Highlights (or Lowlights) of a Most Challenging Passage

We're not sure that this was the worst passage of our sailing careers, but this 1,778 nm passage definitely rates right up there (or down there) as one of the most arduous and difficult passages we've experienced. As with most passages, there were ups and downs, good days and bad, gear failures and successes in repairing what broke while under way. As I reviewed the pictures we took, there were certainly more repair pics and hard times than there were birds and sea critters. It was that kind of passage. We continually promise to give you a taste of what sailing is really about. This is it. Leaving Mauritius – There are two happy days for the Nine of Cups crew … when we arrive in a new port and when we leave for the next one.

leaving mauritius


Where's Reunion Island? We were only four miles offshore, but the French kept it hidden in a shroud of mist.

that's reunion island


Beautiful sunsets were rare on this trip.

rere beautiful sunset


The skies were often deceptively blue and beautiful, while the seas were rough on Nine and Cups and crew.

rough seas blue skies


The wind gen took a beating and David worked hard to keep it operational and pumping out amps.

fixing the windgen


A moth stopped by for a rest, but soon grew tired of our slow pace and headed off on his own.

moth hitching a ride


The parting of the jib halyard was an unusual occurrence and totally unexpected. Luckily, the spare halyard was ready to go.

parted jib halyard


No sooner was the jib halyard issue sorted out and handled, than the port boom reefing winch broke free from the boom. Really?

boom reefing winch


Being without a rudder on a boat is liking driving a car without a steering wheel. When a bolt sheered off the steering quadrant, we were adrift until David was able to suss out the problem and replace the bolt. I promise to stop complaining about all those extra bolts and bits and pieces aboard.

replacing broken bolt


The continual thrashing we took from waves, took its toll on the anchor. Despite the chain stopper and lashing, the anchor pulled out of the bow roller. We lassoed it and secured it, but not before it flipped up and cracked the jib furler guide cage. It needed to be removed, but a screw on the cage was seized, so David resorted to hacksawing it off.

sawing off broken fuler guide cage


We saw over 52 knot gusts as we neared Durban. A sail slide broke and jammed as we tried to lower the main, causing the sail to flail in the high winds and we were unable to move it up or down the sail track. David's persistence willed out and we finally got the main lowered and lashed, but not without battle scars on David's knuckles.

knuckles after a fight with the mainsail

And then … we were on the dock in Durban and washed all the bad memories away with a hot shower and a bottle of celebratory champers. That's how it is after a bad passage: a long list of to-do's and views towards the next port.

Arrival at Durban, South Africa

approaching durban  

I can remember very few times when we have been more eager to get to port. The last 24-48 hours of the passage were horrendous, as if to minimize the days before. The winds and waves were right up there with the most we have seen at sea. Steady 40 knots of wind with gusts to 52+ knots and waves that crashed and thrashed us. There was no safe or comfortable place on the boat. We had to wait it out.

The weather forecasts were only minimally helpful and definitely underestimated the strength and wrath of Neptune. We had a triple-reefed main, but needed to lower the main entirely. A sail slide broke mid-way down the mast and we could get it neither up nor down. The poor main was thrashing itself to death. David, attached to the mast by his tether, worked the sail until his knuckles were raw and bleeding. Wave after wave broke over the deck. The wind was relentless. Finally, we managed to get the main down into the lazy jacks and lashed. We continued on with a handkerchief of a staysail.

We made reasonable progress until the wind backed to the northwest and then west. We were less than 60 miles from Durban now, but they would be hard fought miles. The torrential rain and lightning began soon after the wind changed. The night sky, bright with lightning flashes, looked like a colossal battle was being fought nearby. There was no rest and no respite for the crew. The wind and waves just kept on coming, knocking us down time after time. Things were airborne below that had been securely lashed. We thought of heaving-to, but without the mainsail, we weren't sure we could. Luckily, the staysail alone worked for us and we huddled below as Cups drifted northeast with the wind and current … surrendering the miles we had already made to the good.

On Marcie's watch, a fast change occurred. 40 knots from the southwest became 6 knots from the southeast and then the east . We cranked on the engine, and though the seas were rough, we made good progress. We could see the loom of Durban in the far distance. The AIS lit up with ships at anchor and in transit into and out of the port.


entering breakwater


Around dawn, we hailed Durban Radio Control and received permission to enter the harbor and proceed to the International Jetty. The light winds increased to 35+ knots as we neared the port entrance. We could see the Durban skyline. We were so close. As we finally moved inside the relative calm and protection of the breakwater, we sighed in relief. We maneuvered our way past the large container and cargo ships. We spotted masts in distance.


maneuvering past cargo ships

By 0630, we were rigged for a starboard tie-up and making our approach to the jetty. To our surprise, two dockhands appeared out of nowhere to grab our lines.


cups awaiting check in


Durban … at last. Time for a cuppa. Whew!

Crossing the Indian Ocean - Mauritius to Durban Days 15 & 16

to durban days 15 and 16

Day 15

Miles to go: 239 nm

It's been a whopper of a 24 hours. Seas have been ferociously high in the 20' range and the winds have remained steady in the mid-30s, with gusts to the 40s, and both on the nose. Nine of Cups has been tossed and thrashed and pummeled and she's really taken some licks.

After a huge wave crashed over the bow, we heard a clanging forward that sounded like the anchor in distress ... not something that could wait till later despite the wretched conditions on deck. David always lashes the anchor tightly in place when we're on a passage, so something had definitely gone afoul. The lashing had chafed through. The intensity of the wave had yanked the anchor out of the chain stopper and our 80 lb anchor was hanging over the bow roller, banging violently against the bow. The shackle had slipped down the groove in the stock and the stock was now bent. Through sheer luck and persistence, David was able to slip the shackle back in place while hanging precariously over the side of the bow pulpit. He wrangled the anchor into position while Marcie engaged the windlass into action and we got it back aboard and secured into place again. We were soaked and freezing cold by the time we got back below.

Totally unrelated, David noticed a short time later that the indicator light for the fresh water pump was on and we weren't drawing any water. He wasn't sure for how long, but we subsequently found the starboard tank was empty. Bummer! A leak in the system somewhere, but conditions aboard were certainly not conducive to sussing out where. He shut off the pressure and will deal with it when the seas calm a bit. In the meantime,the port tank is still full and we can use the foot pump.

Oh, yes, and the wind gen tail is coming apart again. Go figure ... 35 knot winds and it's having a problem? Wuss!

And .... sigh ... My teakettle went airborne off the counter and ended up on the galley sole, water everywhere and big dents in its side ... battle scars. Perhaps, after nearly 20 years, it's time for new one.

All this and the most bothersome thing today? A miserable, incessant, niggling drip of water that emanates somewhere above the sea berth and finds just the right angle to fall and splat on our faces while we're trying to sleep. It's not regular ... about once very 4-5 minutes when the waves crash overhead. Chinese water torture. Grrr!

Day 16

Miles to go: 96 nm

So much for a very short-lived celebration and respite. As we get nearer Durban, Neptune is challenging us in a big, big way. As I was sitting in the cockpit this morning on my morning watch, sipping my cuppa, thinking all was right with the world, sailing along at 7 knots, the sails suddenly started luffing. It wasn't just a wave putting them off the wind, it was something more. The autopilot wasn't working. I switched to stand-by and manual steering, but the rudder did not respond.

About that time, David poked his head up. “What's up?” No steering ... and it wasn't the hydraulics. He headed aft, lugged our Franken-mattress off the bunk and dove under the berth to figure out what was going on. One of the bolts securing the steering quadrant had sheered off!

The sails were complaining in a big way. I tried to haul in the jib. The furling line was fouled. Evidently during the anchor drama, the anchor had hit the bottom of the furler guide cage and bent it. As we let out the jib after that, the line had fouled and now I couldn't get it in or let it out. As I headed from the bow back to tell David the bad news, a wave knocked me off balance and I fell into the dodger. Loose stitching gave way. One thing at a time. We let Cups self-steer close on the wind and went to sort out the steering quadrant issue.

We hauled out the emergency tiller and I kept the rudder in place while David finessed the rest of the broken bolt out. We were lucky it was accessible and came out as easily as it did. We found a replacement and with much persistence, got the steering quadrant back in place and the hydraulic pump purring again. Phew! Now to tackle the jib furler.

The guide cage for the jib furler was totally wrecked and the furling line was jammed tight. Once again, David's patience willed out and after over an hour of tugging, prodding and prying the furler line, we got it free. The cage needed to be removed, but the screws were seized tight. David managed to hack saw it apart, withstanding the waves on the bow. The jib was useable again, but with care since there was no furler guide in place any longer. What next?

The water leak and the wind gen are waiting patiently in line for attention.

Note: the link to the teakettle is an affiliate link and would make a very nice Christmas present for the tea-lover in your life