October 2, 2011-Midnight Ride to Durban
Sometimes it seems that you are just along for the ride, when the boat is sailing itself and there’s nothing really for you to do. Once we got settled down (the departure was a bit chaotic) sailing to Durban Wednesday night was one of those times; we spent our watches just sitting in the cockpit staring at the flickering orange numbers on the knotmeter.
We expected light winds but when we got out of the marina we found 26 knots and at the end of the breakwater waves were breaking and it was getting dark already. We sucked it up and put up the sails in a hurry, Judy steering with her knees and tailing the lines with her hands and me pulling things at the mast and then jumping to the winches. We got everything done, got into our foulies, got on our life jackets, got the main and the jib up, put in a deep reef, set the wind vane, sorted out the autopilot all the while trying to watch our course and not hit an anchored ship. Then we took a deep breath and settled down for a midnight ride to Durban.
We headed the boat south and soon it was going fast. The wind was over 26 and increasing (it hit 30 knots by midnight and topped out at 37.7 knots around 05:00 AM.). Still, the boat just sailed itself. The wind vane steered perfectly and since we’d put in the third reef at the start, because that was what was rigged, with the number 4 jib, we had the right sail combination. There was nothing for us to do; we just sat in the cockpit, standing our watches three hours on and three hours off, watching the instruments.
Except for one jibe about half way down the coast we never even touched the sails.
But it was wild sailing. The waves were big and the boat was surfing down them. Even just riding, when Wings is squirreling and swerving its way downwind, hitting ten and eleven knot surfs, it is exciting. Nerve wracking you could say. It makes a believer of you. The waves were big enough so that any number of them could have easily come aboard and filled the cockpit. We couldn’t see them in the pitch black, no moon, night but when we heard the hissing of the big combers looming up behind us we cringed and we waited a deluge. It never happened. The wind vane seemed to have the knack of turning the boat down the front of the waves. The bow would dip, almost plunging into the deep, then it would rise and off we’d go for another ten knot surf, leaving the breaker behind. But white water swept by the boat like a river; we were moving.
It usually takes around 14 hours to sail from Richards bay to Durban, depending on the wind and on finding that southbound escalator, the Agulhas Current. We had wind, plenty of wind, heaps of wind, but never found the Agulhas current. In fact we had current against us the whole way. So even with the really high speeds we were making it took us 14 hours to get to Durban. We were watching the weather closely because there was a southerly due sometime that day and we’d heard it might come early.
We arrived at Durban at dawn, basically in one piece (there is a bit of a repair list but we will handle it quickly) and the dreaded southerly buster never showed so we’re quite happy.
Now we’re in another new place and we’re quite happy about that too.
Click here for other shots taken on our trip to Durban and arrival.
Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Durban, South Africa