To the Cape

Having many South African sailing mates, Matt was well briefed on the notorious South African coast and the Agulhas current. The weather comes through quick and fast here and unless you like going upwind into 40 knots with a 4 knot current against you – you take time to be safe. We got a short weather window to enable us, and three other yachts, to do a quick hop down to Durban – where we had a lot of fun learning to master the Segway. Regarded as one of the most dangerous cities in the world – we found it very friendly with great yacht clubs, beautiful beaches, modern shopping centres, and wonderful food - particularly a sojourn to the Lighthouse Bar and Oyster Box!

From Durban you need a minimum three-day window to get to either East London or Port Elizabeth, and for this leg you need either no wind or a northerly wind. We got lucky and after three days in Durban we got the thumbs up from Sebastian and headed south. 36 hours of motoring followed, although with a 3 knot current with us we made good time, before a sou’easter filled in with 15-25 knots that saw us down to Cape Agulhas.

Shortly after leaving Durban, our friends on the yachts Aurora Polaris, Mad Monkey, and Pinta, as well as the boys spied huge 15m sharks around the yachts - I haven’t quite forgiven them for not waking me up! The next day, Aurora Polaris also radioed us to tell us about the dolphin spectacle they had, with literally hundreds of them surrounding the boat. Unfortunately we missed out. However, the night we reached the Cape was absolutely magical with an incredible moon, brighter than I’d seen before, making the phosphorus in the water sparkle like diamonds - not the usual star-like twinkling! Then, to make up for the missed dolphin spectacle, while I was on watch I was joined by two dolphins leaping beautifully, and with the moonlight and phosphorous as it was, they were an incredible fairytale sparkly green - it was simply magic!

At the Cape the world changed; as we crossed from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, the weather quickly changed from a beautiful benign starlit night, to a veritable maelstrom. The more reliable Euro had forecast up to 25 knots but we got a full on front with 40-45 knots and wild pelting rain. With no visibility and with the main fully reefed, Matt deemed it too dangerous to be on deck (well, they didn’t want to get wet either) so everyone joined me in the saloon where I was navigating brilliantly - well ok, in truth, I was vomiting like there was no tomorrow and for the second time thought my life might soon be over. (Yes , once again to their amusement later on.)

We were in fact just off False Bay when this gale was at its worst, and only 5NM off the coast. In a gale it is often best to turn and sail with the wind for a while, but the wind was on the beam and sailing with the wind would mean we’d end up on the rocks. We limped along, with this uncomfortable closeness to shore, with an ear on the radio and keeping a close eye on the AIS and radar. My feeling of impending doom was not helped by a radio message to all ships providing coordinates and advising all to be alert - a catamaran had capsized just outside the entrance to Cape Town harbour creating a hazard for those heading that way! (We found out later that the crew luckily escaped with their lives, although one of the crew only did so because the skipper managed to go back and dive down to get her out.)

Aurora Polaris (norway) and Mad Monkey (UK) heading into the harbour

Aurora Polaris (norway) and Mad Monkey (UK) heading into the harbour

A few hours later, as day broke so did the weather and we found ourselves passing up the magnificent coast getting blue sky and scenic glimpses as the grey skies lifted. Our friends on Aurora Polaris and Mad Monkey were close to us and we managed to enter the harbour together. Sailing into Cape Town is quite an experience and one that all mariners should try and experience once in their lifetime. The scenery is magnificent and you have a great sense of satisfaction knowing you have made it across he Indian!

As soon as we had berthed in the marina and checked in, a very rowdy celebratory party ensued. Apologies to those living nearby, but, the worst was behind us! And even better we now had a six week break to get work done on the boat and fly home for Christmas.




The Elephant Whisperer

After the birthday celebration and the ‘completing the main crossing of the Indian Ocean’ celebration, it was time to get some work done on the boat. Work here is a fraction of the cost of Sydney and the quality is just as good. However, between boat jobs, there was no holding us back - this is Zululand, and a land of animals after all!

We had a wonderful time in the oldest reserve in Africa, Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park which, unlike my experience in Kruger, felt vast and empty and animals you knew were definitely very wild and not necessarily easy to see. Hluhluwe–iMfolozi is known for its conservation efforts, and sad to say that that means huge difficulties with poachers, usually after rhinos, and in some cases has resulted in the murder of gamekeepers.

(Please think on this, think of these people and their giving their lives to keep safe the animals we so desperately need to remain on the planet. I don’t usually do this but one wonderful organisation that cares for the widows and orphans of such rangers is ‘The Thin Green Line’ found here. If you read this and enjoyed the pics I’d love for you to donate to them! I have no affiliation, I just want these people to be cared for as much as you or your neighbours care for your pet dog or cat. Fair enough!

Okay, moving on…..literally.

And then after all these animals, driving along, we see this on the side of the road. Clearly we had to stop! This guy was ‘simply the best!’ And, I need to know, who does the hat better btw?

Glamping!

Glamping!

You may have read the book ‘The Elephant Whisperer?’ Well, the home of said book was our next destination, glamping and more animal spotting at Thula Thula Reserve. Being charged by an elephant, walking in the park with a ranger to investigate smaller species like the trapdoor spider, and getting up close and personal with many of Africa’s big five before a night time by the fire, was nothing short of magnificent.

The reserve was started by author and conservationist, Lawrence Anthony. When he passed away, the elephants he had given his life to all somehow knew and the herd came silently to his home where they stood in mourning. A year later to the day, they returned to the home and again stood together in seeming solidarity with the man that rescued and loved them.

Zululand also has the wonderful St Lucia wetland area full to bursting with stunning birds, the odd croc, and heaps of hippos - sometimes wreaking havoc, as hippos do, when wandering into the local town takes their fancy. A boat trip along the river gets you into close contact with these magnificent beasts - a real favourite of mine!

Back at the Yacht Club we were treated to a vibrant welcome with local Zulu dancers performing for us and cooking a local traditional meal. Later in the evening, with a few beers under the belt the local Afrikaners also challenged us to partake in a favourite sport of theis - Bokdrol Spoeg - literally a dung spitting contest! They showed us what to do with the small hard pellets of kudu dung to spit it as far as possible - the farthest distance reached is the winner. Josh took out first prize for the guys. Go team!! The people were so warm and welcoming, that it was easy to stay a while, while waiting for the first weather window to allow us to start hopping down the coast to Cape Town.

Crossing the danger zone

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Crossing the Danger Zone

While in Reunion, Matt’s son Josh had joined us to sail onward to Cape Town. It was great having him on board - not least for his provision of occasional entertainment in the form of ukulele playing and singing - he’s got a great voice and is good on the ‘oldies’ music!

Pods of dolphins on this leg were magnificent; even though we are used to them now, we never tire of them. Once again flying fish were leaping away from us intermittently, although not so many as we had seen on other legs. But the other animalia highlight for us on the journey, was the little bird that spent a whole night with us. We were used to terns and gulls taking a rest on the bimini when hundreds of miles from land, but this little guy seemed lost and exhausted. We tried to make him comfortable and left him in peace to rest up overnight, before he took back to the air - hopefully to make land again.

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This next leg, from Reunion to Richards Bay South Africa, and then around South Africa to Cape Town is definitely the most hazardous on the circumnavigation. With 1450 nm To Richards Bay it was all about the planning, as far as we could, around the weather. The east coast of Africa and the Mozambique channel are notorious for cut off lows that can produce winds of up to 50 knots with little warning. We worked out weather bolt holes in Madagascar and Mozambique – and watched the weather carefully before departing and, or course, en route.

There are two main weather models one can follow round the world, the GFS – low resolution and free service, or the Euro model, which is a paid service. We relied on the Euro model most of the time using an app and downloading via satellite. However for this leg, we also employed a professional weather router, Sebastien in Germany, who provided regular updates and waypoints. Luckily we nailed the weather, with strong northeasterlies giving us a clear and fast run into Richards Bay.

Others were caught and holed up on the south east coast of Madagascar, but got some lemur spotting in while there, and one friend of ours that had had to head up the west coast of Madagascar to avoid the incoming weather had an unwanted adventure with a speedboat complete with four men and four AK47s. Fortunately they were unsuccessful in boarding the yacht with some quick thinking from his crew, Christian, who initially took them by surprise by turning straight at them to ram them, and then turned the yacht along the waves, which the speedboat could not cope with at all and had to retire.

Squall coming - but love that cloud

Squall coming - but love that cloud

Like father like son - Josh above, Matt below

Like father like son - Josh above, Matt below

But for us the only real sailing excitement was the crazy gusting winds one day where we transitioned from 5-10 knots to 35 knots in a matter of seconds, and, then an intense day of thunderstorms and sheet lightning. Being hit by lightning on a yacht at sea is not a good thing - and we all had our rubber shoes on just in case! - all had to wear rubber shoes.

This leg also meant we crossed paths with a whole lot of ships which often provided entertainment watching them breaking waves and the like. We often contacted the ships on channel 16 to check their intentions and in all cases, where we were on a possible collision course, they altered course to avoid us. The captains were without fail friendly and courteous and great to deal with. The shipping traffic got more and more intense as we got closer and closer to South Africa as you can see from the AIS pic - definitely the busiest we had ever seen.

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My favourite bowl and common position

My favourite bowl and common position

As for me and how I fared, I got back on the boat, despite what I’d promised myself through the gales heading to Mauritius, and I had only one request - either we landed in Madagascar for a few days so I too could go lemur spotting, or I step foot on land in South Africa on my birthday - the 11th of November. As it turned out it was the second option - but I was happy with that. It meant the worst was behind us and I was able to really enjoy my birthday. However, before that great moment, I had good days and bad depending on the sea state. Many hours off shift were spent with my favourite salad bowl - one that Josh swore he would never eat salad from again!

Once moored in the Zululand Yacht Club in Richards Bay, I was able to really enjoy myself. Instead of the normal cleaning routine inside and out - the boys arranged for cleaners to come and I had the day entirely off - woohooo!!

But it wasn’t all bad

But it wasn’t all bad

Josh gets his hippie on at the helm

Josh gets his hippie on at the helm