Indian Ocean Passage



On 10 October, we said farewell to Simon's Town and beat out of False Bay into a light to moderate ESEly. We were reconciled to having to head no better than South and perhaps even SSW for several hundred miles until we had crossed the Aghulas current and got into a more westerly airstream around 38-39 degrees South. We were at least fortunate in leaving when there was a somewhat easterly slant to the wind and the SElies were not blowing 40 knots - a not uncommon phenomenon in the area.


Albacore for dinner!



We were a little surprised how quickly we settled into the routine of passage-making. In the past it has usually taken at least three or four days, often a week before we feel fully acclimatized to the pattern of our watches and the feel of the open ocean. This time we seemed to settle immediately and within a day our watches felt like the normal pattern of our lives, with three hours each in the middle of the night between 2200 and 0400, a four hour watch during the evening and morning twilight hours and two five hour watches during the day between 0800 and 1800. We don't rotate watches, but keep the to same pattern every day. We understand that this is what sleep 'consultants' recommend and it seems to work for us. We try never to wake each other for sail evolutions unless conditions are extreme or something goes very wrong. Reefing on 'Sunstone', is easily done by one person even dead down wind, because we have avoided that evil of modern sail design, the full length batten! We use slab reefing, but never tie in reef points.








Of course just when things seem to be going well, there is a rule that dictates at least some minor disaster. In this case it was the failure of a part in our 80,000 mile old Monitor windvane steerer. Because of vibration and wear, while in Brazil, we had replaced virtually the whole gear train assembly, which carries considerable loads, but had felt that the top assembly which carries only light loads should be fine. Unfortunately it was not and the stub which connects to the shaft controlling the gears broke away.


After some contemplation on the demerits of having to steer the remaining 3,000 miles to Fremantle and some lost sleep considering various remedies - some very improbable, we came up with a plausible solution, which required only some reasonably settled weather to effect. The gods smiled. Tom managed to drill out the stub, tap it to take a machine screw, which would hold the stub firmly to a piece of stainless tube. This could in turn be pop riveted to the side of the top vane mechanism over the hole made when the stub broke away. It made a neat repair and, more to the point, it actually worked. It looks simple, but in fact the repair took three days, because of the delicacy of drilling and tapping in a seaway, when a broken drill or tap spelled disaster - or at least far too many days of hand-steering. Work could also only be done during the day-time watches when Vicky was hand steering. So it really does pay to carry all those bits of stainless and odd tools which are only used once every six or seven years. But when you need them, nothing else will do.

As the passage continued we had several spells of heavyish close reaching in 25-30 knots and very occasionally higher. It was wet and bouncy, but nothing like the really big gales we had been anticipating at some point in the passage. One or two weakish fronts made their way by, but nothing like a real gale. Neither however, could we find consistent westerlies, which stayed obstinately to the far south. Though we went down as far as 41:30 at one stage, there seemed little point in getting to 45 or further, when the Indian Ocean high was occasionally dipping down as far as 50 degrees! We had mostly southerlies and northerlies and after a slow start to the passage, steadily built up our average speed to 5.9 knots - not as fast as our other recent ocean crossings, but still respectable.





The great joy of the passage was the wonderful variety and numbers of birds which trailed behind the boat, from the huge wandering albatross to the pintado petrels (Vicky's favourite) and the delicate and elegant fulmar (or fairy) prions. The latter gathering to follow us in flocks.




Pintado petrel, to the left, and a beautiful soaring royal albatross, above.

Left, is one of the very many yellow-nosed albatross which kept us company. While Tom dealt with our below-water companions, the goose barnacles, which are much easier to remove early in their growth than at the end of the voyage - by which time they have slowed you enough to add days to the passage.


Above, a yellow-nosed and a sooty albatross in formation. At the left, either a wandering or a royal. There hasn't been enough whitening of the upper wing to be sure of the difference.


Vicky is a great planner and the plans usually work out. However, visits to oceanic islands are the exception. Just as bad weather intervened with Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, so it did with our attempt to visit Ile St. Paul, an uninhabited, partially collapsed volcanic crater, which has a protected anchorage. This was supposed to be her birthday treat. The timing was right, but not the weather and she had to make do with a glass of whisky as we sped on our way.

Port gybe - and starboard, as the watches and days spun by, some wetter and some dryer.




Until, after 37 days at sea, the flat profile of Rottnest Island popped over the horizon along with the office towers of Perth. The Q and courtesy flags went up and it was time to clear in. We were greeted on the quarantine dock by no fewer than nine Australian Customs and two Quarantine Officers, plus two cute black labs, also in uniform. Despite the numbers, the clearance was pleasant and reasonably quick, but we couldn't help but wonder how many would be involved in clearing a ship.

Though we were delighted to be in, our timing was a little unfortunate as the Etchells World Championships were just getting underway with 80+ boats and all the accompanying support craft. As a result, 'Sunstone' took up semi-permanent residence at the quarantine dock. It was no hardship, however, as we were soon pedaling around the huge Fremantle Sailing Club complex on our bikes and were made very welcome by the Club members. So welcome, that two days after arrival, we were already getting a race fix, though with 'Sunstone' still strictly in cruising mode. Nevertheless, we were happy to get used again to full nights of sleep and to eating fresh food rather than tinned. Our only real shock was the increase in Aussie prices since our last visit five years ago. But then we have been very spoiled in South America and South Africa. Anyway, whatever the price, it's nice to be back in Australia.