It took us 11 days and eight hours to cover the 1,438 nautical mile Indian Ocean passage from Reunion Island to Richard’s Bay, South Africa.
We had it all. Strong wind, no wind, breaking waves and mirror calm seas. And a situation occurred that puts dread into the heart of every live aboard sailor … cockroach infestation. 🪳
Days 1-3: Stamp, stamp – we checked out with customs and slipped our lines from Reunion Island on Sunday 28 November. It was a miserable day, raining and overcast.
A jumping dolphin send off made us smile, but other than that the sea state was swelly and it was cold at night. As soon as my precautionary seasick tablet wore off I chucked up over the side.
Paul went on the banana and peanut butter toast diet. We staggered around the boat, had headaches and struggled to sleep.
Just six weeks off sailing had set our sea leg status back to square one.
Baggy, however, was raring to go and in mint condition! The new rigging stood the test and the steering worked like a dream. The water tank still leaked, but not enough to worry about. Baggy was clearly more delighted to be back out on the water than we initially were!
Crew malaise aside we made fast progress towards the southern tip of Madagascar, averaging 130 miles a day. We had some current running with us and the speed more than made up for our initial discomfort.
Day 4: The skies cleared; the sun, moon and stars came out and crew morale soared.
We warmed up, the solar panel started working, we both felt better.
Hunks of Anzac biscuit tray bake (with date syrup topping) were hungrily scoffed while marvelling at the dramatic pink and orange skies at sunset and dawn.
Large brown boobies and tropic birds kept us company, fishing in our wake.
And that was the night we first saw the squatters.
The Cockroach Squatters
We’ve prided ourselves on not seeing a single cockroach on Baggy🪳over the last 3.5 years.
We’ve diligently removed cardboard packaging, swept floors and cleaned shoes. But we hadn’t met the American cockroach 🪳from Reunion Island. This one flies.
We deduced this in Reunion after finding one had drowned in the toilet, directly under the window and another landed on the bed - from a window! But we hadn’t appreciated they were moving in!
And the problem is, once cockroaches 🪳 move on board they quickly settle down, get jobs and cars and have babies. LOTS of babies.
We spotted the babies first; scuttling into tiny cracks at lightning speeds …. a clear indication of guilt about living with us uninvited and rent free!
This behaviour was quite unlike our little live-aboard ants 🐜 which happily sauntered up our arms and across book pages without a care in the world.
NB. The ants 🐜 boarded via the Reunion Island pineapples we’d been buying every Wednesday. Unbeknown to us they’d been living in the tiny pineapple cracks.
But, the ants soon disappeared. Because, American cockroaches🪳 eat tiny ants.
Which is, we suppose, one good thing.
In just one night Paul killed over 30 cockroaches 🪳 of varying sizes. Like an SAS operative he’d lie in wait in the dark. With his head torch on red, he’d flash it across the floor and galley surfaces.
This stealth method tracked their haunts and an ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING nest comprised of wet bits of food stuck on the inside of a cupboard.
But as the days went by more kept appearing.
Now, I feel awful about killing things, so was initially useless during this cockroach 🪳 siege. Asking them to leave seemed pointless given we were in the middle of the ocean and they can’t swim. Then we read about a cockroach 🪳killing spider 🕷 called The Housekeeper.
People with a ‘pet’ Housekeeper claim they never see the spider, but it silently gets the job done. Now we need to find one 🕷!?
Day 5: We gybed and started sailing across the bottom of Madagascar. As predicted we hit a wind acceleration zone; the wind picked up behind us and gusted 30 knots. Three metre waves saw us surfing down their sides and on occasion we reached 12 knots over the ground.
Over seven hours we averaged 8.8 knots, a Baggy speed record, with help from the South Equatorial Current.
Waves break over the deck. A window was left open and drenched the bed (will we ever learn?) Living conditions are precarious.
Over dinner we reflected on being just 50 miles away from people starving in the on-going humanitarian emergency on Madagascar. Madagascar doesn’t have marinas; any potential anchorages were well off our track and it’s reportedly a dangerous place to visit. All the same it felt wrong to just ‘sail on by’ in relative comfort.
Days 6: Baggy sailed through more rough conditions that night (rough for us, not her).
Down wind reefing in 30 knots is extremely challenging, particularly at night while on the edge of control. At the first light of dawn we took the opportunity to put in the 3rd reef, which brought the boat under greater control and made life more bearable.
Then a 229 metre cargo ship Matisse, on route to Singapore, starts heading straight for us.
As a sail boat we have right of way. The wind is still gusting 30 knots and we’re still surfing down big waves. But the cargo ship keeps heading straight for us.
We call them on the radio – no response. We call them again – no response. Clearly no-one’s on the bridge looking out for small sailing boats.
They’re VERY close now. We call them again – they answer!
We’ve woken up a sleepy sounding man who speaks very little English. He asks, “Are you fishing boat?” and “Which way you go?” and hangs up. He still heads straight for us, then in the nick of time makes a small alteration.
Day 7: Someone turned the wind off so we motored and hand steered for five hours. Which was great for whale spotting!
A humpback whale, the same size as Baggy, spouts and sailing breaches just half a mile away from us. A far finer close encounter.
Day 8: More stowaways are found.
I rescue two slugs from being thrown into the sea with the fresh food waste. They were snuggled up in the cabbage and are now taking their chances in the general waste bag with old cabbage leaves.
Day 9: Unsurprisingly the gas bottle ran out and we resorted to one-pot wonders on the meths burner.
On Reunion Island you couldn’t get a 4kg gas bottle, or international bottle refill, for love nor money. We’d resorted to borrowing a gas bottle from a friendly French sailor and doing our own gravity refill. Problem is, we’re no gas experts and didn’t know exactly how much gas we’d actually transfered into our bottle. On that basis we were pleased it had lasted us 19 days.
A lightning storm illuminates the sea and sky like a battlefield. It’s a powerful sight and we pray it doesn’t get any closer. Two days later it does.
Day 10: Today we cross the Mozambique current which comes south down the Mozambique Channel at up to three knots.
With just 190 miles to go we can almost smell Africa in the air – a mix of flowers and elephant poo.
Day 11: We’ve had excellent daily routing emails from our weather guru ‘Des from Durban’ which provided reassurance throughout the passage. But he couldn’t predict everything.
At 1am biblical rain is followed by lightning exploding like a giant bomb 💥 over our heads. Paul’s on watch and is momentarily blinded and I’m startled from deep sleep with vivid white light in my eyes. I barely count one, hear deep menacing thunder and dart out of bed.
A strike on the boat could blow all the electrics, but there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. Thrilled and scared we gawp at the elemental forces rampaging around us. Eventually, the explosions move off to find a new victim. No direct hit, we made it.
Day 12: It’s home run day sailing straight for the coast. Like a dog with a stick and ears flying Baggy reach’s speeds of over nine knots.
Ten miles off shore we turned left, held on tight while we took the Aghulus current ‘express ride’ down the coast to Richard’s Bay.
We then race to the finish with 11 knots of speed over the ground, 25 knots of breeze on the starboard quarter and up to four knots of current under the keel.
Chuck in some short confused seas, tankers and rain and a brake pedal would have been handy!
By 9.30pm we were tied up to a wall at Tuzi Gazi small craft harbour, Richard’s Bay. We’d been running a 3.5 hour watch system throughout the passage and were tired and bemused by the bright lights and thumping music coming from nearby bars.
The next few days were then chaotic; not surprisingly with the Covid issues over here.
We couldn’t leave the boat for a couple of nights and had our first ever PCR Covid tests and dealings with Port Health, Immigration, Customs and a local rep.
Meanwhile groups of locals kept coming over and peering at us and using Baggy as a photo backdrop.
But as soon as we were officially stamped in by everyone we moved to Zululand Yacht Club marina.
We then had the usual shenanigans when landing in a strange new country – getting SIM cards to work, sussing out the money, rubbish and recycling, finding our nearest fresh food source, and re-finding our land legs.
BUT we’re here …. and wondering what adventures and discoveries await us!