Monday, 30 November 2015

Port Elizabeth Inbound Day 2

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 33 29S 27 44E, on a course of 240M at a speed of 4 knots. We are sailing under single-furled yankee only. Our SOG (speed over ground) is 7-9 knots. We have about 4 knots of current with us. Our day's run was 128nm through the water and about 180nm over the ground. We have 110nm to run to PE.

We are sailing under yankee alone to slow down. We plan to arrive in PE at dawn tomorrow. The wind is currently ENE at 10-15 knots and it is a lovely sunny day. This morning we saw several albatross and what we think was a great white shark. Whatever it was it was big.

Yesterday afternoon was hard work with the wind exceeding 30 knots from the ENE. We were broad reaching and gybed to an fro to stay in the current. The seas weren't as high as usual due to the current but for some reason the motion was very uncomfortable. We are running a HF sked each evening and several boats commented on how uncomfortable it was. We weren't sea-sick but weren't enjoying ourselves. Regardless of comfort we made good progress.

During the afternoon we were treated to a show by a large pod of dolphins. There were at least 50 in the pod and they were all leaping from the seas and having a great time. They didn't join us but the show was spectacular as they passed by. We also saw several lone albatross which circled us a couiple of times before going on their way. We were also dodging ships and yachts. Several bigger yachts gradually overtook us. Many were going to East London but some to PE like us.

Overnight the wind gradually eased. By dawn the wind was very light and we were off East London. After downloading and inspecting the morning GRIBs we decided to push on to PE. We motored for 3 hours in a very light land-breeze and then the ENE wind started filling in again. We stowed the main and unrolled the jib. Soon we'll be heading into shallower water where the current should decrease. This will reduce our SOG and change our ETA from midnight tonight to dawn tomorrow.

We have called Algoa Bay Yacht Club in PE and they advise their marina is filling up but the fisheries wharf is available. Good to know there's room for us in the harbour somewhere!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

RIchards Bay Outbound Day 1

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 31 26S 30 07E, on a course of 210M at a speed of 6-7 knots. We are sailing under double-reefed main and triple-furled yankee. Our SOG (speed over ground) is 10-12 knots! We have 4-5 knots of current with us.

By the log we did 111nm noon-to-noon. Over the ground we did about 180nm, and that's including several hours of very slow going yesterday afternoon. It will be interesting to see how we do today.

Last night an ENE wind finally arrived around sunset. It gradually built until at 2100 we could turn the motor off. The wind continued to build overnight and swung around to the NNE. We currently have 25-30 knots of wind. The seas seem quite short, presumably due to the very strong current. I wouldn't want to be here in a southerly!

Overnight it was cloudy with occasional light rain showers. The cloud started breaking up this morning and we are now under scattered cloud with periods of sun. The scene is quite spectacular with the sun and the wind-waves. Thankfully there's no discernable swell.

We are begin overtaken by a steady stream of larger yachts also heading south. We can see a couple on AIS right now. At this rate we should all make it to Port Elizabeth on this NNE wind.

Richards Bay Departure

Hi everyone,
We departed Richards Bay at 0930 this morning. We are currently in position 29 33S 31 58E doing 4.5 knots on a course of 240M. Winds are light so we are motoring. Happily we have 3-4 knots of current with us. Our speed over the ground (SOG) is around 8 knots!

Another southerly buster came through on Thursday night and the main walkway was submerged yet again. On Thursday afternoon as the winds were building one of the finger jetties broke one of its connections to the main jetty. That led to a quick move of a local yacht and rearrangement of the lines of two visiting yachts. The maintenance of the marina is very poor and it is gradually falling apart.

Despite the marina problems we really enjoyed our stay in Richards Bay. It is a great base for exploring Kwazula Natal province. However it was time to leave and the weather window we're taking advantage of may even get us to Port Elizabeth. A NE wind is forecast to build over the next day or so and last until Tuesday at least.

We headed south from Richards Bay initially. We had expected to find current at the 200m contour but didn't find it until depth reached about 400m. It was easy to recognise the current - the sea state deteriorated substantially. We're both feeling quezy but it's worth it for the great progress we're making.

At the moment there is a light E wind which isn't enough to drive us along under sail alone. Hopefully it will build during the evening. That would steady down the motion which would be very nice!

Trust all's well where you are.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Richards Bay - St Lucia

Hi everyone,
Today we drove north to the town of St Lucia.  The town is next to South Africa's first World Heritage listed site called iSimangaliso (Zulu for "place of miracle and wonder").

We explored the town in the late morning, having lunch at the Thyme Square cafe which had excellent food despite a rather twee ambience.  We attempted a walk on one of the nature trails but retreated after a hippo roared nearby in the bush - so much for their being nocturnal!  From there we drove to the beach, where at least you'd have a chance to see them coming.  We walked along the boardwalk where we saw hippos in the distance, plus a couple of crocs and a shark.  Absolutely, positively not a place for a swim!

Two crocodiles and one zambezi shark (look carefully!)
We had dessert at the Angling Club from where we had an even better view of the same hippos, crocs and shark.  Then it was time to head for the sunset jetty to join our 4pm boat tour on the lake.

The park includes large areas of lakes which are home to a huge variety of wildlife, including over 1000 crocodiles, 800 hippos, many sharks and a host of various bird species.  The lakes used to be open to the sea but the bar has not been breached for 15 years and the water level is gradually falling.

Yellow-Billed Stork
Great White Egret
Yellow Weavers and nests
Goliath Heron
Giant Kingfisher
Apparently hippos don't float, so in the photos below they're standing on the bottom.  It's said hippos can do 8 knots along the bottom underwater and 40kph ashore.  Surprisingly fast and agile, hippos kill over 3000 people each year.

Hippo and two crocs
Dozing Hippos
Hippos are nocturnal so our evening tour was a good time to see them.  Initially they were dozing in the shallows, only occasionally raising their heads to breathe.  Later they started to become more alert and wake with impressive yawns.

Wake-up time for a hippo
Big yawn - stay well clear!
Hippos go ashore - often alone - to feed at night.  They can travel up to 30km inshore.  Roadside and beachside signs make it clear one should be careful at night around here!

You are being watched
Sunset on the lake
Our hire car goes back tomorrow morning so we expect to stay in Richards Bay for the next few days.  If no weather window for sailing south appears next week we may get another car and explore some more.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Richards Bay - Drakensbergs

Hi everyone,
We spent Sunday and Monday at Didima Resort in the northern part of the Central Drakensbergs.   Previously we had been staying in Dundee so we drove through Ladysmith and Winterton on our way there.

Farming Country SW of Ladysmith
On Sunday morning we drove up to Monk's Cowl in the Central Drakensbergs.  The scenery is idyllic.  Obviously fertile farming country surrounded by tall mountains.  Very green in the valleys, although all the locals say they need lots more rain.

From the foot of the Monk's Cowl road we drove north to the Cathedral Peak road.  This road is quite different.  Just as spectacular but instead of fertile green valleys there is less fertile ground and many Zulu villages along the road.

Zulu village in the Drakensbergs

At the park boundary the villages and farming stop.  It is a short drive from the boundary to the resort.  A few more kilometres up the road is the posh Cathedral Peak Hotel which has been there for 150 years.
Entering the park
Didima Resort
We arrived at the resort in the late afternoon.  I had to "play" with the camera to get a usable shot of the peaks to the west.  Cathedral Peak is over 3000m high.  Beyond it is the "mountain kingdom" of Lesotho.

Late afternoon sun over the mountains
(Bell and Cathedral Peaks at right)
On Monday morning we visited the Rock Art Centre which has a lot of interesting information about the San (aka Bushman) people and their rock art.  We chose Didima in the hope of seeing such ancient rock art, having seen Aboriginal rock art in the NT in Australia previously.

Statue of eland outside the Rock Art Museum
Later on Monday morning, after the rain had decreased to drizzle, we did a 6km walk to Rainbow Gorge.  It was great walking through the hills with the surrounding peaks hidden in cloud.  We saw two springbok along the way, one of which was very well hidden in the bushes.  After first climbing a hill in grassy scrub with scattered Protea trees we descended into a gorge and a temperate rainforest.  Good exercise, very interesting and lots of fun.

Damp but awesome hike on Monday morning
Protea Tree
Rocky creek bed in the gorge
After returning to the resort we asked where we can see rock art.  We learned that we certainly can but a guide is required.  We arranged a guide and duly met Zama, a local Zulu.  Zama led us to Doreen Falls and onward (and upward) to a cave where a set of San rock art is in good condition on the walls.  Apparently anyone found at rock art sites in the park faces a fine of R10,000 if not accompanied by a guide.  Many sites have been damaged recently.

Afternoon walk to view rock art was in sunshine
The rock art was in a fairly large, open cave - very like some of the caves used by Aboriginal rock artists.  Some of the art has been damaged but much remains in good order.  The art is believed to be 3000 to 4000 years old.  The San originally lived in this area before the Ice Age.  They returned about 4000 years ago.  More recently they were displaced by Africans and Europeans, moving to Lesotho, Namibia and Botswana in search of safety.

San rock art depicting eland
San rock art depicting battle with lion/shaman
This morning we woke to a sunny sky.  Didima Resort is a fantastic spot with access to hiking ranging from easy (for the likes of us) to difficult.  One can hike to the top of Cathedral Peak and back in a day if very fit!

Sunny morning over the mountains
We're now back aboard Zen Again in Richards Bay.  We're looking out for a weather window to sail south.  Unfortunately the next week isn't looking promising at this stage.

Richards Bay - Battlefields

Hi everyone,
Last Friday we collected a hire car and drove west to the town of Dundee.  We were in company with six other cruisers from Minnie B, Sea Bunny and Vulcan Spirit.  We stayed at a very nice B&B "Chez Nous" on Friday and Saturday nights.

On Saturday we went on a tour of three battlefields in the area with guide Paul.  We visited the sites of the battle of Blood River, the battle at Isandhlwana and the action at Rorke's Drift.  I won't go through the history here since I'll probably get some detail wrong.  Paul, on the other hand, knows his history very well and is a great story teller.

The battle of Blood River was fought between Voortrekkers and Zulus in 1838.

Original Blood River memorial with museum in background
New Blood River memorial featuring 64 bronze wagons
Isandhlwana was fought in January 1879 and was a heavy defeat for the British army.  The battlefield is strewn with cairns marking where the British dead were found and buried.  The cairns are scattered across the battlefield and extend towards the river where those who escaped fled.

One of the memorials with cairns in the background
Isandhlwana hill with cairns
The action at Rorke's Drift followed soon after Isandhlwana.  The small British garrison held off several thousand Zulus, earning 11 Victoria Crosses.  It was amazing to see just how small an area was successfully defended.  The contrast between the leadership displayed at Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift is abundantly clear when one visits the sites and hears descriptions of the actions.  It's one thing to read books and watch movies, and something altogether different to walk the ground.

View of the rebuilt mission building at Rorke's Drift
Paul recounting the story at Rorke's Drift
Memorial at Rorke's Drift
At Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift there were recently constructed memorials to the Zulus.  These memorials use as their theme the necklace awarded to Zulu warriors.  Sometimes a thorn bush is planted nearby.  Relatives of Zulu dead unable to return their bodies home would use twigs of local thorn bush to return their spirit home.

Zulu memorial at Isandhlwana
Somewhat fittingly, the day was miserably cold, windy and overcast.  None of us were dressed for it, so some of Paul's talks were done in his Land Rover.  It was a thoroughly interesting and very memorable day.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Richards Bay - Safari

Hi everyone,
For the last three days we have been "on safari" in the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Game Reserves.  We had a fantastic time.

On Sunday we drove from Richards Bay to the Nyalazi Gate between the two Game Reserves.  We spent much of the day driving around the iMfolozi reserve and saw much more game than we expected.  Best was seeing an elephant and several giraffe up close, and seeing a pair of cheetahs at a distance.

They're not joking
Entrance signage in full
The region is suffering from a severe drought.  The rains which normally start in September or October haven't happened yet this year.  All the rivers are dry with only a few pools of water remaining.  Some of the animals dig in the dry river beds to find water which is about 0.5m down.  Apparently the rhinos are starting to fight each-other for territory near water.

View over the all-but dry Black Umfolozi River
On Sunday afternoon we checked-in at Hilltop Camp.  The camp itself is also suffering from a severe water shortage.  Instead of unlimited showers each couple received a 5 litre container of water per day for washing.  It was only a minor inconvenience to us "grotty yachties".  The meals at the camp were excellent and the rondavel we stayed in was neat and tidy.

Our Hilltop rondavel and car
On Monday morning we went on a guided morning walk.  The guide carried a rifle as we walked through the bush.  We encountered buffalo, nyala and zebra.  On a smaller scale we found a trapdoor spider and the guide showed us an array of animal tracks.

Trapdoor spider at home
For most of our stay we drove ourself around the Hluhluwe reserve, covering most of the roads over the three days.  Some of the hilly dirt roads were a challenge in our little hire car but she rose to the challenge gamely!  

We saw an array of antelope including impala, nyala, bush buck, water buck, duiker and wildebeest.

Adolescent male impala mock-fighting
Blue Wildebeest
Male Nyala
Female Nyala
 The park has plenty of water buffalo.  Some of the herds we saw had well over 50 animals.

Water Buffalo
Water Buffalo
We saw a number of zebra.  Most seemed to be in family groups of 3 or 4.

Plains zebra
 We saw several groups of giraffe.  Most seemed to be in groups of three.  Beautiful animals.
 In the camp we saw vervet monkeys.  In the bush we saw several large troops of baboons.

Vervet monkey
We saw both warthogs and bush pigs too.

The reserves are famous for their rhinoceros.  Every white rhinoceros on Earth is descended from the 20 last animals which survived in this reserve in the 1960s.  There are over 500 in the reserve now and hundreds more distributed all around the world by Operation Rhino.

White rhinoceros
White rhinoceros
Two week old baby rhinoceros
We saw several solitary elephants and herd of over a dozen.

Lone elephant
Lone bull elephant
Herd of female and young elephants
Sadly we didn't see lion or leopard, but we did see two cheetahs.  They were about 200m away but we could see them clearly in the binoculars.  The telephoto lens wasn't really up to the job but we did get pictures.  We were very lucky since there are apparently about 30 cheetahs in the two reserves while there are over 100 lions.
Spot the cheetah
The birds in the reserve were amazing - very, very colourful.  They are tough to photograph but we did manage to get a good shot of one.

Cape Glossy Starling
On Tuesday afternoon we did a sunset drive with a guide.  He found a lot of rhino and the herd of elephant before dark.  After dark we drove through the bush shining lights to spot animals.  We found an owl, a bush baby, a genet and several chameleon in addition to various antelope.

African Sunset
These three days have certainly been one of the highlights of our year.  There's something special about having sailed here to see it all too.