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Pierre van Rooyen

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Deepsea breakers between Sumatra and Nicobar Islands.

This was to be Faith’s and my longest voyage. Twenty two days at sea. Not because we didn’t work the boat day and night. But due to light winds.

The distance between Chagos Archipelago and Langkawi is only one thousand seven hundred miles, and in decent weather, we might have made it in sixteen days.

But we were crossing the equator, reluctantly and obliquely, and the
trade winds and the equator don’t get on too well. Something people
call the doldrums, but correctly known as the ITCZ, Inter Tropical
Convergence Zone.

Believe it or not, because the earth gets fatter toward the equator, but then smaller above the girth, the south easterly trades change their
direction, becoming the south west monsoon.

A yucky feature of the SW Monsoon are the rain squalls which come up every afternoon and last through the night. So we never sailed
through the night with full sail.

One morning, a ship passed but then broke down in front of us and lay ahull directly in our path. We were going like blazes with one of
those 35 knot squalls powering us, when the ship radioed and asked us please not to hit him. Ha ha, he would have felt nothing and we would have sunk. We sailed around him.

A day or so later, an enormous Taiwan trawler ‘cut off the head of the snake’ by making a U-turn around our bow (so close we could have collided), thus passing his bad luck onto us. Don’t frown. It’s true.

The northern tip of Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands are about a hundred miles apart. One noon, going flat-out in the SW Monsoon, we were approaching this gap about 45 miles off the Sumatra coast when we noticed breakers dead in our path. Ugh.

Shocked, we checked the chart. Well over a thousand metres of water underneath us, so no fear of running aground. And as we watched, the breakers became worse and spread horizon to horizon. Now we became more than worried.

Although we were going like crazy, seven knots through the water, we checked our GPS and were amazed to see our speed over the bottom was only three knots.

We discovered we were running before the wind, sailing into a four knot equinoctial spring ebbtide, flowing the other way, pouring out of the Malacca Straits like a river in flood.

Tide against wind can be dangerous. As soon as we entered the white water, two metre breakers started coming aboard over Senta’s transom, slewing us sideways and threatening to roll us over.

So we disengaged the wind-steerer from the tiller and hand-steered  for three or four hours, Faith and I changing over every sixty minutes, until the tide changed.

A couple of pics in Faith’s diary here. No, we didn’t have time to
shoot the tide rip north of Sumatra. But there one or two shots of




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