Monday 7 October 2013

A Colonial Feast On A Colonial Island

I have been pondering the title of this post at length. Other options were An Elegy On A lost Age or even A Lament For Lost Culture. Both perhaps a bit on the heavy emotional side, so I opted for the more positive one.

We arrived at St Helena Island two days ago after sunset in a light drizzle. Not the easiest harbour entry after dark, with lots of small craft moored on mooring lines stretching across the harbour. We made it safely to one of the new mooring buoys, compliments of the skipper of another Leopard 39 yacht on delivery. He guided us on the VHF radio.

After a good night's sleep we hit the sleepy Jamestown on a Sunday morning. Just to be stopped dead in our tracks by HM Customs official. The very nice lady required the skipper to go all the way back to the boat to get our passports. The Harbour Master neglected to inform us that the Customs office was open on a Sunday as well. We were under the impression that customs clearance would keep to Monday morning.

The vagaries of the bureaucracy! At least we had some time to spend with the customs lady, who happened to be very helpful and informative on happenings and folklore on the island. We spent a happy half hour, entertained by her stories.

Then it was time to prep for our braai. I bought six sirloin steaks at our local Food Lover's Market, a food chain in South Africa. Vacuum packed and all. This we kept in the dark in our refrigerator on board, not frozen, for the duration of our passage. Needless to say, these steaks came out soft like butter.

We planned on having the braai at Anne's Place, a rustic restaurant steeped in history, situated in the castle gardens on St Helena. A wonderfully relaxed atmosphere to share with friends. We arranged for some side dishes with Jane, the lady of the house. And, of course, we invited friends. I had totally misjudged the hospitality of the Saints and the next thing there were provisions fit for a king, the table bending under the strain of the amount of food. Luckily there were some more hungry sailors and we could make a real dent the mound of food.

We spent a most enjoyable afternoon having a real traditional South African braai. I had the honour of cooking, as Richard, the man of the house, decreed that, since it was our braai and he being a guest, I would have to do the cooking. Or braaiing. Whatever. He was going to enjoy the ride.

And he did.

Good conversation and good company. It was with heavy hearts that we took our leave of absence from our hosts to catch the last ferry of the day back to the boat.

Our sailor friends had postponed their hoisting anchor and casting off to after the braai. We waved a fond farewell to them as they disappeared into the dark, cloudy night. We may see them again in St Maarten, after crossing the Atlantic. They have another errand to attend to, so there is an odd chance that we shall only see them back in Cape Town in a month or so.

A wonderful experience. No cell phones, computers or other interruptions of electronic nature. The birds chirping away in the trees, with a light breeze making the leaves flutter every now and then.

Pure bliss. One would think

Except that this very experience may be made impossible by progress and modernisation.

The completion of the airport may put a whole new angle on the niche that the island will fill in the tourist industry. At present it looks like the people may opt for a modernisation of the island.

Although this is not untoward, there is a very real chance that the quaint island culture may be lost forever to urban advance. Hence my pondering of titles for this blog post. One can but hope and pray that common sense will prevail and that the saints will decide on conserving their culture and keep the historic, colonial air on the island. Five star hotels may come, a golf course, what else. But keep the urban sprawl and city culture away from the old town.

Perhaps renovate the financial systems. Get better internet links. But keep the cell phones to a minimum. It is bliss to be away from electronic media for a while and to enjoy the company of friends. Especially in these rustic surroundings, where hardly a motor car is heard. And the peal of the church bells carried on the breeze. The sounds of peace.

But keep the rustic atmosphere.

There are but a few places on earth left like this. And they are under threat of the very civilisation that needs the peaceful and simple atmosphere.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-10-07

Friday Squalls And Stir Fry Noodles

Just as we were beginning to think the weather was clearing, we met with squally weather. On a Friday which is our bath day. The one day in the week that we are allowed a shower. I actually managed to get exactly one sun sight reading before the clouds set in with a vengeance. I still have to do the sight reduction and plotting, as it was quite late and I had to prepare dinner.

On this boat it is a definite advantage to have a shower. Especially when the motors have been running. Then we have hot showers as the boat is fitted with proper geysers. These work off the engine cooling as well as off shore power when connected. For now, the engine heat is enough to heat the water to way beyond comfortable temperature. In fact, you can almost make coffee. The wonders of modern engineering never cease to amaze. Thank heavens for small mercies like these on a cold and blustery Friday.

At the time of writing we are about 140 nautical miles away from the island and making good way in this wind. Another blessing in disguise, I reckon. We shall be arriving at the island half a day earlier than expected as a result of exactly this blustery weather. Then comes the part of whether the authorities will allow us ashore by clearing us in. We are arriving at a most inopportune time, as the Springboks will be playing against New Zealand at the time of our arrival. Interesting bureaucracy in the offing, methinks. In the event we are only cleared in on Monday morning, we shall be doing the various services required at this stage while we wait out the day.

This afternoon our crew saw a yellow fin tuna jump out the water, probably after some small bait fish. In turn, the crew almost jumped out of his skin. We had not been able to fish during the last few days as we were making good sailing time and the skipper felt it prudent to keep going while the wind lasts. You never know when we shall hit the doldrums and need the extra diesel.

It was my turn to cook again. I made an Asian style stir fry beef mince dish. Well, as Asian as I could make it with the ingredients on hand. Italian spaghetti, South African beef mince, butter instead of oil and a can of creamed sweet corn to boot.

The spaghetti may be substituted with rice, especially brown rice. Rice makes a change for the better to both the texture and flavour of the dish. Use one cup of rice for every four people.

I used all fresh vegetables and some dried Shitake mushrooms. The result was quite edible, if somewhat eclectic. We have only Jalapeno chillies on board, nothing hotter, so I used two. At least we got the flavour. I also used the last of our batch of fenugreek sprouts. These little sprouts impart a slightly bitter flavour and make a juicy addition to the mix.

I also used some black mustard seeds and coriander seeds to add to the flavour. The spaghetti, meat and vegetables were all mixed before dishing up.

This dish came out quite creamy as a result of using creamed sweet corn. We don't have anything else in the line of corn, so that was it. The sweetness was exquisite and the dish had just the right amount of saltiness from the soy sauce. I chopped half of the onion Chinese style, the other half into the normal diced style. This gave me some texture i8n the dish. The carrots were roughly julienned for the same reason. Something to look at while you are eating.


400g lean beef mince

½ cup dried mushrooms

1 onion, chopped

2 jalapeno chillies, chopped

1 ½ teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 can sweet corn

1/3 cabbage, coarsely sliced and chopped

½ sweet pepper, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, coarsely julienned

1 cup sprouts

2 teaspoons chopped garlic & ginger mix

250g spaghetti

some butter for frying

some soy sauce


Start by reviving the mushrooms by soaking them in boiling water.

Fry the mustard and coriander seeds in a little butter until the flavour comes out, then add the onions and jalapeno chillies. Fry until translucent. Add the meat and fry until the meat is brown, then add the sweet corn and a dollop of soy sauce. Simmer this until some of the fluid has cooked off, then set this aside to rest.

Use the same pan, in our case a wok. It is now flavoured with your ingredients. Add a little butter to the pan and fry the garlic and ginger mix until the flavours come out nicely, then add all the vegetables. Fry these until they are al dente to your taste, then set aside away rom the heat.

Get the spaghetti boiling while the other two parts of the dish are resting. I broke the raw spaghetti into three sections to get shorter pieces. Shorter pieces mix easier into the vegetables. Once the spaghetti is done, mix it directly into the vegetables. Simmer a few minutes to allow the juices to mix. Add a little soy sauce to taste.

Once the vegetables and noodles/spaghetti are cooked through, add the meat mix and warm through.

Then dish up. Hopefully you have enough for four people. If they are hungry, like my shipmates, they will devour this dish in no time.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-10-04

Sunday 6 October 2013

Thursday Baking

Third time lucky. An old English adage. Perhaps this time expressed with a hint of sarcasm.

We are now about two and a half days' sail away from the Atlantic island of St Helena and still we are having weather like we are in Cape Town, cold and reasonably miserable. Not what you would expect in this area. Like I said, third time lucky.

I managed to get some sun sights done today. Two sets, in fact. Through thick clouds, even though it took me almost ten minutes to get sufficient view of the sun to get three sights. This in an effort to get past the dead reckoning inaccuracies that plagued my navigation calculations to now.

My faith in my calculations were restored after finding that my first set of readings reduced to a fix quite closer to where the GPS would put us. The interesting point of these sights is that they give lines of position that cross as a result of taking them a few minutes apart. I shall look into that one of these days when the sun is out and the sea is calmer.

I am now over my sinus infection and can feel the positive vibe returning. That feverish, hangover-like feeling when your body is battling an bacterial infection is gone. Thank heavens for small mercies.

Today I rose from my bed feeling in a creative mood again, so I baked another loaf of bread. It was about time and would be the last baking before we arrive at St Helena. I made a loaf of mixed white bread and brown bread flour, adding a little sugar to help the fermentation and some caraway seeds for flavour.

The dough was made on the soft side and swallowed about a third of a cup of flour from the kneading board. This one was turned out on the kneading board and given ten minutes of rest. Then it was kneaded lightly and shaped by folding gently.

The loaf was then left for forty minutes to rest and have a second rise. The oven was brought to a low temperature, the loaf inserted and baked for forty five minutes. Then I doused the flame and left the loaf in the closed oven for another twenty minutes before turning it out on to a cooling rack for another twenty minutes.

This loaf came out the best of all my baking experiments to date. It had a nicely caramelised and crisp crust with a fluffy and slightly sweet tasting crumb. The sweet taste actually does not adequately describe the taste. It was actually quite complex, with flavours developing as you were chewing from the enzymes in your mouth. A wonderful result indeed.

I use measures by volume as we have no scales on board for weighing ingredients. My cup is one of the coffee mugs. The teaspoon is on the large side, but not quite a dessert spoon size. The vegetable fat comes in a small block from which I cut a slice. The volume of the slice is an estimation, but not too far off.

Don't add more water, the dough will be too soft. This one swallowed another third of a cup of flour during kneading before it got less sticky. It was still too soft to knead, so I just folded it for eight minutes or so.


2 ½ cups stone ground whole wheat white bread flour

2 cups stone ground whole wheat brown bread flour

2 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons vegetable fat

3 teaspoons sugar

10 grams (1 sachet) instant yeast

1 dessert spoon caraway seeds for the dough

1 teaspoon caraway seeds for garnish

1 dessert spoon cooking oil for covering during rise


Mix all the flour, salt, caraway seeds and sugar thoroughly, then rub the fat into the flour mix. Add to this the yeast and ix through before adding the water all at once. Mix the dough thoroughly, ensuring that all the flour is taken up into the mix.

Turn this soft dough out on to a floured kneading board and fold for ten minutes. The dough will swallow some more flour from the kneading board and will get drier as a result. Take care not to allow too much flour into the dough in this fashion, else you will end up with a dough on the dry side.

Pat the dough with the cooking oil, cover and leave to rise until doubled in volume. This took an hour for my batch of dough. Turn the risen dough gently out on to a floured kneading board and leave to rest for ten minutes. Gently knead the dough by pressing and folding. I used this technique to fold the dough into the required shape and ended with an elongated blob with the seam side up. The seam was twisted into little points as a decoration instead of hiding the seam at the bottom of the loaf.

Sprinkle the last caraway seeds on top and leave to rise for another forty five minutes. Make diagonal cuts on top of the loaf to allow for even oven spring. Heat the oven to 200ºC/390ºF and bake for forty five minutes. Douse the flame and leave the loaf in the oven for another twenty minutes, then turn it out on a cooling rack for another twenty minutes. This will allow the steam inside the loaf to dissipate and the crumb to develop properly.

And, again, remember to use pure butter...

Bon appetit!

This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-10-03

More Grey Skies

Today is the eleventh day of our voyage. The skies are still grey. We are in the tropics, but are still wearing long pants, thick jerseys and windbreakers. For us it is still winter , the same as when we left Cape Town, perhaps a little warmer. But no bikinis and board shorts and sun tan lotion yet.

We are now in the same time zone as Greenwich, which means we are two hours behind South Africa. I now live in three time zones. One is ship's time, which is related to where we are on the earth's surface. The next is South African time, to which my PC is set. This helps me to remember what time it is back home when I make a call on Skype or Google chat.

 That is to say, whenever I get to an internet connection. This will happen at St Helena in a few days' time, then again when we reach St Maarten island in the Caribbean in a month or so. By then we shall be about six or seven hours behind South Africa, making life interesting for the folks at home when you call at odd hours for them!

The last is UTC or Greenwich Time, to which my navigation clocks are set. I have two clocks set to this time. Both are electronic, unfortunately. Therefore I make very sure I have spare batteries for both before I set out on a voyage like this. These clocks are used for the time of sights by sextant. The clocks are set to UTC to relieve the burden of converting the time back to UTC with every sight taken.

The sun came out through the clouds just long enough for me to take some sights. This was in mid afternoon, giving me a dead reckoning leg of 45 hours to judge direction and speed on. I was not far off, but am still way off from the GPS. I hope to get a sun-run-sun sight soon, which should give me a better fix. For that I need a clear sky in mid morning and in mid afternoon. You need the sun to be not too high, nor too low. Extreme angles help with much inaccuracies as a side effect of the way Sin and Cos behaves at angles close to 90º and 0º.

I checked the status of the steaks we are maturing for a braai on St Helena. They are coming along just fine, with some loss of juice. But we shall wash and air them properly before cooking them on hot coals. At the moment they feel soft as butter, through the plastic in which they were sealed. but we shall need to confirm whether they are fermented. Hopefully not.

Bodes well for Monday lunch, methinks! Perhaps with potatoes baked in foil in the coals, who knows. During our last visit to the island we saw some delicious fresh potatoes in the market. Hopefully we can lay our hands on some. We are also in dire need of some hot chillies on board. We have some jalapenos, but they are really too mild to be useful in anything other than a fresh salad.

Such is culinary adventures with the Hungry Sailor!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-10-08

Another Cool, Grey Day In the Tropics

Today dawned cold and overcast again. Not what one expects from the weather in the tropics. The vagaries of mother Nature!

No sun sights were possible today as a result. We never saw the sun. The closest we got was a pale shaft of light struggling its way through the thick cloud for a brief moment, casting a brief moment of warmth. Only to bow out to the thick clouds swirling all over the heavens.

Hopefully tomorrow will bring clear weather. This will make the navigation quite interesting, having to calculate dead reckoning over a 48 hour period. A challenge indeed. The wind, clouds and heavy seas the last few days were not really conducive to decent navigation either. Hence the increasing difference between the GPS and my humble calculations.

The mood on board is upbeat. We have a Monopoly Deal card league in the late mornings, then a Uno card league after dinner. These help a lot towards making light of the heavy weather.

There is still a positive spirit on board in spite of the bad weather. We are all looking forward to better weather and some sunshine. And the couple crewing exudes this exuberant mood of excitement about their adventures on board. Quite contagious.

I have not had the best of times on board yet, as I have been struggling with a rotten sinus problem since day two of the voyage.

The medication has worked and it seems to be clearing. This serves me as a good example of what to look out for before an extended voyage. You need to keep your body healthy, else the germs strike at sea at the most inopportune times. Hopefully this is a thing of the past and I shall be able to enjoy the rest of the voyage.

Needless to say, we have not caught a single fish yet. Perhaps the fish are also feeling the effects of the weather. Or perhaps they went on an extended vacation elsewhere.

Much like the Mole in The Wind In The Willows. I have almost finished reading this delightful story by Kenneth Grahame. I am sorry I missed out on this type of literature in my schooldays. I may have been the richer for reading these as opposed to technical manuals and textbooks.

There seems to be quite a few parallels between what we are doing, crossing the ocean, and the travels of the animals depicted in the story. I am now at the chapter on the wanderings of all the other animals, where the Sea Rat is telling about his adventures all over the world's ports and oceans. With vivid descriptions of all the places he had been to. Very much like us here on board at the moment. Sometimes I pray for the ability to have words to describe what I am experiencing. The chapter is aptly named Wayfarers All

In the song Those Were The Days there is a line reading: “We are older but no wiser, for in our hearts the dreams are still the same.” I suspect this is true for most of us.

We all have dreams. Some we are able to realise, others are more difficult to get to, so we aspire, we reach out, but may not accomplish the dream. Here on board we are a small community actually living part of our dreams, even if only in small ways.

And it is not at an exhorbitant cost, money-wise or career-wise. We are sailing a brand new boat across the oceans, enjoying the facilites on board, even though it is limited. The limitations are due to the responibility of delivering the boat as new, therefore we forego the use some of the facililiteis on board. And we eat out of the very ceapest plastic crockery because we ditch them at the destination. But that does not really detract from the joy of crossing an ocean with a few friends.

Getting here appears to be a life decision, sticking to the decision, then working hard at getting here. And planning properly, making sure one understands what is involved in the decision and what the path to follow looks like. I get the idea that many folks just give up, still at the dream stage, not really taking charge and moving towards realising their dream.

And you have to this one step at a time. It is not possible to it in leaps and bounds.

Rather like eating an elephant.

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2013-10-01

Traditional Dinner




We had yet another cloudy day today. Although the wind has died down to a mere puff every now and then, the sky is still mostly overcast. We are motoring along on a smooth sea.

And in the very darkest nights. The moon only rises early in the morning and, given the overcast sky, we are having really dark nights. You cannot even discern a horizon. Sometimes the clouds part just a little and with a bit of luck a star peeks through. Then you feel comforted that you have not lost most of your senses. The star is like a message from on high passing some positive energy back to you.

Yet again I realise where the folklore of old sailors and their beliefs come from. It is easy to get lost in the oceans of your mind. But it is a rather nice feeling. I have had this revelation before. But it remains a nice feeling to be reminded of the way the mind works. Lots of mental images and perceptions in this blue world that we enter from time to time.

We have seen the odd humpback whale since yesterday and there are still some birds around. They seem to follow the boat, rather like scavengers. One wonders whether this is a new habit formed of close association with increased yacht traffic.

Today was my turn to cook dinner. We have a rule on board of alternating beef mince with other meats, so as to prevent the monotony of similar meals when you run out of other food. This is now becoming a small challenge of kudos for the best meal given the standard provisions. This time around there are three of us liking to cook. This makes for more fun on this voyage than I anticipated.

So we all have our turn at cooking beef mince. And today was my beef mince turn.

I made a traditional dish of meatballs and gravy, with potatoes boiled in the skin and butternut squash. The meal was rounded off by a curry bean salad, also a traditional South African dish.

The chutney is not readily available outside of South African influence, but may be substituted with a mild to hot chilli pepper, chopped, some apricot jam and a dash of vinegar. The oatmeal stretches the meat a little and adds some sponginess to soak up the gravy.


For The Meatballs

400g beef mince (ground beef for my American readers)

1 onion, finely chopped

¼ sweet pepper, finely chopped

1 egg, beaten

dollop of Mrs Ball's chutney. Your favourite flavour

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

¾ cup of rolled oatmeal

3 dessert spoons soy sauce

½ cup flour

Some butter for frying.

2 teaspoons gravy powder

1 sachet tomato paste

a dash of soy sauce

some water


Mix all the ingredients thoroughly, keeping the flour aside. I squashed the ingredients through my hand. Although quite messy, it is quite effective. Add a little water if the mix is too dry, a little oatmeal if too wet.

Now use two spoons to make small balls of the mix, roll it in the flour, then fry them in shallow butter. You will need to cycle them out of the frying pan to make room for more. When all is done, add them all back to the pan.

Mix the soy sauce, tomato paste, gravy powder and the leftover flour, complete with the meatball crumbs into a sauce. Add water to make it runny, then add the lot to the frying pan. Simmer this for another ten to fifteen minutes, then take off the heat and allow the dish to rest while you cook the rest of the meal.

Other Ingredients

½ butternut

small piece cinnamon bark

½ cup sugar

1 cup water.

Pinch of salt

Simmer this until the water runs dry, then allow the squash to caramelise. Test the squash to ensure it iscooked through, else you may end up with burnt raw pumpkin. Add water if necessary. I add enough water to cook the dish properly, then take the lid off to allow the water to evaporate faster.

8 small potatoes. I allowed two per person. These are boiled in salty water in the skin and served as they come from the pot. We dabbed some real butter on them.

Reheat the meatballs before serving. Hopefully you were successful in keeping prying fingers of sailors sampling out of the dish.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2013-09-30

A Loaf of Bread In Calmer Weather

Today was the last of our heavy weather sailing adventure for the moment. We had been sailing in stormy seas with twenty five to thirty knots of wind for the past almost two full days.

We were sailing with the headsail only, doing seven and a half to eight knots average. But in surfing down the swells we were doing close on eleven knots. Needless to say, we had the sail reefed overnight when the wind picked up substantially. We are not in a race and certainly don't need anybody overboard.

The day dawned on yet another steely, overcast sky and large swells, now on our quarter, now from astern. Not comfortable sailing at all. We motored a few hours while the seas settled and the winds abated.

No fishing yet as conditions are not suitable. Safety first and we were doing very good distance in any case. The fishing will come when the weather is calmer.

Today was baking day again. I made a coarse brown loaf off the cuff. No fancy ingredients, just flour water, yeast, salt and some vegetable fat. The dough was mixed to a consistency on the drier side, probably due to the coarseness of the flour. Two cups of water to four cups of brown bread flour and one half cup of white bread flour.

I am paying a lot more attention to the flour/water mix, as I find that this makes a huge difference to the end result. It is also what the words of the prophets say.

The words of the prophets are written in the instruction manuals, which thy should commit to thy memory, for they giveth thee the straight dope and steereth thee away from error.

The process also warrants extra attention. It is of no use to let the dough rise, then knead the fermentation bubbles out before baking. So I made a little experiment today by having a first rise only, then shaping the loaf and letting it rest for twenty minutes while the oven heats up.

I know that artisan bakers will balk at this, Next time I shall have an overnight rise using sourdough.

Here on the boat you have absolutely no control over the temperature of the dough, except that you can keep it at some constant temperature. Which is basically ambient for that time of day. When we get to the tropics I shall mix dough in the early hours of the morning so that I have at least the lowest temperature of the day for the rise time. I also put the dough in the bottom of the cupboard which gives me the constant temperature. More or less.

The regulation cuts was made on the top of the loaf to assist with even oven spring and the loaf popped into the oven set at 200ºC.

Turn the loaf after half an hour in the oven to help with even baking all round. This one was baked for forty five minutes, then turned out to rest on a cooling rack. This is our braai grid on the stove, but cooling rack sounds better.

Allow the loaf about twenty minutes of rest to let the steam off and cool before slicing and munching away. This one came out with a beautiful crispy crust and a spongy crumb.


4 cups stone ground unbleached brown bread flour

½ cup stone ground unbleached white bread flour

2 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

10g instant yeast

1 dessert spoon vegetable fat

2 dessert spoons cooking oil


Rub the vegetable fat into the mixed flour. Add the salt and yeast and mix thoroughly, then add the water. Mix until the dough is consistent, then turn it out onto a floured kneaading board and knead for ten minutes. The dough should be nice and silky, with some elasticity. Pat the dough ball with oil to prevent drying, cover and allow to rise for an hour or so until the dough hs doubled in volume. Our cheap plastic mixing bowl has a lid, which is quite helpful.

Now comes the tricky part. Shape the dough into a loaf without pressing the fermentation bubbles out of the dough. I stretch the dough around the side to the bottom in the shaping process. This gives a nice smooth shape to the top of the loaf.

Allow the loaf to rest for twenty minutes before popping it into the heated oven. Make some cuts on top to facilitate even oven spring. I am having good success in this part since I started paying attention to the shaping and resting part of the process.

Enjoy your loaf!

And use real butter...

This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-09-29






Awareness: Night And Day

One of life's more interesting aspects was brought to the fore this morning. Again. I have written about this on the first day, but it continues to amaze me.

Us city dwellers probably do not realise just how much we lose touch with nature. The surfers may think that they have it pat watching the weather and waves. The hunters may think that they know it all due to their affinity for the bush. And others may think they understand Nature due to their academic studies.

And all of us lose touch in some small way.

This morning dawned on another steely skies and a leaden sea. The swells are now in the region of three to four meters, with the wind having blown non stop for two days at around twenty five knots. Exhilarating sailing, no question there. Making good way too. Our daily run was over 150 nautical miles. Not too shabby for a heavy cruising catamaran.

But the awareness thing caught me unawares. No pun intended. Our lady crew member is a relative novice at sailing, but quite happy to keep watch on her own. She really enjoys the sailing experience, especially having her husband as our other crew member. A very happy family. With smiles and jokes all around.

I had the 06h00 to 10h00 shift this morning, but got up earlier to enjoy the sunrise. And found a girl almost frightened by what she was seeing. In the night, with an overcast sky, there is not much to see. You see some white foam reflecting the stern light and feel the motion as the boat rises on the swell. But you have no idea just how big the swells are.

That is, until the steely light of early dawn.

Then your awareness changes suddenly. And this girl woke up with a start to the realities of what she had just made through for the preceding three hours. Quite an interesting change I saw this morning. And it has to do with awareness and shaking off the fetters of civil society and being allowed your own thoughts and emotions. And understanding the limits of your own senses.

There is another aspect which is not so obvious and that has to do with fear and your comfort zone. Having first experienced the sea all alone on her watch, she never worried about her safety of the safety of the boat. Not one iota of doubt in her mind. Until the daylight came and she saw the sea.

Then her fears kicked in, but only for a few seconds. Her rational mind came to the fore and she could relive her watch, along with the knowledge that she was safe, in spite of what her fears led her to believe. Personal mastery is what Peter Senge calls it in his book The Fifth Discipline.

A catharsis, no less. All of us go through these emotions, irrespective of our level of experience. And having sat at home for a long time, I am also living these experiences anew, as time and city life has dulled my awareness yet again.

The woes of my navigation exercises continue with the cloudy skies and the rough seas. It is exceedingly difficult to take proper sun sights when the sun is visible for short periods only, sticking its face furtively out of the clouds. Couple that to seas where the horizon is mostly a few hundred meters away and you have a recipe for inaccurate readings

I persevered and managed to get two decent sights. Reducing these revealed the inaccuracies and my fix was just over twenty miles different from the ship's GPS. Twenty miles may seem a lot compared to what I achieved before. However, in the open ocean it is quite sufficient. It is better than just dead reckoning and the update circumvents the errors associated with dead reckoning over long time intervals.

From my calculations and plots it is clear that we had much more leeway than I had allowed for. A good lesson to take to heart, even if you have the privilege of a GPS. Practice makes perfect and I shall persevere even more. It keeps the mind gainfully occupied if nothing else. But that seems a vey negative way to look at it.

Navigation is also part of the awareness theme. You need to understand where the forces of Nature are taking you. This has to do with judgment as well as some mathematics. And the judgment comes from practise.

Not sitting and watching TV in a mindless fashion.


Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2013-09-28



Day 5 : Leaden Skies And A Bath

The day dawned under leaden skies. Thick clouds all over, a few fine, misty raindrops floating on the breeze.

The weather cleared later and we have been sailing all day, making good progress at a touch over six knots. Tonight the wind freshened and we are averaging around seven knots with the wind peaking at seventeen knots at the time of writing.

The sea is also up and we have a swell of about two and a half meters. The wave pattern indicates two swells from different directions. Some swells are from directly aft, going in the same direction as the boat, while the other set is downwind, which is on our port quarter.

Interesting to sit here in the dark, not knowing which way the boat will be pitching next. But he surfing is excellent. And I have seen 8.5 knots several times tonight.

The wind freshens during the early part of the night, then dies down towards sunrise. A stable weather pattern. The trade winds, no less.

I was on watch from 03h00 to 06h00, then had no duties for the whole day. I am now on watch again on the 18h00-21h00 shift. A whole day to sleep, rest, read, and in general have time for myself in daylight hours. The advantages of having four crew on board!

Fridays are also bath days at sea. The one day when you may wash in fresh water. This boat has calorifiers that work off the engine exhaust. Very comfortable if the engines had been running recently. The port engine was last to run, therefore the port side had hot water. The starboard side, where the skipper lives, had cold water only. He muttered a remark about planning the engine hours for next week.

Life aboard is quite simple, but sometimes little things make it just that touch easier. We don't use the regular grid on the stove, as it discolours and needs to be delivered as new. So we substitute a normal braai grid which we ditch at our destination. The braai grid is galvanised, which burns off quickly and then the cheap aluminium pots we use stick to the bare steel wire of the grid. This means we can get by without pot clamps, which make life a bit easier.

However, on this trip I brought my regular dinky sized kettle from le Creuset. This kettle is properly enamelled and does not stick to the wire of the grid, sliding all over the stove as the boat rolls and pitches. This meant that you had to hold the kettle in place with one hand or be very busy every now and then shifting it back to over the burner.

So we sat ourselves down and contemplated the problem. In the end we made a little wire ring just bigger than the bottom of the kettle. This was fastened to the braai grid with small home-made staples in the correct place. Now the kettle sits still and you have both hands free to carry on cooking or preparing the cups for tea or coffee. The wok is also better behaved and there is no negative side effects on the stability of the aluminium pots.

A simple solution to a nagging problem.
I finished The English Patient by Ondaatje and now am tackling Homer's Odyssey. Perhaps I should read The Wind In The Willows first, it may be lighter reading. Or perhaps I can read The Odyssey in sections. Rather like eating an elephant or climbing a mountain.

I tried my hand at a noon sight today. Proper classical navigation. Set up the sextant and keep on taking readings, starting just prior to local meridian passage. I did this and found the sun kept on rising. Then, dejected, went back to the books and instruction manuals and found that I had miscalculated by an hour.

After recalculation I was ready. But my preparation was almost fruitless, as thick clouds obscured the sun. Eventually I got one good reading, which I duly reduced and plotted. I was out by more than twenty miles compared to the ship's GPS. This due to rounding errors and coarse calculations of time to angle conversions. I shall pay more attention to seconds of time for the next noon sight. However, I suspect that my basic calculation may be in error with respect to Local Apparent Noon and Meridian Pass Time.

Some study for tomorrow.

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2013-09-27.




Chicken Curry In A Squall

Today was our first full day of working four hour shifts in daylight hours. We are already far enough west to have set our local or ship's time an hour back.

You need to set the ship's time to the time zone according to your longitude, else your day becomes shifted in terms of daylight time. You may end up with the sun rising at 02h00 in the morning!

We are now approximately on the same latitude as Luderitz in Namibia, perhaps a bit more south. It is effectively still winter, even though we are quite far north. I guess these are the last effects from the recent cold fronts passing in the South Atlantic.

We had some squally weather today, along with some nimbo stratus clouds. We even had a few drops of rain. However, the wind dropped back to around fifteen knots (from 24kts!) and we are still sailing merrily along.

I am almost through reading The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. There is some interesting parallels between life in the desert and life on the ocean. The people in these sectors appear to have the similar traits. Almost shying away from the mainstream urban social interaction, preferring the more intimate psychological aspects of social life on the ocean or in the desert. Definitely closer to nature.

The very famous Frederick Courtney Selous fell in the same category. He preferred a lifestyle closer to Nature rather than the social life in urban civilisation. He did dally in social circles before choosing to spend more time in the bush. However, from his writings in A Hunter's Wanderings In Africa it is clear that he preferred the bush over the social scene in England.

Nature definitely offers a freer form of lifestyle. One has a lot more freedom of choice than when living in an urban context where your behaviour is dictated by the masses and conformity is the order of the day. Never mind allowing you to think for yourself.

In addition, along with the freedom comes the responsibility for your actions. And Nature is merciless in dealing with the irresponsibles and chancers. People who do not understand and submit to the forces of Nature, thinking that they can be the masters of their own universes. Perhaps such behaviour may work in society, where one can wield one's power over others. But it does not work when trying this in the desert or the open ocean.

You learn very fast that Mother Nature wields the power, even though you may be allowed to harness this power from time to time.

It was my turn to cook, squall and all. As I opened the cupboard door to get the rice, the spaghetti came flying out and spilled all over the galley. An intricate game of pick up sticks then followed to retrieve the spaghetti. The cupboard was also tidied up, compliments of the squall that showed up our poor stowing practices. Mother Nature at work, I guess.

I made a chicken curry, complete with tomatoes, onions, potatoes and the requisite red masala paste. It came out quite tasty. Sensual may be a good word to describe the spiciness. Not your standard watered down pale version.

For this one I used butter to fry the onions and whole dry spices. Next time I shall use less aniseed, it tends to make the dish taste too sharp.


400g chicken breast, deboned and cubed

1 can peeled tomatoes

1 onion, chopped Chinese style

3 medium potatoes, sliced

1 piece cinnamon bark

1 teaspoon masala paste

1 heaped teaspoon dry masala powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon garum masala

½ teaspoon aniseed seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

3 black peppercorns

1 teaspoon salt

2 dessert spoons butter

1 cup rice


Fry the whole spices in the butter, then add the onions. Fry the onions until they are translucent, then add the masala paste and the dry masala powder. Fry for fifteen seconds, then add the chicken. Fry the chicken until it gets brown and covered in spice mix, then add the tomatoes. You may add a little water during the frying of the chicken as the dry spices soak up all the moisture in the pan. Add the potatoes and simmer until the potatoes are done. Add the salt to taste and sprinkle the garum masla over the dish as garnish. Stir the dish to mix the spices, then remove from the heat and let it rest for ten minutes or so.

In the mean time cook one cup of rice. I added ½ teaspoon of cumin seed to the rice as garnish.

Then dish up.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2013-09-26

Day Three: Changing Of The Guard And A Visit From The Dolphins

Today dawned quite cloudy and cool. The wind still cold in your face. We sailed through the night, the wind blowing steadily on our port quarter at ten to fifteen knots. Beautiful sailing weather indeed.

After sunrise the wind abated and at present we are motoring merrily along. The wind changed from south west to east, then died completely. Late this morning we had a visit from the dolphins. Always a pleasure to host these creatures around the boat.

They frolic in the bow wave as if there is nothing else in the world that they care about. Quite entertaining. And they do things to draw your attention. Once they have your attention, they keep you spellbound with their antics. Every now and then one would swim on its side and look at you with a beady eye. As if to ask why you are not joining them in the water.

Last night the watch system changed. As in "changing of the guard" or something. We are now working in four watches, working three shifts of four hours in the day and four shifts of three hours in the night. That gives seven shifts in a 24 hour cycle shared by four watches. This causes the watches to rotate, giving eveybody the opportunity to experience each part of the day on watch.

We still have the rule that whoever is on watch from 14h00 to 18h00 has to cook dinner for everyone. This is the only set meal of the day, the others being pretty much each crew member's own indaba. Sometimes we pool and make a lunch salad for whoever is awake at the time. In a three or four watch system, the only time when everyone is awake is around sunset anyway.

In a four watch system there will be more awake time as one has more time to sleep during off-duty hours. You get to sleep longer hours, giving your body chance to relax.This is also helpful for when the sea is choppy. Your core muscles work a lot more in such conditions and you tend to be more tired at the end of your watch.

We use the time after dinner to socialise, thus taking care of morale on board. We have our famous UNO card league, where everybody gets to let off steam. After that, around seven in the evening, it is lights out and back to work or to bed, as the case may be.

And lights out really means lights out. All cabin lights and the saloon lights are doused and the only light permitted is the obiquitous head lamp that is so polpular nowadays. Which is not to be shined in your shipmates' eye when they come on deck. This regime is to preserve the night vision of the crew on watch, as they need to be able see ships' lights on the horizon as part of their 'keeping a proper lookout' duties in accordance with international anti-collision rules for ships at sea.

We are all settling into the routine on board and our bodies appear to be adjusting as well. The slight stiffness in the tummy from the extra muscle activity is gone and our working routine is coming along nicely. The only remaining aspect is the sleeping patterns. Soon, you have more awake time for yourself. You can sleep only so much, even at sea.

But that will come.

Along with the knowledge that everybody is now familiar with the boat and its operation. Every new boat has some teething troubles and idiosyncrasies. This one, number one hundred and fifty seven in tis model, being no exception.

Of late the boat has developed the idea of resetting the instruments all by itself. And there is no switch-mode power supply on board, just normal batteries. This was after discovering a leaky pipe joint on the port side engine cooling system.

Lots of things to keep you on your toes while on watch.


Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2013-09-25





Day2: First Loaf And Dangerous Driving


What a wonderful day we had. Lots of sunshine and almost no wind. A balm to the soul. Except that I started to develop a sinus problem. One that I bullied into submission on short notice, I might add. It stuck its ugly head out probably as a result of the shock to the system of the cold from the first night.

We also saw some ugly seamanship. Needless to say, I was on duty this afternoon, with everybody else fast asleep. Now I have no witnesses to my heroic deed of saving us all from an ugly fate! It happened like this:

I saw a ship appear behind us, heading straight for us. This was around half past one in the afternoon, in broad daylight in a cloudless sky, no wind. And a flat sea. As this ship got nearer, I tried to raise them on the radio, to no avail. When the ship was about a mile away, I made a ninety degree turn to starboard, showing a broadside to the oncoming vessel.


I kept going for about five minutes, then resumed my original course. The ship just kept going. No reaction whatsoever. When she got even closer, I did another starboard ninety and went for a minute or two until I could see her starboard side, then resumed my original course. Only then the ship turned away slightly to avoid us, passing us at about half a mile.

I wonder about the sanity of having any anti-collision rules on the high seas at all. From what I experienced today, it seems a total waste of time. These big guys will run you down without batting an eyelid.

Or were they just not manning the bridge, keeping a proper lookout?

Thankfully some of us do keep a proper lookout.

Today I baked the first loaf for the voyage. A white loaf with onion seeds (Nigella Sativa) and cheese. I also used an egg, making it almost into dinner roll dough.

This one came out quite flavourful and soft. We promptly ate about half of it, leaving the rest for tomorrow. This is the first time I used vegetable fat in a loaf. Vegetable fat will help to preserve the moisture in the loaf, thus making it last longer. The crumb is also softer with almost a satiny and spongy texture.

However, no additives will make it last long against a bunch of hungry sailors!

This one could maybe have baked a little longer and at a slightly higher temperature. However, the last test is in the eating and this loaf passed with flying colours. In terms of both flavour and texture this is one of the best loaves I have ever made. And this one in an oven unknown to me.

Perhaps I have learnt something along the way after all.


4 ½ cups stone ground white bread flour

2 cups water

1 ½ teaspoon salt

1 dessert spoon vegetable fat

1 egg

thumb size cheese, grated

1 teaspoon onion seeds

10 grams yeast


Mix the salt onion seeds and yeast powder. Rub the fat into the flour, then add the grated cheese. Then add all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. I then broke the egg into a cup and filled the cup to make one cup of fluid. Stir the egg and water thoroughly, then add this to the flour. Mix thoroughly, then add another cup of water. Mix until the dough is too strong to use a spatula, then turn out onto a floured kneading board and knead. You will find that this dough is very soft and may be easier to just fold several times instead of kneading.

Pat the dough on the outside with some cooking oil and leave covered in a warm place to rise for an hour or two until doubled in size. Now shape into the final shape and leave to rest while the oven heats up. This will take about ten to fifteen minutes. Cut diagonal slices into the top of the loaf to allow for even spring, then pop the loaf into the oven at 190ºC for 45 minutes.

Turn the loaf around back to front after about twenty minutes to allow even cooking on all sides. Switch the oven off after the allotted time and leave the loaf in the oven to allow for slow cooling. Turn the loaf out on to a suitable rack and leave to cool for another twenty minutes. This will allow the last steam to evaporate and finalise the cooking process.

Then slice up, spread some real butter and enjoy!


This blog post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2013-09-24