33:55 S 18:26 E Cape Town
Conor & Marion Wall
Fri 25 Jan 2013 11:19
The last time that Marion and I were in South Africa was 36 years ago and that time we drove a Citroen 2CV corrugated small van from Brittany to Johannesburg. I’m not sure which journey has been the most difficult but we were very young when we drove through Africa. That journey took us from Ireland to the UK, France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria to Niger via Tamanrasset (the middle of the Sahara Desert), Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo), Zambia, Botswana and South Africa. Of course you cannot compare the luxury of a 43 foot boat to a small egg van but the end result is the same.
Zulu dancers putting on a show for us at a Zulu Village near Durban.
Durban has changed beyond recognition with the ‘new’ South Africa. It is not the ‘safe’ place it was when we spent Christmas Day on the beach there in 1975. Most of the city is off limits after dark due to the large amount of muggings with violence. ‘Toucan’ was moored in the marina at the Royal Natal Yacht Club, Durban, and there was plenty of security to make us feel safe once inside the marina compound area. The police had a large presence there as they used that part of the waterfront complete with police boat and as a base for easy access to troubled areas in the city. In saying all that we did not see anything to alarm us during our time in Durban. There were some new shopping/entertainment areas and attractions in Durban that did not exist when we were there last and some of these areas were interesting to visit but in general Marion and I were a little disappointed with the ‘New Durban’
We were anxious to get moving as Stacy (Marion’s sister) and her partner Greg were coming out to spend two weeks with us in the Cape Town area so we only stayed in Durban long enough to get some repairs done and wait for a crazy Dubliner (a friend of Greg’s extended family) to join us. Whilst in Mauritius a plan was hatched for Barry to join us in Durban for a ‘jolly’ down the African coast, how crazy can you get? Barry had never sailed before and here on the African coast we might conceivably be confronted with some of the largest waves in the world and winds of enormous strength, some ‘jolly’ that would be. Barry arrived on the 13th November and looked just like the photo he had sent by email attachment some time before so after a few days to take in the local sights we headed out to sea. Our destination was to be East London some two days and two nights sailing away. This would break the back of the total distance to Cape Town and was the most dangerous passage in the journey south along the African coast as there were absolutely no safe harbours or anchorages between Durban and East London. Luckily we got the weather right and a relatively straight forward passage was completed. There were some large waves and for a first timer to sailing I take my hat off to Barry for coping without being sick. Well done Barry. East London was much smaller than I had remembered it to be, a small commercial harbour that only had one ship arrive in our three nights there. Our anchorage, a little upstream from the harbour, was in a river and close to a bridge but we did not drag anchor as is common with other visiting yachts and the local yacht club was just a short row across the river. A very sociable club and the first night after arriving the local members came down and opened the club especially for the few cruising boats that had come in for shelter ahead of us. By late evening the place was buzzing and normally it would be closed on this weekday. The power of SMS’s is not to be underestimated. As usual we were one of the last boats in to the anchorage but got the best spot closest to the action. The lifting keel has big advantages.
First night on the Bridge for Barry.
Sunrise Day 2
Our Anchorage East London
The next weather window presented herself so we made haste, with the plan to visit Knysna if it was possible to do so. Otherwise it would be Port Elizabeth or Mossel Bay. We had options and choices on this leg which made it far safer in case of a sudden deterioration in the weather but as it turned out we ended up motoring a lot of the way due to lack of wind and when we arrived at Knysna the tide and wave conditions were acceptable to enter. Knysna was described, by Her majesties Navy, as the most difficult harbour in the World. Not sure what year that was but when we approached the entrance we had the local rescue coordinator on the VHF radio talking us in from a cliff top. The problem with Knysna is that there is a bar of rock that takes up most of the narrow entrance, leaving a narrow strip on the port side that has a very rocky patch. We were told by some locals that we met in Durban that we must spit on the rock as we pass it to avoid the breaking waves that cover most of the entrance. And the reason for the breaking waves is once again the mighty swell that rolls up from the Southern Ocean. There was another cruising yacht just behind us (we were in VHF radio contact with them) that also planned to enter Knysna but when they saw us go in they had second thoughts and carried on to the next port of Mossel Bay some 45 miles away. We felt very happy to be in and Barry was over the moon as he had visited this town some years previous with an Irish Rugby Team. The harbour once inside was large and shallow with a channel running all the way up to the town of Knysna and the sailing club marina. Once again we were lucky to get an finger pontoon with water and electric and very glad we did for the next day the wind arrived with a vengeance. I registered 50+ knots for a short time. There was only one other visiting yacht, a French yacht with 6 persons on board, they anchored off and when we spoke to the crew the following day were sorry they had done so.
The entrance to Knysna.
The town is pretty and we did a tour in a mini bus with the crew from the French yacht to an ancient forest and a long walk where elephants and lion once roamed. Finishing off the tour with a visit to a township and a meal at the marina. All in all a nice break from the sailing. The yacht club is pretty and as we so often find, has one of the best locations in the town.
Some Interesting fungi on the walk.
One of Africa’s giant trees.
Up Market Shanty Town
Three nights was all we allowed ourselves here and another break in the weather saw us heading down the harbour to the notorious entrance. A bit scarier going out, even though I felt I knew it now the waves were definitely larger and this time we were heading into them. No time to turn around, no room anyway and it would be positively dangerous, so we went for it. Well when I saw the breaking wave coming at us, I swear it must have been as high as the first spreader on the mast, I nearly jumped overboard. I had a vision of it cleaning everything off our decks including the canvas and possibly the crew. I could not believe it when ‘Toucan’ rose up and the wave went completely underneath the boat, hardly a drop on the deck. But as soon as the wave past underneath, ‘Toucan’ fell with a mighty crash and the noise from hitting the water was enormous. Poor Marion who was down below keeping an eye on the chart plotter didn’t know what happened and my official photographer was holding on so tight that he forgot to take any photographs. So you will just have to believe me. What an experience, I’ll never forget Knysna.
Barry enjoying the sail off the most Southerly point of Africa.
Our safe haven in Gordon’s Bay Marina
Only one big wave and we were out to sea and heading for False Bay, near Cape Town. The wind was good and we were having a nice sail in a strengthening wind. Uneventful apart from the fact that we would be passing the most southerly point of Africa on this leg. Some whales were spotted, none too close but one that did some spectacular jumps out of the sea. Lots of seals and not a single fish for our line. Stacy had booked a berth for ‘Toucan’ in the Harbour island Marina complex near the town of Gordon’s Bay and that is where we were making for. I did not in my wildest dreams imagine that it could be closed to yachts due to strong winds but that is exactly what happened. As we rounded Agulhus (the most southerly point of Africa) the wind began to strengthen and we were soon down to three reefs in the main and a staysail (small sail at the front of the boat). As we rounded Cape Hangklip we were getting winds in the 30’s and I was not overly worried as we would soon be coming into the lee of the land and hopefully in the shelter of the mountains to the East of False Bay. Certainly the huge seas would be diminishing. Evening was well advanced and darkness was setting in fast. We sailed up into False Bay looking forward to a nice snug berth at the marina. No such luck. As we rounded the North East end of the bay and turned the corner for Gordon’s Bay (Harbour Island) we were suddenly hit with a wind straight on the nose of 50+ knots. Luckily I had just taken the sails down in an almost calm patch of water only 5 minutes earlier. We had about 3 miles to go and contacted the marina on the VHF radio only to be told that the marina was shut. Conditions were too rough for boats to come or go. My chart did not give me an alternative anchorage and Marion was on the radio trying to find an alternative. After what seem like an eternity someone from the Gordon’s Bay yacht club who had been listening to our dilemma on the club VHF contacted us and told us that he could guide us in to a safe anchorage. His first instruction was to head for the mountain, there were mountains all around the bay but we guessed he must have meant the nearest mountain. I was unable to take ‘Toucan’ through the wind at this time as the wind was so strong it kept pushing the bow away, I could not get enough speed with the waves stopping us wave after wave so I had to take the boat around the long way to get the direction to the mountain. As we got closer to the cliffs the wind seemed to get less. The next instruction was to follow the light, there were a million lights, which one? Did he think we were the three wise men. Eventually he explained that he was standing on the breakwater to the Gordon’s Bat Yacht Club Harbour with a powerful torch and was turning it on and off. We were to come directly towards the light. As we did so we were getting into very shallow water. When we were about 5 boat lengths away from the breakwater we were to drop anchor, it was too dark to see anything let alone the breakwater. Well I never would have believed that it was possible for wind to be blowing at 50+ knots all around us and for us to be in relatively light winds of about 25 to 30 knots and a totally flat sea. Mind you we were in only 2 meters of water and maybe 100 meters from the beach, aptly named Bikini Beach.
An area of coast that we would have sailed past on our way to Gordon’s Bay.
We set an anchor watch and did 1 hour shifts until the morning. I also had the anchor alarm running on the chart plotter as did Marion on her newly acquired IPad. We drifted a small amount during the night but not enough to worry about. However by 0730 we were dragging big time so the chain had to come up. Luckily the boys from the club were back and told us that there was one space available if we would like to come into the marina. The ‘space’ turned out to be the space at the end of the two trots. It was just big enough to take ‘Toucan’ but I had to do a handbrake turn to slide into it. Thankfully no strong gust of wind came just at the appropriate time. We had landed and without any damage to ourselves or others, what a relief. Two days later the club recorded one gust of wind that was in excess of 90 knots. One of the mooring lines on ‘Toucan’ snapped, luckily I had doubled up on everything. Another local boat was not so lucky when the entire finger pontoon that she was tied to broke away causing severe damage to his boat.
Toucan Rounding Cape of Good Hope and in her snug berth at the Royal Cape Yacht Club (Directly below the balcony and Bar)
Thank you Dave and Ryan for the introduction to the best berth in Cape Town.
During this time we were all sleeping soundly in a beautiful house in Frannshooek in the wine district area behind the mountains. Stacy’s partner, Greg, is South African and the house belonged to extended family who also had houses in Dubai and London, this one was used for only a few weeks each year. What an amazing place. However even here the wind continued to howl. A cruise ship was stuck in Cape Town unable to leave for two days. Nothing was moving on the water and we were obliged to stay In Gordon’s bay for just over a week before we got the break in the weather to continue around The Cape of Storms to Cape Town. Greg did this leg with us, Barry had returned to Ireland. We had a very nice sail in good wind conditions for our rounding and arriving in Cape Town by night in a flat calm was quite a moving experience for Marion and I.
Pat, Conor, Rose, John
John and I at the RCYC.
John and Marion at Pat’s House
We had started our sailing career in Cape Town some 36 years ago after we had travelled down through Africa by car. We had lost contact with the Royal Cape Yacht Club member who took us sailing all those years ago and although I had tried to find him over the years, it was always without success. We feared the worst. So I was determined not to leave any stone unturned in trying to find John. No luck at the club as their records only went back so far. I asked a lot of older members but none knew him and then as I was having my sail repaired I mentioned his name to the sailmaker. Through him I was given a phone number of someone who would be able to give me John’s phone number.
I phoned John and asked him if he knew two ‘young’ people called Conor and Marion. He asked if they were Irish and I said why did he think they were Irish. He said: Many years ago he took two young Irish kids sailing from the Royal Cape Yacht Club. I knew I found our man.
We have since had some lovely times together and John although a little older is just as young in mind and wit and a lovely character to spend time with. His ex wife Pat and his new partner Rose also as charming. We spent Christmas day with the extended family. The South African traditional Christmas of Braai (Barbeque to you and me) and in glorious sunshine, swimming pool for the adventurist.
Table Mountain and the old car that took us up 36 years ago.
Our time in Cape Town was running out fast and Christopher, Emily and Jonathan were flying in on the 2nd January to sail the South Atlantic to Brazil with us. We would have less than a week with them in Cape Town to see the sights so time was once again precious.
We left Cape Town on Thursday 10th January bound for one of the remotest Islands in the world on our way to Brazil.
St Helena where Napoleon was incarcerated would be our next stop some 1700 miles from Cape Town.