So we’ve shared a few pictures but haven’t done much writing lately. We’re not great sharers. Guess we both must have skipped kindergarten.
We’ve spent the last six weeks in South Africa, making our way around the southern tip and are now in Cape Town. The Cape of Good Hope is a notch in our belt. Onward now across the Atlantic.
We entered South Africa at Richards Bay. It’s a nice little town, with a nice harbo(u)r and a very warm welcome at the Zululand Yacht Club where staying at the marina was so inexpensive (about $6/day for our boat) that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to anchor out. We spent almost two weeks in RB. A lot of that time was just relaxing after spending several months continuously on the go. We did a bunch of boat chores, including trying to plug up some irritating drips that were brought to our attention during the passage to Africa.
We did arrive during the middle of a dispute between the city and the ‘elitist’ yacht club. So the day we arrived the city turned off the electricity. Which meant no hot water for the showers. You can see what is important to us after a lot of time at sea. That dispute lasted about four or five days before the electricity was restored. It was also our introduction to a troubled South Africa. Everyone we’ve met, across the board, has been pleasant, helpful, and kind. But underneath there seems to be a simmering tension that makes things somewhat uncomfortable. Not sure if it is just our imagination but it is our perception.
RB is a nice little town. Small enough that it is compact and easy to get places, large enough that you can find most things you are looking for (and what isn’t available locally can be had from Johannesburg in a day). We did the animal watching stuff we posted earlier, did a bunch of shopping for groceries and luxuries, worked on the boat, and just enjoyed being dry and motionless. Not a lot to write about.
From Richards Bay we made a quick daysail of the 90 mile trip down to Durban. We left at o-dark-thirty and got into Durban in the late afternoon. Here there aren’t many options. In theory you can anchor outside the marina, but it’s a pain and not entirely practical so we shoehorned ourselves into a tiny slip they assigned. In the very inside back corner of the marina, the single most difficult spot you could find to maneuver a 1300-square-foot platform. But we did it – and we managed to get back out too.
For us Durban was a big city, but one with disappointingly few marine services. We had hoped/expected to find someone to take a look at our starboard engine but had no luck. The one ‘mechanic’ used by nearly everyone at the marina had a reputation, and not a good one. I guess when you’re the only show in town…
We spent a few days running down some odds and ends and then we were lucky enough to have our friend Simon from Australia join us. He flew in from Brisbane and is going to stay with us around to Cape Town. We did a few minor touristy things once Simon arrived, but we didn’t give him much time to relax. The next weather windows to get further down the coast were two days after his arrival or waiting at least a week. Since we were finding Durban just a bit challenging we opted to go sooner. Again we backed (carefully) out of the marina at o-dark-thirty and started the 260 mile trip down to East London.
We, and our assistant the Agulhas Current, made quick work of the trip to East London. We averaged 10 knots for the whole trip, with Erika surfing the boat to 20 at one point. Having Simon around meant we changed from 6 hour watches to 4 hour watches with 8 hours off. What a luxury. We loved having Simon aboard for many (many) reasons, but the watch luxury was pretty sweet.
When we got to East London at first light we found a ship just getting ready to enter the harbor. We radioed Port Control and were told we’d have to wait for the ship to complete its maneuvers. That was less than pleasant. Running downwind in a stiff breeze with a nice following swell is one thing, turning around and trying to stand still in the same conditions, well… But it all worked out, Port Control let us in, and fatefully asked us for our cell phone number.
The yacht club at East London was welcoming and friendly, but their facilities were far too small for our fat cat so we anchored in the commercial harbor just below the yacht club. It wasn’t the most comfortable anchorage, hemmed in by hard concrete walls north and south, a bridge to the west and the harbor mouth to the east. We did our usual safety precautions and hung out on board a couple of days to make sure the anchor really stuck (we’ll get back to that).
East London is an industrial town overseen by a large Mercedes C-Class assembly plant. We watched as car after car came down to the wharf right next to us and was loaded onto a ship. All the car parts come in by ship and all the finished cars go out by ship. Needless to say the port is pretty important to the livelihood of the town. It seemed like every day the local charter boat was out with a field trip of primary school kids getting a chance to see how the harbor works and how important it is to their town. They’d come by singing, clapping, and smiling (I guess school kids are the same everywhere – a chance to get out of the classroom is always welcome). i think we became part of the tour for a couple of days, and we tried to make sure we interacted a bit when they came by.
We wanted to give Simon some animal experience so we did a day-drive out to the Inkwenkwezi private game reserve. That’s the source of the lion photos in our previous post. While we did get to see some lions they were essentially caged. They were waiting right next to the enclosure gate when we drove up so we couldn’t even go inside. It took some real doing to get photos without the fence wire. Other than the (almost) caged lions the game drive was a bust, we really didn’t see much and weren’t thrilled with our guide. A pleasant day in the country but not much more than that. It made us realize how lucky we were to have spent the day at the Hluhluwe Game Reserve outside of St. Lucia were we had seen lots of animals.
We did explore several local restaurants, brew pubs, and other food establishments. East London really shone in that department. Every place we tried had good food, fresh local produce, great service, and low prices. Don’t see it on on the travel sites as a food destination, but some of the best we have enjoyed.
Unfortunately not everything was cheery and wonderful. One afternoon we were enjoying a leisurely stroll through the local museum (quite interesting) when the phone rang. Remember that fateful conversation with Port Control where they asked for our cell phone number? Pulled the phone out of the backpack and it said we had a call from a local number. It also said it had 1% battery left. The call was Port Control, telling us that the wind was gusting to 50 knots in the harbor and that the dredge across the channel from us thought we were dragging anchor. Our leisurely stroll turned into a flat out run as we left the museum post-haste. Of course the phone died, so we didn’t have maps or directions. Mario Andretti would have been proud of our mad dash through town, driving on a wing and a prayer. We got to the dinghy dock to see Wasco mid-channel, not far from where we left her and maybe not dragging? But as we scrambled into the dinghy we could see she was on the move. Pushed the dinghy as hard as we could and got aboard in a frantic scramble with the sterns about a boat-length from some very hard tugboats. It was a very stressful episode but in the end all came good. Thank you East London Port Control and the dredge Italeni.
We left East London for another short passage down to St. Francis. St. Francis is a really small harbor but the harbormaster had assured us that he had a spot we could shelter for a couple of days as a westerly came through. So we arrived off St. Francis early in the morning only to find the other half of the equation that the harbormaster hadn’t mentioned – when the wind is blowing strong from the east (i.e. exactly what we were using to move us down the coast) the harbor entrance, only 2m deep, breaks across its whole width. The entrance was just not passable and harbor control advised us over the radio that they didn’t expect it to be all day. It was another 90 mile to Knysna, and the wind was expected to go strong and westerly by midnight, but we decided our only option was to push on.
We arrived off Knysna at 9 pm. Knysna is another notorious harbor entrance. A narrow, shallow channel between a lot of sharp rocks. Currents to match the Golden Gate. And we arrived at night. But the surf was very low (Knysna fortunately faces a different direction than St. Francis), the tide was high, the GPS signal was strong, and the harbor has a set of working leading lights. We made our way into Featherbed Bay (named by the old sailing skippers who thought they were sleeping in a featherbed after the rough water outside) and dropped the hook about 10 pm in almost flat calm. The wind gusting at 40 knots at 1 am woke us up but all was well, we’d made it in with three hours to spare.
After the sun came up we made our way further up the channel to the anchorage off the town itself. We loved Knysna. It was the most protected anchorage we’ve been in since way up in the Wessels of north Australia. A fully enclosed estuary/lagoon with enough room and water to anchor and enough protection to feel comfortable no matter the wind direction. It was also really beautiful with high mountains all around.
Knysna and the surrounding parts of the Cape provinces are also a hotbed of catamaran building. So we got in a bit of boat porn (probably Simon’s favorite part of the trip!). We visited the Knysna cat factory, and got a tour of the very first Kinetic catamaran, and drove over to St. Francis to visit the St. Francis cat factory. Two complete days of inappropriate boat behavior. It was interesting to see the techniques each boat builder was using but may have given Erika too many ideas for our next catamaran purchase.
Part of land journey also took us to Jeffreys Bay (J Bay for those in the know) as part of a pilgrimage for Simon. He had wanted to visit some surfing spots in SA as part of his visit, and Supertubes at J Bay was at the top of the list. It’s just outside of the St. Francis harbor, but since we didn’t end up stopping there we drove back from Knysna and visited the spot where Mick Fanning got away from the shark.