2021 SA SW to PE

Fri 5 Feb 2021 05:15

Position at PE 33:58.00S 25:38.07E


The Leaving of Buffalo River

The river water was like a mirror as I disturbed the peace by starting the engine at 5.15 on the 28th January. We tied together the mooring lines and dropped them over the side as I motored us slowly away from our place we had occupied for 19 days and for which Conrad made us no charge, “You weren’t here for pleasure exactly were you.”

John, bless him, was standing in his cockpit aboard Bee Haven to give us a human send off, could as well have been called Bee Leavin’. We were strangely sad to leave behind our carers, the ones who had taken us under their wings; the Goose on the cockpit coaming, the wagtail at the window, terns on the pulpit, cormorant astride the liferaft, and the human ones, Conrad the commodore, Charles our agent and Dr Sean Murray with his warning we would test positive for the next five months! We will always have a special place in our hearts for BRYC, the place where with the care of others  we survived Covid.

Much was going on in the marine world just outside the harbour; gannets fishing are always a prelude to a good show and soon we were surrounded by dolphins, seals, shearwater and an immaculate humpback with not a mark on its long smooth back.

The day was going to be a beauty as Zoonie nosed into an 11 knot headwind and we soon picked up 2.2 knots of our old friend the Agulhas Current. We hurried south south west, keen to reduce the miles to when we would turn westwards out of the Indian Ocean and looking to the shore we watched as the distant feint rolling hills advanced to stands of dark green woodland above golden sand dunes for miles and miles along the coast.

By 1700 we were losing the current but with the sea being undisturbed by any wind, just the gentle roll and swell from the Southern Ocean, Zoonie was unhindered in her progress. It was as calm as a Southern Ocean swell could be.

Through the night we could see the lights of Port Elizabeth spreading around Algoa Bay and an acrid smell permeated our nostrils and bit into the walls of our throats. It was ore based but not like the smell of coal dust or iron ore. It turned out to be Manganese dust blowing our way from where a ship was being loaded as and when the horn blowing trains arrived from the mines.

We found our way into Algoa Marina at 3.48 in the morning. John’s description of the route to our berth was excellent, right past the Warrior and into the new berth that was laid only a week ago. Well we saw no new looking berth so we tied up the first available berth and that turned out to be OK. He had informed Port Control of our situation, Covid survivors on route to Cape Town, so there was no delay there, we had done our time. We dozed off to the sounds of frapping halyards, police sirens and Zoonie’s squeaking lines.

For the second time we thought our weather window would be at least a week away but suddenly realised we had one in just three days, which as I suggested to Des could take us right around to Cape Town. Des thought it might be a little early to bank on it but we lived in hope. It was certainly proving true that conditions for heading west around South Africa improve as the summer matures. So just a long weekend in Port Elizabeth it would be.

John came early the next morning, after the curfew ended. He has a very nice racing cruiser moored a few fingers from us and he let us borrow his vehicle so we could refuel at the nearby petrol station and do a shop at the Superspar just behind it, all while he was out sailing. We were not allowed to leave the marina on foot or we would not be allowed back in. On one of the journeys to refuel we missed a slip road and ended up in the town centre, which was the only ‘look see’ we would get. In a short distance on a steep hill, pretty pastel painted villas merged down hill to the neat colonial civic buildings suggesting a successful and lucrative past for some. But as everything was closed and largely deserted because of changing times and Covid we could learn little. The pristine lighthouse and its surrounds was now near the Visitor Centre and would have been a haunt of ours in happier times. The little lighthouse is now completely diminished by the docks and high cranes of the marine shipping industry, but it would have been much sought after in the days of sail when ships brought settlers and emigrants from Europe to this corner of Africa. Thousands would then take passage in smaller ships up to East London and Durban before heading inland to take up plots of land rendered ‘available’ by the governments back in Britain and the Netherlands.

Both Conrad and John had told us about a new port that has been build between the two ports of EL and PE to take bigger ships and they wonder to what extent more industry and jobs will be taken away from EL and PE and further suppress their local economies.

From our mooring we could watch the fishing boats coming and going, and you know how I like shipping movements don’t you! Also we could listen to the mournful horn of the trains as they arrived with their toxic loads, watch the dust billowing from the open hatches as the ore tumbled off the conveyor belt and with an easterly would cover the yachts in the marina with orange black grit. A Frenchman arrived just before lockdown last year and flew home leaving his little cruiser stranded. It is now as dirty as all the other boats, its courtesy flag black and tattered in less than a year.

Many of the boats are visitors who arrived many decades ago, judging by the style of their vessels, tidied up the rigging and just walked away never to return. It is the same story the world over. People get so far and then for as many reasons as there are boats, their voyaging stops. The thought of it ever happening to us becomes less of a burden every time we move on and reduce the number of destinations we have left before our project is complete.

Within the marina there is the Nelson Mandela Yacht Club which seemed very quiet when we were there serving only take away meals, and then the other side of the slip was the Deep Sea Fishing Club, home to the up and running Marlin’s Head Pub Hook bar and restaurant with its expansive views over the marina, fishing fleet and docks and where we had two yummy two course meals for just 7 pounds each. They did a brilliant job of making non-alcoholic drinks seem as attractive as their more mature counterparts.

They were suffering a drought when we were there so we didn’t take any of their precious water knowing we could make our own once we got going. I wrote to the Harbour Master at St Helena to see what the situation was for mooring there. It is unchanged, 24 hours on a buoy if there is one free and no going ashore. Their friendly team would ferry fuel and food if necessary. One cruiser is there now awaiting repairs to his water-maker so he’ll be there longer than the allowed time.

We had the fishing fleet on one side of us and the manganese dock on the other so I was surprised at how clean the water was; a lovely turquoise colour and very little rubbish. The fish life was abundant and numerous little colonies of molluscs and baby fish thrived on the lines and rubber tyres. The weekend provided much entertainment as boat owners came down to work on their boats and take them out for a sail in the bay. We sat in the cockpit listening to Jason Mohammed and then Steve Wrights Sunday Love Songs on Radio 2 through the BBC Sounds app and the Wonderboom speaker. A lovely sunny Sunday with locals at leisure, loving sailing and lots of happy banter. Des was cautiously coming around to our idea that we could make it to CT in one.

The motion in the harbour was interesting. Zoonie jostled and snatched at her mooring lines, the swell reaching as far as our otherwise sheltered location. Long term residents had many lines securing them to their berths, some even had stainless steel springs around their lines to act as shock absorbers. We used to have two rubber ones but one broke completely and the other is now only potentially useful as a cosh to fend off marauders. Some boats had put tyres to imaginative use, feeding lines through the ends of half a tyre which then stretches and gives to the strain.

I downloaded numerous free samples of books onto my Kindle app on my phone ready to read on route knowing I would want to buy some anyway. At the moment I place a price limit on what I buy of around five pounds fifty max and it is a pity that some of the books about rewilding are as much as 19 pounds, so are out of my bracket. I couldn’t believe Michelle Obama wanting 18 pounds for her autobiography. You’re a rich lady Michelle and you know your book will sell like fresh doughnuts, so why the GREED. You will have noticed that this new computer has no obvious British Pound key and I haven’t yet explored other key combinations that might reveal one. Bit of a short coming in my view.

Our ETD moved backwards for Monday from 18.00 to midday and we slipped lines at 11.30am. So our last evening in this charming place that I would love to have explored further was spent drinking G & T, playing Trionimoes and watching two episodes of Killing Eve, nothing if not inventive we two.