Cape Town

Monday 21st January 2019

We have loved our short time in Cape Town. A vibrant city of stunning views, bright blue skies and an eclectic mix of people. We will be sad to leave but this morning we have checked out with the authorities and plan to set off on the ten day sail to St Helena first thing tomorrow.

Our visit started well when the guys from North Sails who with only two working days to restitch our main sail and hoist our new Genoa, were actually waiting on the dock as we arrived into the marina on Wednesday afternoon. The good service continued when thwarted by the high winds on Friday they came, out of hours, to bend on the two sails early Saturday morning.

Our location moored right in the middle of the V&A Waterfront complex is ideal. Not only is there, close by, a supermarket that I trudged to six times, back and forth, to fill the boat with enough fresh food for the ten day passage, but also street buskers to entertain, a very nice arts and craft market and dozens of restaurants many perched right next to the docks, affording great views

Table mountain from the V&A Watefront.

In fact there are great views everywhere, Table Mountain dramatically dominating wherever you look, but the best views of all have been from the top of the mountain looking back down. Having worked flat out for three days, everything was ready and we took Sunday to enjoy the city. With so little time we opted for the open top sightseeing bus that wound its way past the most interesting sites before heading up to the cable car base station. We had left early and were rewarded by clear fresh skies and short queues. The views from the top were incredible, in every direction – peering down to the city centre that sits snug in the bowl of the mountains, looking out to far off towns and hills that fade gradually into the distance or gazing down to the Cape where the sea sparkles in the sunshine.

Signal Hill and Cape Town City

The Cape Peninsular and the mountain are an area of floral importance, recognised by UNESCO as one of the worlds special areas in terms of diversity, density and number of endemic species. Flowering shrubs, succulents and exoctic flowers nestle between the boulders that cover the plateau at the top of the mountain. For the intrepid, paths wind through this unique landscape, steeply up the mountain side that takes about 3hrs to scale, for those like us who opt for the slightly less strenuous fives minute ride in the cable car, paths zigzag around the top to make the best of the surroundings and it’s majestic scenery.

Taking a break and enjoying the view out to the Cape.

Back down at the bottom of the mountain we took the bus to Camp Bay, one of the lovely seaside communities that surround the beaches SE of Cape Town. Th sea looks welcoming in the heat but unfortunately a cold current runs down this part of the coast, a few brave souls were playing in the surf but most of the visitors were just soaking up the sunshine from their deck chairs. Having never been to anywhere on the South Atlantic I felt the need to dip at least one toe in the water, I can confirm it is freezing. We strolled along the beach for a while and then went for a very pleasant lunch, enjoying the waves from the warmth and comfort of our restaurant table.

A bit cold for a swim

Every time we have looked at the weather over the past few days the winds for Monday and Monday night have been getting lighter and lighter, it seemed foolish to leave just to motor for 24hrs, using precious fuel that we may need later in the trip. We took the decision to wait to leave until Tuesday morning, this having the added benefit of giving us a little more time to further enjoy the city.

We chose to visit a vineyard, we have really been loving the wine since arriving in South Africa and the oldest area of wine production in the country is just 20mins out of town – Constantia. One vineyard, Groot Constantia, was establish in 1685 and quickly became known for its production of excellent desert wine, drank by Napoleon while imprisoned in St Helena, the cellar still produces bottles of Grand Constance to this day. We had to try some and very delicious it was too. We left a few rand down but loaded up with a selection of bottles and some of the delicious chocolate they have produced to accompany each of their different wines. A white chocolate to pair with Sauvignon Blanc, a blackberry flavoured milk chocolate for the Pinotage and a dark chocolate to go with their Grand Reserve.

Groot Constantia

Next stop St Helena, where we can complete the Napoleon experience and see where exactly he sat to enjoy his wine.

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.

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.

Traditional Christmas

Monday 1st January 2019

As the taxi whisks us along the empty, early morning motorway from the airport back to the marina on he Durban waterfront, evidence of the previous nights revelling lines the route. Although it was by now 6am a surprisingly large number of party goers were still celebrating, chatting and even dancing near the city beaches.

We had seen in the New Year high above Central Africa trying our best to find a comfortable enough position to sleep in our aircraft seats. We have done so much celebrating with our friends and family over the past couple of weeks, that missing this final night of festivities was almost a relief.

After the first week in the UK we gradually, with the help of a few extra winter wollies, began to acclimatise to the cooler temperatures, enjoying traditional pub lunches, bracing country walks and an over abundance of food and drink laid on by our ever generous friends.

Traditional pub lunch with Tony and Gilly

Christmas itself was spent in Buckinghamshire. As we did two years ago, we took over the lovely house of our friends while they skied in the Alps. Having not been home for 18 months it was fantastic to get the family together to celebrate and to indulge in all the family Christmas traditions. From early morning Christmas stocking opening, piles of presents and a dinner of Roast turkey.

An abundance of presents

Augmenting the eight adults, this year, we had the pleasure of sharing Christmas with two lovely dogs, Dash whose house we had invaded and Stormi, Matt and Robyn’s new puppy. After a few nervous moments establishing doggy terms when they first met, they luckily became firm friends and were no trouble at all.

Dash and Stormi

Everybody around our Christmas dinner table will be joining us, at one time or another in the Caribbean while we are there in the spring and there was much enthusiastic chatter about sailing, snorkelling and rum. However with the end of our adventure looming a lot of conversation has also focussed on the small matter of what we plan to do next. But as we batted around all our exciting ideas and the seemingly endless possibilities, the thought that by next Christmas we would be firmly back on dry land is so far from our current watery existence that it’s quite difficult to imagine it actually being real.

And there is of course also the small matter of the more than 9000 sea miles we need to cover between Durban and our return to Europe. The most difficult of which could be our next leg around the Cape of Good Hope to Cape Town. For the last few days in the UK we have been looking for one of the elusive weather windows to escape Durban. Firmly reminding ourselves that with time a bit tight for our arrival in the Caribbean, it’s important to resist the temptation to leave in the wrong conditions.

It’s Cold Outside

Saturday 15th December 2018

The bitter wind whipped off the sea, freezing our ears and creeping down the gaps around the neck of our coats. We had gone down to Ramsgate harbour to view the Christmas lights that decorate the yachts each year and couldn’t believe that it could really be this cold. This was not the Ramsgate that lies about 75nm south of Durban, this was Ramsgate, England. We have arrived back home to spend Christmas with family and friends and although, as always, our welcome has been generous and warm, after two years of perpetual summer we are suffering in the cold temperatures that have taken hold in the UK this week.

Before we left Durban we had enjoyed a day on a warmer coast, we’d driven 20 mins north from the city to the beach at Umhlanga Rocks. The beach stretches into the distance in both directions, the waves crashing over the large smooth boulders that give the town its name.

Umhlanga Rocks beach and lighthouse.

The unusual ‘whale bone’ pier that stands at the centre of the beach has won scores of awards, it’s curving structure framing a marvellous view out over the Indian Ocean. A favourite spot for tourists and locals, my fellow visitors included a honeymooning couple, three teenage boys caps pulled down low over their faces, an old gentleman catching his breadth and a couple attentively clinging to their two young children. Looking around me I noticed that this was a rather happy spot, although a disparate group, old, young, black, white, as the wind caught our hair and the spray from the crashing waves beneath our feet filled the air, none of us could stop broad smiles from forming .

Umhlanga Pier

Amongst the new hotels and apartment blocks overlooking the beach sits the Oyster Box Hotel, built in the 1950’s it revels in its colonial grandeur. We had a fantastic lunch sitting on the terrace enjoying the views, before, like good tourists, we visited the art and craft shops, where we topped up on Christmas presents and fell in love with a sculptured giraffe. At about 4ft tall he was much too big for our suitcases and so will have to sail back to Europe with us, although where to store him onboard is a problem yet to be solved.

We flew into the UK on Sunday afternoon, straight into the political turmoil of Brexit, we have been watching from afar the twists and turns of the process, feeling gladly detached. This week as events seem to be tumbling further out of control, we have been avidly catching up on the radio and tv, aghast at the seeming chaos. The rest of the UK, on the other hand, who have been bombarded by it for a couple of years now, are completely fed up by it all, if you ask for an opinion they despairingly just hold their heads in their hands.

Perhaps to hide from reality, everyone is immersing themselves in Christmas, trees and decorations cheering up all the houses, shopping centres blast out cheery Christmas songs and supermarket shelves are filled with festive goodies. As always we have been treated to fabulous food and far too much drink and as we shiver in the chill emanating from Westminster and the wintery weather outside, the hospitality we are enjoying is very welcome.

It’s cold outside!

Right Now, perhaps

Tuesday 4th December 2018

Taking a reflective moment in the cockpit, late afternoon in Durban Marina

We are fast learning that getting things done here is not as easy as it first seemed. The progress we made with the easier jobs when we first arrived, has not continued for the more difficult tasks. Since our return from Safari it’s been very much a matter of one step forward, one step back, half a step forward, if we’re lucky.

When we arrived we were jokingly warned about the translation of words and the South African perception of timescales. Unfortunately we took less notice of this than we should have. We are beginning to discover that the word ‘now’ turns out to mean ‘maybe later’, ‘just now’ means eventually and ‘now now’ while better than ‘now’ still doesn’t mean ‘right now’ which is the best you can hope for and means you have a chance of something actually happening that day, perhaps.

To add to the frustration transferring money from the UK to South Africa turns out to be a lengthy process and full of pitfalls. So having finally got someone to do the work, if they don’t take credit cards, we have to ATM crawl until we have coaxed enough machines to pay out sufficient cash. This is made more difficult by the warnings from everyone to be careful to only draw out money in a secure place.

Despite these and all the other words of caution we have been given, we haven’t ever actually felt threatened here, walking through the run down area near us, does produce quite a few stares but whether these are malicious or just shock at seeing a European face amongst the crowd is unclear. The crime rate is high here and the perception of danger, real or not, is ever present. Barbed wire tops every fence and gate and security alarm notices warn of a ‘fast armed response’.

Barbed wire at the yacht club parking gate.

Despite delays from outside help, we have been working hard and getting things done. Rick has been busy replacing, fixing and servicing, while I amongst other things have been having a well needed clear out of some of the lockers. Anyone who has spent anytime on Raya knows of the stash of emergency food in the front cabin. Hoarded for times of serious starvation, the tins of Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney pies have become infamous as food of last resort. Luckily we have managed to avoid being stranded at sea and even the remotest islands have had provisions adequate for our needs. The stores mostly bought way back in Europe, have been shaken and bounced across three oceans and most items are now more than two years past their use by date, it is time for stocks to be refreshed.

Goodbye to the steak and kidney pies.

We head back to the UK for a quick visit on Sunday and despite the pressure that is putting us under to get people to get on with things, excitement is building. A very full couple of weeks has been planned with military precision, Christmas presents have been bought or ordered and winter clothes have been aired and washed of boat mustiness. The water maker is pickled, the freezer and fridge are almost empty and the suitcases dug out from under the bed. We are nearly ready!

Have to dash somebody has just told Rick they are coming right now, perhaps!

South African Safari

Monday 26th November 2018

Nambiti Game Reserve, in the incredible dawn light

As is often the case we were holding on tight as we lurched and bounced forward, but unusually the wind rushing past us was dry and full of dust, all around were greens and browns instead of our normal blues and the dark grey animals close by were elephants not whales. We have had a weekend away from the boat, enjoying a safari in the Nambiti Game Reserve, staying at the rather lovely Nambiti Hills Safari Lodge.

The lodge had a fabulous pool and terrace area

At only 22,000 acres the reserve is relatively small but is rich in biodiversity containing grasslands, savannah, rivers and dammed waterholes, woodland and thornveld (grassland rich in thorny acacia bushes). This variety of habitats means the park can support over 40 different species including the Big 5. The big 5 aren’t actually the five biggest animals in Africa, the title originates from the days of hunting when five animals stood out as the most dangerous to hunt on foot. Now thankfully most people only hunt with cameras and we were lucky enough to get shots of four of them, lions, elephants, rhinoceros and cape buffalo. The fifth of the big five is the leopard, which our friendly and knowledgable guide Siya informed us, finds you rather than you finding them, sightings are rare.

The park cuts down the rhino’s horns to make them worthless to the poachers

Siya was extremely good at spotting the animals at a distance and expertly manoeuvring the open truck up, down and around the rough tracks of the park to get us as close as possible to the animals. And at times we got very close, the game pretty much ignoring us as they grazed, or strolled pass.

Highlights were many and included in the distance, a female cheetah streaking across the hill capturing an impala for herself and two nearly grown cubs and one evening, right next to us, another female striding along with us marking her territory. A group of lions, suddenly rousing from their slumbers, startled us as they ran past the truck. A male letting out a roar just meters away, leaving us in no doubt about who is king of this jungle.

Up close and personal with the lions

A young bull elephant, ostracised from a herd we had seen the day before, angrily crossed in front of us, a herd of cape buffalos content in cropping the grass at one point completely surrounded us and magnificent giraffes strolled stately past.

A real privilege to be so near to these mighty beasts

On a smaller scale, one evening as dusk darkened to night, Siya caught a genet cat in his spotlight, being nocturnal they aren’t often seen. About the size of a domestic cat they have a striking appearance, their bodies are of white fur spotted with black and their long busy tails black and white stripes.

Not to be out done, colourful land and water birds were in abundance, a few having some very curious features. The prize for most ridiculous bird must go to the long tailed widowbirds. A medium sized bird, the males during the mating season have tail feathers that are about half a meter long, these may make them attractive to the females but make flying clumsily difficult.

We also saw two large secretarybirds with an appearance that is part eagle, part crane. With feathers extending half way down their long legs, they look as if they are wearing a pair of long furry shorts. The odd name originates from the crest of feathers that the adults have on the back of their heads, these were thought to resemble the quills that 19th century clerks stuck in their wigs.

A young secretarybird takes flight

To increase sightings the game drives took place in the surprisingly chilly mornings at five after a 4.30am wake up call and in the afternoon at four as the hot temperatures of the day decreased. They were punctuated by stops for coffee and tea in the morning and gin and tonics in the afternoon. In fact the food and refreshments at the lodge were all delicious and almost too plentiful. Between drives we indulged in some spa treatments and enjoyed our rooms large bath that looked out over the bush. We read, slept and revelled in the luxury. Today we return to Raya and the ever long to do list.

Enjoying the quiet of the Bush with a gin and tonic

It was so difficult to know where to stop with the photos and I couldn’t resist adding a few more below.

Amazing ears of the female Kudu

And the curly horns of the males

Delightful legs of the African Wattled Plovers

And the priceless expressions on the faces of the giraffes

Finally Durban

Reunion to Durban – part 3

Whales everywhere between Madagascar and Durban

Thursday 15th November 2018

At 3am last Friday, near the top of the tide, we left the dock in Richards Bay and with a good forecast we headed finally for Durban. The multitude of lights within the busy harbour, an incoming cruise liner and 50 or so anchored tankers that were overloading our AIS system, made for a stressful exit. But by first light we had turned south and were being whisked along with help of the Agulhas current, the light winds were directly behind us as we motor sailed, in sunshine and calm seas.

Ever since we arrived off the coast of Madagascar we have seen numerous pods of whales and this trip proved to be no exception. However many times you encounter them, when they are up close to you, it is still shocking how huge they actually are. One surprised us, surfacing just a few hundred meters off our beam, another pod entertained us, breaching and fin slapping as we sailed by.

Whale watching off Madagascar

By 4pm we were tied up on the International dock in Durban Marina. We are a bit close to the noise of the city, with its continuous traffic, a rail track and crowds of people. And the water in this corner of the marina is depressingly strewn with rubbish. We are however more than ready to enjoy having no anchor alarms to worry about, no walls to contend with as the tide rises and falls and an endless supply of power and water.

Durban ‘got here’ beers

Just across from us is the Royal Natal Yacht Club, the oldest yacht club in Africa. It’s a well frequented venue and everyone has given generously of their time and local knowledge. Sunday’s they served a carvery so we enjoyed our first roast lunch in 18 months, we have sampled the fine South African wine and been entertained by live music on their lawn. A few hundred meters in the other direction is the Point Yacht Club, who serve a knock out breakfast and have a Thursday night B B Q. Termed Braai here, as well as delicious chicken kebabs, we tried spicy boerewors, a tasty beef sausage and rather tough biltong, a thick cut beef jerky. There are a couple of Oyster rally boats still in the marina, as well as a few other boats we know, so we have plenty of company and as for once Sterling is strong here, to make things even better, everything is extremely cheap.

View from the yacht club lawn across Durban Harbour at spring low tide

We do however have lots of work to get through during the next few weeks, a long list of jobs sits staring at us from the table. Luckily with labour cheap and plenty of marine trades around, finding help has been relatively easy so far.

Which is a good job because moving about is a bit of a challenge, the crime level in Durban is high and exploring further than the marina precinct by foot, we are told, is ill advised. Our immediate surroundings, in the worst days of apartheid, was a whites only neighbourhood, upmarket new apartment blocks sat between majestic examples of Art Deco architecture. As politics changed, the wealthy residents moved out of the city centre and now many of the buildings stand empty and derelict, the whole area has become dismally run down and petty crime is rife. Consequently taxis are the order of the day and next week, having ticked off some of our tasks, we will hire a car to explore further a field.

Art Deco architecture overlooking the harbour

Landfall South Africa

Reunion to Durban – part two

Wednesday 7th November 2018

It was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that we managed with difficulty to tie up to the wall in the large port of Richards Bay about 85nm north of Durban. The arrival fantasies, in my tired state, of a safe, easy, marina pontoon, where we could close our eyes and sleep for a week, were not to be.

Richards Bay is full, the marina gearing up for the arrival of the World ARC and the Small Craft Harbour has foreign boats rafted two by two to the wall. The only spot we could fit into was nestled in amongst the large tug boats that operate in the port. Getting on and off the boat is difficult and in the gale force SW winds that have blown for the past two days and with spring tides, sometimes impossible. We are within the tug boat security area and so have to be let in and out by a security guard, we have no power and water only after Rick managed to temporarily connect us to the over sized pipes designed for commercial vessels. The rough wall is playing havoc with our lines as we rise and fall in the 2m tide and we haven’t dared look at what the barnacle encrusted sides are doing to our fenders.

Tied up with Vella in Richards Bay small craft harbour.

We have arrived in South Africa however and the ‘got here’ beers that we drank in a nearby bar, have rarely tasted so sweet. To cap things off, on the bar TV, a bit of home welcomed us, the England rugby team were playing the Springboks at Twickenham, we cheered quietly, amongst a sea of green shirts, as England kicked the winning penalty.

It was a five day passage from Madagascar to Richards Bay, from a sailing point of view it was straight forward, we had one night of higher winds brought by squalls of torrential rain but mainly there was light winds and the engine was on. We decided early on to make the slightly shorter run into Richards Bay, in doing so, avoiding a night entry, in high winds into Durban Harbour. However, psychologically the passage was quite stressful, timing was every thing, not just to avoid the worst of a squally front but importantly to arrive at the Agulhas current in the right conditions and our weather window was quite tight. Estimating our speed was complicated by continually changing eddies of current that swung from 2kts with us to 1kt against, the days of motoring gave, me at least, range anxiety and news from some of the over boats was not good.

The fleet had split at the south east corner of Madagascar, while we sat things out in Fort Dauphin others pushed on. Some, risking the run straight in, sailed through bad weather but after a day or so waiting at sea for the wind to change, successfully made it ahead of the pack. Other boats decided to wait things out on the west coast of Madagascar, but a terrifying incident, where Atem the Blue Swan was approached by an armed gang, who were only deterred by a strong squall from boarding the yacht, sent everyone scurrying to hide out off the coast of Mozambique. Atem reported the incident to the American, British, French and any other authority that have navy boats in the region, apparently the potential pirates were apprehended. Atem arrived in Richards Bay a few days after us understandably very shaken. Thankfully we had no such problems and with help from our weather man, Chris Tibbs, when we reached the infamous Agulhas current all was calm, a sleeping monster beneath our keel.

Crossing the Agulhas Current

In the few days we have been here, Richards Bay has thrown everything at us, scorching decks, violent thunder storms, torrential rain and gale force winds. We have been invaded by a swarm of May Flies, that promptly died and covered the decks and visited by a troop of monkeys that we had to shoo from the boom.

Lightening was a bit close for comfort

Many hours have been spent dealing with immigration and customs, in South Africa you have to fully check in and out as you arrive at and leave each port, this involves getting the correct stamps, from the correct offices, in the correct order. Luckily we have had a knowledgable and helpful taxi driver to chauffeur us around and the company of the folks on Vela another Oyster that has been rafted up to us. Not only did we jointly do battle with the authorities, we have all dodged extremely close lightening, eaten out, drank on each other’s boats and done a half day river safari together.

The St Lucia river an hour of so north from here is home to 800 hippos and 1000 crocodiles. Our tourist boat slowly meandered up the brown muddy shallows bordered by reeds and mangroves. We passed sleeping and swimming crocs, bright yellow weaver birds creating their perfect round nests on the reed stems and families of wallowing hippos. Further up the river through the trees we spotted an antelope and a group of at least thirty sleeping hippos. Appetites wetted we have booked a three day safari for the end of the month.

Occupants of the St Lucia River

With the weather easing and hopefully all paperwork completed, we plan to start the short sail south in the early hours tomorrow, with an arrival, finally, at Durban marina in time for supper.

An Unexpected stop in Madagascar

A ring tailed lemur

Reunion to Durban – Part 1

Tuesday 30th October 2018

The Indian Ocean continues to challenge us. The exit from Reunion, last Wednesday, was even more lively than expected, with high winds and horribly rough sea. In our rather rushed departure I had forgotten to take a seasick pill and I rapidly became unwell. Even my trusty tablets that I put under my top lip couldn’t stop the waves of dreadful nausea.

Having been told we couldn’t stay in the marina we had decided to leave quickly so that we could sail with the Oyster Rally boats who had very kindly invited us, and Atem the Blue Swan, to join their SSB radio net. With such a tricky crossing in front of us there is comfort in numbers and the pooling of knowledge means we would be very well informed.

Thankfully during the first night things calmed down and my queasiness gradually wore off. The wind dropped right back and on came our engine. Unfortunately, looking forward a week, with the help of our weather router, conditions for our arrival in Durban, still looked difficult. As the forecasts firmed up, it became clear to us that a stop in Madagascar to wait for things to improve might be the solution. So it was therefore that just 3 days into our journey we found ourselves anchored, with four other Oysters that made the same call, in Fort Dauphin on the SE corner of Madagascar.

Madagascar had never even been on our radar, we knew very little about it. Whales breaching and fin slapping greeted us at the entrance to the bay, which we were surprised to find, with its backdrop of mountains and several European influenced villas above the beach, looked from a distance, a bit like an Alpine lake resort.

Fort Dauphin

The view from the deck proved to be deceptive, ashore, the smells, the slightly beaten up buildings, the rutted roads, the lovely wooden canoes and the smiling faces of the people, were all very African. We were met at the beach by an excited gang of youngsters and a few adults, all keen to help bring the dingy up the beach and look after it for us. The women and children persistently offered cheap jewellery for sale, the men waved taxi keys or offered to be our guide. The throng was a bit intense but all very friendly.

Local wooden canoes

We were shown the way to the immigration office where much filling of forms and enthusiastic stamping took place before a fee of over £100 was demanded. There was slight suspicion amongst the crews that this amount was fairly arbitrary and set to fit how much they thought we would pay. Barring Galapagos, with its National Park fees, I think it must be the highest amount we have paid to enter any country, but we were stuck here, we had to pay up.

A few trips to the ATM were in order and after a data sim was purchased we returned to Raya to rest, and, what else, to study the weather forecasts. We assured ourselves we had made the best decision, we would be here a couple of days. Heck, we were in Madagascar, time to find the lemurs.

Our taxi drivers car, a bright blue, tiny ancient Renault, was only just big enough for us and our guide, who, reassuringly, wore a sign saying ‘Official Guide’ in big letters around his neck. They told us they would take us to a private reserve where we could get close to the lemurs, but to be honest they could have been taking us anywhere, our normal careful research not done, we were in their hands. We wound our way through the crowded, narrow streets and through the bustling market area, stopping at yet another ATM to get more tens of thousands of Madagascan Rand, even after our time in Indonesia, we were struggling to get our head around all those zeros.

Leaving the town behind we turned onto a smooth wide dual carriage way, rice paddies and other crops filling the narrow strip of land between the mountains and the coast. Our comfort and speed was, however, short lived, as within minutes we took an unmade road towards the mountains. It had rained heavily all night and our driver was quickly confronted by deep puddles that filled the bumpy track.

Overnight rain made the roads almost impassable.

He’d obviously tackled this before as he torturously wound his way between them, his little car manfully battling on. Villages lay every few miles, consisting of collections of huts constructed totally from the bamboo that grows everywhere here, the walls from the stiff stems, the roofs from the fronds. We passed a gash in the mountain, shockingly rock was being hewn from its sides by hand, carried to the nearest village and made into square bricks.

Yes that’s a duck wandering past stone bricks, hand made straight from the mountain

A continuous stream of people walked between the villages, mostly carrying goods either strung from bamboo sticks, or in the case of the women in baskets miraculously balanced on their heads. A man driving four head of cattle squeezed to the side of the road to let us pass, we stared out of the window wide eyed, this truly was, another place, a world away from our comfortable European lives.

Everyone uses the one road through the villages

Eventually we reached the reserve and found our lemurs. They are really lovely creatures with expressive human like faces, their bodies covered in lush soft hair and their long bushy tails used skilfully, almost like an extra limb. We saw tiny Bamboo lemurs sat high amongst the shade of the dense foliage at the top of 30ft bamboo clumps, brown lemurs athletically leaping from impossibly spindly branches in the very tops of the trees and ring tailed lemurs that peered at us from crooks in the tree trunks.

Ring tailed lemurs

But the friendliest were the white lemurs, nick named dancing lemurs they nimbly swang from branch to branch, ran up and down the tree trunks and came right up to us looking for food.

White lemur

What an amazing morning. Praying for no more rain we followed the rough road back to the bay, ran the gauntlet of locals on the beach and returned to the boat. The days weather report had arrived, it was time to move on, our unscheduled stop had turned out to be so much more than a safe place to wait for the weather systems to get in line. Despite our fears this little corner of Madagascar, at least, is delightful.