Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chagos to Madagascar

Our 11-day, 1,600-mile passage started out on 22 May when we weighed anchor at Île Boddam in the Salomon Atoll. We had to motor out of the lagoon but it wasn't too much after that when we were able to cut the engine and begin sailing. The wind was light so we were able to stay in visual contact with 2 other boats that are on the same route for a long time.

Our weather router, Bob McDavitt, had assumed that we'd be able to make 150-mile days but the wind was too light for that. As a result, this put us behind schedule, as far as our weather route went. From time to time we'd run the engine to get us past a particular windless spot but we only motored for a total of 20 hours, with ten of those hours at the very end of the passage.

Our clearance of the Mascarene Plateau, a shallowing of the ocean floor in the middle of the Indian Ocean, had us concerned for rogue waves as the depth goes from 3,000 meters to 20 meters out in the middle of nowhere. Nothing happened but it did create a little anxiety for about 15 hours as we made our transit across it.

The weather became more boisterous as we continued west and squalls plagued us frequently. It was common for a squall to pack 40-knot winds, forcing us to scramble to adjust our sails. The squalls would form from nowhere and could disappear just as easily but often would travel the same direction as the wind. During the night, we'd use the radar to track them and we were continually amazed at how quickly they could come and go. Though we were never frightened, there were times when we'd just get weary from the constant effort that they demanded.

The very northern tip of Madagascar has the nickname of the Witches Cauldron, as the Indian Ocean meets the Mozambique Channel, creating steep seas and potentially dangerous overfalls. One of our guide books suggested clearing the tip by 20 miles to the north, which we did, but it left us with having to beat an extra 20 miles back south into squally headwinds and rough seas. It seemed to take forever and at one point the autopilot couldn't cope with the conditions, forcing me to hand steer for many early morning hours. Eventually the conditions became calmer and we were able to re-engage the autopilot.

One of the best benefits of being here is that it's significantly cooler than the places we've recently been to. I actually had to put a shirt on for the first time in a long time a few days ago and last night I was more comfortable with a light jacket on - the first time I've worn a jacket since I was in Nepal, 8 months ago.

Since we only anchored here this morning and could only scrape together enough energy to complete the most basic of chores, we haven't been able to explore much. So far, the small islands at which we're anchored remind me of some of the uninhabited islands of the Sea of Cortez. The water is not clear but the air has a freshness to it that we like very much. The humidity is lower so things finally seem to be drying out. We'll probably stay here a few days while we scrub the salt off of Rutea and then move on south.
At 6/2/2015 2:59 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 12°15.51'S 048°57.66'E

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