Posted by: cherryoak | 14.March 2009

FIRST OCEAN CROSSING

FIRST OCEAN CROSSING – TANGA, TANZANIA TO SEYCHELLES

We were ready for the off, provisioned up for about six months, to get us to Sri Lanka, as the Seychelles were said to be very expensive.

Plan was:

1. Go north of Pemba Island, which is directly east of Tanga, sailing with the north flowing Somali current. We were advised to sail well north of the island to avoid the overfalls at the north end of the island.

2. Leave at the crack of dawn to get past Pemba before the first nightfall to avoid the dreaded night fishing nets.

3. Follow latitude 5 deg south as far as wind allowed, going towards the south if cannot make due east.

4. To reach Seychelles, we would be sailing due east 14 degrees of longitude, so target was one degree per day, roughly 60 miles but likely to be over 70 mile per day of travel to achieve that.

5. We were warned that first 300 miles would be difficult due to NE winds – three boats that we know of have turned back during this period. After this NW winds should start, to sail most of the way on a beam reach.

THAT WAS THE PLAN!     NOW FOR THE REALITY:

On Thurs Feb 26th at 6.50am we upped an incredibly muddy and slippery anchor and chain and were off into the unknown. The adventure begins after an enjoyable two months at Tanga YC, where we had made some very good friends. This was our first big test, whether we could do this crazy cruising lark! So many yachts just coastal hop and avoid the big crossings, but surely this is the essence of the cruising life.

First three days all went to plan, though having to sail SE for much of the time to keep moving east. Next three days wind dropped below 10 knots and could only sail further to the south and failed to make our deg longitude. Surprisingly the nights were much better, with stronger winds and more to the east but the days were  slow and extremely hot. We refrained from using the motors as we were still making some progress eastwards, albeit, sometimes only about two knots.

Day 7 was a good day, with winds backing more to the north and for the first time we could sail almost due east, making 90 miles. The following night, the wind died to almost nothing, 1-3 knots and stayed there for nearly three days! The boat became almost impossible to steer, however we were still making 0.8 knot east, courtesy of the Equatorial Counter Current. It was time for motoring, one only, making 3.5 to four knots, going slightly to the north, as by this time we were at 7 deg south, over 100 miles off course!

By Day 10 the sea was flat calm, with not a ripple and a good time for Alec to go into the water (hundreds of miles from the nearest land!!) to try to free our starboard prop of our own trolled fishing line! Our props seem to have an uncanny ability to find any bit of floating fishing line in the sea, but this time it was entirely our own fault. We had foolishly started the motors to straighten the boat when we had lost the wind in the light airs, not realising that our lines had caught up with us and were under the boat. Using a  snorkel and a dive knife  he gradually worked it free, pulling out metres of line, some of which we have been able to reuse.

One of the highlights of the trip were the Red Footed Boobies that frequented our boat, as a resting place for about four days. We had seen them flying around and after some difficulty identified them. Then one morning there was bird shit all over the back of the boat and we realised one was using the top of the mast as a night perch. Next day four arrived and perched on the starboard pulpit, parents and two juveniles, we think, staying there all morning, later joined by five more on the other pulpit. Did they think that they were  starting a floating colony?!

One juvenile got entangled in the lifelines, so Cherry quickly went and freed it, fortunately unscathed. At night they liked to use the wind generator as a perch. Unfortunatley the wind increased and the blades speeded up. Three times in one evening birds were hit by the spinning blades, we hope without damage. Generator is now making a funny noise, so maybe damage to us?

Next day they disappeared, obviously had had enough of our dangerous boat. We have caught no fish on this trip and in fact have not trolled the lines very much. The mid ocean is generally reckoned to be a desert, with few fish around and therefore no predatory fish, which are generally the ones we are trying to catch. We have seen no dolphins or whales, only our Boobies.

But we have eaten very well indeed, thanks to Cherry. We have constant fresh bread, now white as the brown flour we brought and vacuum packed has now run out. No brown bread flour in Tanzania as  Africans only seem to like white bread.  But the white bread tastes wonderful and has the added bonus tha tit keeps better. The brown bread had to be thrown out after two days, as went mouldy and we seemed to do too much of that. Nothing else is wasted and Cherry is the queen of making meals interesting and different. In fact it is doubtful if she has ever cooked the same meal twice in her life!

Squalls are a constant feature of sailing in these latitudes and we have had our share on this trip. Wind backs about 30 deg, with only a black sky to warn you it is coming, which at night is difficult to spot. Most seemed to happen when Cherry was on night-watch and she has coped extremely well, quickly reefing in the genoa or rolling it in completely and motoring, which is often the best option until it is clear what the wind is going to do. Often it will be raining as well, all very exciting at night time! Gradually the wind eases and slowly veers round to its original bearing and the sails can come out again. On one 10 to 2 watch Cherry had two big squalls, up to 25 knots, to deal with and was totally exhausted by the end of it! It is a matter of pride that she only wakes Alec in extremis, which is great!

Finally on Day 11 the long promised NW winds started and for the first time we could comfortably sail due east on a beam reach and had our best day, 95 miles. Up to this point we had been sailing virtually the whole trip upwind, trying and mostly failing to stop us going any further south. This is always a fine balance, as racing sailors know well, getting as close to the wind as possible without losing too much speed. We find we can sail at 40 to 50 deg apparent wind, which is quite good for a cat, which always point less well than mono-hulls.

Generally in light airs it is not too bumpy and roly-poly but as the wind increases to over 15 knots, it becomes increasing uncomfortable. We used Otto our auto pilot for virtually the whole trip. The wind vane does not work below 10 knots and as we were often within that range, we would suddenly find that we were way off course. Otto is more precise anyway when sailing close to the wind.

Then disaster one day, when our one remaining belt broke! We tried sticking it but that did not last long, so eventually stuck it and sewed on a narrow strip of polyester reinforced plastic to the back and that has worked a treat. So we repaired the previously broken one as well, so now even have a spare. Other repair jobs done while travelling were to replace our gas line, which may have been leaking – there certainly seemed to be a slight gas smell in the front cabin. The pipe was old anyway, so needed replacing. And to repair a leaking diesel line on the port engine, very cleverly done without having to bleed the engine. Alec is a very good “bush mechanic” and even though he not really a South African, seems to have imbibed the “boer maak ‘n plan” philosophy.

The one big failure on the trip has been the lack of communications. We have always had poor reception and were rarely able to connect to sailmail through our modem. We also had a sked arranged with another boat but never made contact. So we have been entirely without contact with the outside world and no-one knows where we are!! So that must be sorted before we leave the Seychelles, as the next leg is to Chagos and we shall have no land based comms for about four months.

DAY 12 – APPROACHING SEYCHELLES A very eventful day and it is only lunchtime! Night watches all had squalls to deal with and we are both tired, as not much sleep. On 2-6am watch Alec saw reef approaching, Bertauf Reef which showed plenty of depth, 20-30 metres but coral bommies near the surface can be a risk. In daylight can see them but not at night. Eventually his brain clicked into gear when only 10 miles from it, that perhaps it was not a good idea to sail over it in the dark – our first coral reef in the Seychelles. So made last minute detour, requiring us to sail upwind for two hours into 20 knot headwind, so motor sailed to reduce leeway and hold the course. In her bunk Cherry wondered what was happening and had no sleep, crashing and banging and rocking and rolling!

Chart plotter was spot on, depths of 20-30 metres appearing on our screen, so almost certainly could have gone over the reef but just not sensible in the dark. As day broke, we rounded the end of the reef and saw our first Indian Ocean coral island, where we planned to stop for two days to snorkel. But sea was very lumpy and the sky black, so we were thwarted again and Cherry has still yet to see a coral reef!

WELCOME TO THE SEYCHELLES – OUR FIRST GALE!! As we approached our first Indian Ocean coral island (Poivre – one of the Amirantes Group)  we are greeted by a full blown gale!! We briefly saw another yacht on the horizon, also making for Poivre we think but as the storm hit us, it quickly disappeared from view as the mist and rain came down, as also did the island , now only a few miles away.

Alec had to hand steer, holding a critical course of 150 deg to keep well clear of the reefs surrounding the island and also to prevent an involuntary gybe. We initially motor sailed, with a about 25% of the genoa out, then were able to cut the motors sail only, though kept the engines idling, in case we needed them in a hurry. Cherry did everything else, getting soaked in the process.

One side of our cockpit enclosure blew in,. temporarily held with bungy cord. Water came in from all directions and the sea looked just like those illustrations for books about wild weather at sea with spindrift flying over the water and over us, the first time either of us had seen this.

Lots of rain but we were unable to collect any and none came through our pipe, all blownstraight off our roof. It would have been mixed with sea water anyway. Winds were consistently at 38 knots and our wonderful Deancat took it all in her stride, of course, and all we had to do was made sure we kept control and do what had to be done. No time to be frightened as too busy concentrating.

After a couple of hours, the wind gradually started to ease and when it briefly dipped below 20 knots we quickly gybed, so that we could sail, NE away from the island, instead of SE we had been forced into. After it was all over and the wind had calmed to a more normal 15 knots we patted ourselves on the back, exhilarated by a shared experience. And on the completion of our first ocean crossing. We had made it and were on our way!!

Sadly, no point in staying in the Amirantes in this weather, so planned visit to St. Joseph Atoll was also off the agenda. We set course for Mahe to check into the country at the capital, Victoria, 150 miles away, so two days to sail at an average of 3 knots to arrive at daybreak. It was a return to uncomfortable upwind sailing again, of which we have had our fill, lumpy seas and rocking and rolling again, not so pleasant for those who are susceptible to ‘mal de mer’.

TIME/ DISTANCE: Distance sailed to Poivre Island 980 miles in 12 days, just over 80 miles a day, which we are mighty pleased with.

Total distance Tanga to Victoria, Mahe Island 1150 miles in 14 days.

WE ARE NOW OFFICIALLY BLUE WATER CRUISERS.

SEYCHELLES : FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This being our first foreign landfall, it is interesting to note the difference between the African countries we have visited and this “western?” influenced country.

In this very superficial comparison after only two days, we have noticed

1. no holes in pavements

2. no potholes in the streets

3. gardens outside all buildings are well kept

4. public areas are spotless and well kept

5. no rubbish and the bins are used and emptied regularly

6. no hawkers or beggars

7. no laybouts hanging around waiting to “help” tourist for a fee

8. no one calling out “my friend” Africanese for I want your money

This is truly paradise. Everything is well run, the officials are efficient and pleasant, the people friendly, and it has been wonderful to meet up with our yachting friends from Tanga again.


Responses

  1. Well-done guys, you should rightly feel very proud of yourselves. Good to hear from you. xxxx

  2. Man, I am lost in admiration! Have I said that before? You two are absolutely fantastic. What an adventure. Love xxx

  3. are you going to post photos of the Seychelles? I still haven’t been able to access those you posted of the Serengeti. I must say, I feel more confident about your ability to sail that thing across the wide blue yonder!! Congrats, I take my hat off to the two of you. You’re really showing this landlubber how it’s done! Lol.

  4. I tried to get on to your blog to add best wishes for your birthday, Alec but failed. So here are our belated blessings for your birthday. I hope you had a wonderful day. Lol.

  5. Well done. Seychelles I agree with you is wonderful I have spent many holidays there.

    Was in Durban over the weekend and saw Zelda and Ashton am just sending them your details.

    Charlie sends regards.

    Take care Di

  6. I am impressed by what you have achieved along your journey, but have to admit that the idea of new and varied meals blows me away! I find it challenging to come up with fresh ideas with all the resources of Tesco and Sainsbury’s nearby, and here you are doing it in a little galley with a pantry the size of a shoebox! Well done, both of you!

  7. Thanks to all for your comments. Life is a blast on board, we are never idle and we love every minute. Yesterday spent hours snorkelling at Port Launay only about 20 metres from the boat. Incredible fish and coral. Wish you were ALL here.

  8. Us too xxxx

  9. It seems to be getting better and better, and if I read between the lines, you are both still friends!
    We look forward to every entry and follow your progress with interest and admiration, and not a little envy, although, we have no real desire to see what you are seeing from a boat! Pete and Jo, Bev and Nett, Kippy and Ingy and many more of your friends send love and good wishes. We are back home now for a couple of weeks, then its off to the Kruger and Capetown with usa travellers. Keep on with the news and I hope the usa navy pots off a few more of the pirates, which might deter a few wannabees! Lots of love,
    Jenny and Jules


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