Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28
Yacht Fathom - A Vancouver 28

After leaving the U.K in May 2016 i’m sailing

around the world in Fathom, my Vancouver 28.

 

map

Fernando de Noronha to Grenada

The island of Fernando de Noronha is situated about 350km off Brazil’s north east coast and is a popular destination for Brazilian tourists seeking beautiful beaches and diverse sea life. Despite this it is not overly popular with visiting yachts for two main reasons I discovered after arriving. Firstly the anchorage is incredibly rolly and quite deep at 11 to 12 metres. Secondly, I hadn’t been prepared for quite how expensive it was to check in – over £100 for a 2 day stay. Ouch! After pumping up the dinghy on the morning of the 26th March the outboard wouldn’t start so I performed the old trick of draining the carburettor via the bleed screw with a screw driver and it then roared to life. Once ashore at the harbour office the check in formalities and clearance into Brazil was nice and relaxed, so relaxed in fact that the Port Captain offered me coffee and cake. I guess I should have expected that for the extortionate check in fees. He didn’t speak a word of English so we communicated via typing into Google Translate on his computer. I learnt from the Port Captain that the authorities have a strict limit of only 450 visitors per day but visiting yachts are not included and he then went on to tell me that to visit the nicest beaches would incur a further cost of about £50 for a permit. I’ve been lucky to see a lot of nice beaches in the last three years so sod that.

 

It was a good 30 minute walk to get to the town. I found an ATM to withdrawal some Reals, the Brazilian currency and found some wifi and grabbed a bite to eat. I then found a lady that could do some laundry for me the next day. With so much motoring required to power through the calms on the way from Saint Helena, Fathom was low on diesel but with the forecast showing the North East trades only about 150 nautical miles to the north, I figured that I only needed to buy 40 litres to get me through. It was a hassle to fill the cans up at the fuel station half way up the hill and get a taxi back to the harbour so I only went once. This would prove to be a mistake. The outboard then failed to start again and to my dismay I realised the screwdriver I had left in the dinghy for such an event had been stolen. I managed to borrow one off a charter catamaran to bleed the carb and get the engine going again so I could get back to Fathom in the anchorage, a long way away.

My task the following day was to fill up the water tanks. The town water was not safe to drink so I was forced to buy 6 x 5 gallon bottles from the supermarket and then get a taxi back to the harbour. The ramp down to the pontoon was currently being rebuilt so it was quite a task to carry each bottle down a steeply inclined single plank. It proved too much for my wobbly sea legs and I managed to drop one bottle down onto the pontoon which then promptly exploded and that was 5 gallons lost. Then with the remaining five bottles in the dinghy I got back to Fathom in the anchorage and in the process of unloading them on to a very rolly boat managed to drop one into the cockpit which also exploded and another 5 gallons lost to the sea. On the plus side the cockpit did get a nice fresh water rinse. The whole episode was not one of my finest moments. I also got the laundry done and found a few items of fresh food at the supermarket but the choice was very poor, not unsurprising so far from the mainland. The larger downind jib that I had hoisted onto the furler in Cape Town was lowered and replaced with the standard Yankee foresail in preparation for some stronger winds on the beam north of the doldrums. The last task was to swim around the boat to check the hull and propeller which were surprisingly clean. It had been a short and not particularly great stopover but a necessity for water and fuel. On the morning of 28th of March it was time to set sail again – destination Grenada, 2000 nautical miles to the north west.

 

The first afternoon at sea was in a calm once again so we motored all afternoon and through the first night. I was awoken at 23:30 by the radar alarm that had detected a target closeby and after rushing on deck could just make out the lights of a vessel which was displaying no AIS or radar signal. I kept an eye on it as we passed each other very close thankful that the radar alarm had done it’s job and woken me up. Little did I know at this point that vessels passing close in the night would be a theme of this leg of the voyage.  Sleep was hard to come by for the rest of the night as the radar alarm kept going off, triggered by passing rain showers. In the morning I turned the engine off and tried to sail but the cruising chute wouldn’t even fill. I couldn’t wait to reach the north east trades and leave the hot and humid calms in my wake. The next night the same thing happened and I was woken by the radar alarm during a nap. Again, I watched a fishing vessel pass very close and then found it hard to switch off and sleep. The latest weather forecast wasn’t good news and I could not believe that now the doldrum belt was moving northwards with me! I just couldn’t reach the NE tradewinds that were so tantalisingly close. After so much motoring from Saint Helena and with several days of calms still ahead Fathom was critically low on diesel. Why didn’t I buy more in Fernando?!  On the last day of March and the 3rd day at sea the radar alarm went off again, this time triggered by a huge tanker 5 miles off the starboard beam with no AIS signal. I called them on the VHF to let them know their AIS wasn’t working and they replied saying they were sorry and were trying to fix it. Not good for my stress levels.

 

On the 1st of April Fathom crossed the equator and was back in the northern hemisphere again. It wasn’t really a time for celebration as the rain was torrential with very poor visibility. A brief puff of wind in in the middle of the day temporarily allowed some sailing before it died once more by sunset. I calculated that I had enough diesel to run the engine through the night but at 07:00 the next day it would have to be turned off for good. I even tried whistling for the wind. Just after dark I could see the loom of a light on the horizon which grew steadily brighter. Peering around the sprayhood in the driving rain I could eventually make out it was a fishing trawler but it’s course was erratic and we were getting close. Eventually after I had changed course a couple of times she disappeared astern. Tired and a bit fed up I dropped back into my bunk longing for some wind, a Caribbean rum and the end of this long sea passage.

 

The next morning, at long, long last, the breeze began to fill in from the East North East and I can’t tell you the relief in turning the loud engine off and feeling the motion of the boat as the wind pushed her along once again. All of a sudden I felt great, there was 1 knot of current boosting our speed, I began to relax and even baked a cake to celebrate. The next day continued in the same vain and all was good. Then at 01:00 on the 4th April all hell broke loose. 30 knots of wind from the north barrelled into Fathom out of nowhere and torrential rain hammered down on her decks. I jumped out of my bunk, stripped off and put on my harness before heading out on deck to reef the sails, a real battle in the conditions. I headed Fathom off downwind as I struggled to install the 4th reef in the main. The wind direction and our NW course to Grenada meant upwind sailing for the first time in forever and it was a long night. By sunrise conditions had begun to moderate and I shot some footage on the GoPro As Fathom slammed into the waves. The forecast had only indicated 15-20kts when actually gusts were 35kts or higher and it had been a bit of a shock to the system.

 

Thankfully over the next days conditions improved, a nice 15 -20 knot wind set in on the beam and speeds increased with a strong current pushing Fathom to the north west. A messy swell made the motion a bit uncomfortable but we were sailing so I didn’t care. On the 7th April as Fathom closed on the coast of French Guyana a new record 24hr daily run under sail of 152 nautical miles was achieved which was smashed again the following day with 167 nautical miles! Pretty impressive for a 28 foot boat even with 2.5kts of current giving a helping hand. I very much doubt Fathom will ever have a better 24 hours again. In the night, yet again, the radar alarm detected vessels very close and I was on full alert. At one point I was tracking a target on the radar only half a mile abeam yet as I stared out into the blackness I saw nothing. It was eerie and very unsettling knowing there was a boat so close showing no lights or AIS signal. I couldn’t switch off and sleep was hard to come by. The remaining miles to Grenada seemed to tick down slowly and I found myself monitoring the eta a bit too obsessively. I was tired and felt fed up with long solo passages.

 

In the last of the evening light on the 11th April I could just make out the outline of Tobago on the horizon. I was keeping a wide berth and planning to approach Grenada from the east. Recently, due to the chaos in Venezuela the piracy risk around Trinidad and south of Grenada had been increasing sharply and only a couple of weeks before a yacht heading north to Grenada from Trinidad had been approached by a skiff with 4 armed men who attempted to board the yacht. The high sea state and the skippers evasive zig zag course had prevented the men from boarding but they had fired shots at the yacht which had pierced the hull. This was playing round in my mind as I stared at the horizon, imagining pirates speeding towards me and it was another long night with little sleep. I was very relieved to see the sunrise on the 12th April, my 16th day at sea and the lush green slopes of Grenada lay in front of Fathom. It was hard to believe that we had set sail from this island just over two years before, it really did seem like yesterday. A good 20 knot breeze picked up from astern and Fathom flew along as the last remaining miles flowed under the keel. I sat in the cockpit with my morning coffee and watched an excitable pod of dolphins playing in the bow wave. Jumping high in the air and diving forward they seemed to be leading Fathom back to the Spice Island and across our ground track from 2017. The sleepless nights and endless calms were soon forgotten, we had done it. Fathom and I had been a great team, I had cared for her and she had looked after me. We had circumnavigated the world!

Posted in: at sea - 2019

Saint Helena to Fernando de Noronha

As I sailed away from Saint Helena I was sad to say goodbye but on the other hand looking forward to reaching Grenada and the Caribbean again. Only 3,500 nautical miles of sailing to go! Having said goodbye to my friends on ‘Plastik Plankton’ who were heading north back to Europe this next stretch would be done very much alone and as normal before a long passage, I was feeling a little apprehensive. To break up the passage to Grenada and to replenish the stores my intention was to stop at Jacare on the eastern bulge of Brazil, about 1700 nautical miles and two weeks of sailing.

 

The first few days were nice and relaxed, a low 1 to 1.5m swell and light breezes ranging from 12-15kts, just perfect. The trouble was despite the conditions I was finding it hard to settle into life at sea again and I continuously found myself counting down the miles and days to go. I had a sore throat and felt lethargic. As my friends Janneke and Wietze reminded me on an email one morning, “Don’t count the days, make the days count!”. Wise words and I told myself to cheer up. By the end of the first week the wind began to falter and on the night of the 18th March I was woken up by banging sails as Fathom wallowed in a calm. As the next few days ticked by in daylight hours I hoisted the cruising chute and we glided slowly north west and in the night hours had to resort to running the engine.  On days 12 and 13 there was enough wind to sail wing on wing again, the mainsail fixed out on one side of the boat and the headsail poled out on the other. With no vessels detected in the vicinity or squalls clouds overhead I was able to take the luxury of 3 hour sleeps overnight as the Aries windvane steered Fathom along in the blackness. As we continued towards the doldrums the temperature and humidity rose sharply and it was hot and sweaty in the cabin. On the 22nd a brief rain shower passed overhead, the first rain that had fallen on Fathom since leaving Cape Town.

 

The Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, or doldrums, is not located exactly over the equator and actually migrates north and south with the seasons throughout the year. It is a region where the South East tradewinds and the North East Tradewinds meet and is calm and very wet with frequent thunderstorms. I knew I would have to get through this area as quickly as possible and every couple of days would download a weather GRIB file via the satellite phone to check it’s current position. The forecasts showed the ITCZ was hovering just south of the equator and at a latitude just above the Brazilian island of Fernando de Noronha. At this point I decided to change plans and visit this island instead of sailing the further distance west to Jacare on the Brazilian mainland. The information I had onboard indicated I could obtain diesel and water at the island but it was expensive to check in so I would make only a short stop. By the 24th the wind began to falter again and by night it would die down to around 5kts meaning yet more motoring.  On day 14 I began to see many more birds in the sky and my spirits were lifted when the fishing line went tight that afternoon. I battled to pull in what turned out to be a 1m long yellow fin tuna which provided some much needed variation into my diet and breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next couple of days!  As the sun began to rise on my 16th day at sea I could make out the dramatic outline of Fernando de Noronha on the horizon. We were completely becalmed and after motoring all through the night I headed Fathom into the anchorage and the hook went down mid morning. My first time in Brazil.

Posted in: at sea - 2019

Saint Helena

I had been looking forward to stopping at Saint Helena for a long time.  Measuring only 10 miles by about 5 miles and with a population of 4,500 it is one of the most remote islands in the world. It’s position in the South Atlantic make it a popular stop over for cruising yachts sailing between South Africa and Brazil/The Caribbean.  I was not disappointed and my ten day stay was hugely memorable and has become one of the many highlights of my whole voyage. With the new airport barely functional due to wind sheer issues the island is still one of very few destinations left on earth where as a visitor you get a certain respect from the locals for simply getting there. They know the distances involved to arrive by sea and enjoy welcoming us salty seadogs to their special island.

 

After arriving on the morning of the 2nd March, and once secure on the huge mooring buoy, I hailed the little ferry boat taxi which took me ashore along with the three crew of a 46ft Leopard Catamaran which had arrived an hour before me. The check in was simple and friendly and the customs lady even drove us up the hill in her official car to save us walking to the immigration building. A bit lazy really after sitting on a boat for 15 days but seemed rude to turn down such a nice offer. After the formalities were complete I was pleased and not unsuprised to discover the South African crew were in as much need of a cold beer and a burger as me so an enjoyable afternoon was had in company at Ann’s Place adjusting to land life again. It was quite strange to be paying for things in ‘pounds’  for the first time since 2016, Saint Helena pounds that is.  The island has it’s own currency which is fixed to the British pound and both are accepted on the island but only the local pounds can be withdrawn from the bank. Important not to withdraw too much local currency as trying to pay for anything in the UK with a Saint Helena pound would not prove successful and likely raise some strange looks.  After checking my emails on probably the most expensive internet connection anywhere, £6.60 for one hour, the last water taxi back to the moorings was at 17.30.  Probably a good thing and after the long passage and with the near sinking episode now a fading memory, I slept well that night.

 

Saint Helena can suffer from large swells from time to time throughout the year and it just so happened that my stay coincided with some of the biggest of the year. On the second day of my visit Fathom began rolling beam to beam on the mooring and it became quite uncomfortable onboard. Each day from 07:30 to 18:00 the little water taxi would run back and forth taking us cruisers to shore. It was just too dangerous to take in our own tenders which would likely be smashed to bits. To make disembarkation easier ropes hang down from an A frame at the quay and the idea is you swing out of the water taxi like Tarzan when it’s on the top of a wave. It was a bit of an eye opener for me and trying to get on and off while also passing across several 20 litre water cans called for some good co-ordination skills. It proved too much for the elderly lady crew on one of the yachts who let go of the rope too early and promptly fell into the water between the ferry and the quay. Luckily only a scraped leg and she was fine. For us sailors hoping for some flat calm after rolling around at sea for a couple of weeks we were in for some disappointment.

It was a little frustrating that due to some politics between two companies bidding for the water taxi contract the last ferry was 18:00 each day. But the South Africans and an American catamaran that pulled in were super friendly and for several evenings invited me over for beers and food and even provided a taxi service for me with their dinghy. As the weekend approached the swell was due to pick up even more and we were informed that it was unlikely that the taxi would be able to run the next day. Thankfully Hazel from the Consulate Hotel in town came to the rescue. When she has room she offers a heavily discounted rate of £50 per night inc full breakfast to yachties wanting a night off their boat. The thought of being trapped on a rolling Fathom for the weekend was too much so I said yes please to Hazel and enjoyed a night ashore. Before heading in I jumped over the side to attach a stronger mooring line to the buoy and in the process got stung by what I thought was a Portuguese man of war jelly fish. An agonising stinging rash appeared on my belly and once ashore my first words to Hazel were ‘hello, do you have any vinegar please’. By wiping this on the burns it soon subsided and in hindsight may have been instead a reaction to some poisonous seaweed that was growing on the mooring buoy. Anyway, Friday night turned out to be great fun. I enjoyed meeting some locals and a group of Brits who have been posted to the island for work. When they invited me to join them at the night club I thought they were pulling my leg. I still can’t believe there is a night club on Saint Helena.

 

 

Once my friends Kathi and Wolfi had arrived on their boat ‘Plastik Plankton’ we all took an island tour by an older local Robert who has been showing tourists around for over 30 years. He certainly kept us entertained with his stories and described how his father and grandfather used to make their living cultivating and processing flax for rope and string, something which is is no longer done here.  He drove us all over including stops at the ex-quarters of Napoleon Bonaparte who was imprisoned on the island between 1815 until his death in 1821 and we looked down at his now empty tomb. At the Governer’s house we caught a glimpse of Jonathan the tortoise,  aged 185 the oldest known living terrestrial animal in the world. We enjoyed great views over the capital Jamestown and from high in the lush green hills down over the barren rocks to the endless blue sea. The town of Jamestown itself is quite quaint with a number of small independent shops, the bank, a couple of hotels and the market building. One of the shops called Thorpe’s sells goods from Tesco and I can’t tell you how happy I was to find a Frey Bentos Steak and Kidney pie! The locals, or saints as they are known, talk English with a strange accent that sounds like a mix of Irish and Cornish and they never fail to smile and say hello while passing by.  A real test for the legs was climbing the 699 steps of Jacobs ladder which rises from the town to Ladder Hill Fort, 180m above. The ladder is all that remains of an old railway and my time of 12 minutes to get to the top didn’t get close to the world record time of 5 minutes and 17 seconds set by a Scot in 2013.  With that speed the fella clearly hadn’t arrived by sailing boat.

 

The most amazing experience on Saint Helena was swimming alongside Whale Sharks. I had enjoyed a very brief encounter with one in Madagascar but this was on another level. It is now believed that Saint Helena is one of the main breeding grounds for Whale Sharks in the world because equal numbers of males and females are found here for a few months every year. A couple of licensed companies do tours and every effort is made to protect these creatures. What amazed me was how inquisitive they were, changing course and swimming towards us to check us out as we snorkelled close by. The sight of one of these 10m beasts swimming right at you with its huge metre wide mouth open does get the heart rate going but we were reminded that their throats are the size of a golf ball and they have tiny teeth so nothing to worry about! For me it was right up there with swimming alongside humpback whales in Tonga. How lucky have I been to have had these experiences.

 

 

After ten fantastic days on the island I was keen to get going and to get another long passage out of the way.  With the water and diesel tanks full and with a few Tesco goods filling the cupboards I let go the mooring on the 11th March and pointed the bow NW towards Brazil – 1,700 nautical miles away.

 

Posted in: Saint Helena

Cape Town to Saint Helena

After six weeks in Cape Town, and after the long coastal passages down the South African coast, I was looking forward to getting offshore and into the rhythm of a long ocean passage again, about 1700 nautical miles to Saint Helena. Fathom was ready too, with new forward lower shroud U bolts and new house batteries and appeared in good shape. The three year old Lifeline AGM batteries had disappointingly lost a lot of capacity so I decided to replace them with Firefly Carbon Foam types. Without trying to sound too geeky these new technology batteries are well regarded and were about half the price in South Africa. Time will tell if they were a good choice. It was sadly time to say goodbye to my cruising family that I had been sailing alongside since Madagascar, Alan and Annie on ‘Kiwi Dream’ and Mike and Marie on ‘Roke’. The end of a chapter and I really hope our paths cross again one day.

 

At noon on the 15th Feb I slipped out of the Royal Cape Yacht Club marina and out to sea. As on my way in it was necessary to dodge several whales that were loitering around the harbour entrance. A tanker passed close by with no bridge, strange, but actually it was the first sign that fog was on the way in. The weather forecast had indicated 15 to 20kts of breeze and clear skies but a couple of hours later there was zero visibility and zero wind. Once the shipping lanes outside Cape Town were astern there was still a lot of traffic around. I always find being at sea in thick fog rather stressful so remained glued to the radar. That whole night the fog stuck and it was a long motor until dawn. It was cold too and I slept under a couple of blankets.

By mid morning the following day the sun had replaced the fog, the wind had filled in, and it was time to go sailing. The water temperature around Cape Town was a cold 14 degrees celsius and over the first few days before it began to warm up there was plenty of bird life around. I spent a lot of time sat in the cockpit watching several huge Albatross circling the boat. Progress was good with a nice push from the Benguela current and night sailing beneath a bright full moon. After four or five days the water temperature had risen to the low twenties and flying fish began to make an appearance. Time to put the fishing line out!

 

It was clear from the weather GRIB files downloaded via the satellite phone that the South Atlantic High Pressure system had extended a ridge north, stifling the SE trade winds and there was a large area of calms on the direct route to Saint Helena. I changed course and steered more NNW for the next week sailing more parallel to the Namibian coast before turning to the NW. It turned out to be a good decision as the wind held for the whole crossing. It was really great sailing with the breeze hovering around 15kts most the time, a lowish swell and no rain or squall clouds. The fishing was great too, I even caught one fish while letting out the line, it just couldn’t wait to get in the frying pan.

By the 2nd week at sea I was fully relaxed and enjoying the crossing. It was warm 24 hours a day and the fleece and blankets had been stored away. Plenty of reading on the Kindle, listening to podcasts and playing guitar. The wind never rose above 20kts and it was up there with the best passage of the whole voyage. I was sleeping in 1 to 2 hour chunks at night and was well rested. On the morning of the 26th Feb, the 11th day at sea, things got a bit interesting. Here is an account of what happened.

A Wet Boat

It was early morning about 450 nautical miles to go to St Helena. I was sitting at the chart table drinking a coffee, still a bit sleepy, when I noticed that a cloth on the cabin sole underneath some of the spare water bottles was wet. Assumed that one of the bottles had a leak but on closer inspection they were all full. Looked under the floorboards and horror of horror there was water sloshing about everywhere! Split water tank? No… it’s salty…. then I lifted off the steps above the engine and what I saw was a bilge completely full of water, so high it was lapping at the bottom of the engine and had filled the engine tray. S*#$!! Turned on the bilge pumps – the automatic switch had failed to activate the pump as the water level rose.

Water was pouring into the boat somewhere at the stern. Fathom was low in the water and sluggish. Why had I not noticed earlier? I hadn’t been awake long. Rolled in the headsail and hove to. For a few seconds before I had found the source of the leak I must admit the thought of sinking in the middle of the South Atlantic crossed my mind. But survival instinct kicks in and time for a calm head….. DON’T PANIC! Went on deck, opened the starboard cockpit locker and emptied it at lightning speed so I could climb in. It was immediately clear that the exhaust hose had split open where it fixes onto the thru hull fitting and had nearly completely detached. There was a good 2 to 3 inch hole letting in water. This thru hull is just above the waterline when the boat isn’t moving but when sailing, and now with a heavy boat full of water, it was below. The water was coming in like a high pressure hose and Fathom had been filling up fast.

Squatting in the cockpit locker with the water up to my waist I quickly plugged the hole while cutting off the split end of the hose then reattached the hose with the two jubilee clips. It was crazy how much water was in the boat. The bilge pumps had only just been keeping up but as soon as the hose was reattached the water level started going down and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The next 8 hours were spent clearing the inside of the boat of water that was trapped from the bilge pumps. There were over 6 buckets worth of water in the locker under the quarter berth alone. To get access the spare anchor and chain had to be pulled out of the locker and up on deck, all in a rock and rolly boat. Lockers from the chart table aft on the starboard side had water in but the port side of the boat was ok. Water had sloshed up onto the quarter berth itself so the mattress and covers were soaked in salt water. Thankfully the engine worked fine as the water had only reached the bottom and everything electrical and the batteries were ok.

Not an experience I want to repeat anytime soon. Despite regular checks the section of exhaust hose that failed is about the only item onboard I haven’t replaced since I’ve owned the boat. It will be replaced as soon as I can find some new.

What have I learned from this? Regularly check the auto bilge pump sensor is working! Always ensure there is a wood bung tied in position ready to use next to every thru hull and maybe install a seperate bilge water alarm.

Strangely enough I was a little preoccupied to take photos of a wet boat

**

Everything was pretty much back to normal on the 27th apart from a damp and salty quarter berth that I was still trying to dry out. Just after lunch I reached a nice milestone, crossing the same Meridian of Longitude as Yarmouth, where I had started the voyage in 2016. It was a good job I had discovered the leak in time as crossing this line in the liferaft wouldn’t have felt quite the same. There are various ways of qualifying for a circumnavigation and sailing around 360 degrees of longitude is one of them. I celebrated by opening a can of beer, offered some to the South Atlantic to keep Neptune on side, and enjoyed the rest. For the first time in 3 years, and with 28,715 nautical miles under the keel, I was back on UTC time again.

around the world

The final few days into Saint Helena presented no drama and I slowed down a lot to arrive in daylight. It was a nice sight seeing the island appear on the horizon in the first light of the day on the 2nd March. By 10:00 Fathom was safely on a mooring surrounded by four other visiting yachts including a couple of familiar faces. Another long ocean passage out of the way and despite that ‘minor’ incident, one of the best.

Posted in: at sea - 2019

South Africa Part 3: Cape Town

After being constantly on the move for the last months I was looking forward to staying still for a while and pleased to discover that the Royal Cape Yacht Club has a reciprocal agreement with the Royal Solent Yacht Club, my club back on the Isle of Wight. Half price marina berth for up to one month – about US 7 dollars a day so a good deal. The New Year didn’t get off to a great start when a pickpocket managed to steal my phone at the touristy Long Street while I was walking with a couple of friends in the wee small hours of New Years Day. They are very good these pickpockets. We had been warned about this street and despite being extra careful I let my guard down for a few seconds and then it was too late. Other than having to buy another phone no harm done but super frustrating.

 

The Royal Cape is a friendly club and a real hub for cruising boats passing through South Africa. The club has a keen racing division and we had heard that the annual Round Robben Island Race was coming up. Tobias on Uno Mundo was keen to enter so Alan and I joined as crew and we had a great day. The look on the faces of the local race boats as tatty old Uno Mundo, the only cruising boat to enter, charging onto the start line on starboard, was priceless. We were soon left behind by the race boats as the wind died but consoled ourselves by empting the fridge of cold beer. After rounding Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years of his 27 years behind bars, the wind died altogether so we retired and motored back to the marina.

There is lots to see around Cape Town so Alan, Tobias, his sister Katy and I hired a car for a few days. While checking out the view from Signal Hill we were approached in the car park by two pale faced tourists who told us they had just been robbed at knife point on the hiking trail, 200m below the road in broad daylight. We offered them one of our phones to call their family and otherwise they were ok but still in shock. It was a reminder to all of us to be on guard and as we have since found out, robberies and muggings are becoming more and more frequent. Hiking in South Africa is sadly becoming more and more unsafe which is a real shame as Cape Town is such a beautiful city. We then drove along the coast stopping at Hout Bay for lunch and Simons town to meet some other sailing friends. On the way back a walk along Boulders beach for some penguin spotting before a stop at Urban Brewery for some beer tasting. The next day was Tobias’ birthday so we took a drive to the famous wine producing region of Stellenbosch for some tasting. All rather alcoholic. The highlight of my time in Cape Town was hiking up Table Mountain. It took nearly two hours and was hard work but the view was spectacular and well worth it.

 

Cape Town is windy, very windy For at least three or four days every week the wind shrieks through the marina and it is not uncommon to have 40 knots + across the deck. Calm days are quite few and far between but on one of these occasions a few of us took the opportunity to check out an anchorage a few miles down the coast near Camps Bay. Tobias and Katy took Uno Mundo and I jumped on Kiwi Dream with Alan and Annie. We ended up staying the night at anchor and coming back to the marina the next morning. On the way we were treated to some first class whale watching and at one point the whales surfaced unexpectedly right alongside, so close they brushed the hull. A whales tail with the back drop of Lions Head and Table Mountain was quite a view.

 

Although a little out of town I quickly realised that the Royal Cape Yacht Club was a great place to work on the boat. The chandleries, hardware stores and industrial zone were closeby and there is a shipwrights on site who are helpful and happy to give recommendations and advice. After getting some inspiration from another Vancouver 28, ‘Sea Bear’, that had an extended starboard bunk, I decided to go ahead and do the same on Fathom. Why not make some home improvements. It turned out to be a long and very messy job. Despite constructing a tent in the cabin dust got absolutely everywhere. I did all the work myself and made a few minor mistakes but overall was pleased with the end result. When in port I can now extend the bunk to a double and when at sea put back the cave locker storage and sea bunk.

After the long and rough trip across the Indian Ocean last year it was also time to give Fathom some tlc and keep on top of routine maintenance. I gave the engine an overhaul, oil change, new filters, cleaned and wiped on corrosion inhibitor. Drained the muck from the bottom of the fuel tank, serviced the outboard, rebuilt the tow generator with new bearings and seals, stripped the varnish around the galley to bare wood and added six new coats, re sealed some deck fittings, replaced some running rigging etc. It was while checking all the deck fittings that I noticed the U bolt holding the lower port shroud had lifted slightly at one end. After removing the nuts I couldn’t believe that one side of the bolt had snapped. No idea when this has happened and how it had not completely failed. Very relieved to have spotted it before setting off to sea again and a reminder that thorough boat checks are so important before and after long ocean passages. I have had two new U bolts made up by a local stainless engineer and replaced the starboard side too as a precaution.

 

Time has really flown by in Cape Town and as I write this it has been just on six weeks. I’m ready to set sail again and looking forward to getting out to sea. The Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel were not so easy so i’m hoping the South Atlantic is a little kinder and more relaxing. Sadly it is time to say goodbye to friends I have been sailing alongside for many months, in particular Alan and Annie on Kiwi Dream and Mike and Marie on Roke. I hope our paths will cross again. Fathom is in good shape, full of food and supplies, 300 litres of water, 220 litres of diesel and a few bottles of South African wine. We are both ready to tackle the South Atlantic.

Posted in: South Africa

South Africa Part 2: Richards Bay to Cape Town

Like the Mozambique Channel, the stretch of coastline from Richards Bay to Cape Town needs to be treated with a lot of respect. The strong south setting Agulhas current makes for fast passage times but it is not a place to find yourself if a front sweeps in with strong southerly winds. The conditions created by these two conflicting forces have caught out many boats in the past and create confused seas with huge steep waves. It’s all about hopping down the coast in good weather windows between safe ports. There are not so many places to hide though and between Durban and East London, a distance of around 200 nautical miles, there is nowhere. It’s all about being patient and waiting for the right moment to leave.

 

Fathom and Kiwi Dream finally departed Richards Bay on the afternoon of 11th December for an overnight sail to Durban. As ever, Des was helping us out and we went on his green light. It was a miserable night despite the wind being astern, messy seas with steep waves and a short period made for a horrible motion. Fathom was thrown all over the place and for the first time in a while I felt a little nauseous. The wind increased overnight and by daybreak was hovering around 30knots. The photo of me sitting in the cockpit with white water astern and sleepy eyes sums it up. It was good to reach the shelter of Durban harbour where we anchored outside the marina and enjoyed a cold sundowner that afternoon.

The intention was to wait in Durban for the next good weather window to reach East London or possibly Port Elizabeth. First we had to check in to Durban with both Customs and Immigration, a tiresome requirement in several other ports in South Africa too where a ‘flight plan’ with likely timings and destinations down the coast also has to be given. Durban is not the safest place and we were warned by the marina staff not to wear watches or any flashy items when walking in public and absolutely not to walk outside the gated marina grounds at night. Alan, Annie and I took an Uber to Customs and Immigration and walked back but it was all very edgy and we didn’t loiter along the way. Thankfully the weather was looking good so we checked out again the next day.

On the morning of the 14th December the strong southerly wind that had blown all night had backed to the south east and was on it’s way to the east. This was the queue to raise anchor and head out to sea as it would then back further to the north east and increase within a few hours. Conditions remained light until early afternoon when the breeze filled in and by sunset it was blowing over 20 knots. I set the foresail on the pole, put three reefs in the mainsail and snugged the boat down for the night. The wind blew hard throughout the next day and the sailing was fast yet uncomfortable in confused seas. At dawn on the 16th the wind had given up so I motor-sailed to maximise progress. We were now firmly in some very strong current, running up to 3 knots at times, and by noon we had travelled 202 nautical miles in 24 hours. A new record by some distance but as the motor had been used for some of the time the 151nm in the Indian Ocean still stands as the best 24hr run sailing. The foreast was looking good for the next few days and Des told me to keep going full speed ahead. No need to stop at East London so it was either Port Elizabeth or continue onto Knysna.

Late on the 16th I made the call to head straight to Knysna where Des agreed with my own estimates that I should arrive at sunset on the 17th, a few hours before a big 35knot southerly change swept up from the south. Kiwi Dream and a few other boats I had left Durban with were now astern of Fathom and were heading to Port Elizabeth. Despite being the smallest boat Fathom had again shown great speed in the downwind conditions. As Fathom surfed down a wave on the way past East London the log briefly showed a speed over the ground of 12.6 knots! The 17th started off well. As I sat in the cockpit drinking my morning coffee I looked out to see a large fin a few boat lengths away. It turned out to be a curious Orca who stayed close to the boat for several minutes, the first I had seen on the whole voyage from the UK. Now past Port Elizabeth and out of the Agulhas current, and with the wind dying, progress slowed and I realised it would be touch and go to make landfall before dark. The entrance to Knysna through the heads has a fearsome reputation due to the two treacherous bars that have to be crossed. The South African navy used to train their skippers here to teach them how bad conditions could get. I knew the swell was low enough to make it manageable but it would still be a challenge and I was a little anxious. The cruising guide I had read suggested only enter on the last of the flood tide and never on the ebb. High tide was 16:30. To make matters worse thick fog closed in and by the time I reached the entrance at 17:00 visibility was so bad I couldn’t clearly make out the leading lights. Thankfully a friend had put me in touch with another yacht already inside and they messaged me to say Navionics charts were accurate and I could follow them. The tide was still slack and I got in without drama. The anchor went down a few minutes before dark and the anchor beer never tasted so good. Later that night a storm blew in and as the wind shrieked in the rigging I lay in my bunk very happy I had made it in time.

 

Knysna turned out to be a fantastic stop. Once through the heads the channel opens out into a lagoon with an excellent anchorage. The town itself is a white bubble, lots of upmarket shops, boutiques and bars but everyone is extremely friendly and welcoming. I waited for a few days for the other boats to arrive from Port Elizabeth and we then all got together for a memorable Christmas period. A few of us attended the local blues festival and Tobias and Leo on Uno Mundo even braved the heads again to head out to sea for a few hours to try and catch the Christmas turkey. I joined them for a nice day sailing up and down the coast with four fishing lines out but unfortunately we didn’t have any luck. On Christmas day the local yacht club was closed but they let us use their outdoor facilities, BBQ’s, power point, tables and sun shades etc. We had a great day and in the end five cruising boats got together. Hard to believe it was my third Christmas away from home, St Lucia in 2016, New Zealand in 2017 (by plane) and now South Africa.

We all wanted to be in Cape Town for New Year so set sail from Knysna on the 28th. The swell was running quite hard and heading out over the bars was quite exhilarating. Some locals had told me to hug the rocks on the starboard side close enough that I can hear the Mussels cracking so I did and it went ok! The first day out was nice sailing but the 2 to 3m swell was relentless. Mid afternoon on the 29th Fathom and Kiwi Dream converged and we took photos and videos of each other as we passed Cape Agulhas, the most southerly point in South Africa. It was an incredible feeling to finally leave the Indian Ocean for the Atlantic Ocean and felt like a real milestone. As we turned north west a couple of hours later the seas suddenly calmed, the wind moderated and we were met by a large pod of playful dolphins. It really did feel like we were in a different ocean. Some friends of mine from home called and it was surreal to have a group chat at that moment. A memorable day.

 

After an easy overnight sail in 10-15 knots of breeze I sat on deck as the sun rose and watched Table Mountain appear in the distance. The approach to Cape Town must be one of the most spectacular in the world. It really is a breathtaking coastline and I couldn’t resist a couple of selfies on the way in. I tied Fathom up at the Royal Cape Town marina just after lunch on the 30th with a big smile on my face. The South Atlantic was next but first I was looking forward to some land time and Fathom needed some tlc.

Posted in: South Africa

South Africa Part 1: Richards Bay & Safari

After spending so long in remote places it was a shock to the system to be finally in South Africa. Shopping malls, proper roads, lots of traffic, fast internet and a huge selection of food, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since Darwin back in July. It was quite overwhelming for the first few days and took me quite some time to adapt. The wharf at Tuzi Gazi became a hub of international cruising yachts, mostly comprised of friends I had met in Madagascar. A really nice and sociable time was had by all as we caught our breath and relaxed after being on edge for the passage through the Mozambique Channel. The best part of being moored at Tuzi Gazi, apart from the fact the pub was 10 metres away, was that it was completely free for up to one months stay.

a cosy evening on Fathom

Des Cason and his wife Nell made a trip to see us cruisers one Saturday. The help Des had given us all with weather and routing info for the last months, offered free of charge, had been invaluable and incredibly reassuring. It was nice to finally meet him and say a personal thank you. A bottle of rum didn’t really feel like a fair trade but he wouldn’t except anything else. Thanks so much Des! Many boats had arrived at Richards Bay with breakages and with serious repairs on the cards but touch wood Fathom seemed ok, just the normal routine maintenance to keep on top of. Everyone helped each other by lending tools, offering advice and sharing sundowners at the end of the day.

South Africa is such a complex and interesting country a few of us thought it important to try and learn a bit more about the local history by going on a Township tour. Quite humbling to see the contrast between the waterfront area we were in and the township. We learnt that in the 1970’s the local population in an area close to the port were uprooted, stripped of their possessions and dumped in the wilderness many miles away to build their new shelters with only a few nails in their pocket. The British had moved them to clear land for an industrial area. We then stopped by the Zululand University and were shocked to hear that even today the local students spend much of their time in fear of being robbed. Armed men regularly turn up at night demanding phones and wallets so the students gather together in the library after dark for safety in numbers. The student accommodation comprises of a mattress on the floor surrounded by crumbling brick walls and a holed tin roof above their heads. Another part of the tour was a visit to some voodoo stlye fortune tellers. After going into a small room and sitting on the floor, two men threw some bones in front of me and by studying their order talked to the ancestors to read my fortune. I don’t normally believe in this sort of stuff and after he told me my life was a failure and I spend my life constantly afraid of being shot, even more so. Alan was next up and came out five minutes later saying he was told he has a gift and his life is a success. A complete waste of 50 rand. Overall, my general impressions of being in South Africa were that progress is clearly being made in some areas but the level of racism that still exists is quite shocking. Never have I been anywhere that it is so blatant and in your face.

 

The highlight of my time in Richards Bay was definitely a couple of days safari at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. Seven of us salty sailors, a 12V fridge, and lots of food, packed into a large car and set off for the parks one weekend. We were lucky to see nearly all the animals we wanted except the cats which are notoriously hard to find. The back of a lions head 200m away doesn’t really count. We stayed the night at a self catering lodge within the park and while cooking a BBQ after dark were lucky to spot a large hyena crouched 6 feet away from us in the shadows ready to pounce. Annie quite surprisingly, and impressively, managed to imitate the sound of a roaring lion and scared it off. A quick relocation was made inside once the meat had cooked and while we ate and looked out through the glass doors the huge hyena retuned to lick the remains of the BBQ. The whole safari worked out amazingly good value, about 170 US dollars each including the hire car, park entry, one nights accommodation and food. A really great experience.

Once back on our boats it was time to start thinking about heading off down the coast towards Cape Town but not before I had six onboard Fathom for drinks and dinner. Kiwi Dream, Uno Mundo and Roke would be heading the same way but for now it was sadly time to say goodbye to Max and Tania and Alalila. We had spent so many good times together since meeting in Madgascar but i’m sure our paths will cross again.

Posted in: South Africa

Madagascar to South Africa

At the end of October, after a wonderful month cruising the NW coast of Madagascar, it was time to head south out of the tropics and run the gauntlet of the Mozambique Channel. The official start of cyclone season was days away and already the weather was changing with overcast skies and higher humidity. After checking out of Madagascar at Hellville, Nosy Be, I day sailed down the coast over the following 10 days in company with friends on SV Kiwi Dream, SV Roke, SV Uno Mundo and SV Alalila. Our final destination was Baly Bay, just north of Cap St Andre, where we would wait for a weather window to head out into the channel. As ever, Des Cason, the ex cruiser and South African based weather guru who had been providing me and many other yachts with free advice for the last months, was monitoring conditions and we waited impatiently for his green light to set off.

Baly Bay provided us with one final opportunity to meet the locals and witness how they live off the land and sea from their small villages. They have absolutely nothing, no healthcare, no running water, no electricity, no sewage system, only the clothes they wear, yet they seem content and happy with their lives, they know nothing else. We took ashore for them any spare clothes we didn’t need, old rope, tools, fishing hooks, anything that might be useful. Another humbling experience.

 

Sailing down the Mozambique channel to South Africa requires careful planning and continues to catch out those in a hurry or under-prepared. It is necessary to utilize the south setting current while at the same time making sure you are not in it if a front sweeps up from the south, which they do every few days. The charts indicate the possibility of 20m waves if a southerly gale hits the strongest current so it’s all about the timing. We finally set off on the 14th of November bound for the archipelago of Bazaruto in Mozambique, a passage of about 700nm. Our tactic was to cross the channel west of Cap St Andre at it’s narrowest point before picking up the strong south going current on the western side and hitching a ride to Bazaruto. After sailing across the Indian Ocean completely on my own, without contact with any other boats heading the same way, it was reassuring and much easier to be heading out into the Moz Channel in company with my new friends.

It took the best part of two days motor sailing in light winds to get through a strong back eddy of current and far enough west to pick up the south set. Max and Tania on SV Alalila, who in the fastest boat and with a few hours head start on the rest of us, emailed early on the 16th to say they had got their ticket for the Bazaruto Express and had boarded the train. In other words they had found the good current which was providing a 3 to 4 knot push. The rest of us boarded the train on the 17th yet the wind remained calm in daylight hours requiring lots of motoring. At night a light breeze filled in just strong enough to sail, a nice relief from the drone of the engine. This pattern continued for the next couple of days and by the afternoon of the 19th I was not far from the channel at Bazaruto. I wanted to enter in daylight and with the current running at 3 knots didn’t want to arrive too early so dropped all sail, set the alarms and went to bed as Fathom drifted through the night in the right direction. On the morning of the 20th a large pod of dolphins, a humpback whale and a jumping ray provided a nice welcome to Mozambique.

 

In the anchorage all the boats were reunited and we hunkered down as a 30kt front swept up from the south. The anchorage was safe but a little uncomfortable as we rocked and rolled about. For many years cruising yachts have stopped off here without officially checking in to Mozambique. There are reports of some being fined and passports being confiscated but on the whole yachts are left alone. It was always at the back of our minds but thankfully no one bothered us. A real highlight of our time here was being invited by the locals to their ‘beach bar’, a small concrete building with a tin roof blaring out ridiculously loud and terrible music and serving warm Mozambique beer. Some of the friendliest and most welcoming people I have ever met and a great experience as we hung out together one afternoon. The little kids showed us their dance moves and Marie from SV Roke even hit the dance floor. After kicking a football around with a few of the little ones I was getting back in the dinghy to return to Fathom when each in turn walked up to me with an outstretched hand offering a small shell they had chosen from the beach. Completely unexpected and a special moment.

Bazaruto is a very striking place, the archipelago consists of six islands which comprise mainly of sand dunes and lakes. It became a national park in 1971 and houses the largest population of Dugongs in East Africa. Despite looking hard we unfortunately never saw one, or a Flamingo for that matter. On the 22nd Fathom and Kiwi Dream left the anchorage and headed south through the winding shallow channel to an anchorage close to the Southern Pass from where we would head out to sea when the weather improved. Alan and I walked for a couple of hours along the beach then up the tallest sand dune from where we had an incredible view over the islands. As the wind howled outta the south and the waves crashed on the beach below we were very glad not to be out at sea.

 

Des sent us all an email on the 23rd confirming it would be time to head off in the morning as the wind would die down and slowly back from SE to NE. Just time to jump over the side and give the hull a quick wipe I decided. Only later was I told the whole area is alive with sharks and swimming is generally considered to be a no go! At 03:15 on the 24th Fathom was the first to leave the anchorage and I led 9 boats out through the rough pass and back into the Mozambique Channel. Although the aim was to get to Richards Bay in one go it was reassuring to know that there were a couple of bolt holes at Inhabane and Inacha on the way south to shelter at if the weather turned unexpectedly. That first day out the wind was light and on the nose so motor sailing the name of the game. I was determined to stay at the front of the pack for as long as possible despite Fathom being by far the smallest boat and it was only an hour after sunset that Fathom was overtaken by a 50 footer. They were clearly frustrated not to have passed me earlier which I found quite amusing.

On the 25th, the second day out from Bazaruto, the current was running hard at 3 to 4kts which helped provide a 24 hour run of exactly 200nm. By late afternoon the wind had increased and was blowing 25-30kts from the NE, the sea quickly become messy and confused. Fathom was thrown about all over the place but after crossing the Indian Ocean in similar conditions I was quite used to it. Running wing on wing with a heavily reefed main provided good balance and the Aries Self Steering never complained and kept us on track. Some of the boats who had spent a couple of years in the tropics with gentle trade wind sailing were finding the conditions a bit of a shock to the system and there were reports of broken halyards and torn sails. The following morning I received a tense call on the VHF from the 50 footer saying they had hit something hard in the night, their boat had rounded up and now the steering was very stiff. They gave me their position and asked if I could close on them and standby. I told them I was 7 miles back and doing 6.5kts over the ground to which they replied saying they were going faster and didn’t want to slow down so that wouldn’t work and actually they were ok! The other boats listening in found it quite amusing that the solo sailor on the 28 footer was being asked to standby the fully crewed 50 footer. It turned out later that most of their rudder had snapped off and only ¼ remained which might have been the reason for their steering issues. They got into port safely.

The weather window was holding but Des informed us that a weak low pressure would pass overhead on the approach to Richards Bay. On the afternoon of the 26th the wind which had been constantly blowing 25kts from the NE suddenly died, clocked round to the south and gently puffed at 4 -5 knots. It was a tedious motor for the rest of the evening and into the wee small hours and a little tense as the low pressure triggered off some violent lightning strikes which thankfully stayed over land and didn’t venture out to sea. I called up Richards Bay Port control at 02.30 and asked for permission to enter and at 03:30 tied up alongside Alalila and in front of Roke on the wharf. They had arrived half an hour before me while everyone else was still at sea. I later received a few comments that Fathom sails very fast for a small boat! Max, Tania, Mike, Marie and I celebrated with a late night beer on the dock before hitting the sack for a well earned sleep. The rest of the boats arrived safely the next day just in time before a 45kt front swept up from the south. It was a fantastic feeling to have arrived safely in South Africa, especially in company with my friends, and a big relief to have ticked off the Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel. The challenge of getting safely to Cape Town remained but for now it was time to relax, enjoy some civilisation and buy some bacon. Thanks to Tania and Annie for the video and a few of the photos.

Posted in: at sea - 2018

Madagascar Part 2

Some more photos from incredible Madagascar. These were taken during the day sails south to Baly Bay after checking out of the country at Nosy Be. Fun times with a great group of boats – Max & Tania on SV Alalila, Mike & Marie on SV Roke, Tobias & Leo on SV Uno Mundo, and Alan and Annie on SV Kiwi Dream. Thanks to Tania and Annie for a lot of the photos.

 

Local Craft

 

With the gang

 

Baly Bay

Posted in: Madagascar

Madagascar Part 1

There is a lot I could write about my visit to Madagascar and I will have the time to do so in future. But in the meantime just some photos which I hope will show what an incredible few weeks i’ve had here. I’ve been lucky to meet some amazing people and a special mention goes to Max, Tania, Clem and Emma from SV Alalila. They invited me to join them on many adventures, we raced Alalila in the local regatta (and won), and we have pretty much spent all our time together. Madagascar would not have been the same without them.

The Nosy Be area is a beautiful cruising ground with flat water and good sailing, a sea teaming with life, healthy coral, and on the whole friendly locals. I have been surprised at just how happy and content the village people are despite being incredibly poor. Highlights have included sailing on a local outrigger pirogue at Russian Bay, swimming alongside a whale shark, chilling in the pristine and beautiful waters of Nosy Irandja and Tsara Banjina and a beach fire and jam session with the locals at Nosy Mitsio. Thank you Madagascar for all the memories!

Nosy Sakatia, Crater Bay and Russian Bay

 

Lima Island, Honey River & Nosy Irandja 

 

Nosy Be Regatta & local Pirogues

 

Whale Shark, Tsara Banjina, Nosy Mitsio

Posted in: Madagascar

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