Durban to Cape Town
The Durban Boat Harbour is full of strange people. I fit right in.
The first new people I got to know were Rory and Sam, my neighbours, their boat Sunset berthed next to mine. Married, in their fifties, they had sold their game park, invested in some properties, bought a boat and now wanted to sail to the Mediterranean for a pleasure cruise. They had no previous sailing experience and had never owned a boat before. They were the most normal couple I was to meet here. They were practicing Christians and I enjoyed some interesting metaphysical discussions with Rory. At one point he asked me whether he sounded arrogant in his views as he had noticed that I had switched off during one of our discussions and admitted that he sometimes had this effect on people which worried him. He asked me to be brutally honest. I was not particularly aware that my attention had strayed, I looked at Rory, considered the questions and realised what had happened. Brutally honest? Isn’t this the only way friends communicate, well maybe not brutally but always honestly. I explained that it was he who had glazed over when he had rattled off his Christian dogma and that I think the problem was not arrogance, that it wasn’t me or anyone else he was trying to convince of his beliefs, but rather himself. I think his faith is troubled. I explained my own point of view that while I try to lead a Christian life I do not think that Christians have a monopoly on the path to God or whatever it is we all seek, no matter what the Bible or organised religion has to say on the matter. Does God exist, buggered if I know and I am not even sure whether it is important. What’s important is what you do with this life, not the next.
Other people I met were Issy’s neighbours at the far end of the marina, Norman and Danni. Norman is a South African, also in his fifties, who owns a nice flash catamaran but has bugger all money left to sail it anywhere. Long white hair and walrus mustache, he looks a lot like Lee Marvin and has on occasions been asked for his autograph (isn’t Lee Marvin dead?). Danni is his 36 year old Canadian backpacker crew who has been hitch-hiking around Africa for the last two years and who has even less money than Norman. Danni thinks that Norman is the Wizard of Oz and she is Dorothy. Maybe she’s right. Each morning Norman would tell Danni jokes and her laughter would roll across the marina, a tidal wave sweeping all before it. Whenever she entered a room she would announce her arrival with her loud voice and if that wasn’t enough would laugh loudly at a piece of trivia to make sure everyone knew she was there. One time she came into the Royal Natal Yacht Club and sat at a table where I was seated, she had just returned from Mozambique, where she had gone so that she could re-enter South Africa and renew her visa. As usual she laughed loud, I could not resist shouting across the room, “Just in case anyone hadn’t noticed, Danni’s back.” Often I thought her laugh insincere and I found myself attracted to her, thinking this person needs to acknowledge some sadness she has not dealt with. And I ask myself what sadness have I to deal with?
Another Rory lived on a flash monohull, a “Fast 40”. He is a successful business man, clean shaven, well groomed, handsome, in his early fifties, married three times to two women … and divorced three times. He maintains his first ex-wife, who is a near vegetable after an automobile accident, and now wants to marry his second wife for a second time. I asked him whether he could perhaps see a pattern in his relationships, he raised a thoughtful eyebrow, “Maybe.”
“And why will your second marriage to your second wife work this time?”
“Because the problem is her children and they will have all moved out soon.”
“Mmmm,” I say noncommittally, unconvinced. Rory likes women and is very confident. I witnessed him flirting with a petite, pretty young Filipino woman, married to a yachtie I never got to meet. His forwardness amazed me and Suzy’s enjoyment of the brazen comments amazed me even more, not that his ‘charm’ worked on all women. Rory had some bad burns healing on his forearm and at one time made the mistake of grabbing Danni’s arse, she reacted with an up-thrust knee which managed to connect with his burnt arm, not on purpose, but which nonetheless had him rolling in agony. Now Danni calls him “Groper Rory”, which at least distinguishes him from Sam’s gentleman Rory, though Danni saw gentleman Rory’s manners as sexist rather than gentlemanly. A bit harsh I thought but not entirely without substance. It is absolutely impossible to please everyone.
Groper Rory was very impressed with my achievement of sailing across the Indian Ocean single handed and thought I must be at peace with myself. He says he is at peace with himself and I believe him. I had to confess that I am far from achieving this exalted state of grace myself but I am certainly seeking it. Rather I feel I have become the ancient mariner, and while I am no grey beard loon grabbing wedding guests and fixing them with my glittering eye, it seems I am destined to explain the tale of my reluctant single handing many times over, I am not hypocrite enough to have people think of my feats other than as they are, driven by a dubious necessity. On the other hand no one really wants to hear endlessly about my tale of woe, certainly I am getting thoroughly fed up with it and am coming to the conclusion that I shall let people think what they like, knowing in my own mind how difficult it is to truly know the difference between an act of courage and cowardice.
Henry is in his thirties, a friend of Groper Rory, he says he is divorced with one child, but I have no idea how much of what Henry says is truth or fiction, the only conclusion I could come to was that he is seriously disturbed. He swung in from somewhere some months ago and works as a maintainer for one of the local sailing schools. He wears a perpetual scowl on his face, complains bitterly about almost anything, especially about how little he is appreciated by his employer, but he assures me that he is in fact very happy, its just that he doesn’t feel like smiling. One evening he tells me of his time as a ranger in a game park where he was involved in firefights with poachers. Later in his life he worked for a child protection agency. He relates a story of breaking into an apartment where they find a small child with cigarette burns and other injuries. The child grabs Henry’s neck tightly and refuses to let go. Henry is as angry as hell, he goes up to the man in the house and puts a pistol in his mouth, and says, “Just give me an excuse … Please…. give me an excuse!”. Gentleman Rory is at our table listening to this story, he decides it is time to leave. Of course Henry no longer works for this agency. I share a few more beers with Henry that evening; I sense that this man needs to talk.
Oscar is qualified as a cost accountant (he had to explain to me what this was exactly) but he reckons the new “affirmative action” laws had put him out of a job, so he had taken up another passion, carpentry. He could often be seen wandering around the marina looking for business. He felt his situation was unjust but was reconciled to it as pay back for the years of apartheid. He tells me of a woman to whom he has lent a considerable sum of money. He is annoyed that she has taken so long paying it back and shows him little gratitude. I ask him is he in love with her. He hesitates and avoids answering me. Eventually he smiles sheepishly and says yes, he is. A few days later I see him, he looks miserable and while polite is distant. I suspect his advances were unsuccessful. I think of Issy’s advice, “Landing a girl is like catching a fish, you have to put out some bait, get a bite, take your time, play with them, take in the slack, gently, easy does it, until you pull them all the way in.” What do you do then, flop them on deck, pour some rum in their gills and bash them over the head with a mallet? God I hate playing these silly games. Growing up is hard to do, especially at 45.
Julie and Brian - Julie definitely comes first in this introduction, Julie is in her late forties, overweight, good natured, doesn’t mind a drink, very funny, and could she spin a yarn or two. Back in England she is a driving instructor and if you were ever a nervous student driver she would be the best instructor you could ever pray to meet. Brian, Julie’s husband, must be in his sixties, a short slightly built Englishman of pleasant and humorous demeanor, a retired master mariner who does not lack an ounce of courage as further events will reveal. They own a luxurious 50 foot sloop, Cleo, which Brian freely admits is the wrong boat as it is just way too big for them to manage.
Peter and Sam are friends of Julie and Brian and were visiting them from England. Peter, a fireman in his forties, is of solid, almost portly build with fair hair over a round pink face. Sam, early forties, nicely built, ample bosom with cleavage and other assets displayed to best advantage and, as best I could work out, another professional nutcase.
Then there’s me, the reluctant Australian single hander, recently split up from his wife of 20 years, co-dependent, suffering depression, undergoing a major mid-life crisis and generally feeling like shit. Why am I here, what’s it all about, is there any point, what am I going to do next? (Maybe the question about God is important.)
Oh, and of course my Spanish single hander friend, Issy. Short, a little rotund, a good drinker and a heart of gold. He would awake each morning and his first order of the day, no earlier than 9 O’clock, would be to walk across to Norman’s boat, shouting “Neighbor, how are you today?” imploring Danni to shut up, and then enjoy breakfast with them for the rest of the morning.
A few other minor characters will be introduced as needed though I hasten to add that minor bit parts can steal the show if one is not careful.
We all live within the confines of the marina, a railway track separates us from the reality of Durban and a gang of blacks patrol the line at night, sleeping at the crossing by day, apparently ready to stick a knife in you for a few miserable Rands. ‘Groper’ Rory has suffered five stab wounds in two separate attacks. Though neither of the attacks occurred on the Durban tracks they are typical of the stories one hears. The first attack resulted in his admission into intensive care while the second ‘only’ required emergency treatment. Some nights I hear several gunshots, and I know what a gunshot sounds like.
Initially we all get along fine, but soon some cracks appear.
My first few weeks were mainly devoted to getting more repairs done to the boat. In addition to the damage my jib had suffered from the short gale offshore from Durban, the mainsail needed attention after several thousand ocean miles, the fridge had not worked since Mauritius (I was thoroughly fed up with warm beer and no milk), my 24 volt to 12 volt converter had decided to go up in a puff of smoke, literally, and I had also decided it was time to have something more permanent done about the temporary repairs I had made to the windvane over two years ago. The result was a further dent to my depleted funds but the exchange rate was good and I thought all the repairs were essential either to my safety or sanity, which I reckon amounts to about the same thing.
Despite these practical matters it would have been downright boorish not to see a bit of Africa and to this end I started questioning some of the locals about the best way to see the sights. I envied Danni her courage in hitch hiking around Africa, a most cost effective means of travel, but in the end decided that while she might get away with it I would probably not. I was later to discover that Danni had learned much of her hitch hiking skills while running away from home at the age of 14 and undoubtedly the several months she spent in reform school taught her quite a few survival skills, unlike the relatively sheltered life I have thus far lived. While discussing means of seeing Africa with ‘Groper’ Rory he realised that he had not been to a game park in over thirteen years so he decided we should go together that very weekend. He made the necessary bookings and provided the car. All I had to do was share the costs. Too easy.
We left early Friday morning and five hours later were in the Hluhluwe (pronounced shesh-loo-ee) game park. By Australian standards the area is relatively small but the amount of life the area holds is truly amazing. We saw the common animals here - buffalo, impala, rhinoceros, wildebeest, baboons, and giraffe. The rhinos were particularly fascinating, we found them mainly by waterholes lounging around in the mud, mostly lone males but also the occasional family group of male, female and infant. Despite their size and dangerous appearance, they are in fact timid creatures. They have poor eyesight but good hearing and an excellent sense of smell. When we encountered the single rhinos Rory in an act of male machismo would get out of the car and make like a wild man to see if he could get them to run away. It was funny watching the rhinos look at him, trying to work out whether he was a threat, then invariable take off in retreat, though on one occasion a rhino started to make a charge for us and it was even funnier to watch Rory turn tail and run for the car. That night we stayed in the lodge, in a hotel style room and dined at the restaurant. Very civilised.
Next morning we awoke for an early start to make the most of the day. Mist shrouded the roadways as we headed off for the day’s sightings, quickly burning off as the sun rose. We saw more of the same (how quickly we become habituated), played some more with the rhinos but our quarry, lion and elephant, eluded us. As we drove around the maze of roads not one was to be seen. Elephant territory is easy to identify as they are messy eaters, simply demolishing the bush as they pass through it, leaving open space and broken trees behind them, undoubtedly maintaining the ecosystem as it is meant to be. We knew we were in the right area but were to be frustrated again. However we were rewarded with a leopard sighting which had Rory in a fit and jumping on his cell phone to tell his Mum. I had no idea what the fuss was about and Rory had to explain that leopard sightings are extremely rare. In fact later when we told some rangers about our sighting they were quite skeptical thinking we must have seen cheetahs which are much more common, but even I can tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah. Apparently park staff can go for years without sighting one of these elusive cats.
That night we stayed in a camp area in a very nice tent complex, enjoying a few beers and a braai for dinner (a braai is South African for barbecue). The hyenas crooned and hiccoughed at the full moon through the night while we hid under our mosquito nets trying to ignore the critter’s pesky buzzing.
Again we started early on our third and final day in the park, we were determined to track down some elephant. We scouted out a corner we had not yet been to and were encouraged by a passing ranger who advised us that while he had not seen any there was definitely plenty of evidence of recent elephant activity nearby.
“You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes,” he commented, “but it is amazing how a four meter giant can dissolve into three meters of shrubbery. Oh, and you can’t get through that way, there’s a tree across the road, definitely elephants.”
We therefore took an alternate route but after much driving and despite careful surveillance we continued unsuccessful in our quest. We were sure they were near and felt sorely disappointed. We were about to concede defeat and head towards the park exit when we decided to have one last go and investigate the tree fall. We soon came to the tree across the road and immediately sighted an elephant’s posterior disappearing into the bushes. Concerned that this was to be our only sighting we broke a cardinal rule and left the car, heading downwind of the beast to see if we could get a better sighting and some photos.
Now it is common knowledge that elephant are rather touchy creatures and can be a little unpredictable (it seems the thing about mice is not without some justification) and there were even stories of tourists being squashed in their cars. As we were sneaking up on the elephant it became apparent that we were not alone and agreed it might be wise to seek cover. I hid behind a small tree which was about as useful as a matchstick but provided a little moral support while Rory found a more sizable bush, no more elephant proof but at least it had the advantage of blocking Rory from view. Some 20 meters away a large bull stood looking straight at me, ears extended, tusks low, his bulk swaying slowly from side to side. My heart pounding, I told myself just keep very still. I took a few photos hoping the shutter noise would not alarm the big fellow, then heard Rory, “Psst, Bob, psst.” I made my way around to his position and he jabbed his thumb over his shoulder ….. more elephant, a lot more elephant.
“Oh shit! I think we might have stuffed this.”
Fortunately we managed to make our way back to the car without being stomped on and continued to watch these great mammals sway past between car and fallen tree, only a few meters away. Every now and then one would stop and look the car over suspiciously, swaying nervously, undoubtedly contemplating whether it ought to squash us, but fortunately none did so and we are both alive to tell the tale. We left the park well satisfied with the game we had seen.
Next stop was St Lucia for the water side of the tour, crocodile and hippopotamus. We caught a tour boat which reminded me of a Disneyland ride but we got to see what we came for, rounding off our game sighting experience. Hippos reportedly kill more people than any other animal in Africa, mainly because people misunderstand their temperament, thinking of them as harmless water creatures. But male hippos are in fact very territorial and protective animals, both in and out of the water and if you happen to be in the wrong place you can get crushed or maybe chomped in half, a feat they occasionally do with crocodiles which get too close to their aqueous herd.
The other tourist thing I wished to experience was a visit to the Drakensberg, a grand mountain range, Drakensberg meaning Dragon Mountain. This I was to achieve courtesy of Gentleman Rory and Sam. We stayed at their house one night which was on the way to the Drakensberg and headed off early the next morning. An interesting part of the drive was seeing the homelands where many black Africans live. Their lifestyle was poor but the passing people seemed happy, a utility, or bakkie as they are called here, was full of people singing, smiling, laughing, even dancing within the limited space, with a spontaneity and unselfconsciousness rarely to be seen among westerners. Children walked along the roadside playing and laughing as children do most everywhere. I am convinced that our quest for intensification and accumulation of material wealth is a complete balls up, leading to dysfunctional nuclear families trapped inside suburban fences, and many unhappy individuals.
We checked into a very fine hotel early, which gave me time to join a guided walk in the morning, which can only be described as tamely pleasant. In the afternoon we hired some horses and, in the company of our guide Julius, enjoyed an excellent ride through the grass green foothills amongst wildebeast, zebra and impala. Back at the hotel late that afternoon, beer in hand, I reclined in a deck chair looking out at a sun setting over magnificent crags, shafts of silver falling into the green slopes of the valley below, a quiet word with friends, and a moment of peace for my troubled soul. And in the evening a restaurant meal followed by a lonely room with all the usual mod cons, even a bath, which will hopefully satisfy any desire for luxury for some time to come.
The next day we set off for another part of the mountains for a hiking experience. We walked to a small waterfall where Rory and I partook of a bracing dip then headed off for another waterfall higher up. Rather than backtrack to rejoin the path, Rory suggested a short cut which meant leaving the trail, supposedly rejoining another track not far off. Well this proved more arduous than expected, we scaled one short cliff face and Rory, who suffers from vertigo, declared that we were going to have to find another way back as there was no way he could get back down the way we had just come. We crossed spurs and gullies, at times beating our way through thick bracken, but it soon became evident we were making our way up and out onto an escarpment from which there could be no way down for many miles, and still we had no idea where our waterfall was. Like all mountains the area is notorious for sudden mists and cold nights, we discussed options and concluded there were none. We had to turn back. It seemed Rory was going to have to confront his cliff. I scouted ahead looking for the right path, melodramatically handing Rory the chocolate bar I had in my pocket, in an unstated just in case. But, in fact, as it turned out we eventually found another way bypassing Rory’s cliff and leading back to the hotel where we had parked the car. Stumbling, smiling, we entered the hotel lounge room covered in dirt and mud, three Dr Livingstones miraculously emerged after a century in the jungle, attracting not a few strange looks, but we were quite past caring what others thought. I took my time over one of the best beers ever (I’ve enjoyed some very good beers in South Africa). In all a most excellent afternoon.
Back at the marina social life dominated the evenings, the Fish Café was the watering hole of choice, its first floor balcony overlooking my section of the marina. It was not uncommon to hear Issy calling down to my boat, a wave of his arm beckoning me to join him, and oft times Norman as well, more an order than a request, an order I always felt pleased to obey. In the bar my adventurer stories were rightly treated with scorn, my foolhardy behavior being in no way admired. I felt not a little demoralized.
One evening several of us went out to an Indian restaurant somewhere in town. The crowd included Issy, Norman, Peter and Sam, and several others who I had not met before and will never meet again. I was sitting next to Sam and Peter, conversing with Peter. Peter wishing to move on considerately asks Sam to talk to me for a while. We start discussing body language, nothing to do with cleavages I should add. Then a strange thing happened. Sam was staring at me and I told her, within the context of our discussion, that I felt uncomfortable with this. A plate of vegetables was being passed around which I give to Peter. Sam looks at me angrily and asks what was I doing feeding Peter his vegetables. I am dumbfounded, mouth agape, speechless, wondering what she is on about. Surely one would just laugh at such pettiness but my nerves were raw, I have never liked conflict and I was certainly not in the mood for handling it that night. Upset, I got up, left the table and walked outside. Contemplating the situation I decided I wanted nothing more to do with the rest of the evening which I sensed could only get worse. I went back inside, told Sam I was sorry if I had upset her and that I had no intention of doing so. I put some money on the table and left to catch a taxi back to the marina. I tossed and turned that night, trying to sleep, fretting about what on earth was going on in my life.
The next morning I called on Issy to see what had happened after my departure and to determine my social standing after Sam’s outburst. Issy welcomes me on board and says, “Bob, Bob! Last night – unbelievable, unbelievable!” Of course I, in my egocentricity, assume its all about me, but no, Issy explains, “Sam, she is crazy.” He was in a taxi with Peter and Sam, Peter is in front and he is in the back with Sam. Sam starts touching his thigh. Issy is confused as to what is going on and decides to do nothing, ignoring Sam’s advances. They arrive at the marina and are walking down the dock when Sam says to Issy, “You know what you did in the taxi, you were touching me up.” Peter, no questions asked, winds up a fist and launches himself at Issy. Issy stands dumbfounded, motionless. But little old Brian is not so stricken and courageously throws himself in front of Peter, he intercepts the big man and they fall struggling to the dock. Eventually a relative state of calm is restored and all retire to their respective boats and bunks. All of which of course tended to overshadow my strange little drama. Issy tells me that Julie visited him that morning and told him not to worry as this sort of thing has happened with Peter and Sam before. Small consolation and Issy and I are relieved to hear that Peter and Sam are leaving for Mozambique the next day. That, we hope, will be the end of that.
That night Issy and I are at the Point Yacht Club bar discussing the events of the previous evening over a beer. A guy named Barry is standing next to us. Barry is short, beer gutted, and lives on a 36 foot motor boat. The marina gossip has it that Barry and his new wife had set sail for Mozambique, got clobbered by bad weather a short distance from the harbour and were forced to return. On getting alongside Barry’s wife immediately signs off from the boat and Barry’s life. This is Barry’s third divorce. He is now having a fire sale of all the boats equipment and quips that the next woman he sees he is going to just give her a house as it will save a lot of messing around and heartache. Barry mentions that he knows Peter and I unwisely recount the previous evening’s events, but Barry interrupts me, tells me he is Peter’s friend, that he does not believe me and I had best stop right there. I apologise and we change the subject.
Issy is lucky, a few days later he is ready to leave and he moves on, the next time I meet him will be in Cape Town.
As if I have not stuffed enough things up in my life of late, just to add a bit more spice a familiar boat pulls in, Feisty Lady, with skipper Jim of Mauritian fame. Now Jim had helped me out in Mauritius when I was feeling very vulnerable and at an all time emotional low and I shall always remember him with a grateful heart. But here it seems I made another mistake (an opportunity to learn what?). I knew he had some problems of his own from the discussions I had shared with his ex-crew Sarah, and I thought perhaps I had a tiny if dimly understood insight into some of his issues. Consequently I had written him a letter revealing some rather personal ‘discoveries’ I had made about myself thinking that they might help unblock a level of consciousness for him. WRONG! I felt rather awkward when I saw him on the marina and he was clearly avoiding me. I saw him one night sitting in the Royal Natal Yacht Club, “Hello Jim.” Jim’s reply, “I don’t want to know you, you’re not my type”, which is the last word either of us has ever said to each other. Now whenever I walk past him he studiously avoids eye contact with me. I think I am still right about Jim - he doesn’t want to know me for that part of himself which he cannot accept.
My next fracas develops when Peter and Sam return from Mozambique. I am walking past Barry’s boat, I cannot avoid it as it is between my boat and the shore. I say hello, Peter returns a polite hello then after a pause says, “I just remembered, I’m not talking to you, you had best keep away from me.” Now what! I ask him what is he talking about, he unenlightingly says, “You know. Just stay out of my way.” I shrug my shoulders, walk off, determined not to be upset with such childishness.
A day later I have to walk past Peter again, he is standing on the marina, and he makes to push me into the water. I ask him what have I done.
He says, “You know.”
I reply, “No I don’t.”
“You said my wife touched you up.”
“What! I never said any such thing.”
“You said my wife touched you and Issy up.”
“That’s a lie.”
Barry chips in, “You calling me a liar?”
“You told me at the bar the other night.”
A dull light is starting to shine in my thick skull. “No, I said something similar happened to me and Issy, but different, Sam didn’t touch me up.”
Peter is angry, “As if Sam would want to touch up that fat, ugly old man.”
“Look,” I say, trying to find a way to defuse the situation, “This is a misunderstanding, Issy is my friend but I wasn’t there so I can’t say what happened.”
Peter says, “Leave, just leave!”
This seems a really good idea, so I do.
I returned to Sylph, distressed at my stupidity. I am guilty of gossip and want to somehow ameliorate the damage I may have done. I go back to Barry’s boat with the intention of apologizing but Barry tells me that Peter has gone to Brian’s boat and recommends I stay away from him as he is very angry. I ask him to pass on my apology to Peter which he agrees to do. Back on board Sylph again, I am still not satisfied with the situation so I write a letter of apology, where I can collect and order my thoughts more coherently. I feel Issy was telling the truth but I cannot say this to Peter. In my letter I admit I have been guilty of gossip, explain what happened to me at the restaurant, and acknowledge that I cannot truly know what had happened between Issy and Sam. With Issy’s story and Julie’s comments in mind I also ask Peter whether this sort of incident has happened before. If so, then I suggest that Sam, while loving Peter, is insecure in his love for her and is possibly behaving so as to provoke a jealous response from Peter, to which, it seems, he is only too willing to accede. I also suggest that there might be a history of infidelity in Sam’s family, perhaps Peter’s as well. If any of this rings true, I suggest they seek counseling, admitting that my own marriage had recently broken up and that it might have been saved if we had both had the courage to seek professional help. I then put this letter in an envelope and give it to Barry. I ask Barry to read it and if he thinks it might be helpful at all to pass it on to Peter. Later that day Barry is much more friendly to me, Peter has flown out that afternoon, so I do not know the final outcome except that Barry now smiles when I pass by. I hope and pray some ultimate good might come out of the mess.
And for me, don’t gossip, you have no right to reveal other people’s secrets. Which ultimately is all of the above. The question I must ask myself is would I be willing to let the people who I am writing about read this, if not I have no right to allow anyone else to read it. Alternatively I ask myself do I have a responsibility to help people in spite of themselves, what would I want my friends to do for me. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or, as I read more recently, “Do unto others as others would have you do unto them.” At the risk of losing a friend, should I be a friend, or just act like one? An alcoholic has to want to be helped but if people enable the alcoholic’s behavior it only prolongs his agony. This is a moral dilemma I shall have to feel my way through for some time to come, undoubtedly losing potential friends and making some enemies along the way. I struggle but I genuinely want not to suffer or watch others suffer unnecessarily. How many times do we have to watch the Peter and Sams, the Bob and Anns fight out an issue where a bit of sensitive confrontation might help push them forward to greater awareness? Or is life for each of us meant to unfold without this intervention, undoubtedly poorly considered confrontation can drive people even deeper into their neuroses. Or is all this just telling me I have yet to confront and accept something within myself?
Back to the material world, by this stage of affairs most of my repairs had been completed. The fridge compressor however was proving to be a real hassle. It had been sent to Johannesburg for an overhaul and when it was eventually refitted all seemed well except the next day it had once more lost all its refrigerant and I had to take it off yet again. The young repair guy, John, was excellent. He was always helpful, polite and reasonably punctual. He worked out that during the overhaul a thread had been stripped and not fixed properly, someone had simply tightened the bolt and hoped for the best. In fact I was lucky the bolt had worked its way loose as quickly as it did otherwise I could have been a long way down the road before discovering the problem.
Another character in the Durban yachting scene is Tony Herrick who runs a shop full of charts and books and second hand yachting equipment. I bought a number of charts and books here, including a book entitled “Families”, nothing to do with boats but perhaps a lot to do with us yachties. It’s all about dysfunctional families and focuses on the symptoms of codependents. Bloody hell, more pieces to the jig saw of my life and more bloody issues to work through! I had also read a book on “Male and Female” and, as mentioned in a previous chapter, a book called, “Intimate Partners, Patterns in Love and Marriage.” So far I had worked out that many of the problems in my marriage were caused by my own insecurities which I had projected onto Ann, it was I who lacked commitment and purpose and suffered from depression; “Male and Female” pointed towards an inappropriate bond between my mother and I, it seems she was a major role model in my life (not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with this, but it had caused me to anguish over my sexuality at times), plus throw a few Oedipal problems in for good measure leading to additional feelings of insecurity. Now it seems I’m a codependent as well. God! Woody Allen eat your heart out, just come and see me if you want a few more neurosis to turn into repetitive boring self-indulgent movies. I really do not need to be alone brooding over all this stuff. I am still depressed, a psychological hypochondriac, the poor orphan crying, “Oh woe is me!” How the hell do I dig myself out of this hole?
To avoid what I was beginning to see as an unhealthy isolation for me I had invited Rory and Sam to crew with me to Cape Town, they had been very supportive and giving them some offshore experience was to be a pleasure. One evening while I was in the Royal Natal with Danni and Henry I had off-handedly mentioned that I had one bunk left and that they could fight it out between them. Of course I really had no intention of giving it to Henry but it seems you can’t be too direct with women, they are so easily frightened off by us big scary blokes. The next day Danni comes on board and says she is interested and immediately puts me on the back foot by asking all sorts of good questions about safety equipment and the like. She is one confident lady. She asks me if I have any questions of her.
“Hmm, can you put a reef in?”
“Er, no, I’ve only sailed cats and you don’t generally need to reef cats.”
Sounds like bullshit but fair enough, having no experience with cats I can’t comment, and at least I get one point in.
Later that evening I struggle with a couple of untruths I had told Danni trying to impress her. They are minor. One was about suturing a wound, the other she had asked me whether I had any ideas about coming on to her. I had just looked away from her in mock incredulity. But I am trying to come to terms with just being who I am, it is enough, and that night I feel guilty about my dishonesty. The next morning I go over to Norman and Danni’s boat still rather distressed. I confess I have only ever helped suture a wound never having actually done it myself. And as for coming onto Danni I had to confess, yes I am attracted to her, but I would never push any unwelcome advances on her. She appreciated my honesty, while I think Norman didn’t know what to make of me. He decided to bury his head in a newspaper while we spoke.
I was now getting close to setting a departure date.
One more interesting lady I should mention before departing Durban is Hilary. We met one evening in the Royal Natal. We like each other, she is tall and thin, in her mid forties, a bit butch but very nice. For six months of the year she lives in Durban in her 32 foot Van De Stadt which she is refurbishing. The other six months, Europe’s summer, she works as a truck driver out of England, driving a serious rig around the continent. One morning she comes across to my boat to share a dream she had with me, why I do not know, and she offhandedly mentions that she has a terminal illness. I am amazed, not because of her revelation but because the previous night I was thinking about people I care about and I thought of her, I thought that if anything happened to her I would like to see her. I told her this, she seemed touched, and told me not to worry as her illness was under control.
In the end I left Durban in a bit of a rush chasing the weather window and felt like I did not say goodbye in a very satisfactory way at all. Saying goodbye to new friends is a painful part of this lifestyle and sometimes I wonder whether it is worth it, but then if I wasn't out here I wouldn't get to meet so many interesting people in the first place. One day I will work it all out and probably settle somewhere but for now it seems I have some dreams to chase.
My trip to Cape Town was pretty uneventful in the end, apart from blowing out the drifter between Knysna and Simonstown. I have mentioned my drifter before. It is a great light weather sail but a real handful when the wind picks up and has to be brought in. An interesting coincidence was that this sail was made by a previous owner, Murray Swan, many years ago with a QANTAS style kangaroo on the bunt and in Croatian colours, as one of Murray’s long time crew and friend was a Croatian. Well Danni was born in Croatia and I wanted to show it off to her. I had the jib poled out one side and the drifter on the other, wind up the chuff, bowling us along at a very nice 8 knots plus. I knew I should have handed the sail earlier but old Sylph seemed to be enjoying herself so I left it. Danni and I were down below when I felt an unusual vibration. Rory was on watch so I called up to him and asked whether there was anything the matter. He looked up over the dodger and exclaims, "My God, the drifter, its disappeared!" Sure enough when I get up on deck there is no sign of it. After a bit of investigation I worked out that the halyard block had parted company with the masthead and the whole sail must have blown forward into the water and then gone under the boat as we ran straight over the top of it. After a bit of messing around we managed to get it back onboard, it had suffered some damage towards the head, a blown seam and a tear but I think not too much work to repair. Just another job to add to the list.
Danni was a good crew, did what she was asked and was willing to give most everything a go, apart from lighting the kero stove. Rory and Sam were a lot greener than I had anticipated, especially Rory who was sick for much of the trip but they are both very nice people and I enjoyed their company. It was certainly a change from single handing with the four of us on board. The boat is only really set up for two so at sea it was two up, two down and in harbour it was a big shuffle of bags and gear each night and morning to clear the V berth for Sam and Rory. While our trip was pretty good, I think it gave Sam and Rory a much better insight into what they were getting themselves in for and I sensed Rory was starting to entertain a few doubts about his whole project of sailing to the Med. It seems to me there are many lost souls out here sailing the ocean blue, looking for something, serenity, peace ….. themselves mainly, just like me, or is it just me projecting myself onto everyone else.
We stopped at Port Elizabeth for a few days, boy is that a dirty place, I've still got black crap over the sails which I doubt I’ll ever remove entirely. Here Rory made an observation about my mental state. He noticed I had a tendency during conversations to go very quiet and sullen for long periods. He asked me about my sleeping patterns and whether I suffered from depression. He had worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years and based on his knowledge thought I was suffering from endogenous depression. He recommended I see a doctor and obtain a script for anti-depressants. This I did, but in the end felt very uncomfortable about it all. I had been trying to process my condition through my own dream therapy and interaction with other people, at this stage mainly Rory, Sam and Danni. Danni up to this time had been very supportive of me and had listened to all sorts of drivel over my past life. I was desperate to get out of the hole I found myself in and had totally let go of my pride. In the end, after a good chat with Danni, I decided to stick it out without the aid of drugs. My goal in setting off on this voyage was to vindicate the principles of adventure education. Spiritual growth comes about through an interaction between consciousness and the material world. The answers lie in living life. So for now the drugs are still in my cupboard.
My favourite memories of this leg were the quiet times I shared with Danni in Port Elizabeth. While Rory and Sam slept Danni would settle for the night on the saloon settee and while I sat at another settee we would talk in quiet whispers. A vulnerable little girl seemed to appear before me. She told me of her abusive childhood, the fights she had with her mother while protecting her sister, her father apparently soft and passive. She ran away as soon as she was able and eventually ended up in reform school where, sadly it seems she was at her happiest during her childhood. But she graduated with flying colours to eventually put herself through university and become a successful businesswoman in the advertising industry. She is fascinated with the idea of influencing people to do things they do not necessarily want to do. I admired and was jealous of her rebellious strength. But she had to pay a price, yes she is brash and confident, but this is also a barrier, behind which she hides a rarely revealed sensitivity. And now she is a bum travelling around Africa on a vision quest of her own. But Danni is ultimately strong and will do well, just look out us softer types who get in her way.
Knysna was lovely in a commercial Popeye sort of way. The harbour mouth was guarded by rocks and sheer cliffs making for a dramatic and challenging entry. But the people we met were almost too friendly. They kept on telling us how everyone comes to Knysna, gets married and never leaves. I imagined we could have been entering the first chapter of a Steven King novel. This made Danni real jittery and under the pretext of her wanting to join a delivery trip to the Caribbean, which never happened, she had us hauling arse out of there within two days.
We had a slow trip from Knysna to Simonstown with light winds overnight. I hate motoring and generally am content to drift in these conditions, with which the crew was also satisfied so I didn't have any mutinies to quell.
In Simonstown Sam and Rory left us as they had business to attend to back in Jo'burg, also I think there was a little tension between Rory and Danni which perhaps sped them on their way. It’s a shame not all the people we like can get on with each other, or indeed that all too often we can’t even get on with those we love - "Life" as Issy would say.
We stayed in Simonstown for only one night as Issy was up in Cape Town, along with Danni's friend Norman who was staying on board with Issy, and we thought it would be more fun to socialise with Issy before he continued on his way for the last leg of his solo circumnavigation. Unfortunately I had a bad case of gastro one evening, and ended up in hospital the next morning on a drip, I think I drank some bad water. I recovered obviously but have to admit to being very distressed at the time. Unfortunately this caused a bit of tension between Issy and Danni. Issy looked after me during this incident but apparently Danni just chose to sleep without a care in the world.
Well Issy has left now, Norman is back in Durban, and Danni and I are still here. My plan for now is to stick around until at least the end of April. I am doing some much needed maintenance on Sylph and plan on sailing her in the Classic Regatta here at the Royal Cape Yacht Club over the Easter weekend, this will help motivate me to get Sylph spruced up a bit. I am keeping a weather eye open for a bit of employment as funds are somewhat low, not desperate but my ration of beer coupons is looking very sad. If nothing eventuates I will probably push off for Brazil in May, a bit late in the season but I am told delivery skippers do the trip at all times of the year so I am not too worried.