Along the South African coast

The sailing literature is full of dark tales about the many dangers sailboats encounter along the South Afrian coast. The strong Agulhas current flows southward along the coast, creating life-threatening conditions when it is opposed by south-westerly winds. Big ships have been broken in two, and a small sailboat stands no realistic chance of surviving if you’re in the wrong place. But what with modern weather forecasting and satellite communication being a thing, there is very little reason to find yourself in such a place. With a bit of patience, it’s easy enough to make a run for it and hide out when the weather gets nasty.

After spending a few months outside of the comforts of civilisation, Richard’s Bay had plenty to offer on arrival: a reasonably priced marina in a friendly yacht club, fast internet and giant grocery stores with low prices. We took the opportunity to go for a safari in a nearby national park, and Michelle finally got to see elephants in the wild. She’d spent part of the crossing reading about the inner life of elephants, peppering me with facts from every page, so encountering them was a bit of a relief for both of us.

Zebra foal

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After the customary post-passage laziness, we headed south towards Durban. A weather window quickly appeared that allowed us to keep pushing south, and we only got a glimpse of the chaos of the big-city streets.

Sailing in the Agulhas current is horrible when things go badly, but can be very pleasant in the right conditions – we frequently saw speeds in excess of 10 knots, and soon found ourselves tied up in the marina in Port Elizabeth. It’s a grimy place with lots of swell, and we were happy to push further southwest the next day, having filled our diesel tanks and waited out some less than optimal weather.

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Our next stop was Mossel Bay, where we dropped the anchor for the first time in South Africa. While I was happy to arrive in Richard’s Bay and have many good things to say about the people, yacht clubs and food we’ve encountered, something was very different about Mossel Bay: this actually looked and felt like a pleasant place. The safe ports in eastern South Africa are terminals for coal, iron ore or containers, quite the contrast to quiet the quiet anchorages and open seas we have gotten used to. Crime is pervasive, and we spent almost all our time inside high fences, never venturing out after dark. Mossel Bay had pleasant architecture, less barbed wire and something resembling a walkable downtown.

Above the breaking waves

Our final stretch of the year took us around Cape Agulhas – out of the Indian Ocean, and ended up in Simon’s Town, less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town. These days, Simon’s Town is mostly a quaint place dominated by tourists. Tiny cafes and souvenir shops line the streets, and the cold brew is prepared with the same meticuluous care here as in the rest of the mustachioed world.

Spray

We arrived on a night with 35-40 knots of wind, a couple of hours after sunset. It was too windy to pick up a mooring, too dark to enter the marina, and too tight to anchor, so we spent the entire night motoring back and forth inside the breakwater, waiting for the winds to calm and the daylight to return. It was a cold and tiring finale, but we did make it safely around South Africa. Another one bites the dust.

Together through life