Rounding the Cape

Wednesday 16th January 2019

As we rounded the most southern point of Africa, Cape Agulhas, we turned north for the first time since July. Taking advantage of a short weather window we had left Port Elizabeth at first light the day before. We were expecting high winds for this part of the journey and this notoriously rough passage didn’t disappoint.

The previous week we remained trapped in Port Elizabeth. Two large low pressure systems, passing to the south, kept the wind against us and the swell large. This wind and swell crept around the headland and into the marina, setting us rocking and our warps creaking. The dodgy dock wobbled and bent as the yachts either side bounced and pulled at it. However despite looking like it might collapse at any moment it held fast and kept us all safe.

Rather rickety pontoons in Port Elizabeth Marina

We decided we deserved a day off from the continual buffeting, so Saturday we hired a car for the day and drove from Port Elizabeth along the picturesque Garden Route to visit the Tsitsikamma National Park. We headed for the mouth of Storms River that cuts through the country side in a deep gorge and can be crossed by two precariously looking suspension bridges.

As we arrived at the coast the full strength of the large ocean swell was dramatically demonstrated as waves pounded into the rocky shore line sending plumes of spray spectacularly into the air. It acted as a good demonstration as to why we were still in a marina and not at sea.

Large waves pounding the coast

Rick had tweaked his calf muscle a few days before so I took off on the kilometre walk out to the bridges alone. The path crossed a small beach and then twisted and turned its way up and around the cliff affording breath taking views of the coast line and the rough seas below.

The small beach at Storms River Mouth

At the end of the trail steep steps led down to the bridges, Despite their height, so rough was the sea that spray splashed up on to the bridge, timing my crossing wrongly I ended up with wet feet nearly 7m above the waves. From the bridge you could see just how steep the sides of the gorge were. The difference between the seething waters to seaward and the calm river that disappeared into the hills was striking. For the half dozen intrepid kayakers that entered into the water at the bridge the still waters in front of them must have been a relief after the sight of the surf as they trekked to their crafts.

The suspension bridges at Storms River mouth.

Sunday a glimmer of a weather window opened up, it meant motoring to windward for the first day and a half and then rounding the Cape in winds of F5 but in the perfect direction. The swell continued to be at nearly 5m but with the top of each wave being 13 seconds apart and light winds, we were ashored by the locals they wouldn’t be a problem.

So first thing Monday we set out, and sure enough the slowly rolling swell caused us no problems. As we motored along the wild life kept us entertained, Cape Gannets formation flew before dramatically diving for their supper, dolphins appeared at our bows, whales passed by a few hundred meters away and for the first time since New Zealand we saw seals, fins high out of the water they floated seemingly asleep.

As we approached Cape Agulhas the wind backed to the SE and picked up, by nightfall we were sailing in 30kts with an increasingly rough sea. We turned North and luckily the seas and wind turned with us, by the time we reached the Cape of Good Hope it was even stormier but Raya as always just ploughed through it all. We were extremely pleased however to find as we sailed further up the coast that conditions eased and as we approached Cape Town we were again motoring in calm seas. The spectacular sight of the city with Table Mountain looming above it was yet another high moment of this trip. And we were finally out of the Indian Ocean and all its challenges.

Welcome sight as we entered Cape Town

Passing through the bridges to get into the V&A Marina.

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