and mobile telephone links, but nonetheless it is rare to find a community so effectively isolated!  The area is famous for its mountain paths, and large numbers of hikers come here to enjoy walking and climbing these extraordinary vertical worlds, with their hidden plateaus, staying in Creole guesthouses.

We also spent time at the lovely beach in Boucan Canot, but it is very disconcerting to know that swimming and surfing are all banned because Reunion has the highest recorded levels of shark attacks in the world.  There are shark nets along some of the beaches, enabling people to swim, but all seemed to be out of commission.

Sadly the time for Anne and Alice to leave came all too soon, and I found myself feeling terribly bereft.  It's an unsettling emotional  transition from living apart, to adventuring together and then suddenly being apart again.  

However Justin and Mark now had access to the hire car and could go exploring.  Unfortunately Mark had two days feeling feverish with diarrhoea, so he was out of action.

So on Friday Justin and I set off to penetrate into the fascinating village of Hellbourg in the high plateau of the Cirque de Salazies, and then visited a sugar refinery and rum distillery on the way home.   Having worked for Tate & Lyle for more than a decade it may seem surprising that I had never been to a sugar factory. It was fascinating to see the vast quantities of cane being dumped by trucks, and then handled by gigantic grabbers and thrashed by terrifying whirling blades, before being milled and crushed and having the sugar squeezed and washed out of the pulp.  I found it huge, noisy, steamy and very overwhelming!

Next day Mark was feeling a bit better, so we drove to the other end of the island to another great Cirque de Cilaos, with such awe inspiring vertical walls lining the gorges, and then endless hairpin bends as the roads wound up and up before disappearing into narrow, one car-wide, tunnels through the mountain to emerge into the secret plateau the other side.

Finally on Sunday we rose at 6:30 and drove up to Maido again hoping to beat the clouds.   Unfortunately this wasn't to be, but on the way down we found a trail that gave us a hard two hours walk up and down steep tracks through the forests to the King Tamarind tree, which is 400 years old.  It was hard going and I thought my legs wouldn't make it, but in the end was glad I did.

Tomorrow is Monday 6th November and we will set sail for South Africa.  I have been very concerned that I had been unable to book a marina berth in Durban or Cape Town, giving me a real problem if I was unable to leave the boat safely.  Luckily Joshio, the V&A Waterfront Marina manager, has now told me that he has found a place for us! So now I can relax knowing that there's a safe place to leave Tin Tin over Christmas.



Mauritius

After a three day sail from Rodrigues we arrived off the northern end of Mauritius at 23:30 with the island glowing with light from 1.35million people,  and the moon adding its radiance to the sea.   We stayed north of all the little islands to avoid the potential dangers of the reputed 5 knot tide race against the big swell. I was alone on watch as we rounded Serpent Island, and its dark outline slid across the glow of Mauritius and merged with Round iIsland beyond.   It is suggested that cartographers may have accidentally switched names on the chart, since Serpent island is round and Round island is full of snakes!

We arrived off Port Louis about 06:30 and hove to until after breakfast, and then made our way into port. It's a big confusing port, full of side docks, and mixed fishing, merchant navy, and naval vessels.  We were directed to tie up to the Customs dock (which is a high wall with no bollards), and awaited the Health inspector.  I went ashore to also find Customs and immigration, and met Phillippe from the catamaran "Jehol", who told me that they had been waiting all the previous day for the Health inspector to release them from quarantine.  however they had just made contact by phone and give permission for clearance. i borrowed Philippe's phone and made the same call and was authorised to lower our yellow flag.  Then to Customs, who first sent me to Immigration in a distant part of the dock.  There are water taxis that can cut across, so i negotiated a 400 rupee return fee and set off.  However, half way across, the boatman raised the price, and I ended up telling him to take me back.   He relented and dropped me, but I refused to travel back that way and so walked a mile or so round the docks on the return journey. Once the 15 pages of Customs forms had been filled in and the smaller number for the Coast Guard, we were free to head for the marina.   This is a basin without floating docks, where we tied to the wall, just outside a big hotel.   

Meanwhile Anne and Alice were arriving, and I needed to hire a car to go and meet them.  Luckily Rashid was recommended by the World ARC Rally manager, and he was able to furnish one that evening for me and one for Mark & Justin at a very reasonable Mauritian Rupees 1100/day (£20) .   But he couldn't get me one immediately so I took a taxi and, after some vigorous negotiation, got driven out to the Maritim Resort where Anne and Alice were booked.  On the way I managed to get to a Orange Telecom shop and got my phone fixed, as the SIM card bought in Rodrigues had stopped working.

It was a great thrill to arrive at the luxurious hotel ad find Anne and Alice there in the lounge, having just arrived a few minutes before.   we had a couple of very related days there swimming and enjoying catching up with each other after a long time apart.  I hadn't seen Anne since Tahiti, and Alice for more than a year!

Whilst Alice made the most of the beach, Anne and I took our little car to explore the island a bit, and had a good look round. There is spectacular scenery with jagged mountains, and an amazing one visible from the port with a rock balanced precariously on top.  The islanders reflect the history of the land, with 78% of Indian origin, having been brought in as indentured labourers for the sugar cane.  So there were many colourful Hindu temples and villages full of women wearing bright saris.  As we drove round we came into rain precipitated by the winds rushing up the mountain.  At one river crossing there was a flash flood which had turned it into a raging brown torrent, and in the midst of this a drama was taking place as a man was trying to rescue two boys trapped in a tree mid stream.  All the traffic on the bridge was stopped as people lowered a truck driver on a rope, and he then secured the boys one by one to be lifted to safety.

it proved difficult to find title cafes or restaurants on our tour, and it became apparent that the tourists were all corralled in the many large luxurious resorts along the beachfronts.   Although we tried hard to break out we found nowhere in nearby towns where we could eat more locally.  In the main city of course it was very different, and it was a bustling place, with lots of  waterfront development, and behind it streets of fascinating little shops, and a huge covered market where we loaded up with fresh fruit and vegetables.

On Monday 30th October, after three busy days, we cleared out, taking about three hours to go through all the officials again, and then set off to sea for the 18 hour sail south to Reunion.


Friday, 27 October 2017

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Rodrigues

We dropped anchor off Rodrigues at 04:00 on Friday 21st October and toasted our safe passage across the Indian Ocean with a tot or two of rum.

Three hours sleep later at 8a.m. we were called by the Coastguard with a request to enter the port and clear in, and we found 8 yachts at anchor there. The Health inspector came out to give us clearance from quarantine, and then we dealt with Customs and Immigration ashore in the little row of dockside offices.

The town of Port Mathurin lay in parallel streets behind the dock, brightly coloured buildings with lots of decorative detail, including filigree strips along the eaves, and French iron balconies. Through dark doorways Indian and Chinese traders had stores stocked with an incredible mixture of goods from clothes to cooking pots, car parts to fishing tackle. I saw a car gearbox on Omel floor and even a top-end Mavik drone for sale, like the one Mark flies.

We found an ATM to withdraw Mauritian rupees, and at R$45/£ I suddenly had notes of R$1000 in hand, and trouble assessing the value of things. We bought SIM cards from Orange to get connectivity and then passed through the bustling Saturday market, overflowing with fruit and vegetables, and many stalls selling straw hats, wooden souvenirs, or pots of peppers done in a myriad of different ways. We replenished our vegetables supplies and I succumbed to a mango and papaya pie (which proved to be rather dry with 90% pastry).

We lunched at the only visible cafe by the bus station, where a row of neatly roofed shelters serviced a great fleet of gaily painted buses, called "King of the Road", "Prince of Love", and other great names. Following advice from the Noonsite web pages I hired a car from Mr. Wong Su in Jenner Store. He was certainly cheaper than the advertised rental companies and I handed over R$1100 for a day, in return for the keys to a Toyota pick-up. No documents to sign, no insurance. No fuel in it either, as we discovered as we drove up a steep hill out of town. Having tracked down the only petrol station with the help of a policeman, and put in the smallest amount I thought necessary, we set off to follow the excellent coast road stopping frequently at the lovely views of the pale green-blue waters of the lagoon, and the many picturesque fishing boats. Mangroves grow in the muddy inlets where rivers must flow in the wet season, and amongst their branches we found huge spiders webs woven from yellow silk as strong as fishing line, with great spiders hung hungrily at the centre, perhaps waiting for small birds?!

We had read about the Francis Leguat Tortoise Sanctuary, and eventually found our way there down wrought track across a landscape of jagged black limestone. The centre was very well presented and we were just in time to catch up with a tour, which included the 600m long limestone grottoes. Hard hats in hand we joined a group being led up a canyon full of giant tortoises. The indigenous species had been exterminated but Charles Darwin and other prominent scientists had petitioned the Mauritian Governor to rescue specimens from the Seychelles and ree stabling them in Rodrigues and Mauritius. Francis Leguat was a French Huguenot exiled here who wrote that "it was possible to walk a hundred steps across the shells of the tortoises without touching the ground", so densely populated was the island. His subsequent book detailed the now extinct Dodo-like bird, the Solitaire, and other fauna and flora. The tortoises, included a 150kg 90 year old, were very relaxed amongst the visitors, and even made their way slowly to you to have their heads and necks stroked.

Our cave visit was impressive too, with our guide pointing out the shapes of elephants, crocodiles and a turbanned Indian head as we went round, the hard hats saving Mark's head from serious injury on two occasions as we ducked under stalactites.

The centre provided a decent cafe where we refreshed ourselves before tackling the museum, which was superbly done, with interesting bilingual displays about the history of the islands, the fauna and flora, with a separate section on the postal history. All in all a satisfying start to our exploration.

We finished our tour at Port Sud Est, which had lovely white sand beaches fringed with casuarina and palm trees. The shallow lagoon waters were alive with colourful kite surfers riding the strong steady trade wind. We parked ourselves at the hotel terrace with a fruit cocktail and I enjoyed some sketching time.

That evening we had a nice visit from Matthieu and Stefan from Saba 2, bringing with them a clutch of beers.

The following day all yachts had to be up early at 06:00 to leave the port before the cargo ship moved out. We then had a pleasant day strolling around the town, ending up at the Anse aux Anglais in the Marlin Bleu, overlooking a sparkling sea and the casuarina shared foreshore of the little bay. Our Mauritian-Indian host was very keen on sport, and had many trophies of rugby and football which engaged with Mark and Justin. His knowledge of English humour was surprisingly colloquial despite never having visited the UK, with a particularly astonishing quip about Mark's allegiance to NORWICH!

After lunch I sat by the shady beach to sketch, and then went back into town to try, unsuccessfully, to pay my Health fees. Later we were invited to Saba2 to "boire un coup", which turns out to be several coups and lots of lovely small samosas and dips with Matthieu, Anne-Laure, Stefan and Isabel and the three children.

Our third night inPort Mathurin, and we were still cooking on board on our usual rota! The town seemed very dead in the evening with no obvious restaurants attracting us ashore.

Monday the need and we spent a couple of slightly confused hours going from place to place to pay bills and find officials to clear out. In the process we met Mark Tower who is sailing round the world with his 84 year old father in a tiny 27foot yacht, Beguine. After 45 days at sea since Darwin they have been anchored in Port Mathurin for six weeks and plan on two more as it is such a relaxed and welcoming spot. Now that is getting to know a place!

But we are off and away again, heading for Port Louis in Mauritius to meet Anne and Alice! The wind has died and our two day trip has turned into o we will only just about have cleared in by the time they arrive. Meanwhile I am reading Patrick O'Brien as I downloaded one of his many seafaring books called The Mauritius Command, based firmly on the British Naval capturing of the island. Rather fun to be reading about Capt. Jack Aubrey and his doctor Mathurin sailing from Port Mathurin to Port Louis as we are.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Indian Ocean - Day 11. 19/10/17

The strong winds have blown themselves off to somewhere else, leaving us rolling along a bit too slowly at 5 knots in a 15-20 knots wind. With the wind almost astern we have the big Genoa poled out to port and the staysail to starboard. The mainsail stays out of the way rolled up in the boom, as otherwise it would slat back and forth in the swell. It now looks as though we will arrive in Rodriguez at about midnight on the 20th of October, and will need to anchor outside the reef until daylight(and the harbour master) allow us entry.

In the calmer conditions today, and in the light of the slight uncertainty in the steering we got out the emergency beautifully chamfered and varnished by Stuart, and attached it with the cronky bit of metal supplied with the boat through a hole in the aft deck. It seemed to work fine, although the coupling has too much play in it and we will have to dream up a remedy for that.

The sky is blue, the seas are too, and whilst Justin is busy stitching up the man overboard retrieval system that was ripped off the rail, Mark is at the helm and I am devouring Dickens. Having never, ever read Dickens I had downloaded his entire works free of charge onto the Kindle. Running out of books to read I drew a deep breath and started on A Tale of Two Cities. This gripped me entirely and I read it in 24 hours, on watch and off. What a story! Dickens style is a bit too flowery but his characters are gripping and he doesn't spare the terrifying vision of The Terror in Paris. Enthused by this I went straight on to The Old Curiosity Shop, also done in a day, with some extraordinary characters and twists and turns, but too much verbose sentimentality for me.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Indian Ocean Day 7; 15/10/17

We got the boat sorted out to handle the imminent gale, rolling away the mainsail and just leaving the Genoa. Shortly afterwards rain squalls started to arrive with 40 knots of wind, and as night fell it got rougher. I was cooking again and I served wahoo steaks in a Korma curry sauce (packet) with rice. When I came on watch again at 9pm it was a wild night with clear skies full of stars and I got quite chilly despite wearing my fleece, waterproof and woolly hat. Justin relieved me at midnight just as it was clouding over and started to rain again.

When I came on watch again at 6 am the promised swell had arrived and long lines of crests were coming up astern, much taller than we have seen before, at about 5meters high they come part way up the mast. Across them the come the waves whipped up by the gale intersecting at a shallow angle and piling up on top to break noisily from time to time. The wind is pretty steady 35-45 with times when it gets to 50 knots, blowing spray off the wave crests and leaving long thin parallel lines of foam on the water. Occasionally one of the crests breaks over the boat and while Mark was on watch the plastic crate full of fishing gear was smashed on the aft deck and the man overboard recovery sling was torn off the rail, and the cockpit got a good wash through! Mark managed to retrieve most of the stuff from the aft deck, but one of my Crocs is now adrift in the Indian Ocean.

There's a dread fascination with the ocean as it marches relentlessly towards us from astern, higher crests shouldering above the skyline with breaking crests, like a crowd eager to see what's ahead. Trying to get a good photo of this impressive sight seems impossible as the camera can't convey the scale of the waves effectively. I tried sketching them instead.

Fear of what this mighty ocean can do, and at what point it becomes really dangerous, is a very real underlying anxiety. As the boat rises to each wave astern it adds to my confidence, but nonetheless we don't know what is yet to come. There's nowhere else to go so we must manage it as best we can. This is only a gale, so I'm glad not to be experiencing a cyclone.

Our speed is between 8-9 knots most of the time, but we have had some exhilarating rides down big waves at 12-15 knots with a record of 18.5! George, the autopilot, handles the boat very well, but we all spend time hand steering too for the experience. However in that process we have noticed that there is some slippage in the hydraulic system, so that's another job on the list when next in port.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Indian Ocean Day 6 - 14/10/17

The days roll by, and here I am again, tumbling out of my bunk at 03:00 to relieve Mark on watch, watching the moon rise astern lighting the sea brightly beneath the dark clouds. I feel rather exhausted and sleepy so I boil the kettle and make a strong coffee which I drink while munching a handful of trail-mix.

My phone alarm is set to remind me to write the log every hour, noting latitude, longitude, heading, course or the ground (COG), speed, speed over the ground (SOG), distance travelled, wind speed and direction, current speed and direction, barometric pressure, cloud coverage, general weather condition, water used, time of switching generator on/off and water-maker on/off plus a new column recording the comforting green or alarming red lights monitoring current leakage to the hull.

Then I reach up and pull down the Food diary and note the menus served for lunch and supper. Next the equipment log comes down and I review the outstanding technical problems, add any new ones to the list, and then fill in any detailed observations and solution on the page reserved for each item. My medical log notes any ailments and any drugs dispensed.

Then I try to write my blog before answering any emails, (keeping in touch with family and friends is such a great thing to be able to do at sea), contacting people for help with technical issues, or arranging to meet in the next port.

Looking ahead I set the laptop off to download the latest weather forecast, and then look at the red (windy), green (less windy) or blue (calm) coloured wind fields and the lines of dots suggesting recommended weather routes from the four weather forecast types received. Usually the forecasts differ quite significantly and the four suggested routes head off in different directions, so I ignore them and keep our course direct to our destination.

However for the last two days all forecasts agree that the high pressure to the south will push a big arc of strong wind northwards and the weather routes all concur to head slightly north of our course to make the best of the wind angles. So if you look at the website and the "Where in the World is Tin Tin?" link, the map should now show us heading due west. The significant wave height is forecast to rise to 5 metres, which means that once every three hours there is a statistical likelihood of encountering a wave almost twice that height - something that is quite a threat to us if not handled carefully.

Now at, lunch time, the wind has freshened but not from the East as predicted, but from the South, so there is a low pressure out there astern of us squeezing the isobars which may add some extra excitement!

Well, having bored you to tears with the fundamentals of my day, I must now get out my paper journal, add some entries and sketch a little dead squid which somehow flew aboard with all the tiny flying fish last night. Then it's my turn to cook supper, and with a freezer full of fish I should probably use that again!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Indian Ocean - Day 4 12/10/17

After three days we passed the three single handed sailors who had set out 7 hours before us. They are sailing within a mile of each other and taking it in turns to keep watch for 4 hours while the others sleep. When the wind dropped that day we were finding that they were doing the same speed as us at about 5 knots.

However the wind picked up strongly again and we had 44 knots and a top speed of 11.7knots recorded despite being reefed down hard. The waves combine a big swell from the Roaring Forties, thousands of miles south, and the growing SE swell which this Trade Wind is driving. It's impressive when two combine to provide a clear green crest with light shining through it.

We caught our biggest fish of the voyage, a 1.33 meters long wahoo which weighed 13-14kg on my rusty old fishing scales. Stuart's long hooked gaff was used for the first time to secure the monster and lift it aboard. The fish was amazingly greasy as though covered with thick lanolin, making it hard to secure whilst filleting on a rolling aft deck. Our freezer is now stuffed with very fine white fish, and it's been on the menu at most meals.

For example, I produced supper last night with wahoo in a hot Malaysian Asin sauce (sachet from Cocos Island) with aubergine and tomatoes served with rice, followed by a pineapple (sadly a bit past it). Then for lunch I used the leftover rice mixed with wahoo chunks and parsley bound together with a couple of eggs to make a kind of tortilla, which I served with a salad of thinly sliced red/green cabbage and apple mixed with nuts and raisins in an olive oil and lime juice dressing. All our meals are served at the cockpit table, which folds away as the floor when not in use. We use a blue non slip material to try to keep things in place while the boat bucks and rolls. Occasionally we remember to remark on how extraordinary it is to be sitting at a laid table, while the wind roars and the ocean surges and breaks around us!

I have been reading solidly through two books; first "Sapiens", recommended by Justin, which explores what it is that makes Homo sapiens so dominant a life form, and then its sequel, "Homo Deus" which takes an interesting look at how changing beliefs and technological advances could affect human society in the future. The conclusion is that human decision making and self-determination could be overtaken by intelligent machines, which know us better than we know ourselves or our environment. This is already evident for anyone who has started to trust e.g. the Waze app to guide one through traffic more quickly, or Amazon to suggest books to read, based on past reading choices. On board Tin Tin I haven't quite got to that stage with the PredictWind weather routing programme, as it produces four options based on four weather forecasts, and the suggested routes tend to vary widely, and from day to day.

Our batteries are causing concern again. Since Darwin the length of time between charges (dictated by the voltage dropping to 12v) has steadily declined from 7 hours to 3 hours. During the day the solar panel does a great job and we can go from dawn to dusk without running the generator, but at night we need to recharge very much more frequently.. I think a Watt&Sea hydro generator sounds the ideal tool for these long ocean trips as it generates power continuously under way. Most boats that I've spoken to have said it meets all their needs whilst sailing at above 6 knots. The wind generator contributes well as long as the wind is gale force!

However that doesn't answer the question of why the batteries are declining. I think it is because they are not "long life, deep discharge leisure batteries", and this is because I have not been able to find any of that type that fit into the battery box under the floorboards. They are all a bit too tall, so maybe we have to raise the floor........ I hope that I can find something suitable in South Africa.

Settling in to this long leg, with eight more days to go, I really need to do something other than read, cook, write my blog and play Sudoku (tending to become obsessive against the clock). I must try to learn the Ukelele that the girls gave me......I saw Matthieu strumming his at Cocos and his fingers seemed as big as mine, so it must be possible!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Indian Ocean Day 2 - 10th October 2017

We had dolphins guiding us out of Cocos in the sunset, which was lovely. We had a gentle start with winds lighter than expected, but they picked up to mid thirties, so we reefed the mainsail and genoa making a lovely 8+ knots. Now the wind had died again and we are slopping around the swell without the pleasing rush of water. The sails are slatting and our speed is down to 4-5 knots. Not at all what was forecast a few days ago. It also makes my confidently predicted passage time of 12 -13 days begin to look much too positive. The weather forecast keeps shifting, and now shows less wind for the next ten days and even a big windless hole down near Mauritius.

The freezer had been getting steadily warmer, so yesterday I finally got down to investigate, pulling off pieces to find no cooling water flow. Eventually found that barnacles were blocking the inlet sea cock, and poked them out, but that still didn't get water through to the pump. More pipes off until I found one blocked by barnacles and cleared that. I still had to suck sea water through all the tubes to get it to the pump, which is better than siphoning petrol but still a bit nauseating! Anyway, despite imperfect cooling water flow the freezer is back down to frozen again today.

Now we just have to find and remove the slight electrical current leak, which comes and goes in a mysterious way. My heart sinks every time that red light comes on, and lifts when it shows green.

Last night was wonderful moonlight. The AIS showed cargo traffic on a reciprocal course just north of us heading for S. Korea. The three single handed yachts clustered about 5 miles south of us, and this morning we spoke briefly on the VHF with Wolfgang and Klaus, while Jackie was presumably off watch and asleep.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Cocos islands

Saturday 7th October dawned and we went ashore to the short distance to the palm trees and white sand of Direction Island. A ferry was reputed to go from the big landing stage to Home Island and thence to West Island on Saturdays only. Eventually I tracked down another yacht that knew the timetable and determined that there was one at 10:00, but that it was not possible to get back from Home island that day. So Mark sped off in the dinghy the 1.5 miles to Home island, a hard ride against the gale blowing. Justin and I caught the ferry, which is a shiny new fast cat, airconditioned and showing "Spiderman" on its big screen.

However instead of speeding straight on to West island, where I was anxious to get my clearance for Mauritius, the ferry stopped at Home island and we had a two and a half hours to kill until it finally proceeded at 13:00. Home island is predominantly a Malay settlement, where families were cruising around in shiny electric golf buggies in the heat. We found a couple of small shops and then a supermarket, but nothing in the way of fresh fruit and veg. Wandering around we found the Museum (closed), the Shire offices (with tempting golf buggy with keys in), and sheds full of plywood sailing skiffs, all to the same design and painted identically in white with a yellow band and immaculately varnished inside below a heavy layer of dust. I counted 47 of these in two sheds! A young man working out in a gym explained that these traditional sailing craft come out for regattas at festivals such as Ide, or for weddings.

T West Island the ferry was met by by a cheerful bearded gentleman driving a bus, which for $0.50 took us the six miles to town. The single track Tarmac road bordered by wide well cut grass lawns, meanders scenically between thick forest walls. The settlement of neat bungalows, administrative buildings was very dead, but there was a stir of activity at the airport where the Virgin flight had finally landed a day late. However the only cafe was shut, so any thought of lunch had to be ignored.

We found the police station by the long grass air strip, which curiously is also a golf course. It was quite something to stroll out to the red flag on the first hole to watch the Virgin flight thunder past a few yards away without any fences or other hindrance.

A radio set into the wall of the police station invited me to call up the officer, and. Shortly afterwards he arrived to handle the paperwork. We got let off the harbour dues because he didn't have a method of issuing a receipt, which seemed fair given that no one had come out to Tin Tin to do the formalities and we had spent the whole day trying to get this done.

The community cultural centre had sofas and wifi and a shop full of colourful goodies for tourists who needed beach ware or souvenirs. A small museum section commemorated the Australian naval victory over the German warship Emden in 1914, which had been forced to beach on North Keeling.

Whilst Mark and Justin tackled the supermarket before it closed at 3pm, I spent a futile hour trying to find a postbox to post a letter to the Australian Tax office to reclaim tax on diesel that we bought in Darwin. In the process of walking up one long seafront road I spotted thick black smoke from wreckage out in the surf about a mile away. The town was deserted headed back to the police station concerned that some tragedy gas taken place with the outgoing Virgin flight. Once I found someone it turned out that this was the wreck of a derelict vessel which had drifted out of the wide Indian Ocean and smashed on the reef, catching fire in the process!

We caught the last ferry back across the lagoon and then piled into the waiting dinghy with our shopping for the choppy ride between islands.

We found a beach party starting with all eight yachts brining food and drink to the two big tables under the shelter. The big brick barbecue was fired up and we had a most enjoyable evening meeting new friends and sharing food and conversation. There were three single handed sailors, Jackie, Wolfgang and Klaus, who planned to sail in company to Mauritius taking turns to keep a four hour watch. Then there was Matthieu and Anne-Laure from Saba 2, who we had met in Ashmore Reef, travelling with their three children aged 10, 7 and 5 and two friends Stefan and Isabel. They have a ski shop in Pralognan in the Vanoise, and are ski instructors. It was a Proustian treat to have a taste from their bottle of Genepi which evoked strong memories of spending long hours trying to fax documents from the ski shop in Meribel, while young Kate struggled with her ski lessons in a blizzard. Ski instructors staggered in to thaw out and the Genepi circulated regularly. We also met crew from
Tangled Up - Nicolas, Madeleine, James and Marcus- all new to sailing and helping the owner take the boat from Darwin to Durban.

The party was celebrating the 8th birthday of Morgan, the son of Warren and Trish on Mustang Sally and we were thrilled to all get a chunk of birthday cake! Later a fire was built on the beach and Matthieu brought out his Ukelele and sang wonderful French songs, and then worked through English popular songs so that we could all join in. Nicolas brought out his guitar and added to the band, and Justin showed his talents playing guitar and singing Leonard Cohen songs..... Our beers had long gone, so the big bottle of Bundaberg rum came ashore and was steadily emptied. I have to say that I find Bundaberg is horrible, with strong overtones of aldehydes and esters that are the stuff of headaches, so I didn't touch it.....

We got back to Tin Tin at midnight and I struggled with email and then at about two a.m. managed to call Anne to find out more about Ioan in hospital.

Sunday dawned with less wind and we settled into the beach shelter to use the wifi. Mark and Justin explored while I tried to book marinas in CapeTown, and discover about customs formalities in Rodrigues, Mauritius and Reunion. Then I realised that I could make Internet calls using WhatsApp, and was able to speak to Ion and Kyle at their birthday breakfast, and to have a video call with Alice and see little Felix, and then to speak with brother William . Most satisfactory.

Our final act before leaving was to create a Tin TIn sign for which Mark found a fishing float which we decorated as a globe with our route marked. We then bid farewell to all and at 5 pm followed Tangled Up out to sea and set sail into the sunset for our twelve day voyage for the 1995 miles to Rodrigues hoping to arrive on 29-21st October.