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
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Day 51, Year 6 A Walk to the Point
Day 49, Year 6 Anchored in Mossel Bay