The first challenge of our passage to South Africa, was getting out of St. Pierre harbour in Reunion. As you remember, the entrance could be dangerous, especially with a southwest swell. Of course, on the day we decided to leave a southwest swell was running with large breaking waves across the entrance. The view from the breakwater, which we investigated earlier in the morning, was intimidating to say the least. As we watched, we noted a pattern -- after about 10 breakers, there was a lull. Another yacht, Katrilli of Dover, with Roger and Dawn aboard, were also planning on leaving this day. We all decided we would make a run for it during the lull of the breakers. The only problem is as you leave the marina area, the breakwater blocks your view of the entrance. So another couple, Mark and Ruth of Thalassa II offered to maintain watch on the breakwater and call out the waves via VHF radio. At slack tide, Iron Mistress and Katrilli of Dover left their slips, got their sails ready, and treaded water around the corner from the entrance. When we received the "go" on the VHF, we sheeted in our sails, and at full throttle, rounded the corner and headed for the inlet. There was no going back. Our timing was perfect and we both got through without one wave crashing on deck! We were finally on our way to Africa.
This passage was to be around 1400 miles of non-stop ocean sailing, which due to the prevailing weather patterns, could be the most demanding of our trip around the world. We were especially concerned of the frequent fronts and gales that came around the Cape of Africa towards our path. In addition, the area below Madagascar which we would be navigating around, is known for potential freak waves and tumultuous sea conditions when the wind is up. For this reason, we approached this particular passage with anxiety as well as caution. Our boat was rigged and prepared for heavy weather. As luck would have it, the first three days out of Reunion proved to be perfect sailing conditions -- beam and broad-reaching -- which allowed us to average 150+ mile days with no water on deck. However, as we were now near the southern tip of Madagascar, a cold front was coming our way which we could not avoid. The wind went from a steady southeasterly flow and backed around to the east and then the northeast, and we could see large cloud banks off our bow to the southwest. Within approximately an hour, the wind continued to back into the north-northwest and virtually stopped. As the front passed over us, we immediately experienced a southwesterly gale that was to last for 18 hours and then moderate. Although we tried to make headway, it soon became apparent that this would not be possible without damaging the boat or crew, so we heaved-to on a starboard tack with a triple-reefed main to carry us away from the tip of Madagascar, 100 miles to the north of us. Despite this tactic of sailing in a southerly direction while heaved-to, our GPS track showed that we were being swept to the Northeast at 1.2 knots, due to a countercurrent (that was not supposed to be there). The next day, when underway again, we now had the wind back in the southeast and we were broad-reaching with triple-reefed main and reefed staysail. As we crossed the continental shelf of Madagascar, it did not disappoint -- we ran into a very large confused sea due to the leftover gale and the seamounts that are part of the continental shelf. During the night (it always happens at night!) we had a large wave off our port quarter that overtook us. Iron Mistress temporarily broached as the wave filled the cockpit. This caused the autopilot to disengage momentarily. Robert, who was out in the cockpit at the time, hand steered her back on course and re-engaged the autopilot. We then reefed the sail plan even more as it was blowing close to 40 knots. This sail reduction did the trick and we continued on without any further problems, although it was a very uncomfortable ride. That was to be the most exciting part of this passage.
As we approached the Agulhas current off Richard's Bay, we started to notice the southerly flow about 39 miles offshore. The wind continued to dissipate and we alternated between motor sailing and sailing in light winds the rest of the way into Richard's Bay, where we arrived at first light. It should be noted that the notorious Agulhas current at this latitude is at its weakest, and since we had good weather to cross this current, we experienced no problems. So all in all the one passage that we had feared, turned out to be an excellent crossing.
We spent about two months in the province of Kwazulu-Natal. We based ourselves in Richard's Bay, moored part of the time in Tuzi Gazi at the seawall and part of the time at the Zululand Yacht Club. From here, we were able to explore the area extensively by car, including Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park as well as the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, where we encountered the wildlife that makes Africa unique. We also bought souvenirs of the various types of hand crafts distinctive to Africa from an assortment of stands scattered along the roadsides. As Tuzi Gazi is the check-in spot for all boats entering at Richard's Bay, we caught up with various cruisers that we hadn't seen in a while. The area around Tuzi Gazi is "cruiser friendly" with all amenities within walking distance. An assortment of restaurants abound, but our favorite was Captain Cook's Tavern, run by Inge and Otto. Their food was delicious and the atmosphere inviting.
We hauled the Iron Mistress out at Zululand Yacht Club for a short time to power wash and repaint her bottom. We also installed new stainless steel thru-hulls and seacocks -- an extra insurance policy. We enjoyed the peacefulness of Zululand Yacht Club, away from the hustle and bustle of being moored to the public seawall. Although the only restaurant in the area is at the yacht club, the meals were a bargain not to be missed.
As we planned on bypassing Durban by boat, we took a day to drive down the coast and check it out. Robert had been to Durban many years ago in the Merchant Marines, although the area had changed since then. We visited our friend Craig's mom, Beulah and her husband Dave, who live in Umhlanga Rocks, a beautiful coastal area north of Durban.
We made many new friends during our stay in Richard's Bay, and we were finding it difficult to leave. But there was a lot more of South Africa to explore, and time was going fast. So, again, keeping our eye on the weather, we headed out of Richard's Bay, hopped in the Agulhas Current and had a wild ride down to East London. At one point, with the combination of a northeast gale and the full force of the Agulhas Current, we were sailing along at 13 knots which gave us a 24 hour run of 243 miles -- the fastest day we ever had or will ever see again!!
The Eastern Cape
The area known as the Eastern Cape includes the Wild Coast region, one of the least developed regions in the country. Our first port of call was East London, the second largest city in the Eastern Cape and South Africa's only true river port, situated at the mouth of the Buffalo River. Visiting yachts raft up at "Latimer's Landing" across from the East London Yacht Club. We spent two days here, waiting for the next weather window. We were able to visit the East London Museum which has a nice collection of South Nguni beadwork. The museum's pride and joy though is the stuffed coelacanth, a "missing link" fish thought to have become extinct fifty million years ago, which was caught off the East London coast in the 1950's. Our next port of call was Port Elizabeth, commonly known as PE, which is the industrial center of the Eastern Cape. It's also known as the "friendly city" and we found that to be true during our stay at the Algoa Bay Yacht Club. They have an excellent bar and restaurant and a braai (barbeque) area. As we continued heading west along the southern coast, the next port we planned on stopping was Knysna, which would bring us into the Western Cape region.
The Western Cape
Knysna would be one of the most difficult ports to enter in South Africa. Entry is made between two steep and rocky headlands, called the Eastern and Western Heads. Emu Rock, which is submerged and unmarked, lies near the center of the entrance. It is advised to favor the south side of the entrance. It is also advised not to attempt to enter in flood or ebb tides as the current can run up to 7 knots. One hour before high tide is the best time. Also, do not enter after a strong south-westerly blow, as heavy ground swells prevail and these swells will break across the entrance. So we left Port Elizabeth at 4:30 AM and had to maintain 6 knots so we could reach the entrance the next morning at 5:30 AM, an hour before high tide. We reached the entrance on time, lined up the range marks for our course in and with Fantasy on our stern, motored through the Heads unscathed and into the calm waters of the Lagoon. The name "Knysna" comes from a Khoi word meaning "hard to reach". Now we know why....
As there were no slips in the marina, we anchored out during our stay. The town's waterfront complex had many restaurants, shops and hotels, making it a popular tourist destination. On Sunday afternoon, we stopped at the waterfront Oyster Bar for the famous Knysna oysters. There was a live band playing and it was jammed packed with locals and tourists singing and dancing and devouring dozens and dozens of oysters..... a fantastic afternoon.
We decided to bypass Mossel Bay by boat, so rented a car for the day and drove the short distance to the west to explore the area. The drive along the Garden Route was spectacular. The Maritime Museum in Mossel Bay contains a full size replica of Bartholomeu Dias' original caravel, which sailed from Lisbon to Mossel Bay in 1987 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Dias' historic journey. Just outside the museum is the Post Office Tree, where 16th century mariners used to leave messages for passing ships in an old boot under a milkwood tree. Now, you can post mail here in a large, boot-shaped letterbox and have it stamped with a special postmark. Again, the town is a popular summer tourist destination, with restaurants, hotels and guest houses.
As Christmas was fast approaching and we wanted to spend the holidays in Simon's Town, it was time to shove off again. We arrived in Simon's Town on December 20th and here we stayed, at the False Bay Yacht Club, until our departure the last week of January. Just 25 miles from Cape Town and about half way down the coast to Cape Point, Simon's Town was a perfect place from which to base ourselves to explore this part of the Western Cape. We enjoyed Christmas dinner with the crew of "Katrilli", Roger and Dawn, and their son Warwick and his wife Sara, who were visiting from the UK, at the 'Captain's Table' restaurant upstairs from the 'Two and Sixpence', a quaint English pub right in town. The rest of our time here was spent touring extensively -- from Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, back to Cape Agulhas (the most southern point on the African continent) as we were too far offshore when we sailed by to see it; to Boulders Beach with its colony of African Penguins; to the towns along the coast of False Bay - Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, Muizenberg; over the mountain through the Silvermine Nature Reserve to Cape Town. From the V&A Waterfront, to the northern suburbs of Table Bay and down the south coast to Hout Bay, the Cape Town area had plenty to do and see. One of the highlights was our hike up to the top of majestic Table Mountain via the arduous Platteklip Gorge trail. The views of the city below and the Table Bay area were spectacular. Not to be missed is a tour of the wine country. We explored the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions particularly enjoying the Graham Beck Winery where we found their "champagne" the best so far... We also went to the Constantia Wine region, spending some time at Groot Constantia, the largest estate, with it's beautiful Cape Dutch architecture.
All in all South Africa is a large, diverse and incredibly beautiful country. It is impossible to include everything we have seen in this limited space. We have made so many new friends here, and have enjoyed our stay tremendously. We wish 'fair winds and following seas' to John and Shirley of "Thiswan" and the Doyle family -- Janice, Patrick, Matthew and Joshua - of "Obsession" who begin their circumnavigations this year. We hope to see you in America someday.
We will really miss South Africa..... Totsiens!