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Sailmithril: The voyages.

To South Africa
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Newry

72 days non-stop passage

TOO LONG AT SEA

It’s generally the first and last couple of weeks of a long passage that you remember most as the bit in the middle dissolves into a haze of wind, waves books and food. The early stages of our voyage between Gran Canaria and Cape Town can be remembered for the light trade winds, sunny days and lack of good fish. We caught plenty of skipjack which as usual we threw back.

 

South of the Cape Verde islands we kept a careful note of the position of the ITCZ getting ready to motor through it if necessary. Sometimes you can motor south as it moves north and get well clear before the area of calm, squalls and rain drifts back south again. However before we reached the ITCZ itself we were caught in a belt of thunderstorms coming off the African coast. This is quite normal in summer as these shallow depressions drift westward and eventually become hurricanes. We had some spectacular lightening and when you are the only solid object for 100s of miles the likelihood of a strike is quite high. We survived the night but the wind speedometer never worked again. We did take the precaution of unplugging the echo sounder and antennas. We have known a boat to sink by its transducer being blown out through the hull when struck by lightening. The winds continued light until we crossed the equator.

 

Crossing the line was marked with a bottle of champagne and the opening of a present from friends in Gran Canaria – chocolate chip biscuits – just what the doctor ordered after 3 weeks at sea. With fairly fresh southeast winds we close reached southwards but getting ever closer to the South American coast. This is the recommended route in all the books and at about the latitude of Rio de Janeiro the southeast trades should fall away and become westerly. Of course this was one of those unusual years and we continued to have southeasters.

 

Eventually the proper winds filled in and we were able to head east. On a 7,000-mile voyage like this you need lots of milestones to celebrate and we usually had a 1000-mile dessert – something rich and calorie laden. We also had our chocolate ration; one Cadburys hero every day after lunch. We were a bit disappointed to find a preponderance of white chocolate sweets in the box and only 1 picnic – bit of a cheat that. It’s very easy to overeat on a long voyage. There’s not a great deal of room for long walks on a 50-foot boat. I did yoga and aerobic exercises every night during my watch, including weight training using 2 tins of baked beans. This was prompted by my reading in a woman’s magazine about the dangers of bingo wings for 40 somethings! For those who don’t know what bingo wings are ask an elderly aunt to show you their upper arms.

 

With just about 600 miles to go to Cape Town we started to get strong southeasterly winds again. These are the normal summer winds around the cape and we had crossed the Greenwich meridian south of the latitude of Cape Town to allow for it – as per the recommended track - but again in this unusual year the high pressure area that causes them was much further south than it should have been. We were on a hard beat now which is soul destroying in the open ocean with the big ground swell and long fetch. We ended up beating for the best part of a fortnight to cover those 600 miles. At times we got so fed up with being bounced around and living at a tilt that we hove to for a comfortable night’s sleep. And always we were being shoved north by both the wind and the Beneguela current until Cape Town was more south than east of us. We motor sailed for the last 3 days as the weather faxes showed no sign of a change and we were fed up sitting out there!

 

Our landfall was at Dassen Island about 35 miles north of Cape Town. We had been there before and intended to anchor there if there was no let up in the wind.

 

For that final approach to Cape Town it was – yep - a flat calm and we motored all the way from Dassen. All in all not a very satisfying voyage but the last day gave us an experience that almost – not quite, but almost – made up for it. We were visited by a pod of about 8 humpback whales. They were obviously well used to tourists and as soon as we put the engine out of gear they started coming over to us and I mean right alongside. I could have touched one of those big barnacle covered heads if I’d wanted to. It was incredible and a bit scary too especially when they swam under the bow. We looked at the head on one side of the boat and the humped back on the other (these boys were about 35 feet long). Then 2 of them dived down and came back up headfirst and stood on their tails watching us, head on a level with our deck.

 

Each time they breathed alongside we had to cover the lens of the camera to stop it getting misted up - my glasses got misted up though with very fishy smelling spray. Later our water intake got blocked with the tiny shrimp-like krill that they feed on. Further away from the boat the other members of the group lay waving their flippers or banging their tails on the surface. We saw one breach completely – what a splash. They stayed around us for more than an hour and when we slowly put the engine into gear again they swam a bit further away from us and we were able to motor on our course with the whales blowing alongside us. We certainly got our sixpence worth. Apparently there were a lot of whales off the coast this season.

 

We motored up the huge harbour of Cape Town in the early afternoon against an ever-strengthening southeaster and tied up in the Royal Cape Yacht Club marina at the head of the Duncan dock. What a spectacular setting for a city with Table Mountain beetling over it and the suburbs sprawling round the slopes of Devil’s Peak and the Lion’s Head. Our only niggle so far is that on our second day here the wind shifted to north west and has been there ever since – well the last 3 days anyway.

 

Now for the statistics.

Miles logged: 6784

Days at sea: 72

Average daily run: 94.2

Greatest 24 hr. run: 131

Smallest 24 hr. run: 34

Most wind force 9 for about 10 hrs.

Click here to see photos of the voyage.

copyright Geraldine Foley 2008. "sailmithril ocean sailing adventures."