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.

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

Crossing the Indian Ocean - Mauritius to Durban Days 13 & 14

durband days 13 - 14 Day 13 Miles to go:  432 nm

I didn't provision well for this trip. We thought we'd be at sea for about 12 days. Normally, we'd plan on 100 miles a day and do better than that. Our experience thus far in the Indian Ocean, however, rendered us a bit cocky and overconfident and thus, we're running out of things each day we sail beyond Day 12. There's no danger of starving; we've got lots of food stores in the larder. It's just that we'll be going without some things I wish I'd stocked up on. This thought led to a cockpit discussion about the 10 Top Things Not to Run Out of on a Passage. Here's our list, not necessarily foodstuffs and not in order of survival importance, but as we thought of them.

1. Toilet Paper We do not have a Sears catalog aboard nor corn husks (although an old West Marine catalog might do in a pinch). Running out of TP is not even something I care to contemplate. We've got plenty.

2. Water Even though we have a watermaker, we make sure our tanks are topped off when we leave port and never let them get too low.We also have a small hand-operated water maker in our ditch bag for emergencies.

3. Fuel Yes, we are a sailboat although from time to time, we are a motor-sailer. Having enough diesel aboard is primarily important for running the engine to charge the batteries and getting into port and docking.

4. Propane The inability to cook while on passage would be a hardship. No hot food for days?  Ouch! We carry extra propane tanks on deck to avoid ever running out.

5. Eggs We use lots of eggs ... sometimes as an ingredient for cakes, etc., and sometimes as a meal in itself like omelets or scrambles. I underestimated our usage for this trip and should have kept better track of just how many we were using. We're running low and I have no one to blame but myself. As an aside, I can substitute white vinegar for an egg in many recipes, but scrambled vinegar just doesn't cut it.

6. Coffee/tea Just don't even talk to me until I've had my wake-up cuppa. In a pinch, I can drink coffee and David will drink tea ... but doing without both altogether? Perish the thought.

7. Pasta/rice Pasta and rice constitute a major part of our meals. Running out of either would definitely put a crimp in our menu planning and it would be hard to find a substitute once the potatoes were gone.

8. Flour We bake quite a bit during passages. Bread, cakes, brownies ... even pizza on occasion. Flour is an essential ingredient that would severely limit our baking activities.

9. Chocolate I never much cared for chocolate. David is in the chocoholic category. Over the years, I've grown to like it and David hasn't changed at all. A special treat en route is sharing a chocolate bar. It's a comfort food and provides a good attitude lift when necessary.

10. Patience/sense of humor Luckily, we did manage to provision heavily in this area. Keeping things in perspective and laughing when you can keeps the crew in good spirits and able to cope with most anything ... including each other.

Day 14 Miles to go:  362 nm

One thing we're not lacking today is wind. Be careful what you wish for, right? We were plodding along, poled out to port, when the wind started backing ... earlier than forecast, but evidently the wind gods hadn't gotten the memo. At the change of the 0300 watch, we switched the pole to the starboard side. We're getting pretty good at this maneuver, having done it so often recently. The actual changeover and re-rigging takes less than 10 minutes. It's furling the sails, jibing and then re-setting the sails that takes all the time. We've got about a 1 knot push from the current now, so we were tooling right along.

At the change of the watch at 0600, we were steady as she goes, still heading west across the Mozambique Channel. By 0700, the wind was continuing to back and I switched the jib from the pole to the port side and we were beam reaching with 15 knots from the NE. By 0800, I'd reefed the jib, but we needed to take a reef in the main as the winds escalated to the mid-20s. Reefing the main is easier with two people aboard Cups, so David's nap was cut a bit short. Based on the forecast, we double-reefed the main and Cups rode easier.

The barometer fell to 1009. The wind continued to build and backed to the north then northwest.  We clawed for every bit of westerly we could get, but when the wind finally backed to the west at 35 knots, we hove-to for several hours until the SW winds took over.  David fought his way to the mast and we took another reef in the main, doused the jib and let out a reefed staysail. We are making slow progress, but at least in the right direction.

The sky is a deceptively bright blue and the sun is bright, but the seas are roiling and angry ... all frothed up, spray flying everywhere. Huge waves are breaking over the bow. The wind is shrieking like a banshee, a high shrill keen that vibrates through the rigging and is sometimes unnerving. With so much wind and wave action, we are uncomfortable captives below deck although NOT seasick.

So ... that's our day. What's going on in your corner of the world?