Passage Cocos Keeling to Rodrigues

Day 1

Winds 25 – 30 from SE over the last 24 hours. When we first set off the seas were very confused (3 – 4m) and grey squally skies.  We are on port tack with a triple reefed main and stay sail and have been making around 9 knots.  As the day wore on the clouds cleared a bit and we had a glimpse of the sun now and then.  The seas have gone round aft a bit to the port quarter but this morning seem even bigger.  Just a slither of new moon for a couple of hours, so very dark night.  This morning there are a few more rain clouds about again but no rain yet – wind slightly further aft, so speed down a bit. Might need to try a bit of reefed genoa shortly.  8 pre-cooked meals left so that's a good sign! Got two or three boats to talk to on SSB morning and evening, all heading to Rodrigues.

Date and time: 16th September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs)

Position: S13:04:908 E093:29:548

24 hours distance: 209 nm

Day 2

Still making good progress, though not quite as quick as yesterday. New gribs forecasting slightly less wind and more from behind.  Changed from the stay sail to a reefed genoa early morning and let one reef out of the main.  Wind and waves slightly more from behind. We didn't get any rain but did have blue sky which does make such a difference!  Seas sometimes got themselves together in alignment – still around 3 – 4m - but actually not too uncomfortable at times.  Before dark, we set out the pole in case the wind went further aft in the night.  At around 11pm, the wind did go further aft so we poled out the genoa but that only lasted about 30 mins then there was a wind shift so back over on to a 2 sail reach.  Most of the night was that transition between not quite right for a 2 sail reach and not quite right for goose winging so we ended up 2 sail reaching a few degrees south of our rhumb line with quartering seas which wasn't the most comfortable of rides. Normally we don't bother trying to sail great circles, as wind and current generally dictate something different. However on this trip we've set up waypoints on the great circle route. Interestingly it's not much shorter (12nm in 2000nm) than the straight line, because we are relatively close to the equator. The big great circle savings are in the higher latitudes, or skirting the poles as close as possible. Just after daybreak we were able to goose wing and now sailing a bit more down the waves.  Still have the big rollers coming up from the southern ocean and wind waves on top of that but we have a bit of blue sky again.  Managed a pre-cooked meal last night so topped up on calories!  Looking at the longitude you'll see we're about ¾ way round the world – would be nice not to have to go round that big bit of land called Africa !  We're seeing bits of rubbish floating in the sea now – something we've not really noticed elsewhere out in the open ocean.  Quite a few nautilus shells too – shame we can't pick them up!

Date and time: 17th September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs)

Position:  S13:59:362 E090:23:126

24 hours distance: 190nm

Day 3

Started off with a bit of a ‘nowt nor sumit' wind but managed to pole out for a couple of hours before the wind went a bit further to the south and we got back on to a 2 sail reach on port tack – stayed that way the whole day and night not deviating more than +/- 3 miles from the rhumb line..  Sailing pretty conservatively with double reefed main, but speed not too bad (around 7 – 8 knots) and sea conditions OK – still got around 3m swell and 1m wind wave but coming mostly from behind. I might even go as far as to say it was quite pleasant!  We passed Yindee Plus in the early hours of the morning, another British boat which set off a day ahead of us from Cocos.  Another ( Iona ) set off a day after us and a few more will be leaving between now and Sunday so our SSB net is growing!   We're all headed for Rodrigues – our friends on MV Dirona are already there but may leave before we arrive (nothing we've said I hope!) and other friends on Gallinago, complete with one year old Ivy, left Cocos over two weeks ago. The have had a couple of periods of light winds, but hope to arrive tomorrow evening (Saturday) after quite a long trip.

On these passages you have to be gentle with yourself and ease yourself into the way of things gradually!  The first day is spent moving around the boat very gingerly and catching up on sleep.  The second day is usually a bit better but still not good enough to read – listening to podcasts (courtesy of the BBC!) is the flavour of the day.  By day 3 we are more used to the motion of the boat so easier to move around.  We made a fix to prevent movement on the clevis pin on the bottom of the forestay and then I read the whole day – still not good enough for a bit of brain work on a killer sudoku but gradually getting there!

PS. We have a birthday girl on board today. Happy birthday Jean.

Date and time: 18th September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs)

Position:  S14:48:018 E087:14:33

24 hours distance:  190nm

Day 4

Good birthday yesterday – thanks for all those birthday wishes.  Still making good progress. The wind abated a bit in the morning (18 – 22 knots) so we shook out a couple of reefs in the genoa and a bit of a reef in the main.  We were sailing along quite comfortably until around 2pm then the wind started to get up and the seas built.  Back in went the reefs!  Winds were more than forecast on the gribs – between 25 – 30 knots gusting up to 33 and the seas were quite ugly!  Actually even in their ugliness they are quite beautiful.  (I hope I'll always think that!) As the waves rise higher a mass of rolling water builds then as it reaches it's peak, the top of the wave becomes a lovely transparent turquoise colour then as it breaks white foam rushes out and around – sometimes the wave will just continue rolling under us, lifting us gently in the air and down again ready for the next one - at other times the wave will crash into us with such force it will send us sideways with a great shoot of spray up in the air.  The power and the glory – it really has to be given a lot of respect!  I keep trying to get a good photo but it's quite impossible to capture – the waves just look quite small and insignificant!  We talk a lot about waves, so here's waves 101!

Some typical wave info from the grib files for this trip:

Significant height:  3.88m

Maximum: 4.93m  +219 degrees 16s

Primary Swell 2.33m +218 degrees 16s

Secondary swell 1.3 +112 degrees 10s

Wind 2.84m +109 degrees 8s

The swells are those longer period waves generated far away, in our case down in the southern ocean. Because they are long period e.g. 16 seconds between them, they would, on their own, represent a gentle motion because they happen relatively slowly allowing the boat to ride up and down even if they are quite large.  Unfortunately the swell does not just come from one direction, nor do they arrive at the same time, so the effect is “not so gentle” or regular. This is what the secondary swell or even a third swell does. These might be the remains of an older or newer weather system close by or far away.  After all the swells combine, sometimes like a washing machine if you're unlucky, (but sometimes not), there are wind waves to be added on top. These are the local waves generated by the local wind conditions. The stronger the wind, the bigger the waves.  The period of these is usually much shorter than the swells and they can make a real mess of an already messy situation. So in the grib data which we download, we get the individual elements, then a maximum value which attempts to predict the worst likely combination. Of more use, is the significant wave height. This is defined as the average height of the highest one third of all waves. Because this is statistics, this means that every hour or so you will get one 1.5  times larger, and every 6 hrs or so you will get one 2 times larger. In gales we have had 6m significant waves, with the odd one swamping us at 12 m. Not seen any that big on this trip so far, thankfully.  Having said all that, once at sea there is nought you can do to avoid the waves. The only real value of all this is to decide when to stay put in the bar!  Thankfully ocean sailing is not always like this. Sometime you get a nice long swell and a simple wind wave on top, making for fast sparkling conditions. Ah, if only!

Back to practical matters - Matt put a preventative patch on a small tear on the mainsail and I actually completed a killer sudoku before it started to get boisterous.  We did manage to get our stock up on calories but a quite uncomfortable night being thrown around by those rogue waves every so often.  Wind down a bit now to around 22 – 25 knots and seas a bit less.  According to the gribs we will have another couple of days of this then maybe a bit less wind for a couple of days before it builds again as the next high marches east to the south of us.

Date and time: 19th September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs)

Position:  S15:28:967 E083:47:146

24 hours distance: 205 nm

Day 5

Well it was a bit of a story yesterday so maybe today we'll keep it short!  Winds and seas much the same most of the day (around 25knots and 3m) so kept up speed around 8 – 8.5 knots.  During the night the wind went round to the east so we changed course slightly.  We had been sailing north of the rhumb line so that when the wind did go round we could still stay on a 2 sail reach- so far so good.  We've not downloaded a grib file yet today so are waiting to see if the light winds from behind are still forecast before we make any decision as to where we set our course later today.

There is so much stress on the boat in these seas that the fix Matt had made to hold in the clevis pin on the forestay had worked itself slightly loose so he spent another sweaty few hours making mk IV version out of a D bolt and aluminium bar.  I'm just the gofer and hold the things in place whilst does the real work with the saws and drills etc.  When he checked this morning it hasn't moved so hopefully it will stay like that. 

Our friends on Gallinago have reached Rodrigues after a long passage from Cocos – we really have to take our hats off to them sailing with a 1 year old – I know I couldn't deal with the dirty nappies etc!  Another boat has joined the net and one more should leave Cocos today – it's great to have ‘company' on the SSB twice a day.

We're now half way - yippee! It's been a fast run so far, we have averaged 198.7 nm per day for 5 days solid!

Date and time: 20th September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs)

Position:  S16:27:203 E080:25:376

24 hours distance:  203 nm

Day 6

After downloading a grib file Matt started scheming (I've got other things to scheme about!!) how best to get through the lighter winds – This are is where the high pressure which has been giving us SE trade winds, passes south and moves east, and the next one approaches. We are in the vee shaped bit of light winds between the north side of each which takes about 2 days to pass.  We stayed on a 2 sail reach most of the day as the wind gradually reduced and became more easterly and the seas calmed a bit.  Shook the reefs out of the main.  We were anticipating to have to pole out the genoa at around midnight but we did so a couple of hours earlier.  We sailed poled out all night making around 6 knots to the west and are now about 15 miles north of the rhumb line and have just luffed up on to a 2 sail reach heading SW. This gives us the best speed and apparent wind to get through the light bit. So far all going to plan, maintaining 6+ knots. Anticipate this for 24 hrs then back on course with stronger winds from SE for the rest of the week. That's today's plan anyway – but you know what cruisers are like for changing plans!

We still have 5 pre-cooked meals left which I'm keeping for the last few days when we're anticipating biggish seas again.  It's not great being in the galley for any length of time – hot and stuffy besides the rocking and rolling!  We have been eating rather well though.

Not seen any cetaceans so far on this passage apart from the pod of dolphins which accompanied us out of Cocos but there again we very rarely see much in the open ocean.  We see the odd sea bird (yes that one!) now and again – more often in the bigger seas playing just above the waves. 

Date and time: 21st September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs)

Position:  S16:52:328 E077:26:775

24 hours distance:  174 miles

Day 7

The wind dropped as forecast to 10-12k and the sea quietened down so we just had a long rolling swell and a pretty flat sea – together with the blue sky and sun it made for a very pleasant day.  The wind was more south than forecast, which meant we had it ahead of the beam, so good apparent wind, course and speed made all day. Wind up a bit in the night but still kept full sails on a 2 sail reach doing about 7k down the rhumb line.

We've just put the reefs back in both sails in anticipation of stronger winds later today.  I guess that also means bigger seas…oh well at least it should be fast!  We currently have 660 miles to go so in theory we will have to slow down to make a Saturday daylight landing! Not counting chickens yet…

Still have 4 pre-cooked dinners which should now last until we get there – good planning I reckon even though I say it myself!  So looking forward to getting off the boat and going for a nice meal ashore.  Our friends on Dirona have been trying out the eateries for us – so we have some good recommendations.

Been seeing a few more ships now – 2 last night – we think large commercial fishing vessels (factory ships) so they'll be stripping the seas bare. 

Date and time: 22nd September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs) 

Position:  S17:43:043 E074:29:225

24 hours distance: 177 nm

Day 8

How quickly the sea builds up!  As expected the wind started to get up around lunchtime and gradually increased to around 25 knots with gusts up to around 30kts. The seas went from a lovely rolling swell to lumpy and confused and back up to around 3m.  The wind didn't go round to the south east when forecast so we had a fairly uncomfortable night with the wind and waves on the beam (things going bump in the night scenario!) 

The wind has died back a bit this morning to around 20 knots and has gone more to the east but the seas still big and confused – we're hoping they'll pull themselves together soon or we'll have to give them a good talking to!  Current speed is anywhere between 7 and 9 knots! 

100% cloud cover which makes everything that steely grey colour.  The fix on the furler pin seems to be holding so that's good news.  Guess it'll be more reading, suduko-ing and podcasts with Jenny Murray today…thank goodness for the BBC.

We've now crossed the Mid Indian Ocean basin which is the deepest part at 4400m, and are now on the Central Indian ridge at a mere 3000m, about 600nm south of Diego Garcia. It's not the deepest of oceans, but certainly more impressive than the English channel at 90m!

Date and time: 23rd September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs) 

Position:  S18:26:334 E071:01:991

24 hours distance:  203 nm

Day 9

Well the days roll on….  Wind continued around 20 – 22 knots all day yesterday but seas never pulled themselves together so continued to be confused.  It wasn't uncomfortable (use of double negative very appropriate here!) and we stayed on a 2 sail reach all day.  Switched to poled out genoa at around 10pm so now directly downwind and down the waves which makes it a bit easier on the neck (it's always the neck which starts to ache as it tries to balance the head to align with the involuntary movement of the body with the motion of the boat!)  This morning the wind has dropped further – around 15 knots right now and consequently our speed has dropped to below 8 knots.  If we want to get in before dark tomorrow (Friday) then we have to keep an average of 7.2 knots – it'll be touch and go though the forecast is for the usual 20k – fingers crossed.... If the worst comes to the worst a night landing looks fine if we have to.

Had a large pod of dolphins playing and bow-riding with us yesterday afternoon – not sure what they were – possibly Frasers – no obvious beak but not easy to identify properly in the heavy seas.  Just had 3 cargo ships pass us – one of them we had to call up to ensure that he's seen us – passed within about ¼ mile!

Now here's some exiting news:

Mr & Mrs M Findlay are absolutely delighted to announce the engagement of their daughter Helen to Mr James Bale, son of Mr & Mrs T Bale on 19 th September 2015


Date and time: 24th September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs) 

Position:  S18:53:891 E067:36:021

24 hours distance: 198 nm

Day 10

We had to un-goose and luff up 20 degrees to keep clear of a ship yesterday morning despite the skipper agreeing to pass to starboard of us. While handling the sail, the sheath on the sheet partly stripped and concertinaed up the core.  We have a plastic tubes taped to the sheet at the sail end which are there to protect the sheet from chafe at the pole but despite many innovative attempts to eliminate it, it always slips in the end and the sheet gets badly damaged and progressively shorter.

Anyway once we were safely passed the ship, Matt tried to pull the sheath back but could only get it so far as it was still through the pole.  We were left with an un-sheathed bit of around half metre.  He sewed the sheath in place at that point and re-taped the plastic tube to the end of the sheet and we re-goosed.  All of this was done up on the foredeck with seas of around 3m – not an easy task!   Hopefully that will last until we get to Rodrigues where we can make a better repair.

We continued with the genoa poled out for the rest of the day with winds of around 18 – 20 knots but the seas never really reduced in size.  At around 10pm there was a wind shift and we un-goosed and sailed on a 2 sail reach for a couple of hours before having to re-pole out the genoa.  For the first time on this passage we had squalls ranging from 10 - 30k through the night which gave us wind shifts of +/- 30 degrees and rain to wash some of the salt off the boat!  Not terribly comfortable as we had the waves on the beam and other places quite a lot.

We're still poled out and have just negotiated another large bulk carrier on its way to Singapore . Had a chat with the skipper and agreed to pass green to green. This time he did change course and we passed one mile apart. We have around 50 miles to go so we should make it in late afternoon as Rodrigues is 2.5 hrs behind us (UTC +4) – I can almost smell the bacon….. 

Date and time: 25th September 10.15 local (GMT + 6.5 hrs) 

Position:  S19:29:321 E064:14:014

24 hours distance:  195 nm

Just arrived in Rodrigues and had quarantine and health inspection, customs and immigration so that's us cleared in.  So glad to get here and in calm waters!  Looking forward to a decent sleep tonight.

Total distance: 1994 nm

Total Time:    10 days, 6 hours

Avg speed:  8.1 knots

Days exceeding 200nm/d: 4 days

Days less than 190nm/d: 2 days

Slowest day: 174 nm


Local time here is GMT + 4 hours


  Back to Flotsam.....