Wild animals and friendly people
After a little bit of waiting smiling custom officers and running immigration personnel met us at on the dock in Richards Bay. They did not really have time for sailors. Big ships were also waiting for their services. The formalities were done in no time and the officers welcomed us to South Africa before they ran of to the next assignment.
With the paperwork done, we shifted Empire to Zululand Yacht Club. During the next few days almost all the yachts we had met over the Indian Ocean arrived in Richards Bay. Pomona, Satumaa, Conversations, Exabyte, Lovisa, Panacea, Hokus Pokus and many others. We also met again the American yacht Ventana with Rachel and Norwegian Elisabeth in Zululand Yacht Club. They had been in Richards Bay for more than one year, refitting the boat and sightseeing South Africa. Also Rachel and Elisabeth we mat last in Thailand in the beginning of 2010.
Animals and culture
Heidi`s parents again signed on board in Richards Bay - for the eight time since we threw off in 2005. We a hire car we headed of from Richards Bay to the Zulu village Dimazulu Village. There we learned about the Zulu way of life and work. The performance was rounded of with traditional Zulu dance.
In St. Lucia we visited the mouth of the river, where big numbers of crocodiles and hippos reside. As we were sitting at St. Lucia Yacht Club eating lunch, just outside the ramshackle fence a hippo was strolling around in the shallow river. Pretty fascinating!
The BIG 5
We dedicated the next few days to Hluhluwe/Imfolozi (pronounced sluslui/imfaulausi) nature reserve. With the hire car we drove around the 96000 hectare reserve for two days – and got to see “all” the African animals. We got to see four of the so called ”big five” – elephant, buffalo, lion and rhino. We did not manage to get our eyes on any Leopard, the last one of ”the five”. But we saw many other animals. Zebra, giraffe, different antelopes, bush pigs, warthogs and ”you name it”. It was a fantastic experience to see the animals so close.
We stayed one night inside the reserve – together with the grandparents and our sailing friends from Pomona and Satumaa. Four small bungalows were tied together with walkways above ground level. The view from the central area in the middle down to the river and the water hole was excellent. In the morning we got up before the sun - for a morning stroll at sunrise. With an armed ranger as guide we walked around in the bush for two hours. We “only” got to see a small herd of antelopes this morning. It was amazing to know that even though we did not see many animals around, most probably several wild animals kept an eye for us! We observed traces of rhino, buffalo, giraffe and several others of the ”animals of Africa” – and the ranger happily shared his knowledge about the wilderness with us. We had fabulous days in the nature reserve – together with Heidi`s parents and good sailor friends!
Around Empire we could see dolphins and sealions. Something big suddenly pulled 200 meter fishing line off the reel, befor the line broke. For some time we could see five big shadows in the water, keeping same course and speed. It was not small boys keeping up with us. What type of whale it was we never got to know, since they never showed any part above the sea. Shortly after the passing of the famous cape being only the southernmost point on the headland south of Cape Town, we caught two nice Yellowfin Tuna. A quick hour later we turned in to Hout Bay, aiming for the breakwater in the inner end of the bay. Hout Bay Yacht Club Marina was to be Empire`s address for the Christmas- and New Year`s celebration 2011.
Before we threw off from Zululand Yacht Club we also made a ”short” trip by car to Pretoria, the administrative center of South Africa. With Heidi`s parents and Eirik safely placed in Empire, the 1st Mate, Marius and the Captain drove Richards Bay Pretoria and return in 24 hours. The goal for the trip was the Royal Norwegian Embassy. Heidi`s and Eivind`s passports had after almost seven years on tour only few blank pages left. New passports had to be ordered by personal appearance at the embassy – and Helen Borge at the embassy in Pretoria gave us excellent service. The two passports would be ready in three/four week’s time – and could be delivered through the consulate in Cape Town. Safely back in Richards Bay the 1600 kilometer...
The Agulhas current flows south near the east coast of Africa – some places with a speed of up to six knots. When the southerlies blow up with gale force it gives unpleasant conditions at sea – especially for those situated in the Agulhas current. On the other hand, when the wind comes from the north it gives a quick sail for the ones heading south…
The 90 nautical mile long voyage to Durban took only one night. As we a bit eager to get further south with Heidi`s parents on board left Durban after only one night`s stay, we got one “on the nose”!
The little blow from south that the weather forecast had promised before the northerlies would be back, turned in to a strong gale from south that did never end. Four hours after Point Yacht Club in Durban we were back at the same pier, after being tossed around in the Agulhas current.
6 days later the weather forecast was again promising. In good spirits we threw off and headed south. With a gale from north we made good speed. After a while the wind speed reached more than 40 knots – but then as downwind. We noted a top speed through water of 14,7 knots and a speed over ground at 18,6 knots! Who was it that called Empire ”Bavaria cargo”? The 250 nautical miles to East London – where we found it better to seek port expecting more southerlies – did not take long.
In our little bit outdated pilot books East London looked like a nice city with a pleasant small boat harbor. When we arrived in East London, the city reminded more of a ghost town – with many empty buildings. The harbor suffered under plans of rebuilding, sometime in the future.
We “parked” Empire between a fire damaged motorboat and a sailboat needing a lot of maintenance. The piers had seen better days, but after looking around we found both water and electricity. The few people we mat at the pier were very nice, but we were told not to walk around outside the marina area after dark. With several days to wait for the right weather window to arrive, it was from East London Heidi`s parents headed back to Norway.
The next stop south was planned to be Port Elisabeth, but underway we were told about Port Saint Francis. The extra 40 nautical miles were not more than we would manage to get there before south west winds would start building up. In addition Port St. Francis was closer to Jeffreys Bay where Heidi`s friend Marianne lived, who we originally planned to visit from Port Elisabeth.
We did not have any charts over Port St. Francis, but to give us an idea what was awaiting us we downloaded a picture from Google Earth via mobile 3G network. In addition we kept in contact with the Danish yacht Exabyte already in the harbor via VHF radio on our way in.
Big waves were breaking sideways over the entrance the last 100 meters before the breakwaters. Just before “point of no return” we changed our mind and sailed back out. It just looked to frightening.
When we tried again 2½ hour later just before high tide, the conditions had calmed down quite a bit. One of the guys from the marina met us in his rubber dinghy just outside point of no return” to read the waves. After a set of big waves Eddie gave the sign and we throttled up for full speed heading for the opening between the breakwaters. Heidi`s mama-nerves were in full panic, but also the Captain kept his senses fully open. Safe inside the breakwater we agreed on the entrance being a “bit rough”!!!
Port St. Francis is a lively small harbor, mainly based upon South African vacation guests and fishing boats. There were also a few full time residents around the harbor. Many of the locals came by to say ”hello”.
Heidi`s Norwegian friend Marianne has found herself a South African husband. She picked us up in Port St. Francis by car. Heidi and Marianne had not seen each other for about 20 years – and it was a heartily reunion. Marius and Marianne`s daughter Maya quickly found each other. After half an hour`s play Marius suddenly understood why he should be walking. So far Marius only stabbed around holding on to things – and there is more than enough to hold on to in a small sailboat. If he should keep up with Maya he just had to let go…
Marianne and Robert invited to a ”real” South African braii – barbecue – with sleepover on land. Later we had Marianne and Maya on board testing out how to sleep on a “bed in motion”.
Before throwing off from Port Saint Frances we were also invited to a braii at Johan and his family`s place, near the harbor. The casual barbeque evening turned out to be Johan`s wife`s birthday – with many guests around the table. As we have written many times before – it is the people we meet on our journey that really puts a touch to the places we visit!
Around Africa`s southern most point
When we departed Port St. Francis the sea was more or less flat outside the breakwaters. There were only small movements in the boat. With the weather forecast promising nice winds for a few days we headed for an anchorage on the east side of Cape Agulhas. As we came closer new gribfiles showed that the next low pressure system would arrive later than originally expected. Suddenly it looked like we could sail all the way to Hout Bay near Cape Town without getting into trouble. We took the chance. Cape Agulhas, which is not Africa`s southern most point, was rounded a dark night under engine, so we never saw the Cape itself. And by then we were back in the same ocean we left late 2006 – the Atlantic Ocean.
80 nautical miles and a few hours later we sailed past the more famous cape. As we sailed north, we had Cape of Good Hope on starboard side in a fresh breeze from west south west.