I knew I would be excited to pass Cape Agulhas and cross the imaginary line between the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic, but when we actually did it I was “pumped!” The sailing conditions were super. We were flying along at 9 knots with the big spinnaker up. And as we crossed that line we also turned north, back toward the sun and the tropics, for the first time since Sumatra. Yeah! Whales were spouting in the distance, adding flavor.
We had a little ceremony to mark the milestone. Three Ships Scotch was tasted and offered to the sea. One could say that the major ocean milestones of this voyage are the Panama Canal, Thursday Island where we left the Pacific for the Indonesian seas, the Straits of Malacca where we transitioned to the Indian Ocean, and here — transitioning to the South Atlantic and also being our furthest point south of the whole voyage. Making the turn north makes my heart sing, a verse about the warm sailing that lies ahead, a verse about heading towards home.
The sail to Mosselbaai (Mossel Bay) was pleasant. We weren’t racing to get in before dark, or before a front came through. We are now in a pleasant marina, with floating docks and water/electricity available. Once again we are inside a fenced-in port, and have to pass through a gate to get out and in. But the town is very accessible and pleasant and, we’re told, safe. It is a touristy/resorty area. It is considered “Western Cape,” even though we are still on the Indian Ocean side of Cape Agulhas. The white people here speak Afrikaans.
The first evening here all three crews ate at the Yacht Club, and hovered around the showers and wifi. But since then we’ve been walking around town a lot, and finding other places to eat (including a very nice beef/broccoli curry on the boat, thanks to Nora). Tonight we splurged a little, and went to a sushi and oyster bar that was very nice. We followed that with a movie on the boat, which has been a common evening activity for us of late.
Just up the road is the Batolomeu Diaz Museum. Diaz was the first European to sail around the Capes, attempting to reach India. He sailed here in 1488. A replica of one of his vessels was built in Portugal and sailed here, where it is now on display in the museum. Great fun to go aboard and check out its interesting rig, and to imagine sailing aboard (with a crew of 33). I understand why early explorers found this area to be almost impassable, and in fact it is amazing they managed to round the Capes at all with no weather router or weather tracking ability, and no charts, and no knowledge of where shelter could be found ahead. Sailors today have it so easy!
Did lots of cleaning on the boat yesterday, which feels good. Also bought huge chocolate chip cookies yesterday, which feels good. I’m feeling more and more “arrived.” Not yet certain exactly what this feeling is…but I’m just being here…not perseverating about the weather window…we will get to Cape Town soon enough…but it’s not just getting around the Cape…I’m being more content on the boat…more comfortable with my own ability to voyage…to be the master of my vessel. The last day on the way here we were a dozen miles ahead of Tahawus…it was a rare pleasant sailing day…I decided to change course to go closer to the coast to see more of the scenery…let Tahawus sail on past us…no need to rush, no need to arrive first…I enjoyed both the side trip and the laid back feeling, which has not been present much since, well, since Cocos Keeling, months back.
Just got the report from our weather router…that there is a very favorable pattern starting tomorrow afternoon, with plenty of time for us to get to Cape Town. It being so nice here, we considered letting this window pass and waiting for the next one. But we need to get our Brazilian visas handled at the Consulate in Cape Town. So the plan is to leave around 3pm, with the expectation of arriving in Cape Town Wednesday.
We’ve been in Port Elizabeth for a week. Aside from a day of exploring, and some tasks on the boat, and of course hot showers and good meals at the yacht club, our focus has mostly been on the weather. It looked like we had a window for Cape Town, but that window closed as it got closer. We remain tied to the fisheries pier. We are lucky, we are told, that the fleet is out, or there would be no space for us. I think the successful fishing boats are starting to come in, though. A big one came in last night, and the pier came alive with workers shouting and trucks and horns and a general cacophony. This morning there is a smaller boat in, unloading big sharks.
This port area is fenced/gated. I feel like we are imprisoned (even though we are free to go out and in with the help of a gate attendant swiping an ID card for each of us). I’ve had just one experience here where I felt like I connected a bit with the local community. We needed fuel. I loaded jerry cans into the dinghy (hadn’t been in the water since Rodrigues, maybe 5 months ago…?), and (after coaxing the outboard to life) motored over to the fuel dock, which is just another pier with big tires over the side and a row of fishing boats tied up. A guy there latched on to me immediately, offering to help (expecting a tip, of course). I couldn’t understand 80% of what he said — a little worse than average when I talk with the fishermen here. My friend grabbed three of my five jerry cans and headed down the pier, to what destination I knew not. So I grabbed the other two and followed. Up ahead he had a conversation with someone, and made an about face, headed back my way. He said a lot to me — what I think he was saying was that they wouldn’t fill jerry cans; but he would find someone who could help.
He disappeared into one of the fishing boats, I thought to fetch a member of the crew, but he was gone for a very long time. I waited and chatted with several fisherman, a few of whom I could understand. They go out at night for small sardine-like fish. They can harvest 25 tons. Their catch gets sold overseas as bait for tuna fishing! The world economy operates in strange ways. They were interested in where I was from, and they seemed to like hearing the list of places we have been. They wanted to know what I thought of South Africa. I told them in addition to the natural beauty I liked the people and the social complexity. “Many cultures,” one said. Eventually my friend reappeared and said the guy is coming soon. I wasn’t sure who was coming or what he was going to do for me…
Anon a well worn micro pickup vehicle (you couldn’t call it a truck) arrived, and I met Fabian, the driver. The jerry cans went into the back, as did my friend and another helper who had glommed on. I wasn’t sure how hard to close the tin-weight door; but nothing broke. Off we went. I immediately liked Fabian, and not only because I could understand him. I’m not sure what held his vehicle together, but I think it might have been the speaker wires, because the one component that was top quality was the stereo! Did I mention that I liked Fabian? He asked if I like reggae, and he allowed as how he liked to listen to reggae all day long.
Trains carry iron ore to this port to load on freighters. We waited for one to pass. Then on to the gate of the fenced-in port. Oops – he didn’t have his ID with him; can’t get back in after leaving, with no ID. So back to the fishing boat, Fabian muttering about the foolishness of the authorities/system. Then back to the gate, and a mile on down the road to the petrol station. No problem getting both diesel and petrol there, and I could pay with a credit card, and I even earned a 25 Rand credit to be used on anything in the store. I gave the credit to my friend.
Fabian drove to our boat, where we deposited the diesel jugs, as my crew and others wondered where I had been for the past hour, and why I was returning by car when I left in the dinghy! Fabian took me (and the petrol for the outboard) on to the fuel dock. I asked about his family. He said he has four children and a fifth on the way. A boy…he already knows…modern technology, you know… He also has a grandchild. Having a child younger than your grandchild seems interesting. He said this child will definitely be the last. I said, “I bet you said that after #4, too,” and he burst out laughing. Did I mention that I liked Fabian?
I had already paid Fabian gas money at the store. And I had the foresight there to get change for my big crispy bills issued by the ATM. A tip for my friend, a tip for the glommer-on, a tip for the guy who “watched” my dinghy while I was away. I think everyone was happy. Me, too. My friend jumped in the dinghy and started untying it, which had me puzzled, but one of the guys I could understand explained that he wanted a lift over to the other pier. No problem. The dozen or so fishermen hanging around all waved and said goodbye, and my delightful little Port Elizabeth adventure was complete.
The morning after we first arrived here, a salty looking motorsailer arrived, with an equally salty looking skipper. He introduced himself as Wavy (“Not my fault,” he says). The boat is a training vessel. The crew of mostly 20-somethings are aboard for five months to get licensed. Great training weather here…go out and experience 50 knots anytime! Wavy was a delightful guy, and gradually we learned more and more about his adventures. He is a racing skipper; won the Fastnet race; was on an America’s Cup crew; sailed on the record-setting catamaran Enza; rowed across the Atlantic singlehanded; currently is racing skipper on a Swan 60 raced all over the world, with him and his racing crew flown in for the regattas. They just ordered a new racing mainsail for $150,000 or so… He also sailed across an ocean or two with just his four year old daughter as “crew.” David Immelman is his name…like Webb Chiles in Durban, a fascinating character to bump into on the dock.
Back to uncertainty… Apparently it is not simple for US citizens to get visas for Brazil. They want you (or an authorized agent) to show up at the consulate closest to your residential address. I.e., mail my passport to an agent in Boston, even though I’m required to have my passport here in South Africa… There is a consulate in Cape Town, but it isn’t entirely clear if we can get visas there, or if it will issue them only for South Africans. They wouldn’t answer our questions on the phone, so when we finally get to Cape Town we will show up and see what can be done. If they won’t issue visas we will…….sail to French Guyana instead!
Tim says he would prefer to rejoin in French Guyana anyway. But the plan remains for the BPO to sail to Brazil. Liam and Nora might be willing to sail on to FG if we were to arrive early enough, but there’s no certainty about that! So Tim and his son Josh have to wait and see what happens, along with the rest of us.
First we have to get around the Cape of Storms, to Cape Town. If the weather forecast doesn’t change between now and tomorrow morning, we will take advantage of a short window, and sail to Mossel Bay. That’s still on the Indian Ocean side, but it chips away at the distance to go, increasing our chances of making Cape Town when the next opportunity comes.