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Last Updated on September 28, 2020 by Amy

After a month in Madagascar, it was time for us to tackle the next big hurdle – the Mozambique Channel.  The forecast included a mix of wind directions, but we knew we would get some sailing in with winds coming from the north, and those were the conditions for which we were waiting.  That, and small waves.  Some of our friends had left already, braving winds from the southeast and bigger seas to get across the channel.  I am glad we waited.

Passage Stats

8 days
6.42 knots average
1,224 nm

Sailing Journal

On Sunday, November 3rd we took off.  We sailed like bats out of hell.  The conditions were just perfect for much longer than we expected; the wind just kept coming from the north.  We had a spectacular sunset, something that would happen every night on this passage as the sun was huge and tinted red while the sky stayed clear of clouds.

Birds and tuna fight over small baitfish.
Starry Horizons’ deck with bright sun and full genoa.
Zooming past the coast.
The first of many glorious sunsets.
The sun melts into the ocean.

During my watch, late at night, the wind finally died for a few hours before shifting around and I was able to get the sails back up again.  David had the screecher up by morning and we were zooming along when I woke up.

Screecher’s out.
Starry Horizons at sunset.
Watching another sunset with a clear horizon.

On Tuesday (the 5th) while David napped I was sailing us along, trying to tolerate the mainsail flogging for as long as I could before I had to give up and switch on the engine.  I turned the starboard engine on and revved up….but got nothing!  Uh oh.

A peak beneath our hull confirmed my suspicion.  Our starboard prop was gone.  This is the THIRD time that we’ve had our Flexofold prop fall off (the first was in the USVI, where we were able to retrieve it, the second was between Fiji and Vanuatu).  David got up and stuck the GoPro in the water to confirm.  

Our first thought was to replace the prop with our spare – the fixed ones from the factory.  David got his scuba gear and started getting set up while I got the sails down and set us to bob.  I strung lines from the sterns, giving David something to grab on to if either he or the boat started to float away.

We were concerned about coming into our next port with one engine.  While we were discussing our options, David pointed to astern suddenly.

“What is that?” he said.

I turned in time to see the surface disrupted, an oblong patch of water foamy at the edges. It was just a few meters from the back of the boat.

“What did you see?”

“A fin.”

We waited in silence, watching.  I grab the binoculars and scanned the area around us.  “Did you see a spout?”

“No.”

“What do you think it was?”

David put down his regulator. “I think it was nature telling me not to get in the water right now.”

And so we abandoned the plan to put the spare prop on.  As David pointed out later, the last time we had the fixed prop on was just for a hundred miles or so.  This time, having a fixed prop on for almost a thousand miles would have slowed us down significantly.  Time is of the essence when crossing the Mozambique Channel since winds coming from southerly directions would kick up waves against the current.

We rarely saw other boats; this one had good timing.

We spent most of Wednesday (the 6th) alternating between sailing slowly and motoring.  The wind was dying but the waves hadn’t gotten the message yet, so it was choppy and uncomfortable.

On Thursday (the 7th) the sea state had finally calmed down a little.  David and I had another discussion and decided to try to put the fixed prop on again.  While the winds were light, there was still a swell rolling in with a short period that would make working on the prop dangerous – I worried about David hitting his head on the boat.  This time was a success, though – no shark fins anywhere, and David got the prop swapped out without injuring himself.  

David giving me the “a-ok”

With that project done, we also consulted the weather as well as our friends that were waiting in Bazaruto, Mozambique, and made the decision to continue on to Richard’s Bay, South Africa instead of stopping in Bazaruto.  The eight boats in Bazaruto were taking off as well, some leaving Thursday and some leaving Friday.  

While we knew we could make it to Richard’s Bay, we also knew it wouldn’t be comfortable.  The winds were forecasted to pick up from the SE for a while.  David and I spent Friday (the 8th) preparing the boat – we put the screecher down, installed the third reef line, and tidied up the boat.  

A reef in the main.

Amazingly, we had almost perfect timing.  As we were approaching Zavora point that night, where we would turn 40 degrees to the west, the wind started to pick up.  If we hadn’t made the turn yet, we would have been bashing into a headwind and unable to sail.  But, since we’d made the turn, we were able to keep the high winds 60 degrees off our bow and sail hard.  

During David’s night watch Saturday morning (the 9th) he put the third reef in the main.  While we were sailing hard, the sea state was very choppy so we were quite uncomfortable.  Neither of us slept well, but the top wind speed didn’t get over about 30 knots.

High winds, sailing 60-70 degrees off the wind.

The rest of Saturday was a spirited sailing day, but as the day progressed we could feel the waves calming down more and more.  By my night watch, the wind was dying and we were motoring.  In fact, David was so exhausted he slept through his alarm at 2 am, and since I was doing great (into my book) I let him sleep until 3:30 am.  

David returned the favor in the morning and I slept until noon on Sunday (the 10th).  When I woke up we were sailing well with the winds and sea behind us – very comfortable.  We did some calculations and realized that we needed to do between 4.5 and 6 knots to get into Richard’s Bay in daylight, so to make things easy for us, we dropped and put away the main and sailed under our genoa only.  

The winds were forecasted to pick up more, but they would be behind us and fairly comfortable. And that’s what we saw through the night – winds up to 42 knots. I sailed during my watch with just a bare sliver of genoa out, keeping our speed down as much as possible.

It was also a very stormy night. It rained hard and often, with squalls drenching us and then suddenly disappearing. And the lightening – oh the lightning! We had all of our portable electronics in our oven (a faraday cage). Some of the lightning didn’t touch down, but much of it did. The sky would light up so bright, my phone adjusted the brightness on the screen. Often, I couldn’t tell where the lightning was, and just had to hope it wasn’t going to hit us. Once, a huge bolt zig-zagged down in front of us, and the bolt sparkled and glittered for several moments before dissipating. Scary stuff!

35 knots of true wind dead downwind and storms all around.

I woke up early on Monday, excited to be approaching our destination. It was gray and rainy still, but we sailed nearly the entire way into Richards Bay.

Pointing into the Richard’s Bay entrance.

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4 Comments

  1. Great article , with lots of scary stuff. Your copeing skills are amazing. I worry about break downs on a highway when travelling but at least cars are going by . You are literally in the middle of the ocean withe no one in site.
    Thank goodness for tecnloghy you have some security of back up ..

    1. The technology on cruising boats is amazing! We are fortunate to live in this time. I’ve read several sailing memoirs from the 70s and 80s and wow! What a challange.

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