Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Mon 8 Apr 2013 06:26
Walvis Bay Yacht Club
Our friends on the shore
Things generally are going pretty well, so far.
The sailmaker has not yet said anything about delaying dispatch beyond April 10.
Our fellow cruiser with a rigging problem, Fleck, is a boat whose blog we have been following, quite unbeknown to skipper Richard, for over a year. While sitting in Rebak, apprehensive about crossing the Indian Ocean, we sought out the experiences of boats ahead of us. We found Fleck in Cocos, became hooked on the blog and have been secret followers ever since. 350 miles SSW of here, on the way to St Helena, Fleck collided with a freighter, scraped along the side, miraculously avoided major damage but bent a spreader and lost some gear from the masthead. We read the blog, as usual, and offered to deliver spare parts to St Helena. The wonders of modern communications have enabled Richard to order while on the move spares from Allspars in Plymouth, a company we know well, and arrange for them to be sent to JJ Moon c/o the Walvis Bay Yacht Club. UPS tracking is forecasting delivery on Tuesday. If it all works out it will be very satisfactory, even for us. It feels good to be useful.
There has been a slight hold-up in getting the Yamaha’s water pump impeller from Tokyo but we should get the motor back on Tuesday. According to Skeleton Coast Marine’s boss Floosie our motor was specially designed to be wrapped up in a “rubber duck” and dropped into the sea to enable “special forces” to storm beaches or infiltrate behind enemy lines. It all seems a bit far-fetched but Floosie is in earnest and I am not inclined to query the story; he has been very helpful in searching for a 10 mm chain hook. There are none in Namibia and the last one in South Africa was sold under Floosie’s metaphorical nose while he was on the telephone to his supplier. Gone to another yachtie.
We need the chain hook because we lost the last one while dragging our anchor on Thursday night. The wind went round to the north-west and a very nasty short chop rolled into the harbour under a blanket of fog. We jerked and tugged at our chain and had to lash the wheel to prevent the rudder slamming against its stops. The jerking tore the hook out of its 10 year old splice at the end of the snubber. We made repeated forays to the cockpit to check our position but at 0400 the anchor alarm went off; we were on the move. There was no danger of ship-wreck, had we not been woken up we should have grounded in soft mud, but it was chilly in the fog with nothing much on and difficult to avoid anchored boats. We managed to identify a safe spot and re-anchored in very poor visibility, with more chain out. The following morning we picked up a mooring. We are usually very cautious of moorings, preferring our own ground tackle, but this one is said to be designed for 30 tonnes and we gave ourselves a break. Knowledgeable salts will point out that we don’t need the hook, we can secure the snubber to the chain with a rolling hitch. We shall, but it’s less convenient.
Our enforced stay persuaded the mate to insist that we see more of the country. Three days’ car hire and another visit to Swakopmund were not enough. So we signed up for an expedition over the dunes to Sandwich Harbour. Until the early nineteen-twenties Sandwich Harbour was the largest European settlement in Namibia. It was a fishing and whaling centre with a canning factory and considerable infrastructure but the river silted up, the dunes closed in and everybody decamped to the upstart villages of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. There is not much there now; the harbour and a vast surrounding area have been designated the Namib Naukluft National Park. Jens was our driver and we shared the specially adapted Toyota Land Cruiser with a delightful Japanese family with two small children. Jens is a good driver and well versed in the ways of the desert. He needed to be because as well as the usual hazards the tracks had many water-logged patches. Namibia enjoys an average rainfall of 10 mm a year but 10 days ago it rained all day and put down enough for four years. It was very difficult to make out firm ground through large puddles, across the delta and over the salt flats. But we kept going and had a good many things of interest pointed out to us. After a couple of hours driving we made a rendezvous with Uncle John and his party of four Chinese people travelling with the same tour company. A curious incident occurred over lunch. As we stretched our legs, smiled all round and enquired where we all came from the Chinese declined the overtures of our Japanese friend and refused to acknowledge him. After the excellent nibbles had been cleared away and the women in our party were exploring the backs of nearby dunes the three men got to chatting. “The first thing I said to Uncle John,” said Jens, “when I saw his party, was: ‘I bet they don’t talk to each other’”. Our Japanese father looked grave. “In the Second World War Japan occupied China. They are very angry. We have to learn about it when we are young; in school”. I nodded wisely. Coincidentally, I am reading “All Hell Let Loose”, Max Hastings’s history of the war (a terrific book – revealing, moving, myth-exploding, lacking in national delusion, difficult to put down) and I considered myself something of an expert on these matters. As many as 15 million Chinese people died as a direct or indirect result of the Japanese invasion. At about the same time up to 25 million Russians died because of German aggression. The numbers are staggering, difficult to comprehend but they put our own losses and hardships into perspective. It all happened over 70 years ago, yet here was a group of mainly youngish people in the Namibian desert, sipping a cool glass of South African white, with the sins of the fathers still weighing heavily with them.
Jens looking for geckos
We set off back, surging up dunes, tipping forward and motoring precariously down crazy slopes, stopping to look at a human skeleton lying on top of the sand, at least 200 years old, searching for geckos and learning about the life-preserving properties of some plants. We nearly had to put the knowledge to vital use. We stopped at the water pump to learn that good drinking water was only a metre below the surface, and our engine refused to re-start. We checked terminals, looked for loose connections and fiddled with I know not what. We kept calm. Jens walked up a small dune to call Uncle John on the vhf radio. “If we can’t reach him, we’re b******d”. We couldn’t reach him. We fiddled again, kept calm, and had three goes at a push start. She nearly fired, but not quite. Jens climbed on to the top of the vehicle to call anybody he knew who might be in the area. No response at first; we kept calm; but then, finally a strong signal. A vehicle from another tour company was close-by. More investigation and hammering the starter motor did no good but a tow rope was connected and we were given a pull start. Jens said he had taken an “executive decision” to return by the most direct route. Did we mind? We said we didn’t mind. So he kept the revs up and we raced back to Walvis Bay along the flattish sand close to the shore line. The engine fluttered as we slowed for each tricky bit and Jens struggled to engage the right gear. The exhaust over-heated and there was a smell of burning rubber. But we were delivered safely back to the yacht club and over a cooling glass of something restorative reckoned we had had a good day.
1. What’s wrong? 2. Is anybody out there?
Earlier in the day we had visited our favourite garage and filled our last three cans of diesel. We think it might have been possible to have fuel delivered alongside in the small boat harbour but nobody was very sure and finding ourselves with a hire car for three days and the facility to drive right down to the beach alongside the dinghy, we decided to do it with cans. We filled, transported across a half-mile stretch of often choppy water, hauled up on deck and emptied 18 five-gallon cans. We felt well satisfied when we had finished. One fewer thing to worry about.
We reckon we shall be here for another week at least. But it‘s a good spot. Everybody seems to agree, natives and visitors alike, that Namibia is making great strides, there is less tension than in neighbouring countries; less need for ugly security measures. Provided our plans are not frustrated further we shall enjoy our remaining stay.