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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
Following my arrival in Fiji from New Zealand and the completion of onboard quarantine at the end of June 2021, I was keen to sail away from the exposed anchorage off the main island of Viti Levu, out to the smaller islands to the west. Just as well I did, for later I learned that if I had stayed in there for more than 72 hours after clearing in, I would not have been able to move on because of Covid restrictions.
Being in the wind shadow area of the main island, I sailed 9 miles with just a zephyr of breeze out to Musket Cove, where I spent several days before catching intermittent puffs of wind to sail further north west up the Mamanuca Island chain and into the Yasawas.
The weather fortunately was kind whilst on the hard and after 36 very full days, with only two off for rain, I was ready to go back into the water. In the meanwhile Ulla and Pelle flew back to Sweden, notifying me from Dubai that they had learned from fellow travellers that it was now possible to get Covid vaccinations in New Zealand. I called a fellow sailor who had access to a car and he secured us appointments for the next day.
My favourite destinations have been the lightly inhabited offshore islands, notably Great Mercury and Great Barrier Islands.
These are mostly bathed in clean ocean water and some areas are covered in pristine forest. The whole of Great Mercury Island is owned by prominent businessmen Sir Michael Fay and David Richwhite who both generously permit the public to come ashore. Through a sustained program of pest eradication involving bait stations and ongoing monitoring, the rat and feral cat populations have been eliminated, enabling indigenous birds to flourish. During one of my runs through parkland-like surroundings I met the woman who monitors the 600 odd bait traps on the island and began to appreciate the scope of her never ending task.
September 2nd 2020 saw Karin flying from Auckland to South Africa to fulfil her long stated intention to attend her daughter’s wedding towards the end of that month. After years of close quarters and 24/7 companionship, I knew that being alone would be a huge adjustment but I was determined to make the best of it, as I knew with the conservative Kiwi approach to Covid, that Karin wouldn’t be back for a very long time.
Covid-19 has certainly touched everybody’s lives, in different ways. Some lost their lives, others their livelihood and many are suffering the hardships of lockdowns. We were certainly fortunate to have been in New Zealand during these unprecedented times, but even we have not escaped the challenges of this pandemic.
Enduring the cold NZ winter
We certainly did not expect to still be in New Zealand, in fact if it wasn’t for Covid we would have been snorkelling in warm tropical water much further north right now. Instead we have to brace ourselves against the cold, wet weather and accompanying storms.