Monday, February 27, 2017

The Elusive Aghulas Current

It is nice when the current is helping us.
There are a number of places on the various oceans and seas of the world that cause sailors' nightmares. Mother Nature has made sure she stays in charge and keeps cocky mariners in line. We have experienced a few and tried to avoid most of them. Sometimes, though, they lie between where you are and where you want to be. Then it is judgment time!

The first challenge we met was crossing the Gulf Steam that runs north along North America's east coast. You can experience the "perfect storm" out there. The current runs north and the wind often blows from the north making a crossing quite lumpy when the wind and sea meet. There are numerous eddies where the current spins the water in circles and if you get caught in one, you go nowhere fast! In fact, you may just go the wrong way fast!

We were all looking for the red-orange area.
Our first experience crossing the Gulf Stream was at night in early November right after Hurricane Thomas. It was also our first offshore passage and we were rookies. We experienced 15-20 foot swells that often looked like they we going to douse us. Fortunately, we had very experienced crew who showed us the way - even though I had my head in the porcelain throne for the first four days. I just wanted to die right there and then! I recall thinking that I would die before we reached Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.

Here we are on Fleet Tracker heading to East London.
After five crossings (three down and two back), I am still not looking forward to that last return crossing. I have endured sailing from New Caledonia to New Zealand in wretched seas as that is never a pleasant passage. Once was enough! The return trip to Tonga via Minerva Reef wasn't pleasant either, but the thrill of being inside a reef in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean made it worth the discomfort. Definitely a once in a life time experience.

And we had plenty of company day and night! Day after day.
The three-week sail across the Pacific from the Panama Canal to French Polynesia seemed daunting at first. Thousands of miles from anywhere without seeing land for three weeks caused a few nightmares, but it turned out to be a great passage. Sailing alone through the low-lying atolls of the Tuamotus was a bit unnerving, but the two of us managed quite well without crew. And I gained a lot of confidence in my sailing skills and night watches.

These ships are huge! Three football fields long!
There was much discussion and concern about sailing inside the Great Barrier Reef of Australia prior to arriving in Oz. Some of the fleet yachts had various challenges getting inside the Reef and a few more once inside while exploring. We found it quite comfortable as long as we kept good watches for all the things that go bump in the night - or day - and there are many out there! And we tried to sail during daylight hours as much as possible.

The Indian Ocean was our next challenge as it is a very long sail in confused seas, variable high winds and quickly forming gales. We were both dreading that passage. As it turned out, it was a walk in the park for most of it. And a few times it was like being out of control on a black diamond ski run! Fortunately, we did not experience any gales and had such calm conditions that we had to motor-sail more than we liked.

The contour of the ocean's floor causes some of the effects
we feel while sailing - especially where the depths at the
shelves change dramatically - meaning rough water.
Once we landed on the shores of South Africa, we began to anticipate the next big challenge: the Agulhas Current. Oh, the tales we had been told! It seemed like everyone had an OMG story about the Agulhas Current. Based on these, I was dreading the trip around the southern tip of South Africa.

Yes, this can be a very dangerous passage if the wind is from the southwest against the current running from the northeast to the southwest. There are only a few places to duck into along this 900-mile coastline to Cape Town. The winds can quickly switch directions or build to gale force and it is not easy to get across the current to a calmer area near shore. Then there is the risk of being blown onto the shore.

Sometimes we had the big guys passing on both sides of
us at the same time. One nautical mile apart is close!
We had to wait a week for the right weather window before leaving Richards Bay on the east coast of SA. Then it was a push against time to get to East London, SA before the wind clocked around from northeast to southwest.

We managed to get into the harbor around 2100 and easily anchored. It was a little exciting going into a new harbor at night with so many different lights on shore. Fortunately, it was a harbor for cargo ships so the leading lights helped us get lined up for the entrance.

But at night, you see them on the screen like this. When
you look out, you just see some lights coming or going.
After sitting out a big blow for 24 hours and getting a good night of sleep, we were back out in search of the Agulhas Current again. We had a couple of knots of current giving us 9-13 knots of speed over ground (SOG) on the way to East London. Some boats never found the current and others complained about the current being against them. I guess we were lucky to have found it for most of that leg.

The little blue dot is us at anchor in East London.
But not so much on the next leg toward Cape Town! We had a little boost early on, but then it turned against us. We went further offshore to see if we could find the southbound current, as it runs north closer to land. No luck! In fact, no one was finding the elusive 3-5 knot current that was supposed to give us the ride of our lives!

Oh, yes! Then there are things like unlit fishing boats and
oil rigs and platforms to avoid along the way!

So, as we sailed along with the freighters passing on both sides, we just took our medicine and motor-sailed into an 0.8-1.8 current against us or from the side. We managed to average above 7 knots on the second day. I love our 110 hp Yanmar!

Several times, we had 13 freighters on the screen at the same time. This was especially fun at night! And there were oil well fields to avoid as well. But we were making good time towards Cape Town in a decent weather window despite the marine traffic.

Always checking the rigging and adjusting the sails.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We Are Off to See the Hippos!

We drove through some interesting areas
and saw the hundreds of acres of wood
pulp forests. It is big business h
While we were still in Richards Bay, South Africa (SA) waiting for the right weather window to sail south and west around the Cape of Good Hope, we decided to rent a car and drive north to St. Lucia. This is the area where the hippopotamuses thrive. 

On the way here, we saw miles and miles of tall, thin trees that obviously grow very quickly. They must be for the wood pulp and pressed wood industry that is a major employer in this area. We could see where they had cut acres of trees recently. The next area looked like they were pulling out the roots and replanting small trees. Then acres of fully grown forests of these skinny trees.

A view up the river before we left the shore.

We were on the east coast of SA and stayed in the Elephant House Hotel at the edge of Elephant Lake. I am not sure if there are elephants in the area, but I was startled when a Vervent Monkey tried to enter our room.

Now that is a yawn for you!
We were trying to get some fresh air into the room so we had the balcony door open. Suddenly, the monkey landed on the balcony and headed towards the door. I screamed and the monkey froze long enough for me to slide the door closed. The room literature warned us about the monkeys. Apparently, they make a real mess looking for things to eat.

That incident encouraged me to read all the information in the guest notebook. In addition to personal safety and protection of your vehicle, it warned about the hippos that come on the grounds and stroll through town at night. One must remember that this is the wild kingdom. And these critters are all big, fast and powerful. And they protect their young and their territory.

Hippos spent most of the day standing in the water asleep!

Here is a sample of the advice from the hotel management to guest:
  • All hippos are wild animals and must be respected as such.
  • Hippos are unpredictable and, even though in appearance seemingly relaxed, may turn aggressive and attack without warning. 
  • Hippos are amazingly agile for their bulk size and will outrun any human with ease.
  • Hippos are naturally aggressive and with man being their number one predator, hippos are responsible for the killing of most people in Africa by a wild animal.

They live in pods with one male and many females.
World ARC friends gave us some advice regarding which tour to do. Since hippos stay in the water most of the day and come out late in the day and evening, we were told to do the 4:30 PM tour. Due to a southwesterly wind change, the sky was overcast so it was possible that they could be out earlier than suggested.

The river cruise took us north into Lake St. Lucia, which is in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This is a World Heritage Site within the KwaZulu-Natal. There are about 100 protected areas within the KZN. Poachers are the biggest threat to the wild animals there and throughout Africa. Lake St. Lucia is 142 sq. miles and is the focal point of the third-largest protected area in South Africa and the largest estuarine lake system in Africa.

Here is a Yellow Weaver with a number of nests in the reeds.
Currently the lake is closed off to the sea due to drought and shifting sands. It has trapped sharks within the lake along with the freshwater and saltwater crocodiles and hippopotamuses. There are over 1,100 hippos in this reserve. There were many birds including the world famous African Fish Eagles which can capture and devour small crocodiles.

We saw a lot of hippos. They were sleeping in the water and didn't seem to be bothered by the spectator boats hover near them. Occasionally one would bellow at us. I managed to capture a photo or two of a couple of them yawning. Oh, my! They have a big mouth! Actually, hippos are huge animals weighing up to 2,000 kilograms.

There were so many of these pretty fellows.
The hippos sleep standing or kneeling in the water, sometimes fully submerged. This is how they protect themselves from the lions, who are major predators. The hippocampus brain is wired to lift the nostrils out of the water about every six to nine minutes to breath without the hippo waking up.

The hippos stay in the water most of the day to avoid the sun and to sleep. Then they are on the move at night. Apparently, they walk through the town of St. Lucia and one must be careful when returning to the hotel after dinner. We did not see any in town.

The African Kingfisher Eagle
One of the most interesting and colorful birds we saw was the Yellow Weaver.  There were a number of them building nests in the reeds along the banks of the lake. The male builds a nest and the female inspects it. If she is not satisfied, she tears it apart! Then he will build another one - and another one until she accepts one.

We could see the male birds striping leaves off the reeds and cutting the reeds into smaller pieces. Then he would take it to the nest on which he was working and weave it into it. I found this fascinating. There was on Brown Weaver and the guide pointed out its nest. The difference is that the Brown Weaver has its entrance on the side of the nest while the Yellow Weaver's entrance is on the bottom of the nest.

We did run into Paul and Susie on S/Y Firefly at dinner. We sat them and their friends who had joined them on a safari in the area. A night in a hotel is a treat, but unfortunately, there is only a shower in our room. I was looking forward to a nice bubble bath! Delta, Alpha, Mile, November!

Since the boats when up into the reeds and near the mangroves,
we could get very close to nature and the animals on the cruise.

Looks like his ponytail slid around to his chin!
Dining out in a new country is always an adventure! There is no shortage of seafood and red meat in South Africa. The Braai (their BBQ) is all red meat from many different animals. And they have wonder spicy sausages here. The prawns are graded as King, Queen, etc. down to Cocktail size, so King Grilled Prawns have become my first choice. BBQed ribs of some sort are also high on the list.

Dennis likes to experiment when ordering so we often have surprises - most of which he really likes. In St. Lucia, he decided to try Seafood Paella for lunch. It looked similar to what I make, but it was spicier. Then he asked for some Tabasco Sauce, which they did not have. Instead, he asked to try their Peri Peri Sauce. What a surprise! He only put little on his fork before scooping up some Paella, and WOW!  It was HOT! I now know to never, ever ask for anything with Peri Peri in the title or description. Some like it hot, but not me.

On the way back to Richards Bay, we stopped along the road to buy some fresh pineapples and bananas from the local women. They have little roadside stands and it is rather tricky to pull over in the traffic on a narrow road to make a purchase.

The gal here was so happy we stopped. It probably made her day. It made mine because the fruit cost almost nothing compared to in the supermarkets. I did learn not to let them see your money. When she saw I had a 10 ZAR bill and was giving her the exact amount for the purchase of 8 ZAR, she wanted the bigger one! Okay, it really isn't much in US dollars. But now I will be more careful.

She wanted to see her photo on my iPad and gave a big giggle.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prize Giving, But None For Us!

Good African music
After every leg of the World ARC, which is a friendly competition event, there is a prize-giving dinner. It is usually hosted by the local community and we experience cultural demonstrations, greetings from the dignitaries and a meal of traditional cuisine. It is always a very nice event. This time, as most, the meal was marvelous and bursting with flavors. It was a traditional stew made with Kudu (their venison) and cooked all day over an open fire.

There was a wonderful dance and drum exhibition before dinner. The welcome speeches were short and sweet. And the prize-giving was fun. There are always the fastest boats who usually win everything and every time. The rest of us vie for second and third places and smaller prizes. If the weather or wind is not conducive to good sailing, the Yellow Shirts have the option to restructure the competition - even after the finish! This way others have a chance to win.

S/Y Firefly took first for mono-hulls. Surprising, but not surprising. Paul is one of the best sailors out here, but he is also the boat that sailed with damaged rigging after a collision with a freighter. Somehow, they managed to keep the boat "healthy" enough to get them across one of the toughest passages. Therefore, the prize was extra special!

I have to say that we came in second in a category of which one should not be too proud: Number of Hours Motored! We were ahead of S/Y Brizo, but four hours behind S/Y Caduceus for this "not so honorable distinction!" Not a great showing for the three boats who started together in January 2014. Do you think we are at the point of just wanting to get there?

Pat from S/Y Brizo trying to win the contest.
All in all, it was another great evening. However, this venue had a new twist and apparently it was something they started for earlier WARC fleets and it has become tradition. I actually think it is done just to see if these silly sailors will actually take part in the event to entertain the locals!

What is it? It was referred to as a "Shit Spitting Contest!" The host actually showed us a video of the collection of dung in the bush. We are talking balls of dung ranging from the size of an M&M to the size of a softball! It is collected from various animals and we were told there was no ebola or other types of bacterial infectious ingredients in it! The guy speaking was a doctor (maybe a veterinarian?).

I did not bite on the offer to participate, but Dennis and almost everyone else did. I think it required more alcohol consumption than I usually have. Just maybe! Anyway, the participants put the ball of dung in their mouths, rolled it around and then spit it with great force to see who's went the furthest! There was a winner for females and one for males. Dennis had the lead for a while! (No good night kiss tonight, Dear!)

And the ladies' winner was our little British doctor, Elizabeth, who had earlier told me she wasn't going to do that! Huh! It must have been the wine! I am sure we provided a great deal of laughter for the locals! One of the younger guys won for the men. At least it made for a lot of laughter and a great ending for a fun night.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Holiday Celebration in Richards Bay

Don overseeing Dennis at the grill!
One of the best things about being part of a rally is the friendships that are made. Most rallies start out with a large number of boats from many different countries. It is only natural for like-speaking participants to stick together at first. Eventually, everyone gets to know one another and friendships across borders are in order.

It just isn't the same without turkey!
We have participated in three different World ARC Rallies: 2014-15, 2015-16 and now 2016-17. Each has been very different in its makeup of boats and crews. And they have all been enjoyable. Thankfully, we were graciously welcomed in to the two we joined along the way and this one is a great group to bring it full circle.

There are always opportunities for Sundowners, BBQ's (or Braai as it is called in South Africa), a before or after (or both) glass of wine, a helping hand, etc. In Richards Bay, we all participated in the Zululand Yacht Club Braais and had our own for Thanksgiving. Of course, the three American boats led the charge on that one!

This group represents Sweden and Australia with
England at the far end of the grill.

The S/Y Into the Blue crew from the Isle of Guernsey
There was no turkey available so we roasted whole chickens on the grill along with other meats and sausages and vegetables. Laurie and Bob from S/V Barbara Jean (and Sturgis, MI) made sage dressing that tasted so good!

I did squash and mashed potatoes and gravy. Mary Beth and Mike from Paradise Found came with salads and vegetables. They don't seem to have canned pumpkin in any of the countries we have visited!

Luckily, I was able to find a tiny little pumpkin pie (SA style) so we cut it into one inch squares so everyone could have a taste. Claudine on Wishanger II made a wonderful apple pie!

Our Thanksgiving buffet! Dining on picnic tables under the stars!

Then true to our traditions, we went around the table and shared what we were thankful for and asked all of the rest of the fleet to join in.

It was an enlightening and moving experience with an international twist. The Europeans seemed to enjoy tasting our traditional Thanksgiving foods. We should have made more of everything! There were no leftovers here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Our First Game Reserve Adventure

Yield to the animals, please.
This was a day for which we were waiting! We were heading out on another great World ARC tour to see the wild animals of Africa. Our daylong trip began early in the morning with a bus ride to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. Apparently, it is the best place to see the African Big Five in KwaZulu-Natal: Lions, Elephants, Black Rhinoceros, Buffalo and Cheetahs.

This Reserve is an unspoiled wilderness of rolling hill, subtropical forest, acacia woodland and palm-lined rivers. It is 372 sq. mi. in size and has a range of altitudes. It is known for its rhino conservation program. The biggest threat to the rhino is man: as in "poachers" who are after the rhino horn. The area is fenced, but not to keep animals in. It is fenced to make it difficult for poachers to enter. It is one of Africa's leading wildlife sanctuaries.

In addition to the black and white rhinos, we had the chance to see many other animals: lion, giraffe, impala, warthog, baboon, zebra, elephant, wildebeest, kudu, nyala and buffalo. There are also cheetah, leopard and hyenas in the park.

Let the adventure begin. There is a big animal world out there!
Our tour took us to see where a lion was dining on a dead giraffe. Apparently, two giraffes had a fight and one did not survive. Once it was down, the lion moved in to begin a several day feast. Unfortunately, it was too far away to get a good photograph. It was sad to see, but we must respect this is the natural selection process that has its own food chain.

We drove through many different terrains and climates from the lowest at the river to the highest in the mountains. Different vegetation and water holes draw different animals to various areas.

We also saw the watering holes where many types of animals appeared to be existing in harmony. Maybe the rest of the world could learn from them!
Nine of us in each Jeep vehicles are off to see ....

In the middle of the road there was a Dung Beetle rolling
a ball of dung where the female Dung Beetle lays her eggs

Our tour stopped at a picnic area where we all got out of the vehicles and feasted on some typical African foods. Delicious! We are looking forward to more culinary adventures, too. Each area of Africa has its special foods to try.

I will let the photos tell the rest of this story: