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Captain’s Log: Dona Patricia comes to Tete

Captain’s Log: Dona Patricia comes to Tete

Captain’s Log: Dona Patricia comes to Tete

Extracts from the diary of experienced adventurer but novice deep-sea sailor.

16 February 2008

I met with Syd Parkhouse. I told him I take holiday-makers on island trips, fishing etc. He said he needed to map and survey the Zambezi River for possible future barging operations. “Thank you but no thank you,” I told him.

Am I getting too old for adventure? I have always been an adventurous type. Am I now going through a change of life? Taking another look at the map, this would be quite a trip for a person of pensionable age, an old self-built dhow, no real navigational experience apart from a hundred odd kilometres around the Bazaruto Archipelago.

22 March

Off to Vilanculous to speak to Debbie Kiloran, friend and colleague of many years with experience of the open sea, and ask her advice. I have seen how rough the water can get beyond the Bazaruto Archipelago on my deep sea fishing trips.

24 March

Made arrangements to do a reconnaissance of the lower Zambezi River. I took off in my Pajero with my skipper Chevy to find out more about the river below Tete. Very little information could be found on the river but kept on asking locals, and of course the birders were a tremendous help. I sent a message to Syd that if David Livingstone could, so could I…

I look at my crew; two 18 year old boys. First mate Chevy, an old hand at sea, speaks English, can read a GPS and has been on a yacht to Pemba as a deckhand.  Deckhand Ignasio, has been helping on and off on the Dona Patricia with island trips, deep-sea fishing experience, speaks Portuguese and Chitswa, no English.
Captain Jan, spent five years sailing Santa Carolina (Paradise Island) and further five years deep-sea fishing and island hopping in the archipelago, no experience of the open sea further than 100km zone.

9 April

07.00 all fuelled up and on fire to start our trip of a life time. First anchorage, Santa Carolina, protected from rough seas and wind.
09.30 we pulled up anchor and set sail, full steam ahead, on the shipping lane to Beira. Soon land disappeared and nothing in sight, except sea, sea and more sea. We put out fishing lines, but knew we were sailing too fast to catch any fish.

Hours passed, the sound of the engines seemed to play music as they purred the same tune over and over. Soon it was dusk and the tune of the engines started to change as huge swells appeared within seconds, engines strain as we go up the swells and purr as down the other side. Dona Patricia behaving well, we take the sail down as cross winds from all angles appeared and was in no mood to tackle the stormy weather, no visibility as the moon was not out yet. Stormy weather continued for hours.  

At midnight I was at the helm when a huge swell broke over the bow and a crosswind from starboard rocked the dhow, breaking the cleat holding the rubber duck on tow. We did a quick repair and were on our way again. Minutes later another swell broke over the port side and broke the stainless steel eye bolt on the rubber duck which broke loose and drifted into the open sea.  

Chevy was up in a flash, looking for the duck with a search light. One minute we were on a swell then the duck would disappear from sight. The next thing Chevy jumped overboard and managed to climb onto the duck and pull up on starboard side.  No sooner was the duck secured the wind started to die down, the moon appeared and lit up the ocean.

Sail down and engines straining up the swells and idle down the other side.  Eventually dawn and slowly the sun penetrated the clouded horizon and streaks of sunrays paint the sky with gold and silver. A delightful sight as we have our cup of coffee for the day.

We put our fishing gear in place, hoping to bag a large fish for lunch. Now we have tail wind of 5 knots. Chevy calculated that we will reach Beira by night fall. We had to settle for frozen chicken and rice from our galley as still no fish.

As we approach Beira we communicate with the Port Captain. He directed us into the harbour and anchorage. At last we set foot on dry ground. By now darkness has taken over. The other vessels in the harbour light up the surroundings to create a spectacular array of lights. We bed down for the night in the smelly muddy harbour. 

Read more about this adventure in the 12th issue of Zambezi Traveller which will come out in March.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 11, Dec 2012)