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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We spent three delightful days at Christmas Island, anchored in Flying Fish Cove, the only bay on the island that is suitable for ships.
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).
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.
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.
On the morning of my departure for the Southern Lau Islands thankfully the anchor came up from amongst the coral heads easily and with one reef in the main, I set sail for the passage through the fringing reef. Once clear of the island I found the wind was just south of east, meaning I would have wind forward of the beam all the way. However, having waited 27 days for these less than perfect conditions I was determined to go ahead.
Shortly afterwards I heard the chink of steel on steel and glancing up, saw that the bungee cord on the starboard fishing line was stretched to its limit and a big blue dorado was jumping and thrashing from side to side. Slowing the boat, I gathered the things needed to land it, but possibly being foul hooked, somehow it just slipped the triple hook and swam off.
The overnight passage was straightforward with about 15 knots of wind. That night, or rather early next morning, I finally tired of playing my uke, having worn through the skin on a finger and decided to catnap, after being alert and on my feet since departure. I managed about an hour of broken rest when it started to get light, then brewed some coffee, went out and was dismayed to see that the mainsail was showing a very full ‘belly’, caused by the reefing line at the clew (rear bottom corner) of the sail parting in the night.
Fortunately, there was a second reefing line rigged and my speed picked up with a properly set sail. By now it was 08:00 and the entrance to Fulaga was just six miles away, but directly up wind and up current. It took me three and a half hours to sail my way to just off the entrance pass, where I dropped sail and started both engines; happy that I had thoroughly tested them for fuel air blocks after the servicing I had done at Avea Island. I felt that I needed full manoeuvrability for my first effort at negotiating that pass which is only 50m wide and quite shallow – around five metres at places – with coral heads in the channel showing clearly. I had a route marked out on the satellite chart and after the first 300 metres or so, where I cautiously crawled my way in, straddling the obstructions, I finally anchored at midday in 4m of crystal clear water over sand off the village landing.