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!