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Waiting Out a Cyclone in the Indian Ocean

22.3° South / 53.4° East

February third 2006 finds the Picton Castle sailing along in pleasant modest breezes with sunny skies, benign puffy clouds and not an apparent care in the world. All is lovely at sea today. Sails are being made up on the quarterdeck; a new jib is almost finished and a new upper topsail is on the home stretch. Danie has various bits and pieces of the engine-room up on a tarp on the well-deck grinding away on them to take paint; railings, ladders and the like. Logan’s beautiful new storage chest for boat gear is about to get a coat of varnish and the teak taffrail just got a nice coat of varnish too. Ollie, Rebecca and Jeff Hicks are doing a number of rigging jobs changing out old rope with new and making new ratlines. Ollie, John and Rebecca have just been renewing wire seizings on the lower-shroud standing rigging turnbacks after overhauling the 1-1/8-inch cables of these lower shrouds by wire brushing, greasing, parceling and re-serving them. The fragrant smell of Stockholm tar wafts about, as do whiffs of the bread the cook is baking up in the caboose. The steering is easy, as is the motion of the ship herself. A serene day at sea, as good as it gets.

But all is not quite as perfect as it seems. About 800 miles to the west in the Mozambique Channel, which is the body of water between Madagascar and the mainland of Africa, is our old friend Tropical Storm BOLOETSE�the same storm that kept us in port at Reunion a couple of extra days when it was rumbling around east of Madagascar. Now it is rekindled and is cooking up into a proper cyclone. This storm managed to cross Madagascar intact enough to re-form on the other side. Now it is building. All the predictions and all conventional tracks of such storms in that area have it barreling down the Mozambique Channel and eventually turning off in a southeasterly direction as the Coriolis effect kicks in, as it is prone to do at the higher latitudes. This storm is on a converging course with our route towards Cape Town.

So, what does the Picton Castle do? For one thing, we turn the ship about and sail on a course that is at a right angle to and away from the storm track. The second thing we do is head north, generally, as it is extremely unlikely that the storm after it starts to head south can or will head north again on the east side of Madagascar. The last thing we do is to stay near Reunion just in case we want to put in. We are about 120 miles southeast of Reunion sailing close-hauled on the port tack making slow easting. Just the ticket. There are no ports on the east coast of Madagascar that are even remotely useful in providing refuge from a cyclone. Reunion is it. Our good friend Captain Kevin Denning in Cape Town is keeping us well appraised on weather developments from the South African weather service. Weather prediction and monitoring is one of the areas where manifestly vast improvements have been made in modern times, contributing immensely to the safety of mariners. And this we are all for.

If all goes as predicted, this old Boloetse will blow on through well to our south and in a few days we can tack the Picton Castle around and get back on the road for the Cape of Good Hope and on to Cape Town, South Africa.

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