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

Archive for the “South Africa” Category

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 on 13 Feb 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 on 11 Feb 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 on 11 Feb in: South Africa

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