Waiting on Weather Windows

Wednesday 9th January 2019

We sit in the very industrial, noisy and rather rickety Port Elizabeth marina, not quite as far towards Cape Town and the start point of our South Atlantic Crossing as we’d like. But sailing here in South Africa is all about weather windows and despite this being the best time to round the Cape, they are still short in duration and numbers.

We were disappointed to find on our return to Raya, after the Christmas break in the UK, that the work the riggers had been promising to do since our arrival in November still hadn’t been completed. Worse still they had started job leaving the boat unable to sail, any thoughts of getting away promptly with a weather window that was opening on the Thursday were quickly dismissed, as finally the riggers got on with the job.

Finally all hands on deck, but too late for a quick get away.

With our potential time in Cape Town becoming shorter and shorter, we spent the next few days doing as much of the preparation for the long passage between South Africa and the Caribbean as was possible while still in Durban. Filling the freezer with meat, the lockers with non-perishables and cleaning products and doing routine boat checks above and below decks.

With the next break in the weather pointing towards the possibility of an early morning get away on Monday, we crossed our fingers and Friday morning went through the protracted process of checking out of Durban before the offices closed for the weekend.

When leaving or arriving in South African ports you are required to file a ‘flight plan’, a four or five page document, describing the yacht and your sailing route, sign and stamped by all the authorities. We understand the theory behind the need for this information, which has safety benefits for yachts as well as protecting South Africa’s borders from drug and frequent people smuggling. However, in practice, for yacht crews, that having already gone through the procedure to enter and leave Richards Bay and again on arrival in Durban, it just turns into a three hour, hot and frustrating exercise in paper pushing.

Ten am saw Rick standing in the hour long queue at the bank paying our port fees, the Port Authority bizarrely taking neither cash nor cards in person. In the mean time, the marina office and I did battle with the card machine that was refusing to take payment for everyone’s marina fees. After a call to their banks technical support team, at last, my card was excepted and the first box on our flight plan was stamped. Then it was on to the Port Authority office, about a km away, to submit our bank receipt. Here the gentleman also explained our next moves, including a return to his office, which he informed us would shut for lunch at 1pm, just thirty five minutes away. So at a run in 30C of heat we went to the building next door, here the immigration office inspected our passports and stamped their box in the flight plan. Next, in the same building but back out into the heat and around the corner through a different door, it was on to the customs office, where we submitted their outbound form. Interestingly this is exactly the same as the inbound form we had filled a few weeks ago, except for the circling of outbound instead of inbound, we collected another stamp. At two minutes to one we dashed back to the Port Authority office where with a flourish he gave us the final stamp. Relieved, if rather sweaty, we returned to the Marina office so they could add it to their files. The one flimsy bit of paper I was left with felt wholly inadequate for the amount of effort exerted.

Luckily we had the weekend to recover and our weather window stayed open. At five am Monday we squeezed out of the spot Raya had called home for the past two months and headed out of the harbour. With little wind we motored offshore to pick up the benefits of the Agulhas current and within a few hours, with sun shining and a pod of about a hundred dolphins entertaining us, we were travelling south at eleven knots.

A large pod of dolphins joined us and gave a fine display of leaping their antics

Gradually the wind increased and the sails came out. As the wind waves met the southern ocean swell it produced a lumpy sea, but with the wind in the north travelling in the same direction as the current, the fearsome Agulhas waves were kept at bay. The current increased and for a time was running at 6 or even 7kts, it felt odd as we gently sailed downwind to see our speed over the ground reading 13kts.

A very odd set of readings as we sped along in 5.5kts of current.

As Raya got into her stride we were seeing unheard of speeds, for a moment the gauge read 17kts!

We felt confident that we could make it a fair way towards Cape Town, reaching one of the picturesque bays on the south coast before the next set of strong SW winds arrived. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, we have been taking advice from a South African sailor who, for free, helps foreign boats with his wealth of local knowledge of the weather and sea states on this coast. Early Tuesday morning we received an email, he advised us that a large swell was now forecast for the rest of the week and although the bays looked protected the swell tended to creep around the headlands making the anchorages very uncomfortable especially as we wold be there for 4 or 5days.

So having had our fastest day run ever, we put on the breaks, turned out of the current and towards Port Elizabeth. As we crept along with reefed sails at only 5kts, in contrast to the previous 24hrs, we probably produced our slowest 12 but as always we were keen not to arrive until first light.

Luckily what appears to be the one large enough pontoon for Raya’s 56ft was available and by six am we were tied up and happily munching on a bacon sandwich.

We have some very large neighbours.

2 thoughts on “Waiting on Weather Windows

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