Flying Into Cape Town
26 November 2021 | V&A Marina Cape Town
Jeez. Ocean sailing. Who’d do it? John, the South African delivery skipper we met in Rebak all these years ago……..or was it just eleven months, said it amused him to watch cruisers take all kind of weather beatings trying to get around the bottom of South Africa just so they could be in Cape Town for Christmas.
“The trick”, John said, “is just wait until January to run round from Richard’s Bay to Cape Town. Much nicer.”
But who are we to listen to experience when there’s this nebulous date in the calendar, a city we’re told you’re a lot less likely to get mugged in and of course, our in-built urge to, “press on.” (Not to mention a BMW F800 waiting on us)
And so, there we were thrashing along in the dark in thirty to thirty five knots, three reefs in the main and genoa pulling manfully, trying to win back the ground to weather we lost earlier in the day due to re-routing around inconveniently placed Traffic Separation Schemes and even more inconveniently placed tankers. We could have threaded our way through the two mile wide gap between the shallows of Six Mile and Twelve mile banks off Cape Agulhas…… but as we’re from out-of-town and there’s no word to the wise in the pilot books, discretion was to the fore and we favoured sea room over possibly getting a bit drookit from big foaming breakers washing along the deck.
Cape Agulhas is where our adventure of the last year comes to an end. It’s not the Pacific. That’s for sure. We’ve enjoyed and suffered in equal measure warm, balmy seas drifting along in a zephyr and thirty five knot, wild, wet and windy squalls. At Cape Agulhas the Indian Ocean ends and the South Atlantic starts. The good news is, we’ve two pairs of cruising friends who both bought new boats in Cape Town and both sailed them to Europe. Johann says his toothpaste tube stood on its cap and stayed upright the whole length of the South Atlantic. We’ll see!
We could do with some quiet weather as it got a bit breezy under Table Mountain. Flat water, relatively and a steady forty to forty five knots, gusting an eyebrow raising fifty four as the katabatic winds plummeted down the mountain lifting spume clouds and speed records.
We were flying. Have a look……..
13 November 2021
Perhaps you've heard of the genre of "Extreme whatever's" - Extreme skiing; Extreme diving; Extreme ironing and the like. Well, we arrived in Richard's Bay and took part in South Africa's extreme sport; Extreme Admin.
Never in the field of human bureaucracy has so much paperwork been generated by so many for so few. Jeez. You wouldn't believe it. All pointless other than covering the government and yacht clubs against any conceivable real and imagined event that may befall a cruiser. I guess it also keeps quite a number of government officials employed. Gotta spend that tax money somehow.
I swear, we dealt with and signed one tenth of the amount of paper to sell our house a couple of months ago.
Just as well my delightful wife / cum PA has the demeanour to manage these things.
We sailed into Richard's Bay at dawn and by 06:00 were tied to the barnacle encrusted "Q" dock and greeted by Natasha, the Ocean Cruising Club port officer who held our hand as we ploughed through the Covid, customs, immigration and port control minefield. Seychelles; I hate to report, you've now dropped to 2nd place in the league of World's End Admin.
Fully checked in, we moved around to the pontoons at Zululand Yacht Club to join the growing throng of cruisers passing through on their way around the Cape. Some sixty or so yachts have been through ahead of us already this year, most still digesting the T-bone steaks the club serves at the Braai many weeks later. There's another thirty boats coming up behind. Many trees will be sacrificed to complete the paperwork for that lot.
It was all a bit of a blast getting here and, for once, the weather gods just kept opening the doors.
Want a look? Click here......
Handbags and Gladrags
05 November 2021
I think I mentioned that, while Seychelles was billed as, “your first taste of Africa”, it really wasn’t. At best, Africa Lite.
About a hundred years ago when we set off on this trip, we spent a couple of weeks in Morocco. While it is continental Africa, it’s culture does not reflect the Wilbur Smith images I’ve got in my head. Endless Savannah, elephants flapping their giant ears and lions having fresh Wildebeast young for breakfast. Straight out the oven so to speak.
Now, Mayotte on the other hand was most definitely Africa. There’s no hephalumps or lion but the ladies walking down the streets, through the concrete and tin shack neighbourhoods in their brightly coloured gladrags said this is Africa.
One beautifully dressed lady walked past us with her Hermes knock-off handbag, complete with gold chains, balanced on her head and we thought, “now we’re in Africa.”
Have a look……
Wallace & Grommit in South Africa
29 October 2021
We made it to Richard's Bay. South Arica! Who'd have thought. We were eighteen miles out of port at 02:30 and put the brakes on as it was black as pitch - fitting really as Richards Bay is a giant coal terminal, possibly the world's largest. If the queue of ships anchored outside is anything to go by, there's still plenty demand to keep burning the stuff and shove another few million tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Will we ever learn?
(An aside â¦â¦ you may be aware there's a critical climate change conference in Glasgow soon. World leaders and their entourages are flying in; (that's really going to help) to once again make all the right noises. And do not enough. Anyway, the organisers bought up a fleet of Tesla electric cars to ferry the dignitaries the seventy miles or so from Gleneagles hotel in to Glasgow each day. Great idea. No gas guzzling limos. Non polluting, electric vehicles instead. Except, there's only one Tesla charging point in Gleneagles. Ooops. Just as well they were able to rent a whole bunch of diesel generators to charge the things overnight. You couldn't make it up.
Back to the story: having enjoyed sunny days and moonlight and stars all the way south, it was strange to have cloudy skies. However, we could see a few stars - Venus, Scorpio, Orion's Belt and I'm sure I saw Mustapha, but still not enough light to see the front of the boat.
About a hundred years ago I practiced a night entry to a local Clyde harbour. Simple enough, just identify, then line up the two red leading lights and proceed cautiously. It was quite a tight entrance with rocks all around but the leading lights were clear and easy to follow â¦â¦. right up until one of them drove away!
Since then, I've largely been happier to follow the dictum of never enter an unknown port or anchorage at night, especially busy commercial ports, and least of all where the instructions are to âtie up against the concrete wall outside the Dros Restaurantâ, which would no doubt be shut and unlit.
Sunrise was only two hours away so, we just wobbled around out there getting wheeched along by the Agulhas current (we're doing a lot of wheeching these days).
Timed to perfection, slowed to five or six knots we were right outside the harbour as the sun poked over the horizon. I even got in an hours kip.
The whole trip had kind of crept up on us. Plan A had been to make a couple of leisurely, weather timed stops on the way down. âOhh. Let's mosey across to Isle de Fogo. It's only about four hundred miles. Maybe two or three days. We can have a break, a rest and maybe a walk ashore. Then, we'll tick off the next four hundred down to Bazaruto.â
A great plan. Right up until the wind, for once, stayed favourable. âIt would be a shame to miss this wind just to see an ABA, (another bloody atoll.) The same thing happened at Bazaruto and again at Inhambane. We sailed pretty much the equivalent of half the Atlantic in one go - by accident, albeit a favourable one. Just as well we stocked up on muesli and Nutella. One thousand, two hundred and eighty miles down and sixteen to go at a disappointingly slow average of just under eight knots, caused by drifting / motoring for the first two days. Max wind speed, twenty seven knots, max boat speed, twenty one and half knots. Hee hee! Or indeed, âwheechâ.
All of this action took us south of the Tropic of Capricorn yesterday and down to twenty eight degrees latitude south and a decidedly chilly twenty degrees Celsius.
Similar to Wallace and Grommit, it's time for the long trousers.
Welcome to South Africa.
28 October 2021
"See when we get to Cape Town, I think we'll get new running rigging. I mean, it's six years old now".
So said the ancient mariner last night.
This morning, after a furious day and night thrashing down the Mozzie Channel - setting a new speed record of 21.5 knots, more furious toe tugging dragged me out of much needed sleep.
âThe wind's died. We need more sail". Now, that's not something I hear everyday, so I jumped out of bed, well, actually, more like levered and groaned my way to the vertical. Gravity can be a real bugger some times. These night watches aren't as easy as they used to be.
We then set to getting the big code 0 asymmetric out it's bag, tack attached to furler, head to halyard - with a plop and another curse, as the stainless bush in the head fitting headed for a new, more restful life at three thousand metres, then hoist the whole shebang twenty metres up the mast.
Sheets twisted. Drop the whole shebang. Untwist. Re-hoist.
Unfurl. Sheet in - and off we go.
"BANG". WTF was that!
The braided outer cover of the tack line, one of the running rigging parts I'd thought I'd replace in sunny Cape Town let go. We now had seventy five square metres of sail, pulling hard, held only by a thread of dyneema core. Yikes! A quick bear off to ease the load, furl it in and bring the whole shebang back down.
The great news was that replacing the tack line involved balancing precariously on the A shaped sprit poking out from cross beam at the bows, one mangy piece of equally old eight millimetre line stopping me from chasing after the stainless bush.
Hacking and pulling soon replaced the broken line, I climb back on board and guess what, the wind's piped up and gone ahead and it's now too much and too tight for the Code 0.
Undo the furler. Undo the halyard. Shove it all back in the bag. Lash bag to deck and on it goes....
The good news is that the wind is, unusually, favourable for a direct run to Richard's Bay. Apart from lost sleep, this is good news. We also avoid illegally anchoring off and seeing absolutely anything of Mozambique, especially the bits in the north where the crazies are out on the loose with their Kalashnikovs, although I believe their activities have been suppressed by professionals running around with Kalashnikovs. Further south where it's safer, at least from the crazies, we avoid the perils of crossing sand banks and spending nights anchored off open road stead's, rocking' and a-rollin' to find shelter. According to the scuttlebut, we'll also be saved hassle from the local authorities trying to augment their meagre incomes by fleecing passing cruisers.
And so, in true Time Bandit form, we press on. Our plan of breaking the trip with two or three stops of only three or four day passages of four hundred miles or so in between, is now lying in tatters along our wake as it shapes up for a one-hit, twelve hundred mile bash. And it's all against the weather clock, so it's sails up, sails down, in, out. Tweak , tweak, tweak. That and Michael and Prescilla on Hylite are behind us doing the same.
It whiles away the days. However, as officer Murtagh said, âI'm too old for this s#%t.â
The Mozambique Shuffle
23 October 2021
Imagine, if you will, a rectangle of ocean seven hundred miles long by about four hundred wide. Now, picture about ten giant donuts up to about a hundred or two hundred miles in diameter. Now set them spinning, some clockwise, some anti-clockwise, some meshing together like gears. Others just wafting about. All moving huge bodies of water at up to four knots. That's the current situation in the Mozambique Channel.
Layer on top of that, wind patterns that blow from south through north, cycling between the two at three to five day intervals and you have the maelstrom of passage planning that is the Mozambique Channel.
Our goal is to get to South Africa, specifically, its northern most port of entry on the east coast, Richard's Bay. The problem is, when the wind turns south it's invariably blowing like stink. Push that north going wind up against a southbound current of two to three or more knots and you've a recipe for a very bad hair day. Six metre waves are not uncommon.
Consequently, we've been dancing an aquatic version of Scottish country dance favourite, Strip the Willow. In this dance, opposing partners in the set of eight, four each side, will âcastâ off each other, linked arms, hunky, and usually drunk men, spinning their female partners around before moving up the set to âbirlâ the next victim and so progressing down the âchannel.â
If you can picture this, thatâs us. We're sailing around, miles off the direct track, zig-zagging around the ocean trying to find a directionally favourable current to âbirlâ us towards the next swirl and on to one of the few safe harbours down this stretch of water.
We're out two days now and approaching half way â¦.. with a weather window slowly easing shut ahead of us and I can tell you, my head hurts.
I’m With The Band
17 October 2021
Local knowledge said we’ve passed the hardest part of getting from the Indian Ocean to Cape Town. SPOILER ALERT!That was just a ruse to get us here. The tough bit starts now. The last two thousand miles is all down to timing. The cheery story is that every three to five days, a big, nasty weather system comes thrashing around the Cape of Good Hope, or Cape of Storms, your choice of name and outcome, depending on whether you get the timing right.
The effect of these blows is felt right up the Mozambique Channel where we and half a dozen others are impatiently waiting on a clear, three to five day window to make the dash to the first shelter, a weeny island where you can hang off the reef in residual swell and watch the fruit bats tumbling in the wind as they get blown out to sea. The alternative and/or next stop is a headland at Bazaruto, where you can creep through the sandbanks, no doubt with a three metre swell crashing all around to await the next window.
Pilotage wisdom here says “Starting on a low tide with sandbars visible, proceed to the first anchorage with good NE/SE protection. You can remain there till the wind switches, but this will put you in sight of the conservation authorities who will try and extort cash out of you for being inside a conservation area When it is time to leave it can take you up to 6-8 hours to get out as you may have to wait for the tide – time you can ill afford when sailing to a deadline and your next safe spot.”
Soberingly, we just read of a boat that got caught out and apparently ended up, trashed along with the owners’ dreams on a Mozambique beach. No casualties other than the boat but not what you want to hear just before you leave. Tomorrow was an option but in my opinion too tight a time scale to get to the nearest port of refuge. Well, sand bank of refuge.
The good news is we’ve cleared the first hurdle, the compression zone at the top of Madagascar.
As for Mayotte, unfairly I think, Wikipedia doesn’t give the place much credit. They say the islands are the poorest of France’s eighteen “departements”. That 29% of dwellings are made of corrugated iron and there’s an unhealthy level of youth unemployment. The community is allegedly ninety five percent Muslim although from what we’ve seen from the bins stuffed to overflowing with empty beer cans, the remaining five percent must be drunk as skunks 24/7.
It’s not Noumea or St Barts but what it does have is friendly people, multiple patisserie selling decent coffee and all kinds of highly calorific delights and an extremely welcoming yacht club.
Despite the weather threats I don’t think we can afford stay long. I’m only just getting back into my shorts and not having to hold my breath for photos, some of which you might see in Rolling Stone soon as, last night I made an appearance in Michael / Hylite’s “Jam Session” in the yacht club. Nine or ten folk responded to Michael’s chalked announcement, “Jam Session 4pm Monday. All musicians welcome.
It should have read, “All musicians, …….. and Stuart, welcome.” What I lacked in talent I made up for in embarrassment.
Write in for copies of my latest MP3 download. Or not.
Woffle over, here’s a short vid of our passage from Seychelles.
27 September 2021
If it's got a bit hotter these last few days, that will be our contribution to global warming from thirteen hours in a 737. Sorry about that Greta. However, we did make quite a few profiteering PCR providers happy.
It always seems amazing that in less than twenty four hours, albeit, mostly sleepless hours, sat with your knees around your chin, wondering what will get you first, Covid or thrombosis, that you can be transported to the other side of the world.
Edinburgh, across Europe, flying over places you've never heard of, the interestingly town named "Batman" for instance. Through what some might consider unfriendly airspace, to land in the middle of the desert, Doha to be exact, where you can get tooled up with a new Gucci handbag or a Rolex at eye watering prices at two in the morning. Really?
While we were home, in amongst the six months of junk mail was an invitation to enjoy one of the Scottish government's free medical screenings. Prevention being better than the cure as they say. So, off we went to the local hospital where I patiently sat in the waiting room, Anne wisely staying in the car. As I sat there in my socially distanced chair, I looked around and wondered if in fact it was smart to take my finely honed and healthy body to sit amongst folk with all kinds of strange symptoms. Most worrying was the double doors across from me bearing a sign, "Discharge Lounge". Yuck. Bring your wellies.
Back on topic, from the desert, it was a short hop to Seychelles and, as expected, the flight path went over the now, quite empty anchorage, then zoomed right over the top of Time Bandit, looking grey, even from a few hundred feet up, coated stem to stern in a layer of 'plane exhaust and fine dust courtesy of the cement works next door.
The fruit bats follow the same flight path and for the last eight weeks have been bombing our decks from a modest height. I don't know what they've been eating but, mixed with cement and aero fuel it's hardened like, well, cement. We've a good few days on our knees scrubbing under the tropical sun.
That should fix our peely wally look.