Writing this now on what will hopefully be my last day at sea on Alyosha for awhile. We are absolutely cruising down the South African coastline, with the Agulhas Current pushing us along at 10+ knots despite us having no sails up and only a single engine (with low RPMs!!!) running. Probably we are getting a 4 knot boost right now.
It is fantastic to get some help from this current because to this point it has been a real nemesis- dictating exactly when and how we could actually proceed down the South African coast. This is because when the winds blow north against this southbound current the waves quickly build to 50-60 feet- there are even notes on the charts to this effect- and the sea becomes instantly life threatening. So we have proceeded south with a great deal of attention to the weather, with multiple stops along the way.
Before our first stop in Richards Bay, however, we first had to finish crossing from Madagascar over the Mozambique Channel, and that was quite a ride as well. After our first aborted attempt at crossing we left even earlier than the weather forecasters suggested, the idea being that there was absolutely no way we were going to allow this next weather window to close on us before reaching Richards Bay. Most cruisers make a pit stop in Mozambique to wait for the next window, my sense was an early start would allow us to skip this. In the end, it did work out for us, and we arrived in Richards Bay exactly 5 days after we left Baly Bay, Madagascar.
The passage was notable for three things: rough seas, a crew member going down, and an unbelievable greeting from South Africa. Our early departure ensured us about 36 hours of rough, almost “on the nose” winds, seas and swell. Not the best time to be on Alyosha. The boat and crew handled things well, except that during the worst of the conditions Blake developed flu-like symptoms and became very, very sick. This lasted for several days and made everything a bit tougher (one can imagine how lame it would be to have the flu while underway in rough conditions- just miserable!).
There were two spectacular memories from the passage. The first was a fleeting glimpse of Mozambique during sunset after the sea conditions had improved, a phenomenal sunset on the African continent that I had been looking forward to for weeks. The second was our arrival to South Africa and the 4-5 hours we spent along the SA coast before pulling into Richards Bay. We were greeted by hundreds (and frankly probably thousands) of humpback whales frollicking along the coast. At first, we simply thought the coastline was reflecting some significant sea swell as we were seeing magnificent crashes of water along the coast. Soon, we realized that we were actually seeing huge whales breaching! And then, within an hour, there were whales everywhere, as far as we could see. They flashed their tails, they breached, and at one point we had to make a hard turn to starboard to avoid a collision! It was an amazing show of nature, all with the backdrop of a beautiful South African coast and the realization that our real “sea time” was coming to an end. Awesome.
We pulled into Richards Bay first, to avoid another cold front coming up from the south. It was a nice place, and the customs dock where we stayed was free of charge and right in the middle of a number of bars and restaurants. We were able to watch Croatia beat England in a World Cup qualifying match, and fuel up the boat for our coastal run. Interestingly and not at all conveniently, we had to both check into the port AND completely check out of the port (with customs, immigration, the whole bit) which took a bit of time. We ended up leaving Richards Bay in the evening and motoring overnight to Durban to position ourselves for this final run.
One more quick side note on RB- what a cool thrill it was to see monkeys all around the docks! A monkey actually climbed aboard the boat at one point, trying to see if there was any possibility of a snack! Pretty cool stuff. (I equate these monkeys to the kangaroos and wallabies all over Australia- I just never got tired of watching them!)
After an easy overnight passage to Durban, we settled in for the weekend with the knowledge that weather would prevent us from departing until Monday morning. We came in on a Friday, and spent the first couple of hours clearing in AND out, of Durban. (this involved a comical sequence where I literally had to walk and back between two buildings/admin offices in order to get the correct sequencing of stamps!) Once we were finished, we had the entire weekend to explore Durban, a phenomenal South African city.
Highlights of Durban included walking along the beachfront promenade, exploring uShaka Marine World (a huge aquarium built within and surrounding a land locked container ship) and enjoying some craft breweries and proper Yacht Clubs. (I am now a member of the Royal Natal Yacht club, the oldest club in the Southern Hemisphere!) We also watched a rugby game between Argentina Jaguares and the Durban Sharks. On our last day before leaving, we rented a car and headed back up to Richards Bay and to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Yep, a legit safari! For me, the drive up the coast through multiple towns and townships was every bit as interesting as the giraffes, rhinos, and zebras we saw driving through the reserve.
I hope to do a final post upon arrival in St. Francis Bay, where Alyosha was first built and brought out into the sea. I am excited to see Duncan, Jaco and the St. Francis team that built her and hope to commemorate, in some small way, the fact that Alyosha, by tomorrow morning, will have sailed around the world!