Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Exploring the Cape


Our land activities manager, Richard, had a great programme for us.  He hired a car and we headed off to Simonstown for brunch.  The seaside feel with the smell of sea weed and salt in the morning sun accompanied by the evocative call of the seagulls (Cape Black Backed) was quite unlike anything we had experienced for a long time.  The lovely old colonial architecture of the town, with slender pillars supporting upper floor balconies, deserved more time than we gave it. I hope to go back for a longer look with Anne in January.

From there we drove on to the Cape Point Nature Reserve and, once through the toll gates, drove across an extraordinary landscape of low fynbos vegetation, peppered with grey boulders enlivened with streaks of orange and green grey lichen. Rounded clumps of intense white flowers mirrored the boulders across the flat terrain.  Ahead the Cape rose up and we were soon parked and joining a steady stream of tourists climbing the long path to the lighthouse.  A funicular runs up the hill, but we enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs.  There were spectacular views down to the Cape of Good Hope, with richly emerald blue water surging in towards a white sand beach on which a flock of cormorants stretched out their wings in the sunshine.  The swell broke heavily against the Cape rocks, and out at sea tiny white specks turned out to be fishing boats far, far below.  I found a wall and settled down for a quick sketch of the Cape.    But I hadn't left enough time to add paint because I had spent ages gazing down the vertiginous cliffs at the nesting cormorants with their orange patch below the beak, and various other birds too.

We were soon off again towards Franshoek, which turned out to be a long drive along twenty miles of sandy beach on the margin of Cape Flats, and then we turned up into the mountains, stopping periodically at viewpoints to admire the great depth of the landscape.

We were getting hungry by the time we stopped at La Petite Ferme, the first winery on our way down into Franshoek.  They had a lovely restaurant overlooking the valley and the mountains, and our spirits rose at the thought of lunch. But they said they were too busy to feed us, and some started to leave, until Richard wisely suggested that we taste their wines anyway.  At R$220 (R$18/£) per head we were introduced to 6 wines produced there.  Richard, as the undoubted wine connoisseur, rated the Sauvignon Blanc as acceptable, but had reservations about the Bordeaux blend (which unusually included Pinotage), and was not impressed by the Cabernet Sauvignon with hints of aromatics from the eucalyptus surrounding the vineyard.  As our lively Sommelier took us through the wines, he kept referring to delicious food which it should accompany, until I protested that they hadn't allowed us to eat!  Thankfully he took the point, and arranged for us to be delivered a delicious cheese board each, as we sat out in the sunny gardens overlooking the mountains and rich green of the valley full of vines.

Time was running out, but we managed to try another vineyard, La Couronne, where they also managed to produce wonderful pizzas.  The combination of bobotie and banana was inspired. Bobotie is a traditional Afrikaner dish, with Indonesian origins, made by softening old bread in milk, frying onions, cumin and other spices with mince meat and combining them in a big pot to stew.
The sound set dramatically wit ha flare of that rich evening colour over the traditional Cape Dutch architecture and the glowing vines, with the backdrop of the mountains rearing up like a wall behind.

It was along drive home, but Maria s the designated non-drinker, did a great job of getting his happy passengers back to Tin Tin.

The next morning we rose early(ish) and set off to climb Table Mountain via the Plettenklip Ravine.  It's the steepest ascent, and gave spectacular views across table Bay as we climbed.  Someone had put in a huge amount of effort to place flat rock steps up the path.  We passed other climbers descending who said that the cable car was not running so we would have to climb down later.   As my legs were feeling quite tired this was alarming news.    Up and up we climbed, with the ravine getting narrower and narrower between wonderful towering cliffs closing in to frame the view.  I was delighted to see a sun bird very close to me feeding on a species of Erica, with half-inch long red flowers arranged in a ring around the stem. So unconcerned was the sunbird that I was able to get my phone out of the rucksack, and hold it within a few inches of the feeding bird.  William later identified it for us as an orange collared sunbird - unusually a new one for him!

Mark and Richard were going strong, but my legs were definitely giving out! But I was determined to get to the top even if I had to come down all those steps on my bottom.   Maria was also struggling and, far more sensibly, turned round to descend when another climber asserted that was at least another hour to the top and that the cable car was not running.  That was a pity, because if we had managed to help her onwards it turned out, as evidenced by Chinese tourists in stiletto heels, that the cable car had started running again.  But by then it was too late and Maria had the hardest task of all which was an hour and a half descending the steps to the car.

Richard flew home that afternoon, and he kindly deposited us at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on his way to the airport.  Here we said goodbye after a wonderful adventure together, and then went off to explore the wonderful gardens.  We were so lucky to join a free garden tour and to meet out guide  Jill.  She took us for three hours through all the different areas of the garden, so full of knowledge and enthusiasm, leaping from boulder to boulder across the streams, and giving us an extraordinary and invigorating afternoon.

I'm very lucky to be coming back here on holiday with Anne, Alice, Felix and Matt in January before I sail onwards.


Cape Town


John Paul Stephens

Captain & Owner
s/y Tin Tin of St.Mawes



With Richard and Maria on board we set off from Port Elizabeth with a fair wind for Cape Town. As we sailed out of the bay we had amazing displays of sea life, with hundreds of dolphins herding sardine,  thousands of diving gannets enjoying the feast, plus a pod of humpback whales blowing and leaping nearby..

As the forecast was for strong winds from the south on Saturday, I had set our course for Cape Town. However I was keen to look into Knysna on the way, and so we held our course along the coast all night, reaching the Heads at midday.  There was big swell and we watched it thundering against the cliffs and wondered whether it was safe to enter.  We could see a catamaran inside close to the bar, presumably trying to judge whether it could leave through the surf.  The weather forecast had improved overnight allowing us to linger with a couple of days in Mosselbaai, but Richard and Maria were keen to push on and enjoy Cape Town, especially as there were flights booked not far ahead.  As we passed I made sketches of Plettenberg Bay and Knysna Heads.

The winds came and went and we had to motor sail most of the way, rounding Cape Agulhas in the evening and then the Cape of Good Hope in the morning.  I busily sketched and painted both. As we rounded the Cape of Good Hope the air temperature dropped dramatically and the sea started to smoke, turning from deep green to a beige colour through the thin layer of steam.  Drifts of vapour lay in the troughs of the swell, and fog began to rise around us, until we were completely engulfed.  I blew the fog horn and ran the radar as we motored along, wrapped up warm against the icy air; wooly hat, jersey and full sailing suit.  I really needed gloves as well!   The Benguela Current brings cold Antarctic water northwards and meets the warm Agulhas Current running south, making a remarkable junction between the two bodies of water. and leading to a great richness of sea life thriving on the plankton fed by the upwelling nutrients.

Eventually the fog bank cleared, and we closed the coast to look for the wreck of the Clipper race boat which had inexplicably made a sudden turn to port off Oliphantbospunt, running aground on the reef there.   All were saved successfully, and we didn't see any sign the wreck, presumably poured into bits by the surf.  We did however see humpback whales feeding very, very close to our bows and later a lot of dolphins.

Th great flat top of Table Mountain eventually came into  view, with a table cloth of cloud draped over the top.  I sketched it as we went past. I will try to add these pictures to the blog later.

Finally the great city of Cape Town appeared with a bustling of boats on the water, with a fleet of smart Cape 34 racing yachts tacking round a course, and speedboats buzzing around.

I called Port Control, and then Bridge Control, getting permission to enter and then being awarded a bridge lift at 13:15.  We hung about in the outer basin surrounded by a helicopters landing at the heliport, and gazing at the rich visual environment of skyscrapers, Table Mountain, and many different boats.

The white swing bridge finally rotated to one side, and the next blue bascule bridge deigned to lift one half, so that we could squeeze through to find our berth.  It was hot and sunny. We heaved a sigh of relief - we had arrived!


Friday, 1 December 2017

Off to Cape Town

By the time Maria and Richard had arrived in Port Elizabeth and settled into their cabins, it was late afternoon. We took a taxi to The Boardwalk and strolled along the seafront, watching triathlon swimmers making their way along the coast, and a lone yachtsman having a quiet evening sail close to the shore. We met Lauri's niece, Tula, in a beachfront cafe but, as burgers didn't appeal, we followed her guidance to a sushi restaurant, which provided a wonderful array of dishes.

The following morning we breakfasted early, and once the Flight Plan had Ben submitted and marina fees paid we set out to sea. Sadly Maria had an accident which, thankfully, wasn't as catastrophic as it might have been. As she jumped down to the concrete pontoon, a gust blew the boat away and she landed in a foot wide gap of water, striking her chin on the concrete and hurting her wrist. Fortunately no bones were broken and, although very shocked, she felt able to continue. The ship's hot water bottle was needed, and the vast medical kit on board Tin Tin was looked at approvingly, even if no more than Savlon and a bandage were needed.

The forecast allowed us to make for Cape Town in a three day leg, but sadly precluded stops en route at Knysna and Mosselbaai, where we would have been held up by head winds and been unable to get to CT on time.

Our departure from PE was a spectacular display of wildlife. First, there were humpback whales close off Seal Point breaching and blowing quite close to us. Then hundreds of dolphins appeared leaping from the water in a mile wide rush towards us. Large numbers of crisp white gannets sitting in flocks on the water soon took to the wing and then wheeled above the shoal of sardines fleeing from the dolphins, and dived relentlessly like a rain of white arrows. It was breathtaking to watch, and we were thrilled by the great mass of dolphins all around us.

The winds were very light and eventually we motorsailed when the sails started to flog uselessly and this continued all night. It was an amazing sight as we passed miles of coordinated flashing red lights on the wind farms........ no I'm wrong, that was two days previously just before arriving in PE.... Here the coastline showed lights from towns, and the comforting regular sweep of the lighthouse beam.

By mid morning on Thursday 30th November we were travelling along the shoreline between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna, in a big southwesterly swell. It's wonderful to be close enough to study the coastline and I had a go at sketching the great cliffs with the distant mountains pale beyond, rising to 1650 metres.

We were joined by leaping Cape a Fur Seals which followed the boat, arcing smoothly out of the water to look at us. We also saw them lying on their backs with their flippers in the air, soaking up the sun.

I ran the weather forecast again, and was pleased to find that it had changed, giving us the option of stopping in Knysna and Mosselbaai for a few days before catching the Easterly winds to Cape Town to arrive on Tuesday 5th December. However on consultation we stuck to Plan A.

Knysna Heads opened up to show a dramatic passage through to the inner lagoon. Great surf breaking high on the rocks either side, and in the passage itself was a large catamaran, which looked as though it was trying to decide whether to risk an exit. The warning lights were flashing red and orange, and from outside it was impossible to see whether the big swells were breaking over the bar.

So we altered course for Cape Agulhas, and with a fresh 25 knots of wind were delighted by a fast sail into the west. We toasted our last Indian Ocean sunset with gin and tonic. It took several attempts before the new crew had worked out that the drinks tip over if left unattended in a swell!

Overnight, however, the wind slowly died and now at breakfast on the 1st of December we are again motoring and should turn the corner into the Atlantic this afternoon.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

East London to Port Elizabeth.



Saturday 25th November 2017
It was great to finally arrive in East London after the battering of the previous night. The sun was shining and Port Control answered promptly when called, advising where to anchor out of the way of a car carrier  that would need to turn later.  As we passed it we could see it was loading thousands of new C class Mercedes, which are manufactured here.

At the head of the port, below the rail bridge, we moored to the trot moorings, which have ropes strung between buoys. One has to come alongside the floating rope without getting it tangled in the propellor or rudders, catch it and tie up to bow and stern to lie in line with the river flow. It was a very tight turn between the lines, but it worked! We found Roland, Ditty and Sam already moored in the aluminium yawl, "Horizon".  We originally met in CuraƧao in January or February last year.

There was a loud yell from the Buffalo River Yacht Club advising that a) the rope wasn't very strong and we should add our own, and b) that the rugby was just starting and come over to have a beer.  We obeyed instructions!  At the club we were welcomed by friendly members, and cold Castle beer. The smell of woodsmoke from the braai (BBQ) was enticing.  In the end we were still there at sunset, and had pizza delivered before retiring to bed.

On Sunday 26th I arranged a tour to the Hogsback driven by a charming Afrikaner, Deon Goosen.  We hadn't fancied an "Elephant Encounter" morning at the local game park, and I'd read that JRR Tolkien had been inspired (possibly) by his stay at the Hogsback (aged 2!) and that its dramatic scenery in the mountains was worth a visit.  Mark didn't fancy 4 hours in the car and set off bravely to walk into East London across the railway bridge, and had an adventurous day exploring. Despite all dire warnings by the locals he was neither mugged nor murdered, thankfully!  He climbed the great sand dunes, rescued a giant beach ball blown up the slope in the gale, and was then invited to a braai by the black Zimbabwean owner of the ball who had been futilely chasing it.

Meanwhile Justin and I enjoyed the chance to see some of the countryside. Our drive took us out over a vast rolling landscape, where great vistas stretched out around us.  Large clusters of housing were grouped across the land, mostly comprising lines of concrete houses with tin roofs, often painted in many shades of colour.  Notably there were many plots without a house but, like the occupied plots, these all had a concrete privy with a lean to roof and a vent pipe sat on a concrete foundation.  There was rarely any sign of electricity or water being supplied, but even on the most basic shack of wood and corrugated iron one might spot a satellite TV dish.   This area was the Siskei, a Xhosa "homeland', now renamed the Eastern Cape.    We wonder what employment was possible for this great population miles from anywhere.  There were cattle and sheep herded on etc green prairies, but very little sign of organised agriculture, apart from  few insignificant vegetables plots by peoples houses.  

We drove through King Williamstown, with avenues of purple jacaranda, and faded elegance of colonial era mansions with pillars and porticos.  Ahead the hills rose into great flat topped masses, with parapets of stone, deeply fissured.  As we rose higher we left the grassland and scrubby trees and entered woodland, rising fast to Hogsback amongst ancient trees.  The Hogsback Inn was reminiscent of an English country pub, and served up excellent home made pie and chips.   Then we set off to stroll along the winding paths and  across little streams on quaint bridges up to a lovely cascade in the Arboretum. Everywhere there were white arum lilies growing, the sound of flowing water, and great redwood trees and oaks. From there we drove past places called Rivendell, Bilbos Rest, and Hobbiton, to visit a backpacker hostel called Fairyland, renowned for its great views, and also for the white enamel bath set on the cliff edge, where one can lie in hot water fed from a wood fired boiler! Needless to say I got into the bath (dry)...

Monday the 27th dawned and Mark and I took a taxi to shop for provisions, while Justin packed and cleaned.   Our taxi driver, a young red-haired Afrikaner, was into fast car racing, and had lots of stories that surprised us.  He said that road rage wasn't much of a problem (although car jacking was).  However he said that someone got angry when he wouldn't let him into the traffic, had then followed him for a long time. He had asked his boss what to do, who suggested going to a police station, but instead he had driven to a remote area, where the other car had pulled in front of him to block his way.  The other enraged driver got out and turned out to be a soldier.  The taxi driver walked over to him, hit him on the jaw and knocked him unconscious, took his keys, locked the car and threw the keys in the bush before driving off, leaving him lying there.  He was surprised that he was taken to court!  

Time was running out and sadly we didn't get to the museum where the first coelacanth discovered is on display. Luckily I've seen one in the Natural History Museum in London.  The fishermen occasionally catch them in the very deep water off this coast.   The other attractions at sea are the great white sharks, and Southern Right Wales, which we will be keeping an eye open for.

We said farewell to Justin, leaving to fly home to the UK, and then cast off at 14;00 to set sail for Port Elizabeth.   We picked up 4 knots of speed from the Agulhas current, and were soon speeding along at 10 knots through the night.  it was perishingly cold, and despite all my warm great I felt frozen after my 03:00 to 06:00 watch and needed big bowl of hot porridge.  To cap it all Mark thinks he has just spotted penguins!

Then, as the sun warmed things up, huge flocks of Cape Gannets swarmed round us, diving incessantly into the sea like white spears. We saw that they were following large pods of dolphins which were rounding up the shoals.

We will meet Richard and Maria in Port Elizabeth today who will help us with the leg to Cape Town.  The challenge as always here  is to get the weather windows right.  I hope we will be able to get there in good time for their return flights on 6th December.




Saturday, 25 November 2017

South African dawn

The weather front, predicted to  bring 25knots of wind arrived with a bang just after we had triple reefed, bringing 3 hours of sustained 38-48knots of wind from the south south west and torrential rain. We could not hold our course and began to be driven towards the Wild Coast. The rain and wind flattened the water into a seething hissing whiteness, but as time wore on the waves began to grow and I was conscious that the 3 knot Agulhas current could eventually make them very uncomfortable, if not dangerous.  The recommended strategy is to run for the 200metre line to get out of the current, and our course had just about reached that point after 3 hours when the wind dropped suddenly.

Justin and Mark took over the nextvtwo watches and when I came back on duty at 03:00 we were motoring dead to windward in light airs.   The sun rose at 04:49 and I took this photo of the St. Mawes Sailing Club burgee and our Cornish ensign. The African coastline to starboard was dark under wonderfully coloured thunderclouds.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Wild Coast

Friday 24th November 2017. Position. 12 miles offshore Port Edward. 31* 11.83S 030* 23.68E

Having arrived in Richard's Bay at midday on Monday 20th November, exactly a week after leaving Port Dauphin, it was great to be tied up at the International Arrivals Dock with yachts two or three deep, creating a friendly community of sailors who had washed up in the same place with similar experiences, and many tales to tell.

It took me until 16:30 on Tuesday to have finally completed all the immigration, health, border police and customs formalities. Then looking at the weather forecast I decided to leave on Thursday to get south to East London. This meant submitting my Flight Plan which involved a lot of time on Wednesday going from office to office by taxi to get stamps from all. Unfortunately I missed the final step that no one told me was needed. So as we motored out into the channel, when I radioed Port Control to request permission to leave they said NO! I was told that I had to go to the Zululand Yacht Club in another harbour so that they could fax the final documents to Port Control. Thus we didn't actually get away until 14:00. I felt exhausted and annoyed by the process. Thankfully, Michael from Cesarina saw me waiting ages for my final clearance at Zululand YC and bought me a beer to relax me. It helped a lot!

Nonetheless, once at sea the calming rhythms return and we relax. That is .........almost! But the passage ahead is the most difficult one yet and our weather window has a nasty little bit of strong wind forecast midway. So I am watching the weather anxiously, and hoping that we are not about to experience the dreadful sea conditions that this coast is fabled for.

Now on Friday evening we are half way to East London, and the strong wind patch should happen tonight and ease off in the morning. We have reefed the mainsail and Genoa, and got full foul weather gear on.

Up to this point however the winds have been rather light and we have motorsailed for a while to maintain speed. Now however the wind is, as forecast, strengthening into the thirties and with the Agulhas current we are making nearly 10 knots under inky black clouds about 12 miles offshore. If the current creates dangerous waves the strategy is to head inshore for six miles to get inside the 200 meter depth contour where the current lessens and the waves are less dangerous.

The forecast for tomorrow is for the wind to ease and eventually die completely for a while so we will be motoring again. I aim to get to East London while it is still light. Here we will wait a day while the next storm front passes and then, if possible, make a dash for Port Elizabeth where Richard and Maria will arrive on the 28th and from where Justin will fly home.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Nearly there!

We have motored steadily under completely clear skies for 24 hours, with a wind too light to be useful, and a long high swell rolling in from the old storms in the south raising us high and then taking us down into deep valleys. Our companion yacht, Cesarina, is about 12 miles north of us and we chat occasionally with Dietmar on the VHF. Then last night the wind picked up from the north as predicted, and we are now roaring along on a broad reach at 7.5 knots expecting to arrive in Richard's Bay at noon tomorrow, on Monday 20th November 2017.

Looking at the weather forecasts for the coming week I can see that I will have to spend a couple of days in Richard's Bay before grabbing a weather window for the 90 miles to Durban. Here we will have to wait 4 days for the next weather window, which I hope will be long enough to get to East London or Port Elizabeth. After that it's going to be the same pattern I suspect, hiding in port until he southerly gale blows through, nipping out behind it to push on to whatever shelter we can find along the coast before the next depression comes through a day or so later. It's the most difficult and stressful section of our voyage, and I will be exceedingly glad to get safely to Cape Town!

Our distressing current leakage has stopped, and the terrifying flicker of red lights on the current detector, checked and logged every hour, have suddenly gone a reassuring green. I have been unable to work out what is causing this yet, but must do so some how once in port. Visions of the hull fizzing and dissolving inhabit my uneasy dreams at night.

Since leaving Madagascar I have been ardently reading books about South Africa before we arrive, starting with James Michener's "The Covenant" which shows how the original Dutch settlers, devout Calvinists, interpreted the Old Testament as a direct message from God that South Africa was the promised land and that they were the chosen ones, the new Israelites. The awful conflicts with England in the Boer War and with the Zulus and others on whose lands they encroached are vividly populated by several well drawn families. What is new to me is how the intense hatred of the English by the Afrikaner has been held close and fostered and grown from generation to generation, founded on the intense belief that they are God's chosen race. That each town has monuments to battles by perhaps thirty brave locals in the Anglo-Boer war and that the great injustices were constantly referred to by the Church kept alive that resentment. Somewhere along the way interpretations of the Old Testa
ment were used to justify the, ever more repressive, separation of races until the full horror of apartheid was instituted. It's at this point that Michener ends, before the great hopeful era of Mandela arose, and so it is to him I have turned next, reading avidly through his "Long Walk to Freedom". I find it very humbling to discover how little I know of these times and struggles, and rather urgently need to revisit my first attempt at a novel set in South Africa, "Black Sugar", for criticism of which I already owe much to a true South African, Robert McAdie, and to Rebecca (not enough sex!) However ten potential publishers didn't want it, so if I want to get the story to work I must obviously do several rewrites..........or did they just miss one of the great novels of our time??! Anyway next on my reading list is "Cry, The Beloved Country", and I need to revisit JM Coetzee, read long ago.

Now the real South Africa awaits us!