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.

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