TO GO OR NOT TO GO...
14 October 2011 | PORT LOUIS, MAURITIUS
For days now, here in Mauritius we wait, wandering the docks, trying to pick up tidbits of advice from the few who have gone before, listening for the lastest weather reports, strengthening our boats, comparing strategies, and, to get a dose of comfort in knowing we are... 'all in the same boat' - that the most temperamental and potentially dangerous leg looms ahead. There's not a boat in here that could survive a worst case scenario.
So after my particular wanderings, discussions, questions, here's is how I see it.
This next leg of 1400 miles is divided into two parts.
The first part is to the southern tip of Madagascar, a distance of about 800 miles, about 6-8 days of sailing directly southwest. The weather fronts coming from the southern ocean pass this southern tip of Madagascar about every 12-18 hours going east. The goal is to face as few of these fronts as possible but with the knowledge that we will be hit by at least one with winds, if the gods are kind, up to 40 knots. The overriding concern with this leg is that once one starts out and the weather turns ugly, 'theres no place to hide'. Well, let me quote one of my trusted sources, Troy Bethel:
"You need to pass south of Madagascar before you (will)have the ability to alter course anywhere . You can't turn north before you pass south of the island because after the front passes the prevailing (winds)will put you close on a lee shore(pushing one onto the shore) with Madagascar and the east coast is real nasty . You can't turn and head back for Mauritius as you would be going upwind into the prevailing winds , the only thing you could do is head SE and there is nothing down there but westerly fronts.(and the southern ocean)"
So timing is crucial - wait for that front originating off the tip of S Africa to get to Mauritius and, before its even fully passed, head out...go as fast as one possibly can, get to Madagascar before the next front is birthed and starts heading our way.
And speaking of 'going fast', I must admit to an advantage-Shearwater is the fastest boat in here, once 20 knots of wind is realized.
Ok, one gets to Madagascar in one piece, one passes its southern tip and then for the next 700 miles one faces a different set of potential problems. Here we have to face a conflict of nature. There is a strong current called the Agulhas current surging down the east coast of Africa. One has to cross that current. So far so good. But, if, as one closes in on the coast and this current, there is a sudden "southwester'(they can develop within hours at anytime) there is a major problem to deal with. As the current surges southwest , the 'southwester' brings strong winds directly against that current and the result is sometimes waves reaching 20-40 feet and more and... one is headed directly into that. Well let me again quote this veteran sailor:
"If there is one thing you never do ,it's heave too(stop the boat) and wait) on a multihull ,this is like standing in the traffic on Brooklyn bridge , you are going to get tossed . The S Westerlies don't hang around so you need to press on into. If you don't have the room to alter course any ,you tow a drogue or warps to slow you down a little ,but keep way on(keep going) . Running(wind from behind) is an option if you can turn without a possibility of capsize...."
And so we wander, wait, trepidate and ask; 'To go or not to go?'