Passage: Madagascar to South Africa

The passage from Mahajanga to Richard’s Bay South Africa is about 1100 miles on and was to be my last aboard Obelisk. It’s a very technical and challenging passage for two main reasons; strong and extremely variable currents and the chance to strong southerly blusters. Madagascar serves as a breakwater for the prevalent Indian Ocean current which flows from east to west. This current hits Madagascar and wraps around it, creating all sorts of mixed up currents in the Mozambique channel. The Agulhas current is the strongest and flows from between 1-3 knots to the south. If you can find this current and sail with it, as we were aiming to do, you can make a very fast passage. Boats of a similar size to Obelisk had been making the passage in 7-8 days and we were hoping for the same.

The southerly blusters bring strong right in your face, which is obviously not good, and along with the southerly current can create very large and violent seas. These blusters are typically forecasted 2-3 days out and there are a couple harbors in Mozambique where you have the option to anchor and wait it out if you.

The Start

Our first day at sea had almost no wind and were spent almost the whole day motoring. The seas were completely flat, the moon was bright, and  the watches were easy and enjoyable. The following day we encountered a light northern wind and were finally able to turn off the engine. The winds picked up throughout the day and we found a favorable current, helping us to average around 8 knots for the evening and following morning. We knew there was a southerly bluster coming the following day but at this point we were stuck out on the middle of the channel and there wasn’t much we could do about it. The northern winds continued to die and early on November 23rd, our 5th day at sea, the southerly hit us. For the first 4-5 hours it was blowing 30-35 knots and the seas started to churn. It settled down to around 25 knots for the rest of the day and night and it was very rough going. We had the storm jib up and were pinched hard on the wind averaging around 4 knots. We were constantly slamming in to the oncoming swells and being down below felt a bit like it must have felt in a WWI bunker under artillery fire. We were infinitely better fed and comfortable and they would have been, and were almost certain the boat wasn’t going to break apart, but the thought still couldn’t help but cross my mind a few times. No one slept much that night.

The Middle

The following day the winds calmed and  we were able to put up a bit more sail and make better progress. The seas were still rough but the southern winds brought the first crisp cool air we’d had in a long time and everyone was very excited for a break from the heat. We got a new weather forecast that showed another, bigger southerly arriving early on the morning of the 27th, 2.5 days out. We decided to aim for Inhaca, an island in Mozambique, and wait out the storm on anchor there. Conny decided that he was going to tough it out on Miramis.

The next day was Thanksgiving and we wanted to do a proper meal but had to put it off as we were racing to beat the storm. In the evening, as we were just a couple hours from Inhaca and still had winds out of the north, we saw the storm on the horizon. There was amazing amounts of lighting, more than I’ve ever seen, but it was still too far away for us to hear thunder. We all sat on deck and awaited it’s arrival with anticipation and definitely a little bit of fear. Lightning storms in a boat are always unnerving. When the two fronts collided and the storm finally hit us, about 10 miles out from Inhaca, the winds immediately shifted from 20 knots from the north to 40+ knots out of the south. While we were passing through the heart of the storm, with lightning firing at a machine gun pace above our heads, the apparent wind got  all the way up to 63 knots. It was exciting as well as scary. A couple hours later we finally arrived at the anchorage, which provides protection from the south, but there were huge swells coming through that wouldn’t let us anchor until 3:30am. Everyone crashed hard and slept as much as possible in the conditions.

We spent the whole next day on anchor and the winds were constantly in the 40-50 knot range. We made a Thanksgiving meal of baked canned ham and zucchini, mashed potatoes, stuffing, asparagus, and apple cobbler for desert. We made the most of what we had and it turned out to be a great meal. We were thinking about Conny out there battling the storm and were all pretty happy to be where we were.

The End

We set sail again the next morning and after making a couple tacks had a perfect course for Richard’s Bay. The winds gradually grew in strength out of the north and we sailed in Richard’s Bay the following evening with 30 knots winds. We were all very happy to be tied up to dock and my friend Artem, who will be traveling with around South Africa for the next month, was there to greet us.


Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures for this post because they were all on Jesse’s camera and I didn’t get a chance to transfer them all before I left the boat.