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.