24/11/2015 – Weather Window? More like Revolving Doors!

During the past week in Richards Bay the most common topic of conversation was the weather. As I mentioned in my last blog, Monday’s window slammed shut on Tuesday, time enough for one boat to sail overnight and reach Durban safely. The next ‘window’ opened Wednesday or Thursday evening but had slammed shut again by the next evening however three more boats made it to Durban. The only real advantage of a stopover in Durban is that the next leg to East London is shorter but you still need a 48 hour window. On Friday evening the remaining skippers met at the club for a ‘Happy Hour’ to discuss the GRIBs and a promising looking window on Monday which should allow us to reach East London and, possibly, Port Elizabeth. The sky darkened and rain looked very likely which led to a number of skippers racing back to their boats to close all hatches! Most crews stayed on for dinner during which the rain was very heavy and the wind was howling. By 9pm the rain had abated a bit but the lightning seemed scarily close as I walked back to Starblazer. We later heard that one of the boats in Durban had been struck by lightning, wiping out almost all of their electronics. Their SSB is still working but they are having to hand steer as the autopilot is dead. That is tiring work for a double-handed crew. The wind piped again overnight but by morning the wind was right down, the sky was clear and it was a lovely start to Saturday. John and four other skippers set off early to complete the paperwork formalities for sailing to Cape Town, visiting the Yacht Club, Immigration, Customs and Port Police. They were back in just under 3 hours, better than average! There were reports to expect stronger winds Saturday evening so John added three extra springs to keep the boat back, away from the pontoon. There were few cleats of indeterminate strength so he added some very large shackles bolted on the metal frame of the finger and tied some of our very thick, spare mooring lines to them. With the boat snugged down we went shopping. The heavens opened when we were in the Mall. We got the shopping back on board without getting too wet. During the evening the wind built, hitting a peak of 52 knots, nearly 100 kmh! It was quite unusual in that the sound of the wind changed completely when it peaked. Starblazer stayed nicely tied up and the wind finally died down before dawn. Sunday was a day of indecision, the GRIBs suggested 10-15 knots against us for the first 24 hours plus the window had shortened so we would have to make better than 7 knots on average to reach East London, Port Elizabeth appeared unobtainable. We were almost decided not to leave. On Monday morning John spoke to a delivery skipper taking a 35 ft yacht to Cape Town. He said he wind wouldn’t be a problem and the Agulhas Current would easily carry us there. At 12.30 we slipped our lines and headed out, followed by two other boats, the other two had left an hour or two earlier. During the evening roll call two of the three boats, which had left Richards Bay together, called in to say they were all on their way from Durban, about 50 miles ahead of us; this morning the fourth called in, having left at about 1800 yesterday evening. It is possible the leading group will be able to make Port Elizabeth but it all depends on the weather. The current is not as strong as we would have hoped for however it has given us a two knot lift for most of the past 24 hours. The breeze has picked up a little, too, and we are now motor sailing. Yes, Starblazer is a yacht; yes, we have white flappy things to drive us and save diesel; but no, we do not have the luxury of time to allow the wind to drive us on its own. If we get to East London much after midday tomorrow, Wednesday, we could be faced with motoring into a stiff headwind and possibly choppy seas, both of which slow the boat down. If, on the other hand, the forecasts change we might make Port Elizabeth by Thursday midday. We shall see. Joyce

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