November 8, 2011-Sailing The African Coast
This was the trip we’ve been thinking about, dreading maybe, for a couple of years. It’s the BIG African coastal hop and it has a reputation for wild weather and dangerous storms. But Saturday was a nice day, the forecast was good and we set out with optimism and excitement to be going to sea again.
The optimism evaporated with the new forecast we received a few hours after we left. Isn’t this the way it always happens? Now there was a cold front predicted and strong southwesterly winds, maybe even big winds, not light like we thought, and there was a blood chilling mention of “abnormal waves”. But by then we were too far down the track to go back, we felt we were committed.
The strategy we discussed was to sail fast, out in the Agulhas current to help speed us along, and when the wind came, we’d move inshore and out of the big waves.
And hope for the best.
Saturday: The wind died this evening and we are motoring however the wind is coming back a little now and we probably could set the genoa and sail but with more wind coming tonight we hold off. We just don’t know how much wind or when and neither of us wants to be caught out here tonight in a blow with that big genny up. So we’ll motor until the wind fills enough to sail with the small jib then we’ll set that. At least then when the shit hits the fan we will not have to worry about too much sail area.
Sunday: The wind arrived at midnight. Sixteen knots at first but more was coming and we reefed the main. By 09:00 it is blowing 22-26 knots and the waves are big. We have been slamming into the waves a lot and quite a few big ones have come on-board and swept down the deck. We came in-shore to get out of them but that didn’t work; we’re only a couple of miles off the beach and it is still too rough. We can see the huge waves crashing on the rocks, looking close, so now we’ve tacked back over and stopped; we are hove-to on starboard tack, slowly working back to seaward.
We had a drama with the genoa earlier. It was bagged and tied down on the foredeck, and with all the waves crashing over the deck it started to go over the side. I had to go forward and get it back on board. That was fun. I also had to go up the mast and replace a check stay which dropped out and that was some kind of fun too. But we did it and now everything is fine.
Monday: The front passed and the northerly wind that we based this whole trip on came in at midnight. In the morning we were approaching East London, our first potential stop, sailing fast under sunny skies and since the breeze was projected to last until midnight we make the tough decision to bypass East London and go on to Port Elizabeth, taking advantage of the good sailing conditions to make some distance down the coast. But after midnight another front is due so now we want to go as fast as possible to try to get into the next port before it arrives.
At five PM we are flying down the coast, as we have been all day, since midnight in fact. We are pushing the boat hard and we have covered the last 147 miles at an average speed of 8.6 knots, rushing towards Port Elizabeth but also towards the low which is supposed to be forming right between us and port. At the rate the barometer is falling we expect the cold front to hit us between midnight and 02:00 AM. We might make it to port by then and we might not, and we’re trying, but it makes us anxious knowing we are rushing headlong towards some unknown fate at over eight knots. I guess in about seven hours we’ll get to face it, whatever it is.
Tuesday: The new front arrived biting cold and at full strength just as we motored into Port Elizabeth Marina. We were glad to get alongside a moored fishing boat, the only place we could tie up at 03:30 in the tight quarters of the marina in that wind. Now we are safe for the time being and we are exhausted. We’re going to bed.
Next we have the hop to Knysna and then Cape Agulhas.
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Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Port Elizabeth