December 04, 2010
Puddles of light define the bays, looking more like fire and smoke than the weekend houses and favourite beaches of memory. The night sky is a heavy blanket of stars reaching from horizon to land, the stars that have been upside down for so long now ordered and correct in their places. I can see the blinking lighthouses off Pringle Bay and Cape Point which remind me of all the others that have sailed this route throughout our history. Somehow I feel that I am joined with them in spirit as we complete this circle round the globe. Tonight is our last night of this epic voyage of adventure and discovery, this watch the last of this trip. I feel like shouting to the stars that I am almost home, that I did it, that I am now a sailor.
Okay, so all very well to be waxing lyrical about the beautiful scenery etc… there I am bundled up watching the clouds cover the stars and the night get darker when I think it’s time to go down below to check that we are on course. Looking at the GPS I am a little concerned to see that we are heading straight for a way point called ROCK. Next to the way point is a warning that promises “regularly breaking seas” and “breaking waves in big swell”. Great. Then it starts raining, which is OK, ‘cos I just move down below to watch the radar. The wind starts whistling, which is, as far as I am concerned, never a good sign. Let me just interject that right now we are sailing without any sails as a) there has been no wind and we don’t want flogging sails, and b) as Rijk was dropping the main he pulled the leech and the whole sail ripped in his hands. Time to get home or what?? So, under bare poles we are now in quickening wind. I watch the wind climb steadily from 10kn to 18kn, and then from 25 to 30. Sheesh, I think. Thank goodness it’s coming from the stern (SE)! Then it climbs to 35kn, then to 40kn! At 45kn I can’t contain my anxiety and rush downstairs to wake Jay 15 minutes early for his watch. “Jay, Jay” I squeak, “The wind is up to 45 knots! Should we wake Rijk?” Which of course turns out to be completely unnecessary as he has also been woken by uMoya’s pitching and the wind’s wailing. We are now going 9 knots under bare poles in 45knots wind. . Off the Cape of Storms, one of the most dangerous capes in the world. I am sent to bed, to lie, wakefully, listening to every groan and squeak and think how similar this scary night and the first night of the trip are. Except this time I am not crying! No one gets any sleep and eventually the wind backs down to a howling 30/35knots as we cruise outside Hout Bay trying to decide whether we should risk trying to enter the marina.
Hout Bay can be a very windy place. The wind funnels down Chapman’s Peak and there have been recorded winds of 80+ knots, which is 160 kph! Not for the faint hearted. After frootling around outside the bay trying to decide whether or not to head in, we got cold enough for our decision to be made. As we nosed into the harbour the sun was rising, illuminating the Sentinel and it was blowing 30 knots easy. Not exactly what you need when docking. To make a very gory story short, we didn’t get our stern ropes on in time (possibly to do with my Michelin rope throw, although I maintain it was the rope catcher’s lack of the necessary speed) and we were suddenly across the mooring, bow trying to ramp one pontoon and the stern actually on top of the other one and its cleats. GULP. Cue lots of shouting and pretty much some of the worst language we have had on this trip, and then miraculously, without a hole in our side, we were off the pontoon, off the cleat, and parked. And we were home! Nothing like being humbled at the very last moment.
December 03, 2010
We are rounding Cape Agulhas and wow, what a pretty place this glorious home of ours is! We have been watching bottle nose dolphins and their babies leaping and dancing in welcome for a few hours, and every so often, in the background, a whale sticks up its flipper in a casual wave, or even, stirring its vast bulk into a more enthusiastic hello, hurls itself into the air, landing with an almighty splash. We have also passed a few pairs of sunfish which occasioned much excitement as I have never seen one out of an aquarium. We switched off the engine, turned round and watched their weird and wonderful bodies gliding away through the water. Not to be outdone, some seals followed us for a while, threading their slick bodies amongst what I imagine, from all the wildlife, to be a very fishy sea!
It’s been a good but COLD sail. I am in full Michelin Man gear, pj’s under jeans which are under oilies with socks (oh! Regretting the boat shoes given away in Nukuoru), and 2 t-shirts, a fleece, hoodie, Musto jacket and scarf all under my oilie top. Not to mention the beanie and hood. Brrr. The sea temperature has dropped from a wonderful 30 degrees to 12. 12. And this is SUMMER???? All of the other boats in our little duckling convoy veered off into Mossel Bay as there looked as though there might be a bit of nasty weather coming. We, however, had to push on to be on time for our welcome party which has been skilfully arranged by amazing friends, and thankfully we will be attending!
December 01, 2010
Almost home! The dreaded trip from Mauritius to Durban passed in relative comfort- in fact, apart from 2 days uncomfortable sailing and a mother of all thunder storms, it was one of the nicest passages we have had! The thunder storm was spectacular but absolutely terrifying. I woke to the sound of panicked feet running up the companionway-never a good sound and one that gets me out of bed in seconds. I swung myself out of my cabin and looked onto deck to see Rijk illuminated by a bolt of dizzyingly bright lightning. The wind was up to 35 knots and he was trying to steer us around the lightning that was zapping the seas all around us. Sheet lightning was traversing the sky like veins and bolt after bolt crashed, sizzling into the seas, thrown repeatedly by a very angry Zeus. When the thunder came, the sound was so oppressive, so low and threatening, that I thought we might be crushed by the sound waves. I sat in the companionway praying to anyone that might be listening, praying harder than I have ever prayed before, a repeated mantra of “Please protect us, please protect us, please protect us.” The air was blue around us as we maneuvered around the lightning, and at one point, through the torrential rain, Rijk shouted to me- “Is it behind us?” I nodded in dumb terror as two bolts crashed into the sea on either side of him. The night became day, and then suddenly, we were through, unscathed. At which point it started to hail. Lovely!
We arrived in Durban ahead of a pack of boats, some ARC, some individual sailors, and it was great to touch base with friends from Mauritius and Cocos. We heard some horror stories from boats that hadn’t had as good a passage as ours- one boat had been rolled 360 degrees TWICE and another had rolled till his mast was in the water. Our friends “Qwyver” had also had a rough time of it and had a wave crashing into their companionway onto the chart table, destroying their computer. No sooner than we had phoned home to say we were safe and had a shower than a friend of Rijk and his dad’s, Robbie, found us in the yacht club and offered us not only his car for the duration of our stay, but also an apartment in Umhlanga! Umhlanga is possibly my favourite seaside resort town in South Africa, so you can imagine my delight at the prospect of being there while we waited for the weather window. Double and triple that delight when we arrived at the apartment to find it an absolutely exquisitely decorated, totally luxurious sea side palace with a massive BATH in the en suite bathroom. Bliss. The weather was pretty grotty for the whole week, but it didn’t matter to us! No, we were ensconced in luxury, watching the wind whipped sea go about its business without us!
On the first night we were there, instead of wasting what providence had provided, we decided to eat in rather than go out for dinner. We thought a baked fillet might do nicely, so spent most of an hour trying to work out how to switch the oven on. If you could only hear the curses and muttering that went on around this piece of modern art- each of us spent a good amount of time trying to coax out of it it’s secret, but to no avail. Finally we gave up and fried it in garlic. Then we tried to plug in my iPod. More curses and bemoaning the state of technology in the world. No luck on the iPod, so we thought that maybe we could play music through the TV. Much frustration until we found the manual. The high point of the evening came when we couldn’t work out how to switch on the lights. Rijk, at that point, was heard muttering “A switch, just give me a switch.” Oh, dear”, I thought,“are we really ready to return to this brave new world??”
Guillaume arrived to spend a few days with us (bringing gifts of bubble bath- how did he know about the bath?? And a huge packet of the most delicious and much missed droewors), which prompted us to brave the outside world for dinner. We went out twice in Umhlanga and both times I was hugely impressed by the spectacularly good service and incredibly good food. What a joy to be back home where the supermarkets shelves burst with cheap fresh produce, delicious deli foods and prime meat, and our restaurants have top chefs with innovative ideas and the guarantee of excellent produce. Being back on South African soil has been a feel good experience all round. It is wonderful to be in a place that I understand, where I get the jokes and the humour and know the customs and the expectations. Durban looks much cleaner than it did before we left, and there seems to be a new pride in ownership that perhaps came with the World Cup. And speaking of which- what a glorious stadium! I had to be levered out of Umhlanga with a crow bar, and back to the windy yacht club we went.
This weather window is a strange thing. The coast between Durban and East London is known to be one of the most dangerous coasts to sail in the world (Great. Nothing like leaving the best till last!) and everyone, especially all the international yachties that we have been hanging out with, are justifiably terrified. If you stop off in Richard’s Bay before heading to Durban, there is even a recommended talk on just how to tackle this coast. What can make this coast so dangerous is a meeting of the Agulhas current, which travels 3-6 knots in a south westerly direction, and the South Westerly wind, which brings waves and wind in a North Easterly Direction. When this happens, current meets wind and swell and produces huge breaking seas of potentially 20metres and the devastating 100- year freak waves that have been known to swallow container ships without a trace. We had Robbie and a whole group of racing sailors over for dinner the night before we left and the stories that they recounted made me want to book a flight IMMEDIATELY! The 1984 Vasco da Game race came up in conversation and as I had seen the memorial board up in the yacht club with the fates of all the boats that took part in the race, I was agog to know that Nick and Greg, two of our dinner guests, had been part of the race and had been washed onto the rocks in the Transkei. They were luckier than the “Rubicon”, who disappeared with all hands.
“This race has gone down in history as one of the most tragic. The entire fleet was forced to return to Durban as conditions became highly dangerous. A number of yachts were rolled, some did 360 degree rolls, others were dismasted, 2 sunk, one ran aground and one went missing. The real tragedy was the loss of Rubicon and her crew of which no trace has been found. The skipper was an exceptionally experienced yachtsman who was acutely safety conscious.” History of the Vasco da Gama Race
Only one boat completed that race. EEEK.
On that note, but assured that there was no south westerly wind in store for us, we left Durban in a convoy of 4, maintaining radio contact throughout, which was great fun and certainly helped ease my mind. At least there would be help nearby if we needed it! We caught the current and averaged a very respectable 11 knots, top speed a shuddering, whooshing 16 knots. The sail was uneventful, the wind behind us the whole way and we reached PE in 2 days. Port Elizabeth was a brief but eventful stop. All of it can be summed up quite briefly- Friday was a bit of a bender and after a raucous dinner party with “Bahati” and “Qwyver”, and inviting myself to an end of year function, I took a tumble down the gangplank, grazing a little bit of everywhere, cutting my head and getting a black eye in the bargain. That’s what gate crashing a pirate party will do for you! Wandering around The Boardwalk was wonderful, and as we walked around the happy, shining busy centre with our international friends I felt really proud of being South African, at what we have achieved and at our world class facilities and infrastructure. Harry Potter was everything I expected and the food at the Algoa Bay Yacht Club is absolutely delicious and worth a visit when you are next in Port Elizabeth!
And then we threw off our ropes and like little ducks in a row, headed out to sea again, destination Cape Town!
October 22, 2010
Being harried by a constant 30 knot wind in the Cocos anchorage gave us an inkling of what we should expect for our trip to Rodrigues, and unfortunately, we were right. What a horrid passage! The first 3 days were just uncomfortable and then BOOM! Nothing less than 25 knots for the rest of the time with squalls of up to 40knots on one of Rijk’s watches. The seas were huge with waves coming from all sorts of directions, and uMoya did her best to slip, slide and surf down all of them. I sat in the companionway for most of my watches, the sight of the grey, turbulent and wind frothed sea too much for me, not to mention the waves sloshing wetly into the cockpit, the beanie & sock inducing cold and the general bleakness of the scene. Rijk spent most of his watches in the semi-comfort of the stuffy, fetid saloon and Jay donned his oilies, lashed himself to the boat and just enjoyed the elements. 12 days after leaving Cocos, we were blown into the tiny, semi- sheltered bay of Port Mathurin, Rodrigues. Even coming into Rodrigues was tough- it was raining, the land looked bleak and uninviting, I was in the dumps, Rijk was overtired and Jay was worried that he had missed “Oppurtune”. We had 30 knots to contend with while trying to pull down the main and our lazy jacks were broken. All together very trying. We had radioed our yachtie buddies for arrival info on coming into Rodrigues and found out that “Oppurtune” had been in port for a week and was planning on leaving that very day. Happy days indeed when we bumped into Mari on the dock as we tied up, and in a matter of minutes uMoya had acquired another crew member!
After the very pain-free check in formalities (always a welcome start!) we went a-wandering through the streets of the tiny town and discovered that it was market day! Just what the doctor ordered- the sun came out, everyone was smiling, laughing and bonjouring us all over the place. Nothing like a vibrant Saturday market to chase the blues away! Piles of bright purple aubergines, shallots, dirt covered potatoes and crayon coloured peppers vied for space with huge bundles of fragrant coriander, oreganum and mint, while on other tables lemons, plums and pears were for sale, as well as cardboard boxes of fluffy yellow chicks and beautiful looking papaya jam tarts. Not to mention the handicrafts! Woven baskets of every size and shape beckoned to me while crotched dolls peered out from in between lampshades and tissue box holders made of shells. We were tempted by the Rodriguan speciality (and staple food), sun-dried, fly covered salted octopus, but restrained ourselves, and instead made do with buying a few jars from the rows upon rows of home-made atchar. Baskets laden with goodies, we returned to the boat, happy little chappies all, to get ourselves ready for an early dinner. We walked the 20 metres to an outstanding restaurant, which, happily, was to be our experience of Rodriguan cuisine. Having not eaten at a restaurant since leaving Darwin (a good 3 months of boat food- good, but somewhat repetitive!) we fell on the steak frites and mushroom sauce with lip-smacking gusto and I managed to force down 2 (!!) portions of incredibly delicious amaretto soaked ice cream. YUMYUM!
The next night’s dining was another wonderful experience. This restaurant didn’t have English explanations to go with the French, so I tried my best to work out what exactly was on the menu (apart from the always tempting steak frites…. Have to try something else we said!). Our waiter was lovely and was trying his best to practise his English. Me speaking appalling French, him replying in appalling English- a recipe for disaster.
What is the cono-cono ( I say in French)? Hmmm… eeet ees fish (he says in a heavy Creole accent).
Me: Ah, poisson? (miming swimming).
Him: No. Inside (miming.. hmm,, hard to tell. Possibly peek- a- boo but not too sure).
Me: Dernier? (this might mean backside, so no wonder he looks concerned)
Him, after a frantic look around the nearly empty restaurant: Eees gooood. (smacking of lips and general nodding and face-splitting grins from our side)
Me: Il est grille? Frieed (in a French accent)? Cuite (hoping this means cooked, but think it might be a word I made up)? Chaud? Froid? (I definitely ace those two).
Him: Attendre. He rushes off in the direction of the kitchen and brings back what looks like a chestnut on a small saucer.
Me: Ah, merci! C’est pour nous? (waving my arms round the table in a Is this for us to eat- kind of motion)
Him: Oui oui. (Huge grin)
I then take up my knife and fork and attempt to cut the offering up into 4 pieces so that we can all have a bite. A moment’s appalled pause as I register that it is frozen and the waiter registers pure panic.
Him: NO! NO! Arrete!!! (More frenzied french babble as he snatches the plate away.)
Embarrassed silence. Me, flaming face, sputtering apologies.
Voice from under the TV: It’s a type of conch.
Anyway, luckily we all managed to get past that little incident and our partially mutated cono-cono was delivered to our table in salad form, as well as an octopus salad, all on the house. Then, just as our spoons were scraping the unfortunately empty ice cream bowls, two guys wandered past us holding guitars. A gravely, grated, Skatman voice erupted from the back room. We moved ourselves to the back room tout-suite, sat at a table, bought the guys a beer and listened to some of the best reggae I have ever heard. One of the duo was smooth as silk, hair of an R&B artist and the high voice of a crooner. He was Rodriguan, hosting his friend Nigga, a Rodriguan singer living in Mauritius and back for a 2 week holiday. Nigga had a shaven bald head and huge diamonds glinting in each ear. He was powerfully built with a huge voice of gravel, whisky, cigarettes and late nights. They were strumming their guitars for the hell of it, two friends enjoying their jam session, a wonderfully spontaneous live performance just for us.
Peter and Agata flew in the next day to spend a whistle stop week on uMoya. We met them at the airport and commenced a day of drinking cocktails and eating in various glorious settings before squeezing them into their cabin and introducing them to uMoya’s favourite pastime- poker. We also hired a car and explored the island. Rodrigues is a tiny island, part of the Mascarene archipelago, with a population of 38 000 people. The Dutch touched the land briefly in 1601 but it was only colonised by the French in 1691.The British took possession of the island in 1809 and encouraged the agriculture of the island to the extent that it became known as the “attic” of Mauritius, to which is was linked with by telegraph in 1901. Rodrigues was once heavily forested, a haven to a wide variety of endemic flora & fauna. The emblematic, flightless solitaire bird and the land tortoise were massacred to extinction in the 18 century, either providing food for ship’s pantries or succumbing to the alien wildlife brought by said boats, including dogs, cats and rats. There are many species of plant which are on the endangered list but wide scale conservation and reforestation efforts are yielding promising results and nurseries of critically endangered trees exist on the island. The Golden Bat is a victory for the conservationists as it has been snatched back from the endangered list and has been reinstated in its natural habitat.
Rodrigues is now a very dry island, looking more like a version of Greece than any of the islands that we have visited. It is beautiful though- a lagoon of impossibly varied blues circles the island like a halo and, unlike other islands where the lush vegetation gets in the way of viewing the sea, the vistas as we drove the windy hill roads were exquisite. Much of the lagoon is very shallow and the cream soda colour of the water quite took my breath away. A lot of the island’s appeal as a holiday destination lies in its water activities- wind surfing and kiting are huge, traditional pirogue regattas are part of the island’s culture and there are many dive spots around the island. The coast is a riot of bougainvillea, the colours hot and deep, which when viewed against the startling blues of the lagoon make for a visual overload. There is a small mangrove ring that at low tide creates a cradle for the pirogues which leaning drunkenly on their sides, waiting for water. Come high tide, the pirogues are poled out into the lagoon and silhouettes stand motionless, long stabbing spears in hand, waiting for an octopus to appear. At dawn we could track the octopus by the fishermen walking across the reef, far out to sea, spears clutched in hand, catching dinner the same way as they have been for hundreds of years.
The inland of the island was higher and cooler, with occasional cloudbursts of rain and tendrils of mist clawing across the rock strewn fields. The houses up there were more basic and goats roamed the countryside, walking delicately on the hundreds of foot paths criss crossing the landscape. Tumbled walls of black volcanic rock brought order to the windswept land where people in huge straw hats laboured in the wind and fierce sunlight. I had the feeling that if I had travelled here 100 years ago, not much would have been different, and that, in an ever changing world, is something to savour and to treasure. Rodrigues beguiles with its timeless, relaxed and friendly charm.
Port Mathurin turned out to be an unexpectedly rich shopping ground for us girls as the handicrafts are superb and very inexpensive and all the shops seemed to be having sales. What more could we ask for! Possibly there could be questions asked as to how many colourful baskets one person needs, or whether buying cute homemade dolls for as yet unborn (and unconceived!) children was absolutely essential, but there you go. There was also an excellent bakery that provided not only baguette and chocolate brioche but also delicious breyani for lunch. And then there were the multiple deep fried snack vendors. Why oh why do I love the deep fried snack so much?? Luckily Agata shares my belief that something fried a day keeps the doctor away. Everyday brought me closer and closer to my deep fried limit until finally, on our last day, after eating 3 battered aubergine slices, 5 batter balls and a piece of deep fried battered bread (I mean really! Where is the need!), I admitted defeat and swore not to eat any more until Mauritius. Such restraint!
We put Pete and Agata on a flight to Mauritius and promised that we would try our best to make use of their hotel suite when we got there- (yes, very noble of us), and got ourselves ready for the exhaustive 3 day sail to Mauritius. Rodrigues is definitely on my list of to-return-to places!
October 21, 2010
October 19, 2010
Rijk and Jen take to the open road in Tiny, their trusty steed. We leave from Darwin, head through the Outback to Rockhampton and then down the East Coast to Sydney. We manage to kayak down Kathering Gorge, marvel at the NT national parks, climb Mount Warning, pass through Nimbin, stay in some amazing campsites, get some surf and meet up with Jay and our dad in Sydney. Good times indeed!
October 18, 2010
James & Jen explore Darwin, go on a road trip to the Merrepen Arts Festival, spend lots of time at Mindil Market and have our mum to stay on the boat