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Firefly - En route to Richards Bay, South Africa

Today is Thursday 10th November and Firefly is south of Madagascar, en route for Richard's Bay, South Africa. The first 6 days of this passage have been a mixed bag and the forecast indicates that the remainder will be similar.

The World ARC fleet actually left a day early from Reunion, leaving on the 4th November as opposed to Bonfire Night. The reason was a long term forecast provided to one of the WARC yachts from Bob McDavitt, the New Zealand weather routing guru. We met Bob whilst in NZ as he gave a weather lecture to the yachts that had just arrived. His advice, and this was way back at the beginning of November, was that there would be strong Southerly weather off Richards Bay on the 13th November. Low and behold, the current forecasts are showing that we need to get into Richards Bay Harbour before the 13th November.

When we left Reunion we knew that we were going to experience 'accelerated' trade winds for the first 24 hours. However, Le Port, our stopover harbour was on the lee side of the island so it was calm there. As we motor sailed away towards the south west we heard the yachts ahead calling on the VHF to warn us that it was windy and rough. Then 'BAM' we hit the wind and the waves, even with the forewarning the actual conditions were a real shock.

The next blow came as we sailed past the south east tip of Madagascar. At the end of the 1800 til 2100 watch, Gareth remarked as he handed over to Paul, what a perfect few hours he had just had, fast sailing in smooth conditions. From then on the wind increased, gusting to 40 knots by the next morning and with an appropriately rough sea. To make things more interesting at first light the autopilot drive unit stopped working so in the relatively wild conditions we had to hand steer Firefly. It was too rough to fit the spare linear drive and we hand steered all day, in 1 hour watches.

Then, 'great joy' at the end of the day, the spare drive unit was installed and instantly Firefly was able to fend for herself. 24 hours later, having luxuriated in being on watch, not hand steering and repeatedly congratulating ourselves on carrying the required spares.....the second drive unit failed. The linear drive units are not repairable on board so it was back to hand steering for the remainder of the passage. After a while it becomes the 'norm' having to hand steer although 3 hours at the wheel seems punishing at first, especially having sailed Firefly for 40,000 miles mostly with the help of 'Albert the Autopilot'.

With just over 300 miles to go there is great focus on board and throughout the WARC fleet (via the SSB radio net) regarding arriving safely. To enter Richards Bay one has to cross the Aghulas current. This is like the Gulf Stream, a very fast flowing band of water about 20 miles wide. At up to 6 knots it is danagerous place to be in wind over current conditions, as wave heights can get incredible. In this case that is when South Africa is having one of its regular 'Southerly Busters', these depressions moving up the cost every couple of weeks. In these conditions a yacht can't cross the current and would have to stand off out to sea. Interestingly the depression that Bob McDavitt forecast two weeks back is on its way and all the WARC yachts need to be into the harbour by Saturday afternoon, as it arrives that evening - Firefly is currently on schedule but its tight!

Paul, Gareth and Victor

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