by Captain Bart de Zwart
The South African Wild Coast runs along a rugged coastline of untouched shores and shipwrecks and is one of the most dangerous places of water in the world. Not only are there frequent storms, coming from the South-West, there is also a 4-knots current going against it. This sweeps up the waves to dangerous heights and creates giant rollers that DISCOVERY or most sailing yachts cannot handle. This 800-mile coast line has only five safe places to hide. Navigating these waters is done by closely watching the weather windows and using every opportunity with favorable winds to get to the next port.
In Richards Bay, Dagmar left for the USA to get her citizenship while Pierre and I worked on the autopilot. The electronics had been fried when we got hit by lighting in Mozambique. Getting parts and figuring out where the problem was, turned out a lot harder than expected. We started changing one part after the other, until we basically renewed the whole system.
After waiting for 2 weeks, we finally had a break in the weather, a short window of 2 days of calm Easterly winds, enough to get us to Durban. There we waited for a week, while working on chores, before we were able to pull up anchor and get on our way to Port Elisabeth. On this leg we got winds from all directions. Our window looked just long enough to make it in before the next storm would hit. We sailed as hard as we could, motored if we had to and by the time we got into Port Elisabeth, a big North Easter storm just started to unfold. We made it in, just in time.
By now we were experts in the weather on this coast but time was running out. We needed to get around the Cape of Good Hope, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to start our crossing to the Cape Verdes in time.
In the Maldives, we were right on the Equator with very warm temperatures, here in South Africa we were so far South that it was actually getting cold. Hand steering during the night watches were especially chilly, with the winds going over the ‘freezing’ water, cutting through our foul weather gear. I decided there and then, that I would never sail that far South or North again. I might be from Holland but all the years in the tropics has made me soft.
In Port Elisabeth we finally fixed the autopilot and the hydraulics. Our new crew member Roderik came on board just when we had a great long weather window in front of us. What followed was a thrilling ride around Cape of Good Hope with steady 25 knots winds from behind and blue skies. The last few hours before we got into Cape Town, we were hit by 50+ knots winds falling over Table Mountain. That night we safely moored at the waterfront in the heart of Cape Town enjoying some well deserved food and drinks.
With no time to rest and linger, we shopped, stocked, repaired and worked for 8 days straight before we set off for our South Atlantic crossing. Two hours before our departure I was still in the top of the mast fixing the wind instruments. One more quick run to the supermarket and food for many weeks, we were ready to go.
As hard as it was to get around the Wild Coast and the Cape, as easy was it, to set sail and get away from South Africa. Once on the Atlantic side, the weather is calmer with steady trades, always blowing from the same direction, no more storms and dangerous currents. After the frantic weeks in South Africa, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of the sea, just sailing, navigating, fishing, eating and reading some books.
Just before we left South Africa, the Omicron variant flared up. Another bump in the road. Scheduling trips in Covid times had been tough. We were well prepared but the virus had changed our plans already many times.
The winds stayed right with us until we got into the doldrums. Our tactic had been to stay with the wind as long as possible even if it was a slightly wrong course. When the doldrums (windless area around the Equator) kicked in, we turned North, setting us up for a favorable, direct course to the Cape Verde Islands. We made sure to stay well away from the coast of Liberia and Sierra Leone, infamous for many pirate attacks the last years.
It was probably one of the slower crossings I have done but also one of the easiest. After 4 weeks we arrived on Sal, the most Northern Cape Verde Island, known for its great winds and waves. It was New Year’s Eve and it was all there, big waves and 20 knots. We will spend the rest of the season until end of March here with many of our members on board exploring the different islands of the Cape Verde archipelago.
Thanks for the update, photos and video. Sounds like the adventures continue and thank you so much for joining in and carrying on what Gavin started so many years ago. I look forward to meeting you all in the Caribbean soon.