|Cape of Good Hope- from a previous visit|
I spent the 19th of February between legs, rounding the Cape of Good Hope at a respectable distance and passing from the Atlantic into the Indian Ocean to begin the home run.
Known as the Cape of Storms and the Tavern of Seas, it is at a point close to the Cape that the warm Agulhas current meets the cold Benguela current, where a gale is recorded every 36 hours if not less. It overlooks the Agulhas banks that extend the southern tip of Africa into a shallow plain under the sea above which a strong current flows towards the west. At times, when a front passes bringing strong westerly winds in tow the force of the wind and undercutting currents act in opposition to pile up waves as high as 100 feet with a steep leeward face- a phenomenon that can break the back of the strongest ship. It is also for this reason that sailboats sailing eastwards usually round the Cape south of the banks. On the 520th birthday of Nicolas Copernicus, the Renaissance astronomer and mathematician who had formulated a heliocentric model of the universe, not only had I round the Cape but also conclusively proven the rotundity of the earth because I had intersected my own track that had started as a solo voyage from Cape Town on the 31st of April 2011 and meandered onwards to India in May to reach Goa in the first days of June, and thereafter voyaged eastwards this year to reach the same point on earth through west. I had thus, technically, become the second Indian to circumnavigate the globe solo and under sail.
|The last solo from Cape to Goa and the present one around the world|
But it had not been an easy rounding for the Cape of Storms lived up to its name. On the 19th winds blew a steady 40 knots from the South West prompting me to keep the Cape as far to the north as possible. Winds regularly gusted to 50 knots and more and the swell stood at 8 metres by conservative estimates. We were already down to the last reef on the main and the stay sail was partly furled to reduce exposure. At one point, just hours after the rounding, a huge build up of clouds dissipated right astern of us sending in winds at 70 knots, pinning the boat to the leeward and bashing her without mercy. It hadn’t been the best of times to be out on deck let alone without a harness. All I could do was to hang on to the winch while the boat tried to right itself, which it did after considerable effort. Soon enough she was pinned a second time in the same manner but this time a wave seemed to have found the genoa and opened it just enough to allow it to catch the onslaught of the gust. In no time it opened further until it had a belly that was being expanded by the winds and it shook the mast and the boat along with it. In the words of the last skipper who had experienced something similar close to Australia, it was as if a supremely powerful god was holding the boat by the tip of the mast and was shaking it vigorously. That indeed had been the first time a prayer had come to my lips. Soon the genoa shredded putting an end to the misery and winds abated and steadied at the much milder 40s. That was the offering this cape took of me, in the same manner that it had scarred genoa after genoa in each west to east rounding of the boat.
|The shredded genoa|
One of the first congratulatory messages came from Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail solo around the world without stops or assistance. After a tour of India lecturing at IIT Kharagpur, followed by a naval audience at Mumbai and cadets at the National Defence Academy, he had just updated the list of people who had circumnavigated the globe solo and south of the three great capes and found that the list had swelled to 199 in the wake of the latest Vendee Globe. He wrote- “Thus, unless someone else creeps in from another source, of which I currently have no knowledge, the position of 200th on the list is the next one and waiting for you. Go for it!”
Negotiating the Indian Ocean is going to be the trickiest part of the entire voyage because all that I can see is a minefield of fronts, cyclones, currents, countercurrents, squalls, trade winds, shipping, fishing, piracy, doldrums, tropical heat, islands and banks forming a 5000 mile long obstacle course. It is like the Indian board game of snakes and ladders where each mistake can set you back by days if not weeks. The prospect of having to sail across the Indian Ocean without a genoa and the consequent slower passage on the home run appears daunting. But then, having sailed two-third around the world without a chopping board, and one third without pop corn, I am sure I can take this minor discomfort in stride and sail the last 5000 miles to get her back to the monument where it all started- the Gateway of India.