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Friday, 27 November 2015

High Winds Sink Tuzi Gazi Marina - Again

Crystal Blues Stern & The Sinking Docks
This section of the South African coast is a real weather engine, with a succession of high and low pressure systems dancing along the coast with unusual frequency.  The wind will swap from North East to South West and then back again within 24 hours, and then flip over again within another 24 hours.  It seems never ending. 

The docks here at Tuzi Gazi Marina were badly damaged by a 70 knot gale about three weeks ago, when the main pontoon collapsed into a spectacular concertina.  Unfortunately several visiting cruising boats were damaged in that blow.  The dock staff have worked endlessly to repair the dock sections that failed, but each successive storm puts the damaged floats underwater again, so the dock buckles further.   A lack of parts and a complete lack of new floats is hampering their effort. 

The initial disaster was caused by the failure of rusty anchor chains.  The heavy chains that hold the marina in position are tethered to concrete blocks on the sea bed.  These moved in the big blow and have not yet been re-positioned, so the entire structure is moving around in the wind, flexing the hinge points and further stressing the structure, specially at low tide.  Its a mess. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Mozambique To South Africa - Racing South With The Agulhas Current

Google Track Image By Thomas Herter
After five days sheltering from strong southerly winds,  we departed Basaruto in Mozambique with a decent weather window, in company with six other vessels.

Basaruto is a very large sand island, with a decent pass to the ocean at the southern end, though the pass has a bar at both the seaward and inshore end.

You can see our track on the Google Earth image at right - it is a very beautiful part of the world.  What that image doesn't show is how residual south easterly swells, even with a rising tide, can setup a steep breaking sea on the ocean side of the bar.  I'm fairly sure the south setting ocean currents played a role in this.

As we approached the bar, we were not quite sure that there was adequate water depth to handle the swell size, however we stuck our neck out and nosed gingerly into the shallow area, having studied the breaks and picked the best line.  Watching the fish finder screen very closely, we tracked the depth at the bottom of each swell and crossed the bar with 1.5 meters under the keel.

We relayed the minimum depths to the other vessels by VHF radio and they then started to commit to the sea in one's and two's.

It was a vigorous bar, much like the river bars we dealt with so often in Australia, and we were glad to have it behind us.

Some other boats in our group had never been through surf of this type, and they learned another aspect of boat handling that morning.

Papillon Images By Dianne Selkirk
The 46 foot catamaran Papillon looked impressive coming through the sets, a first for the owners and crew.  Of course what goes up must surely come down and the crew had quite a ride over several wave sets.

From the southern pass at Basaruto Island to the port entrance at Richards Bay in South Africa is a distance of around 490 nautical miles.  We covered that in 2 days and 21 hours, using the favourable currents for almost the entire voyage.

The winds were almost dead astern for most of the passage, a sailing angle that we don't really enjoy.  So we angled off and tacked downwind, keeping the wind at around 150 degrees apparent with consistent pressure on the sails and the vessel - a much more comfortable ride, and easier all round on both the vessel and the people.

Despite this conservative approach we still managed to chalk up some breakages.  On the first night out, under staysail and reefed main,  I shone the torch forward for a quick inspection of the deck and noticed the staysail had started to come down of its own accord.  Not very interesting.

The shackle under the swivel had given way, so we had no choice but to drop the sail to the deck, and stow it away until we could go up the mast (in calmer conditions) to retrieve the halyard.   The next morning, as we were enjoying our breakfast coffee, we watched our fibreglass dome television antenna float rapidly past the cockpit, having broken free from the mast and fallen (thankfully) into the sea, without touching the boat.

What else could go wrong ?

Monday, 16 November 2015

Things That Work For Us # 5 - Rule #104 Inline Blower

Just over 10 years ago we installed a new Cummins diesel engine in Crystal Blues, replacing a beat up Perkins that was a little too small and way too leaky (oil that is).

At the time, we also installed a simple Rule #104 Inline Blower, to circulate air from the bilges up to the air cleaner of the Cummins.

Now, some 3,339 hours later, that Rule blower has been finally shut down, when the blower bearings became louder than the diesel engine.  A replacement unit was purchased off the shelf from a local chandlery here in South Africa, for A$49.00 .

How many electrical items run for over 3000 hours sitting in a (very) hot engine compartment ?

So, credit where credit is due.  Many pleasure craft wouldn't operate for 3000 hours over their entire life, so this blower would have been a lifetime purchase.  Congratulations to Rule for building a product that delivers both value and reliable service.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Madagascar To Mozambique - Things That Go Bang In The Night

All Quiet Before The Storm

Destined for Richards Bay in South Africa, we departed Madagascar in loose company with four other yachts.  The weather in this area needs to be carefully monitored, and voyage plans are often modified to find shelter in safe harbour.  Our "weather window" on departure was reasonable, however a very strong southerly front sent us scurrying into Basaruto, on the Mozambique coast, after 4 days at sea.

Temporary Boom Repairs
For a voyage that was fast and reasonably comfortable, we managed to break a surprising amount of gear along the way !  On the first night out we were caught by a 40 knot squall that jibed the mainsail very quickly, snapping the 19mm diameter stainless steel bail on the boom where the mainsheet and preventer line were attached. Later examination showed crevice corrosion on that part, where it failed just below the weld.

It also sheared the 5/16" bolts that locked the main sheet traveler car to the sheet block.   Fortunately the boom came to rest against the running backstay which (amazingly) held up to the impact and kept the boom under control.

After lashing the boom in place we dropped the mainsail and proceeded under genoa alone until daylight, when we could effect repairs.  Next morning we used a 1000 kg rated lifting sling, wrapped around the boom, as the new mainsheet and preventer attachment.  The main sheet track then had to be removed from the deck to access the sheet block car.  We repaired that easily enough, customising bolts from stock to suit and then re-assembled it, just like new. The broken (and very bent) stainless steel bale was then cut from the boom using an angle grinder.  All was completed by lunchtime, in relatively calm seas, and we were able to hoist the mainsail and gather boat speed again.

24 hours later, in heavier winds, the outhaul on the mainsail failed when a spectra lashing gave way, leading to a couple of broken slides in the boom and two significant tears in the sail.  Fortunately these were low down in the body of the sail, and we were able to continue by lowering the sail to the first reef point.

SV Sage Under Tow
SV Sage At Anchor In Basaruto
Approaching the Mozambique coast we were contacted on HF radio by another vessel that needed assistance as their engine had failed.

After anchoring close to them overnight, we towed them into the anchorage the next morning and settled down to wait for the southerly blow.

By the time we arrived at Bazaruto we were ready for a break, and were welcomed to the coast of Africa by these friendly spinner dolphins with an excited aerial show that immediately brought our sense of humour back.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Au Revoir Madagascar & Thanks For All The Fish

Yahoo With Wahoo
Our parting gift from the rich waters of Madagascar was this spectacular Wahoo, the first of this species Ley has ever caught. Neil soaked his gills with Barcardi Rum and he was quickly cut into two large boneless fillets, providing eight meals for us.

We were both quite sad to leave Madagascar. It is a unique country, with a rich culture of sailing, enchanting lemurs, baobab trees, smiling faces and stunning landscapes. For the sailor the north west coast offers fantastic cruising with a land breeze in the morning, clocking around to a sea breeze every afternoon. Flat water sailing at its best. There are so many scenic anchorages, each generally with a small village or two. Our last few anchorages along the west coast of Madagascar, from Russian Bay down to Mahajunga, simply emphasised the beauty of this country. We needed more time there ....

As we approached our final anchorage in Boina Bay, we were followed by a fast sailing lateen rigged pirogue, laden with people and cargo. We had great wind and plenty of water, and Crystal Blues was a good 15 feet longer than the pirogue. Still they powered after us up the channel, shouting, laughing and waving as they slowly reeled us in and then sailed right past us to windward, their 8 knots eclipsing our 7.5 knots. The joy of sailing strikes again !

After anchoring we decided to give away the last of our trading items to a young man fishing from a dugout canoe just offshore from us. Not sure if he caught any fish, but with our goodies and those from the yacht Ceilydh, he paddled home with a very different bounty from the sea. Incidentally, Boina Bay was one of the nicest anchorages on the coast - great shelter, clean water, beautiful environment.

We departed Boina Bay in loose company with three sailing catamarans (Yolo, Ceilydh and Papillon), all bound for Richard's Bay in South Africa via the Mozambique Channel, notorious for it's strong currents and even stronger winds. Our Iridium Go! satellite modem allowed frequent updates to weather forecast GRIB files, and OSCAR ocean current files, and we hoped to work our way across this complex piece of ocean relatively quickly. We had a full moon to light our way all night, but a limited weather window eventually forced us to to seek shelter on the Mozambique coast after six days at sea.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Last Port - Mahajunga, Madagascar

Mahajunga is our final port of call or provisioning, before we head down the coast for South Africa. Like Helleville, its a bustling old time port, the old town filled with decaying French buildings and the new town growing up in a "1960's concrete modern" sort of way around the old port.

Here again we were captivated by the maritime culture, dominated by sailing vessels of all kinds.

Schooners, outrigger sailing canoes, dhows, just about anything that floated had a rig and sails of some kind. 

Of course the sails were not hi-tech and they often had large pieces missing, but the boats still traveled well and the crews were always happy to see us.

That sailing bond works wonders, even when we don't speak the language. 

The waterfront was a dynamic place, a blur of old and new, goods being loaded and unloaded on the backs of smiling young men, running along rickety wooden planks carrying everything from live chickens to crates of Coca Cola.

Bartering For Fruit At The Market
We provisioned here for our crossing to South Africa, a 1400 nautical mile voyage that crosses the Mozambique Channel and takes us south, eventually to Cape Town.  Majunga has fabulous markets, and we were able to stock up with everything we needed - fresh fruits, vegetables, local pork sausages and diesel to top off our fuel tanks.

To our surprise we also found a fabulous restaurant and brasserie, serving world class cruising with a local twist.  At La Rotonde, the Malagasy chef is a certified artist and we'll remember his plates fondly as we cross the ocean for the next few weeks.

The primary service locations for visiting sailboats (supermarkets, fuel stations, port captain etc) are relatively simple to find, however we marked them up on the Google map below.  Just click on the map to explore Mahajunga.

From here we will coastal hop south for another two days, then head west across the Mozambique Channel when we have a good weather forecast.  Our blog posts will be less frequent without internet access, but you can track our voyage on the live map at the top of the page, which updates hourly.

The Helleville Festival Of Sail

After 50 years of sailing I still get a real buzz when I see a well handled sailboat, reaching across flat water on a sunny day - specially if it is a wooden sailboat.

In this part of the world that sight is all too common, as every coastal village and settlement is home to outrigger sailing canoes and larger sailing dhows, with lateen sailing rigs.  In the photo at right, this beautiful new vessel was launched only days earlier, and the builder was putting the finishing touches to her when we visited the island.

The largest boats here are gaff rigged schooners, still built on beaches all along the coast.   These are planked timber boats fastened with galvanised pins.  The lines are traditional locally made hemp, and the blocks are all hand made by shipwrights who carve the cheeks from solid wooden blocks.

When we arrived in Helleville, capital of the island Nosy Be in Madagascar,  the real extent of this sailing economy became apparent.   Literally hundreds and hundreds of sailboats work the coast - some fishing, some carrying cargo, others working as ferries.

Each afternoon they would ghost past us in the anchorage, working to windward on the first flutters of the strengthening sea breeze.  The big lateen rigged boats are incredibly quick and will sail seemingly into the eye of the wind, though the lack of any real keel means they sag away to leeward quite a bit.

The small fishing dhows would go to sea every morning, waking us at 5.00am as the crew shouted greetings to each other across the water, using the land breeze to head offshore.  Late afternoon they would all head back to shore using the unstoppable sea breeze, that comes in like clockwork around midday each day.

The sailing canoes here are incredibly fast, and use live (human) ballast to keep the outrigger on the surface when power reaching - the crew walk out onto a timber frame that is cantilevered to port, and so counterbalance the outrigger on starboard.

These amazing things are of course simply ordinary to these communities, who live and prosper by the sea and the wind.

However to us it is a constant source of delight, as dozens of these vessels come home each evening, scooting across the stern of our anchored vessel, smiling, waving  and sharing their joy with us - the real joy of sailing.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Tohatsu Outboard Motors - Indian Ocean Cruisers Group Buy

Our beloved Tohatsu outboard motor has passed it's "use by" date.  Looking for another unit, we discovered that several other cruisers in the region are also wanting to buy new engines.  South Africa is also possibly the last chance we'll get to purchase a 2 stroke engine in the size we want, as Euro and US regulations have forced them off the market in those regions.

So we have arranged a group purchase through a vendor in South Africa, with a significant discount and shipping available to most ports.

So far we have six vessels in the group, but all boats traveling to South Africa are welcome to take advantage of this deal.  For further information please contact us by email, or by commenting on this post.

We have pricing on two models - the lightweight 5.0hp and 9.8hp 2 stroke units (short shaft), but others models including 4 stroke are available.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Eating More Fish - Just What The Doctor Ordered

Our family doctor, Jeff Farrow, has made it very clear that I should be eating more fish, to help deal with my high cholesterol readings.

Well Jeff, this one is for you.  As you can see, Ley is doing her level best to comply with your instructions.  This Spanish Mackerel is Four Star eating.

In the past week Ley has landed more fish than our freezer can hold and is now working on new ways of preparing fish to keep the meals interesting.

Last night it was a delicious Fish Pie - you can download the recipe here.

The ocean waters here in Madagascar are just loaded with fish - one of the few places where commercial fishing hasn't stripped everything out.

Spanish Mackerel Fillets
Two days ago we assembled a new hand line fishing rig for friends, complete with swivel, stainless steel trace, bungee cord and lure, as a birthday gift.

Bigeye Trevalley
We delivered it to their boat just before dinner time, and over drinks I showed them how to deploy it and rig it to the boat with the bungee.

They joked that they might land a fish right there in the anchorage, and I explained it couldn't happen as it was dark and the fish would not see the lure.

Also, we weren't even moving !

You can probably guess what happened next - a 1.5 meter Military Pike attacked the lure and we landed it within a few minutes.  That rig has since caught two more big fish, a very successful birthday gift !

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Cruising In Good Company

For some weeks we've been cruising north western Madagascar in company with good friends on Le Papillon, a brand new 46 foot Lagoon catamaran.    They cruise with their four legged bosun Charlie, who swaggers around the deck pretending he was born at sea, and have traveled much the same route as us for the past six months.

Together we have been traveling around 25 nautical miles each day, anchoring each afternoon at a different bay, river or island.  This is a most spectacular cruising ground - many say it is far better than Thailand, and we are happy to agree.

Land breezes in the morning carry us out to sea, and by 11:00am the sea breeze kicks in and we reach along the coast in flat water at 7 and 8 knots.  Almost every day one of us catches a large fish, so the freezers are well stocked.  It is the finest sailing we've done in many years.

Keeping Very Busy

It hasn't all been island hopping and beach picnics.  Besides the usual (& never ending) maintenance tasks, we contribute to the regional cruising radio net on 6646Mhz.

At the moment I serve as net controller each afternoon at 17:00hrs local time (14:00hrs UTC), calling boats on passage in the region and logging position and weather reports.  There are currently 40 vessels on the tracking sheet, spread between Durban in South Africa, Madagascar and Mauritius.

This community safety net keeps us all in touch, and makes sure that no boats "drop off the radar".

Ley Trades A Fishing Kit For Fresh Prawns
Eating Very Well

We trade with the local people for mangoes, papaya, crabs and prawns.

A T-shirt is eagerly exchanged for half a dozen mangoes or half a kilo of large prawns. 20 meters of fishing line and half a dozen hooks will swap for a large Papaya or a even a live reef fish (Grouper etc).

We share the cooking and catering load, alternating dinner venues between the vessels.  With a shared love of good food (& wine), our dinners are usually fun events.

Supporting The Locals

This is a completely undeveloped nation - the small villages around the coast have no connection with the world except through passing boats and their own sailing vessels..  The people are happy and industrious, but poverty and health issues are evident at every stop we make. Like many other boats in the region, we stocked up on clothing and essential gifts for the locals, before sailing here.  Children's clothing, books, fishing equipment, clothing for men and women, tools, reading glasses etc, which are shared out on a daily basis.

At Maramba Bay, truly the most beautiful anchorage we've seen in years, we were advised about an elderly man who needed medical assistance - cleaning a wound and refreshing dressings.  Other cruising boats had helped before we arrived, and we took over for a couple of days, before we moved on.

He has a surgical wound that has opened up after the stitches were removed - it has obviously been that way for some time.  This morning we cleaned and dressed it again, closing it a little and then protecting it with a large adhesive dressing.  He really should go back to hospital, but the family can ill afford that and the journey takes them over 24 hours (by canoe, then walking, then a bus).  Through email and the radio network we've now asked other boats to continue the assistance when they pass through Maramba Bay.

This is a stunningly beautiful country, but life for the local people is still very harsh.