Cape Crusading and Back Home
Bob and I spent an afternoon at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront complex, a huge development with many attractions including an interesting maritime museum. I bought a throwaway cell phone as my US phone did not work in South Africa, almost all business seemed to be conducted by phone. There is a frequent train service from Cape Town to Simon’s Town on the east side of the Cape peninsula. The train stopped at about a dozen stations en route, including Woodstock, which was only a ten minute walk from the club. The round trip fare was US$3. While I was there I wandered into an art gallery while the crew were inspecting a penguin colony on the shore to the south of the town. I saw a picture of a an-Can dancer done in pastel I really liked and after a couple of weeks of negotiation via e-mail it was mine. I had to take it frame and all as it was drawn on board and could not be rolled up. The lady travelled back to Long Island in the aft cabin starboard bunk. Also in Simon’s Town we took a tour of an obsolete submarine which was decommissioned by the South African Navy. A trip to the top of Table Mountain can be chancy; the cable car is often closed due to high winds and if it is calm the top of the mountain can be covered in thick cloud, known locally as a ‘Table Cloth’. Nevertheless David and I found the right combination one afternoon and ascended in the cable car to the top. The view from the 3,000-foot plus summit is, of course, wonderful. Several walks of varying lengths are laid out on the rocky terrain. There is a charming restaurant and gift shop. I made several other interesting excursions courtesy of some South African friends I met in a curious way; visiting Cape Town at the same time as myself was an 85-year-old sailor called Karl Burton who was making a solo circumnavigation. He was tied up at the marina at the Victoria and Alfred complex. In the course of tracking down the whereabouts of an old South African crew, Pattie, on the internet his wife back in California discovered he wasn’t the only octogenarian sailor visiting Cape Town. So once Pattie and Karl were re-united they included me in their social plans.
Sunday lunchtime Pattie, her friend Lynn, and Karl picked me up at the Yacht Club with her 21 year-old Land Rover. We drove through the scenic country east of Cape Town to Stellenbosch, an entrancing town with lots of Old Dutch architecture. At the old arsenal, in the shade of some trees on a small square we spotted about a dozen antique cars, we had happened on an informal Sunday gathering of old car buffs. There was 1941 Cadillac, a Hudson Terraplane and a Rolls- Royce among others. Naturally we stopped to shoot the breeze, I discovered we had a common acquaintance, a South African Bentley driver I had met years before, talk about a small world. Later we visited a winery for some wine tasting and wound up at a very up-market restaurant for a Thai lunch. We were joined by some of Pattie’s friends; Ian, his son Russel and Russel’s girlfriend. Ian is a dentist from Scotland who has made a second home near Cape Town which he stays at for about three months every year during the northern winter. I think Ian was getting a little bored because he was fascinated to meet Karl and myself, he insisted on arranging for all of us to see an outdoor production of Richard III which was playing in the area. In the meanwhile the old crew filtered away, first Simon who flew to Canada and a few days later Bob flew to the States and David to Hungary. We had a farewell supper at an Indian restaurant near Long St. I set about recruiting crew for the leg to St. Martin, Jon, another Canadian, signed up via my website. Amy had posted a ‘crew available’ card on the club notice board, we arranged an interview on the boat; she came with her father. All seemed to go well but the next day she e-mailed me to say she had a berth on another boat. Fortunately another potential crew also posted a card on the club board, a young Frenchman called Mathieu. He had little sailing experience but he seemed very intelligent and spoke good English. The problem with recruiting South Africans, which I tried to do, was that they needed a visa to visit St. Martin, a lengthy bureaucratic process involving the French consulate in Cape Town.
Later in the week Pattie contacted me to say Ian had been able to get tickets for Richard III and prior to the show she planned an afternoon of sight-seeing. Sure enough at the appointed time the old Land Rover chugged up to the club entrance, with Pattie and Karl aboard. First we drove to an unusual café in a warehouse in the dock area called ‘Panama Jacks’. After lunch Pattie showed us some of the interesting spots in Cape Town finishing up near the terminus of the cable car with Table Mountain looming over us. Then we drove along a spectacular winding road along the west coast to Hout Bay. The road clung to the side of almost vertical cliffs in places, I could only admire the engineers and crew that built it. We stopped by Ian’s lovely ranch for supper and cocktails before driving to the outdoor theatre. The stage used a few simple props and a natural grove of trees. It was very well done-Mr Shakespeare would have enjoyed it. Mathieu signed on and a few days later Jon flew in from Vancouver via Hong Kong. Naturally he needed a few days to decompress, I took him on a tour of the downtown flea markets and souvenir stalls and suggested a train ride to Simon’s Town. After nearly five weeks at Cape Town it was time to go. Pattie and Karl came to the yacht club to say au revoir and help untie lines. We left with gentle winds for St. Helena and ultimately the Caribbean.
The 1,800 nautical mile leg to St. Helena took two weeks, we saw no winds over 15 knots and mostly had winds under 10 knots. We picked up a mooring in James Bay and within an hour a lighter was alongside replenishing our fuel. Jamestown did not seem very different from my last visit, but changes are in the works; as we approached on the last night we could see intense lighting on the southeast corner. This was the 24/7 construction of an airfield by a South African company. Once there is air service the character of the place will change, right now Jamestown reminds me of a small English village of the 1950s. Mathieu and Jon repaired to the best hotel in town, the ‘Consulate’, for a few days of elegant luxury, I stayed on the boat. In the evening there was a long toot on the horn from the venerable freighter/passenger ship RMS Saint Helena as she gathered way for a run to Ascension Island and then on to Cape Town. This ship has been the island’s only connection with the outside world, something that will end when the runway is completed. The next day ashore I did a little laundry and had a shower in a substantial stone build that looked like it predated Napoleon’s exile on St. Helena. I had hoped to visit Napoleon residence but I left it to Sunday when the whole place just seemed to shut down. No taxis, in fact, I was lucky to get a lunch, even the hotel was shut. Monday morning the troops came back to the boat and after a little food shopping we left for Ascension Island. It had been a pleasant hiatus.
The leg to Ascension was also plagued by very light winds, the trip took a week to cover just over 700 nautical miles. We also burned up about sixty gallons of diesel, some of which I was able to replace in port by paying a local entrepreneur to run four jerry jugs over to the gas station. When we arrived Jon and Mathieu decided to hole up the Obsidian Hotel. I wandered over the next day to check my e-mail and Jon told me he was quitting and flying out from the island. Somehow I wasn’t surprised, he obviously had not been enjoying the sailing experience and was very tense, which led to unexpected flashes of temper. I stayed aboard Fiona, this had its complications; the outboard engine was not behaving properly and the dinghy dock at Georgetown was positively dangerous in any kind of swell. On the second day we took a tour of the island in a Land Rover laid on by the Conservation Centre. Ascension is of fairly recent volcanic origin and is mostly covered with brown cinders. It was occupied by the Royal Navy in 1815 to forestall any attempt by the French to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena. It must have been a dreadful posting, but somehow the marines built sturdy stone buildings still standing today. The item of real interest in the tour was to ascend Green Mountain (2,817 feet) via a tortuous switchback road. Near the summit, which was often covered with cloud, was a small tropical rain forest. Apparently when Darwin visited the island aboard the Beagle he suggested the moisture at the mountain summit could support vegetation and this in turn would cause more rain. The idea was followed up and now there is this miniature paradise on an arid cindery island. The beaches are one of the world’s largest nesting areas for Green Turtles. Hundreds come ashore every night to lay their eggs, as they have been doing for millions of years. During WWII the Americans built a runway which is still in use. The next day after clearing with customs and immigration Mathieu and I spent our last St. Helena pound notes at the grocery store, boarded Fiona, stored the inflatable dinghy and sailed for St. Martin, 3,700 nautical miles away.
The wind varied from good to light and on the average we made good about 100 nautical miles a day until we got north of the Doldrums. Some evenings we whiled away a couple of hours by watching a video. Mathieu belonged to another generation and had never heard of cinema greats like Marilyn Munroe and Humphrey Bogart. I corrected that showing old movies like Some Like It Hot and Casablanca. For several nights in a row a handful of birds hitched a ride by perching on the aft rail and the radar. Mathieu looked them up in our bird book and pronounced then to be petrels. When we got to the Doldrums we encountered the usual squally weather and fickle winds, we powered for about a day and a half using out carefully-husbanded reserve of fuel. We crossed the equator at 28° 31′ west, the next day Father Neptune duly appeared to induct Mathieu as a ‘Son of Neptune’. North of the Doldrums the Trade Winds picked up and occasionally we were forced to reef the mainsail. This was more to keep the boat balanced and make life easier for Victor the Vane, which steered virtually all the time. We also encountered the North Equatorial Current and reeled of some good daily mileages; the best being 170 nautical miles, noon to noon. We sailed through the Sargasso Sea, and as we made good our westing we kept putting the ship’s time back by an hour at a time. It was very hot by lunch time, the heat also brought a plague of fruit flies who had matured in the drink locker where leaky beer cans provided their nourishment. Every morning a crop of flying fish lay hardening on deck. I worked the shortwave radio every day to get weather forecasts and to recruit a new crew for the Caribbean leg. Eventually Helena and John, veterans of the 2013 cruise along the Brazilian coast, signed up to sail from St. Martin to Puerto Rico. We arrived at the south coat of St Martin on the first of April and with very light winds ghosted to the Fort Louise Marina at Marigot. The leg from Ascension had taken 27 days. Within a couple of days Mathieu flew to Nicaragua to join his brother on a Central American vacation.
My friend Eric, captain of Kimberlite, happened to be in St. Martin. We linked up and he drove me to the sailmaker on the Dutch side with the torn mainsail. Then with his striking Colombian companion Betty we enjoyed a leisurely lunch. The boat next to Fiona at the marina, Selkie, was captained by a fellow member of the Cruising Club of America, Paul, we retired on several evenings to the friendly bar across the street to sort out the energy problems of the world; he had been an investment banker with an interest in energy. When Helena and John showed up we spent a day in Phiipsburg and then left for an overnight sail across the Anegada Passage. We cleared into the British Virgin Islands at Virgin Gorda. We could not get the fancy Japanese outboard engine to run and we powered the inflatable dinghy with the old Seagull engine, a relic of the days when Edith and I cruised the same waters aboard Iona nearly 50 years earlier. The trip to Anegada Island was a gentle beam reach of about three hours, we anchored to windward of a mooring field of bareboat charterers, there must have been about fifty of them. A measure of how popular that that kind of cruising has become, and how popular Anegada is, which was rarely visited when Edith and I lived in the islands, due to the danger of crossing the reef. A buoyed channel and GPS have fixed that problem. Our next anchorage was Jost van Dyke, with a stop on the way over at Sandy Cay for a swim. As it happened it was my 39th watering hole . Before dinner I stopped to talk to a shopkeeper who turned out to be a Chinnery, an old family name on Jost van Dyke. When Edith and I first visited the Virgins in the early ’60s we spent a week on an old Brixham trawler called Maverick, anchored at Jost van Dyke for New Year’s Eve we were entertained by Lionel Chinnery on his guitar. I discovered Lionel had been dead for many years but I talked to his sister, which was quite nostalgic, and brought back to me the wonderful time I spent with Edith and Colin cruising Iona in those waters. We cleared out of the Virgins at Jost van Dyke and entered the USA at Culebra. We had a great downwind run to the huge Marina del Rey, where Helena and John left to meet John’s mother for a short family vacation at San Juan. I had a day to myself before I rented a car and drove to the San Juan airport to meet the incoming crew, Kieron and Denis. I had met Kieron earlier in the cruise at Flores, he was crewing on a Canadian boat. We used the rental car for a tour of the wonderful El Yunque National Forest and left early the next day for the leg to Bermuda.
Normally I would have expected the Trades to carry us north, at least to latitude 24°, but they did not develop. Instead we sailed in light, intermittent airs and powered when the wind died. The day before we arrived in Bermuda we picked up a good northwest wind and sailed for a day before the wind veered to northerly, which put it the nose. We powered the last 20 miles with lights of the island visible on the port bow, especially the powerful beam of the Gibbs Hill lighthouse. We entered the Town Cut about 2 am after contacting Bermuda Radio. Customs officers were waiting to inspect our documents and enter us into Bermuda.
My old friend, Bernie, who has been greeting boats to Bermuda for as long as I can remember, met us on the dock shortly after sunrise and arranged a slip at Captain Smokes Marina. Tying up there was tricky with a good breeze on the beam. Denis and Kieron had never been to Bermuda before, so the novelty of the pink and blue buses, pastel colored houses and lush greenery was a delight for them. My old friend Gillian stopped by for Happy Hour, she brought a good supply of ‘Dark and Stormy’ cans and some egg rolls. In the morning she had some business to conduct in Hamilton and gave us a ride into the city. I got some spare parts and then showed the guys some of my favourite spots; the Art Gallery, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and the Princess Hotel. We had a pub lunch at the Hog Penny Inn. In the morning we did some boat maintenance in preparation for the leg to Long Island followed by sight-seeing in St. Georges. We had a final dinner at the White Horse. In the morning we cleared out with customs and Immigration and checked the long-range weather forecast. To my surprise the official would not give me a copy of the print-out, claiming they were saving money by cutting back on paper. Talk about penny-wise and pound foolish. The forecast looked good for the first day but then head winds would be a problem. We decided to leave anyway.
The forecast turned out to be exactly right; a wonderful sail the first day after we cleared Kitchen Shoal and then four days of head winds, we made some progress under sail but used far too much engine. One evening as we tacked, the boat gave an unexpected lurch and Kieron caught his hand between the barrel of the winch and the jib sheet. The top one inch of his right hand middle finger was just about amputated and was hanging by a shred of skin. There was blood everywhere. After packing the wound with paper towel and Neosporin I called a sailing friend, Charles, who is a doctor, for advice using the Iridium phone. He recommended an antibiotic which we had in the medical kit and gluing the part back with Krazy Glue, which fortunately I had on board. We were 300 miles from Fire Island Inlet. We found a plastic tube that would keep the parts together and dressed the wound two or three time a day. Fortunately the weather improved and we made good time to Fire Island Inlet under sail.
Eric, the owner of Kimberlite, had emailed me the time of high tide at the Inlet and we arrived just a few minutes after high. The sea was calm but thick fog had descended. Fire Island Inlet is constantly shifting and the Coast Guard is hard pressed to keep the buoys in place which mark the deep channel. Mike, a friend at the South Bay Cruising Club, sent me the latest info on the buoys and we picked them up on radar without difficulty. We made the 20-mile leg to Patchogue inside Great South Bay without going aground and when we arrived at Weeks Yachtyard Peg, a veteran of the 2011/2012 cruise, was waiting to greet us and take the lines.
I dropped Denis off at the Port Jefferson ferry and a day later Kieron flew home. He later emailed to say the doctors thought his finger would be saved intact. Here is a brief summary of the cruise mileages:
|Patchogue, Long Island, NY||Horta, Azores|
|Horta||La Gomera, Canaries|
|La Gomera||Mindelo, Cape Verdes|
|Santos||Punta del Este, Uruguay|
|Punta del Este||Port Stanley, Falkland Islands|
|Port Stanley||Storm Site|
|Storm Site||Tristan da Cunha|
|Tristan da Cunha||Cape Town, South Africa|
|Cape Town||Saint Helena|
|Saint Helena||Ascension Is|
|Ascension Is||Saint Martin Is|
|Saint Martin Is||Fajardo, Puerto Rico|
|Fajardo, Puerto Rico||Bermuda|
|Bermuda||Patchogue, Long Island, NY|
TOTAL NAUTICAL MILES
Fair Winds, Eric
The Consulate Hotel, James Town St. Helena. Note the colonial soldier on the balcony.
Her Majesty’s Prison at James Town.
The harsh landscape of Ascension Island.
A cemetery on Ascension Island.
Eric and Mathieu celebrate their arrival in St. Martin, after 27 days at sea.
John and Helena enjoy a drink on the beautiful island of Anageda.
Eric is joined at Puerto Rico by Kieron and Denis.
Old friends Bernie and Gill at Captain Smokes Marina, Bermuda.
Kieron shows shipboard surgery on his finger.