Day 54, Year 6 Windbird Back in the Atlantic!!!

Day 54, Year 6 Windbird Back in the Atlantic!!!
Date: Friday, December 17, 2010
Weather: Sunny and Cool, AM No Wind, PM Winds SE 15-20
Latitude: 34 55.320 S
Longitude: 019 41.870 E
Miles Traveled: 138.5
Miles to Go: 80
Location: Passage from Mossel Bay to Simon’s Town, Day 2

What a beautiful, glorious day. The sun is shining, after hours of motoring the winds are now allowing us to sail gently along, and the temperature is a little warmer today, up from 54 degrees F this time yesterday to a balmy 64 degrees F. Love that sunshine. And in addition to the beautiful weather, it was a BIG day for us. We have re-entered the Atlantic Ocean after traveling 26,000 miles in the Pacific and Indian Oceans in 1,274 days. When Windbird pulled quietly out of her slip just before dawn on Tuesday morning, October 18, 2005, we knew we had quite an adventure before us-the Caribbean, the Panama Canal, the Galapagos, the exotic islands of the South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, southern India, the Maldives, Chagos, Madagascar, South Africa. We have seen and experienced so much, but as sailors one of the milestones was the day we motored out of the Mira Flores Lock in the Panama Canal and entered the Pacific Ocean. That day was Thursday, February 16, 2006 at exactly 2:00 pm. At that moment our circumnavigation became real to us. There was no turning back. This afternoon at 2:00 pm (interesting coincidence) we passed another milestone. Windbird sailed around Cape Agulhas, wing ‘n wing, with fair winds and following seas, back into the Atlantic Ocean. Now the fact that we are headed home has become a reality. We still have more than 8,000 nautical miles to go, but we ARE in the Atlantic Ocean. Windbird (and the cooperating weather) has just given us our Christmas present for this year by getting us around Cape Agulhas safely. Tomorrow, if all things continue to go as planned, we will pull into the False Bay Yacht Club in Simon’s Town and celebrate our arrival. Then the serious planning for the trip across the Atlantic and back to Quisset Harbor on Cape Cod will begin. But for now we are just going to enjoy the rest of this beautiful day in the Atlantic Ocean.

Day 53, Year 6 Off to Simon’s Town

Day 53, Year 6 Off to Simon’s Town
Date: Thursday, December 16, 2010
Weather: Overcast and Drizzly, Winds SE 15-20
Latitude: 34 21.228 S
Longitude: 022 00.436 E
Miles Traveled: 16
Miles to Go: 200
Location: Passage from Mossel Bay to Simon’s Town, Day 1

We are on our way to Simon’s Town. The winds and seas settled down a bit this morning and with the go ahead from the weather nets, everyone decided to leave earlier rather than later. At first we thought we would leave around 6 pm which would get us into Simon’s Town early on Saturday morning if we averaged 5.5 knots. But then we looked at the winds which are not projected to be all that high and decided that we might average only 5 knots and could afford to leave earlier. Good thing for us as we just discovered a tear in our mainsail. The tear is below the double reef line, so we are going to have to remain double reefed all the way. Repairs while at sea would be almost impossible. With light winds behind us, not being able to have the main up all the way will mean motoring for Windbird. This is the first rip in a sail we have had since leaving Boston. I guess it was our turn but the timing could have been a little better. The tear probably happened on way down from Richards Bay, but since we came in to Mossel Bay with a double reef in and left it that way, we didn’t see the problem. Today we left with the double reef in but then raised the main all the way when we saw the winds were not all that strong. As soon as we did that, we started getting gusts from 30 to 40 knots for a period and decided we should reef again. That’s when Mark saw the rip. The strong winds must have been a passing squall as now the winds have settled back down to the teens.

We got a cell phone call once we were underway from our friends Piet Hein and Tory of Double Dutch who live in Cape Town. They were hoping we would be coming in on Sunday so they could come out in Double Dutch and welcome us, but they have a family commitment on Saturday and won’t be able to do that. They live in Cape Town which is about 30 miles from Simon’s Town, so we will see them while we are in the area. I’ve mentioned before that they are the very first world cruising couple we met in the Caribbean, so it will be extra special to see them here in their home country. We are also looking forward to seeing Bruce, Nadine, and Tristen that we met in Madagascar. Tristen told me while we were in Madagascar that she wants to take me to see the penguins, and I can’t wait to do that. We also got a call from Marianne and Gerald Brown today. We met them in Madagascar as well while they were vacationing and visiting their nephew, John Sheppard. John is the owner of Sakatia Towers. Marianne and Gerald really wanted us to come out to their farm in central South Africa for Christmas, but we just couldn’t find a place that we felt comfortable leaving Windbird while traveling inland. But it was so special to get their call and to be so welcomed by friends in South Africa.

There are six boats headed to Simon’s Town so it feels a bit like a regatta. We just did our first check-in with everyone and found that all but one other boat is also motor sailing, so we are not feeling so bad about our main sail problem. Everyone’s main goal is just to get around Cape Agulhas safely and quickly, so if we have to motor all the way, so be it. There will certainly be some celebrating once we arrive!

Day 52, Year 6 Waiting for Weather

Day 52, Year 6 Waiting for Weather
Date: Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Weather: Overcast and WINDY
Location: Mossel Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

As expected, the winds and the seas picked up today. The wind is blowing a steady 20 to 25 with higher gusts and the anchorage is bouncier than it was the day we arrived. All of the boats here are hoping to leave tomorrow, but that might not be prudent. The trip from here to Simons Town in False Bay takes us around Cape Agulhas, the southern most point in Africa. When we first made our plans for sailing around the world, it was rounding this Cape that seemed the most dangerous of any part of the circumnavigation. The only way to avoid it is to go through the Red Sea and, in that case, pirates are more dangerous. So we will sit and wait. The weather really should settle down late tomorrow afternoon and the seas will calm soon after that. So it is possible that we will leave late tomorrow night or wait until Friday morning. It is a long standing sailor’s agreement to never start a passage on a Friday, but the weather on Saturday for rounding the Cape and for Sunday morning for our arrival in False Bay look really good, so we might have to break the pact this time and go for it. The whole trip should take around 40 hours. Can a person hold their breath that long?

Day 51, Year 6 A Walk to the Point

Day 51, Year 6 A Walk to the Point
Date: Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Weather: Sunny with Building Winds
Location: Mossel Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Every day is an adventure. It was another sunny day and we took off with Pieter and Carla of Odulphus and Duncan and Irene of Moose at 10 am and headed for the Point. The Point is actually Cape St. Blaize which is located at the western-most part of town. This end of town is definitely tourist country with a huge tent and trailer camping park and lots of restaurants and hotels. It is a rocky point with huge waves rolling in and lots of very talented surfers in the water. On around the Point you come to the Cape St. Blaize Cave. It was named in 1497 by Vasco da Gama when he arrived here on the day of Saint Blaize. Recent excavations by the Institute of Human Origins at the University of Arizona find evidence of human occupation here going back 160,000 years. We stopped at the base of the rocky outcrop where the cave is located and watched and played with the rock dassies. These were the animals that we had come to see. They are quite tame because tourists have fed them and if you hold your hand out they will come right to you. They are fat-bodied like a beaver, have chipmunk cheeks, and no tail. They are cute, but somehow not endearing. But we photographed them and then climbed up to the cave and then on up the trail leading above the cave. Above the cave we were face to face with the St. Blaize Lighthouse which is the last remaining lighthouse in South Africa that is manned 24 hours a day. After climbing down, we had lunch in one of the restaurants and then headed back to the harbor to Windbird.

Mark and I went back out to Windbird where I did a little more online Christmas shopping and Mark did some serious resting. We checked into the Peri Peri weather net at 5 pm to get their take on a possible time for leaving here. It is looking like our best bet is to leave here on Thursday when it is still very windy, but by the time we reach Cape Agulhas the next day, the winds should have subsided somewhat and by the time we get to False Bay on Saturday there should be light and variable winds. We will keep a close watch on all weather sources tomorrow and check in with the other boats, but if things still look the same, we will all be leaving here mid-day on Thursday and hoping for a mid-day Saturday arrival at the False Bay Yacht Club in Simons Town. After the weather net we went back to shore to the yacht club to have dinner with the folks from Moose and Adriatica. The forecast calls for extremely high winds here tomorrow, so when we returned to Windbird we raised the dinghy motor and put the dinghy on the foredeck to be ready for a mid-day take-off on Thursday. Tomorrow we will stay on the boat. I’ll continue to work on photo editing and Mark will watch the weather. We are both still recovering from colds we got while still in Richards Bay, so a day of rest before taking off on this next passage is probably a good idea. Now we just have to sit and watch and hope this weather window doesn’t close on us.

101214 Day 51 South Africa–Walk to the Point (Cape St. Blaize)

Day 50, Year 6 Exploring Mossel Bay

Day 50, Year 6 Exploring Mossel Bay
Date: Monday, December 13, 2010
Weather: Sunny with Moderate Winds
Location: Mossel Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

The day started with great news. We do have a berth reserved in Simons Town. Our emails did get through and we got a return email from the marina assigning slip number 218 to us. So we are very HAPPY about that. It looks like we are going to have a window late this week, but we might have to motor most of the way as the winds look like they are going to completely die after this week’s strong blow. But better to have no wind than too much wind for rounding Cape Agulhas. It is only 250 miles and hopefully we’ll have some current going in our direction and can make it in two days even without the wind.

We had a great day exploring this little town of Mossel Bay. Unlike Richards Bay which is just an industrial port with no downtown (just the sprawling mall and surrounding businesses), Mossel Bay is an attractive town despite the industrial sprawl that came in the 1980’s when the world’s largest oil-gas refinery was built here. But still there are lots of stone structures built in the late 1800, early 1900’s that gives the seaside town a quaint feeling. We spent most of our day at the town’s museum and especially enjoyed the modern day replica of the caravel that Bartholomeu Dias’s sailed here from Portugal in the late 1400’s. This replica sailed here from Portugal in 1988 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Dias’s trip. Dias and Vasco da Gama were the first Europeans to set foot on land here and the maritime museum tells their stories in a three-story building that spirals around the caravel replica. We boarded the boat and explored the deck and below decks area and got a chuckle out of the modern heads and galley and the modernization of the wooden blocks on deck. They look traditional until you inspect closely and see the insertion of plastic turn blocks inside the wood. In addition to the maritime museum there is a shell museum where the history of the use of mollusks by man is exhibited along with tanks displaying the life underwater here in South Africa. In the center of the grounds is a 500 year-old Milkwood tree that has become known as the Post Office Tree. In 1500 a sailor named Pedro de Ataide left a letter in a container under this tree outlining troubles he had encountered in Calcutta. In 1501 this letter was found by another sailor, João da Nova, who was en route to India. He was so grateful for the information that he erected a small stone chapel in honor of de Ataide’s efforts to relay this important message. So we sat under the Post Office Tree that continued to be used as a gathering point for letters from sailors to be picked up by passing ships. There is a modern post box there today in the shape of a shoe. It is presumed that the original message container was a sailor’s boot and we hear that many South Africans today have boot-shaped mailboxes. We went for a nice walk on the museum property to see the natural field gardens, a group houses that have been rebuilt to model the oldest homes in Mossel Bay built in 1830, a fresh water fountain that provided fresh water to passing ships and still runs today, and a Malay grave site where an important Moslem who died at sea in the 1800’s is buried. The grave site faces Mecca and overlooks the entire bay area.

At lunch time, we walked down the main street toward what is known as the point. We were hungry so didn’t make it all the way to the lighthouse and cave out on the point, but that will be tomorrow’s trip. We are hoping to see rock dassies climbing on the rocks near the cave. These little fur balls look like hugely overgrown chipmunks or maybe more like small beavers, but their nearest relatives are elephants and dugongs. Go figure that one out!

We ended the day at the yacht club where Lisa and Paul, a German couple sailing with two little boys, a two and a four year-old, had organized a braai. We stopped in town at the Pick ‘n Pay and bought everything we needed for dinner so we didn’t have to make a dinghy trip out to Windbird. When we go to shore we have to drag our very heavy dinghy and motor up a concrete ramp. Without dinghy wheels (which we put on consignment in Durban) it is a task you don’t want to do more than once a day. The braai gave us a chance to get know the people on the other sailboats here. Two of the boats are captained by women. Marisa is from Buenos Aires and is headed home after a four-year circumnavigation. Her current crew is a man named George, but he will be leaving her in Cape Town and she will find someone else for the Atlantic crossing. Karen is from Canada and has returned to her boat, Adriatica, with her niece and good friend named CJ who will crew with her as she attempts to get her boat back to the Caribbean after the death of her husband earlier this year. Karen has two South African crew members (Bill and Karen) to help her get to Cape Town as CJ as never sailed before. We already know Pieter and Carla of Odulphus (Netherlands) and had met Duncan and Irene of Moose (Duncan is Canadian and Irene is Dutch). So we have quite an international group with six nations represented on the six boats at anchor here.

101213a Day 50 South Africa–Mossel Bay Museum Tour
101213b Day 50 South Africa–Braai at Mossel Bay Yacht Club

Day 49, Year 6 Anchored in Mossel Bay

Day 49, Year 6 Anchored in Mossel Bay
Date: Sunday, December 12, 2010
Weather: Windy and Gusty
Winds: SE and SSE 20-30 knots with gusts to 45
Latitude: 34 10.542 S
Longitude: 022.08.455 E
Location: Mossel Bay, Western Cape, South Africa

Passage Statistics:
681 miles in 4 days 2 hours, 10 minutes (98 hours + 10 minutes)
Sailing Hours-46 hours + 35 minutes
Motor Sailing Hours-51 hours + 35 minutes
Average Speed-7 knots

Another one down. We arrived in Mossel Bay at 6:30 am and had the anchor down by 6:45 am. And were we ever glad to get here. The last twelve hours were very windy and gusty with the seas at three meters (12 feet) and a bit confused. We were sailing dead downwind again with only a double reefed main but with the wind and a half-knot to a knot of current with us, we couldn’t slow it down enough to be really comfortable. When we checked into the Peri Peri weather net at 7 am, we were told that no one should leave Mossel Bay until at least the 16th as the Cape Agulhas to Cape Point (Cape of Good Hope) area is having a very windy period. Last night there were 60 knot winds around the Cape and one boat that tried to get around had to be towed in by Sea Rescue. The inner harbor here is full so there are five sailboats plus Windbird bouncing around in the 20+ knots of wind behind the breakwater. One of the boats announced on the radio that they were leaving at noon as they thought they could make it to Cape Town before it gets even windier on Tuesday, but no one has left, so maybe they had second thoughts. Our next stop is beyond Cape Agulhas and just before Cape Point so even if this is not the most comfortable anchorage in the world, we will stay put until we can get a good two day window to make the next 250 miles.

You can tell that it is summer here, not by the temperature, but by the number of people in the water off the beach that is just behind us. After four dreary days, we have enjoyed the sunshine today even if we are still a bit cool at 70 degrees F. Late this afternoon we will go to shore to the yacht club and meet up with Carla and Pieter of Odulphus and maybe some of the people off the other boats here. Duncan and Irene of Moose are here. We met them at the Zululand Yacht Club before we went to Kruger so we look forward to getting to know them better. And we’ll have a few days here to do just that.

101213b Day 50 South Africa–Braai at Mossel Bay Yacht Club