Half the Indian Ocean in our bed.
Faith and I had made our bed. Now we had to lie in it.
The two of us had been out there before, in worse weather, and had
managed it okay. So we didn’t think too much about the rough
This time we were sailing to Malaysia, which meant about seven weeks at sea. But with stop-overs at Madagascar, Mayotte, Zanzibar, Tanga and Chagos, the voyage would take us five months.
‘Don’t you think we should close the hatch?’ Faith queried.
We were only three hours out of Richards Bay, crossing the Mozambique Current, and in 100 metres of water, probably in the core of this notorious current. Faith was skippering the boat while I looked after sail trim.
‘No,’ I countered. ‘It’s like a washing machine out here, but we’ll soon be on the other side of the current.’
I’d hardly uttered those words when two seas on our leeward side collided with each other, threw up a pyramid of water above us, and came straight through the hatch.
Sea water down below is a curse because it leaves a residue of salt which is hygroscopic. Nothing ever dries.
I won’t tell you what I said, but I shot down below emptying sea water from furnishings onto the grate at my feet so it would drain into the bilge.
We have to use fresh water sparingly, so while Faith steered, I used a
face-cloth and a cup of drinking water to rinse and mop the salt.
When we reached Madagascar, we would have to do a thorough job.
Two hundred miles out from South Africa, the wind fell light and we were left flopping about with not enough breeze to set the sails.
But far south, maybe forty miles away, we could make out lightning beyond the horizon.
‘Get the aerial attached to the back-stay and tune the radio,’ Faith said. ‘That could be a gale coming.’
She was right. SA weather services told us a 40 knot south-westerly gale was racing up the coast.
Why didn’t we stay at home? On the foredeck, I dropped the head sail and hanked on a tiny storm jib. Then I lowered the main sail and put the first reef in; then the second reef; and finally the third reef.
We had barely prepared the boat and got ourselves ready with oilskins, life jackets and safety harnesses when the weather arrived. Howling winds, rain, lightning and never-ending thunder.
The boat took off like a rocket and as Faith needed to sleep, she went
down below and closed the hatch. Ha, ha, I had to handle this alone.
The gale lasted two days and two nights, Faith and I changing watch every three hours. On the second morning, we decided it was time to gybe so we could set a direct course for Madagascar.
We altered course too soon, putting us straight into the south
equatorial current flowing past southern Madagascar toward the South African Mozambique border. We were about three hundred miles off-shore.
The effect of the gale blowing directly against the current made for
slab-sided seas which were travelling faster than we were. They came
up behind fast.
Faith was on watch in the cockpit and I had left the hatch open to go down below and make tea in the galley.
Although we were sailing like fury, with a roar and a hiss, a sea hit us from behind, swept over the cockpit, drenching Faith, and carried on down through the hatch.
It passed me in the galley and landed in our bed under the mast.
Not two buckets of sea water like the first time, but maybe forty
buckets. And in the only berth we could use at sea. The motion was
too rough to sleep in the other berths.
Protesting at the circumstances like crazy, I ripped the mattress off the berth so it could drain onto the floorboards and into the bilge. I closed the hatch and spent an hour mopping up the mess and sponging everything with fresh water. Then I pumped the bilges.
It took fifteen days to reach Nosi Be in northern Madagascar and for
fifteen days, on our off watches, we slept in a salty wet berth.
In Madacascar, we spent five days cleaning up the mess, rinsing
everything and getting the boat back in order.
‘You never listen,’ Faith remarked. ‘Next time close the hatch.’