How to make 9.0948E-9 warp speed sailing across the Atlantic
January 29, 2013, 7:33 am, 14 36.9'S:22 37.3'W, On the way to Brazil
We just wanted to post a brief blog letting everyone know that we are doing well on this trip to Brazil.
The title may be confusing because the speed is expressed in terms of the speed of light. Wondering why? Well one of the books I am reading (thanks to Tony) at night on the dog watch as they say, is Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time". Being out here in the middle of the vast Atlantic, looking at all the stars at night, has reminded me that I am just an infinitesimal part of the Cosmos and I wanted to learn more about the "billions and billions" stars and how it all came to be. The book is all about time (usually expressed in terms of light years) and space and that is what Janet and I are constantly focused on as well; our speed and position.
We are about half way to Brazil. We are due to arrive on Feb 5th if our current average speed of 5.3 knots (or 9.0948E-9 light speed) holds for the remainder of the trip. This is our slowest passage thus far. Janet and I are determined to sail this boat despite the lack of wind. We currently have the fewest hours using our motor (7.3 hours over 2700 miles since leaving Cape Town) of the fleet. Some in the fleet have over 100 hours motoring. So, the picture above is one of the methods we are using to make progress in light air; sailing with both the spinnaker and jib out together. We have used our spinnaker more on this trip since we left St Helena than the rest of the trip combined. We sail it for several days straight, including overnights and even thru squalls (they are mild here). We actually are happy to see squalls coming as they might bring some winds our way. We are doing major sail changes at all hours of the day and night in an effort to keep up our speed. And we are getting quite good at it I might say. Janet and I both have said that we wish we started this trip knowing what we know now. We are just now feeling like we are becoming decent sailors. So the good news is that we are getting pretty good at light wind sailing and this has been a very comfortable ride. The waves are about 3 feet and the weather very good. Good enough for us to catch up on our reading.
Janet is cooking up a storm (bad choice of words) and we are eating well. The boat is in good shape. No complaints, except for the lack of wind. So it is all good aboard At Last.
Next blog updates will include more about the interesting island of St Helena and of course Carnival in Brazil!
St. Helena...a rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean
January 20, 2013, 4:02 am, 15 55.55'S:005 43.58'W, Jamestown, St. Helena
And a beautiful and welcoming rock it is. We arrived here safely in St. Helena after a wonderful 12 day sail from Cape Town, South Africa. We had good wind most of the way but the last four days or so the winds were light and the trip became quite slow. We were determined not to use the motor and we succeeded in only using the motor for 0.6 hours during the entire 1720 mile trip. We averaged 6 knots and at times were rolling around doing less than 4 knots. We would have ended up with zero engine hours if it wasn't for having our auto pilot fail - yet again. This time when it failed we actually lost our steering because the wheel became locked and we were unable to steer to port. We had to douse all of the sails quickly and turn on the engine. Mark quickly diagnosed the problem and disengaged the auto pilot which gave us back our steering. I hand steer for the next two hours while Mark installed the spare autopilot - quite a feat while underway. I am eternally grateful that Mark bought a spare auto pilot after our first problem with it in the Pacific Ocean and also grateful that my husband has become such a mechanical genius on the boat. This may be a bit overstated but installing the new auto pilot negated us having to hand steer for over 1,200 miles. He is my hero.
St. Helena is an incredible place. You can only come here by boat and we learned from customs that they have about 200 sailboats arrive here each year. They also have a couple of cruise ships that stop here and one actually arrived while we were visiting. There are about 4,000 people living on the island and everyone is incredibly friendly and welcoming. We enjoyed a tour of the island where we visited the home where Napoleon was exiled on the island for the last six years of his life. On the way back to the main town, Jamestown, we stopped at the home of Paul Hickling who runs a distillery out of his garage and learned a lot about making rum from cactus on a remote island.
St. Helena has no cell phone service. The internet is limited here. A couple of cafes sold wifi for $12 an hour. We could use the browser to search the web but not download email. So we are very behind on email. Sorry to those of you waiting for an email response. It won't be till Brazil before we can use email again. It has been a short but very worthwhile visit. We will update the blog with more about St Helena when we arrive in Brazil.
We are leaving tomorrow for the 14 day sail to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. We have fixed a bunch of things on the boat and provisioned with some fresh fruits and vegetables. Most importantly, we will have had four nights of excellent rest here in St. Helena. We are ready to go and looking forward to the trip.
We Spent Christmas in South Africa!
January 4, 2013, 1:02 pm, V and A Waterfront Marina, Cape Town, South Africa
Our time in Cape Town is about to end. We are sad to leave and have been very happy to spend the past month here. It is the longest amount of time we have spent in one place - finally, we have spent one month in the same slip at the same marina without moving an inch. We have thoroughly enjoyed relaxing, sightseeing and learning so much about this interesting part of the world. We are adding South Africa to the list of places we would like to return - it is probably in our top five. I am quite certain though that the next trip will be by airplane not by boat!
The first thing that struck us when arriving in Cape Town was the incredible scenery. From the marina where we are staying, we have a spectacular view of Table Mountain (see the picture above). There are days where the mountain is covered by the clouds, there are days that it is too windy to take the cable car to the top of the mountain and then there are perfect days for seeing the views from the top. The weather was perfect when Grace, Mark and I visited. We enjoyed doing a bit of hiking on the top and the views were absolutely breathtaking.
Another incredibly scenic spot was Cape Point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. It is the south western most point in Africa. It was once named the Cape of Storms due to the many shipwrecks which have occurred there over the past 400 years - about 450 in total. The name was changed to Cape of Good Hope to encourage more ships to take this route and open up trade with India. We believe that the Cape of Storms is probably a more accurate description and we used our time during our visit to Cape Point to say good bye to the Indian Ocean. Mark and I agreed (as well as Britt and Shadow) that crossing the Indian Ocean once was certainly enough.
The second thing that was striking about South Africa would definitely have to be the wild life. We couldn't have Grace come to visit us in Africa without taking her on a safari. Mark and I were more than happy to go again. Instead of visiting a national park, we went to a privately owned Game Reserve called Inverdoorn. It was in the middle of nowhere - literally! The resort was in the middle of a 10,000 hectare (about 25,000 acres) valley surrounded by mountains. In addition to the animals we saw on the last safari, we saw two female and one male lions. We were completely unprepared for how big these grown adult cats were. The reserve was also known for their Cheetah Rehabilitation program. We were able to see a group of cheetah and they walked right up to the truck we were riding in. We were assured that the cheetah are not jumpers and thus would not be able to jump into the truck. We also were able to see them run a cheetah - it happened so fast we couldn't even take a good picture. We were also able to get out of the truck at one point and walk up to a giraffe. There is some debate amongst Mark, Grace and me about how close we were to the giraffe but let's just say it felt very close. We also had to pass by a herd of water buffalo that were in the middle of the road. Despite our ranger's best attempts to have them move, we ended up getting so close that that Eugene (our ranger) told us to all move over to one side of the truck as we passed. Grace has a great video of him say this and the commotion of an entire truck of people moving to one side of the truck - quite quickly. Luckily, we passed them without inciting them to charge the truck. We also saw a type of gazelle called Springbok which is the national animal of South Africa. Our guide told us that the springbok is the McDonalds of the wild because it is everywhere and it feeds everyone. We found that to be quite true when later that evening our appetizer was a springbok carpaccio. Although they are incredibly cute and I hate to think of them being killed, it was some of the best meat I have ever eaten. Lastly, we also continued our education about the problems with the poaching of rhinos for their horns. Currently, one can sell a rhino horn for $60,000 per kilogram (more than gold or cocaine). Approximately 600 rhinos were poached this year in South Africa where the total was 400 last year. At Inverdoorn, the rhino horns are filled with a poison which will make anyone who ingests it quite sick. The horns are also filled with a dye to discolor the inside. In addition, they are injected with a substance that will make them x-ray detectable for anyone trying to smuggle them through an airport. All of this is done to try to deter the poaching of the rhino. Some game reserves even go as far as to cut off the horns of their rhinos. As you can see our time at Inverdoon was incredibly exciting and educational, just staying at the resort was treat enough - beautiful pool, great food and exceptional service.
In our traveling around Cape Town, we also saw many animals out and about. The baboons on the way to Cape Point were happy to jump onto the top of your car. On the return from Cape Point, we also saw several ostrich by the side of the road. We stopped at a beach called Boulders Beach where we saw a large colony of penguins. I personally could have watched them for hours. They are adorable - we saw two lying side by side with one penguin's flipper placed lovingly over the back of the other penguin.
The third thing about South Africa which we found interesting was its history of apartheid and race relations. We took two tours to learn as much as we could. We visited Robben Island where for nearly 400 years the island was used to house political troublemakers and social outcasts. The island was home to mentally ill patients, leprosy sufferers, religious leaders, and was also used as a naval base during World War II. The island has four prisons in total and was used as a political prison from 1962 - 1991. We visited the prison cell where Nelson Mandela, the island's most famous inmate, was jailed for 18 of his 27 years in prison. Although less famous, Robert Sobukwe who was leader of the Pan African Congress was kept in solitary confinement on the island after leading a march against apartheid. He was imprisoned for three years and served his sentence but was then kept on the island for another six by the government. Our guide on the tour of the prisons was an ex-political prisoner whose name was Jama. He was an inmate in a group cell for five years and was sent to prison for opposing the apartheid regime.
Nelson Mandela's prison cell
We also went on a tour of the townships. The townships are urban living areas which were established in 1900 and ended with apartheid. The townships were designated as white only, black and colored and everyone in South Africa was placed into one of these designations. The black people had a particularly difficult time in that they needed to carry around a pass book 24 hours per day and could be arrested if they were found without it. The townships that we went into showcased the extreme poverty in South Africa. There is no welfare system so many poor people resort to crime, thus the difficulties with crime in South Africa. We were also amazed to learn that school is not compulsory for children and that it is difficult to motivate children to attend school.
Our guide's name for the township tour was Monkali. He grew up in one of the local townships and is currently living in the Langa Township, the smallest and oldest, built in 1927. He kindly shared his experiences with us as he gave us a walking tour around Lange Township. We went into multiple homes in the township to understand the living conditions. We also were taken to a local "pub" were we shared a traditional bucket of homemade beer with some of the local men. The experience felt so intimate that Grace as Monkali if people were offended by our presence. He responded that people were quite grateful to have us visit. Part of what ended apartheid was the rest of the world gaining the knowledge of what was happening in South Africa. Still today, the people in the townships believe that the more people understand, the better off they will be.
Part of the tour was of District Six, an inner city residential area which was turned into a white only district in 1966 as part of the apartheid regime. At the District 6 Museum, we learned that 60,000 people were forced out of their homes. Many of their homes were bulldozed down without notification to the occupants. Sadly, much of the land in the district was not redeveloped and it stands barren today. The only buildings that survived were government buildings, such as schools, and places of worship. There is an active plan to rebuild on some of the area in the district and allow those who were displaced to return. Unfortunately, many people do not have the appropriate documentation to prove their past residency in District 6 and thus some of the rebuilt housing remains unoccupied.
By the end of the day, we had visited a black township, a colored township and a mixed township which was built after South Africa became a democracy in 1994. The difference in the quality of housing in each of the townships is striking. The black township of Langa now has 70,000 people living in it despite it being built for 5,000 people. The township also has one entrance and one exit. During apartheid there were guards at each of these locations. It was a sobering day for Mark, Grace and me but we were so grateful for such an intimate view of the townships and their history. Hans from s/v Working on a Dream told us before we went on the tour, "If you don't go on a tour of the townships, you cannot understand South Africa." We could not agree more.
Shipping containers which have been turned into housing in the Langa Township
Honorable mention must be given to South Africa's interesting weather. Some of the variability and unpredictability we experienced at sea continued on land. There were days where it was extremely hot, it was extremely cool, it was windy, it wasn't windy, it was very foggy, it was perfectly clear and all of these could happen on the same day. The South Africans love of meat was also quite apparent wherever you went. We had a fantastic meal at Mama Africa where Mark ordered a meat plate. It had crocodile, springbok, ostrich, kudu, etc. Mark was in heaven.
I don't think we will ever forget spending our 2012 holiday season in South Africa. Christmas was spent on a beach in Camps Bay. We had a great day of swimming and playing bocce on the beach. We went swimming despite the water temperature being less than 60 degrees. It was so, so cold but the day was beautifully warm. For New Year's Eve we had a progressive dinner party starting with appetizers on s/v Southern Cross, dinner on s/v Anastasia, and ending with dessert on s/v Brizo. We watched fireworks at midnight from Brizo as we toasted with champagne.
The beach where we spent Christmas Day
I cannot end this blog without giving a special thanks to Grace for flying to Cape Town for the Christmas holiday. She was a great sport as we dragged her from one tour to the next not wanting her to miss anything in South Africa. We loved having her with us for Christmas and it meant so much to have family with us for the holiday.
In two days, we leave for Brazil. We will make a 72 hour stopover at the island of St. Helena along the way. We will have two rather long passages before and after the stopover, the first will be approximately 11 days and the second 13 days. All in all, we will spend January at sea. But, we have a lot to look forward to. Our friends Tony and Eileen are joining us in Brazil for Carnival! We can't wait to see them again.
A special thanks to Britt and Shadow for helping us cross the Indian Ocean safely and for making it so much fun. We will miss you both so much! Mark and I are back to double handing the boat and plan to for the rest of the trip. We are actually looking forward to the trip with just the two of us. I will certainly let you all know how it goes! We will be posting to the blog along the way.
Geseënde Kersfees en 'n voorspoedige Nuwe jaar from Cape Town
(Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Cape Town in Afrikaans)
December 22, 2012, 11:10 pm, Janet and Mark, weather is beautiful
We arrived here safely on December 7th after a rather uneventful trip around the Cape of Good Hope (or otherwise known as the Cape of Storms). We experienced some fog but no other difficulties. Some other boats choosing to sail past the Cape at other times experienced 50+ knot winds and 18 foot seas. So we felt good about our trip.
We spent the first week here getting the boat ready for the trip to Brazil and applying for our Brazilian visas (much harder for US citizens than you would think). Grace arrived on December 18th and we have been doing all of the sightseeing time will allow since then. So far we have gone on a safari (with a cheetah rehabilitation program), a township tour learning about Apartheid, a visit to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 18 years), and a hike of Table Mountain for extraordinary views of the Cape. The experiences have been amazing and we look forward to giving you all of the details soon.
We are missing our families and friends this holiday season. We are so happy that Grace is here with us to help us celebrate. We have hung some Christmas lights and ornaments to help make the boat a little more festive. We will be spending Christmas on a beach in Cape Town with quite a few other people in the fleet. Christmas on a beach - add that to the long list of firsts on this trip!
May you and your family have a wonderful holiday season and may next year bring you much joy. We are grateful that next year will bring us back home to be with all of you.
Special note to Wendell, we wish this this picture was with you. Thanks for bringing cheer to the hearts of so many this holiday season.
By the way, did you know that South Africa has 8 official Languages. They are the Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga, Tswana, Sotho Southern, Sotho Northern, Swati, Ndebele, and Venda Languages.
So again, Sinifesela Ukhisimusi Omuhle Nonyaka Omusha Onempumelelo (Merry Christmas in Zulu).
A Scary Arrival into Port St. Francis
November 30, 2012, 4:55 am, St. Francis Bay, St. Francis, South Africa
The passage from Durban was the fastest At Last has ever made, thanks to the help of the Agulhas Current which we entered after sailing for 14 hours. For nine hours straight we averaged 10.5 knots and for 24 hours we did 220 nm averaging 9.3 knots. This was the fastest day of our entire circumnavigation.
We were planning on making it as far as Mossel Bay (much farther than we would have thought) but suddenly the weather changed while we were at sea. Mark decided we should tuck in to St. Francis to get out of the bad weather after sailing 416 miles in a little over 2 days. Two other boats decided to do the same - s/v J'Sea and s/v Sophie - while three boats continued on to Mossel Bay.
We arrived at St. Francis Bay at 1:00 am. It was getting windy and the entrance to the port was very narrow - a little over two boat widths. There were rocks on either side of the channel. Suffice to say it was the scariest nighttime arrival that we have ever had. Luckily, J'Sea and Sophie arrived before us, entered the harbor and scouted out a spot for us to tie up, with the help of a security guard. At Last ended up on a concrete dock with huge tires on it reserved for large fishing ships. It would have been impossible for us to have tied up to the dock without the help of the crew from J'Sea and Sophie. It would have been even more impossible if they hadn't been waving flashlights indicating where to go and where not to go. Everyone stayed awake the extra hour to help us get on the dock safely. We were extremely grateful to everyone for their help. By the time we got the boat settled it was 3:00 am and we all went to bed wondering what the morning would bring.
Just four hours later, we were awoken by Britt telling us that fishermen on the dock were saying we had to move At Last. The huge dock where we tied up was now full with fishing boats and we were in the middle of them. They asked us to move our boat back about ten feet to make room for another boat. We did this and then Sato (s/v Umineko) came by saying that another World Arc boat had just vacated a slip in the marina and we should move over to it. We asked if the marina office was open yet - it wasn't - but we decided we would move and risk having to move another time if the slip wasn't available. We got secured into our slip by 8:00 am and everyone went back to bed except for me. I was wide awake - probably because my normal shift time was in the morning. I ended up baking a coffee cake for everyone for breakfast and cleaned up the boat from the passage. The rest of the crew was grateful to wake up later in the morning to coffee and cake. We were further grateful that the marina office was happy to have us in our current slip and said that we could stay there as long as we needed.
Thus began an incredibly friendly welcome in St. Francis Bay. The port is a marina surrounded by condos and has a small shopping center with two marine stores, a minimart and a half dozen restaurants. The town is about four kilometers away. This area of the eastern cost of South Africa is very affluent. The population of the area will double during the summer season, which will begin in a few weeks. It was still quite quiet around the marina and around town. Everywhere we went we received a warm welcome. We ate at two very delicious restaurants while we were here - Chez Patrick and Five Elements. Five Elements even typed up a note on the first page of their menu on the day we returned for a second time which welcomed us back the restaurant. We also received fine treatment from Darryl who manages the grocery store Spars in town. He chauffeured us to and from the store at no cost. The grocery store was very good, one of the best we have seen in a long time.
Again, much of Mark's time in St. Francis was spent researching the weather. Shadow's parents are coming into Cape Town and we are trying to get her there to meet them. If we are not able to make it on time, she will travel on land to Cape Town. We did leave on December 4, 2012 but three hours into the trip we turned around because the weather was much worse than expected. We have now left again on December 5, 2012 and should be able to sail the rest of the way to Cape Town. It will be about a three day trip; maybe less if we catch some of the great current.
Happy Thanksgiving from Durban, South Africa
November 26, 2012, 4:17 am, Durban Marina, Durban, South Africa
We arrived in Durban after a very uneventful day sail from Richard's Bay. There was no room at the Durban Marina so we anchored just outside of the marina. We were somewhat disappointed in having to anchor because we had packed our dinghy away into our lazarette thinking we would not need it again until Brazil. When we first arrived we thought we would be leaving again in about a day as it looked like there was another weather window which would get us to our next destination of East London. Well, that did not exactly work out as we spent the next week in Durban waiting for an appropriate weather window.
Mark ended up spending the better part of our time in Durban researching weather on line. He became so knowledgeable about the day to day changes that we started having weather briefings on our boat with many of the other people in the fleet. On the day we decided to leave, many of the boats went back and forth about whether they should stay or they should go. We also went back and forth multiple times. In the end, we decided to leave with seven other boats in the fleet while four boats decided to wait for the next weather window.
While waiting out the bad weather in Durban, we ended up on anchor one night in 50 knot winds. We were grateful that we weren't out at sea but regardless it made for a rather sleepless night. Britt and Shadow went on land exploring while Mark and I stayed with the boat. We did anchor watch and were quite anxious that we would drag. There were quite a few of us in the anchorage and we all watched out for each other during the long night. Mark and I figured that this was about our third episode on anchor in gale force or stronger conditions. The sailing and mooring conditions that we have experienced on this trip are remarkable. We did not imagine that we would have experienced some of the situations we have encountered. I wonder if we would have been so eager to do this trip if we knew all of this before we started.
While in Durban we celebrated Thanksgiving. There was no turkey to be had but Mark did have ostrich out at the restaurant on Thanksgiving Day. We went to uShaka Marine World in Durban for Thanksgiving Day with a whole group of people from s/v Spirit of Alcides and s/v Southern Cross. The aquarium was huge and quite impressive. We went to a shark feeding, penguin feeding and a dolphin show. At the dolphin show, I was picked out of the crowd to have a close encounter with one of the dolphins named Frodo. I rubbed her belly and was able to feel her heartbeat. I rubbed her neck and then gave her three kisses. It was an incredible experience.
Our last night in Durban, we went to the Roma Revolving Restaurant in downtown Durban. It is one of 31 revolving restaurants in the world. We had drinks with s/v Matilda, s/v Peat Smoke and s/v Southern Cross at the Sky View Bar above the restaurant. The views from the bar and the restaurant were amazing. We ate dinner with s/v Southern Cross and Mark asked the maître d' who took our order for something really different. He recommended the springbok to Mark which is a medium-sized brown and white gazelle of southwestern Africa. It stands about 28 to 35 in high. Springbok males weigh between 71 and 110 lbs and the females between 55 and 77 lbs. It is extremely fast and can reach speeds of 62 mph and can leap 13 feet into the air and jump a horizontal distance of up to 50 feet. Mark thought it was quite good but now that I read all about them I am less enthusiastic about Mark eating it.
We are leaving Durban on Tuesday November 27th and hope to get as far as we can towards Cape Town. We will see how that goes.
The Search for the Big Five
November 16, 2012, 2:56 am, Zululand Yacht Club, Richard’s Bay, South Africa
The last several days of the trip before arriving in Richard's Bay, the crew of At Last started dreaming of a gourmet breakfast at a lovely restaurant in Richard's Bay. Not that we knew of one, we were just willing it to be true. I wanted desperately to have champagne and pancakes. Shadow and Britt started calling my breakfast wish champancakes because I kept saying that I was even going to pour champagne on my pancakes. This dream was somewhat due to the conditions we were facing on the last two days of the trip and partially due to the habit of drinking alcohol whenever we arrive to the next port, regardless of time of day.
Southern Cross joined us for a photo finish across the finish line. Neither one of us wanted to be last so we timed our arrival together perfectly. There were some antics on At Last as we crossed the line which Cathy (s/v Southern Cross) unfortunately got on video tape. As we were about to enter the channel, Harbor Control called us and asked us to move aside for a large tanker which had priority in entering the harbor. We relocated outside of the harbor near some red buoys and waited patiently for the tanker to enter the harbor. We later learned that these buoys had shark bait attached to them to keep the sharks away from the nearby beach.
As we again entered the channel, a local boat from the yacht club (s/v Nomad) escorted us into the marina. As we tied up to the dock, we were again greeted by many from the fleet. Craig, the skipper of Nomad, was there to welcome us and he presented us with a cold bottle of champagne. I could not have imagined a better welcome. Both Southern Cross and At Last popped open their bottles and toasted the crossing of the Indian Ocean. Something we all agreed that we never needed to do again. We went to the Yacht Club for breakfast and though they did not have pancakes or more champagne, we were quite content with what we ordered and were happy to have arrived safely.
At breakfast, Craig (s/v Spirit of Alcides) came around looking for people to join him overnight at a lodge in the national park we were to visit on Thursday. I asked Mark what he thought and he said, "We can do that." I was somewhat surprised that there was no discussion about the all of the things that needed to be fixed on the boat and whether we would have enough time to do them before the next weather window which would get us that much closer to our goal of Cape Town.
The decision to spend the night at the lodge in the national park was one of the best decisions we made on this trip. A slight exaggeration maybe but you be the judge. We had a tour of the Hluhluwe-iMfolzi National Park on Thursday which was part of our World Arc activities. We checked with Paul (rally control) if we could be dropped off at the lodge after the tour and he said we should figure out a way to not do lunch at the lodge but rather see if one of the drivers would spend the day with us on safari and then drop us off at the lodge at the end of the day to allow more time for seeing animals.
That is exactly what we did. When we got to the safari trucks, I asked the man in charge if there was a driver willing to take our group out for the entire day instead going to the lodge for lunch and rather drop us off at the lodge at the end of the day. One of the drivers said, "I'll take them" but further stated that he would only do it if we would go off route and "find some animals." We knew this was the right guy to lead us. So we stopped at a canteen for a takeout lunch at 10:30 am and didn't arrive to the lodge until 5:30 pm. And just let's say we found some animals.
We were in a pickup truck with the driver in the cabin. The bed of the truck was three benches where three of us sat in each row. The smart ones were the ones in the middle according to my calculation; they would be the last to be eaten. It's hard to describe our encounters with these animals. We were so close and so exposed that Steve, our guide, did begin our ride with a discussion about how close we were comfortable getting to the animals. We all said as close as we can. But when a white rhino was within spitting distance, I began to wonder whether some of us were questioning our earlier enthusiasm.
Meeting these rhinos was clearly the most exhilarating encounter. The first one we saw was actually walking across the road as we turned the corner. I let out an audible gasp despite Steve's repeated warnings that we needed to be very quiet as we approached any animals. Steve informed us that the rhino have poor sight and rely on smell and hearing for their key senses. The closest we got to several white rhino was when we were on a faraway road that Steve had never traveled. We were at the outskirts of the park. There were two rhino there and we were close enough that one of the rhino got a bit aggressive. He began stomping his feet and snorting - we were so close that the snorting seemed so loud! Mark turned to me with a look of mild terror while Cathy (s/v Southern Cross) whispered, "he is going to charge us." At this point she put her head down and had tears forming in her eyes. We have a great video of the event with Mark shushing Cathy and waving at her to stop with one hand while taking a picture of the rhino with the other. Now most would be quite concerned about this encounter until you hear about Steve's training.
From the minute we met Steve, our guide, we knew he was someone special. He kept us out for the day because he was determined for us to have the best safari experience ever. He loved his job and everything he did and said made that evident. He told us it was a quiet day and he was on a hunt for each and every animal. He informed us that for three weeks every three months he goes for training. During this training, he lives in the bush with his mentor(s) and the last trip had 15 people receiving training. Only three people ended the trip after three weeks and he was one of them. During the three weeks, he studies the animal behavior including inciting the animals to help learn how to respond to aggression. In order to qualify as a guide, he needs at least 450 close encounters with each of the big five animals. The big five are the elephant, buffalo, leopard, lion and rhino. They are given that name because they are the most dangerous to hunt. Steve was a fantastic guide and he offered to take us on another tour when we are in Cape Town. He is from Cape Town and will be there over the holidays. There were nine of us on the tour with him and he asked for our emails at the end of the trip and he termed us the "crazy yachties." A good time was had by all.
By far my favorite animals that we saw that day were the zebra, elephants and the giraffe. We saw many zebra along the way. They were right on the side of the road and sometimes in the road as we passed. They would stop to look at us but mostly kept grazing or looking about. The stripes on their body were like art work. They matched the contours of their body and flowed so smoothly over their bodies. Their manes were an extension of their stripes (see the photo). This mane stands erect most of the time except when the zebra is sick and the mane begins to lag to one side or the other. The mane is also a deterrent against prey as the prey grab their mane thinking it is their skin but are unable to gain a grip because it is only hair.
Another favorite was the giraffe. We saw some the first day but on the way back to the boat from the lodge, we saw a whole group of them. They were so close that we could see the outline of their spots. They are such majestic animals. They have few prey in the wild and are mostly vulnerable to lions/leopards when they are young. They do not travel in groups but are rather loners which is why it was so unusual for us to see so many together. They appeared to be so curious when we stopped to take pictures. They stood and stared at us until we left.
Another favorite were the elephants. Steve was quite upset as we set out for the lodge that we had not seen any elephants. Suddenly, less than a mile from the lodge, we encountered a breeding group of elephants, with five of them blocking the road. There were several cars in front of us (yes, you can drive through the national park yourselves) but they waved us through. Clearly when you encounter five elephants blocking the road, you would rather have a guide move them along then your hired car. Steve drove very slowly as we approached the elephants. He told us that this was a herd of females and their calves. No males allowed. We saw one calf that Steve said could not have been more than a week old. The entire herd was at least one hundred, we could see about ten up close and another ten in the distance, maybe more. We were so excited; no one had time to count. We saw them tend to their young and rip a branch from a tree. They were huge yet elegant in their movements. Unbelievable!
After spending the day with Steve, we were amazed that so many people took hired (rented) cars into the national park. Steve warned us if we ever were to drive ourselves to...
• Do not try to drive quickly away from an animal once you see them. They will chase you.
• Turn off the motor as soon as you encounter an animal so you don't spook them. Most of these animals rely on sound more than anything to determine threats.
• Don't drive a VW or any type of car which whose engine fan turns on once you turn off the motor. This fan will spook the animal and cause a charge. If you google animal encounters in South Africa, the car will most typically be a VW. This happened when we encountered the elephants. We signaled to the car behind us to turn off their engine. They did but then their fan went on.
• Stand your ground when encountering these animals.
The rest of our time in Richard's Bay we spent mostly at the yacht club or at the local mall. We were able to buy some more much needed items for the boat at the mall. The Zululand Yacht Club was also a very special place. They put on a phenomenal dinner for us one night with live entertainment. They had other barbeques while we were there and we were always welcome. Mark was quite excited that South Africa is such a meat loving area. They don't have a good grasp of what a vegetarian is at all. Mark and I had a huge meal featuring a T-bone steak at the yacht club one night for about six US dollars per person. It was way too much food and very good.
We will begin the rather difficult sail from Richard's Bay to Cape Town on Monday, November 19th. After much discussion and several changes of plans, we have decided to leave and head for Durban. The weather window (the period of time the weather is favorable for sailing) is only long enough for us to get to Durban. It will take us less than one day to get there.