Crossing the Indian Ocean

11 January 2020: Sabang, The Day Before

Clearing out of Sabang, Indonesia takes forever. First, it’s Saturday and everyone is just slooowwww. Then the internet goes down, then the power goes off, then the boss can’t be found. But then cakes are served, the todlers and cats behave themselves and keep us amused, and then smiles all round when Allah fixes the internet and the power, and the boss is found. By midday I am worn out but back on the boat with port clearance and 24 hrs grace to leave town.

The five crazy meuzins at the five separate mosques surrounding the bay are competing for my attention, all in agonizing asynchrony. So I put on some music and the noise cancelling headphones while I have lunch. Glancing up, there is a yacht 2 m from me! A big yacht! I rip off the headphones and someone is calling my name! Those noise-cancelling headphones really work! I rush up stairs to be greeted by Richard and Val on Kereru. After quick hellos they toodle off to pick up a mooring half a mile away on the other side of the bay.

In the afternoon I take the dinghy over and we chat about their crossing from Thailand and the Indian Ocean coming up. They are heading to Trincomallee in Sri Lanka on the way to Cochin, India.

“How long do you estimate to Tanga?” asks Richard.

“Weather routing says 21 days” I reply.

“21 days! More like 35!” he scoffs.

“Well, I use the weather routing tool in OpenCPN. It’s been useful in the past but I’ve never used it for such a long passage. I am concerned though because I have to cross the equator and the last time I did that it took forever. I don’t think any weather routing tool can manage the doldrums accurately”.

It is great to hear a NZ accent and they are lovely people to be with but I still have shopping to do and reluctantly say goodbye. I am not sure when or where I will see them again.

12 January 2020: Leaving Sabang

I will leave today but am in no hurry. First, a little last-minute shopping for whatever fresh food I can get and then a wait for Walter and Jacqui on Jean Marie. We will leave together, but Anjea is faster and they will stop in Maldives anyway so I will leave them behind. It is too early for shopping so I go for a stroll around the point and take a few photos of Sabang.

From the top of the hill above the point the Indian Ocean stretches out to the horizon. It looks no different than any other stretch of sea. Emotions wash through me. It may be no different than any other sea, but I have never crossed an ocean this vast: 3,600 nm of water, much of it over 4,000m deep, no planned stops and very few places of refuge. And what about the weather? My only previous experience of the Indian Ocean was the west coast of Sumatra, which was just short of a disaster with terrible weather at the equator. I need to cross the equator again. Will I encounter the same storms and maddening calms going south? Have I got enough fuel and food? Have I got the right spares? I can’t help but think it all through again and again.

At 10 I cast off Jean Marie from their mooring. I met Jacqui and Walter in Bundaberg, Queensland and we’ve become good friends. We wave goodbye to each other. This is their last trip on Jean Marie, the boat Walter has had for fourty years. Next time I see them they will have delivered Jean Marie to her new owner in Abu Dhabi and returned to their home in South Africa. Walter is still recovering from Dengue Fever and I hope the passage goes smoothly for them.

Now it is just Anjea and me. I have the ocassional what-the-fuck-am-I-doing moment as I put away covers and get the boat ready but by the time I drop the mooring line I am calm and there is a sense that this trip is already accomplished. I have thought it through so many times that all I need do now is just go through the motions – sail the boat to Africa and drop the anchor in Tanga Bay, simple.

17 January 2020: Kilometre Zero

I got out of bed this morning after a good night’s sleep, interrupted by just a handful of boat checks overnight, and feel OK. The virus I’ve had for the last 5 days, since leaving Sabang, is subsiding leaving a sore throat and cough. I am taking a course of antibiotics and hope to avoid bronchitis from the residual cough/sore throat. When I first came down with this bug I feared I’d caught Dengue Fever from Walter, but it is clearly just a cold.

At Ujung Bau, just north of Sabang, is a monument called Kilometre Zero. Like Australians visiting Wilson’s Prom to say they’ve stood on the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, it’s a popular trek for Indonesians just to say they’ve been to the northernmost point of the northernmost island of their huge and diverse archipelago.

Kilometre Zero

A day’s sail north of Kilometre Zero and you’re in the Nicobar Islands, which belong to India. Between the two is one of the world’s busiest shipping channels with over a hundred ships passing within sight of Kilometre Zero every day. This is the way oil gets from the middle east to China and the rest of Asia; the way iPads, cars and Smartphones get from China, Japan and Korea to Europe, and the way all those Asian goodies get to South Africa and South America.

You can see how busy it is right now on Marine Traffic

Marine Traffic

Just off Kilometre Zero the river of iPhones and oil divides in two. Those passing Sri Lanka (like me) turn west while those going around the Cape of Good Hope turn slightly further to go south west. Because of the heavy traffic I wanted to avoid shipping lanes as far as possible so I had plotted a route just south of, but parallel to, the route to Sri Lanka. However, it meant crossing the shipping lane to the Cape. Worse, it meant crossing at an angle. Just like a pedestrian crossing a road it is always best to cross shipping lanes at right angles, but in this case I had no choice – effectively, I had to join the shipping traveling south west to the Cape and work my way across that lane to emerge between the legs of the two shipping lanes, before turning due west to parallel the traffic to Sri Lanka.

Since I imagined I had Dengue Fever, SARS and Coronavirus all at the same time, and since sailing was a curse and the world a bitch of a place where every object was out to get me, and since the traffic was not cooperating, fishing boats were deliberately getting in my way, and of course I couldn’t sleep which is the first thing you do when you’re crook, I took to cursing everything and everyone. Just think yourself lucky you didn’t get email from me that day!

Despite the virus and lack of sleep everything worked out – it just took two days to clear the traffic instead of the one day I had anticipated. Finally, all that shipping, the virus, the lack of sleep and the constant tension is behind me and my thoughts are of the future.

After failing to immerse myself in Indonesian culture, apart from my all-too-brief return to Java, and my inabilty to find any Malaysian culture at all outside politics and corruption, I am making a bigger effort preparing for Africa. That is, I am making some effort! Guide books are no good – I am asleep in less than a minute. They are OK as a reference while traveling, though out-of-date by definition. Maybe accountants read them with excitement but I cannot. So this time I am trying to learn some Swahili as a gateway to African culture.

African languages descend from a common Bantu language which is no longer spoken and, although there are many, many African languages today, and although Swahili is only spoken in Tanzania and Kenya it is still the most widely spoken of the ancient Bantu-derived languages and, I’m hoping, will give me a bit of an entre to African ways. Unfortunately, I failed to download the Duolingo app I was using so that’s now on hold until I get an Internet connection again.

But I did download a heap of African music, modern stuff, and it fills my head with amazing calm. The musicianship is overwhelmingly precise and beautiful, the instruments are unusual, even including what sounds like a car horn, the harmonies too, the vocals are like acrobatics, and the beat! Well! I even have to hit the keyboard keys in time! Sometimes I think “That’s where Regae came from!” or “Isn’t that a jazz classic?” but of course these guys grew up listening to all the music I did! And in a way that makes it even more amazing because you can almost hear the music circling the globe as it goes round and round. Whoosh! There goes another riff on its way back to Africa after a quick visit to Jamaica.

Right now I have a collection of Ethiopian music playing and I’m trying to figure how to get Ethiopia into my itinerary. There is SO much of Africa and it seems impossible to leave anything out.

Well, I better do some sailing. I see the big boats coming from 10, 20, even 40 miles away on the AIS, and an alarm goes off if their course intercepts mine. Twinluck SW, a tanker, crossed my stern about 10 miles back. That was the second ship today. Forgotten the name of the first. And now it is quiet again.

Ethiopian music should come built-in on every sailboat. It lifts the soul.

Wind is 15kn NNE and Anjea is reaching with full main and genoa at 6 kn.

It has been a peaceful, beautiful, wonderful day to be alive.

18 January 2020: Constructive Paranoia

Yesterday a tree floated past, complete with most of it’s branches and root ball. It was enormous, probably 20m long with a the root ball about 3m across. If I was just a few metres closer I’d have hit it. Ouch! That could do real damage. The tree is a clue that land is just 60 miles away. This is as close as I will get to Sri Lanka.

A sailing friend of mine is somewhat paranoid. She constantly tells stories of bad things that happened to sailors on Facebook. In some ways she is a constructive paranoic because she does try to prepare for the worst in order to succeed, but it drives her partner spare at times. Anyway, one of the stories she told in Sabang before we left concerned a yacht being chased by fishermen off Sri Lanka. Since I know the skipper involved I gave it some credence. But when I questioned her about the fishermens’ motivation and the outcome, details became murky and unclear. With this in the back of my mind, and because I too try to practice constructive paranoia as an antidote to my generally positive and casual nature (Oh, it will all work out, Dave!), I decided to give the Sri Lanka coast a good offing.

Anyway, here I am, a hundred miles from the Sri Lankan coast and two fishing boats show up about 10 to 15 nm away, both on interception courses with Anjea. There are no other boats on the AIS or on radar. Hmmm… I watch for a while and they do ‘fishing things’, such as stopping and turning, and they are progressively getting closer, though still more than 10nm away. It’s totally dark with no moon so I cannot see anything – I would not see them in broad daylight at that distance. All I have is AIS because the fishing boats don’t show up on the radar. Then I suddenly realize that both fishing boats have increased their speed to 6 knots and are heading directly for me. OK, time to act on that paranoia! I fumble about with the computer and finally manage to switch my AIS to Silent Mode. I turn off the tricolor navigation lights so they cannot see me. Then I furl the genoa, start the engine, trim the main and turn 80 degrees, due south. At 8 knots I am putting distance between me and those boats. I doubt their intention is malicious but I am practicing being constructively paranoid. An hour later the boats have fallen off the AIS and I figure it’s safe to resume my course, but I leave the AIS in Silent Mode and the nav lights off all night.

In retrospect they were just fishing and probably would not have threatened me. First, they had their AIS on and so were visible to anyone. If your intention is to do bad deeds then most people will hide rather than advertise their presence on AIS. Second, even in Mark’s incident, it seems clear that the hassling going on here is opportunistic and not intentional. These ‘pirates’ ARE fishermen, but if they’re having a bad night and a fancy half-million dollar sailboat makes it worse by fouling their nets then they might want to take it out on someone and they might feel justified in making someone pay. So I never really felt threatened. It was just an exercise, but one I am very glad I did because I’m going places where I may have to evade real pirates. Tanzania, for example, is not that far from Somalia where the fishermen are justifiably agrieved because of foreign over-fishing and chemical dumping, and there is no effective government to prevent them from taking it out on anyone who comes close. Look it up on Wikipedia.

20 January 2020: The Trouble with Oil...

The engine has always leaked oil. It’s a nuisance and makes it impossible to keep the bilges clean. It also smells. I have tried to figure out where the leak is but with no success. Anyway, fixing it would probably require the motor to be removed, which is not an afternoon task.

I check the oil whenever I run the engine and it is clear that the oil consumption is going up dramatically. Half way across the Indian Ocean it was up to 20ml/hr – fill up the oil and check the diesel! Now it has used 500ml in 4 hrs or 125ml/hr. I have plenty of spare oil, but I cannot keep up with that.

All of a sudden alarms start ringing and Anjea starts rounding up. The autopilot has failed. I grab the wheel and put her back on course but I can’t stand behind the wheel for another 20 days! I furl the genoa, set an easy course and lash the wheel. We bob along OK.

It takes me 20 minutes to unpack the lockers so I have full access to the steering gear and it’s easy to see the problem – the hydraulic ram has disassembled itself! The ram itself extends from the hydraulic cylinder and has a ball joint attached to the end. The ball joint has unscrewed from the ram. I clean things up, find some loctite and reassemble it all as firmly as I am able. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen again in the middle of a storm!

More oil problems! Now the vang has gone out in sympathy! This is unbelievable! Exactly the same thing has happened to the hydraulic vang – the ram has unscrewed itself from the gooseneck attaching it to the mast and leaked hydraulic oil all over the deck, turning the area around the mast into a skating rink. It takes several hours to clean it all up.

The vang is back together but I refrain from refilling it with oil because it leaks. I will do without the vang until an expert looks at it because there's something else going on here. I think the thread is stripped or at least damaged.

21 January 2020: Maldives

Only 122 nm yesterday, but I was deliberately going slow to traverse the Maldives in daylight. Usually I make about 140 nm per day.

If I had to I would trust the Maldive charts but with reefs everywhere and probably fishing boats and other traffic I feel more comfortable if I can see. The moon is reduced to a waning sliver and doesn’t rise until quite late now, so I only get a few hours of weak moonlight before dawn.

The new dawn marks a few things apart from the start of a new day. First, I can go faster. Going faster means I can put a line out and hope to catch something. It is also my CPA to Felidhe Atoll, the closest I get to a Maldive reef. And finally, it’s a chance to see something other than sea.

I scrape as close as I dare to the reefs, hoping for a fish, but it is not to be. Two lines out and not one nibble the entire day.

I see no fishing boats in or near the Maldives, which is nice for me but reinforces my view that Maldives imports everything. Except, maybe, coconuts – There are a lot of photogenic coconut palms but have a funny feeling they are just decoration for the resorts. Amazing superyachts are moored on the other side of the atoll, next to palm-tree decorated restorts, and aeroplanes fly overhead.

Maldives

I say goodbye to Maldives and am quickly back in deep water and the fish are jumping! Big fish, just the right size for several dinners! This is the sign! I watch the lines carefully for a strike. Nothing. Must be the phase of the moon or something.

Nearly sunset and the wind has come up from 13 kn to about 20 kn so I put one reef in the main and furl the genoa a bit to control the roundups. I still have the genoa on the pole but could probably run without it (ie gybe the genoa). I’m waiting for new weather files to download so I can replan the route.

Food is getting dull. I must start on the cabbage tomorrow before it rots.

22 January 2020: Going Fast

The wind has been over 20 kn today and we’re moving at 7.5 to 8 kn. The speed isn’t a problem – Anjea loves it – it’s the inevitable waves. Earlier, they were almost beam-on, now they are further aft, which is an easier motion. The sea is still only about 2m and the autopilot is handling it perfectly. This is shaping up to be the fastest day yet.

I tried to make bread but ended up with flour spread from one end of the galley to the other. I nearly cried as it's the last of the wheat flour and had to remind myself in strong terms not to waste the energy. It is quite stressful going fast. The boat movement is sharp, hard and unrelenting. I get thrown around constantly and there is no escape from it. Not hungry anyway, so just snacked.

23 January 2020: Approaching Madness

Mostly the storms are mild, but they are one after another. Lightning high over the clouds lends drama. The storms continue all night. I have two reefs in the main and a full genoa, then three reefs in the main and I furl the genoa a bit to handle sustained 30 knot winds that last half an hour.

Storm

Mostly, winds are back to 20 to 25 kn but I have left the 3rd reef in place for comfort. Winds vary from 4kn to 40 kn. The autohelm is wonderful, but warned it could not hold course a few times. Each time it recovered without me doing anything. It never gave up, which it can do if conditions are real bad.

The night is moonless so apart from the flicker of lightning and the surge of phosphorescence I am blissfully unaware of the sea state, apart from the effect on Anjea. Actually, I think the sea somehow remained relatively flat. Nevertheless, before I put the 3rd reef in we were surfing at 9 kn. Exhilarating but scary when the only illumination is from the discombobulating disco lights of the next storm. No normal person willingly does this. Do they?

24 January 2020: Half Way

Grey morning, no sunrise, just a slow lightening of the sky. This morning the sea is less than 2m and mostly short, sharp, choppy stuff rather than big waves. Very surprising given conditions last night. I was expecting a 4m sea to have built. To the north and west is even, dark gray rain; to the south is also gray but distinct clouds and no rain. It’s not raining where we are right now but probably will. Our speed has dropped a bit to less than 5 kn. I put out some more genoa but it does very little. Both sails are backwinded frequently from the lack of wind and the choppy wave motion. Still, we now manage a bit over 5 kn.

Today we are half way from Sabang to Tanga. Hooray!

27 January 2020: From High to Low

Yes! What a wonderful sight a spinnaker is! It’s the first time I have hoisted a spinnaker solo. It took ages to set up as I have never used a spinnaker sock before and I wanted to make sure everything was right. The last thing I need is a spinnaker wrapped around the forestay in the middle of the Indian Ocean. So I took my time and was rewarded with an immediate set!

A couple of hours later I got it down again with nothing worse than a bit of a mess on the foredeck.

Spinnakers are wonderful downwind sails, especially in light air. The problem is that you need a crew to fly one safely. Spinnakers are free-flying sails that can be hard to handle. They are prone to wrapping themselves around the forestay, and being impossible to drop on deck when the wind pipes up, and even ending up as a big tangled sea anchor just when you don’t need one! With two or three experienced crew it is safe to manage a spinnaker, but solo presents a problem because you need someone on the foredeck to gather the spinnaker into its bag as it comes down, as well as someone in the cockpit to control the brace and sheet, and ideally a third person to blow the halyard, not to mention the helmsman.

While in Langkawi I had Phil the sailmaker construct a sock for the one spinnaker I have not yet destroyed. The sock makes it easier to set and douse. Before the invention of torsion furlers, socks were the way the early Open 60 round-the-world single-handed nutters used to fly a spinnaker.

The main problem with a spinnaker is that it can be hard to drop when the wind pipes up. The sock has a funnel at the bottom and an endless line for raising or lowering it. To set the spinnaker you set up the brace, pole and sheet just as you would normally, hoist the spinnaker on the halyard, still in its sock, and then when everything is set you hoist the funnel to the top of the mast and the spinnaker flies. To douse it you reverse the procedure, hauling the funnel down over the spinnaker until it is all in the sock and you can drop it neatly on the deck.

Theory is one thing, actually doing it is often another. This time, however, everything worked as I imagined and now I am a real solo sailor! It's a fabulous high being able to fly a spinnaker solo!

I was getting set for some leasure time out on the back porch. I had my hat on and for some reason had my phone in hand which, with no internet, doesn't get much use. So maybe I just happened to have it in hand while bouncing up the companionway stairs and was wondering why I did when wack! I rose straight up into the closed companionway cover with my head slightly bent and the crown of my head hit the hatch.

It really hurt. And then everything went into slow motion as a blinding anger wiped the good vibes away and confronted me with the white reality of my stupidity. I wanted to smash the phone. I wanted to throw it overboard as the proximate cause of my distraction (but managed somehow to put it down).

For years I have been telling myself that banging my head is a part of living on a small boat and that eventually motor-memory will prevent it from happening any longer, that I will eventually learn what causes the pain and modify my behavior in a way that avoids it. What piffle! I will never learn and the pain and hurt from that adds to the physical suffering and it all boils over in uncontrollable rage at my own stupidity. I am dazed, angry, confused and very upset.

I clearly remember feeling so upbeat at flying the spinnaker. Now that joy seems impossible. What was there to feel good about? Life is a bucket of shit that I must eat from or starve. I am conscious of nothing but my faults, the stupidity of picking a small boat, all the dumb things I’ve done in my life, the idiocy of thinking that sailing is some sort of remedy or escape. 

My head hurts, my neck aches, but I don't think I've broken anything and there is no blood. I drop into bed and eventually fall asleep.

28 January 2020: Plastic Bags

I do not blame the fish for not jumping on my hook as they should. Clearly it is the inadequacies of the fisherman. I do not blame the gods for the way I am because I find deities useful only for amusement. I like Thor and his thunder and lightning, and Huey the sailors' god of winds. Is there a god of fishermen? Maybe I need to offer him or her a libation. These are useful deities that encapsulate my innate tendancy to ascribe events to someone or something. In short, they are simple, handy and amusing.

Where religion went astray was taking itself too seriously and wanting to install a class of people, a priesthood, who were closer to the gods and therefore deserving of respect and power by their proximity. Rubbish. And the ultimate trick to unify this fragmented pantheon was to declare there were not many gods at all but just one, in charge of everything. This worked well at usurping the power of the old gods. After all, who wanted to worship a bunch of little gods who seemed destined to bicker among themselves when you could get with the strength and be on the side of the one big bugger who ruled them all. But back to the subject at hand – nobody is to blame for the lack of fish on this boat but me.

Or maybe not. The most frequent boats on AIS are fishing boats and most of those have Type A AIS, meaning they are fairly big ships, certainly not little coastal boats. They have been fishing these waters heavily for many decades now. I wonder what impact they have had? I know that off Somalia the fish stocks were seriously devastated, and Tanzania too.

I renovated an old lure this morning but it has not performed better than the other two. We’ve been sailing at a variety of speeds from 2 to 5 knots today. In the past I’ve found 5 to 6 knots to be ideal for trolling, so we are going a little slow and I can only hope things pick up with some wind.

I am a reluctant fisherman and cannot understand why anyone would want to fish for sport. There is just nothing sporting about it. Fishing is hunting and hunting is something serious that you do to eat. Except when all you catch is plastic bags. You hear about plastic in the Pacific but there's plenty here in the Indian Ocean too. 

28th January 2020: Alby

Anjea has acquired a friend in the form of a superbly beautiful, sleek, elegant, gracious and determined albatross. There have been a few around but this is the first that has landed on the boat. Unfortunately, its blowing 20 knots with big waves and my new friend is trying to land on the pulpit, right at the bow, on a slippery wet stainless steel rail, with webbed feet. Thirty seconds later it spots an old fishing float coming past and takes off for a shot at that. It must be desperate because the ball does not make a good perch and our new friend doesn’t look too gracious trying to balance on it.

Back to flying around Anjea and trying to figure out how to land on her.

After a while, another shot at the pulpit – but surely it’s a hopeless perch, especially for someone with webbed feet. And again it gets tossed off by a big wave.

Round and round it soars, looking at other potential landing spots but it’s got a thing about the pulpit and on the third attempt it finds a tottery perch on the rail, and somehow manages to balance there. Balancing on the pulpit makes flying look easy! Albatross were not made for this kind of balancing act and it wobbles about with the same jerky motions as Anjea, looking hopelessly comical.

Our new friend is small for an albatross, mostly white with speckles of gray plumage around the lower neck, and light gray wings. I approach with the camera. It gives me the once over and then ignores me. I’d invite it below to share a tin of sardines but looking at the stream of poop I’m not sure it’s hungry and I’m pretty sure it isn’t toilet trained. Did you know birds can be toilet trained? I trained a chook not to shit on carpet once. It learned instantly first time and never transgressed again. True.

I was watching an albatross yesterday as it hovered over my lure. I yelled and swore at it to piss off, which it did. Maybe my yelling and screaming influenced it but I rather think it knew the difference between a fishing lure and a fish. Although, in years past, I have caught birds on a lure and it’s a horrible job to unhook them.

The albatross has now been balancing on the pulpit like some off-center, half-drunk preacher for half an hour, the sun has set, and so I guess it’s there for the night.

Alby

Birds are amazing creatures and the albatross is right at the top of the list of spectacular birds. The nearest land is the Seychelles 330 nm south, or Somalia 550 nm west. What would this bird do if I was not here? It can’t settle on the water tonight because it’s too rough. It’d be swamped. I suppose it would just fly all night. There will be some light from a thin waxing moon and maybe a few stars will be visible if the cloud clears but other than that all it has to go by is a little phosphorecence when a wave breaks.

I’m here with a boatload of technical trickery to tell me which way to go. All the albatross has is itself, and it has to navigate in 3D while I only have to manage 2D. I carry my food with me, having caught no fish with all my fancy hooks and lines, the albatross has to forage along the way, with nothing but its eyes and that rather lethal looking beak. Clearly, this animal has abilities way beyond mine. Just seeing it there balancing precariously on the rail so vulnerably gives me a thrill.

It is pre-dawn and there is enough light to see Alby is still on his perch. If he’s going to stay then he needs a name and a sex. I can’t keep calling him ‘the albatross’ anymore. So he has been assigned as a male for no particular reason and ‘Alby’ seems to suit him.

Alby’s balancing act is phenominal but it isn’t pretty as he’s still wobbling about matching the jerky motion of the boat. Oh! He’s gone! The sun just broke the horizon and Anjea and I have lost our friend. Ah well, we’re all travellers here. Or maybe he was a she?

30 January 2020: The Equator

With a bit of jiggling of waypoints, I timed it so we crossed the equator at sunrise so I could see it. I looked and looked everywhere but it wasn’t to be found. Ever since I was a child, on every map, chart, altas or replogle I ever saw, the equator is marked with a dotted line. Well, they are all wrong! There is NO dotted line marking the equator!

But who cares! I am back down under in the Southern Hemisphere once again, with the Southern Cross well above the horizon. At last the water from the bathtub will spin the right way as it gurgles down the plug’ole. Revolving Tropical Storms will spin clockwise instead of back-to-front and are cyclones instead of RTS or hurricanes or typhoons. It almost feels like home.

1 February 2020: Pirates

In a couple of hours we turn south to stay away from the Somali coast. Here, there be fishermen of a most piratical nature. When the Somalian state failed, there was no protection for the Somali Coast and massive international fishing and chemical dumping occurred. So extensive was the abuse that it destroyed the fish stock.

Fishermen take from the sea whatever the sea brings. If the sea brings bags of money and Apple iPhones instead of fish then Fishermen become opportunistic Pirates with a double vengeance: first they need to feed their families, and of course piracy can be lucrative in its own right and who better to make pay than the foreigners who destroyed their fish.

Mostly they operate as nautical thugs and thieves who simply steal what they can from whomever they come across. For them there is little risk and with luck they can make a lot more money than fishing ever provides.

The fastest route to Tanzania is to sail west to the Somali coast and then turn south to hitch a ride on the massive south-flowing current off the Somali coast. This 3 knot current flows south just 15 nm offshore. The winds are from the North and so it is great sailing all the way from Somalia to Tanzania. If Somalia ever gets its act together as a country this may become a wonderful cruising route, but right now I need to stay well away from Somalia. My objective is to stay at least 250 nm off the Somali coast and so I forego the coastal current and have set a course that weaves its way through the offshore whirlpool of currents and NE Monsoon winds. Hopefully, we will be far enough offshore to avoid fishermen until quite close to Tanzania where they should be friendly.

2 February 2020: Dolphins

The first on this trip. They are magnificent! These ones are a medium-sized pod of about 20 individuals, the largest about 1.6m long, with dark backs and lighter speed stripes down their sides. I hang over the rail for ages just watching them. I have no idea if they are even aware I’m there. Some dolphins will turn and look at you but these ones are intent on circulating through the bow wave, easily keeping pace with Anjea, then easing off to one side and coming around the back again to give someone else a turn.

3 February 2020: Whirlpool

The screenshot shows the currents on the approach to Tanzania, together with my planned route.

Whirlpool

The wind is fairly steady from the NNE. So I am trying to balance my desire to stay away from the Somali coast against the whirlpool and NE monsoon.

5 February 2020: Sunset

The evening sky glows like a pottery kiln as the sun dips into the sea. There are no clouds and no dramatic sunset show, just a translucent, slowly-fading glow. And then the moon. About three quarters full, it was already high in the sky at sunset but as the sun fades the moon takes over, spreading her cool glow over the sea as Anjea cleaves her way, swifly and easily parting the waves towards Africa.

I spend a long time on the back porch just enjoying the cool air and the beauty of the evening until well after the last of the sun’s light has left the sky.

6 February 2020: Pemba Island

I smell something – it’s like nothing I have smelled before – pungent, slightly sweet, aromatic, dilute but distinct. Africa.

Just as I register this the wind changes abruptly, swinging through 360 degrees and settling at 8kn N. The sky is suddenly overcast with the possibility of rain ahead. I furl the genoa and sheet in the main. There is nothing but sea and sky, no land is visible, but I can still smell it. After 26 days at sea the smell of land is unmistakable. Then it is gone, the threat of rain gone with it, and all I am left with is a difficult breeze. How strange! No matter, I am motor-sailing anyway and my ETA is just an hour before sunset. Enough to anchor safely. Are those mountains I see on the horizon?

I am just 10nm from Pemba Island which is offshore from Tanga, but nothing is visible; I am imagining this, surely! It is a dream and I am somewhere off the Queensland coast. How can this be Africa? Africa is such a long way from Australia! WTF am I doing here? Am I insane?

The ‘mountains’ I saw in the distance have evaporated with the cloud and haze, and the horizon is clearly bereft of anything but sea, and yet we are less than 10 nm from the northern tip of Pemba. The chart I have is a nautical chart and does not show much in the way of land-based geography – no contour lines. However, it does show a light on the point and, further inland, a ‘Kigunguli Hill’, but I have not even had another sniff of land.

A butterfly just a few metres from Anjea, struggling to keep pace in the slipstream of the genoa. No way will it make it to Anjea, I think, but with a huge effort it sprints the last few metres and disappears behind the mainsail. As the only representative aboard I go forward to officially welcome the thing but cannot find it. Still no land in sight, yet the chart says we are just 5nm from the nearest drying reefs.

Land! 90 degrees to the south in the direction of Ras Kiugu, one of the twin northern points of Pemba Island. Just a thin smudge of hills on the horizon but unmistakably land. I will be rounding Ras Kigomasha, the other northern point in about 2 hrs.

Soundings! 185m deep. After all these weeks sailing over bottomless oceans (4,000m deep is ‘bottomless’) we finally have a reading on the sounder. It’s intermittent and comes and goes but it’s a reading! Also, it agrees with the chart, which is edifying.

The lighthouse on Ras Kigomasha is now clearly visible about 7nm to SW. I will turn to leave the lighthouse to port in about an hour. Colored bouys (red and yellow fishing floats?) mark the point where I turned. Very strange, but it is a logical place to turn for any boat coming from the west or north-west. We are passing a vast shallow patch called Kundini Sands and the bouys mark the northeast extremity of it.

Anjea is anchored off Pemba Island. I had been planning to anchor in a small inlet but either the charts are out of date or I was reading them wrong because I could not find water deep enough to enter. Eventually, tired and with sunset approaching, I drop the anchor in about 5m over sand and coral. I dive to see how it looks and the anchor is just sitting on sand and has not dug in. There is 20m chain out which is plenty in 4m, unless it really blows in which case I’m out of here. The anchorage is exposed to all but the east but all I expect is an easterly breeze and so I should be nice and quiet overnight, fingers crossed. At worst I’ll need to up anchor during the night and motor around till dawn when I can enter Tanga. Right now there is 10 kn E so I am good.

It is a strange feeling to be stationary for the first time in 26 days. Quiet, no water sloshing past no sail or rig noise and no engine.

A boatload of local men motor past. They look like workers of some sort, shabily dressed, tired, about 15 of them in a very underpowered wooden boat slowly heading for the inlet. I wave as they come close and they wave back with surprising enthusiasm.

7 February 2020: Tanga, But We Ain’t There Yet...

I awake before dawn to the sound of mens’ voices! In a dream I go upstairs to find a large boatload of men all standing in a long low underpowered totally unseaworthy wooden boat. Standing, yes, standing in an unstable boat! I wave and a few wave back – it isn’t a dream. I am still anchored off Pemba Island and I guess that was the local commuter ferry taking the locals to work for the day.

Overnight, I figured I would motor-sail the 35 nm across the channel to Tanga. I start the day by putting up the mainsail. It’s easier to do at anchor. I bring up half the anchor chain and take the ties off the mainsail, go down stairs and start the engine. Five seconds later a long warning beep sounds from the engine console. That’s ‘normal’ if the batteries are connected in parallel because it interferes with the tacho reading from the alternator. I kill the engine and check the battery switch which is on ‘house’ as it should be. The alternator problem doesn’t usually happen on ‘house’. Hmmm. Try again. Start the engine, rush up stairs, give it a little throttle … ‘beeeeeep!’. This time I look at the warning panel and it isn’t the alternator problem at all but an oil pressure warning. There is no oil pressure at all.

I check the oil level. Nothing shows on the stick so I top it up. It takes just over 2 litres of oil. Since it was full before starting yesterday the engine has used 500ml per hour! That’s not an oil leak, that’s serious!

I start the engine again but there is still no oil pressure.

OK. I have no engine. Without oil pressure, if I run it for any length of time it will sieze. So I will have to sail to Tanga and deal with it there.

The wind is 4 kn from NE. Not enough to sail but Anjea is hanging back on her anchor so it looks as if the current is helpful. I get the main up, turn the wheel hard to starboard, raise the anchor the rest of the way and offer a silent prayer to Huey and Trident. Anjea moves forward and I am rivetted to the sounder 4m, 3.9, 3.8, 3.2, 3.2, 3.2 and as she slowly turns away from the island 3.3, 3.4, 4, 5… and we’re safe. I settle her into a westerly course. Our speed is just 2 knots but it’s in the right direction.

The wind is now 6 kn N. and Anjea ia moving nicely. At this speed we will arrive Tanga mid-afternoon, but I expect this breeze won’t last, especially as we get inside Tanga Bay. If it dies inside the bay I have two options: try to organize a tow, or use the dinghy.

I once had an idea to construct a mount on the transom so I could put the outboard motor on Anjea but I never acted on it. Now I wish I had.

The wind is now steady at 6.5 kn NNW.

After a couple of hours poking around the engine I have found the oil filter was loose and spraying oil everywhere. I climbed down into the bilge trying to take some pics under the engine hoping that I could spot something, a clue as to where the oil was leaking from, but I was getting nowhere. There is only 50mm or so under the engine sump. When I took a pic under there all I saw was a green screen – the color of the paint. So I sat there looking at it and noticed that there was fresh oil higher up on the power takeoff mount. Hmmm, that should be clean. I went around to the starboard side of the engine and lifted the cover. It was clear that fresh oil was leaking from this side of the engine. I reached down and touched the oil filter – it wobbled at my touch and was about to drop off!

It’s a bugger to tighten the oil filter as there is no room on the starboard side of the engine. I’ve tightened it as best I can using a strap, socketset extension and lever, and refilled with oil – another 2l. I’m letting it settle now. In a few minutes I’ll check it again and if it’s the same level I’ll try to start the engine again. Who is the god of engines I wonder? Funny how I become all religious in these moments. Maybe we find our gods in adversity.

The wind is now 10 kn NNE and we are sailing nicely on a reach.

The engine starts, runs and oil pressure is normal and stable at 55 psi. I am a thankful sailor. I owe the god of engines… and you too Huey for this glorious breeze. Thor, not so much – that little bit of adverse current would be better coming from behind than ahead, but I know you have a job to do, pumping the tides. So with the gods mostly on my side, Dave is a happy sailor again.

It’s now midday and I am anchored off Tanga Yacht Club. It was a glorious last day with a perfect breeze all the way from Pemba Island and in the end I didn’t use the engine until the last moment to maneouver while anchoring. I could easily have done it without the engine at all.

Port Control have organized Immigration and Health and Customs to pay me a visit this afternoon. Tomorrow I need to visit the Harbour Master.

Ally from Immigration arrives in a row boat, comes aboard, stamps my passport with a 90 day visa and asks for USD50, which of course I don’t have have. No problem, he will drive me into town to an ATM. On the way we meet the health and customs official who has the wonderful name of Happiness. So I complete formalities with her and then we all pile into Ally’s old Toyota and drive into town. Happiness is insisting I get a Yellow Fever inocculation from her on Monday so she shows me her office, which is burried inside the secure Port Control Area where I never would have found it without her help.

Ally then takes me in search of a functioning ATM. The first two that we try are out of commission. An old gentleman suggests we try the NMB bank so we drive around the corner to NMB and one of their two ATM machines is functioning.

I pay Ally 120,000 Shillings – a bit over the going rate for USD50 and he gives me his phone number, which could be useful. It isn’t every day you get the phone number of a friendly immigration official. Australian Immigration take note: everything was polite, friendly, helpful and without hassle. Mind you, all my paperwork was in order except for the USD visa payment, but Ally has no idea how much I appreciated him taking me to an ATM. There is nothing worse than being stonewalled by officialdom in a place you’ve never been, a foreign country, tired, and barely comprehending. He has made my first experience of Tanzania a very pleasant one.

There is music everywhere, good music. When I get back to the yacht club the guard at the gate recognizes I am new and welcomes me warmly.

I like this place!

8 February 2020 Tanga Yacht Club

Tanga Yacht Club

There are about ten visiting yachts here and no local yachts. The club is in decline. I met a few of the visitors last night but the yachties are all very quiet. It's the locals who make a noise when they've got a skinful. Up until recently this was a fairly vibrant and welcoming club with a great history. Now it is less a yacht club than a drinking club for local expats. Most of the members have no boat and can't sail -- but they sure can drink!

I signed up as a temporary member. Food is cheap, beer is cheaper than water, and if you try hard you might find someone who can help with boat maintenance.

The anchorage is reasonably sheltered and security seems good. It seems I will be able to leave Anjea here while I do some safariing. 

Click here for the image gallery.


4 Comments

  • Gravatar Image

    Beautifully written. I am almost there with you. Well done! Love the photos too.

  • Gravatar Image

    Hey David,

    I was following your dots on the map as you progressed across the ocean. You were so far out to sea that Google had no satellite photos!

    My twitcher friend Tania reckons Alby is an immature booby, probably either Red-footed or Masked. Your Red-footed does have bright red feet, but they also have retractable undercarriage, so they can be pretty much hidden. Plenty of photos via Google if you like.

    Anne and I saw both while we were leaning on the rail of a cruise ship travelling up the Barrier Reef last year. They surfed on the wind coming off the ship, lazily tacking to port and starboard. Occasionally they would dive when they saw a fish.

    Cheers

    Paul

  • Gravatar Image

    Hey Dave, very pleased to read you had a safe passage across the Indian Ocean. Guess you can tick that one off your bucket list. Reads like a boy’s own adventure.
    I am still mulling over the take home messages about splendid isolation and finding religion in demand as needed. But like invention is the mother of necessity, which I am very fond of as an adage.
    I rather fancy Alby is some sort of a Avarian Indian Ocean god - might be one of the Hindi sub continent bodhisattvas incarnate ´as needed’.
    Happy safari days.

  • Gravatar Image

    Hey Dave, very pleased to read you had a safe passage across the Indian Ocean. Guess you can tick that one off your bucket list. Reads like a boy’s own adventure.
    I am still mulling over the take home messages about splendid isolation and finding religion in demand as needed. But like invention is the mother of necessity, which I am very fond of as an adage.
    I rather fancy Alby is some sort of a Avarian Indian Ocean god - might be one of the Hindi sub continent bodhisattvas incarnate ´as needed’.
    Happy safari days.

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