Cape Town!

I need to write with some pace here as I am balancing a final email to my family, orientation for my new crew, and an unknown “connectivity” window as we sail away from Cape Town! So forgive any errors and I will try to do justice to the past four days….

(and a big welcome aboard to our final crew member, Rhett, who took things down to the wire with a 10:30pm arrival onboard last night- nice to finally meet him!)

Cape Town has been on my bucket list forever, it is well know as a sailor’s town and put alongside Lisbon, Portsmouth, Sydney etc.. as the great sailing cities of the world. And it did not disappoint! Everything about the place is magical. “Bash” (nickname of fellow Port St. Francis to Cape Town crew member Henning) and I pulled into Cape Town around 3pm on Friday afternoon. We had a fantastic trip “around the Cape” and were greeted by some pretty blustery winds (first time I have seen 42 knots on the instruments) and plenty of seals and dolphins. After tying up the boat, we were joined by former Darwin to Durban sailor Sebastian (who goes by “Bas”- so yeah, there was that Bash and Bas thing) and we promptly enjoyed the amazing Victoria and Alfred Waterfront area.

From the moment I stepped foot in Cape Town, I was enveloped by the amazing electricity in the air- that Cape Town “vibe”- and really enjoyed all aspects of the city…

Some highlights:

An incredible “Table Mountain” hike on Saturday afternoon with Bas where we ended up befriending (and assisting) a church group up the fairly difficult “India Venser” route- the hike was spectacular, the payoff views were epic, and I can’t thank my friend Bas enough…

Each night we went to a better restaurant, and the food was great. Could write plenty more here (and probably will expound given how much down time I have coming)

Each night, as the crew grew- Anton joining us Saturday- Bas and his friends took us out and showed us the city they had fallen in love with;

Monday was a real “return to business” after the sights and sounds of the weekend. With less than 24 hours to provision the boat and make final repairs, I spent the entire day scrambling around and somehow managed a huge provisioning run to the Pick n Pay.

Here’s the thing- we aren’t stopping at St. Helena- so from here we go straight to Barbados! 5,268nm left  right now and counting down. Alyosha is stuffed with food, water and now fuel, and we likely (knock, knock) won’t see land for a month. This will be my longest stretch, but if and when I touch ground in Barbados I will have wrapped up this personal goal.

So more coming later, I will try to use my tweets to recount some more of the greatness of Cape Town.

Back at it!

Sitting here now in Port Saint Francis after spending three full days here- and this harbor remains a personal favorite. I guess the first thing to address is that fact that Lisa (my wife) is not here- how incredibly disappointing. For those that have not heard the story: Lisa and I planned to fly down to South Africa and sail around the Cape of Good Hope from Port St. Francis to Cape Town. Everything was set, coverage for the kids, the dog, etc… Lisa would spend a glorious 9 days escaping the dreadful Mid-Atlantic winter and experiencing SA. But is was not to be. I was unable to board the plane last Thursday (not enough blank space in my passport- yes, it is a thing, and yes, they will not allow you onboard!) so we spent two days in NYC trying to make the best of things before I caught the next flight, with a new passport, 48 hours later. Wow.

Even with all that drama I have not really had a moment to reflect much since arriving here. Too much work to do on Alyosha. It took the Saint Francis work team every bit of Monday and Tuesday to finish off some calibration for my tank sensors. Plus, there was a fine layer of “factory dust” that coated almost every interior surface. So I have been quite, quite busy.

Alyosha absolutely looks fantastic, and I am very excited to enjoy the many different new “features” of the boat, like a much bigger refrigerator, new sails, etc… In between much cleaning and sorting of things, a few “provision” runs, and generally ensuring we are ready to go to sea, I have been obsessively tracking the weather. The Cape of Good Hope was given this name after a Portugese king decided the first name- The Cape of Storms- was not inspiring enough to sailors! (true story) And believe me, the weather watching that began in earnest three days ago has not stopped. Right now I am leaving in about an hour and have found a “weather window” that will allow Henning (Bash) and I a nice night of heading directly into the waves/wind followed by a 18 hour period of nice sailing, followed by 30+ knots of winds screaming around the Cape- good times ahead!

Still, regardless of what is coming, the weather in this small port town has been terrific and there are plenty of seals in the harbor to keep company. My newest crew mate arrived this morning and has been learning the ins and out of the boat. And I am very thankful to the great team at St. Francis Marine for all of the hard work that went into Alyosha.

My sense is that I will post a single quick blog while in Cape Town but then it is going to be a couple of weeks across the Atlantic before you hear from me. (there is always twitter and the GPS tracking to be found on the website if you are really interested…)

Done, for now…

I am sitting in the Port Elizabeth airport now waiting for a flight to Johannesberg, then on to NYC!

Alyosha completed her circumnavigation yesterday, after a very uneventful two days of motoring down the coast from Durban. We had plenty enough wind to sail, but with both the job and main now held together with duct tape I decided not to risk further damaging the sails.

Alyosha is safely tucked away in St. Francis Bay, a cool little harbor right next to world famous Jeffreys Bay. (Jeffreys Bay is apparently a great surfing spot, and they are a regular fixture in the World Surfing League competition.

For this final leg, it was only myself, Sebastian and Stu. (Blake went on to Capetown from Durban.) Given that we are in the middle of winter down here, the nights have become very, very long and cold out at sea. Throw in 3 hour watches instead of our usual two, and the anticipation of catching a plane and seeing my family again, and you have a pretty good recipe for 48 hours of sailing feeling like about 96 hours!

The people at St. Francis Marine (builders of Alyosha) were fantastic and all came down to see their boat again. I got a chance to tour the St. Francis factory, where they are building boat #23 and #24 right now, and it was pretty impressive. I also spent a little time watching the seals that are everywhere in this small harbor.

I have no idea when I will next be blogging, because I will be returning to work in the US and I am not scheduled to be back on Alyosha until December or January.

I am sure over the coming months that we will be putting out some videos of our year-long family sabbatical and this latest 7,000nm trip from Darwin so hopefully our readers/followers will find that entertaining.

 

At Last, South Africa

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!

Catching Up on the Blog…

It has been almost a month since I last posted… wow!

So much has happened, I struggle a bit with how to convey this experience. I am going to take things in a different direction with this blog, starting with the big picture and a sense of where things are now, and then writing two more specific entries that get into the details of our Indian Ocean crossing and nearly two weeks spent in Madagascar….

So right now I am waiting for the crew to return from the city of Mahajangar, the second largest port on the western side of Mozambique. We are here because we tried- unsuccessfully- to cross the Mozambique Channel a few days ago and were promptly scared off by an “armegeddon” type forecast for when we would reach Mozambique or South Africa.

It would be difficult for me to do justice in words to how depressing it was to turn Alyosha back after 50 nm at sea towards our goal (and frankly, a plane to return to my family…). So I won’t even try. I will just leave it at the fact that I am on the upswing writing this and our next weather window to cross looks like this coming Friday (knock, knock!).

More details on the Indian Ocean crossing are available to our most enthusiastic readers, but I will give the short version here: We left Cocos Keeling into some serious weather (18-20 foot seas on the beam, 24-28 knots of wind) that did not let up for 5 days. We then made great time, mainly using the spinnaker, across the ocean and of course had the mandatory 24-36 hours of hell at sea as we approached Madagascar.

I won’t ever forget the beauty of Cape D’Ambre (the northern tip of Madagascar) as the sun rose and we rounded towards Nosy Be. The seas died out, the winds stayed strong and propelled us down the coast, and we all knew that our  16 day trip across the ocean was just about over. We pulled into the town of Hellville by 10pm that night, anchored quickly amongst many other cruisers, had a few beers, and absolutely crashed.

More details on the two weeks we spent in Madagascar can be found in another blog. Suffice to say here that Madagascar has been wild, wonderful, and quite an adventure. The people are fantastic and we have enjoyed our time here immensely. (except maybe we really didn’t want to come back for that second week…)

Yesterday we spent the entire day provisioning the boat, making multiple runs with the dinghy back and forth to the center of town, filling our diesel tanks at the fuel station using jerry cans. A full working day. And then it was out to the bars/restaurants last night to watch the World Cup and have a nice prepared meal before life at sea begins again. Fun fact: Blake and I went out to a french restaurant, had several drinks, appetizers and entrees and this fantastic meal came to $32. Crazy.

Tonight we will sail across the harbor here to a “sleepy” town called Katsephy, where we hope to watch Columbia vs. England and spend our final night with some land.

The plan now is to head to Baly Bay- further down the coast of Madagascar- and wait for the next weather window to allow for a safe crossing of the Mozambique Channel. Very uncertain about whether this will happen this coming Friday or not, but also very hopeful!

It would be great to think that my next blog might be from South Africa, and I shudder to think what our status would be if it isn’t!

 

Madagascar

 

You’ll be reading this if you are interested in a little more detail about the amazing, crazy, Madagascar…

It took actually visiting the place to understand this, but Nosy Be and Hellville were not interchangeable terms- Nosy Be is the entire island off the Northwest coast of Madagascar, while Hellville is the main port on the island.

We anchored in Hellville, arriving around 10pm in the evening under the biggest moon imaginable, and quite honestly it was pretty tough to get a good bead on what awaited us in the morning… And so, on Saturday morning June 23rd the four crew members of Alyosha loaded onto the dinghy and headed into town. We had already been visited by a guy named “Kool,” who would presumably watch our dinghy while we went through clearing in procedures. This became a regular feature of our time in Hellville: always paying someone (or more often a few people) to watch over the dinghy or us, or help with diesel, or groceries, or whatever. The first few hours in Hellville that Saturday morning were just incredible. We quickly learned the main mode of transportation was the “Tuktuk” which I will describe as a tricycle type vehicle with a cover. We ended up taking these everywhere during our time on the island.

The other big lesson, delivered within hours of arrival, was how different the currency was and how difficult it was to assess the actual costs of things… My first foray into the ATM resulted in me withdrawing what I thought was between $300-$400 to pay for clearing in, etc… It turned out to be about $30!!! Several trips to the bank later and we had finally achieved permission to explore!

Our first day was spent in several internet cafes and bars, the crew using connectivity to catch up with family and friends. We had the World Cup matches on our minds, and later in that first evening we went to a local “Shabeen” (an African bar with really no westerners) to watch some soccer matches- an incredible experience.  Quick side note: that first day in Hellville also featured the crew watching some cock fights in the streets and some other adventures, there was a very tired captain who used the afternoon to catch up on sleep!

The first impressions I had of Madagascar never really left me after the first day: it was colorful, happy, crazy and fantastically foreign. There were always small shops and homes right off the road selling food cooked in every way imaginable. There were shops of all varieties, and the center of town had a cool water fountain where everyone aggregated. We also quickly learned that there would be a big celebration (Madagascar Independence Day) on Tuesday and saw many parades of people, from soldiers to school kids, preparing for the big day during our time there.

We rented mopeds, traveled to the highest point on Nosy Be where you could see the entirety of the island in a 360 degree panaramic view and also visited a cool waterfall in the middle of the countryside. We found great bars, restaurants and beaches, and came to soon understand that the French tourists had their own sections of Nosy Be that were also interesting and compelling.

I am writing this now anchored across a sleepy little town called Katsephy, very likely the last place we will explore before heading down the coast to Baly Bay, where we wait to get the right weather to get to South Africa. We spent the past 36 hours provisioning and exploring Mahajanga, a port town on the West Coast. It was everything that Hellville was AND better, as it was even bigger and more populated.

So that is Madagascar, although I saved the very best detail for last… Every day, all day, these people SAIL. I mean, sailing is a real mode of transportation. The boats are called “Dhows” and they silently glide along the coast, reaching great speeds and being sailed so skillfully. I can only hope the pictures do these craft justice because watching the fleet of boats come in and out of the harbor each day was probably the best part of Madagascar stopover.

Crossing the Indian Ocean

If you are reading this, you must want some details about our passage from Cocos Keeling to Madagascar. Happy to provide as this was one of the most interesting ocean crossings I have experienced.

We waited an extra day in Cocos Keeling because we knew some weather was going to be blowing in, and it most certainly did… Our final day in Cocos Keeling was a nasty, raining affair, with plenty of wind as well: We were able to fill all of our water bottles and water tanks throughout the day.

And then came departure day. We rigged up the storm sail, anticipating some serious wind and we were not let down: as some as we got out of the lee of Cocos Keeling we saw some huge waves (we were completely knocked sideways early on by a “rogue” 25 footer) and the winds were howling. After about 5 hours, I was nearly ready to turn around and wait for a better window!

I would like to say that things then settled down, and we began a really enjoyable transit across the Indian Ocean, but that it not what happened at all. We had five straight days of too much wind, big seas, and all kinds of crashing and banging about on Alyosha. There was no sunshine and there was no break from the squalls constantly passing through. Almost a month later, it is not hard to conjure up my emotions each morning when I would see the sun rise on yet another grim day at sea.

Eventually things did settle out, and we had a pretty enjoyable stretch of weather that lasted another full week. At one point we did a 220nm day under our spinnaker, even though we often had to take it down for small squalls. The crew passed the time by reading, playing games (chess, Risk and cards, mainly) and some enjoyable debates (religion and politics were in play!)

An absolute highlight of the trip occurred one morning during the second half of the passage when a pod of pilot whales joined us for awhile. These whales were about 4-5 times the size of the dolphins and porpoises that typically play around the boat and watching them surface, breathe and even breach was spectacular.

whale
Look closely to see the smiling pilot whale after trick!

Some other highlights of the passage were the phenomenal meals cooked up by our chef, Stu. We had everything from beer battered fish and chips to pumpkin and every meal was terrific.

A lowlight of the trip was our “MTV Real World”-like discussion about food and rationing which just seems hilarious in retrospect!

As is very typical with my experience on these crossings, the Indian Ocean did not want to give us up easily and our last day and a half featured very strong winds and a triple reefed main and jib. Unfortunately, the many days of heavy winds have really taken their toll on our sails which are now both properly ripped and feature some unrepairable sections!

As I mentioned in another blog, the rounding of Cape D’Ambre after such a long passage will stay with me a long time, with the sun coming up perfectly to present Madagascar in the best light. The Indian Ocean was done.