Richards Bay to Durban, South Africa…..
02 February – 08 February 2013
Alexandra and I had just had a lovely time exploring the Thorny Bush Game park near Kruger National Park in northeast South Africa. Included was a spectacularly scenic drive near Nelspruit, just west of Swaziland. The game park was terrific with sightings of all the \”Big 5\”. Elephants, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Rhinoceros and Leopard. (We got to see a Cheetah too!). If you want to see an amazing YOU TUBE video, google \”Battle at Kruger\”. I won\’t swear to this link, but give it a try. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM This was shot in 2010 by tourists.It\’s 8 minutes long and don\’t leave till the very end. It will give you a feel for what we saw, but without the dramatics of the video.
The drive back through Swaziland (an independent nation), had the scenic highlights of \”God\’s Window\” and more dramatic vistas. It was time to start moving toward Cape Town and to that end, after the usual provisioning and boat projects, we left Richards Bay at 3:30 a.m. to make the long day trip to Durban.
When we left, it was pitch black and we had a short period 2.5 meter (8 foot) swell running which made our first several hours quite bumpy and uncomfortable. The good news was that we got to sail for several hours and Alex quickly adapted with a big sailing smile as we were going through the miles on a nice port tack beam reach with the geneker and full main. We entered Durban Harbor around 3:30 pm and were fortunately able to get a slip where we settled in nicely at the Point Yacht Club.
Durban (Downtown) is a bit dodgy as to crime, etc. and we were warned to be cautious. We actually walked to Customs/Immigration/Port Authority (which was fine), but then continued on to see the Aquarium. We were actually stopped by a local who warned us to move out of the area as it wasn\’t safe. NOTED! We took the taxi back whose driver laughed at us for being not too smart for where we were walking about. Parts of Durban (outskirts) are lovely and very nice; \”Downtown\”, not so much.
The next day we took the taxi to the Aquarium (it was closed when we arrived yesterday) and enjoyed the afternoon watching the dolphin show and seeing the \”big fish\” in their tank. Monterey it\’s not, but it was quite nice. We also saw a big 50 foot monohull that limped in coming up from the south. He had an accidental gybe in a big gust and broke his boom. One of the crew had a badly cut hand, but seemed that all would recover. They were on a delivery up from Knysna; one of our planned stops.
We were getting a bit noodgie as to moving on and with a seemingly \”ok\” weather window, would be off the next day on the 6th of February. The weather reports in this part of the world are pretty accurate as to direction and timing of the wind and sea. BUT awful as to the strength of the wind. If it says 5 knots, it could be……or 30 knots…ummm!
We left with a predicted 10-15 knot norther which turned out to be 25+. This should have been my first clue! The day was decent, a bit bumpy and we were sailing off on the 3 day, 2 night passage to Port Elizabeth. That night, the winds went down, the sea went down and we thought a lovely motor with the strong Agulhas Current would be an okay way to fly. Then the LIGHTENING started. At first, it was behind us and not gaining. It moved north as we headed south. Then, on Alex\’s off watch. I started to see lightening on the bow about 5 miles ahead. Shortly thereafter, it started bolting down in front of us. First a mile off to port, then a half mile dead ahead, then a quarter mile off the right side, Then back in front of us and finally – WHAM! About 200 yards off our port beam (left – middle for you land lubbers), we had a strike. The wind instruments died, the AIS died, the bilge alarms went off and the sound was not only deafening, but you could feel the air shock from the hit. Alex quickly came up from her cabin and it started to POUR LIKE CRAZY. Then the outside/helm auto pilot went down. We took a deep breath and turned inshore as what can only be described as a surreal \”Tesla Coil Event\” was going off from cloud to cloud every few seconds. This was less than a few miles away to our seaward (left) side and the show went on for at least 3 hours!
The final synopsis was: Lightening 1, Autopilot Zero, Wind Instruments came back but slowly would die off over the next few weeks. AIS came back to life. The Bilge Alarms were damaged and will need to be replaced. AMAZINGLY, our chart plotters (Raymarine e-127 and e-125), never went offline and didn\’t seem to care! Needless to say, \”That was exciting\”… but stand by…more to come!
So the lightening went away…YEA! The wind slowly then died off during the night and we ended up motoring. The next morning, the predicted 5-10 knots from the south became 20-30 knots from the south! YIKES. The danger here is not the wind, but that the Agulhas Current in it\’s fastest area at the fastest time of year was pushing us down the coast (where we wanted to go by the way!!) at 4-7 knots!!! However, the wind and more importantly, the sea was against us. This created not a dangerous situation, but a very uncomfortable situation. Alex made a small offering of pre-digested meal to Neptune and was quickly back in action. Our speed through the water looked dismal. We were only going 1-2 knots. BUT, it was WITH the current so we were actually going 7 knots down the coast. We decided to tough it out and took our lumps for 18 hours. It finally subsided and we motored in flat seas past East London at dusk. A thankfully flat evening and the next day had us at Algoa Bay Yacht Club in Port Elizabeth by 3:30 p.m.
The really cool thing about the last 50 miles was that we saw our first African Penguins in big groups as we entered the bay to Port Elizabeth along with distant Right Whales and nice weather. More soon,
Scott with Alexandra (Her \”Deegness\”)…..recovering in Port Elizabeth, Algoa Bay Yacht Club