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Ready Set Sail in South Africa - Part I

2Richard's Bay to Simon's Town

By Kippy Gilders

South Africa is nicknamed the Cape of Storms, because the waters surrounding its coast are among the most dangerous in the world. The weather can change quickly and unpredictably. Even the most experienced sailors are hesitant to enter these waters without proper planning! Especially we, as we were sailing across Mozambique Channel from Madagascar to Durban, on the North East coast of South Africa.

Laden with fresh veggies and spiced rum, we left from Mahajanga Bay, Madagascar, and sailed down the coast on the consistent thermal breezes. Meanwhile, we were constantly checking weather reports for Mozambique Channel. By the time we reached the closest point between Madagascar and Durban, the weather was predicted to be light to non-existent for our cross over to South Africa. Perfect! We'd rather row ourselves into port than be caught in one of South Africa's notorious storms.

What makes the storms on the eastern coast of South Africa so dangerous is that the wind shifts suddenly and violently into the opposite direction of the prevailing ocean current. This current is the Agulhas Current, which is the western boundary current of the southwest Indian Ocean. It flows down the East coast of Africa and is narrow and strong. When the wind shifts to the South West and runs against the Agulhas current, the normally big, but gentle waves that run with it are now slammed by the strong winds. This makes an unbearable sea with waves swelling over 10 meters high, coming from all directions and breaking over your boat. This phenomenon is known as a South West "Buster."

OUR CROSSING to South Africa started as predicted with light winds, and we putt-putted our way across Mozambique Channel with erratic intervals of sailing. Suddenly, two days out of Durban, the SAT phone rang. The east coast was proving reliable in its unpredictability. A raging South Wester was working its way along the coast to exactly where we were. Within a few hours, the horizon went completely black. First the waves became messier, tumbling us from side to side like a corkscrew. Then the winds picked up and slammed into us like a brick wall. With gusts up to 50-60 knots, we were sailing with just our stack pack and our Genoa furled to a mere five square meters. The blustering waves were coming from every direction and breaking on the deck of the boat. This lasted for 48 hours, until we decided to forget Durban and go to the closer harbour of Richards Bay.

Land was in sight by midday, but we only surfed through the break wall by midnight. The South African coast is not particularly interesting for sailors, because there are no natural harbours and the man made ones are few and far between. Within Richards Bay Harbour, there are two marinas, neither of which we had the energy to navigate in the strong tides. So we dropped anchor in what looked like a safe spot and got some much needed rest. We woke to the loud rumble of tug boats and found that we'd anchored just off the busy shipping channel! With our energy regained, we headed into Tuzi Gazi Marina to clear South African Immigration, who then warned us not to swim in the harbour because there were alligators and avoid any fresh water, because there were killer hippos. Right, so any water activities were off limits.

RICHARDS BAY is located in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), which was formed when the northern region of KwaZulu, governed by the Zulu Kingdom, joined with the southern region, which was originally the Boer Republic of Natalia before becoming the British Colony of Natal.

After two days of enjoying the boat being still, we finally made our way down to Durban. We expected a gentle sail to Durban, which is roughly 100nm away and would take about 12 hours. Although mostly overcast, we enjoyed the ride until approximately 5:00pm, when the horizon went dark. Not again! This time wind was gusting from the North East, running with the Agulhas current and blowing us forward at amazing speeds. Yet again, we found ourselves surfing through the break wall of a South African harbour it the middle of the night!

DURBAN IS the largest city in the KwaZulu-Natal province and is famous for being the busiest port in Africa. It is also seen as a major centre for tourism. From a sailor's perspective, we couldn't understand why! The only marina is located just off a busy major road, with just derelict buildings within walking distance. Luckily, there are two yacht clubs that are within the marina and provide all the facilities you'd need. Although relieved to be in shelter once again, we decided to participate in the weekly harbour regatta. Bruce and Darren were extremely happy to finally do some racing instead of the usual cruising! However, probably a combination of exhaustion, socializing with guests and old friends... and Malagasy Rum... we weren't far from placing dead last.

The mysteries of Durban's supposed beauty were made apparent to us by Igor, a friend of Max's from working on mega yachts, who now lives in Durban. He showed us the promenade along the gorgeous Golden Mile beach, took us out for Max's 25th birthday and hosted delicious braais. What came as a surprise to us was that there only appeared to be white Afrikaans beggars in Durban. We learned that nowadays fewer white South Africans are being employed in the public service and in the state-owned entities, as new government policies encourage companies to give preferential employment to blacks, coloureds and Indians. This is undoubtedly a result of South Africa's tumultuous past through Apartheid.

WE WERE proving unlucky with our sailing down the South African coast, so we decided to stay in Durban until the weather would be absolutely perfect. Unfortunately, the wind conditions wouldn't get better for over a week! With my father flying into Cape Town for work and our good friend Pepijn flying in to visit us for six weeks, I decided to leave the boat and fly to Cape Town. This would be the first time the Corina IV would sail anywhere without me and it felt weird. But the moment I got off the plane and drove into Cape Town that feeling was completely forgotten. No photo or story can prepare you for the beauty of Table Mountain. It just sits there, proud and majestic, right in the middle of the city!

The next few days were enjoyed being spoiled rotten by my dad. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew were still waiting in Durban. After my dad's departure to St. Maarten, Pepijn arrived and almost simultaneously, Corina IV started making her way to Cape Town. It would take about five to six days for them to arrive in Cape Town, so Pepijn and I decided to meet them half way in East London. Just before catching our flight, we were able to watch the start of the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. This is a sailing race around the world that takes place every three years and is probably one of the most extreme of its kind.

WE ARRIVED in East London in the evening and left the following morning to start the four-day sail to Cape Town. While in Durban, the boys had signed up to support Movember, an annual event, when men grow moustaches in November to raise awareness and funds for men's health issues, such as prostate cancer and other male cancers. The duration of the trip to Cape Town was spent grooming and contemplating new designs of moustaches! Luckily weather remained as predicted and our trip to Cape Town went smoothly. Because there are few natural harbours in South Africa, and even fewer that can accommodate boats the size of Corina IV, we had to moor in Simon's Town, a town 45km out of Cape Town.

Simon's Town is home to the South African Navy and is located on the shores of False Bay, on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula. The name "False Bay" was applied at least 300 years ago by sailors who confused the bay with Table Bay, which is overlooked by Cape Town. Arriving in Simon's Town marked the end of our Indian Ocean crossing and the beginning of a three-month stopover in South Africa. Although sad to say good-bye to this exciting leg of our journey, we were all very excited to spend more time in South Africa!

We want to thank Budget Marine, the Caribbean's leading chandlery for its support along the way. Although we are far from home, we know we can count on them to help us out! Follow our trip and see more pictures, videos and information at www.readysetsailnow. com or www.facebook. com/ readysetsail.