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Bringing Opela Back to Durban with Tiffiny in 2009 written by Tiffiny

In Dar we had enough time to hand over Arcecega, provision Opela, say hi and bye to some special friends before setting sail 3 days later to South Africa.  After having had 6 months off Opela it felt strange and familiar to be back on her.  Kevin had done some work on her while I was away and she was looking pretty good.  He had also done some provisioning - 42 cans of beef stew and chicken casserole, one packet of rice and a bag of muslie!  (no comment - but at least I know what he will be eating when he travels across to the Caribbean and that for at least 42 days he will not run out of food)  The first part of our trip down the coast of East Africa and the top part of Mozambique was spent beating, beating and beating while we took an extreme pounding as Opela seemed to belly flop and slap down hard after each second or third wave.  This is not my favorite point of sail/tack but Kevin and I both knew we would be sailing into headwinds and we both had quite a good work out with winching and grinding on every tack.  The wind was constantly changing and would blow between 10 and 30 knots with an average of 20-25 knots which had us not only grinding on the foresail every time we tacked but also putting reefs in the main and then shaking them out.    Each tack would last about 1 – 2 hours so in the evenings whoever was not on shift would spend the evening changing bunks each time we got thrown out of bed – the lee cloths which you could hang to keep you in bed did not work too well.  At the top end of Mozambique on one particularly gusty day (26 knots of wind plus) we must have seen over 30 whales during the course of the day.  Some were far off spouting water, some came right up to the boat to see what we were all about and moved along in such a rhythmic movement that I became mesmerized by it – the head would come out and then as that dipped back in the water the back would arch out and as that moved in the tail would flip out (almost like the whale was doing the butterfly stroke without arms).  One whale emerged from the water like a rocket being shot into space right next to the boat and rolled as she/he (politically correct) fell back into the sea, this had the effect of pushing Opela over a bit with the force of the water.  We were not sure if this was to warn us against getting any closer or if was to show off but the unexpected nature of the whole act gave Kevin quite a fright.  Other whales just “surfed” with their fin out the water or just generally did what whales do and swam about.  All in all it was a special treat to be surrounded and entertained by these amazing creatures of the ocean and a reminder that you can take the good (whale watching) with the not so good (25 knots of wind on the bow with 2 knots of current against you).

Just before the end of our first week of sailing we downloaded the weather files from the satellite phone and saw that there were strong winds of over 35 knots predicted and as luck would have it there was a “hidey hole” within a days sail away so we took the opportunity to anchor for a day and 2 nights and let the strong winds pass us before we carried on our journey.  I don’t see the point in beating head winds of 35 knots plus for an entire night if I don’t have to.  Luckily Kevin was in agreement with me or it would have been a case of “we are anchoring tonight or I am going to hurt you really badly and make it look like a bloody accident” (as per cat in the hat) – (don’t worry I wouldn’t really!!).  We were the only boat in the anchorage and due to the strong winds and the fact that we anchored in the middle of a bay we were very isolated in our surroundings.  I love that feeling of isolation – I find it very liberating and I took the first opportunity I could (when I was sure that the current and wind was not going to carry me back off to Dar) and I went for a skinny dip in the wind and the waves and I did back flips and kicked and made as much noise as I possibly could (just like the whales) before Kevin enquired as to why I was so intent on inviting all the neighborhood sharks to join me for my “swim” after which I toned it down a bit.    Talk about needing to get some exercise after being in the cabin for a week (pure cabin fever)

We experienced strong head winds down the narrow part of the channel at the top end of Mozambique and our sailing “line” resembled an ECG report of someone about to have a heart attack the way we had been tacking back and forth but as we neared the bulge after Ilha Mocambique, where the land dips to the west, the winds completely deserted us and we entered the bay off Beira with zip, zero, zilch wind and an ocean of glass.  The motor was put into use and we puttered along for a couple of hours while we waited for the wind to start blowing again, which it did.  When the wind picked up again, although it was still on the bow it was light and blew between 5 – 15 knots.  We did not need to tack again as the land falling away had made more room for us to carry on a straight heading and the sea stayed flat and calm and Opela was able to glide along smoothly, just as a good sailing boat should.  

So with the change in conditions which bought about calm seas and light winds we were able to sail comfortably and life carried on with a certain sense of normality.  (as normal as you can get living on a boat on the ocean).  We were able to dry out the cushions and mop up water that had come in while we were pounding through the surf.  Kevin was able to fix things that had come loose in the strong winds such as one of the running back cars on the main sail had broken and we dropped the main sail and lashed the car back to the sail, the foresail had torn a bit and Kevin jury rigged a plan to prevent it from tearing further until we got back to South Africa.   The toilet pump had broken and this had to be repaired two or three times during the trip.  The generator decided she also wanted attention and Kevin took her apart and tried to fix her in the calm conditions while she leaked oil and petrol all over the cockpit.  Water needed to be made and other odd jobs were attended to.

I managed to complete the first 4 of my Unisa assignments, read a couple of interesting books, studied the portfolio of the company where I will be working and learnt about the products I will be dealing with.  I perfected my bread baking skills and gave lessons to Kevin on how to bake bread so that he could sometimes have bread to go with his cans of food.  As I had loaded the boat with fresh vegetables I was able to practiced my gourmet chef skills on making various vegetarian soups, stir fries, pies and pasta dishes (Kevin had taken along biltong to keep up his protein intake which lasted him 4 days and sometimes I would indulge him with mince from the bottled mince I had made and gave him spaghetti bolognaise or mince on freshly baked bread!)  I had fun baking again and in the afternoons when it was calm we would be able to sit down for tea and cake (cake being things such as scones, crumpets and fritters) We were able to have numerous philosophical discussions about life and the meaning thereof and other such topics about the universe and the world in general which nobody really knows the answers to but we all seem to have an opinion on.

(Please notice the difference between the “pink jobs” and the “blue jobs” described above – our friend Dave from Shady Lady advised, so not as to gender stereotype we don’t call them girl jobs and boy jobs – only pink or blue!! – still stereotyping if you ask me but that is the way it went and I am not complaining because I enjoy my pink jobs)

And then in the evenings when sitting outside under the stars and the moon on my own I contemplated life, thought of my friends, did yoga stretches, listened to music, danced with the wind, sang with the water and tried to stay awake without too much help from the coffee pot.  My father explained the theory of relativity to me as thus:  kissing a beautiful girl for a minute versus holding your hand on a hot stove for a minute – everything is relative.  Not that I am going to kiss a beautiful girl for a minute but I can relate this theory of relativity to when I am extremely tired and have one more minute left to sleep before I have to get up for my evening shift versus when I have one more minute on shift left before I can wake Kevin up for his chance – everything is relative!!!

All the time we moved very slowly across the bay from Ilse Mozambique towards Inhambane, we had 2 knots of current against us and only 6 – 10 knots of wind.  Once I came to accept the fact that I could not rush the wind or change the current the conditions at sea became so peaceful and tranquil that at times I could almost feel the earth breath as we lay on her chest and the rise and fall of the swell of the ocean became the inward and outward breath of the earth.  The skies were clear day and night, the water was crystal clear and sooo inviting that we even stopped for a while and swam in 2000 m of water off the stern of Opela, it was all very blissful……… AND THEN IT HAPPENED……the heavens sneezed and we were caught up in the almighty blow as the wind increased speed to a constant 30 – 40 knots which lasted for about 48 hours and as we sailed in the strong winds we took on green water and surf spray once again as the waves crashed against our hull, knocked us around and shook us about.  During this time Kevin would have deployed a drogue (sea anchor) but due to the fact it was packed away in a locker under a bunch of other sailing paraphernalia and to try and retrieve it required too much effort under the circumstances and then to find the correct ropes, and get it all attached and sorted out became another obstacle, so after contemplating it for a while we decided it was much easier to hold tight and hope for the best.

We could see the wind squall approaching us, the signs were there, on the weather files which we downloaded each morning the pretty blue and light green wind indicators with a feather in their tails turned to dark red and dangerous purple with at least 2 ½  feathers in their tails! (each feather is about 10 knots of wind)  On the weather charts they resembled an army of arrows which had been shot at us from the south and there was very little we could do about their rapid approach, we tried to get to Inhambane to “hide away” for a couple of days but due to the light winds and strong current against us we did not quite make it in time.    Then on the morning of the storm the signs were there in the sky and instead of the various shades of orange, gold and yellow that would come on display as the sun made his appearance there was a pretty hue of pinks, purples and reds (to match the approaching arrows).  So once again we sat in the deep ocean miles, from land and waited for the wind.   I must say at this stage we were only expecting 25 knots of wind and that is not too terrible so we were not too concerned but were aware that it might gust a little more than 25 knots so we prepared for the worst and waited.  It is always so calm and serene before a wind storm arrives and we were feeling lazy and it was the first day that I just sat and did nothing so as the wind approached I could feel the energy inside me mounting to match that of the wind and by the time it was time to reef the main and the head sail the air was alive with energy and I was on top form, shouting to the wind to “bring it on” and tempting it with all manner of signs and a few obscene gestures after which I must have sat outside for about 30 min watching the wind increase speed to 44 knots and getting all excited about it and then went and hid inside the cabin and left Kevin to the elements and as the wind gusted and blew the waves increased size – as if they were having a competition to see who could knock the boat about the most.  Clouds, wind, waves … were all heading north at an alarming speed away from the source of the sneeze in the south while we continued on our slow journey south, from whence they had come.  Kevin offered to do my first evening shift for me and I jumped at the opportunity before he changed his mind and burrowed under my blanket and only stuck my nose out to check how we were doing on the charts from time to time.  He would have to describe the conditions he sat in outside because I don’t think I would do justice for his experience but for me I sat in the saloon until sleep came and took me away to a different place for a while.  At 2am the wind seemed to have calmed to about 24 knots and we weren’t slapping down the waves as often and the boat, although still resembling the boat ride at the fun fair where you rock up and down until you think you are going to fall out, took on more of a rhythmic motion so I offered to do a shift outside for a couple of hours.  It was incredible.  All this water was moving around me, crashing over Opela, lifting us and dropping us but as I said, not half as bad as when Kevin had taken the earlier shift.  The calm of 25 knots lasted for about 2 hours and then at 4am picked up again reaching 38 knots – I just sat there and watched it all – not much else I could do – and made sure that nothing went wrong.  The next morning brought about pretty much the same conditions, the waves were then about 5 meters high and as part of the ride some of the waves were even offering a roller coaster experience that once you have “climbed” to the top you can literally feel the free fall down the back of the wave, which gives the impression that gravity has abandoned you and left you at the top of the wave while the boat is going down and then traction sets in again and as the boat starts to climb the next wave your body and heart somehow manage to catch up.  Note that some of the wave rides were port to starboard rides while others were bow to stern rides, but admission to the rides did not grant you a choice – had to take what each wave gave.  This went on for the next 36 hours and we took turns in sitting outside and keeping an eye on everything. Our auto helm was amazing and even though she lost steerage from time to time she did most of our steering for us and held her ground against those bullies of nature.  (just a note to those of you who are reading this that everything on the boat is a she, the engine, the auto helm, the generator – Kevin likes it that way).  Finally as we rounded the port of Inhambane at 5am the new morning brought about the changes we were hoping for, the winds dropped to 20 knots and by lunch time we had entered the bay just off Maputo where the wind calmed off all together, while the waves gradually evened off and we were able to sit comfortably once again.

The next couple of days we had wonderful light northerly winds which blew us ever so gently over a relatively calm sea the last 400 miles.  Between Maputo and Umhlanga we were treated to more whale watching, this time to the extreme.  On one occasion we nearly sailed over two whales and as the one flipped around in the water to move out the way her/his tail came out the water and only just missed knocking a stanchion (the metal pole that holds the stay wires around the boat) off its mounting.  On another occasion we sailed through a pod of whales, as many as the eye can see, with so many calves.  To see these miniature giants (the babies) in such a large group was a very special treat.  The whales and dolphins were all around us constantly during this time and the ocean seemed to have come alive with life.  We were only ever treated to a hint of a current flowing South for the last 400 miles but nothing to write about.  We arrived back in Durban all safe and sound on the morning of the 3rd of August 2009 after having spent 21 days at sea.

En-route back to South Africa for a bit of extra reading and research I read the East Africa Pilot (again) as well as checking out Visual Passage Planner with Kevin and we discovered a very interesting fact.  Apart from the period November to April, which is the cyclone/hurricane season and it is advisable not to sail in this area due to the chance of encountering a cyclone, JULY is the WORST month of the whole entire year to sail this route for various reasons, namely:

1.                  The incidence and ferocity of gales and cold fronts in the Mozambique Channel is worst at this time.
2.                  The winds are almost guaranteed to be south to south easterly in the Mozambique Channel.
3.                  In the bay area between Beira and Madagascar you have a 100 % chance of encountering a 2 knot current flowing…can anyone guess?…. yes you guessed right …… flowing NORTH (opposite to the southerly direction in which we were heading)!!

But all that having been said and done … we made it …. We flew with the winds, rode through the waves, endured the currents, went through the washing machine and made it out the other side with very few bumps and bruises and somewhat enriched for the experience.  I asked Kevin at one stage during the very big storms whether he ever felt fear in his heart when things became wild at sea and we both agreed that there was no fear but in the mind and heart a very healthy respect for the powers of nature and an attitude of absolutely fascinated awe as to what nature can create from an undulating, calm sea to a mountainous wonder filled with canyons and valleys in less than 3 hours.

So where to from now?  Kevin and Opela are going to continue cruising and sail around Cape Town through to the Caribbean or maybe the Mediterranean and then wherever life takes them.  Until we meet again Trystan and I are going to bid them fair well and fair winds while we stay in Durban and I concentrate on my studies and new career and Trystan completes his schooling and concentrates on his social life!!! – I have promised him that I will be settled for his last 7 years of school so he does not have to say bye to friends unless they move on.  Then after 7 years who knows – I have a couple of ideas but I have been known to have at least 20 (good?) ideas before breakfast, most of which I have discarded by dinner.

So a toast – to sailing, to amazing memories, an amazing life, to things of the present and things of the past and last but not least for things to come….I do believe that we don’t get to necessarily choose what happens in our life, only how we experience it and we create our life through how we choose to experience it and if I can live, love and experience every moment of my life with the knowledge and realization that it is unique, special and complete in its entirety I consider myself to be doing quite well.

Love your lives my friends, live them whichever way you choose– that is what they are there for.


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