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Tuesday, 10 February 2015


Sunny South Africa:

'Oryx' in Port Owen

Exploring by land and sea.

Cape Town.

Here is a brief history of the early European discovery of the Cape

  • Indigenous inhabitants called Table Mountain ‘mountain of the sea’.

  • 1488 Bartholomew Diaz rounded the Cape of Good Hope whilst
charting the coast of Africa. He named it the Cape of Storms, but it was renamed the Cape of Good Hope on his return to Lisbon as it held the promise of a sea route to India.  Diaz was the first European to sea the tablecloth roll over the mountain.

  • 1497 Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape en route to India.

  • By the 1600 Cape Town was already an informal trading settlement.

  • In 1650 the Dutch East India Company established a supply base and shortly afterwards Jan Van Riebeeck arrived to establish a fresh fruit and vegetable supply for the passing ships to India.

Exactly the wrong spot!

We spent three lovely days at the Royal Cape Yacht Club. The weather was fine, but the southeaster was blowing hard, causing the tablecloth of cloud to boil over Table Mountain. Table Mountain forms the backdrop to most of the city and dominates many of the views. It is unique as it sits squarely on the southwestern corner of the vast African continent. It has the ocean on two sides and two different currents swirling by to mingle off Cape Point. The Benguela Current brings freshly chilled water from the Antarctic, whereas the warm Agulhus Current of the Indian Ocean travels through the tropics bringing warmth to the east coast.

The tablecloth unfurling with the Southeaster!

When walking back from the Waterfront the wind was so fierce that it lengthened my ear lobes. We had done the rest of our Christmas shopping and now just needed to find a safe harbour for ‘Oryx’ before flying to Johannesburg. We left the Royal Cape at first light, hoping to make use of the lull to motor out of the marina. This worked well, but we then spent some time watching the wind play in the distance, whilst we were becalmed.

We drifted along for a couple of hours, until we were free of Table Mountains wind shadow and by 0800 we were sailing downwind. Due to our time constraints we didn’t stop at Dassen Eiland, a small low lying island with a lighthouse keeper and a conservation officer, this time. Instead we pushed on to Saldanha. There were some seals about, but they were more bashful than their Uruguayan cousins, often ducking into the waves, when spotting us. We arrived in Saldanha in the late afternoon and although we planned to anchor nearer to customs, Pete anchored just beyond the Saldanha Yacht club, because there were two other junk rigged yachts. Unfortunately, we were very tired and didn’t go ashore, but made a mental note to return in the near future.

Dassen Island

Saldanha Bay.

Saldanha Bay is a sheltered natural harbour. It was named after Antonio de Saldanha in 1503 and would have been the site of Cape Town but for it’s lack of any water. Nowadays it is dominated by the enormous iron ore pier and several fish processing factories. There are several tiny, deserted guano islands at the entrance to the bay. Despite the industrial nature of the town, Saldanha has a few pleasant bays that are suitable for swimming as it is so sheltered that the water is considerably warmer than the ocean beyond. One of South Africa’s longest railway lines carrying iron ore from Sishen, culminates in Saldanha. Some years ago our friend Johann Rissik cycled along the railway all of the 861 kilometres from Sishen to Saldanha.

Pete did the long walk to customs and cleared the boat (foreign yachts have to clear in and out of each customs district). We spent another night in Saldanha and set out for St. Helena bay at first light.

We anchored off the yacht club - there were TWO other junk rigged boats!

We motored out of the tricky entrance and then a fuel hose, which Pete meant to replace in Brazil, finally gave out completely, which left me at the helm in light winds, whilst Pete bodged a new hose to get the engine going again. I was in good spirits, despite the setback, because there were many seals and birds about. Pete was less thrilled and did some unaccustomed grumbling which didn’t garner any sympathy from me, but soon the temporary repair was in situ and we were on our way.

Drifting through the backwash, with no engine!

It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and the south east wind filled in lightly, but because the Benguela current runs close to the coast, it felt cold. We were both wearing oilskins and I had on my woolly cap. We were steering by hand, due to the closeness of the coast and the proximity of the next anchorage and the thrill of being in control. To our delight we spotted a pod of whales. They were far closer than usual and Pete scampered below for the camera. We counted twenty whales or more and although we tried to maintain our distance they didn’t. My delight was tinged with fear, but I tried to maintain a calm and spoke soothingly to them, vowing that we meant them no harm, much to Pete’s bewildered amusement. It is times like these that you can see a flicker of doubt mar his stoicism, but fortunately he doesn’t dwell on the signs of my lunacy.

A whale of a day!

Close enough to harpoon?

A yacht going upwind motored past the whales, without any incident either. The whales were still about, when we saw the fin of a basking shark and of course there were many, many bashful seals and brash birds. I listened to classical music on my headphones as we wove between the whales for an hour or more.

Butterfly wings?

 St. Helena Bay.

We were heading for St. Helena Bay where we hoped to anchor overnight and at times the wind was fluky. We had a dinner invitation with my good friend Pam Duffield and her family, but couldn’t guarantee a time of arrival. Fortunately the wind kicked in and we managed to sail in before sunset. Pam and Mike spotted us sailing around Shelly Point, before we confirmed our arrival. We anchored near the beach and after ensuring that ‘Oryx’ was safe, rowed ashore to spend a fine evening socialising.

'Oryx' anchored off St. Helena Bay.

The west coast of South Africa is starkly contrasted with the luscious green of Brazil, but it has its own austere beauty and the winter rainfall gives rise to a blossoming desert, which draws annual tourists from far and wide. Port Owen is situated on the Berg River and the area abounds with birds. It is not unusual to see flocks of flamingos flying in formation. Pelicans haunt the dried fisheries near Bokkom lane and the area is well worth a visit.

Bokkom drying frames.

Port Owen.

Iconic fishermens cottages of the Western Cape on the Berg River.

We had asked our friend Graeme Murray if he could find a berth for us in Port Owen Marina, but there was no space available due to the upcoming West Coast Cruise. Instead he went to see Frank Stuyck and arranged for us to go directly to the Port Owen Boatyard. Of course, Port Owen and the boatyard is a second home to Pete. He spent three years here at the beginning of the millennium, building his former biplane catamaran – ‘China Moon’ and has many friends in the area. I also spent several months here, seven years ago, whilst Pete did maintenance on ‘Pelican’.

'China Moon' anchored off Elephant island. 

'China Moon' sailing out of Bermuda, photograph courtesy of Danny Green.

Early the next morning we set out for the mouth of the Berg River and the entrance to Port Owen We had assumed that we would have to motor, but we managed to sail all the way, anchoring off the entrance and having lunch, whilst waiting for the tide. Pete wanted to wait for high tide to facilitate docking at the boatyard without the current pushing us towards the bridge next to the boatyard. As we were about to get the anchor up, a motorboat arrived with the commodore of the Port Owen Yacht Club, Peter Musik at the helm. He had brought Graeme out to meet us. We helped Graeme clamber aboard and Pete encouraging him to take the helm.

Graeme Murray is a very talented inventor and an avid cyclist. He designed an orthopaedic saddle a number of years ago.

Graeme takes the helm!

Fishing at the entrance.
 By this time the wind was pumping again and the passage upriver was fraught with tricky moments, but we arrived unscathed to find the dock at the boatyard full. Luckily there was a floating pontoon nearby and we managed to tie up safely, while Graeme went to secure a place for us. Soon we were tied up alongside and this is where ‘Oryx’ spent Christmas and awaits hauling out to begin the refit and inevitable changes. Watch this space.

Port Owen's time share units.

Graeme had brought some champagne and we celebrated our arrival, and it felt like a homecoming of sorts.

On the Monday we got a lift to Cape Town with Graeme and spent the day sight seeing with Mike Mennell, an old friend from the Internet. He dropped us at the airport after a mammoth lunch of fish and chips and by nightfall we were in Johannesburg, where I spent the first Christmas since 2001 with both Dylan and Irene (my children). This time we also enjoyed the company of Pete, Susan and my little granddaughter Hannah.

Happy families;- Pete, Irene and Hannah.

Dylan, Susan and Hannah.

 After Christmas we visited my octogenarian brothers. Although we were relaxing and enjoying the time away from ‘Oryx’ the crowds, the socialising and the numerous braais were a bit overwhelming after five weeks at sea.

Braaing with Wesley and Janine.

 St. Lucia.

On the beach at St. Lucia.

Early in the New Year, Irene took us on a lovely holiday to St. Lucia. According to my research man has inhabited the Lebombo mountains near St. Lucia  for 130 000 years.

 In 1554 the Portuguese survivors of the wrecked “Saint Benedict” named the area River of Golden Dune.  In 1885 the area was designated game reserve status and in 1971 the conservation of the wetlands began leading to the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, which was South Africa’s first Natural World Heritage site, meeting UNESCO’s exacting standards.

Classic signs of Africa!

Elephant Lake Hotel.
 Elephant Lake Hotel

We were booked into the Elephant Lake Hotel, which should perhaps be renamed the Hippo Hotel as the nearby hippos wander by at night, keeping the grass trim!

Sensitive viewers should perhaps skip the next few photographs. We happened upon a kill with the vultures still circling, followed by a pack of hyenas who chased the vultures away.

Vultures crowding a buffalo killed by lions earlier in the morning.

The first hyena approaches tentatively.

The vultures are not too bothered by his presence.

More hyenas arrive, salivating at the thought of buffalo steak.

All that remains!

We visited Cape Vidal and the local game reserve. We did various hikes admiring the game on foot, although we didn’t encounter any predators. Irene treated us to a game drive to Hluhluwe/Imfolozi Game Park.

Camelion on the road, again

We did a second self-drive, getting up before dawn. We saw an amazing variety of game, although the lions and leopards eluded us.

Warthog and family.

Close enough to see the musk oil dripping!

Ready to charge?

The musk oil means the elephant bull is looking for a mate, so beware!

Totally Africa!

Zebra crossing on the main road.

Richards Bay.

Richards Bay.

We also took a drive to Richards Bay (also known as Cwebeni) to inspect the Yacht club, marina and the local beaches. Richards Bay is one of the biggest harbours in South Africa and whilst St. Lucia remains unspoiled and natural, it has grown immensely. The Zululand Yacht Club and the marina were very welcoming. We intend to visit later in the year.

Wharram fans worldwide!

These concrete tetrahegons ordolosse are a South African invention attributed to Eric Mowbray Merrifield a harbour engineer in East London. A Mr. Kruger drew up the plans.

We also visited a cat sanctuary near St. Lucia called: Endoneni Lodge. The following pictures were taken there.

Cheetah cub reared for breeding.

Irene cuddles an African wildcat.

We also visited the Cheese Farm, much to Pete's delight and the Butterfly Dome nearby.

We returned to Johannesburg and after a final braai and some sad farewells, we flew back to Cape Town, where Graeme and Jennie met us at the airport.

'Oryx' looks over Jennie,Pete and Graeme after lunch at Kwa Ttu.
We visited some friends and then had a celebratory lunch at Kwa Ttu for our anniversary. Back on board I fell into a dejected heap, the fatigue had finally set in, but I rallied in time for champagne.
More recently we have continued catching up with friends and family, in between cleaning and dismantling ‘Oryx’. Mike Duffield has finally been on board ‘Oryx’ and I have been seeing Pam once a week, or more.

Pam and Mike Duffiel come for a meal.

We hired a car and drove into Cape Town where we spent the entire day collecting bits for the refit. Pete was in his element hand selecting teak for the cockpit seats in “Rare Woods”.
Pete hand selecting the teak for the cockpit seats!

 Our haul out is imminent and in the meantime we are in a beautiful part of the world, with friendly and welcoming people.

Annamarie and Cliff called unexpectedly and found us wandering towards the beach!

On a political slant, the economy in the Western Cape seems to be flourishing and Cape Town has a new public transport service second to none. There are many affluent Blacks around wherever we went, although obviously there are still many bitterly poor people about too. I haven’t felt threatened and have roamed freely. The people I have encountered seem friendly and helpful; although most people I met seem to think the president is an idiot. I remain mildly oblivious, but hopeful and will try include an impartial commentary as our stay in South Africa continues.

South African politics? Lol.

Usually I provide a link to Pete's Brazil cruising guides and this time is no exception. Pete is working hard on Part 3.

Today I'm going to include a link to my ebook too. It is a novel, with nothing to do with sailing, although 'Oryx' has a small cameo role.