Posted by: catamarantwooceans | September 23, 2013

Sailing in Mozambique–part 2

17.9.13 – Tuesday – First thing in the morning we went to the market with the hope of getting some fresh fruit and veg; limited success there. Then to the Escondidinho pension for their WiFi. Published to the blog, downloaded forecast and read my mail. Daniel took us to the barber shop and a very posh affair it was.

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Inside a man with rastafary hat and dreadlocks with a helper, closely cut the hair of the local children, who filled the place to capacity. The visitor from abroad received special treatment and was put in the front of the line. The barber told me he was also a singer and wanted me to video him singing.

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Once I was shod of my long, unruly hair, I dinghied to the secondary school on the beach, where Daniel said we could take water. A man opened a window into a room which turned out to be a rainwater catchment. Using a plastic gallon container which he lowered into the room’s dark depth, he filled two 25 liters jerry cans and two 5 liter plastic bottles.

Next Daniel and I made a 2.5 km high speed dinghy run to the south of the island, near the root of the bridge connecting it to the mainland, where a petrol station could be found. Took 70 liters of diesel and hurried back to the boat. Now it was time to play tourists and visit the Fort and the maritime museum. The fort is gigantic and using your imagination you can have an idea of how it looked in the 16th century. Its condition now is sad, which is a pity.

The museum is part of the "palace" which was the residence of the Governor in olden times. If you like antiques it’s not bad; the marine part was nothing to write home about.

Today was some sort of a holiday or carnival in town and a lot of people gathered near the fort, music playing at top volume from big loudspeakers. Actually they started yesterday and the music continued at least until 0200. A local dhow, sporting a very famous name, made the rounds carrying people to and from the place.

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The way they operate those engineless boats is fantastic!

We said goodbye to Daniel and Jackson his mate and returned to our boat, intending to leave for an overnight leg to Puga Puga island 105 miles away.

I was worried about our electrical system; the batteries seemed to be at the end of their useful life and we were hoping to drag them to Richard’s bay in South Africa. Only yesterday, with only cabin lights and a water pump operating, the voltage plummeted to less than 11.5. I found that a nut on one of the batteries terminals was loose, tightened it and the voltage came back. During the day at the anchorage, with the solar panels at full output, we could have the freezer operating. Once the sun went down, we had to run the starboard engine, the one with the operable alternator, to be able to keep it running. How will the system fare during a night voyage, with lights and autopilot? There was only one way to find out.

We went out of the bay using the engine and once we were out I put the freezer in the off position, shut down the engine and watched the voltmeter. In about 15 minutes it went down all the way to 11.3 volts. I was really dispirited and thought we now had no alternative but to turn to the first big town and since good marine, gel or deep cycle batteries are not available here, buy non – marine, unsuitable batteries for just the three weeks it would take us to reach South Africa.

Gili, who will be the first to admit that she has no understanding of electrical systems, asked:"Didn’t you solve a problem like that yesterday by tightening something in the batteries ?" I didn’t think there was anything more to tighten. "The only thing I can think of is cleaning all the terminals and contacts, but I can only do it tomorrow, when at anchor". Desperately wishing to do something in the right direction I sprayed the contacts with some battery cleaning material that I keep on board and tried the system once again. To my amazement it worked! The voltage acted in what seemed to be a normal way.

So, we’ll pass the night and see what happens, hoping to adhere to our plans and do a "terminal cleaning project" in Puga Puga.

18.9.13 – Tuesday – An uneventful night gave way to a beautiful morning. In the distance we could see a lot of whales. As we came closer to the line of reef islands which are the Primeiras and Segundas the number of fishing boats increased. Passing Mafamede island, which has a big lighthouse on it, a group of five big whales changed direction to pass "starboard to starboard" with us, lateral separation not more than 50 meters. We can never have enough of watching those magnificent creatures! I wonder whether the fishermen feel the same awe, seeing them so often, as we do.

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Where there are fishermen there should be fish; we were hungry for fish and up to now caught none. The jinx ended with this Spanish Mackerel, which yielded six meals.

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When we reached Puga Puga, we saw that it was really a very small sandy island, on the northwest corner of a large reef, on which only a single casuarina and a patch of low lying grass grew. Our guide book led us to expect some sort of habitation facility in which hardy backpackers could "rough it up" but there was no structure on the island, save for two fishermen tents and a few lean to shades they made out of their masts and sails.

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We anchored at 16 26.529 S 39 56.793 E, 6 meters on sand, good holding and immediately saw that this was not the place we would want to spend the night at. Swell was coming into the anchorage from both sides of the island, making the boat buck uncomfortably, the scene was not inspiring. Initially we thought of going to Fogo, 84 miles away but looking at the forecast for the few days ahead we saw that the conditions to go  to Bazaruto were favorable; it would enable us to evade one day of strong winds and give us time to experience the Bazaruto archipelago, which is said to be spectacular.

As we started sailing south, our speed over ground was 7-8 knots, indicating the current was at least 2 knots; this would make us arrive at Fogo long before sunrise. That clinched our decision to go straight to Bazaruto. It is a 390 miles leg, three overnights in a row. This used to be a problem for Gili but not any more; she really advanced some stages in her nautical abilities.

Fogo, by the way, was passed at 0130!

19.9.13 – Thursday – At 0500 we were 300 miles from the Bazaruto entrance. As the day progressed the ride became faster with no change in the wind velocity. We were carried on the Mozambique current conveyor belt; in the beginning our speed over ground was 7-8 knots and later in the afternoon, when the wind did become stronger, it hovered in the vicinity of 9 knots with occasional bursts of double digits.

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At 1500, 24 hours after departing Puga Puga, we passed 174 n.m. The chart-plotter, calculating ETA by the current speed, showed arrival tomorrow evening. This was intoxicating! At some point the sea built up and the ride became too wild for my taste. I reefed the main and a bit later the jib, which helped the autopilot keep the course, with no real change in our speed.

As we sat down for dinner, we did feel a change; the wind remained very much the same but the current disappeared, maybe even turned a bit against us. Now we were going only 5-6 knots.

20.9.13 – Friday – When I relieved Gili from her watch at 0100 we were 155 n.m from destination. Let’s see what the day will bring about. I am sure the current will be back; it must! Wind below 20, I opened the jib up to full size. As morning came, the wind changed direction ever so slowly until we found ourselves sailing 30 degrees to the left of our desired track. At 0500, when Gili came out, we jibed. First the jib with the pole, which required me to do the "pole dance" on the front deck and then the mainsail.

0720 – wind and sea rising, boat starting to go wild, back to first reef on both sails. Whatever we do we’ll get to Bazaruto during the dark, so better lose one or two hours and sail safe. We were a bit frustrated by losing the current; perhaps to compensate the wind blew stronger, most of the time close to 30 knots and the sea built up, making us surf down waves at high speed with the boat yawing as much as 25 degrees off track, autopilot having difficulties holding the course. After two unintentional jibes I reduced the main and the jib to the second reef, that stabilized the lateral movement, only losing a fraction of our speed.

Deciding to go into the bay at night was not a light matter. The C-Map chart for the area is not very detailed and Santa Carolina Island, where we thought of making our first anchorage, had no depth information at all. I spotted a bight on the west side of Bazaruto Island, to which there was an approach with no obstacles and where the bottom shoaled gradually towards shore from 7 to 2.8 meters.

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Approaching the entrance to the bay the conditions did not ease at all; the wind rose to 35 knots and with the shoaling bottom the sea built up menacingly. The moon came up red and almost full on the eastern horizon, lighting the scene in a surreal way. I followed the route on the chart-plotter, eyes glued to the depth gauge. Passing an area of 4 meters at night, having to put your trust on the chart and not able to see anything was nerve wracking. Add the fact that the sea was far from calm and you have the perfect precondition for a heart attack.

Frankly we had no other choice but to go in; staying outside with that rough sea, waiting for the morning, was out of the question. At the depth of 4.5 meters I thought that we were as close to shore as we should go and dropped the anchor. the time was 0100. A sip of whiskey to lower the adrenalin level and off to bed.

21.9.13 – Saturday – With daylight the way to Santa Carolina island, again at close to low water, was less intimidating but still we had to dodge some shoals that were not indicated on the chart, as the red line on the chart shows. At one point we crossed a bar 1.6 meters deep, which my eyes told me was O.K to go over. Coming into the western side of the island, we saw s/v Myriam at anchor. We met Annie, Jerry and their two boys, William and Oliver, who are French Canadians, in Chagos and then again along the way to Mozambique.

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Santa Carolina, according to the guide I have, used to be a penal colony and deserted buildings and structures are all over the place. A sign on shore proclaims the project of "rehabilitating the island" but no meaningful steps in that direction could be seen.

22.9.13 – Sunday – In a very early hour we woke up by the violent movement of the boat and the shriek of the wind. I rushed out and saw a strange phenomenon; the wind came from the south at 29 knots but the boat was facing north, pushed by the mighty tidal current. This went on almost all night and there was nothing we could do but hope that the anchor will hold, which fortunately it did.

At about seven o’clock we went out to go to Vinakulo, the big town in the region, population 25000. The route I put into the chart-plotter went via areas with good depths, but some places did not have any depth data at all. One such place, around 21 46 N 35 23 E was simply impassable, too shallow even for our 1 meter draft. We made a detour and continued; sailing in waters 3 meters deep and some times less is not fun. Reaching 3 miles to Vinakulo we strained our binocular equipped eyes but could not see anything resembling a port. To the north of the town we could see some boats, mostly drying on the beach and two catamarans, one a sailboat and the other a power cat.

We did try to approach the area, it was two hours past low water and when the depth showed 1.5 I chickened and turned back. The decision was taken to go to Benguerua and try and get information at one of the resorts. We chose to go to the northwest of the island, where the chart showed a bay etched inside the reef with promising depth around it; no information on the depth IN it but we saw a relatively big motor catamaran as well as other craft and thought we could go there too.

There was quite a shallow channel leading in and at the anchoring area it was sandy bottom, 2.5 meters deep. We anchored and I checked the tide program I have (from Pangolin) and concluded that this meant we were going to dry out at some point later at night. After diving to check the bottom, I decided that we’ll stay and that drying out will not harm the boat. It was too late to search for an alternate.

We went ashore to the Benguerua Lodge, a very expensive operation; 13 rooms, 800-1200$ ( a day? a week?) according to the guide book I have. Reception suggested that we come next morning a speak to one of their skippers. Internet? yes, but there is a charge – 20$. Dinner? yes, 55$ per person and then the WiFi is free; great deal!

On shore some people were loading a fast motor catamaran. We asked whether they knew Vinakulo; they did. It turned out that the location we saw the two catamarans north of town was the place to go to. One of them called the owner of the power cat and let me speak to him. The man whose name was Shaun, said that once you pass the bar we got scared of it deepens and there is enough water to anchor. So, tomorrow high water is at 0540; I’ll go out at 0500, reach my destination around 0730 and hopefully we’ll be able to achieve all our goals in that town.

23.9.13 – Monday – We got to Vilankulo all right, but that on the next post!


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