Saturday, July 10, 2010

Durban or not Durban !

For the last few days, I have been involved in a lively discussion on
trying to define the best strategy to sail from the island of La Reunion
to Capetown. Involved in those exchanges were the weathermen from South
Africa who run the South Africa Maritime Net, a prominent brother from
the South Africa brotherhood of the Coast, and my weather router based
in Perth, Australia.
At one extreme of the solutions offered, would be to wait for October
anyway, then sail to Durban and then coast hop from harbour to harbour
(East London, Port Elizabeth, Mosselbay, Cape Agulhas anchorage and
Capetown) taking advantage of the available weather windows as they come
At the other extreme, suggested by a Kiwi friend, sail whenever you get
there and sail around South Africa staying 100 miles from shore until
you have passed Cape Agulhas and then head for Capetown.
For those who don't know it, this area has a very complex weather
situation. It is one of the two most potentially dangerous sailing areas
in the world (with the Cape Horn area), and every year there are
sailboats dismasting, capsizing and sometimes sinking. This is the area
where one can encounter a "freak wave" more than 80 feet high, this is
also the area where one can sail across one of those "busters", coastal
lows that can generate up to 70 knots of wind.
When you get close to shore on the east side, you will have to cross the
notorious "agulhas" current that could run up to 6 knots southwest and
make you overshoot your destination.
And then, there is a 255 miles long stretch of coast between Durban and
East London, with no shelter at all whatsoever.
So, since we left Darwin, I have been busy studying the pilot charts,
the South African Sailing Directions, various books and ebooks that I
have on this subject, and seeking advice from knowledgeable people back
in Australia and of course in South Africa.
At first, I had selected to make a run directly for East London,
believing that I could ride out the storms out there and avoid the area
between Durban and East London.
Fortunately, my brother in South Africa and the operators of the weather
radio net talked me out of that and convinced me to select the route
going via Durban, aiming at first for a position north of it so as not
to overshoot it.
So, come late August early September, I will set sail for the southern
tip of Madagascar (about 4 to 5 days) and then aim for the north of
Durban, keeping my ears very close to the ground to make sure that
should there be a southwesterly on the way, I will ride it outside far
enough from shore so that it is only a strong southwesterly, and then
make a run to Durban.
I know that those five to seven days sailing into Durban are likely to
be the most taxing days mentally of the whole voyage.

Right now, we are sailing in between showers in a following wind of 20
to 28 knots and I had to drop the main sail and roll up the genoa two
turns to avoid arriving in the Cocos before sunrise.

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