Reunion to South Africa
A Difficult Passage

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Sunset behind sailing vessel Baraka
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"A warning has to be given regarding the leg around South Africa. Several circumnavigators have encountered the worst weather of their voyage along this route where a sudden SW gale can create extremely dangerous conditions when it hits the south flowing Agulhas Current. Every year boats are knocked down, pooped and even lost on this strech, so it is well worth considering the alternatives before deciding on this route" (Jimmy Cornell, World Cruising Routes).

Our trip from Reunion to South Africa turned out to be just as complicated as we had anticipated. We did not suffer any knockdowns ourselves, although an other yacht did, but in trying to avoid some horrible weather on the route ahead of us we decided to seek shelter both in Madagascar and Mozambique. In both places we sat out gale force winds in far from perfect anchorages. During the last night before our arrival in Richard's Bay, SA, we experienced very uncomfortable (although not dangerous) conditions, caused by wind against current. What was planned to be a 10-12 day, non-stop, journey became a three week (22 days) affair. On the positive side, we visited two exotic destinations, which cruisers usually bypass.

The recommendation is to sail at least 100 nautical miles south of Madagascar to avoid a freak wave area on the continental shelf off Madagascar. The distance from Reunion to South Africa is too long to allow predictions what kind of weather one will get when closing the African coast. The weather of the entire area between Madagascar and the Cape of Good Hope is dominated by the presence of fron tal systems that are created by Antarctic lows moviong eastwards. During the passage of a front, called a southerly change, when the winds shioft suddenly from E to NE to NW to SW, conditions in the Agulhas current can become hazardous.

When we approach the SE corner of Madagascar we received a fortecast that predicted bad weather at the time we would be crossing the Agulhas current. Therefore we decided to go close to Madagascar instead and try to find a place to take shelter and wait for better weather. We found such a place in Minorado Bay in the SW corner of this big island. Half o dozen other yachts had decided to do the same as we, among them our Finnish friends on sy Elaine.

There is a fishing village ashore and the people there are extremely poor. They came out to us in their kayaks asking for anything we could spare, particularly clothes. We do not like to encourage begging, so we tried to trade for fish and lobster, with some success.

Trading time in Minorodo Bay, Madagascar - Australian yacht Taipan has visitors

After a couple of days at anchor we were hit by an easterly gale. For three days the wind was blowing consistently around 40 knots, gusting to 45. Although the anchorage appears well protected from the east, conditions became surprisingly difficult. We were anchored less than a mile from shore, but even on that short strech the wind produced a nasty chop, probably because it was blowing towards a westerly swell. The holding was good in sand, but all boats encontered problems with the snubbing lines for the anchor. We broke our snubbing lines five (5) times! Adding insult to injury, the boats got covered by a fine sand dust coming from the desert upwind.

Before the gale we met in Taipan's cockpit
(photo by Contrails)
During the gale we were confined to our
own yachts, here Scorpio ..
.. and here Promesa from Canada.
(these two photos by Baraka)

Would you belive that the boats in these 5 photos above and below are at anchor?

Read the full story of our ordeal during the gale at Minorodo Bay, with more photos, HERE.

A satellite view of Minorodo Bay can be found HERE.

Three laptops and one multifunction display (MFD).
The old fashioned looking display in the ceiling is the radar.
And, yes, we still use dividers, paper charts and even sticky notes!

Just as the gale force conditions were moderating we received a forecast that showed strong SW winds in Minorado Bay a few days ahead. This place would be untenable in such conditions. The weather would not allow sailing towards South Africa either, so our options were either to sail north along the coast of Madagascar towards the town of Toliara or to go across the Mozambique channel between Madagascar and Africa to Mozambique. Toliara and the whole SW part of Madagascar would be open to strong southwesterlies, so we decided to go to the Inhambane area in Mozambique 500 nm to the west. We got there just in time before a southerly near gale piped up.

Champagne time: we have reached the African mainland.
The weather is surprisingly cool.
A peaceful time between the blows

We anchored at Linga Linga, in a river a few miles north of the city of Inhambane, among 10 other yachts. This spot is completely open for southerly winds, but being inside the reef there was at least no ocean swell. It was spring tide with a tidal span of about 2.5 metres, which made the yacht face stern to the wind for 6 hours every 6 hours, a condition we don't like even in light winds. Now we had to tolerate this shuffle in consistent 30-35 knots S winds, gusting to 40 for more than a day. This time we had no problems with the snubbing lines as the wind and wave forces were fighting each other, but the conditions aboard were similar to sitting on a rodeo horse. The local kayaks sailed amzingly well around us, with sometimes ten persons aboard, maybe they were local "ferries". They never reefed their sails, instead they seemed to be handlling them, in the same way windsurfers do, by tilting the mast forward to let out some of the wind.

Local kayaks sailing among the
international yachts at Linga-Linga.

Above right: Priscilla, USA.
Left: Elaine, Finland.
Right: Scorpio in a rodeo
(this photo by Elaine)

When the winds finally calmed down all crews went ashore and visited a resort, still under construction, but nearly finished and we were able have a meal at their restaurant. It was wonderful to strech your legs after several days at anchor without being able to leave the yachts.

On the 3rd of November we took advantage of a brief pause between the southerly winds and headed south towards Richard's Bay and Durban. Unfortunately the favorable winds only lasted for two days and the last day we had to fight southerlies again. The third night was so rough that we decide to go in to Richard's Bay instead of Durban, about one hundred nautical miles further south.

Resort at Linga-Linga
Cruising yachts anchored in the river
The crews of Elaine and Mr. Curly
with Malla and a maid at the resort
Locals working the reef in Mozambique

We finally tied our lines to the dock at Tuzi Gazi harbour in Richard's Bay on the 6th of November, 22 days after our departure from Reunion. It was a complicated journey indeed.