Richards Bay to Capetown – The Wild Coast!
After spending Christmas and New Years back home in Switzerland with family and friends I returned to Richards Bay on the 8 January to prepare Pacha for the new crew who would arrive one week later. I returned to my, as yet, still damaged aft lower stay. The stay needed to be fixed before we departed, which with the help of Jacques at the RB Yacht Club was. He did a great job of getting the tang bolts made up and installed and did the best that he could with the short period of time with the new fitting for the forestay.
Katrin and Pernille arrived from Sweden on the 15th and we spent a few days looking around Richards Bay and getting to know the boat and the local area. I had also arranged a visit to Hluhluwe Safari Park and a 2 night stay at friend of a friends place at Sodwana Bay, about 3 hours drive to the north of Richards Bay. So with a car rented and our local guide (Andrew Plasket) onboard we headed north to Sodwana Bay on the not undangerous South African roads. The countryside around Richards Bay and to the north is very nice. Forests and open farmland, rolling hills and also some mining in the area. We arrived in the area where our host John lived and quickly found that 1. Andrew’s memory of how to get to John’s place was somewhat faded, 2. Google maps was having difficulty with the (most probably) non existent address, 3. A Toyota Camry is not best type vehicle for use on sand tracks. We wound up calling John who came (on a motocross bike) and showed us the way along the maze of sand tracks to his house. The rental car faired OK under the circumstances as long as the revs and momentum were kept up. I’m sure the sump protector was taking a beating though. Arriving at John’s house we were treated to a very special experience. Not many people who come to South Africa on vacation will ever get to experience something like we did. John had built an amazing house with a central building with rooms and wings and a workshop extending the structure outward. A plunge pool and bar and outside accommodation completed the package. Amazing! Unique! A truly special place. Built on land given to him by the local Zulu chief. We were treated like old friends even though we just met. His house was our house and we BBQ’d (Braaid up) together, drank whisky ice and water together and cooled off in the pool to escape the heat together. The following day we explored the beach around Sodwana Bay and swam for hours in the surf. The water was a perfect temperature and the waves like home in Australia. Sundowners on the top of a local hill overlooking a protected wetland reserve was a very fun event. From there it was back to John’s place for another evening of Braii and booze. After breaking into the rental car after I’d locked the keys in the boot (don’t ask!) we headed in two vehicles to Hluhluwe Game Reserve to see some of the local African wildlife.
Hluhluwe Game Reserve is amazing. We parked out the front and were greeted by a family of Warthogs who were grazing on the grass next to the rest rooms. It was a treat to see African animals like this in real life after only having seen them on ‘Attenborough like’ programs up until now. “Don’t get too close” called Felicity (our second local guide and volunteer park ranger) “they have a tendency to bite”! Nice I thought as I backed slowly away toward the safety of the car. After paying our park fees our African “day safari” adventure began. Andrew and I in one car and Felicity, Katrin and Pernille in the other. The first animals we saw were Zebra, followed by Wildebeest, Buck and Impala. Elephants and Rhino followed thereafter and Giraffe in the afternoon. We hoped for Hippos but none were forthcoming. Very late in the afternoon we heard big cats but they remained elusive. With darkness closing in and the park threatening to close, we made our way to the southern gate and said our goodbyes. An amazing place, shared with amazing people!
We drove sedately back to Richards Bay in darkness, arriving safely back in time for dinner at a local restaurant to laugh about and let sink in the previous 2 days and all we’d taken in. The following two days were spent provisioning the boat for the trip to Cape Town and tuning the rig with the help of Jacques and Andrew. Our budding Day Skipper, Felicity, would join us for the trip which would be her longest sailing passage to date. We would leave with the ‘new’ crew on Nauta D (John and Juan) who I’d gotten to know over the previous 2 to 3 weeks. It would be nice to sail out of Richards Bay with them and down the coast.
The Wild Coast
With the latest weather forecast downloaded and the weather window looking OK for 3 to 4 days we headed out of Richards Bay. I said goodbye to many friends that I’d made here over the previous (now) 2 months. Andrew, Neville, Norman, Jacques, Craig, Sidney, Jaco and many other people had been so friendly to me and made me feel at home when I was so far from home. Truly amazing people and it was with reluctant sails that I left this memorable and beautiful place. I know I’ll be back though. That is a given.
The forecast was good so we headed out past the 1000m contour and found the strong south flowing Agulhas current. It was stronger out wide than inshore and we were quickly southbound at 14 knots. The sea was quite bumpy though, even before the electrical storms and squalls hit! Not a hint of a thunderstorm in the forecast but when they came they brought wind (40kn) and lightning. Felicity and I took the first night watch and Katrin and Pernille the next. With wind so strong we could only run with it, Felicity (fighting the helm) and I shortening sail in the darkness we headed east then north east toward Madagascar. An hour or two later with the wind dropping we continued our way southwards again towards our destination, which we decided would be East London. Lightning continued all around us as did Felicity’s questions about ‘have you ever been hit by lightning’? or ‘what would happen if the boat got struck by lightning’? My answers were short and blunt, ‘No’ and ‘we shouldn’t really talk about getting struck by lightning in the middle of an electrical storm’. I never was superstitious but after recent incidents at sea I’m becoming more so with every passage.
After two days of bumpy high average-speed sailing I decided to head closer in to find calmer conditions for the crew. They were doing a great job but some comfort was called for above speed. We closed in on the coast and Nauta D who we passed shortly before heading into East London for a well deserved stop, to wait for the next weather window. 3 days of supposedly good weather had provided nothing but high winds, rain, storms and lightning. Guess that’s why this coast is know as The Wild Coast.
We sailed into the port of East London with 30 knots on the stern and only the main up. No need for an engine with this wind. Once in the harbor we dropped the main and headed for a concrete pier opposite the Buffalo River Yacht Club. A recommendation by a local and also a free berth for a couple of nights. We hiked through the now, sadly, derelict buildings and crossed the railway bridge to the yacht club to be greeted very warmly by the locals and the guys running the club. A warm shower was welcomed by all as was a beer and something to be eaten at angles not seen for the last few days. We got to know many very nice and some hilarious characters at the club. We got shown around the city which was hosting an Ironman competition on the weekend. We spent time on the gorgeous local beaches to the north of the city and spent the evenings in the yacht club braiing up and being entertained by Rhyno the local Afrikaan comedian. I haven’t laughed so much in a long time but Rhyno kept us in tears most evenings and showed us some of his favourite ‘dive’ pubs that were packed full of character and history. This is also something most tourists would never see and I’m grateful again for the local hospitality.
After making good use of the yacht club’s laundry and shower facilities we had our farewell brai and set off for Cape Town with the forecast looking fine for the following 4 to 5 days. We pushed out of Buffalo River and East London into a stiff breeze which was followed by rain and storms, no wind and just about everything else until we rounded Cape Agulhas about 400nm and 3 days south. Cape Agulhas is where the SW Indian Ocean and the SE Atlantic Ocean’s meet and so it was we crossed from the Indian into the Atlantic with quite fair winds and good speed. Our next goal was the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Town. We approached the Cape of Good Hope in heavy fog with quite some traffic. As luck would have it the fog lifted as we past the Cape and we had a spectacular view of the Cape and the mountain range the heads northward along the coast to Cape Town. The afternoon weather turned gorgeous and we saw whales breaching and dolphins on the bow as Cape Town neared. The wind was kind to us and we dropped the mainsail right in front of this amazing and spectacular city with Table Mountain as a backdrop. We motored into the V&A Waterfront Marina passing the swinging bridge and lifting bridge along the way. The twinkling lights of the city greeted us and welcomed us into her arms. We’d done it! We’d sailed the Wild Coast, rounded Cape Agulhas, crossed from the Indian into the Atlantic Oceans and rounded The Cape of Storms or Good Hope. We were happy to be here and immediately loved this gorgeous city and all that it has to offer.