What sailing around the world meant to us

Having been back in South Africa for a few months, the dust has settled a bit and we have had time to reflect on our circumnavigation.

Sometimes, the most difficult part of a journey is simply deciding to do it. For us that was the easy part; fortunately, at the outset optimism and ignorance insulated us against knowledge of the challenges to come. There was a huge learning curve to climb in so many different technical disciplines. Only now, having sailed almost 60 000km to complete this voyage, do I feel properly prepared to commence such a venture!

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Tanzania to South Africa

November arrived and with it the unsavoury prospect of negotiating the Mozambique Channel’s tropical revolving storms, should we linger. This prompted us to head south from Zanzibar, towards Richards Bay 1500nm (2700km) away, at first making day sails between night anchorages.

The current and the light winds were against us over the next six days as we tacked south in short hops in mostly calm seas. Sometimes we had to sail all day, doing double the distance to the next anchorage a mere 20 nm away. Once, with Moondust sailing erratically on both tacks, we noticed that the mast top wind vane sensor was bent to port, probably due to a collision with a bird, so Karin hoisted me aloft and I was fortunately able to remedy it.

Later, just after tacking, Moondust suddenly slowed down, dragging sideways. A glance at the port rudder showed that we had finally snagged one of the dozens of informal fishing buoys (plastic bottles) we had so far managed to avoid. With the gaff we pulled the very taut line to the surface and cut it, whereupon Moondust leapt ahead again. We made sure not to use the port engine again until Karin volunteered to swim and remove the remainder of the ‘birds nest’.

From Okuza Island on 3 November we set off for deeper water to avoid fishing boats and thus began our passage for Richards Bay. The battle south continued as we sailed into the wind and were pushed sideways by the current for almost two hundred nautical miles, until it finally turned in our favour on 5 November.

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Tanzania, the warm heart of Africa

Home is where the heart is and after having almost circumnavigated the world, my heart still belongs to Africa. Arriving in Mikindani Bay in southern Tanzania was like coming home; we were welcomed by the shrill, haunting cry of the fish eagle from high above the grove of steely pinkish tinged Baobab trees still standing sentinel over the bay after eons. For me these two epitomize Africa!

Baobabs standing watch over the anchorage at Mikindani Bay.
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The Last ‘Big One’ – Cocos Keeling to Tanzania

At intervals during our circumnavigation we had contemplated the Indian Ocean crossing, not always with a great deal of enthusiasm because of the distances involved across to Africa; 4580 nm (8200 km) from Indonesia and 3330 nm (6000 km) from Cocos Keeling. Add to that the intemperate weather and sailing conditions that seemed to be a common factor in quite a few of the accounts we had read.

This challenge has generated enough interest amongst cruisers to justify an ‘Indian Ocean Crossing’ Facebook group and also a useful document written by experienced sailor, Durban based Des Cason, who has successfully guided many hundreds of boats across this ocean and onwards down the infamous Mozambique Channel. We initiated daily email contact with Des prior to departure so that we could benefit from his experience as well as from the sophisticated weather information sources to which he made daily reference; much superior to our limited Iridium Go satellite link.

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Cocos Keeling: Australia’s paradise island

We expected it to take us five days to sail the 550nm from Christmas Island to Cocos Keeling but we had such good wind that we made it in three-and-a-half days.

Even though Cocos Keeling is part of the same underwater mountain range as Christmas Island, the topography is very different.  The latter consists of two low- lying coral atolls with palm fringed white beaches and turquoise water. 

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Christmas Island, a delightful speck in the Indian Ocean

We arrived in Tanzania on 23 September 2022, 43 days after leaving Indonesia. On route we stopped in at two of Australia’s Indian Ocean Islands and were pleasantly surprised, once again realizing how Moondust enables us to reach far-flung places that we wouldn’t otherwise contemplate visiting.

On departure our exit from the Lombok Strait proved interesting for when we rounded its south east headland the current peaked at around 8 knots, flowing into a 16 knot SE wind. This combination threw up breaking waves, which at one stage looked pretty intimidating as they covered the horizon. However, upon approach it was possible to thread our way through these and, whilst we pitched and rolled sharply in the steep seas, it wasn’t hazardous.

It then took us seven days to reach Christmas Island and was one of our best passages thus far; the wind was perfect and allowed us to make good progress without the sea being too boisterous. 

Christmas Island

We spent three delightful days at Christmas Island, anchored in Flying Fish Cove, the only bay on the island that is suitable for ships.

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Indonesia: land of tasty food and great natural beauty

After sailing non-stop for eight days from Saumlaki, we anchored at Gili Bodo Island, 16 nm north of Labuan Bajo. This two-day stop was very welcome and we thoroughly enjoyed the snorkeling.

A colourful marine filter feeder, an Oxheart Ascidian, with its urn-shaped, hollow body with two siphons.
Atriolum robustum – colonial turnicates or sea squirts.
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Sailing the Coral Sea – Fiji to Indonesia

On the morning of the 3rd May we ghosted under full sail from our anchorage towards the gap in the encircling reef leading to the open sea, commencing our 3000 nautical mile (5400km) passage to Indonesia. We set our course northwest, to skirt around the more southerly islands of Vanuatu and then onwards to the Torres Straits which separate Australia and Indonesia. As our crossings have always been accompanied by light winds, we allowed thirty days for this leg to Indonesia.

Our first few days brought variable conditions – some good SE breeze but also very little wind and some of that from ahead. Not good for a sailing boat! On the 5th we heard female Kiwi twang calling Moondust’s name on the VHF radio. New Zealand’s Air Force Orion, not visible to us, was querying our well-being as they had picked up a faint emergency signal from an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon).

We often had squalls on the horison.

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Cruising in paradise

Back at Musket Cove the lush green hills of Molololailai island now have a warm yellow tinge from the seeding grasses, the days are a bit shorter and nights a degree or two cooler. As we are preparing to leave Fiji within the next week for Indonesia, we look back on the last two months, which we mostly spent enjoying the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands on the western side of Fiji.

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Vinaka (thank you) Fiji!

It is incredible how time flies when you are having fun! I’ve been in Fiji for three months and so far we’ve visited a number of beautiful islands, snorkeled some spectacular coral reefs and met many a warm hearted Fijian. We have also dodged a cyclone and avoided a tsunami.

Sailing in the Pacific Rim of Fire is high risk during the November to April cyclone season and is surely not ideal as it limits one’s ability to fully explore the area. And it is very hot and humid with plenty of rain for a large part of the season. However, even with these limitations, we are still able to see far more of Fiji than the average fly-in tourist would.

Snorkeling is our favourite pastime.
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