Landfall in Africa!!!, Day 10

Date: Nov. 15, 2016, noon Position: 28 28.71 S, 35 2.89 E

Our beam reach ended around sunset last night when we got to within 70 NM NE of Richard’s Bay. It is prudent to aim north of the destination, as the strong Agulhas currents sweep you to the south as you cross the main bulk of the stream. We definitely did not want to get swept south of Richard’s Bay and into the advancing low pressure system! However, the winds stayed very S and SW, despite the light E-SE winds forecast. Our last 70 NM were once again a beat to windward.

Dawn rose another red-sun-in-morning-warning day, with massive mushroom clouds marching along the shores of Africa. We sighted our first glimpse of the African continent in between a few of these cells, before the misty rains closed in again and obscured the land. There appeared to be a mixture of jungle and open savanna land. It was so amazing to think that lions and giraffes and elephants and hippos walk these shores! The lands on Privateer’s starboard beam promise adventure and mystery: Swaziland, Zululand, Mozambique, Lesotho…

The winds became very unstable near the mushroom cells, buffeting Privateer from every direction and raising a high, vigorous, and heavy chop in the Agulhas current. We lurched through steep and angular waves as hot and cool winds swirled through the rigging. The mist brought our first smells of the land–the smells of a new continent. We could smell the sweet grass, like a freshly mown lawn on a dewy morning, and I swear I could smell Elephant dung on the warm breezes as well. First smells from the sea are always the most vivid after being on the ocean for many days. The nose goes into overdrive for about an hour before the new smells become “normal” and the brain shuts them off and tells you not to notice them anymore. For that first sweet hour, my mind took me back to a time of childhood with these smells and sent shivers down my back.

We gave up on the sailing for the last 25 NM. The winds were coming from all directions, and the sooner we could make port the better. It is no joke out here in the Agulhas current. These waves are wicked, and it’s not even a windy day by South African standards. We were seeing the effects of 20 knots SW against the current, and it wasn’t pretty. I can easily see why, when met with a SW gale, the Agulhas current produces vertical waves 60 feet tall, capable of (and regularly) cracking freighters in two. A small boat would not have any chance of survival these conditions. With our SW gales to come in a day or two, there was a strong urgency not to linger here. These are considered the most dangerous seas in the world, and sailing along here today is about as fun as playing that game where you fan out your fingers and stab a dagger into the table between them. We got lucky and did not get stabbed.

Our beloved electronic tiller pilot, however, steered its last course before a nasty rogue wave smacked the boat and flooded the cockpit, submerging the precious unit and destroying the internal fluxgate compass. I was forced to hand steer the last 5 hours and it nearly ripped my arm out of the socket. As we approached the land the waters turned muddy and milky, and we had a close call with a 55-gallon barrel. It was lurking just below the surface of the waves and I noticed it only because a rainbow sheen of gasoline blossomed outwards from the hazard. A few minutes later I saw another. Despite not sleeping more than 3-4 hour stretches for the past ten days, and being up all night last night, I was very alert and aware of my surroundings–you kind of have to be!

At last, we radioed Richard’s Bay Port Control and passed in behind the massive breakwater walls that protect the bay. We made it!!!!!!! Yeah Privateer!!!!! The winds dropped to zero very politely (& luckily!) for our arrival. We found a slip in the rickety Tuzi Gazi marina docks and gingerly tied alongside. An excellent passage safely completed.

The enormity of this world voyage and the significance of the passage sunk in as we walked the docks and chatted with the other sailors. We rolled our dice with the rest of them in La Reunion and it was a good roll–Snake Eyes! The others were not so lucky. Sapphire left one week before us and came in after us, 16 days later with a shredded mainsail. Another boat neighbor in Reunion left 2 days before us and limped into port after encountering severe seas that left one crew with a broken arm and the dodger & frames stripped clean off the decks. Aliena was busy taking down here spare main, after the original one disintegrated and the spare delaminated. Looking around the harbor there were many more blown-out jibs and tales of 55-knot winds and being hove-to for four days, etc etc. Our tiller pilot failure was the least interesting story on the dock and our passage the quickest. Despite our relief and exhilaration, we kept our cards close to our chest and our poker faces on.

Finally, I would like to thank Mark on base command S/V “Tuuletar”, who provided us with detailed weather analysis several times each day while en route. His caliber of forecasting kept us in favorable currents and routed us well away from the bad weather, with safe and comfortable route alternatives in order to avoid any storms, should they come our way. Thank you a million times over, Mark! Receiving your texts and mulling over the options with you was a highlight of this passage.

Overall, we had an safe and thrilling passage. We really did have a bit of everything. We sailed every angle from wing & wing to close-hauled and everything in between. We had winds from 10-45 knots, and winds from every direction N, E, S & W. We had 4 gentle downwind days, a 186 NM distance-shattering day, a few days hard on the wind heeled over, and a big lightning storm to spice things up. We flew our storm trysail and storm jib which saved wear and tear on our working sails and kept us comfortable in the blow. We lucked out on the timing of the fronts and didn’t have to heave-to or wait for better weather. We achieved the best possible outcome after just 10 days at sea–a fast passage.

A new continent to explore now, Africa awaits…

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