Another day… another bay. A story about 3 guys sailing from Knysna to Madagascar on a Knysna 500SE.
Part 1 –
Sunday 1st March -‐ Knysna
Final days before we leave for Madagascar.Lots of stuff happening on CMD as we prepare for departure. Final fitments of floorboards, repairs, checking stores and clearing the boat for export. Peter lying on the floor completing some rewiring, and Iangluing and screwing. Paul has done most of the chasing in the last couple of weeks to get the boat ready. She now has brand new stainless steel shoes, side-‐ view transducer, anti-‐fouling and a general servicing of motors, pumps and other systems. She really is a beaut, ready for action.
Nice being in Knysna marina – it’s a very comfortable set-‐up and the proximity to the waterfront is handy. Getting to like Knysna quite a bit after so many visits watching the boat getting built. The team at Knysna Yacht Co have also been great and are there to assist us whenever we have needed anything, so a big thanks to them.
Cath has returned to Cape Town and Sandy leaves tomorrow. Steve had a romantic last meal with Sandy.
Going to be sad to do the crossing to Madagascar without the girls, but looking forward to getting going.
Monday 2nd March -‐ Knysna
Woke to the news, courtesy of the security guards, that some local layabouts had smashed our car window to get to the cubbyhole. Necessitated waiting for police statements, trying to find replacement window– which eventually had to come from George, doing insurance and generally running around trying to get it sorted.
Also had to fit in final provisioning for the crossing, but we are also planning for some essential items which we might not easily get in the small villages in Madagascar, like milk, butter, cheese, cereals for when the girls join us and maybe even for June. Hope these supplies last!
Awning delivered at last, but not quite right so we sent it back for final adjustments. This will be awesome in the tropics. Sandy finally gets going at lunchtime.
Paul and I have a last meal at 34 South and resolve to leave tomorrow if we can get things finished. We have been watching the weather systems closely over the Mocambique channel and there are some nasty looking cyclones brewing there and also moving south of Madagascar. We hearthe disturbing news that the delivery catamaran missing near Indonesia has still not been located – apparently caught in a tropical storm. We also have to try to time our passage with the weather systems that move up the east coast of South Africa, aiming for a southerly wind to move us up the coast swiftly while avoiding the Agulhas current.
Tuesday 3rd March -‐ Knysna
Last minute visit to chandlery for a few more spares: Ian and Peter are finished with repairs and changes to electrical systems, an awning is on board and water and fuel topped up. We are as ready as we will ever be and think the boat is really set up well for a comfortable passage and a couple of months cruising the Indian Ocean.
At 12 noon we depart – cheers and good wishes from people on the dock and the yacht club as we motor past. Possibly the last time the Catch My Drift will be in Knysna – the place where she was built.
Now-‐familiar routines kick in as we head out of Knysna Lagoon– stowing fenders and mooring lines, clearing the deck, double-‐checking hatches. Great omen as we are able to clear the Heads in light wind and swell and a calm sea and we head out into the Indian Ocean in high spirits. Several years of dreaming and planning have all led to this moment. Awesome.
With two guys on the boat, we have to find some outlet for competitiveness, so the outlines for a Fishing Competition are drawn up. I see a glint in Paul’s eye as he suggests categories for first fish, biggest fish, most fish caught etc and am sure he is up to something (the incident of the shopping bag in False Bay triggers uneasy memories). Nevertheless, the lines of battle are drawn– with the prize being that the winner gets the first option on the hammock.
We motor sail past the beautiful Outeniqua mountains and into the dusk. We are going to do buddy watches as we settle into the rhythms of watches, rest periods, sleep and boat tasks.
Wednesday 4th March
We clear Cape St Francis just after midnight. A bright moon keeps us company through the night. Port Elizabeth, Bird Island, East London pass in succession through the day. An easterly wind switches to the south-‐west so we can experiment with sails. We try various combinations of spinnaker, screecher and Paul’s concoction of goosewing Genoa and screecher which sees us moving along at 6 knots with a following wind. The buddy watches are working quite well and we are getting reasonable amounts of sleep.
We have fitted new fishing rod supports for trolling. Paul’s fishing rod mysteriously disappears [Paul] probably during Steve’s watch, competitive bugger, say no more….)
Thursday 5th March
A glorious day sailing that ends in a somewhat complicated way. Early morning sees us with the spinnaker up and flying along. It’s a beautiful bright sunny morning; dolphins pay us a brief visit.We pass Morgan Bay around midday and make passage north-‐east up the Wild Coast, staying inshore to avoid current as best we can. We have the best of sailing all day – alternating sleeping with sitting at the helm enjoying the view and the breeze and watching the coast slide slowly by on the port side.
In the late afternoon though, the wind picks up quite quickly to gusting 25 knots plus and we decide to get the bag down in the gusting wind. Things begin to unravel as we are slightly short-‐handed and the wind is getting stronger. Spinnaker sheets get tangled with the flailing spinnaker sock downhaul and Paul is unable to get the sock more than halfway down the big sail which is dragging the boat forward.
Attempts to drop the now overpowered bag down see the spinnaker guy drop into the water in front of the boat, and then under it. Despite both of us rushing back to disengage motors(one on each side of the boat), the end of the guy wraps around the port prop. It is only a few prop rotations before we have the motors in neutral but as we subsequently discover, enough to win the rope around the prop and melt it into the shaft. Unable to motor for fear of tangling the other motor, and with the hopelessly tangled ropes, which we can’t extricate from the water, we confer on the foredeck and decide that we have no option but to cut the downhaul and spinnaker sheet to allow us to get the bag down fully. It is flying way out in front of the boat and with no motors we have to try to drop it into the water without rolling over it, and then get it into the boat. This happens by slow degrees, as the current slowly pushes us backwards down the coast, but we finally get it down, up and into the boat and lashed onto the deck. By now, all the various spinnaker ropes are twisted and tangled, and now wrapped around both props and rudders -‐ are we going from bad to worse? We have to clear at least one motor.
Despite the 25 knot wind from astern, the current slowly pushing us backwards onto the shore which is now just under a mile away, Paul heroically braves sharks and choppy seas, dives with a knife and mask and manages to cut loose the sheets around the starboard rudder and prop. So we at least have one engine. But the rope is too deeply embedded around the port prop and Paul is getting pretty tired. So we call it a day, tidy up as best we can and motor off with a single engine– we have at least no trailing ropes to contend with. We have drifted nearly a nautical mile backwards in 40 minutes.
Lessons learned: the margin for error radically reduced in strong weather/short-‐handed and when things start to go pear-‐shaped, matters can escalate very quickly – one thing leading to the next! But we had some safety margin, conditions could have got a lot worse, and although there could have been a very different outcome, this was a good test for us for how we work together.
Hey! and we saved the spinnaker, got underway, and now have a large collection of different lengths of spinnaker rope, ranging from 30cm to several metres. This will no doubt come in use……..
How long is a piece of string anyway….
We motor sail through the night with light rain spotting down at midnight.
Discover that the chart plotter, although waterproof, suffers from schizophrenia when rain trickles down it– it randomly changes starts panning as it senses something on the touch-‐sensitive screen. Hopefully, it does not choose to disengage the autopilot on its own or do its own man-‐overboard!
Friday 6th March
Early morning sees a calmer sea so Paul wakes up to another swim to try to remove the remaining rope from the port prop. Free-‐diving with knife and mask proves too difficult– the rope is too tightly embedded, so we haul out a diving rig and Paul has submerged again, with Steve passing tools and receiving bits of the boat in return.
Closer inspection reveals that there is no way of cutting the remaining rope free, so the prop must come off. This is challenging in the surging sea, and we really don’t need to lose any small parts! ButPaul gets this done, we see the prop has only minor damage, but we replace it with a spare prop anyway. Amazingly, no important bits and pieces, bolts, washers, or tools end up on the seabed, and Paul does not get eaten by sharks! Nobody even used the ‘F’ word (as far as we can recall)!
We were later advised by Gibby that the sail drive is not an effective way of playing the spinnaker, and the winches should be used instead.
No damage to boat, and all’s well that ends well.Finally Catch My Drift is back in full working order.
The rest of the day sees calmer seas as we motor sail up past the South Coast of KZN. What a contrast to the green hills, wild beaches and steep crags of the Wild Coast. The South Coast is built up for 6o miles– with some areas wall-‐to-‐wall high-‐rise buildings lining the beaches.
Despite Paul’s misgivings about the challenges of clearing in and out of Durban, we decide to spend a day or so in Durban, and look for a favourable window to get to Richards Bay and then out into the Mocambique channel.
We approach the port at night, motoring up past the Bluff towards the busiest port in the Southern Hemisphere. Sure enough, even though it is late at night, we still see dozens of ships stacked offshore and AIS gives us a fascinating glimpse into the comings and goings of the late night work of the Portas we watch the little triangles moving around on the chart plotter. We see and hear (on the VHF)the pilots being delivered by helicopter to ships at sea, and watch tugs moving to their stations. Announcing our arrival to Durban port control at the 12 nm limit seesus getting into the lineup to enter port, which is done in batches. Port Control stacks us behind three other large vessels – maybe we look bigger than we are butat least we don’t need a pilot!
What a beautiful calm evening, with beautiful lights– almost magical as we idle gently on the swell off the breakwater, waiting for our slot, and then slowly followthe bigger ships into the harbor. We are asked to avoid a big freighter which is being rotated into its berth near the harbor entrance – everything seems to happen in slow motion– and the reflected lights from the cranes and port lights hardly seem to ripple as the huge boat swings on its axis and up against the wall.
We motor deep into the harbor, setting out mooring lines and fenders ready for tying on, and finally track down the berth that Point Yacht Club has allocated to us. We tie on at midnight. The marina is alive with small groups of locals fishing off the jetties – there are schools of fish everywhere.
We have covered 514 nm from Knysna in exactly 3 ½ days – things have bedded down well – so we retire to the trampoline for a midnight beer and enjoy the warm, humid night air of Durban. Tonight we can sleep through!
Saturday 7th March
After an early breakfast at the yacht club, we proceed to the task of clearing into Durban, with the help of the good folk at the marina office. This is extraordinarily complicated, as the procedures we must follow are the same as for larger vessels too.
Paul cunningly claims he cannot read the forms (the communal spectacles are on the boat) and the delegates all paperwork to Steve! We must clear customs, so we need manifests for the boat and its ‘cargo’, even though our last port was Knysna (?). We need to file a ‘flight plan’ of where we have come from and where we are going – and this is a 5-page document with boat identification, crew lists, passage plans – even a little picture of the boat profile. Without this, we will not be permitted to leave the harbour.
Customs officers come to the boat to check if we are smuggling people or contraband into the port. We offer them a coke, and get conflicting advice about what we must do regarding paperwork – this is the biggest problem: nobody knows what the exact procedure is! We must potentially deal with customs, police, port control and immigration, each has its own agenda. In addition, the circumstances of arrival and departure are different for every boat: so in our case, staying in port for two nights on a boat built in South Africa, but registered in Gibraltar, sailed by South Africans from a South African port to another South African port, not containing cargo for import or export and with no passengers, is too complicated. So everyone fills in all the forms. By hand. This is tedious (but as we will find) but will be helpful when entering another country. Port officials like paperwork.
Our little printer and laptop setup proves very handy as we are able to scan, print, and copy documents (“what a lovely little machine…”) and Steve resolves to create some master copies of flight plans, crew lists, manifests etc in the hope that this will smooth things as we enter and leave ports.
Having dealt with the authorities, acquired replacement sheets for the spinnaker from the Bosuns locker at the marina, we wander off down to the beachfront for a swim. Sunset sees us having drinks at Royal Natal Yacht Club and watching the last race of a regatta in the harbor as the sun sets.
We find Durban a slightly uneasy place to be – people seem somewhat stressed and although we have met friendly people in the marina and the hotel where we had ‘tea ‘n scones’ there is a slightly brittle under-‐ current to the place. Maybe its because we walked through a less salubrious part of town, andbecause we were advised to guard our stuff on the beach. Maybe because we are starting to chill.Maybe the aftermath of the paperwork. Glad we came, but looking forward to getting to somewhere more relaxed.
Sunday 8th March
Wow! What a morning. Do not try to obtain port clearance in Durban on a Sunday! We know we need to have a flight plan filed with Port Control but on checking with them they advise us they have not received the copy we faxed from the marina yesterday. So we have to deliver a new copy in person to their control room in the port.
We also make the mistake of going to the customs block to complete paperwork. They have no record of the paperwork we completed yesterday – the officers apparently have not filed it. We are pushed from pillar to post – most offices are manned by a skeleton staff and the security people we deal with are not able to help. One fellow was completely stoned (at 8 am in the morning) and was rolling around in his chair, barely able to speak. We get some papers and some stamps, but no idea if they are the right ones. We eventually end up at the Port Authority and recognize, from his voice, that we are dealing with the same chap who was on duty when we entered on Friday night– very friendly, helpful and competent.
Clutching our precious and hard-‐won paperwork, we take a taxi back to the marina! Durban done and dusted!
We are watching the weather in Mocambique channel quite closely, and think there is a good window opening for us soon.
We left Durban at 20h30 for Richards Bay. Steve weaves his way through the anchored shipping while Paulgets some sleep. As the lights of Durban slowly sink below the horizon behind us, thunder & lighting seem to follow us, threatening a storm that never materializes. We are hugging the 20 m contour which takes us close inshore but we still seem to hit current. Need to check whether the log is reading correctly.
Monday 9th March
We arrive in Richards Bay at 10h30. Another bright sunny day – although we have not had the greatest luck with wind and current, we have had beautiful sunrises and sunsets and mostly calm seas. Another one as we motor into Richards Bay past the large salvage platform off the mouth of the harbour.
Tied up at Tuzi Gazi waterfront. Paul meets Norman– who remembers them from Nosy Be days. He arrived at Tuzi Gazi last year, and has remained ever since! We have a drink at the Dros while we decide about moorings. TheMarina has space, but the daily rate is quite expensive and we may be here for a few days. We also encounter regular and intrusive visits from people wandering down to have a look at the boat where we are tied up and it is a bit noisy at night, we hear.
Here’s how the questions go:
“Nice boat. Where are you from/going to?”. This is okay. Then “How much did it cost? How many engines does it have? How big are they? How many people can it take? What’s the water temperature… So it’s a bit like being at the boat show.Always good to chat with fellow yachties, but the constant interruptions from general public become a bit tiring.
So we decide to move around to moorings at Zululand yacht club. Bonus: they have an amazing swimming pool, and the rates are good. The downside (?) -‐ they have an amazing and very dangerous chandlery. We find that credit cards and a well-‐equipped chandlery are a heady and explosive mix. Friendly staff too…
Tuesday 10th March
Today is a rest day. A couple of chores get done on the boat. We are tied up next to another Dean catamaran so Paul gets nostalgic for Ruby. There are a couple of young guys sleeping on the boat, and we arrange a tour. Paul finds the boat quite ‘tiny’ with very low headroom, but maybe he was shorter in the Ruby days. The boat is fitted with dark wood, and lots of carved headboards, all done by the owner.
The wind starts coming up in the afternoon, and although it’s a bit gusty, Paul gets cabin fever and decides to give kiteboarding a try. The worst that can happen is that“I end up on the opposite bank, and have to do a bit of a walk on the road, over the bridge and back into the marina” – (about 2 km actually). He launches in a narrow channel (several times actually) quite close to the NSRI station. And promptly ends up on the far bank.
Steve meantime is having a chilled time alternating between dips in the pool and lying under the palm trees on the lawn (despite the many warning signs saying “Beware of falling coconuts”). Paul gets a few short rides but then ends up across the estuary on the lee shore – a nice sandy beach where he tries manfully to resurrect his kite. Steve waits for a sign that rescue is needed, but none is forthcoming. After about an hour, Steve concludes that since no-‐one in their right mind would want to do this continuously, Paul’s brain must be cooked by the sun. So he makes his way back to the boat to get the paddleboard to effect a tow.
Mysteriously, when he paddles out about 8 minutes later, Paul has disappeared!Nevertheless Steve paddles to Paul’s last reported position as he cannot believe that a) Paul could have got up and sailing and that b) if he miraculously did, that he would have sailed right out to sea– he would have had to travel about 1 km down the estuary first!
Steve trudges along the beach searching for Paul, but the only sign is some patches of scuffed up sand where Paul has been practising his beach launches for the last hour. “Hmm,” thinks Steve. “Maybe he has bundled up his kite and walked up to the road”. But no sign of Paul on the road either. “Surely he could not have got a ride so quickly?! Ah well. Time to paddle back through the wind to the boat, see if he is there, and then track back along the road to see if he needs a hand.“
Our friend from the next boat kindly gives Steve a lift in his bakkie and the mystery of the missing Paul is resolved when Paul is seen trudging sadly along the road. He has been hanging from an acacia tree all along! His kite is in shreds and he is full of little thorns.
Paul’s story is that he finally got some great rides (while Steve was not watching!) but a sudden just saw him flying through the air, up the beach and into a tree. The worst kind of tree. He claims he saw Steve arrive on the paddleboard, and called out to him whilst trying to remove the prickliest thorns from his feet but this has to be in doubt, as it is embarrassing for any kiteboarder to be seen hanging from a tree.
What must have gone through Paul’s mind as he saw Steve turn around and return to the boat will never be known: because at that stage he was contemplating a challenging disentanglement and a long walk home.
Paul: What he had some time to contemplate on this journey is how he was going to explain the destruction of another fantastically expensive kite to Cath, and his poor kiting skills to Terrance and Thomas…
After summoning up some courage, Paul phoned Terrance and persuaded him to part with his perfectly good kite (as it was time for Terrance to upgrade anyway?) and to send it upwith Lance. Since this seemed to work with Terrance, Paul tried the same story with Cath, with some slight modifications about Terrance’s need to upgrade his kite and his need to sell the old one to Paul for a good price. This story seemed to go well so we celebrated with a beer. Back in business. History does not relate what was saidwhen the actual price was disclosed to Cath some days later….
Ah well. If this is the thorniest problem we have to deal with over the next 6 weeks, we will be doing wellfor ourselves….
As we spend a quiet evening in the marina, with a beer each and Steve tweezing thorns out of Paul’s feet (Cath where are you when we need you!) we contemplate the last few days of adventures, reflect on how good life can be, and how much we are missing our families. And it’s only been a few days.
At the same time are really lookingforward to the next stage, where Gibby and Lance join us, and we head for Madagascar across the open ocean.
Waiting in anticipation for chapter 2: The Crossing.
Dah da daahhh!
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Author and Co-Owner – Steve Erlank