The Passage to Africa

There aren’t any pretty pictures for this post, but we thought we should talk about it a little anyway. We waited in Réunion for a decent weather window for our departure for Africa. It’s about a 10-day trip, so you’re only guessing about the weather more than three days out, but you do your best.

The passage is two parts; getting south from La Réunion to clear the tip of Madagascar and then turning west for Africa. You need a decent weather forecast that allows you to get the southerly part done before a front comes through and gives you southerly winds. We left on a Thursday, with a weather prediction that we had to get south of Madagascar before Sunday morning when a strong front was predicted to come in.

And it all worked. We had three delightful days of sailing, some of the best passage days we’ve had. Humpbacks were breaching (in the distance, no photos) as we left La Réunion. The wind was a nice broad reach and we moved along quite well. As we went the weather predictions got refined and we expected the front and wind change to arrive Sunday about 10 am. We arrived at our turning point Sunday about 6 am. The wind died to nothing as we arrived and we sat around for 4 or 5 hours going nowhere. Then the front came in and we headed west. So far, so good. We had a day of less-than-pleasant but still OK sailing as the front blew itself out. At least we were heading where we wanted to go and making good time.

On Monday afternoon the new weather reports indicated a possible “tropical revolving storm” forming a little to the north of our intended track later in the week. By the next morning the TRS (and the associated low) disappeared entirely from the forecasts. We hoped it was just a computer-model generated gremlin. It stayed out of the forecast all day Tuesday and into Wednesday morning. Then it showed up again Wednesday afternoon, and further south than previously predicted, right along our path.

We had no wind on Wednesday (the calm before the storm?) so we motored west, trying to get as far from the point of formation as possible. Meanwhile bad things were happening literally over our heads. The weather arrived Thursday afternoon. And we were in the worst part of it. We ended up with about 6 hours of winds over 50 knots. We stripped the boat down to minimal sail and were forereaching to the NW, a bit away from our intended track but still going at least the general direction we wanted. It rained incessantly – that was probably worse than the wind. I’d guess we had at least a foot of rain in 24 hours. After the first six hours the wind started dropping and within another 24 hours all was back to normal (except the leftover waves).

In the end it was really a non-event, but at the time, with the wind howling and the rain being driven horizontal (and the inside of the boat getting nearly as wet as the outside) we questioned our sanity and why anyone would go to sea for fun.

 

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