Saturday, 30 January 2016

Cape Town - Final Touring and move to RCYC

Hi everyone,
Today we motored around from the V&A Marina to Royal Cape Yacht Club.  We are now moored in the club's marina which is tucked in to the industrial port area of Cape Town.  The club house is quite nice.  The jetties are (sadly) of the usual South African style, and are placed very close to each-other with narrow channels between.

New courtesy flag (long overdue)
We found the V&A an excellent base from which to finish reprovisioning for the South Atlantic.  It is also a great base for touring Cape Town, having easy access to busses and other transport.  The marina itself has better jetties and far more manoeuvring room than RCYC.  The V&A was also cheaper for us.

Zen Again at the V&A with Table Mountain in the background
Some yachts have managed to clear out from the V&A or FBYC.  For small boats like ours it seems we have to clear out from RCYC.  We've only been here for a few hours but RCYC seems pretty good.  I can certainly see it being a scary place to enter in a strong wind.

Zen Again at RCYC with Table Mountain in background

Yesterday we had a final day of touring Cape Town.  We visited the Two Oceans Aquarium in the morning and took the cable car up Table Mountain in the afternoon.  The latter was "third time lucky" due to high winds at previous attempts.

The aquarium is well worth a visit, having great displays of sea creatures from both the cool South Atlantic and the warm Indian Oceans.  The aquarium is particularly well setup for kids but has lots of interesting info for adults too.

Moray Eel at Two Oceans Aquarium
Clown (fish) convention at the aquarium
Pelican amid the kelp
The cable car is quite impressive, taking around 40 people at a time up to the top of the mountain which just over 1000m above sea level.  The mountain top is quite flat as its name suggests and there are nice walks around the top.

Some of the plants on the top of the mountain were still in flower which made it very colourful.  Visibility was good, allowing us to clearly see the "back" of both Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope.  We saw several dassies, lizards and a few spectacular birds.

Table Mountain Cable Car

View of Table Bay on the way up
Upper Cable station at left with Lion's Head in background 
Nice flowers on the top of the mountain 
Cloud over Simon's Town from Table Mountain
West coast of the peninsula
We expect to clear out on Monday morning.  We may depart for St Helena on Monday afternoon or failing that on Tuesday.  At present the weather looks good.  In the mean time we'll enjoy RCYC while preparing Zen Again for sea.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Simon's Town to Cape Town

Hi everyone,
Yesterday we did the 60nm passage from Simon's Town to Cape Town.  We departed at 0545 and winds were light from Simon's Town down toward the cape so we had to motor.  Around the capes we had a nice NW wind which allowed us to sail around Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope.  From there we we had a wind which flowed directly down the coast and we had to motor to ensure we arrived in daylight.

Here are our track and speed profile.  Note we kept sailing for a little while after rounding the capes before deciding sailing to Cape Town was going to be a slow process.  We ended up motoring at 2400rpm to get there in daylight.  We normally motor at 2000rpm so this was a good workout for the engine.

Zen Again track
Zen Again speed
The sail around the two capes was spectacular.  Cape Point is much higher than the Cape of Good Hope.  There are a couple of offshore reefs which we sailed inshore of.  Bellows Reef was breaking heavily, even in a low swell.  Anvil Rock wasn't breaking and could easily catch you out.

PredictWind offers a high-resolution GRIB of the cape area.  The lees and acceleration zones produced by the high hills on the peninsula are very significant to sailors and are only represented in this type of GRIB.  Here's an example...

High-Reolution GRIB file showing "lees" created by the hilly cape
We sailed in company with UK yacht Sara II and Netherlands yacht Geramar.  We were the only one of the three who sailed around the cape.  Motoring around allowed them to overtake us though!

Rounding Cape Point (Cape of Good Hope at left)
Rounding Cape of Good Hope (at left) with sv Sara II inshore
The passage up the peninsula to Cape Town was tedious.  Motoring into a light breeze is frustrating.  We motored through several light fog banks which reduced visibility to around 0.5nm.  The water went from 20C to 13C as we rounded the capes which no-doubt contributed to fog formation.

For most of the passage it was overcast.  The sun only came out for an hour or so as we rounded the capes.  The wind was somewhat chilly.

We arrived in Table Bay at about 1600 and found a number of yachts out sailing for the afternoon.  Most of them appeared to be tourist boats.  Entry into the port was straight-forward.  We called the Swing Bridge on VHF71 and joined the set of boats entering the V&A Marina at 1645.  There are two bridges to pass through and they are controlled together.

We were assisted in berthing by the crew of US yacht Andiamo who we haven't seen since Reunion.  They sailed from Richards Bay direct to Cape Town, arriving only a few days ago.

Entering Cape Town port
Zen Again in V&A Marina, Cape Town
We really enjoyed our month at Simon's Town.  The people at FBYC are very friendly and put on some great welcome parties for the cruisers.  Wandering ashore to one of Simon' Town's many cafes, restaurants and pubs was totally safe.  It seems the only thing one needs to be very careful about is people "helping" you at ATMs, although we never encountered such con-artists.

It rained overnight as the tip of a cold front came through.  That helped clean the Simon's Town dirt off the upper part of the rig.

It's great to be moored in the middle of Cape Town and at our "jumping off" point for our South Atlantic crossing.  We expect to stay here for several days to do our final shopping and preparations.  We expect to move briefly to RCYC's marina, but only to clear out for St Helena.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Simon's Town - Exploring Cape Town

Hi everyone,
While Zen Again is in Simon's Town enduring high winds we've been exploring Cape Town.  Last week we stayed over for one night and this week we are staying for two.  Cape Town has plenty to see and do!

Last week we visited the Castle of Good Hope.  This spectacular fort dates back to the 17th century and houses a very interesting military museum inside.

Castle of Good Hope
We also visited the South African Museum which seems focussed on natural history but also has an excellent display of rock art.  The animal displays are very interesting too.

Spectacular rock art
We took a ride on the CitySightseeing red route bus which took us across town, up to the cable car lower station and then west to Camps Bay.  We hopped off in Camps Bay and had a great lunch while enjoying the view across the beach.

Camps Bay beach
Yesterday we spent much of the day at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.  These extensive gardens reminded us of Kings Park in Perth.  But while Kings Park has plants from all over the world Kirstenbosch has purely South African plants.  That's because southern Africa has an amazing diversity of plants, being considered one of only six floral kingdoms globally.

Kirstenbosch is overlooked by spectacular hills
Fanfare Heath (type of Erica fynbos)
Erica fynbos
Boomslang ("tree snake") boardwalk
One of many sculptures in the gardens
Today we visited the National Gallery.  It has a large display of art from during and after apartheid in addition to the usual old paintings.

A  Grim Reaper constructed of computer bits - Cyber Reaper?
Powerful anti-apartheid imagery
Extraordinarily colourful art
Interesting sculptures too
In between all this culture we've been enjoying some of the many cafes and pubs around Cape Town. There are quite a few craft (micro-brewery) beers available.  Most are pretty good!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Simon's Town - Autopilot Modifications

Hi everyone,
As mentioned in several posts previously (in particular here), we've had problems with our autopilot rams.  We have two complete Raymarine SPX5 systems with two Type 3 tiller rams. Two rams have lasted only 5000nm or so each.

The Raymarine man here in Simon's Town is very good and seems well connected with senior Raymarine staff in the US.  He looked at the system configuration - both software and hardware - and made several recommendations.  We have now completed implementing them all.

First we changed several configuration parameters, all of which are Dealer Calibration settings.  Our original calibration runs (separately for the two systems) resulted in Rudder Gain and Counter Rudder settings being set very high.

Rudder Gain reduced
Counter Rudder reduced
Rudder Damping unchanged
Secondly we had two s/s brackets manufactured.  These allow us to mount the ram on either port or starboard sides.  Keeping the ram on the windward side is recommended since it reduces arm extension which (we're told) should reduce wear-accelerating vibrations.  The mounts move the entire ram inboard which eliminates the 150mm arm extension we previously used.  This should further reduce vibration.

Thirdly we had a second pin fitted to the tiller, matching second mounting points on the two brackets.  These allow us to fit the rams 150mm further aft.  This gives us some redundancy (in case one of the pins detaches for example) and may perform better in some conditions.

Modified tiller with new brackets port & starboard
While here we've also discovered a company which manufactures "drop in replacement" rams.  Pelagic Autopilot appears to have a good reputation and I'm told their rams are longer-lasting.  We may well give them a try if the above changes don't stop our Raymarine rams wearing out prematurely.  Thanks to Jim of Canadian sv Haulback for the tip!

Other boat work done recently includes:
  • replacing two lost/damaged fenders
  • purchased iNavX Navionics charts for Caribbean and Europe
  • generated GoogleEarth imagery for Windward and Leeward Caribbean islands

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Our South African Weather

Hi everyone,
This post is carefully titled, representing as it does a sample size of 1.  Your wind speeds may vary!  This post summarises the weather we've experienced in harbour since we've already described weather on passage.  The weather has certainly been challenging but let's be clear - we've loved our time in South Africa.

Our expectation was for challenging weather.  We expected to have to wait for suitable weather windows.  We certainly did have to wait, and are currently waiting for a window for the short passage to Cape Town from Simon's Town.

The first photo below says it all.  Half of our courtesy flag has been blown away...

Our rapidly shrinking courtesy flag

We arrived in South Africa in Richards Bay.  We arrived just before a "southerly buster" which blew 50 knots gusting 70 (measured by the port office).  This buster caused substantial damage to Tuzi Gazi marina.  Subsequent busters caused further damage, mitigated somewhat perhaps by many boats in the marina setting anchors and/or lines to neighbouring jetties.

Tuzi Gazi during a buster
Tuzi Gazi after a buster
Richards Bay is primarily a coal export port so there was plenty of coal dust about.  However we found Zen Again was reasonably well washed by the rain accompanying each buster.

We stayed in Richards Bay for about a month.  We spent our first week there doing boat work then two weeks touring Kwazulu Natal.  We then waited about 10 days for a weather window.

From Richards Bay we sailed to Port Elizabeth.  We stayed at PE for two weeks, again waiting about 10 days for a weather window.  We took advantage of our extended stay to tour the Eastern Cape.  The winds were not particularly strong at PE but weren't good for sailing west along the south coast.

Incoming manganese ore dust from the shiploader upwind
The main issue at PE was the manganese ore dust.  If a ship is loading during a SE wind the boats in the marina are covered in a thick blanket of this horrible greasy mess.  We spent an hour up the mast cleaning the mast and rig before departure.  Once we reached Simon's Town we spent several hours cleaning the sails.  We found rust remover to be best for removing the mess from the deck.

Here in Simon's Town the wind outside False Bay may be 20-25 knots but in FBYC the winds are 30 gusting 50 knots.  If it's 30 outside it's 40 gusting 60 in the pen.  False Bay itself accelerates SE winds in particular, and the hills above Simon's Town accelerate them (and any winds with a S component) again.  It has been blowing hard for two weeks with only one brief one day pause.  This is forecast to continue with only a short window (maybe) on Sunday or Monday.  Apparently it has been known to blow for 6 weeks without pause.

Unfortunately Zen Again is stern-to the strong winds, albeit only 50 metres from the land which ascends up the nearby hill.  The gusts seem to land almost vertically on the water, occasionally whipping spray out of the water and across the boats.  The gusts are so strong we not only stowed the dodger but also closed off the louvres in the companionway boards.  We have to "chock" the boards to stop them banging violently when gusts hit.  The wind whips grit and ash from bush fires off the hills across the boats.  Our rig and sails are once more black on their windward sides, but at least it's not greasy manganese ore.  Tis a wild place!

We have been in Simon's Town for nearly 4 weeks now.  We may move on in a few days, but it's all about the weather!  We've used our time here for boat work, reprovisioning and touring the Western Cape.  It is worth planning coastal touring based on weather here - when it's blowing head inland!

Five closely-monitored springs
Jetty with the nearby hills in the background
So when planning to cruise South Africa allow plenty of time.  Adapt your entry port and stopovers to suit the weather.  Book your tours port by port to suit the weather.  Expect to have to clean your boat regularly.  A headsail cover is a very good idea.

South Africa deserves its reputation for challenging weather.  Close attention to forecasts, research into wind acceleration areas around the Cape, patience, Patience and more PATIENCE ;) seem to be rewarded with good sailing conditions.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Simon's Town - A Day Drive On The West Coast

Hi everyone,
On Thursday we returned to the lower cable station on Table Mountain.  To say it was windy doesn't quite capture it - we had to get down on hands and knees to avoid being blown away at one stage.  40 knots gusting well over 60.  Needless to say the cable car was closed so once again Plan B was implemented - a day drive up the West Coast this time.

From Cape Town we drove north on the R27.  We had a late breakfast at a cafe in Table View, one of the outer suburbs of Cape Town.  Sand was blowing from the beaches across the town.  Many shops have alcoves to ease entry and exit - they're used to big winds on this coast.

Further north we visited the !Khwa ttu "San Spirit Shared" centre which had an interesting exhibition of San culture and of current endeavours to save their many languages.  For example characters such as "!" are used to convey one of several types of click used in San languages.  The San are working towards achieving "First Nation" recognition here which seems entirely appropriate.

Exhibition at the !Khwa ttu San Centre
As we continued north towards Saldanha Bay we entered a area of wheat and hay farming.  The crops had been harvested and only stubble remained in the fields.  Some of the fields were losing their topsoil rather rapidly in the wind.

Goodbye Topsoil
At Saldanha Bay we briefly visited the small craft port.  There were quite a few yachts on moorings and various fishing vessels.   Apparently this is the only port in South Africa able to lift out large cruising catamarans.

From Saldanha Bay we drove to the fishing village of Paternoster.  This village is very clean and tidy.  All the buildings have white walls and some have coloured roofs - very striking.

From Paternoster we drove the short distance to Cape Columbine Nature Reserve.  The cape area is spectacular with the landscape featuring huge granite boulders and sand drifts.  The reefs offshore are isolated groups of large boulders.  Quite like some parts of the south coast of WA.

Art deco Cape Columbine lighthouse
Dramatic coastline near Cape Columbine
From Cape Columbine we drove back to Cape Town via the towns of Darling and Atlantis.  It was a fun drive with the highlights being the !Khwa ttu centre and Cape Columbine. 

Yesterday afternoon we returned the hire car so are now back to walking and public transport.  The car hire company dropped us off at the V&A Waterfront where we joined the crew of Vulcan Spirit to see the latest Star Wars movie in a "4D" cinema.  That's 3D for the visuals and moving seats, air blowers and scent generators for the 4th D!  It was a fun experience followed by a very nice meal in the Waterfront complex.

Today we're back aboard and still have a few jobs to do before sailing around to the V&A Waterfront Marina.  Jobs we did get done during the week include:

  • Food restocking to last to the Caribbean (everything except fresh fruit and veg)
  • Filled both gas cylinders
  • Fitted autopilot electrical wiring and outlets on port side (allowing use both sides)
  • Replaced anchor chain with new (one half of old chain rusty, other half over-galvanised)

And jobs still to do include:

  • Fit new s/s autopilot mounts (still being manufactured)
  • Engine inspection by mechanic to ensure freshwater system is OK

Trust all's well where you are!