01/23/2013, South Atlantic Ocean - 145 miles West of St Helena
Yesterday at 8am we began the last big sailing leg of our circumnavigation. We have now decided to head straight for Barbados where there is a nice marina and good rum. We've read up on the place and it should be a good place for us to unwind and recharge after almost 4 weeks at sea (yes, that's right, almost 4 weeks). The distance from St Helena to Barbados is 3,650 nautical miles and we're already a day or so into it.
St Helena was a very worthwhile stop; we stayed five days in the end. We made it to the BBQ party at the yacht club and had a last drink with everyone - we should catch the rest of the fleet in Grenada in March (if our generator replacement timing allows).
The principal town is Jamestown, basically one long street in a narrow valley, and to enter the town means going through some serious defenses, including a moat. If you look up at the mountain tops above, there are forts and gun encasements everywhere, they were really serious about defending it back in the day. Most of the buildings in the town are at least 200 years old and seriously quaint. We did a tour of the island with Robert, our local tour guide - he was very friendly and welcoming, typical of the local "Saints". The local accent was a bit challenging sometimes (courtesy of the rich ethnic mix and history) but he managed to impart some fascinating facts as we trundled about. We visited the Governor's Residence, where they have five pet giant tortoises in the garden. The oldest tortoise was called Jonathan, and he was at least 160 years old. It was strange to see him in the flesh, and then to see him featured in some art work from the 1800s outside the same old house. The tour took in the house where Napoleon was held from 1815 till he died in 1821. The museum they have made of it is fascinating and well worth the visit in itself.
The highest point on St Helena is called Diana's peak. We saw this when we did our tour and resolved to walk it before we left. David joined us and we spent a lovely morning walking up, which only took 40 minutes or so. Unfortunately there is little or no signage, and there are trails everywhere, so we ended up somewhere called "Green Hill". Robert had warned us before we set off - "whatever you do, don't go to Green Hill". So of course we got lost and ended up there - it must have happened a few times before I guess. It was a hell of a long walk back to our rendezvous point along the sealed roads, but the scenery was stunning so we didn't mind too much. It was good to get some serious exercise before the long period of inactivity at sea.
Another part of our tour was a visit to the site for the new airport, which is breathing new life into the local economy. We feel privileged to have seen St Helena before it opens, because I can imagine it will be a very different place in a few years' time. From what we can gather, the population seems to be split in half on whether they want it or not, most we talked to would have preferred a decent breakwater. Currently the cruise ships stop by, but apparently the passengers often don't make it ashore. The landing platform is quite an experience, especially if there is a swell. You have to grab a rope hanging from a bar above and monkey your way ashore - you can imagine 500 or so cruise ship passengers trying this; I guess it's not worth the liability unless it's dead calm. The town was all geared-up for a party to come ashore from the MS Sinfonia on Sunday, but the sea was too rough (although it was as flat as we had seen it). They did manage to come ashore on Monday instead, so the local hotels and businesses didn't have to waste all the preparations they had made for the huge influx of visitors. The local hotel landlady was telling us that she has to prepare for 500 meals or nothing - very difficult. It made our last day on the island a little more challenging as we tried to provision and get water aboard, so in the end we stayed another night in the mooring field and left Tuesday morning.
I also managed to climb Jacob's ladder one day with David and Hillary from Peat Smoke, while Heather watched from the swimming pool below. It was quite a hard climb up but well worthwhile. I radio'd Gunvor from the top to say goodbye as we noticed them nosing out of the harbour and heading for Salvador. We can still hear a couple of the boats on the radio net each day, but that will get more difficult as we work our way further North, away from the rest of the fleet.
So far the winds have been light, and although frustrating, probably for the best as Heather has come down with the dreaded cold and so is better doing stuff horizontally that requires the strength of a toddler.
01/16/2013, South Atlantic Ocean - 75 miles from St Helena
We should arrive at St Helena tomorrow morning, but this trip has been a bit frustrating and we're feeling a bit cheated. Everything pointed to longed-for straightforward sailing, but it has actually been a bit more challenging with the latter part of the crossing characterised by light winds with lots of squalls. So, for example, yesterday morning we put the parasail up (poled out) so we could at least make some progress downwind with all of 8 knots of wind, only to be taking it down again 2 hours later in the midst of a sudden squall at 25 knots (Laurel and Hardy antics trying to get the frickin thing down and not doing a Dorothy). An hour later and all is still again, the white sails are cracking so we talk ourselves into putting it up again - ARGGH!! Hard work for two tired people, especially with one not at his best having contracted a nasty cold in Cape Town. This pattern has also delayed the time of arrival in St Helena, so we will be there on the day that the locals are putting on the do for us.
However for the past 24 hours things have been lovely, really easy light wind sailing and we have, at last, caught up on our sleep - so all again is well with the world. Lets hope the weather behaves for our last night tonight. I sometimes think these ocean crossings are a bit like how my mother described going into labour. A challenging experience, but after a joyful arrival you completely forget how painful it was - until the next time...
For the first time this trip we are close to a few other boats, so its nice seeing their lights at night and catch up on the VHF (Peat Smoke, Anastasia (left 2 days after us), Sophie, Trompeta, Spirit of Alcides, Juba and At Last). Strange how we can be so far apart for over a week, some doing well, some not so, but all ending up close together towards the end.
We have never seen so many squadrons of flying fish as in these waters, it makes cleaning up the deck in the morning a bit messy. We even get a few squid (how they can jump so high is a mystery), I better start thinking about breakfast sushi. This morning we saw our first birds in a while, so I suppose it shows we are heading towards land. There was a really pretty white one with a long tail feather (as you can tell, I am really up on my ornithology, the Gunvor boys must have their head in their hands) that objected very noisily to our big yellow parasail - it kept circling and squawking at it for some time, I guess he's never seen such a thing in his waters before and clearly up to no good.
We are looking forward to St Helena, but not saying goodbye to everyone. Because of our deviation from the ARC route, tomorrow evening will be the last time we will be with the rest of the fleet in one place until probably St Lucia. Its hard to explain to anyone not a part of this trip how close you get to the other boats and how much we are going to miss everybody.
01/10/2013, South Atlantic Ocean
We had a fabulous New Years Eve in Cape Town; dinner at a swish restaurant and watching the fireworks with Peat Smoke and Gunvor. The rest of our time was spent provisioning and getting matilda ready for the 1690 nautical miles to St Helena. We left on the 5th as scheduled and so far we have had plenty of wind so no need to bother with Mr Stinky (our engine). The Duogen is churning out power too, so we've had no reason to use any diesel at all so far which is always nice.
I've been a little ill since we left Cape Town - just a cough and a bit of a cold - so my usual trouble with getting enough sleep has been exacerbated. As you can imagine I'm a joy to be with, but Heather is coping well. We've been eating wonderfully well this leg thanks again to Heather's provisioning efforts. We've had loads of fresh lettuce, tomato, cucumber, falafel, hommus, quiche, fish cakes and samosas. So with our usual ban on booze when at sea we should be in pretty good shape by the time we reach Brazil. South Africa was a great place to spend a couple of months, but the food is so good and so cheap, you can't help but gain a few kilos.
We should reach the half-way point to St Helena sometime today and cross the GMT meridian line (zero degrees East to West) tonight. There is a World ARC BBQ party planned for the night of 17 January, so we should make it in plenty of time for that. We get to spend 72 hours in St Helena and there are a lot of interesting walks there we'd like to do, so we might have trouble fitting it all in. Most of the rest of the fleet will head for Salvador on 18 January, but we have decided to head for Fortaleza instead. This means we are not competing with the rest of the fleet for this leg so our last competitive leg (to Richards Bay) is now sadly behind us.
We should arrive in Fortaleza by early February in time for the Carnival there, then we will head for Tobago and the Southern Caribbean Islands for a month or so. We plan to arrive back in St Lucia by 1 April to have the generator replaced and for the final World ARC party on 15th. Matilda is already officially on the market now with a broker in Nanny Cay in the BVI, so we will drop her off there with a tear in our eyes late April.
12/31/2012, V&A Marina, Cape Town, South Africa
A Happy New Year to one and all from Matilda and hope that 2013 will be a happy and peaceful one.
We made it around to the V&A Waterfront marina just before the festivities took hold, and we were joined for the journey by some new friends Graham and Alison from the UK. The journey here (only a few hours) was wonderful as we encountered many southern right whales, one got very close with a baby in tow. We managed to sail most of the way but as we got closer the motor had to go on, but what a great way to enter Cape Town. To get to our bit of the marina we had to have two bridges open for us, and as this place is packed with visitors you really feel like a bit of a celebrity with all the crowds looking on. All this against the backdrop of the spectacular Table Mountain.
The next day we went up Table Mountain, via cable car, and had a great afternoon wandering around the top in perfect conditions. No Dassies were spotted (apparently it was too hot) but as soon as you walk a bit you lose the hordes and we had the rest of the mountain pretty much to ourselves. The cable car itself revolves, so even though you are piled in, you all get a fair shot of a view of the surroundings. In case you were wondering, a Dassie is like a big long guinea pig which inhabits Table Mountain, munching happily on the greenery. Their closest evolutionary relative is actually the African Elephant, which we still find hard to believe. Jonathan's main memory of Cape Town from his visit in 1975 is the cable car and the Dassies, so it was a shame not to see any this time.
Christmas itself did not really feel like Christmas, but was made special for us by sharing it with the rest of the ARC Christmas orphans. The festivities began when matilda hosted a Christmas Eve Mulled Wine and Christmas Cake Sundowner extravaganza on and around the boat. I won't say how much mulled wine we got through, but clearly everyone likes Christmas in a cup (as I like to think of it). After than Brizo had organised a get together at one of the lounge bars and also, on Christmas Day itself, a picnic on the beach. We had an invitation from Peat Smoke to join their visiting family for a wonderful Christmas lunch at the Westin Hotel. Later on Christmas evening the fleet all got together again as Anastasia nobly invited all to a pot luck Christmas dinner aboard. Once again Karaoke was involved, courtesy of Umineko, and Christmas officially ended to the sound of classic songs being murdered.
Our keep fit campaign took a bit of a step backwards when our first planned walk with a local guide had to be cancelled due to inclement weather. However we moved the Table Mountain walk forward and a few days ago we met the mountain guide and a party of Finns at 5.15am (yes there is such a time) to scale India Venster (apparently it is to do with the shape of the gorge which looks like a window in the shape of India and window is venster in Africaans). This is one of the more challenging routes up that doesn't involve ropes and crampons and as you start the walk there are signs all over the place telling you how extremely dangerous it is, so you do wonder what the hell you are doing there. However, I (Heather), was very proud of myself as there was a lot of scrambling (what they call easy climbing, but not so easy to me), a lot of heights and I didn't throw one proper paddy. Jonathan was subject to special praise from Riaan (our guide and also a mountaineer) who reckoned he should try his hand at rock climbing proper - great, another sport that would give me sleepless nights. Unfortunately for everyone else, we did the climb in cloud, but I was quite ok with that, it was hard to see the massive drops which made it a good deal easier for me. Nevertheless, it would have been good to see the cable car, as at one point we were just below it as it goes into the docking station at the top, all we got to see of it was a dark shape in the gloamin.
Today is New Years Eve and we will be celebrating at a restaurant with Peat Smoke and Gunvor. We should be in an excellent position to see the fireworks, a great way to see in 2013. After that, however, it will be boat chores all the way if we are to get the boat back into a condition to cross the last of the oceans. We head out on 5th January to cross the Atlantic for a second, and last time!
12/20/2012, Hout Bay Yacht Club, Hout Bay, South Africa
The weather window mentioned in the last blog for once proved to live up to its promises and we made t'other side of the Cape in one hit. Not that it didn't have its excitement. The first night we got caught up in the middle of some serious electrical storms that were probably for me (Heather) the scariest bit of the circumnavigation so far. At one point we seemed to be surrounded by lightning bolts, and, true to form, Jonathan decided he needed to do something at the mast. Arrgh! Where were the rubber soled boots when you needed them. I am not sure what you have to do to get hit in a powerful electrical storm, I would have thought passing through the middle of one underneath the only tall metal thing on the horizon would do it, but we got through unscathed, only to have the whole thing repeated again about an hour later.
Funnily enough our biggest problem on the trip (unlike pretty much any of the other boats we have talked to) was that on the whole we didn't have enough wind, and then when it was there we deliberately slowed things down for a day or two so we could get around the Cape on the back of some strong winds ahead. We rounded Cape Agulhas in quiet conditions, only to see some major squalls in front, but amazingly we had timed it just right and in front is where they stayed. We ended up having to motor some of the way and it barely got above 25 knots when we rounded the notorious Cape of Good Hope. Upon arrival in Hout Bay, Umineko were there to greet us and they said it was the first day of little wind they had seen in the entire time they had been there (around a week). Sophie is also here and Juba has recently arrived.
Hout Bay is a pretty little cove nestled among the mountains on the other side of Cape Town. It is still very much a working fishing port, but has a lovely beach and also a reputation for great sea food which brings the locals out from Cape Town for a day out. We were welcomed on our way in with an escort of fur seals that have provided us with much entertainment since. In fact, I can't think of a more entertaining marina so far - it is impossible to get bored watching the pleasure boats taking tourists in and out to Seal Island (just around the point), the seals performing (some enterprising locals get tourists to pay them to get some of the seals to do ''tricks" for fish), and the fishing boats preparing to go out and coming in with their piles of fish.
Just after we arrived Caroline and David from Peat Smoke very kindly took us out in their car along the Chapman's Peak Road to Simonstown and beyond to Cape Point. This has to be one of the most scenic roads in the world and we picked the perfect day for it. Our first stop was to see the penguins on Boulders Beach, a sanctuary for the rare African penguin. Its an idyllic place and it was great to see penguins sitting on lots of eggs. (Shame we are a bit too soon to see the chicks). After that we went to Cape Point and I am proud to say we didn't take the funicular up to the top, but walked all the way. The cliffs are covered in these little Dassies, which are like a large guinea pig that technically is a kind of hyrax (apparently the nearest relative to the elephant - which I find very hard to believe). After that we encountered ostrich beach bums and hitch-hiking baboons - you have got to love the wild life here.
For the last two days we purchased double decker bus tour tickets - better then it sounds. It has taken us to all the major sites in and around Cape Town with a canal and wine tour thrown in. I think the highlight for me was watching Southern Right Whales performing off the beach at Llandudno from the top of the double decker. We also got to the Kirstenbosh Gardens, one of the great botanic gardens in the world, and a really interesting wildlife rescue bird and monkey park.
Today has been a bit of a chore day, but we did manage to get over to the other side of Hout Bay. Just outside the Bay there is a shanty town which has an initiative for the unemployed of making art and crafts out of - wait for it - used tea bags. (I am pretty certain I could be their major supply source for all their used tea bag needs.) The stuff they produce is amazingly beautiful and bears no relationship to its raw material. I resisted the temptation to purchase a bag bearing the legend, I Am An Old Bag, despite Jonathan's encouragement, but we are now the proud owners of some beautiful coasters that will definitely be a talking point in years to come.
We are due to move around to the luxurious V&A Marina in Cape Town proper on Saturday, but I shall miss this place. When we get there and in a moment of "we need to get fit" madness, we have signed up for two walks up Table Mountain and environs. I am not sure I will be up to the second one, on New Years Day, which is one of the most difficult ways up without rope, pick and crampons. It involves a rock scramble on a cliff face, directly underneath the summit of the cable car, assisted by embedded chains and footholds . Why can I not get it into my head that I am just not good with heights - what a way to start the New Year. Last year we climbed the Gros Piton at St Lucia for New Year's Day. I think I must have a death wish.
11/24/2012, Durban Marina, Durban, South Africa
Well we have had a bit of bad luck with weather windows, but hopefully we can get away this weekend. When the first window came, we were not ready for it as we were having too much fun in Durban and things to see (ballet, wine show, aquarium etc etc). With the second window we were all ready to go, but we dragged the anchor in a huge squall that hit while we were checking out. The boat was fine, thanks to some noble efforts of boats nearby led by Iain of Peat Smoke, but it did inadvertently cause a problem with our VHF and there was another problem that needed to be fixed, so we missed that weather window. The squall, by the way, contained some of the loudest thunderclaps I have ever heard and its the first time we have ever seen a flock of birds blown out of the sky. A bird-lover on a nearby boat went around in his dinghy picking them up and breathing life back into them. It was a very unusual sight seeing birds of various states of drowned pigeon coming back to life all lined up around his cockpit and gunnels. As each bird got his breath back and dried sufficiently, they flew off one by one.
We then missed yesterday's window thanks to Periperinet in the morning, who persuaded us (and a few other boats) not to go despite the forecasts indicating it was a good window. By the evening it was admitted that it was a good window and we should have got off, and if not, get off now, but in the meantime we had re-directed a package from Cape Town to Durban so we now have to wait for that to be delivered - ARRGH!! Things are looking good for Saturday though, and it could be a window that gets us all the way to Cape Town, so lets keep everything crossed.
Not that we have been moping around (well not much anyway). We hired a car and went away for a few days to see a bit of the interior and there is some stunning countryside. We will have particularly fond memories of an early morning walk around the Oribi Gorge. The hills around looked as if they were smoking in the early morning light, the waterfall spectacular as it plunged into the abyss, and I managed to walk the rope bridge across the chasm without hyper ventilating (I am not clever with heights). When we got back the monkeys were up to various bits of morning mischief that made for a breakfast cabaret. What a way to start the day.
We also went to a talk given by one of the boats that we have been crossing paths with along the way. Ralph Dominic of s/v Imvubu (apparently it means baby hippo) had returned to his home port of Durban after a circumnavigation that included the North West passage (one of only 150 sailing vessels ever to have done it and the first from SA). He concentrated on that part of the journey and together with some amazing photos it made for a great evening. I cannot honestly say he sold it to me, the weather windows he had to juggle with were seriously scary, but we would love to visit that part of the world one day. The following day he was at the Bluff YC with ourselves and Southern Cross and we got caught up in - wait for it, you'll never guess - some serious domino action. It was a variation called Mexican Train and I am proud to say I won 2 games - I put it down to being given trains from the Thomas the Tank Engine series as markers, and I had Mavis who I have always felt was a winner. Tom of course, had Thomas, but sadly he was the little engine that couldn't.
Jonathan also had some animal Samaritan action with a little lost dog at the Bluff YC. This little fox terrier/Jack Russell cross had badly infected eyes, a stomach infection, skin rashes and was in a generally bad state of repair. Apparently he had pitched up at the club and nobody knew who owned him. He had a lovely nature, but was keen on chasing the geese, so ended up in the polluted water of the marina. That's probably how he became so badly infected. So Jonathan took him off to the local vet who donated his time to diagnose the little guy. We gave him with all his various pills and potions back to Billy, the marina manager to look after until the owners could be tracked down. Fortunately a very nice lady who already had two dogs took him on a permanent basis (unless the original owners come forward) so he now has a good home with two other dogs harrass. But we very nearly had ourselves a great little boat dog...
Today we will probably visit the maritime museum and art galleries - must keep the spirits up. Jonathan at least got to see the new James Bond , which only opened here few days ago.