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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

SOUTH ATLANTIC HIGH (and lows) !

Sailing from Abraao, Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro State to Cape Town.


This blog is dedicated to our friend Graeme Murray who was meant to accompany us, but due to unforseen circumstance couldn't.

 Angra dos Reis.


Angra dos Reis - looking down at the three kings and the anchorage.


Saying goodbye to Brazil is always difficult for me and this time it was a little more so, because we were leaving South America, too and don’t have a fixed plan to return in the near future. On the positive side we were heading to South Africa to spend Christmas with my family. We had decided to clear out from Angra Dos Reis as the officials there are used to yachts and the clearing process is simple and straight forward, with the added appeal of spending a final day or two anchored off Abraao on Ilha Grande to stock up with spring water and wait for the a reasonable forecast. An added advantage was the proximity of the supermarkets and fresh fruit and vegetable supply in Angra.

Fresh fruit and veggies for the passage.


Stocking up for a passage is slightly complicated by us not having refrigeration, so we try to find fruit and veggies that haven’t previously been refrigerated. We then wash everything in a mild chlorine solution. The extra peppers get strung up. The yoghurt goes into our shallow bilge. (The water acts as a cooler). As Pete has many years of experience he has the amounts fine-tuned and I had full confidence in this, although he occasional asked for my input. Our previous crossing of the south Atlantic had taken 40 days, from Mar del Plata to Cape Town and we ran out of apples two days before arriving. This time we were leaving from Rio de Janeiro state and according to passage planner the trip was supposed to take 32 days, so we aimed for somewhere between, which proved to be very accurate.


Peppers strung up in the guest cabin.


The water supply is trickier, but we carry over 200 litres and we filled both our solar shower bags, because we tend to collect rainwater only in ‘Crake’ (our dinghy) when she is in the davits, but we had decided to lash her to the foredeck, as an extra precaution. This meant we had the luxury of fresh water showers at sea, but unfortunately the newer of the showers leaked a bit. I generally wash body and hair with salt water, in between times, because I can’t abide dirty hair and am prepared to deal with the consequence of salt-water washes once we get to land. The cheap apple shampoo produced by Colgate and other manufacturers actually lathers well in salt water. Female sailing friends in Port Owen gave this tip to me many years ago, so I always have a bottle at hand.


Abraao.



We spent a few lovely days in Abraao, where we finally met Jorge Gonzalez, an Argentinean sailor on a boat called ‘Caicara’, whom we had seen in many anchorages in Brazil. Pete had decided to leave on Thursday the 6th of November, although there was some heavy weather to the south. His reasoning was that we would be sailing east for several days and could use the wind favourably to get a good start.
We hoped to call in at Tristan da Cunha and of course Christmas waits for no one.

Setting out from Abraao. (Photo by Jorge Gonzalez, Caicara)

We went ashore in the morning, had a final ice cream (it was too early for a Caiparinha!), and spent our last few cents on some luxury items. We left shortly after noon and Jorge and his wife followed us in their tender, taking a video of us sailing and also some photographs.



Almost immediately the wind died down as we sailed in the lee of the island. Ilha Grande had recently had some welcome rain and the trees were flowering abundantly. Howler monkeys wailed their goodbyes, but as we rounded the island a stiff breeze filled in and we sped away, albeit to windward. There were at least 17 ships anchored, but fortunately we navigated through them without ado. By nightfall the wind had switched off and we drifted along on a sea that now looked like mirrored glass. Ilha Grande is the perfect place to cruise, but the wind is terribly fluky and tends to be all or nothing.

Clouds directing the way.

Sunrise on sea :) 

We do three hour watches at night and then are more flexible during the day, allowing each other to catch up on sleep as need be, but although I turned in as usual, I awoke several hours later to find that we were pounding to windward again, with Pete still on watch. We were doing 5 knots, so the clean bottom had paid off, but there was a thick mist. Pete was keeping a close lookout for ships with A.I.S. assistance. While we were having breakfast the sun broke through, but the wind speed dropped to less than a knot! There were clear skies beckoning ahead, with the thick bank of fog astern. Replacing the howler monkeys was the eerie sound of the foghorns, lending a surreal experience to the morning. A ship suddenly loomed on the starboard quarter, shedding the mist like a shroud. The closest point of approach was 2.37nm, so I stood back and watched without concern.

'Crake' nestling on the bow.

Most of the first few days were repetitive. The motion to windward on ‘Oryx’ was far better than the same motion on ‘Pelican’, but when the seas are short and choppy, it was pretty nasty too. Pete did another double stint when we were clearing the myriad of oilrigs, which meant I got to see another sunrise. An oilrig supply vessel called ‘Torda’ came alarmingly close; I suppose to have a look at ‘Oryx’. I had their call sign ready PGAH, but fortunately except for thinking nasty thoughts; I didn’t need to contact them. (Pretty Good…A.H.)


Our sea berth in the port aft quarter is designed for sleeping at sea, but we rarely use it because our double bunk on the bridge deck is comfortable. However, we were using it for these first days of uncomfortable sailing. It is perfectly dry and comfortable, but sounds like you are sleeping in a washing machine. In quieter seas it feels more like re entering the womb, with the gentle susurration of the sea and the borborygmi of ‘Oryx’ chuckle.

As the Windguru and Passage Weather forecasts were not on the same page as the actual  weather, the wind remained ahead of us and for a while we had the current against us too, so our progress was poor, but the sun was shining by day and the evening infinity stretched ahead in the form of a dark sky shot full of stars. At one stage I saw what looked like a tricolour light in the sky. Does the space station have new navigation lights? In these early days the air traffic was still abundant, but we had already left the ships behind.

Waiting for the green flash!

I allowed myself a hissy fit when Pete assumed I had absorbed the finer details of the GPS by osmosis. Pete is one of the finest people I know, but teaching doesn’t come naturally to him, so we settled for the medical methodology of see one, do one, demonstrate one. Suffice to say I am now a more confident sailor! I can competently manage the wind vane self-steering on all points of sail, I can haul up sails and reef quickly and efficiently. I only call Pete for emergencies or if we really need to gybe and are doing in excess of 8knots and this is merely to avoid damage to ‘Oryx’ or my shoulder. I did successfully gybe in daylight, under the same conditions, but was still a bit reluctant by night.

'Oryx' proving her mettle.

Our second morning was probably the most uncomfortable and it always seems as if the ocean and the wind have to remind us that we are now in their domain, by throwing some heavy moves at us, but after a week of pounding to windward the wind suddenly freed us. The sun was shining and the sea was a deep blue. The sky was pale blue with a few white wisps.  Crossing the ocean is sometimes like a cross between ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘The Truman Show’. Each day is the same, with subtle shifts. This particular day it felt as if we were sailing to the edge of an inverted bowl and could strip the sky away to reveal what lay beyond.

The Jordan's series drogue shackled on and attached to anchor - ready for use.

Our eighth day was squally and nasty with gusts up to gale force. It rained heavily for the next 48 hours, scotch mist interspersed by heavy downpours and we were pounding to windward yet again. We had only a sliver of sail up. The rainwater had managed to find a way into the dome and this made the watch cold and damp. To add insult to injury our long tacks took us east, which was fine, but then west, due to the current. The only glimmer of positivity was the company of three Shearwaters who were surfing the thermals and loving the nasty conditions.

The most graceful of all birds.

I had bought some cocada, a sweet similar to coconut ice, which I had decided to allow myself as a treat if we were beating to windward, but on day 11 I decided perhaps I should have the treat on the good days as it didn’t bode well for losing weight. The bananas had unfortunately ripened too soon and we made some fritters. The other fresh supplies were doing well. We were both sleeping in the sea berth all the time now. The barometer was as steady as the rain, which provided some consolation. Although we couldn’t wait for the rain to abate, we did remember to hope that it reached Sao Paulo state, as they are experiencing a rare and severe drought.

Squid on deck.

My fear factor had been steadily rising. I am a coward; no doubt about that and the source of my fear is that on my first Atlantic crossing we experienced a knock down on ‘Pelican’. Fortunately, we didn’t suffer extensive damage, although Pete got a nasty whack on his hip. ‘Pelican’ of course popped up like a cork, but I knew that catamarans could capsize and ‘Oryx’ had led a charmed life, thus far, so I didn’t know how she would respond. Now I awoke with terror in the midst of gale force gusts.  I lay riveted to the bunk, listening to the cacophony of sound. The wind was shrieking like a banshee and I couldn’t hear Pete. Fortunately he was fine, having stayed on watch, yet again to get us through the squalls.

Fair weather astern.

On my watch a few stars made an appearance followed shortly by a brightening of the skies with the coming of dawn. Several yellow nosed albatross were accompanying us at this stage but we only saw a tragically few Wandering albatross from time to time. The seas remained huge, but the wave intervals became longer and therefore more comfortable. It was a lovely, crisp morning with plenty of sunshine, which facilitated the drying process. The birds were soaring and gliding. To see an albatross fly is breathtakingly beautiful – they don’t flap their wings and are so aerodynamic that a mere flick of a foot has them soaring in the opposite direction. The skies were clear, but there was a thin diffuse looking Pampero cloud astern and our respite was short-lived. It was pouring again by noon. The wind was now on our beam and continued building and crashing alarmingly into our starboard beam. The sound is horrendous. It is like being dropkicked. By 1500 we were unable to hold our coarse. There was merely a small fragment of one sail up and we were still careening along at more than 7 knots.

Trusty friend on a calm day.

Pete then deployed the drogue. Before long passages he shackles the drogue to custom-built stainless steels plates on ‘Oryx’ stern and this meant he merely had to attach the small 2.5kg dinghy anchor and feed the drogue out. It takes about five minutes to deploy and the relief is almost immediate. This time reinforced my admiration of Mr. Jordan. The sounds die down to a gurgle. The stern is held into the wind, the boat slows down to 1.5 knots and the motion is gentle. It’s like camping safely in a valley of waves! Unfortunately, it doesn’t photograph that well.

Stormy seas starting to abate.

Mr. Jordan was an aeronautical engineer who designed a sea anchor called ‘the Jordan’s Series Drogue’. He then provided the information and the plans to make your own for FREE on the internet. I’ve cracked jokes about assembly the drogue before. It comprises of several hundred cloth cones, which I personally attached to a rope some years ago, thinking – ‘this is a serious drag’ and it is. The cones open underwater and the ‘drag’ slows the boat down to a manageable speed. Other sailors value their EPERB, their radars, their life rafts, their refrigerators and satellite phones, but I wouldn’t go sailing without a drogue. When the seas are that big there is no way I’m abandoning a big floating boat for a little inflatable one.

Recently an Argentinean Sailor, Jorge Benozzi was lost at sea, because he lost the mast of his boat 'Tumante 2'('Rogue 2') and relied on an emergency call to rescue him, but drifted so far from his relayed position, that he remains missing.His life raft was found abandoned several weeks ago, but there is still no sign of 'Tumante 11' or her crew. The bigger tragedy is that the man was a brilliant 60 year old ophthalmic surgeon who pioneered innovative non-invasive lens correction.

Pete is unfazed by the rough weather, but he did experience some anxiety when the wind shredded his RCC burgee, so I knitted him a new one!

Temporary knitted burgee!
From the distance the burgee looks almost like the real thing.

In this much quieter environment we managed to catch up on sleep, still taking turns, in case of ships or emergencies, but in a comfortable and warm bed. Somewhere along the way our tiller self steering arm was broken. The following day we were able to take the drogue in, it took 20 minutes and was fairly easy to retrieve. The sun was shining again and although the wind was heading us, yet again, it was light, which meant the seas abated rapidly. Pete had circumvented the need for a tiller arm with a bit of string and a pulley and the self-steering was fully functional again. The night was crisp and clear and the stars were out in all their glory. I whiled away my watch listening to music. Isn’t it amazing how you can be transported from the now tranquil mid Atlantic wilderness to inner city Chicago, rain and inner turmoil by a few notes of Eminem and Dido’s ‘Stan’?

Next morning the drogue needs retrieval.

Our passage improved immensely for me from this moment. ‘Oryx’ had coped well with whatever the Atlantic dished out and the drogue’s performance had quelled my incipient fears. I could relax and enjoy the trip.

Retrieving the drogue.

We spent a few more days sailing blissfully eastward, yearning for the westerlies to the south of us. I was already making contingency plans for stopping in Namibia!  We then were becalmed. The sea was now so flat that the sails weren’t flogging too much and we trickled along.  We hadn’t seen ships for weeks now and  then a huge container ship loomed on the horizon. The name was ‘Tubul’ and they hailed us on the radio to find out if we were okay!

'Tubal' says 'Ola'.


We trailed a fishing line virtually every day, lost two lures and hooked a curious Shoemaker, who suffered the indignity of being photographed before being set free. I tried to close his eyes with my hat, whilst Pete removed the hook from his wing, but I got a nasty nip and dropped the hat for my trouble!

We were trickling along doing some reasonable speeds and although ‘Oryx’ was still chuckling along it seemed very quiet. We had been accompanied for days by a yellow nosed albatross and he would circle the boat a few times and then sheath his wings and bob about astern of us. It was so quiet that you could hear the swish of his wings! We were both enjoying the albatross' company and the sunshine from the cockpit, when the silence was pierced by a tearing sound! It sounded as if the fabric of time itself was being ripped asunder. Our momentary fear was replaced by joy and a scramble for the cameras. A whale had breached astern of us! It hung around for a few minutes, spraying up a plume of water, before disappearing into the depths.

There she blows!

Another night of calm followed with the hint of a breeze astern. We continued to trickle along and the sailing was pleasant enough, but our time constraints were starting to chaff and it robbed some of the enjoyment. We were now down to 35 S and awaiting the westerlies. The air at sunset was filled with a pungent smell, not quiet guano or blood, but with a definite metallic tang. It smelt like some summer nights in Jo’burg before a storm. I remembered my mother calling it ‘ozone’ years before learning of CFC and the hole in the ozone layer. I checked our dictionary and although I was always taught that oxygen is colourless and odourless apparently ozone is 'a form of oxygen with a pungent odour!' So, there is a bit of ozone to be found unhindered in the southern ocean. This smell haunted our next few dawns and sunsets.


We sailed on, rarely doing more than 4 knots, but then the barometer started dropping slowly. The west wind suddenly kicked in and because the seas were virtually flat we were soaring along, doing 7,8, 9 and 10 knots without deviating from our course. We reefed down accordingly, erring on the side of caution. Travelling now was very comfortable and warm. Our brilliant runs continued, but the barometer was still dropping, too. We were nearing Tristan de Cunha and our ETA for Inaccessible island (aptly named) was 2130, but arrival would be risky at night. There was a bright new moon, but it was staring to cloud over, so visibility might be impaired. Pete decided to drop the sails, to reduce our speed so that we could delay our arrival until 0400 and sunrise, but although we had no sail up and only the windage of the sail catcher we were still doing more than five knots. The seas were on the beam again bashing ‘Oryx’.  My fear factor began percolating as the seas built and I implored Pete to put the drogue out. We did so in the early evening and we continued to drift downwind towards Inaccessible island.

Wind starting to fill in.

The wind continued to pick up until a force eight gale was blowing. It was fairly comfortable on board, although we did slew around once which somehow loosened a retrieval rope for the drogue and that eventually fowled the prop, but in the meantime we bunkered down in the raging sea and wind. Our flock of albatross now included a sooty albatross. They were joined by Shearwaters and some beautiful terns. The phosphorescence outlined the drogue and highlighted our churning wake. Heavy rain beat a comfortable tattoo throughout our watches. (Pete had fixed the leak in the dome.)


Saturday dawned and the wind had shifted from the NW to SW, we were now off Inaccessible Island,  heading NE towards Tristan and Edinburgh, with the seas were still raging, so we could do nothing but sit it out. The birds in this area abound. The day brought some sunshine and a rise in the barometer, so our hopes became buoyant. The barometer continued to rise, but the waves were now 3 to 4 metres high and were sometimes the tops were breaking into the cockpit. This is a rare occurrence, as ‘Oryx’ is a very dry boat, but one rogue managed to reach as far as our big picture window and the door, with the smallest amount of seepage. Tristan was now abeam and we sailed blithely by on the tail of the gale.

The merest glimpse of Tristan da Cunha.

By the next morning Tristan was astern, the waves were down to 3m and subsiding. We retrieved the drogue, after clearing the prop. It had saved our bacon for 41 mammoth hours and we only found one damaged cone. We had already abandoned any thoughts of beating back to Tristan, as the anchorage is what Pete calls a ‘roadstead’ and we had no idea when we’d be able to get ashore. Pete has sailed this route six times and has only managed to get ashore once. By now we knew we were running out of time to call at Gough and so continued on towards Cape Town.



December was at hand with a record high for our barometer (1031). It was overcast with light winds initially and Pete spotted yet another whale, a mere boat’s length away. So close that Pete could count its barnacles!


The rest of the trip, until we neared Cape Town was pure Disney. If you can picture Pete on the foredeck in a tuxedo with a pink bow tie playing a cello and serenading me with the theme from ‘An American Dream’….
I will show you the world….shining, shimmering magic… something something something…magic carpet ride” you will get a rough idea how good it was! The motion on ‘Oryx’ with the wind astern is blissfully like the envisaged magic carpet ride.

Both wind vanes working overtime - our backseat drivers!

On my daughter’s birthday ‘Oryx’ had her record run of 170nm. The only problem with sailing directly downwind is that when surfing the waves the sails sometimes gybe. This happened when we were doing 12.3 knots, but fortunately there was no damage. The moon was now full and we had a silver swath to follow by night and on the sixth the cloud gave way to sunshine and we followed the golden highway by day. We cracked the 1000nm (to go) followed by the Greenwich Meridian a few hours later (west becomes east) We had a big celebratory meal ending with a pudding (the last steamed pudding from England, slightly rusty). We also toasted our passage as halfway day had happened without fanfare in the midst of the second gale.

Yellow nosed albatross.

As I read my notes the days just continued to improve. I awoke time after time to ‘Oryx’ gurgling and on the 9th of December I was admiring the multifaceted blues of the seas overlaid with white lace when I noticed that the sea seems to have streaks of mud. Mildly alarmed I checked the echo sounder. We were in fathomless waters. I had just decided the discolouration could be blood when I saw two sharks captured for posterity in my mind, like mosquitoes in resin. Somehow the sunshine illuminated the wave and there they were, bearing down on our fishing lure. I have never seen sharks at sea, except for snorkelling off Tobago, when a very timid one swam below me. The albatross troupe had grown to 8, and along with 2 Shoemakers and a small lbj who were soaring astern.

Lean cuisine.

One the same day I saw my first dolphins and the distant spume of another whale. Pete had spotted 5 whales and this was my third! This was better than Disney – it was Pixar and beyond, but the best was that it was reality with a capital R.



As we neared the Cape the wind took a brief holiday again. The night was beautiful and there were some ships about, but we were growing impatient, itching to get there.

Becalmed.
Final morning at  sea.

There were a few squalls, which caused the seas to build up; on Friday the 12th we spotted land.  It was very hazy, but our first view was of the Twelve Apostles. We were heading for Hout Bay, but Pete asked me to try get a weather forecast. The wind was blowing in a southeasterly direction, which didn’t bode well for Hout Bay. True enough; once we accessed Accuweather the southeaster was due to continue gathering strength. We changed course and set off for Granger Bay off the Waterfront in Cape Town, which is sheltered from the southeast. The sun was just beginning to dip into the sea. We had donned our fowl weather gear and with Pete at the helm, ‘Oryx’ was exceeding all expectations. She regularly made double digits and the sail was thrilling. The water colour was a bottle green and the temperature was icy!

Land ahoy!

Suddenly the sea was teaming with small dolphins. They are grey with a definitive white stripe and they were torpedoing past us. Pete took some pictures and then I grabbed my small waterproof camera and set off to nestle behind ‘Crake’ on the foredeck, whilst I admired the dolphins. ‘Oryx’ bows were sending spumes of spray into the air and the experience was thrilling. Another Atlantic high, followed soon after by a low. As I made my way back to the cockpit, I slipped the camera into my pocket and gingerly crawled back clinging on for dear life. Just before reaching the safety of the cockpit I heard a sickening sound… kerplunk and splosh. Somehow my camera had made its way out of a fairly deep pocket and without much ado fell into the swirling seas, taking most of our (unsaved) photos with it.


Heavy side dolphin matching and exceeding our 12 knots.
Sailing north from Hout Bay.


We anchored in the dark in Granger Bay with the monstrous football stadium detracting from the view. My night vision is shocking, and I was still mourning the loss of the camera so I wasn’t a happy camper, but we had a late dinner and turned in.  We had taken 36 days to travel 3734 miles!We still had 2 tomatoes, several potatoes, peppers, carrots and onions and about 6 oranges, all without refrigeration!


Table 'top' mountain...

The next morning the sun was shining, Table Mountain was sporting variations of her tablecloth and the sports stadium no longer looked like the architecture of Auswitz. (Not completely, but Moses Mobida is far nicer.) After breakfast we duly went ashore, leaving ‘Crake’ at the small powerboat club, after getting their permission. We then tramped across country to where customs and immigration used to be. There we found two dudes relaxing in the sun and an unattended office. When we asked them where the customs officials were they replied:
          “It’s us, man.” But then told us the office was closed and that we had to return on Monday.


Clock Tower

Cape Town waterfront.

We walked back to the Waterfront, browsed around, and had a fish and chips lunch and beer in commiseration for having to miss ‘Snoekies’ and ‘On the Rocks’ in Hout Bay. I should have learned my lesson in Buenos Aires, when we walked from the Yacht Club Argentina in Centro to La Boca  (several miles) to clear customs, wearing smart shoes, but needless to say I didn’t and I am still sporting the blisters acquired walking miles in Cape Town. Vanity gave way to bandages; plasters and violent purple Crocs, which I’m sure didn’t go well with some of the punters at the Waterfront.

"Spirit of Victoria" "Mollymawks'" sister ship.

Fortunately Pete is a stickler for towing the line and decided that we needed to stay on board ‘Oryx’ on Sunday, as he was yet to clear in.
We were just admiring the view and cracking the beers to accompany our lunch, which an RIB approached. It was the South African Border Police and although I felt sorry for Pete at times, I also remembered my experiences with the UK Border Agency. The RIB contained several policeman and the main honcho was a blustery, officious typical South African sporting an XY overabundance of testosterone. (Sorry Vic!) While his navvies circled the boat he threw out questions. He wanted Pete’s skipper’s license – the UK don’t have skipper’s license, he wanted our survey details – we thought we didn’t have one, but in the end the SSR registration sufficed. The killer was:
          “Do you have a life raft?” SAP
          “No.” Pete
          “Why not?” SAP
          “I don’t believe in them.” Pete.
By this time I was cringing in horror – that was a bit like telling an Imam that you don’t believe in Allah whilst visiting Saudi Arabia!.

Motoring to the RCYC.

After a few attempts the guy came on board and soon morphed into the most helpful person imaginable. The ‘quayside’ cops scenario continued, but he was friendliness itself. He listened to our story, took photos of our passports, went to fetch customs and immigration who then added flavour to the mix by wanting both Pete and I to accompany them to their office, but without leaving ‘Oryx’ unattended.??? In the end they took Pete to the Royal Cape Yacht Club, found ‘Oryx’ a spot and we duly motored over. Once we were tied up this policemen then drove us to the new customs and immigration building (above and beyond the call of duty), where we  cleared in, and then offered to take us shopping before returning to the yacht club.

Exactly the wrong spot!

We awoke to the southeaster howling, clouds boiling over the tabletop and whilst having breakfast, the irate pounding on deck of the marina manager. The person left in charge of the RCYC on the Sunday afternoon was the bar manager and in his wisdom had told Pete to tie up to the jetty under the crane. The marina manager had a big charter catamaran to launch and one to haul out and the wind speed was increasing by the minute. After he listened to Pete’s side of the story he found us another temporary spot, but the crux of the matter is that the RCYC is inundated with yachts and just don’t have room. They prefer pre-arranged vessels, but he did realise that the weather was a factor.

"Oryx" temporary berth.

We enjoyed their internet facilities and superb hot showers, but soon headed off towards the comfort of Port Owen.

Royal Cape Yacht Club.

Here’s wishing you a very merry Christmas and a fabulous 2015.
Pete and Carly.

Sugar loaf to Table Mountain.