Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ready to Sail West Again!

Farewell Cape Town! It was a grand time!
Our time in Cape Town and Africa was coming to a close as the World ARC Start for the Cape Town to Salvador, Brazil leg was scheduled for January 7, 2017. We had had a wonderful time in all of the places we visited – especially on our safari. Ringing in the New Year with the WARC family and our friends Ann, John and Johnnie Walton from home was fun. John was there to crew with us and his friend, Colt Weatherston, was arriving a few days before the start.

Ann, Johnny and John

This leg was a very long one. In fact, I think it was the longest of the whole around the world rally. It took us 21 days to sail across the Pacific Ocean from the Galapagos Islands to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. This will take even longer not counting the 72 hour break in Saint Helena.

John had crewed with us on the WARC New Zealand Rally a couple of years prior and we welcomed him back. He and Colt race in the Mackinaw Races and have been on the podium something like nine out of eleven times! If there is a leg where we might stand a good chance of winning, we figured this was it and we wanted crew who knew a lot about sailing and sail plans! And Dennis turned the navigation and sail planning over to John and his technology.

Dennis made the decision that we were not going to motor at all on this leg. I wasn’t sure he would stick to it if the wind died and we were bobbing about the ocean. We had done so much motoring from Australia to Cape Town and we just wanted to sail! It seemed like we were always racing against weather or catching up due to various delays in departing with the fleet. So this was to be our big sail!

We actually missed the Start by one hour and 15 minutes due to the holiday work stoppage. Our relatively new B&G broadband radar had had a lightening hit, probably when it was on the hard in Mackay, AU last summer. It had not been working properly, but with AIS (Automatic Identification System) and regular weather reports, we felt comfortable not having a functioning radar. However, it was worth the time penalty to have it replaced where we had a good B&G dealer.

These photos show the approach to St. Helena.
The B&G representative was very good. Unfortunately, the holidays delayed the shipping of our radar so it did not arrive until the day we were leaving. We waited for the installation, stopped at the fuel dock as we were heading to the Start Line – albeit a bit late, but still there! We motored to the Start while raising the sails. Once we neared the Start Line, the engine went off and we  planned to never used it for propulsion during the leg! Even I was amazed!

We had perfect weather and sea conditions after the first two days, which were relatively rough and mal de mar got a couple of us. I won’t say who besides me, but it wasn’t the Captain. Once the swells off the coast of Africa settled down, it was the most beautiful crossing yet. We used every sail we have in some capacity. When sailing with racers, they think nothing of changing the sail plan often. When we are alone, we stick to an easy, but not most effective one.

A minefield of unlit boats at night makes entry tricky!

Unfortunately, the wind died about eight hours out of St. Helena which meant we were going to arrive at the anchorage in the dark. Our plan was to arrive right around sunset. In reality, we arrived near midnight! Once we had crossed the intermediary finish line at the northwest corner of the island, we were allowed to motor to the anchorage area without penalty.

Not a place to land a dinghy!

We were first greeted by a row of bright lights reaching from the ground up toward the sky. While impressive, it made getting a fix on any land objects difficult. Finding a mooring buoy was challenging as there were so many lights on shore that we couldn’t see the buoys on the black water. Just as we were deciding to spend the night holding off shore, the water taxi guy called us to say he would guide us in. Amen!

This is Jacob's Ladder in daylight. At night
it is a long row of lights and confusing. 
He was so helpful once we finally spotted him and could follow his light. He helped us tie up to the buoy and get everything shipshape so we could get some shuteye. It had been a 1700 nm passage and we were ready for a break in night watches. In the morning, we could see the mooring field and were so glad that help was waiting as one could have easily gotten tangled. There were at least fifty unlit boats moored on connecting lines. That could have been a real mess!

The first unique experience in St. Helena was the water taxi! It is too dangerous to take your dinghy to the break wall and there is no beach on which to land. So the procedure is to call for a water taxi on the VHF and it comes when it comes.

Actually, they were pretty good about coming to get you. Getting back to the boat was a different story. Instead of running a group out as we congregated, the skipper stuck to his schedule of 8 PM and 10 PM and midnight. As a result, there were a lot of us on the pier hoping to get on the boat first. Otherwise, we had to wait a couple of hours. He finally started taking a second and third boat loads after realizing we were not all night owls.

The biggest challenge was landing on the ferry dock and disembarking the boat! The surf kept the ferry bouncing up and down and into the quay. The trick was to grab one of the large ropes hanging at the edge of the wharf and swing upon onto the landing area! Not my favorite move. Getting off was somewhat the reverse, except this time you had to step down into the bouncing ferry and let go before you got jerked back. You just never know what skills you can develop out of necessity! Usually there were others on board to grab you as you landed.

The worst ride was when he loaded twenty of us into the ferry after a night of partying on shore. It was dark and one of the guys was ridiculously drunk. When some of the people realized his condition and they had experienced his actions before, they hopped back off onto the quay. We were on the far side of the boat so we had to ride with him! He kept leaning over the side as people were trying to keep him onboard. Fortunately, the ferry captain took him to his boat first and then went back to the quay to get the others. That made for a much safer ride even though we were still overloaded.

A beautiful airport sitting unused. Hopefully it will open soon.
The crossing from Cape Town to Brazil was nearly 3700 nautical miles as the seagull flies. We were allowed a 72 hour stop in the little British island of St. Helena near the mid-point of the crossing. Not many people get to St. Helena as the only way to get there is by boat! Twice a year one sails between England and St. Helena. Or you take a four-day cruise on the HMS St. Helena to Cape Town and fly out of there. This makes it very challenging for anyone needing medical treatments not available on the island. Even then, it would be a rough ride on the boats to get to hospitals in the UK or South Africa!

Last year they completed the airport so people could get onto and off the island more easily. However, there is some challenging issues regarding wind shear and landing there. After the first several flights, they stopped all arrivals and departures. We took a ride way up the mountain to see the beautiful new airport and caught up on the local commentary as to the situation. It looks like it will become operational again within the next year or so. I am betting there will be times when it will shut down due to the wind.

This is the beginning of the walk to the grave. Note the
elevation and that the gravesite is at the bottom of the
valley to the left. It was a long way down and back up.
Now for some more adventures on this quaint little British island. Located in the South Atlantic, we had sailed approximately 1700nm from Cape Town, South Africa to reach this remote British colony. It is a little like going back in time. Santa Helena is an island of volcanic origin, 14 million years old in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and has an interesting history.

Napoleon Bonaparte selected a beautiful spot that is in a
valley with a view of the ocean - not that he could see it!
Originally discovered in 1502 by the Portuguese navigator João da Nova, St Helena is Britain’s second oldest colony which held strategic importance for ships sailing from the Far East to Europe. It was seen as a place of refuge for liberated African slaves and since 1815 was used as a location of exiles, most notably for Napoleon Bonaparte where he died in 1821.

Stay tuned for more of the island tour. We only have 72 hours to see everything. Then it is off to Brazil!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wine Country & Dinner in "The Township"

We continued our journey with a trip back up the coast on the inside along the coast of False Bay and into wine country. Since time was flying and we wanted time to look for some good wine, we picked up sandwiches at a little shop in a town along the highway and ate in the parking lot of the first winery.

I have taken quite a liking to a wine known here as Pinotage. In fact, I have sampled it in every restaurant in the area! It is a little heartier than a Pinot Noir, but not as heavy as a Cabernet Sauvignon. And it has a nice price range.

My mission was to go to a winery whose Pinotage I particularly liked and buy a few cases. Mission accomplished at Rickety Bridge! Our driver stopped at several other vineyards and we sampled the wines, but I knew what I wanted. We found a few bottles at each to take with us, of course.

The wine country is beautiful with lush rolling hills of grape vines that go on for miles and miles. It is no wonder wine is relatively inexpensive in South Africa. And there are hundreds of wineries throughout the country. There were some eighty vineyards within a two-hour drive of Cape Town alone! All in all, it was a good day.

Our driver, Jimmy, was wonderful and made sure we got to see all of the places we want to see. And find the Pinotage at Rickety Ridge!

It was a beautiful drive through the mountains and vineyards. Many of them are tucked back from the main highway so the approach to the tasting rooms offered a view of the scenery behind the gates. 

Of course, I was happy when we finally reached the gate of Rickety Bridge. Having been in South Africa for five weeks, we had many opportunities to sample wines at dinners and gatherings on other boats. I was even lucky enough to be able to compare the different labels of Pinotage so I knew what I was after.

We purchased several cases from Rickety Bridge and stashed them in the bilge lockers on the boat. Since we rarely drink at sea, it looks like we will have to indulge heavily at each of our next landings - and there are not that many left. Too few landings, too much wine! Taking it back to the USA on a plane is a hassle and shipping it is expensive, so we will have to drink up!

Jimmy was very knowledgeable of the area and the winery tasting rooms so we covered a lot of miles in a short afternoon. We needed to be back at the marina in time to freshen up and join the rest of the WARC fleet for dinner. Jimmy was very pleased to learn that we were having dinner in Langa that night as that is where he lives. He said most of the workers in Cape Town live in this area and take buses to and from work each day.
To cap off a great day, the World ARC fleet had organized a dinner in Langa, the local “township.” The word “Langa” means “sun” in Xhosa, but the name of the area is derived from Langalibalele, who was a famous local chief who had been imprisoned on Robben Island for rebelling against the government.

Townships are the areas outside of the city where the black population was moved during apartheid times. Some of the townships are very poor and the housing is sheets of metal somehow holding together to create a one room structure. Others have managed to create a community and become nicer areas. Following apartheid, the black African people were given the buildings, but not the land. It was the first time they were allowed to own anything.

Langa was established in 1927 as part of the Urban Areas Act which designated certain land areas for black Africans before Apartheid. They were required to carry passes as part of an internal passport system designed to segregate the population, manage urbanization and allocate migrant labor. Several people were killed there on March 21, 1960 which was the same day as the Sharpeville massacre where 50,000 people burnt their passes in defiance of the Apartheid laws.

We had a wonderful native meal in the home of a family who has made their house into a restaurant. The lady told the story of how her restaurant came to be: her mother saw a lot of tourists coming to Langa to see “the Township.” She knew they would need a place to eat! So she convinced her daughter to make it a reality.

Then some young American worked with her son and got the restaurant listed on Trip Advisor. And now she is the #1 restaurant in Langa! It is fun to see her check her phone regularly to make sure she is still listed as #1. Her mother has passed away, but the family is dedicated to keeping the place going. The buffet of local cuisine was delicious!

After the meal and history lesson, we were entertained by musicians and we all got involved with the instruments and dancing! What fun! This is a great WARC fleet.

Her story and many of the other sites we have seen in South Africa are constant reminders of the era of Apartheid. Apartheid policies started in 1948 when the Nationalist Party won elections. Anti-apartheid structures both within and outside of South Africa began to gather momentum and finally reached a peak in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for 27 before his release and when the first truly democratic elections were held in 1994.

Today, the ANC party still rules and was 65% of the vote at the time of that first election. There are still tensions between the races, which may be caused as much by the difference of the haves and the have-nots as in many areas of the world. You can see the many attempts to keep peace and put forth a united country.

All in all, we found Cape Town to be a nice place to visit and felt quite safe. Of course, we did not walk outside of the Waterfront area at night. The police presence was very obvious as they are on every corner. I was comfortable going to the Waterfront area by myself to shop.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Cape of Good Hope

Simon's Town harbor on False Bay
After two amazing weeks of safari adventures, we returned to Cape Town for a few days before the start of the next leg of the World ARC. This leg is long: 3700 nm from Cape Town, SA to Salvador, Brazil. We will get a 72 hour stop in St. Helena near the midway point. So now it was time to see the last bits of Cape Town and surrounding areas and do a big provisioning.

He claims he makes these. They are made of wire and beads.
Our desire to get out of the city and see the surrounding area was enhanced by the recommendation of a drive/guide. While on our safari, we met a family from Philadelphia who had just come from the One & Only Hotel near the marina. They highly recommended that we call Jimmy – so we did.

After an early morning start, we headed south to the Cape of Good Hope. Of course, we had sailed past it, but not close enough to see anything. In fact, one must stay well off shore in that area as there are hundreds of shipwrecks to be avoided. When looking at them from land, it is easy to see why sailors do not go close to shore.

The drive from Cape Town was along a coastal road and through the mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking. I can’t even remember how many times I commented on the beauty of the trip just on the way down to the tip of the Cape.

We stopped at Simon’s Town on the way. Of course, there were street "artists" (rather "vendors" of someone's artworks) setting up their booths for the day. Simon’s Town is the home of the South African Navy and has a rich maritime history. The main street is filled with quaint shops and old well-maintained buildings. It is an old historical town.

We did see a number of people carving wood into various animals, bowls, statues, etc. So, I do believe most of it is hand carved, sanded and finished. Just not by the person who is selling it in one of many, many craft stalls. At least it doesn't say: Made in China!

A view across False Bay to the Cape of Good Hope peninsula.
Just beyond the town lies Boulders Beach in a sheltered cove. This is the home of a large colony of African penguins. We saw hundreds of them sitting in the sand. Many were young and they were molting their fluffy feathers. As soon as the process is finished, they take to the water. The area is part of the South African National Park system so it is protected.

This world famous colony of African Penguins lives near a residential area even though they are an endangered species. Thriving there between Simon's Town and Cape Point, it is one of the rare locations where the African Penguin can be seen at close range while they wander free in a protected natural environment.

The habitat is also protective as it is bordered mainly by indigenous bush brush above the high-water mark on one side, and the clear waters of False Bay on the other. The area consists of small sheltered bays, partially enclosed by granite boulders some 540 million years old. The South African National Park system has built boardwalks along the beach so visitors can view the penguins without damaging or invading their habitat. This also allowed us to be a few feet from the penguins, who did not seem to be afraid of humans.

In 1910, there were around 1.5 million African Penguins, but by the end of the 20th century, only 10% of those remained. Their eggs were harvested as a food source. Even though they can swim at an average speed of seven kilometers per hour and can stay submerged for up to two minutes, they are a food source for sharks, Cape fur seals and Orcas (also known as Killer Whales). Their land enemies include mongoose, genet, domestic cats and dogs, and the Kelp Gulls which steal the eggs and new born chicks.

The colony started with just two breeding pairs in 1982 and has grown to over 2,200 as of a recent count. Commercial pelagic trawling in False Bay has been limited which accounts for a increase in the supply of food for the penguins: squid, pilchards and anchovy.

Their distinctive black and white coloring is a vital form of camouflage in the water. White for underwater predictors looking up and black for predictors looking down into the water helps them survive. We were there during the peak molting time in December so we saw the fuzzy little ones shedding their fluff. They were preparing to head out to sea to feed since they do not feed during molting . After they eat, the penguins will return to land in January to mate and begin nesting from about February to August.

Our last stop of the morning was at Cape Point, which is the most south-westerly tip of Africa and the end of the Cape of Good Hope peninsula. This area is a World Heritage site and is part of the Table Mountain National Park. It is the southern end of the mountain range that begins 60 kilometers north in Cape Town.

The Cape of Good Hope has a diverse range of habitats for its 250 plus species of birds. The terrain goes from rocky mountain tops to beaches and the open sea. Large animals are rarely seen in this area, but there are many small animals as lizards, snakes, tortoises, mice, mongoose, otters and insects.

You can see some of the shipwrecks where the water
is breaking beyond the point. There are many wrecks.
Many people believe Cape Point is where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean, but it is not! This actually occurs further east at Cape Agulhus on the 20th meridian. We rode the Flying Dutchman funicular up to 286 meters above sea level to see the view from the lookout and lighthouse. The other option was to walk up a long steep path. NOT! The views were breathtaking.

Dennis climbed up to the top! Not me, thanks.
Since we left Cape Town at 7 AM, we were among the first to arrive at Cape Point and had no lines. As we were leaving, the cars were lined up for several miles waiting to get into the park. We were very happy that we asked to leave Cape Town much earlier than most tours.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Camp Jabulani: Bushwalks and Game Drives

Like the other safari camps we visited, there were early morning game drives, late afternoon drives and after dinner drives. Here we were also treated to late night game drives to see sleeping animals. However, at Camp Jabulani, the guests determine what and when they wanted to go out on a drive. The program here was custom designed with the ranger and the guest. The ranger was always available and had a list of suggested activities.

The night drives were interesting because we found sleeping lions and leopards - or was it a cheetah that time? The guides communicate on the radio and tell each other what and where they have sited something. They all take turns getting their guests as close to the animals as possible. It is very well organized. And it gives everyone a chance to see the maximum number of animals.

Of course, the daylight game drives were the best for photographs and we would stop anytime we asked so we could take some shots. Dean was an amazing professional ranger with many certifications. He pointed out flora, fauna, birds, reptiles, foot prints, markings on trees, etc. His knowledge was impressive.

On foot, we were this close to them!

One of the best day adventures was a long bush walk throughout the camp. We were able to come within yards of a dazzle of zebras before they spooked and took off running.

I think this little plant is called String of Stars

An elephant's footprint.

We saw the geological structure of the area, walked the riverbed following tracks, checked out newly blooming flowers and gathered old chards of what may have been arrows and tools of the ancient indigenous people. What an experience to be on the ground and so close to everything. Dean did carry a rifle while we walked, just in case!

Christmas Day was very special this year. Although we were without family, we enjoyed a beautiful breakfast with the Philadelphia family, followed by a game drive. When we returned, the chef had prepared a wonderful holiday buffet. So once again we were eating. Then it was off to enjoy a little down time by the fireplace.

Having had such a large lunch, we thought we would pass on dinner. However, we had a call from the manager asking if we were coming to dinner. When I told her we were feeling rather full, she offered to have it brought to us. At that point, I said, “thank you, but we will come to the dining lodge.” When Dean arrived to escort us, he took us to the other building and into the wine tasting room!

Being a bit confused, we realized we were being treated to a beautiful candlelit dinner for two in the tasting room. What a special Christmas gift and wonderful lasting memory. The perfect ending to a perfect safari experience. I am so glad we didn’t miss it. I could hear the disappointment in her voice when I said we were not coming. Once I saw the set up, I fully understood.

Christmas Brunch

This is where we had our private Christmas Day dinner!

Sadly, we had to pack and leave the next day. We stopped at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre which was established in 1990 as a breeding program for cheetahs. The center is owned by the same family as our camp.

The matriarch of the family had had a cheetah as a pet most of her life. They started this non-profit center to rescue cheetahs and keep the species alive as they are in danger of becoming extinct. Several species of cheetahs have already been lost.

Endangered King Cheetah with its distinctive black mane.
At the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, they are systematically reintroducing cheetahs back into the wild. It is an impressive place and is successfully achieving its goal. They have built up the population of the nearly extinct King Cheetah. It is distinctive with its black strip down its back.

Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to the staff and Dean as we headed to the airport. Again, it felt like we were leaving family as they were so caring throughout our stay. This was the most beautiful of all our African experiences!

The Center provides protection and rehabilitation for
other species as well as cheetahs.

These three little rhinos were brought here because some
nasty human being cut off the tail of one of them.

So, there we were heading back to Cape Town and reality! What a wonderful break. Now it is time to prepare for our crew’s arrival and our departure for Brazil. And, of course, celebrate New Year’s Eve with our World ARC family. What a perfect ending to an amazing year!