@ Spring Cove Marina, Rock Hall, Maryland
Mail: PO Box 609, Rock Hall, MD 21661  Phone: 410-639-7030   Fax: 410-639-7038

Email: office@mdschool.com 

Tom Tursi
Indian Ocean

Following is a series of reports prepared by Tom Tursi of The Maryland School of Sailing & Seamanship and transmitted by satellite uplink from Susie Q3, an Oyster 53 sailing yacht, during a cruise from Australia to South Africa in September to November 1997. These reports were published on the Internet at: http://www.mdschool.com 

Indian Ocean


Friday, September 5, 1997, Rock Hall, MD, USA: We plan to sail across the South Indian Ocean departing from Darwin, Australia on September 14, 1997 bound for Richards Bay near Durban, South Africa with intermediate stops at Bali, Cocos Keeling, Chagos and Mauritius islands. This is a total distance of  6000 NM which we plan to complete by late November. Our yacht is Susie Q3, an Oyster 53 with a crew of four on board. 

Darwin is on the north, central coast of Australia at 13 degrees S latitude and 131 degrees E longitude. Richards Bay is on the east coast of South Africa at 29 degrees S latitude and 32 degrees E longitude. 

In preparation for this cruise, I took a close look at the Indian Ocean Pilot Charts (Pub109) produced by the US Defense Mapping Agency. These charts are a compilation of historical data reflecting weather, oceanographic, climate and other factors necessary for the efficient planning and execution of an ocean passage. This publication consists of a series of 12 charts, one for each month of the year, which show the pertinent conditions we can expect. Similar pilot charts are published for all oceans of the world. 

According to the Pilot Charts, we should experience consistent trade winds of force 4 or 5 from the SE or E for most of the cruise. This results from a persistent high pressure region centered on 30 degrees South latitude. We’ll be sailing in a westerly direction on the north side of this high, and, since winds blow counterclockwise around highs in the southern hemisphere, we expect SE or E winds in this region. Air and sea surface temperatures should average around 80F during the first half of the cruise and taper off to 70F later in the cruise. Tropical storm and hurricane activity for the South Indian Ocean reaches the lowest level of the year during August and September, begins to increase in October and reaches its highest level in February. Extratropical cyclones and gales generally persist south of  40 degrees South latitude for much of the year. In the latitudes we will sail, there’s a 2% chance of encountering gales during September to November. 

All in all, I’m looking forward to a pleasant cruise with a moderate amount of challenging conditions. However, it’s certain that we’ll do a  lot of sailing over the next couple of months. 

Cruising Chute

Monday, 9/15/97, 1430 (-8), Lat 11-34S, Lon 125-50E: Yesterday we departed from Darwin at noon and got underway for Bali, Indonesia. With winds on our starboard side, we put up our big cruising chute, but had an incident that could have had serious consequences. This chute had been to the sailmaker in Darwin and the tack pennant was recently retied into a loop with a sheet bend. After putting it up we noticed that the sheet bend had very short ends and we were concerned that it might not hold. Rather than drop the sail, I suggested that we tie an additional rope to the sail tack ring, run this under the anchor roller and back to the windlass taking a strain to allow retying the pennant. Christian had this rope in hand ready to put on the windlass; I was astride this rope and tied it to the tack. At that instant, the pennant knot let go and the chute and rope were gone in a flash and cracking to leeward like a bullwhip. We quickly gathered the chute, pulled down the sock and straightened things out. This could have been a disaster if that loose rope had wrapped on someone's leg on the way out, and it reminded me of several lessons learned in the past and forgotten at the moment. One is how dependent we are on our shipmates. Another is how important proper knot work really is since bad knots can fail and have disastrous results. And third is that short cuts can at times have far more serious results than the little time and effort required to do a job right. However, all ended well with no damage and no injuries. 

Oyster 53

Tuesday, 9/16/97, 1100 (-8), Lat 11-19S, Lon 123-33E: Susie Q3 is a center cockpit Oyster 53 built in 1987 in England. She has a cutter rig with roller furling on main, genoa and staysail; mast is double spreader with one backstay plus running backstays. She has twin poles for the genoa mounted on mast tracks, and two cruising spinnakers (chutes). Cockpit is surrounded by 9 winches for sheets, outhauls, running backs, etc. All winches are manual except electric on the mainsail furler and the genoa furler. The main boom extends aft of the cockpit by a few feet and the sheet traveler is aft of the cockpit. A preventer tackle attaches above the center of the cockpit and can be attached to various padeyes as appropriate to boom location and can be easily controlled from the cockpit. In addition to the main diesel, she has a diesel generator providing 110 VAC, an inverter, air conditioning, refrigeration, watermaker, washer-dryer, etc. She is easy to sail, comfortable to live aboard, and has a very nice motion even in quartering seas. We've not yet sailed to windward in heavy conditions, so performance and comfort there remain to be seen. 

Komodo Dragons

Thursday, 9/18/97, 2100 (-8), Lat 8-46.611S, Lon 119-39.264E: We decided to take a detour on our way to Bali and stopped at the island of Rinja west of Flores in Indonesia. We’re now anchored in Lehok Uwada Dasami which is a narrow strait between Rinja and Nusa Kode island. Volcanic mountains rise straight up over 2000 feet from the water's edge. A narrow lava sand beach with a few trees allowed us to land and explore. Crocodiles and komodo dragons are in abundance. Local sampan type fishing boats were nearby with small boats fishing with nets while they beat the water with sticks to herd the fish. It continues to be cooler than I expected near the equator; sunny-hot in the day but a blanket required at night. We'll anchor here for a day or two then press on to Bali. 

Time Zone Changes

Saturday, 9/20/97, 1030 (-8), Lat 9-11S, Lon 117-35E: We left Rinja at 1400 yesterday and are headed for Bali. This is my first opportunity to sail and navigate in the eastern hemisphere and it’s taken a little while to figure out the time zones and how to correct time and date to other locations. Here’s what I figured out: 

Greenwich, England is at zero degrees longitude and is time zone Zero. Longitudes west of Greenwich go from zero to 180 degrees and are given a math sign of plus. East of Greenwich longitude also goes from zero to 180 degrees but the math sign is minus. Time zone is calculated by dividing longitude by 15 degrees and rounding the result up or down in normal math convention. For example: we're now at 117 deg 35.1 minutes east; this =   -117.59 deg. Zone Description (ZD)= -117.59/15 = -7.84 = -8. 

To convert any ZD to Greenwich, algebraically add ZD to local time (ZT); thus GMT for my time given above = ZT + ZD = 1030 +(-8) = 0230 on 9/20. The ZD for the East coast of US = +75 deg/15 = +5 for Eastern Standard Time but +4 for Daylight Time.To figure your time corresponding to my time, subtract your ZD algebraically from my GMT; thus, when it's 1030 on 9/20 here, US east coast time = GMT-ZD = 0230-(+4)=-0130 on 9/20 or 2230 on 9/19. 

Got it? 


Saturday, 9/27/97, 1000 (- 8), Lat 8-55S, Lon 115-02W: Underway on a heading of 260 degrees with Bali dropping below the horizon astern. We had a great visit in Bali; my most lasting memory will be of the people who are gentle, polite, artistic, religious and hard working. We saw immense quantities of their art in wood, cloth, silver and mortar. They produce a huge quantity of artworks which are for sale everywhere you go. Street vendors abound and they push hard to make a sale even to the extent of coming into a restaurant and selling at your table. But they don't  make many sales and most seem to eke out a very meager existence. Pushcarts with fried rice and other local foods. Religious offerings in the form of flowers, palms or cloth drapes. Temples, large and small, at every turn. The aggressiveness of drivers here would put New York taxi drivers to shame. Motorbikes come at you from every direction like swarms of bees. There are no traffic laws; every driver does as he pleases even with three people and a pig on a tiny motorbike. It was indeed a very interesting visit and we are now on our way to the Cocos Keeling Islands with a possible stop at Christmas Island. 

Burial Rafts

Sunday, 9/28/97, 1900(-7), Lat 9-25S, Lon 111-54E: All day we sailed in visual contact with two other EXPO98 yachts: Locura, 3 miles to our north and Saranaia, 3 miles to our south all of us with cruising spinnakers set and sailing on a course of 260 degrees toward the Cocos Keeling Islands. We are about 30 miles south of Java, Indonesia and are paralleling its south coast. Weather has been perfect; days sunny and warm; nights cool. There has been no rain at all in the three weeks that I’ve been here. Tradewinds blow 15 kt or so in daytime and moderate at night. We've sailed most of the time with little need for motoring. We've seen several Indonesian burial rafts at sea complete with casket, palm tree and many birds perched thereon. If conditions are right, we may stop for a swim at Christmas Island which is on our way to Cocos. 


Tuesday, 9/30/97, 1500(-7), Lat 10-36S, Lon 106-37E: Last night was completely moonless, dark and squally, the first such weather we've had since I joined Susie Q3 in Australia. Jupiter, peaking between clouds, was bright enough to cast a beam of light on the water. Scorpio dominated the western sky. The bio-luminescence in our wake was spectacular and consisted of three parts: One was the usual, glittering spots of green light. Second was a myriad of bright lights which darted out away from our hull for a distance of five or six feet. And third was our wake which took on a bright, whitish-green hue that lighted our way. These, plus our instrument and tricolor lent enough background light to enable me to read the name Susie Q3 lettered on our boom. We sailed on a close reach with main, genoa and staysail in 15 to 20 knot winds making 185 miles in the last 24 hours. At dawn I took some star shots and got a good celestial fix of our position. We were then treated to a cheerful performance by a bzillion young porpoise doing acrobatics all around us. It continues to be a wonderful world out here. 


Wednesday, 10/1/97, 2300(-7), Lat 11-05S, Lon 103-05E: We’re 370 miles from the Cocos-Keeling Islands. Last night we passed 10 miles south of Christmas Island on which we could see lights, but we decided not to stop to avoid a night landfall. Today, we hooked a 25 pound Wahoo. I was nominated to play him in which took about 20 minutes and was made difficult due to our having no harness for the rod. My arms are dead tired now, but wahoo steaks for lunch helped them recuperate. Our daily routine is fairly simple: during daylight we keep an informal watch schedule; no set times, but always one person in the cockpit minding the sails and autopilot and looking for traffic. At night we each take a 2-1/2 hour watch to cover the dark hours; we rotate this to get a different time each night. Breakfast prep is informal: what you want when you want. Lunch and dinner prep rotates among the crew as does dishwashing. We take showers on deck every two days needed or not. Water supply from the watermaker is adequate but conservation remains necessary. Do lots of reading and napping weather permitting which it usually does. I started an exercise program today but it’s difficult with the boat motion. I’m concentrating mostly on lower body since upper body gets lots of workout with three or four spinnaker changes per day. Having a great sail! 

Paradise Island

Saturday, 10/4/97, 1000 (- 6), Lat 2-06S, Lon 96-52E: This morning we arrived in the Cocos Keeling islands which are an Australian possession in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We landed at Deception Island where the local police and customs office is housed in a tent. This is the tropical Paradise Island of your dreams: nothing here but palm trees, sand beaches, bright sun, warm breezes, towering clouds, bright green and blue water, coral, tropical fish, and a few local people visiting from another island. We spend hours a day snorkeling among the coral, examining tropical fish and looking in awe at four-foot long sharks. At night we barbecue on the beach and swap sea stories with other boat crews. Some of the locals bring cold beer, home cooked dishes and stories of their history. The main industry here is tourism coming largely from visiting yachts numbering less than 100 per year; we are a group of 30 yachts and thus a major local event. The population consists of 400 Malaysians living on Home Island and 100 Australians on West Island. This was a wonderful pause in our transit of the Indian Ocean. We plan to departed Paradise on 10/7/97 bound for Mauritius 2300 miles to our southwest. 

Sushi at Sea

Thursday, 10/9/97, 1600 (-6), Lat 13-51S, Lon 90-43E: We’re 350 miles from Cocos and 1900 miles to Mauritius. We've had great success fishing with two lines trailed astern; since Australia, we caught a wahoo, two yellow fin tuna and two dorados. Yesterday, a tuna dropped in just in time for dinner which included fresh sushi and tuna steaks. For lures, we use plastic feathers of various colors; the fish seem to prefer the bright pink one. When we get a strike, the headsail is dropped to slow the boat; we play the fish in alongside then use a gaff hook to bring it aboard. A little vodka poured into the gills puts it quickly out of his misery; this seems better than the old method of banging it on the head which can be very messy. Usually, I do the butchering which includes either skinning and filleting or cutting into steaks; thus far, I've successfully done this without removing any of my toes. The wahoo and big tuna each produced about 25 one-inch thick steaks most of which we froze. A fish strike always causes lots of excitement on board and shakes everyone out of their reading-reverie... and then we have a great dinner! 

Celestial Navigation

Sunday, 10/12/97, 1000 (-6), Lat 15-17S, 83-30E: It’s about 1500 miles to Mauritius. I'm using celestial navigation for tracking our position independently of the Skipper who is using GPS. The main tools needed are: (1) compass for course steered, (2) Walker log for distance traveled, (3) sextant for measuring height of a star, (4) accurate clock, (5) star finder circular slide rule, (6) nautical almanac, (7) pocket celestial computer and (8) large plotting sheets. Periodically, I record course steered and distance traveled through the water and draw a line on the plotting sheet to represent where I think we are. I then shoot the sun or other body, calculate an actual line of position and plot this on the sheet; two such lines give a fix of where we actually are and this normally agrees with the GPS within a mile or two. During the first two days out of Cocos, I took many shots until I established a reliable trend. Since then, I’ve been taking only one fix per day. As we near Mauritius, I’ll again take more shots to make an accurate landfall. During the day, I shoot the Sun and Moon. At morning twilight, I shoot the stars Sirius, Aldeberan, Canopus, Betelgeuse and Achernar. At evening twilight, I shoot the Moon, Venus and Jupiter and the stars Vega, Altair and Fomalhaut. Celestial navigation is a lot of fun and it adds greatly to an understanding of the course you’re sailing and progress being made. 

Mahi-Mahi for Breakfast

Tuesday, 10/14/97, 1800(-5), Lat 16-36S, Lon 77-23E: At 8 o’clock this morning we had a double dolphin hit; two eight pounders at the same time; what a job it was landing them without tangling lines. I skinned and filleted these beauties and John pan fried mahi-mahi and eggs for breakfast. Wow! Was that ever great! This is a large and lonely ocean; 6000 miles from Australia to South Africa and, half way through, we haven’t seen a single ship yet. Winds have been steady from the southeast and we've sailed easily, sheets eased, auto-pilot steering most of the time. Days are passed reading, swapping sea stories, napping or watching a video movie. The first sign that someone has decided to put on a video is the smell of popcorn cooking in the microwave; you simply can't watch a movie without popcorn! Then I hear: “Dead Poets Society....” “Nah, Good, Bad and Ugly...” “How about...” Then we all laze around down below, watch the movie, take turns checking outside for whatever, and so passes another 15 miles and another difficult day in the difficult life of the sailor. 

Weather Conditions

Thursday, 10/16/97, 2000(-5), Lat 17-32S, Lon 72-49E: Weather conditions in the Indian Ocean have been kind and gentle so far. From Australia to Cocos we’ve had bright, warm, sunny days, comfortable nights, winds 10 to 15 knots from the southeast, low humidity and no rain. Also, a favorable current of about 1 knot and large, long ocean swells from the south, which I assume come from extreme conditions in the Southern Ocean. The barometer has been a rock steady 1017 mb for a month except for the usual, slight daily fluctuations. Since leaving Cocos, winds have remained favorable, but there’s been a gradual increase in moisture, cumulus clouds and rain squalls. Squall winds are a gentle 10-15 knots in contrast with the 40 knots or more that I’ve usually seen in the Atlantic. 

The Sailing Directions for the Indian Ocean (DMA Pub 170) predicts the beginning of the cyclone/gale season for October on our route; the moisture and cumulus clouds that we’re now seeing support this possibility. Indian Ocean monsoons bring a biennial change in the direction of winds and current. Presently, we are in a transition between the southwest monsoons of July and northeast monsoons of January with a predictable increase in atmospheric instability. Overall, the weather has been good to us; with several more days to Mauritius, we can only hope that it remains that way. 

Sea Life

Sunday, 10/19/97, 1800 (-4), Lat 18-34S, Lon 64-58E: The Indian Ocean has been fairly empty of activity for most of the trip, but we have noticed a few interesting things. The seawater was a brownish-green between Australia and Cocos and ocean blue west of Cocos although not as bright a blue as I’m accustomed to seeing in the Gulf Stream. 

Southwest of Bali we saw a large fish tail (2 feet, tip to tip) lazing just below the surface. At first, we thought it was a dead fish, but later saw two similar instances; I have no idea what these were. We've seen very few porpoise, but flying fish do regularly accompany us and a few are usually lying about on deck; one entered the boat through an open hatch and landed below. 

Sea birds have accompanied us during the entire trip since Australia even when we’re 1000 miles from land. Recently, there have been several shearwaters skimming the wavetops looking for dinner. 

Another boat reported sailing through an entire area of glowing water. The Sailing Directions (DMA Pub 170) attributes this to schools of fish disturbing the water and producing bio-luminescent light; at times it can be bright enough to be mistaken for searchlights and to reflect off low clouds. Maybe true... 

Wave action has been moderate as a result of moderate winds. However, one day we had 30 knots which produced 10 foot waves and a corkscrew motion to the boat. The most significant wave condition has been the large swells coming from the south much of the time. These are about 300 to 400 feet between peaks and 12 to 15 feet from peak to trough; they are rounded in shape and impart a nice, easy, slow-motion rise and fall to the boat as we sail up one side and down the other. 

Roaring Into Blackness

Tuesday, 10/21/97, 1100(-5), Lat 19-35S, Lon 59-13E: Weather conditions have changed in the past two days: squally, blustery and rainy; winds 20 to 35; sky completely clouded; cumulus, alto-stratus and nimbus rain clouds. We're roaring along at 10 knots; made 400 miles in the past two days. Waves to 12 ft on our port quarter gives corkscrew motion; Susie Q3 handles it well though with a nice, easy roll. We're reefed on all three sails; had whisker pole out to windward part of the time. Last night was completely black; we roared along like a freight train. I poked my head out from the dodger on port side looking for ships; wind gust in my face; salt spray on my eyeglasses; no ships. Looked out to starboard, the leeward side. Stern lifted to a wave, she rolled, bow plunged; our wake gushed out from beneath the hull; it boiled, speckled with phosphor stars, and leaped out 15 ft aside the hull. Sails snapped; we spun 40 degrees to port; auto pilot corrected. And on we roared on into the blackness... 


Tuesday, 10/21/97, 2300(-4), Lat 19-40S, Lon 57-50E: Mauritius is 400 miles east of Madagascar toward the southern end of the Mascerene Plateau which extends from the Seychelles islands in the north to Reunion island in the south. It's a volcanic island 20 by 35 miles in size with rugged, mountainous beauty, bustling cities, lots of forests and farmland and 1.2 million residents. 

Mauritius was originally settled by Arabs and Portuguese. The French established settlements in 1715 and remained until driven out by the English in 1810. Mauritius gained independence from England in 1968. The official language is English but common languages are French and Creole. More than half the residents are from India who maintain Indian dress and culture; the remainder include Africans, Europeans and Chinese. Tourism, textiles and sugar cane are the primary industries. 

We spent several days in Port Louis at the Caudan Marina adjacent to the five star Labourdonnaise hotel and a modern waterfront gallery of shops, movie theaters, casinos, restaurants, and community square for performing arts. This city is a major cargo shipping port and a blend of many cultures and moods. After enjoying big city life and taking motor 
tours around the island, we sailed to quiet anchorages at Black River and Flat Island 
where we snorkel dived on phenominal coral reefs inhabited by swarms of colorful tropical fish. We also anchored at Grand Bay, a large and colorful resort with white sand beaches, turquoise water, every imaginable watersport, an excellent yacht club, restaurants and friendly people. On 11/9/97, we said good-bye to Mauritius and headed for South Africa. 


Wednesday, 11/12/97, 2300(-3), Lat 26-14S, Lon 47-38E: We’re about 60 miles southeast of Madagascar. Our course is 260 degrees true with 840 miles to Richards Bay, South Africa. Winds for the past few days have been NNW at 10-15. Last night we went through a mild frontal system and wind backed to south at 20 then moderated to 10-15; remained steady since then. Temperatures are now much cooler with winds coming from the south pole. All's well and we're sailing along just fine. 


Monday, 11/17/97, 1700, Lat 28-46S, Lon 32-07E: Before docking in Richards Bay, South Africa the Indian Ocean made us pay for all the kind and gentle weather she had given us since leaving Australia. On Saturday 11/15 with 200 miles to go, we received a report that a Low Pressure weather  system had formed over South Africa. 

Lows have the potential to produce storms and gale force winds, and the direction of these winds would depend on our location within the Low. We were sailing west along the north edge of the permanent High Pressure region of the Indian Ocean and, thus, had SE winds. The Low was to the west of this High. The region between the High and Low, which we had to sail through, could produce strong NE winds as the two systems reinforced each other. In that case we'd want to be north of our rhumbline. If the Low moved east of Richards Bay before our arrival, winds would shift to SW; in that case we'd want to be south of our rhumbline. Complicating this was the Agulhas Current which flows SW parallel to the coastline at speeds to four knots. Strong winds from the SW would buck this current and could produce large, steep waves. 

On Sunday, 11/16 winds strengthened to 20 knots but remained E; the barometer, which had been at 1016 mb until now, began to decline. Early Monday morning, winds strengthened further to 35 knots but remained E; barometer at 1011; we continued to sail 20 miles to the north of our rhumbline. Barometer dropped to 1006. At 1100 on Monday, when 50 miles from Richards Bay, the wind quickly backed to SSW and strengthened to 45 knots. We were now sailing on a close reach on port tack and decided to work our way south toward our rhumbline to improve our approach to harbor. The Agulhas Current, excited by the strong SSW winds, gave us steep, sharp waves to 15 feet some of which joined us in the cockpit; at one point, I was ankle deep in water after a particularly troublesome wave. 

But Susie Q3 handled it fine, and in late afternoon on 11/17 we entered port in South Africa. Thus ended our 6000 mile transit of the Indian Ocean. I think back to many fond memories of this trip and of the many places we'd  been and the people I had met. And I look forward to the next leg of this cruise when we leave Africa on January 11, 1998 and sail across the South Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. 

© 1997 Thomas P. Tursi 

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