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!

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