Saturday, December 22, 2012

East London around Cape Agulhas to False Bay

East London had a little yacht club but was not very welcoming when we strolled into the club.  They had a braii going and several folks were at the bar drinking but no hellos were forthcoming.  We stayed just long enough to read several postings on their bulletin board that were warning about bad crime areas to avoid and shopping areas that were not safe.  We decided to honor the bad vibes and stayed aboard for the next 2 days until the winds calmed for our next leg.  The river was quite calm though and we were anchored near the moorings but away from the large shipping docks.   


We amused ourselves by watching several capybara scurrying among the rocks on shore. The capybara is the largest extant rodent in the world. It’s related to chinchillas and guinea pigs.  They are native to South America and live near bodies of water so I suppose we will see more of them in Brazil. 


Mercedes-Benz also has a manufacturing plant in East London and we watched 1000 brand new C-Class vehicles loaded on a ship bound for the USA (we were told). 

It was a calm 1 ½ day passage to Knysna (pronounced Nizna) and we entered this protected bay through a narrow set of rocks and passed over a couple of shallow bars. Most of the cruising books say it is a dangerous entry in strong winds, but we had calm seas for our entry and the charts were accurate.   

Gerald and Di had told us this was a nice town and we found it so.  We cautiously were guided into the yacht club dock (meant for smaller boats) and received a warm welcome.  We had a nice lunch at the yacht club and they found us room at another dock for our stay.  We had power and water and several grocery stores and nice boutique shops were just a short stroll away.  We saw many shops with carved and decorated ostrich eggs and just had to buy one.   


One of the yacht club members made me a small wooden piece to fix one of the pilothouse drawers and would not take any money for his work.  Our only disappointment was that we were unable to find a rental car since this is the big South African holiday/vacation season and all cars were booked until mid-January.

We enjoyed our 5 days in Knysna waiting for a calm period to go around Cape Agulhas on our next 1 ½ day passage to Simonstown.  We left early in the morning in order to reach the Cape at the time of lowest wind and seas and had some fog on our way past the entrance.  We followed our electronic breadcrumb trail on the chartplotter and were thankful for our radar.

Cape Agulhas is one of the world's Great Capes and the dividing line between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.  It was named Cabo das Agulhas (Cape of Needles) by 16th Century Portuguese explorers due to the dangerous rocks that line the coast.  When the surging Agulhas Current, bringing warm waters from the Indian Ocean, collides with the cold Atlantic waters of the Benguela Current and a strong breeze, the sea here can be tempestuous. The currents, combined with the shallows and reefs of the Agulhas Bank, make this a dangerous stretch of water that has claimed many ships.  Within the seas around Cape Agulhas are the remains of some 124 ship wrecks that occurred between 1673 and 1990.  Cape Agulhas is Africa's southernmost point.
With our modern-day advantage of weather forecasting and internet on the boat, we enjoyed the predicted calm conditions and had less than 10 knots of wind as we rounded the Cape.  Four years after leaving Connecticut, sailing south to the Caribbean and west through the Panama Canal, crossing the Pacific and Indian Oceans and Java Sea, it feels wonderful, like coming home, to be back in the Atlantic Ocean. We still have a lot of miles between here and home, but after rounding the Cape, everything else looks very doable.

We spent the rest of the day passing around Danger Point and Cape Hangklip in light, following winds as cape fur seals, African (Jackass) penguins and huge schools of dolphins swam around the boat.  We had little or no current for most of this trip and arrived around 9:30 pm, and put the anchor down in False Bay.   We were surprised that the wind increased dramatically in the last 10 miles near Simonstown (land effect) and we decided that trying to dock in pitch blackness and 35 knot winds would not have been our best decision.  The anchor held through a rolly night and the winds dropped to 20 knots by morning and we had no trouble backing into our waiting slip at the False Bay Yacht Club.  

Here we will spend Christmas with the Mojumbo and Cat Mousses kid boats and more than 10 other international boats that we have met along our way.  The town seems lovely.  There are occasional seals lying on the dock and a group of nesting penguins just up the road from the yacht club and the water is surprisingly clear here.  We can take a train ($2.50 for all three of us) to Fish Hoek for groceries in about 20 minutes or to Capetown in about an hour and a half.


We wish all our readers and our families a Christmas full of wonder and blessings for the coming year.  We are looking forward to crossing our last ocean and completing our circumnavigation when we arrive in Trinidad in the coming year. 


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Richards Bay and Durban to East London

Richards Bay was nice and we had a berth at the Tuzi Gazi marina.  The docks were a little rickety but better than the Zulu Yacht club.  Free water and Electric made it more desirable.  We ran two air conditioners on warm days and had unlimited hot, fresh water showers every day.

We had some trouble finding workers to fix our broken bits.  We loaded the dingy on a trailer the first day and felt good as it headed to Nell’s marine.  He promised to fix everything in 2 weeks but after 4 weeks, I was still bugging him daily to finish.  Ultimately he fixed most of the items and the dingy now has smooth steering.  We also finally found Eric who was more professional and sorted out our clogged genset heat exchanger in 3 days, so that is again running at full power.  We never found anyone competent to try our transmission repair, so we tried to line up help in Durban.

We obviously enjoyed the game parks and driving around Richards Bay was easy.  One day we visited Shakaland and learned about the Zulu people and enjoyed their dancing and crafts.   

The dancers were energetic and their most distinctive move was a front high-kick to simulate that used in battle.  


A short $6 taxi ride took us several times to a large mall where we got a few bits and pieces, some birthday gifts and several inexpensive meals off the boat.  The food is good and here and we are enjoying some new treats.  They all eat a type of meat jerky here that comes in 20 different flavors and come from cow and more exotic animals.  

Emily had the “best (12th) birthday in 4 years” as she enjoyed it with 7 other cruiser kids complete with presents, a movie, and cake and ice cream!

We had a smooth overnight passage down to Durban, but so many visiting boats were there, we could not get into the marinas.  We anchored for the first 3 nights and had a 54 knot storm sweep through on one night.  12 boats were anchored nearby but happily nobody dragged anchor.  When the weather improved, several boats moved on south and we grabbed a spot at the dock.  The next day, we had the transmission taken out and other than spilling some dirty oil on our new salon rug, it went rather smoothly.  Despite a one-day delay from a hangover and several requests for a proper receipt, the transmission got a fresh paint job and enough new innards to make it happy.  

We used our time in Durban to visit with our longtime friends, Gerald and Di who live here.  We saw their boat Whiskers at the dock and they have a lovely home in Durban North.  Di fixed us a wonderful steak meal one evening and we finally got to see the impressive shell collection Gerald has accumulated over his two circumnavigations.  

They were gracious enough to drive us around and show us some of Durban and to collect a few more needed items.  There were more and bigger malls here and Santa Claus got all loaded up here since we intend to arrive in Simonstown just before Christmas.  They even presented me with a piece of Jerky bigger than my head for my 55th birthday and had us over again for a barbeque (braai) at their home.  We were happy to hear that their two circumnavigations were not enough and they are planning on returning to sea in the coming years and will be heading to the Caribbean.  We hope they will pay us a similar visit to our home in Massachusetts as they pass through!

Emily got some more play time with the kids of Cat Mousses and Mojombo and we discovered that all three crews may be together for Christmas.  We also rented a car for 2 days and took a trip to see the Natal Lion Park, the Birds of Prey Sanctuary and enjoy some more shopping on the Midlands Meander.  


We stayed a lovely Bed and Breakfast in Howick and the breakfast was really scrumptious with sliced fruit and yogurt, French press coffee, juice, poached eggs, toast, sausage and ham and hash brown potatoes… and of course the room came equipped with an oversized soaking tub.  We stumbled into a German brewery and sampled 4 of their home brews and enjoyed a massive lunch.   

We were recognized as American by the roaming musicians and Emily got a private song that some US readers may recognize.

Only minutes after the installation and dock-testing of the transmission, we untied the dock lines and headed to sea for the two-day trip to a river town called East London.  We were worried about the first 8 hours since the wind was just shifting around from the south which tends to whip up the waves against the strong southbound Agulhas Current. We were pleasantly surprised as the first 12 hours was smooth with light winds, small seas and boat speeds over 10 knots with the 4 knot push of the Agulhas Current.  The winds shifted, as predicted, to North easterly (right behind us) but increased to 35 knots instead of the 22 knots predicted.  Seas built to 3-4 meters and it was a little uncomfortable but bearable since it was behind us.  Later that night around 9PM we had another (totally unpredicted) squall that brought 38 to 40 knots from the west.  Seas were whipped into a frenzy and we ran around the boat securing doors and flying objects in the pitch dark.  Tom headed closer to shore (the direction that the wind was coming from) but it took several hours at 5-6 knots to move the 10 miles that was needed to reduce the fetch and gain calmer waters.  By the end of Tom’s watch at 1AM, seas were calmer and the wind had dropped back to (the predicted) 15-20 knots.  Nothing seemed broken although one wave managed to enter (around a closed door) into the pilothouse and soak a small rug and the Emily Grace nameboard was ripped half off.  Both the door and nameboard are more than 7 feet above the waterline!

Despite the drama, we entered the river at East London and dropped the hook at 5 AM in calm waters and all enjoyed naps.