Back in the Northern Hemisphere

Sunday 24th February 2019

Latitude : 02 12(N). Longitude : 034 54(W)

South Atlantic sunrise

Raya is back in the Northern Hemisphere. We crossed the equator about 400nm off the Brazilian East Coast heading for the Caribbean and celebrated the event with four glasses of bubbly, one each for the three of us and, as tradition dictates, one over the side for Neptune. Strangely it is almost to the day exactly three years since we crossed the equator going southwards in the Pacific.

Capturing the moment

We left Ascension Island under blue skies, with light winds and calm seas. A nice easy start while we settled into the pattern of eating, sleeping and night watches that would be the rhythm of our lives for the next 18 days or so. The going was a bit slow but we were saving our fuel to help us through the Doldrums.

Either side of the equator in the tropics run the trade winds, winds generated by the rotation of the earth that blow from the NE in the northern Hemisphere and SE in the Southern Hemisphere, we have been enjoying their consistency for most of our trip and they are the reason for our westerly circumnavigation. Running around the equator however is the intertropical convergence zone, the ITCZ. Here the winds drop dramatically, historically the doldrums were dreaded by mariners as they could become becalmed for days on end. These days with most yachts equipped with an engine it is more a matter of motoring through them as fast as you can to pick up the winds on the other side.

We motor sailed for a couple of days before the wind picked up a little and we managed to sail for a while. Friday evening however the wind dropped again, but when we turned on our engine, we were assaulted by a loud and worrying banging from the prop. As we crossed the equator we had thought of taking a mid ocean dip but decided there was a bit too much swell, now it looked like Rick would be getting wet after all. We sailed slowly through the night until at first light, equipped with his mask and a knife he went to investigate. For the past few days we had been passing through dense patches of weed, and to our relief it was this that was entangled around our prop and the simple act of stopping the boat freed it up. Rick stayed down to check things were ok before we continued on our way.

Where the trades meet the ITCZ there is often an area of unsettled weather and unfortunately as we sailed through the northern boundary we had 36hrs of squally conditions. Ominous dark clouds would continually build on the horizon and we’d watch as they either scooted past, missing us or relentlessly approached. Each squall brought high winds that backed northwards and torrential rain that fell for about half an hour. With light winds between them the trick to not getting continually soaked was to reef the sails with the wind increasing just before the rain arrived, this was not always that easy. On the upside our decks that were still covered in dirty South African dust have been cleaned beautifully.

Another squall comes through

Thankfully we are now through the squalls and are picking up the northeasterly trades which, with an accompanying current, are whisking us quickly towards Grenada. Just over three years ago we took off form Grenada for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean, as we arrive back we will cross our outward track and unbelievably our circumnavigation will be complete.

For now however we have another week or so of sailing to do. We are pretty low on fresh fruit and veg but have plenty of frozen meals, we are all swapping Kindles to ensure everyone has plenty to read and we are becoming better and better at the four o’clock crossword. Raya as always is preforming well and our spirits are buoyed by a continuous stream of entertaining emails from home. The sight of land however will be very, very welcome.

Green Highlights in Ascension

Thursday 14th February 2019

Ascension Island turns out to be a place that is far more captivating than first appearances would lead you to believe, from the tropical cloud forest covered peaks to its pristine beaches, from the large Greenback turtles to the land crabs, even the sun sets have been special.

The passage from St Helena was very slow and rather frustrating. The winds were light, under normal circumstances we would have resorted to the engine but obtaining fuel in Ascension is difficult and with a further 3000nm to go until Grenada every drop of diesel is precious. Ever since our return to the boat at the beginning of the year we have had one date that has been driving our schedule, the 9th February. With only one flight a month into Ascension Island this was the day, our good friend Jonathan, would be arriving to join us for the trip to the Caribbean. With little tourism there are no hotels on the island so our arrival to pick him up on time was particularly important. We sailed into Clarence Bay the anchorage off of Georgetown, the capital of Ascension, at first light on the 9th just a few spare hours before Jonathan’s arrival that afternoon!

Georgetown and Long beach

When I describe Georgetown as the capital of Ascension I should point out that the population of Ascension is only about 800 people. There are only four areas that could be classified as towns, the American base, Georgetown and two small villages. Georgetown has a few houses, a shop, a church, a bar, a police station, the main government offices and little else.

And when I say that the Island receives few tourists, I should explain that so rare is their presence that when we checked in to all the normal authorities not only were we expected but everyone knew Jonathan would be flying in to join us.

Further the shop mentioned above is not exactly Tesco’s, its few short aisles are rather bare and any hope of finding fresh food were quickly dashed. Our diet for the next few weeks will be interesting to say the least. The bar, and our access to internet, has turned out to have rather erratic opening hours and the lasting memory of the much talked about cafe on the American base that we visited last night, will be the delightful aroma of deep fat frying that lingers on our clothes.

Despite all this we have had just the best time, we are so glad we stopped. The people, all in some way employed by the military or the island government, couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly. And the scenery and wildlife have been really special.

Ascension unlike St Helena has some spectacular beaches. The central peaks of the island are surrounded by barren lava fields, and industrial signs of the islands military status are everywhere, oil storage tanks, radar domes, huge arial fields, secret Sam type warehouses etc. etc… so it is wth surprise that you suddenly find yourself enjoying the sight of a stunning beach, the turquoise of the sea and the white of the sand exaggerated by the blackness of the rock.

Stunning beaches

Its not only humans that enjoy this coastline every where there are warnings that sharks frequent these waters. Intrepid as we are and avoiding the high risk times of dawn and dusk we have swam and snorkelled most days.

Shark warnngs

Visitors of a more gentle nature are the large Greenback turtles that incredibly swim the thousand or so miles from their feeding grounds in Brazil to lay their eggs in the soft sand, particularly on Long Beach right in front of the anchorage. By day they swim around the bay popping up next to us with the familiar puff as they breath out at the surface. By night the females climb up the beach and begin the laborious process of creating a hollow above the tide line, laying and then covering the eggs. Monday night we joined the conservation team, carefully making sure not to frighten the females climbing up the beach. They found, in red torch light, a female in the middle of laying, she weighed in at about 200kg and 115cm long. Once the nest has been dug, the turtles go into a trance like state and are not disturbed by an audience, so we were able to watch for half an hour before leaving her as she began to shovel sand to cover the eggs and gradually wake up.

Turtle laying her legs

Tuesday found us walking near the 859m peak of Green Mountain. Now a lush rain forest it has an interesting past. Seen by some as an innovative ecological terraforming experiment and by others as the worse type of man made biological invasion, over the past couple of centuries the mountain regions have been transformed from a sparsely vegetated arid area to the luxuriantly green landscape that gives the mountain its name today. In 1836 Darwin visited the island and noted the lack of vegetation and the complaints of the British marines that the island was “destitute of trees” on discussions with his friend Sir Joseph Hooker, later to become director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew a plan was hatched to increase the vegetation. Plants and seeds from all over the world were planted and the survivors remain to create this unique environment.

Walking on a Green Mountain

The islands other highlights include the bright yellow land crabs, crisp horizons that gave us a brilliant ‘green flash’ one sunset, clear rich water from which Jonathan supplied us with an iridescent green Dorado for lunch, amazingly caught from the dingy and donkeys that seem to require refuelling at the local petrol station.

Only customers at the petrol station

Tomorrow we leave for the Caribbean and will be at sea for nearly 3 weeks. Follow us on the tracker.

Swimming with the Whale Sharks

Friday 8th February 2019

Stunning views all around St Helena

St Helena, just a speck on the chart of the South Atlantic Ocean, is home, for a few month each year, to magnificent 10m long whale sharks. Nobody knows why they gather here or why for hours on end they come up to near the surface of the water and seemingly just float about. But for the few visitors to St Helena this behaviour means we get to see them up close and personal.

We arrived in James Bay at 3pm last Thursday and were almost immediately summons to the authorities so they could process our papers before the end of their working day. St Helena, at least when there are yachts moored n the Bay, has a very convenient ferry service that runs between the boats and the yacht every hour. Stepping off the ferry that surged up and down about a metre next to the dock, on legs that had been at sea for over nine days was not easy but we made it. We cleared customs and Port control filling out the normal raft of forms and then in the afternoon heat trudged up the hill to immigration sited at the police station.

We needed refreshments, in town we spotted an Edwardian hotel with, on its first floor, behind wrought iron filigree railings, an inviting breezy balcony. We sat and took in our surroundings over a very welcome cold beer. Jamestown is a thin strip of urbanisation running down a gully between high steep cliffs. The majority of buildings and houses which mostly seem to date from the late 19th century, cluster around the one main street, whilst the newer developments perch on the cliff tops high above.

James Town

The islanders are a rich mix of ethnic backgrounds, reflecting the history of the island as an important staging post for shipping heading east and west around the Cape of Good Hope. Everybody seems to know everybody else and life is led at a slow island pace.

Running impossibly steeply up the hillside is the infamous St Helena ladder, an almost vertical set of nearly 700 steps that rises straight up from the town, challenging visitors to climb it. I’m so glad we decided against it, if my vertigo thought climbing up would be difficult, standing at the top, a couple of days later when we visited it as part of our whistle stop island tour, it looked to plummet straight down.

St Helena Ladder

As is the way in small communities the ferry man turned out to be the man who also ran the whale shark trips, so on the return run to the boat we booked to go out the next morning. The dive boat retraced our track, following the sheer rock faces that we sailed past on our way in accompanied by lively spinner dolphins the day before but this time it was the telltale shadow in the water of two whale sharks that caught our eye. Their fins and tail tips cut through the surface Jaws style, but unlike Great Whites, Whale Sharks are plankton eating placid creatures. We slipped in and they seemed happy to just swim along with us. The trip was very well regulated with no more than 8 swimmers per shark and a limit of 40mins with them each day. It was such a privilege to be able to interact with them so closely, these amazing animal encounters are without doubt for us the highlights of this trip.

Wow! Swimming with Whale Sharks

Raya, with the pressurised schedule we’ve had for the past month, has become rather high maintenance and the weekend turned out to be no different The high pressure hose that feeds the watermaker has starting to split . We quickly filled our tanks with as much water as we could before Rick dismantled the offending piece and with the help of what appeared to be half the island tried to find a solution. They almost got there but were one connection short, luckily he had time to order what hopefully will be the right bits to be delivered to Jonathan who flies out to meet us tomorrow.

We couldn’t visit St Helena without seeing a bit more of the island, so putting down his tools for a few hours, we took a quick tour of the Island. Our guide had spent almost all of his 82 years on the island and was extremely knowledgable. St Helena’s greatest claim to historical fame is as the place of exile for Napoleon. Napoleon spent the last six years of his life, surrounded by members of the French court, in a large villa with exquisite gardens and extensive views. In fact the views everywhere on the island are fantastic, steep green valleys, forest covered peaks and dramatic rock formations all surrounded by a sparkling blue sea. Not too bad a place for a prison cell.

Napoleon’s residence while in St Helena

In between times I was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to buy some fresh supplies. Luckily we still had some fruit and vegetables left from CapeTown, but that after another 5 days at sea is now almost gone, fingers crossed we will find more on Ascension Island for the 3000nm passage to Grenada.

Passage to St Helena

Wednesday 30th January 2019

As the sun rose my spirits rose with it. Our first three nights out of Cape Town were chilly and the sea rough, the wind making our night watches cool and the rolly seas making sleeping difficult. It’s hard to explain just how nice, when you are cold and tired the coming of daylight is. The skies were full of cloud and glimpses of sunlight rare but still being able to see the waves as well as hear them and feel the small amount of warmth from the hazy sunshine came as a relief from the hours of darkness.

We had timed our departure from Cape Town, last Tuesday, not on the tide but on the earliest opening time of the fuel dock. Designed for much larger vessels we hadn’t quite realised just how high the sides of the dock would be and at low tide this was exaggerated further. The only protection from the barnacle encrusted wall were three huge tyres and the only cleats languished about 10ft above our heads. The surge from the ocean swell entering the outer harbour, pushed us on, off, up and down against the all. All my strength was not enough to throw our heavy warps up to the fuel manager, luckily Rick managed to get one up and I then tied us off on a couple of rusty brackets. Once full of desiel there was then the problem of transferring R8000 (£450) across the watery gap and into the air. We placed the bundle of notes into a zip lock bag and Rick threw as hard as he could, for a moment as Raya lurched it looked like it would go into the ocean but with relief it landed safely on the dock. We didn’t bother with the receipt!

Dodgy fuel dock, Cape Town

We headed out of the harbour into crowded waters, small, local motor boats fishing, huge cargo boats queueing to come into Port, pilot boats ready to guide them, a large fast ferry, flocks of cormorants and dozens of sun bathing seals. The seals lounging on their backs with their flippers in the air seemed uncaring of the passing traffic, quite a few times we came to within a few metres of them they didn’t bat an eyelid.

Unlike the huge male that had lorded it over our marina pontoon, one day aggressively barring Ricks access to the boat. Rick had popped out for a selection of nibbles for our lunch, unfortunately seals don’t seem to be keen on vegetable samosas and resisted the temptation to be lured after one into the water. After a 15min stand off, Rick clambered on to a wall at the back of the pontoon and sneaked around the seals back before making a leap for the boat. The seal now very cross stationed itself right next to our step off the boat. A good day for jobs onboard we decided.Pontoon wars

There traffic quickly thinned out once we left the coast of Africa, there have been a few AIS targets on the chart plotter, mostly cargo boats heading to the Far East, but none that actually were close enough to see by eye. There have been no dolphins or whales and few birds, just us, the sea and the sky.

It was a chilly first few days

When not catching up with sleep we have been reading, doing crosswords and fishing, two bites, two got away. A slight leak around a through hull fitting kept Rick busy for a day, but luckily he managed to stem the egress to a slow drip that can wait for our arrival in Grenada. We’ve enjoyed a couple of nice sunsets, well stocked from Cape Town the food has been fresh and we have even toasted the halfway point with a sneaky beer.

And as we have sailed north gradually the temperatures have increased and with clearing of the clouds, by day 5 we were back in shorts and T shirts, unfortunately the fine weather came with light winds and eventually we had to give up sailing and put on the engine. Thankfully the winds have picked up and we are sailing again today and winds are forecast to stay with us all the way into St Helena tomorrow afternoon.

Very much looking forward to getting there.

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!