Crossing the Southern Atlantic
February 4, 2013, 2:04 am, 153 miles from Salvador Brazil, Atlantic Ocean
We are about 29 hours from arriving in Salvador and it is a bright and beautiful day. The winds have been quite light throughout our trip and as we get closer we are slowing down. That has to be he most frustrating thing imaginable. We have had a great trip overall. Mark and I have been talking quite a bit about the fact that this is the last long leg of our trip with the World Arc which has brought a rash of mixed emotions.
In our continuing quest to use the engine as little as possible, we sailed off our mooring ball when we left St. Helena. Not hard to do really, just drop the mooring ball line, raise a sail quickly, and avoid the shore and other boats as you leave the anchorage. Mark and I picked the mooring ball at the end of the mooring field in anticipation of this so we had no boats behind us that needed to be avoided. Why one might ask would we be so concerned about using our engine.
Each official leg of the World Arc is a bit of a race. As part of that race, we have to record our engine hours and your time is penalized for using your engine. Since this leg had a stop in between, the start of the second half began when you dropped your mooring line and thus we would have been penalized for using our engine. Now, some would think that we must be really competitive to leave a mooring field this way. Since we ended the first half of the leg with 1.2 engine hours (one of the lowest in the fleet) it became a challenge for us to continue in that vain. We actually have never learned how the rating and handicap system works for the races and only once have checked our standing at the end of a leg. I also might add that we have never placed in our division at the end of a leg and were more likely to turn on the engine when we reached below five knots than most other boats. So at this late juncture in the rally, Mark and I decided to sail the boat no matter what and force this boat to go despite light winds. The Atlantic Ocean was kind enough to oblige with some of the lightest winds of the trip.
Most notable for me on this leg is that I finally feel like Mark and I are getting the hang of sailing our boat. Given that this is our first boat and we owned it for a mere five years before doing this trip, it makes us relatively inexperienced sailors in comparison to the rest of the fleet. Many of our fellow rally participants have owned boats their entire lives and have over 40 years of sailing experience. Some have circumnavigated before. Others have sailed competitively in famous ocean races. It can be quite intimidating at times. As Mark and I look back at what we knew when we started this trip, we are astonished by how little we knew then and gratified by how much we have learned. Previously, a significant sail change could take us up to 1.5 hours - with at least a half an hour spent debating what sail change we should make. I would often defer to whatever Mark wanted because honestly I never was the one to choose the sail configuration or do sail trim for that matter. Shall I say I was just along for the ride. Well, I guess I have learned a few things because now Mark and I debate what sail change to make. That debate now only takes less than 5 minutes, we make a decision and get the sail change done in as little as 15 minutes. Things that I didn't even know how to do (hoist the spinnaker or raise the whisker pole) are done quickly and seemingly easily. Mark and I have to talk less while making the sail changes, we seem to anticipate what each other needs and have our duties down. Mind you there is still a little bit of yelling - there has to be - as Mark says this is serious stuff. Like when Mark told me to "sit" while we were taking down the whisker pole and I "barked" back that I was not a dog. But these "discussions" seem to stem from lack of sleep more than anything else and the apologies are quick to come after the task is accomplished.
In order to further challenge ourselves, we also changed some of the rules around sail changes and sail configurations on this trip to keep the boat moving forward. We used our spinnaker at night and even flew it for three days straight without taking it down. For those of you non sailors, the spinnaker is the big bright colorful sail that is flow off the bow of the boat. The spinnaker is a light wind sail and it can easily rip if the winds become too great. Most of the fleet has ripped their spinnakers at least once. So when you sail it all night you have to be prepared to take it down in the middle of the night. Taking this sail down in gusty winds can be quite difficult and further complicated by the dark of night. Luckily, we had a beautiful full moon and our foredeck light to help us see when we were making these sail changes.
The sun sets under "Big Al"
We also maximized the use of our whisker pole. The whisker pole is a pole that you hoist and attach a sail to which will keep the sail out and full in light winds. We actually read a manual during the passage to see if there was anything else we could be doing with is. We were telescoping it, moving it forward and aft all in an attempt to sail in the lightest of winds. We also did not hesitate to make major sail changes at night. If we were motoring and the wind picked up we previously would have waited until first light and change of shift to make the change to sailing. This leg we would wake the other person up, even if it was the middle of the night and hoist the sails. We also switched to the spinnaker at night, took down the spinnaker at night, hoisted and/or took down the whisker pole, etc. Nothing was off limits. The end result was that we certainly used less engine hours, sailed in very light winds, and maximized every bit of the wind that we could. We felt like we became real sailors on this leg.
The end result of all of this work is that we had the most physically challenging leg of the rally. When you open yourself to major sail changes at night, someone is left with less sleep. Going to sleep after making that major sail change in the middle of the night is not easy. Your adrenaline is pumping and you need to take time to rejoice in the extra knot of speed you just gained through all that hard work. The physical nature of these sail changes is very challenging. In addition, the spinnaker must be trimmed constantly while it is flying which cut greatly into my nights of watching movies and reading books. Some nights my arms would ache from winching in and letting out the spinnaker an entire three hour shift. As we near the end of this leg, we continue to have one of the fewest engine hours of all the boats in the fleet. We even tolerated going less than four knots at times - now that is slow. Anyone could run faster than that. At this point, we have motored 23.5 hours out of the 620 hours of this leg. This was a real accomplishment and was still one of the fewest hours in the fleet. As we look back, we can't help but to be amazed by how much we have learned, what we have accomplished and that we have remained safe while doing so.
I have come to the conclusion that I really enjoy these long passages. The sense of accomplishment that one gets by sailing a boat across an entire ocean is indescribable - we are about to finish crossing our third major ocean. There is an intimate connection with nature - the rising of the sun, the light of the moon, the endless stars - while at the same time you are fighting that same nature - the swells of the sea, the rain from the squalls and the gusts of the wind. There are things that I certainly don't like about these long passages - lack of sleep being the hardest. But one quickly learns that things aren't always easy on passage and that is the magic. Things go wrong, you resolve them, disaster is averted and you keep moving forward. Each of these resolved difficulties fills you with a deep sense of satisfaction. There exists only you, your fellow crew and the boat on this challenging journey. And when we finally we tie up to the dock tomorrow, we will pop open a bottle of champagne and toast to all the challenges we overcame on this leg and the fact that we made it and we are the stronger for it.
After I finished writing this blog, Mark and I had the most amazing encounter of our trip with a large group of porpoises. I was down below cooking dinner when Mark called me up to see the porpoises which were swimming by the boat. Sadly, my first thought was that I had seen my share of these animals that I was more anxious to get dinner served so Mark could get some asleep. But I went atop and was pleasantly surprised. All around our boat had to be about 40 porpoises but that was far from the most remarkable thing about our encounter. As we looked out for about a mile on either side of us there were porpoises jumping and heading toward our boat. It was as if the word had gotten out and everyone in the neighborhood was heading our way to check us out. There must have been a few hundred for they kept coming from all around for a couple of hours.
Mark and I began to talk to them, clap, bang on the boat - all in our poor attempt to communicate with them. We told them how happy we were that they came to visit us. And then things got really amazing. They started to perform for us. They jumped out of the water and did barrel rolls. They walked on the water, did back flips and belly flops. They surfed down waves. And they slapped their tails on the water to make big splashes. With each performance, we would clap and yell encouraging them to do more. Our response seemed to work because they kept going. As we looked out in the distance, all of the porpoises around us seemed to be trying to get our attention by their antics. Mark and I just ran around the boat saying things like - did you see that? We abandoned the notion of dinner and spent the next hour or more playing with these incredible animals. Who needs dinner or sleep when you have such quality entertainment? We took plenty of photos but they don't do the experience justice. So we have some videos we will post as soon as we figure out how to do that.
More About St Helena
As Mark promised, I am adding more about this unique place before we blog about Brasil
January 30, 2013, 11:29 pm, Island of St. Helena, Atlantic Ocean
St Helena landfall at dawn
On the rest of our passage across the Atlantic, Mark and I were left talking about St. Helena and decided that it really is an amazing place. We were struck by the friendliness of everyone on the island. When walking down the street, people didn't avoid eye contact but rather always smiled and said hello. Life there has not been infiltrated by cell phones, the internet, ATMs and life seems more relaxed and calm for it. The town is very quaint and there was always activity of people walking around.
The people we met there were quite remarkable. Robert, our tour guide, knew the history of the island inside and out. He proudly carried a notebook full of pictures of important events and places on the island from years and years back. He showed us the changes on the island even bringing us to the future location for their first airport. Robert had lived the history of the island and clearly was proud of its heritage.
The two women who gave us the tour of the home where Napoleon was exiled on the island were also as enthusiastic as Robert about the historical significance of this site. They retold the history of Napoleon's captivity with exceptional detail and enthusiasm. We were standing in the room where Napoleon died and even the room where he bathed and it did carried with it the air of great importance. Napoleon was held on the island under guard from 1815 until he died there in 1821. He was buried in a four coffin tomb which preserved his body quite well until the French retrieved his body 19 years later. During those years, the tomb was under guard the entire time.
Hazel was another kind and generous person on the island. She ran the Consulate Hotel which also housed one of the nicest places to eat on the island. We went in on Sunday to have lunch but soon learned that the hotel's café had closed and the only other restaurant which was open didn't have enough food to feed the 11 of us who wanted to eat. Hazel received word that we were looking to have a meal and she reopened the café for us. She even let us put the entire meal on a tab because we had all run out of St. Helena currency by Sunday and there were no ATMs on the island. Hazel even went so far as to loan another boater a good sum of cash to get him through till the bank opened. After serving us our meal, she left us alone in the café to enjoy the afternoon asking us to just shut the door on the way out.
St. Helena is certainly not an easy place to get to and we found that probably the hardest part was once we got there. At anchor, we were able to call a ferry service (a small skiff that would take about eight people at a time) from our mooring field to the dock. While we were there the swells were so large that getting onto that dock was a bit of an Olympic sporting event. The driver would time it very carefully swinging us adjacent to the concrete dock as the swell was at a low point, you then grabbed a rope which was hanging down from a bar at the dock, waited until the swell would raise the boat even with the dock, and then at the top of the swell you would swing/jump/tumble onto the concrete dock. We were quite curious at first why so many locals would stand around the dock and watch the ferry usher people to and from the anchorage. It quickly became quite clear that it was a form of entertainment on the island. Getting ourselves in and out of the boat was trouble enough never mind when some of us had full water jugs, groceries, dry/clean laundry and boat batteries to maneuver onto the boat. As with most things in boating, we got used to it, maybe even skilled at it and now it has become another great boating story to be told again and again.
Ferry boat and dock (aka Olympic event)
We were sad to leave St. Helena. We did leave with real St. Helena coffee from the Rosemary Gate Coffee Estate established in 1994 on the island. A bottle of gin and rum also accompanied us from the St. Helena Distillery - the most remote distillery in the world. Paul Hickling taught himself how to make spirits after he purchased a very expensive distillery machine from Germany in 2006.
We feel very lucky to have visited St. Helena before the airport becomes functional. Surely the culture of the island will change dramatically with the influx of people visiting the island. We hope that all future visitors enjoy the warmth and kindness of the people of St. Helena, we certainly did. There are several pictures of St Helena posted in the photo gallery.
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.