Sailing the Mozambique Channel

It’s 930 pm on Tuesday night. We’ve been waiting out a storm for the past few days and intended to leave the anchorage tomorrow morning, but after checking the weather this morning we decided to go today. The wind is blowing hard. It’s dark out. I’m sitting alone in the cockpit. Everybody else is sleeping or I should say trying to sleep. The boat is surrounded with football-field-sized swells and we are rocking and rolling over hills and dales of swells and being pushed around by water and wind.

Mozambique is about 20 miles to the NW of us so we are not in any danger of running in to anything other than fishing vessels of which I haven’t seen any since my shift started at 7 pm. The land curves around to the south so we will run into it eventually if we don’t change our course, but that is hours from now or maybe even tomorrow morning before a course correction is needed. For now, our autopilot is pointing our boat to 248 degrees mostly because that’s the direction our boat can use the wind blowing from the south. If the wind was blowing more from the southeast or southwest we would be pointing almost due south, but we go where the wind allows us to go.

Mozambique has turned out to be a rather intense place to sail. It’s this channel, the Mozambique Channel, that acts almost like a funnel. If you get the wrong wind or too much wind, which happens often, you’re kinda just stuck waiting out the winds tucked in behind an island somewhere, hoping it’s enough protection from the insanity coming your way. Either that or you end up beating into the wind which makes a bumpy ride, not unlike Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, although it all takes place on the deep dark waters of the ocean.

Beating into the wind means that your boat is pointed into the wind or the direction the wind is coming from, but not directly into the wind or you wouldn’t be able to go at all. Instead you angle the boat or the sails so they’re a percentage off or in this case, 30-60 degrees off of heading straight into the wind. This allows your sails to act like an airplane wing and the difference in wind speeds moving over the front and back of your sails causes a forward thrust, allowing you to move forward through the water. Basically, the wind is pulling you through the water at this point of sail. You can can move quickly this way, we are currently doing 6 knots, but sailing in this way is never a smooth ride. And the reason they call it beating is because the wind and waves are both coming directly at you and beating the hell out of you and your boat as you scream through it.

If you have a choice, sailing at a different angle or point of sail is always preferred. But sometimes you just don’t have a choice and you take whatever you’ve been given and run with it. If we sat around waiting for more preferable winds, we might be waiting for weeks, especially in this channel, where most of the winds are coming from the south. It’s already bad enough that we have to sometimes wait out the storms that frequent this area. No time to waste waiting for perfect winds.

This is the first of 3 days sailing to Bazaruto, 300 miles south of us. There, we will re-evaluate the weather and determine if we have to wait out another storm or keep moving south because the weather is clear enough to sail.

Every 15 to 20 minutes on my 4-hour shift, I step back to the wheel, check the plotter to see our speed and and location in relation to any obstacles around us, and scan the horizon for any lights or vessels on the horizon. I also recheck the sails and course direction to see if there are any adjustments I need to make with either to get the best speed from our sails. It’s now 1030 pm and all is well.

Thanks for keeping me company on my watch and reading what life is like for me on the boat. Please add comments below with any questions you have and I’ll be happy to respond. And don’t forget to subscribe or follow me on Facebook. Instagram, or Twitter by searching for Living Large by Living Little

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