Reunion to South Africa heralded as the toughest rally passage highlighted the need for navigational skills. Departure was delayed 6 days due to storms and the boys spent much time discussing navigation and the weather. When the wind finally abated it had left behind waves and swell and as we left port for the first 8 hours the ride was uncomfortable.
Over the next three days however the forecasts continued to change with no clear passage to Durban. Our SSB radio net was full of discussions about lows, high winds, slowing down and other possible ports. Vela's forecaster told them they would be 'suicidal' to cross the strong Agulhas Current which rushes down the African coast when the wind was against it due to the impossible seas. In the end 5 boats stopped at Madagascar, Port Dauphin, 3 more headed to Mozambique and the rest pushed on hoping for a better forecast. The Foreign Office had plenty to say about both Madagascar and Mozambique. Kidnapping, mugging, don't drive etc.
With an intermittent auto pilot we chose Madagascar. Fishermen in wooden dugout canoes paddled in the bay. Going ashore loads of kids including 2 year olds offered to dinghy watch. Customers an immigration took place at a shady table with a guitarist, a few chickens and ducks. Into the countryside we were enthralled by lemurs, unique to Madagascar. Unafraid they took bananas from our hands and sat on us. Rain halted the promise beach BBQ and Edwin, our guide, invited us to his house and 20 of us shared delicious grilled lobster with his family in his wooden one room shack and tiny courtyard.
Weather window identified, we set off again past an unforgettable sight of a huge gigantarium of whales waving and tail flicking like mad. The rally atmosphere resembled a tense adventure movie. The weather was kicking up outside Durban, the wind was liable to turn 180 degrees and the safe passage window shortening. The leading boats started doing circles in the middle of the ocean waiting while others were rushing for the weather gate.
Then our boat decided to make strange noises - clutter, clutter, bang, bang. Skipper Hugh dived into the water to see if the propeller was alright without getting hit by 45 ton of boat or sharks. After rather a lot of noise in the middle of the night the 'ropecutter' - the eponymous piece of kit to protect the propeller- fell off. At least there was silence.
We discovered a new way of sailing - motorsailing with all sails up and engine on, to go hell for leather, to try and make Durban. Otherwise the options were to head backwards or north. Tenterhooks didn't even begin to cover it. In the final stages the wind got up and the boat surfed as we approached in darkness. With the impending gale force winds Durban Port was broadcasting messages to container ships outside to lay down extra anchors, stay 12 miles off and add extra lights. Entering the harbour was very hairy. Unexpectedly 2 container ships were coming out of the tight gaps with tugs. In the dim light we weren't sure where our passage lay. At one point one of the tugs was in our path. Our options were to head to rocks or container ship. Fortunately the tug reversed. When we at last got into the marina Sea Flute and Tianelle were waving torches from the dock lighting the way and with only 200 metres to go the wind finally abated. Hugh had done a magnificent job helming We repaired to the Royal Natal Yacht Club for celebratory drinks. Things went with a swing, Altair arrived about midnight and we eventually left the club around 2:30am. Tianelle and Altair crew carried on celebrating on the back of a boat before they fell in the water.
But sailing was not over. The wind gods declared the time was right for a non stop trip to Cape Town. Out we popped with the fleet and promptly lost 16 miles while we executed a makeshift fix on autopilot again. This time Navigator Andy ensured we rode that Agulhas Current Bronco reaching 17 knots of boat speed whilst dodging container ships, oil field and the Cape of Good Hope to return to lead the fleet in thick fog in Cape Town. When the fog cleared the majestic Table Mountain revealed itself as out back garden for the next 2 months.
The Meteorite Crew
Debbie, Hugh, Janice and Andy