Saturday 31 May 2014

Present Fears Are Less Than Horrible Imaginings

William Shakespeare certainly hit the nail on the head.

The run up to the phrase uttered by Macbeth in Act 1, Scene 3 is also to the point:

“(aside) This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.”

It is as apt to my feelings today as it was pertinent to Macbeth's feelings at the time.

I am not the Thane of Cawdor. I am the designated skipper of a yacht on a voyage across the ocean. But I guess the feelings are pretty much the same.

These emotions overtake us all from time to time. Normally when you are about to venture into another adventure. In my younger days the psychologists and physiologists would tell you that this is a normal feeling. This elevated level of adrenalin that keeps your heart pumping chocolates when you see a pretty girl.

For me it has always been like this when planning a new adventure. It is part of the excitement running up to the day.

But it can be negative. In fact very negative. I have been in situations where I have not prepared sufficiently, mostly due to laziness. In those cases you have this sinking feeling in the bottom of your heart. You know that you are set up for failure even before you start.

I have gone to great lengths to avoid this feeling. It is debilitating.

The question is then how much preparation is enough for this feeling to go away? Well, as far as I can glean from my own studies, it never goes away. In fact, Susan Jeffers has written a whole book about this: “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.”   You feel like this because you are, amongst other things, also extending your comfort zone by moving outside of the old limits.

So, how to deal with this fear on a passage plan? One idea is to get positive affirmations. For these you need friends who dwell in the same environment, so to speak. People who have lived through the same fears and acquired some skills in this regard. These people are your support system for your journey into the unknown recesses of your psyche.

And simply asking what to do is no help at all. You have not learnt a thing or extended your comfort zone. You need to do your own digging. You need to think the problem through and have a plan. Then review the plan or idea.

Very much like playing a “What if...”-game with your plan. Then you adjust your plan as required. Only then do you go and ask for advice. In this way, you have gone through the thinking at least twice. Once for the original plan and at least once again in review by playing “what if...”

When faced with a situation during your adventure, you have to be able to do independent thinking. Your own thinking. In the case of an ocean voyage it is easy. You know that you will be on your own. But the level of preparation required is not always obvious.

And you need to get your ego out of the way. That little voice in the back of your head saying “we'll make a plan when that happens.” Your ego. It simply means that you have not thought the problem through properly.

Of course, going on a long voyage requires its own physical preparation anyway. In our case it is no use arguing that we are going into the tropics, therefore only the lightest clothing will be required. You will come very short very quickly, as the weather where we are sailing to is simply not the same as where depart from.  A simple example.

I am at present worried about the navigational information I have on hand.

Some charts were compiled from survey data dating back to 1904. The chart datum states something like “17-24 feet below the jetty at XXXX Harbour,” complete with a rider in the title block of the chart stating that, due to the unavailability of newer survey data, the compiler is not able to vouch for the integrity of information depicted on the chart.

And the depths are in fathoms. No indication of compatibility with GPS co-ordinates.

Not very reassuring if you need to go there at night, believe me.

So the obvious answer lies therein to stay clear of such places as will be shallow enough to pose a problem. Then a lot of insecurity goes away. Update and adjust the planning.

Simple. Don't complicate your life by overloading your brain with unknowns and imponderables.

Having said all this, it leaves me happily moving forward into the last phase of my preparation. I did not realise just how much psychological support I have until people contacted me with advice or just a moment of shared peace over a glass of wine and a coffee.

Wonderful to have the reassurance that others are in synch with your emotions and thinking. And surely a blessing.

As our departure date draws near, I can feel the positive vibe in my head. Gone are the withdrawal symptoms from a lack of exposure to the open oceans.

Lay on MacDuff!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-05-31

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Winter Weather Food: Traditional Groenboontjie Bredie

Perhaps better described as green bean stew for my friends overseas. But something is lost in the translation, methinks. The Afrikaans language just has that extra ring to it.

Most of us grew up with some version of this dish. Cubed meat, some tomatoes and green beans. It is one of those dishes that warms the cockles of your heart on a cold, stormy Cape winter day. The sauce part of it should be quite thick, otherwise you end up with a modified soup. Not what I would recommend.

But that is my idea of what the dish should be like. Slowly simmered, the meat will fall to pieces. And the flavors will be enhanced by the caramelized onion and meat bits on the bottom of the saucepan.

In my younger days these traditional stewed dishes used to be made from meat that was quite fatty. I like the fat, but tend to trim it to some reasonable level. You don't want the fat to set in a half inch thick layer on top. I also  like to add the odd marrow bone. I rather like the flavors so imparted.

Both beef and mutton will do for this dish. You don't need the most expensive cuts as you will be cooking the meat for a long time anyway, until it goes soft like marrow. By this time the sauce should be quite nice and thick too.

Just what you want on a cold winter's evening.

Green beans may not be in season. You may substitute with any other green hard vegetables. I just closed my eyes and bought beans at an exorbitant price. I also added a can of sugar beans that I washed before adding them. The sauce is thick enough. You can also add some mushrooms towards the end. My missus put her foot down on this one, so I bowed to her tastes for this one.

Mushrooms go well with a chicken version, along with broccoli and cauliflower.

I prefer to use the whole peeled canned tomatoes as opposed to the chopped tomatoes. The whole peeled ones cook to a thick sauce, while the chopped version doesn't. The whole peeled tomatoes give a thick and creamy consistency to the sauce.

Add a little sugar if the sauce seems too tangy. It may be the tomatoes coming through too strongly. And add some good quality beef stock. Beef tends to be on the dry side. The stock will help to make the sauce creamier.

This dish is the simplicity itself in terms of ingredients. The process is not intricate either. There is only a sequence of adding ingredients. That's it. Done and dusted.

This dish goes well with rice. Any rice. Use Basmati rice on a special occasion. The dish will go  well with couscous too.

Here goes.


500 g mutton or stewing beef, medium fat, cubed
400 g green beans cut French style
1 can (400 g) whole peeled tomatoes
1 sachet tomato puree or -paste
1 can sugar beans, drained and washed
2 medium potatoes
1 medium onion
1 small hot chili
1-2 cloves garlic, mashed
some butter for frying
some oil for frying
some soy sauce
some water
1 cup beef stock. I used 2 generous teaspoons of stock powder
salt and pepper to taste
some origanum for garnish


Heat the butter in the saucepan. Add the onions and fry until translucent to golden brown. Add the garlic and chili and fry for fifteen seconds. Add the meat and a dollop of oil. This will prevent the butter from overheating.

Fry the meat until brown, then add a dollop of soy sauce. This provides flavour and some salt. Add the can of tomatoes and the tomato paste. Stir well and reduce the heat to minimum. The dish must now simmer until the meat is tender. Add some water if required.

When the meat is tender, add the potatoes. I cut them quite thin, then they cook quickly. Add the beans when the potatoes start to get soft. The beans are already cooked, so they only need to warm up and absorb some flavour. You may add mushrooms at this stage if you so choose.

Add the origanum, salt and pepper to taste. Douse the flame and allow the dish to repose. The meat should be quite tender now, falling to pieces.

Meanwhile cook the rice.

Then dish up.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-05-27

Saturday 24 May 2014

The Cape Winter Sailing Experience

Life in this neck of the woods gets very interesting in winter. There are fewer tourists, the sailing school is less busy and the Cape night life seems to slow down a tad.

Even the wind and weather seems to feel the vibe and slows down. The southeaster is not as strong, the north-westerly gales tend to be not as severe as their south-easterly cousins in summer.

And we get rain, as we have a Mediterranean climate. Dry, hot, sunny and windy summers with the odd cold front to cool things down. Then wet winters. We think they are cold, but my friends from Europe just giggles. Certainly we get rain.

And some very nice, steady breezes from the north-west, interspersed with some mild south-easterlies. Don a rain jacket or foulies and you have the most magnificent sailing weather.  Not to mention the cruising part of it.

This was yet again brought home to me during the last week or two of sailing instruction. 'Sailing instruction' is probably not a good word to describe what what I do. Perhaps it is more of an introduction to cruising and the associated lifestyle.

Just last week we sailed the boat back from Saldanha bay to Cape Town in the most idyllic conditions. I wrote a blog post about our experiences in The Lore Of Sailing.

This week was a repeat of the experience.

The week started out misty and with no wind. We did other things and shuffled in a diesel engine course. Then it was time for sailing. An overnight trip to the quaint village of Hout Bay, about twenty odd miles down the Cape Peninsula. We planned our voyage carefully, the students doing the passage plan. There are a few rocks to avoid, and we were to go inside Vulcan rock and just off the Dungeons.

Vulcan rock is a rock some distance off the entrance of Hout Bay itself, but really in the way when approaching from the north. The Dungeons is the place where you get extremely big waves breaking in nice tubes, making it a world-famous spot for the big wave surfers.

This trip is a prime candidate for manual navigation practice, as the route takes you down the very picturesque Cape Peninsula coast with all its mountains. It is also a prime candidate for a leisurely cruise. Being one of the most beautiful coast  lines I have seen, it is a bliss to sail this voyage.

The entrance to Hout Bay
True to form, there was hardly any wind as we left the port of Cape Town. Around Green Point light the little wind that there was disappeared as we entered the wind shadow of Lion's Head and the Twelve Apostles. However, we did have a visit from a flock of dolphins. Yes, a flock, not a pod. More than fifty, I guess. Swimming all around the boat and frolicking in the bow wave.

Then, to our delight we found some breeze just off Camps Bay. This breeze was southerly, so we had a long tack out to sea in flat water. Just imagine, sunny skies with a few lazy wisps of cloud, some winter haze, mild temperature and a breeze of around fifteen to eighteen knots carrying you ever so gently forward. The crew had a competition on who does the most accurate navigation. Side bets to decide who is it.

All in good spirit, having a good time. Not to mention the stories. Lots of stories, tall tales and yarns. As always.

We managed to sail our course as planned and arrived at our destination in good time, just before sunset. Enough time to enjoy the quiet harbour at the end of the working day, watching the sun go down. Even the seagulls and the resident seals were quiet. The birds preening and the seals taking a quiet nap somewhere on a buoy or a deserted quayside.
Hout Bay at dusk
We cooked a hot dinner of spicy stir-fried chicken with stir-fried vegetables and noodles. Having a bunch of hungry sailors aboard made it a bit problematic with quantities, but we managed. I spent the evening with some quiet music while the crew went to discover the town. It so happened that one of the crew hails from this beautiful place, so there was much excitement among them.

The night was quiet, with no wind. I slept like a log. The next morning dawned quietly, still with no wind. An idyllic scene, if ever I saw one.

The mountains in the background, the harbour and the boats reflected in the quiet water of the harbour. We had a short conversation with other dock-dwelling visitors from other climes. It is wonderful to meet these travellers and exchange stories. A boon to the soul, I hold.

We left early, as there was again the expectation of no wind. However, we were surprised again to find a little breeze off Llandudno. This one died away quite soon, though and we had to motor back to Cape Town.

Then, at the harbour entrance we found a south-easter of around eighteen to twenty knots. Some little sea horse helping us along. This wind drew us into the Woodstock corner of Table bay, where we had a ball!

We did some MOB drills, giving everyone a chance until they felt comfortable at it. Tacking and gybing exercises followed. Soon everyone had doffed their warm clothes from the exertion.

At the end of the day I saw some very broad smiles and happy faces. As for me. I had a ball too.

Being the instructor means that I do not get to touch any of the controls of the boat. It is up to me to talk the crew through any new technique or manoeuvre. But this time was exciting for me too.

And after experiencing all of this, I still wonder why there isn't more people enjoying this wonderful weather.

For now, I still count my blessings.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-05-24

Sunday 18 May 2014

The Lore Of Sailing

Ever wondered why so many people fall in love with sailing?

I think it is the images of idyllic beach scenes, blue water and flat seas. Wonderful sunsets, some white clouds and an image of a sail boat sailing off into the distance. Or anchored a short distance from the shore. Adorned with athletic, sun-tanned bodies. Scrumptious food on the aft deck.

Get the idea?

The last two weeks were yet again taken up with sailing along with students. Not too much coach­ ing though, mostly due to extreme weather conditions. It is the Cape of Storms, after all.

The scheduled booking allowed shuffling of the timetables and we took advantage of this. Which saw me in Saldanha Bay and Langebaan area for two days, then the voyage back to Cape Town.

Having said that we live at the Cape of Storms, we don't have storms all the time. And when the storms abate, there is magnificent weather with the associated beauty of nature around us.

This was yet again brought home to me on the voyage from Saldanha Bay to Cape Town, a distance of some sixty nautical miles. On this occasion we had no wind, open skies and blue seas. We saw seagulls, Cape gannets and some cormorants. Jackass penguins diving and scurrying as we ap­ proached. A whole flock of seals.

Is that the right word? 'Shoal' doesn't sound right, 'bob' sounds too small and 'herd' sounds like cattle. There were probably more than fifty of these animals. It appeared that they may have been hunting as a group. They were jumping out of the water making belly flops, unlike their normal por­ poising for breath. And of course the sea birds took advantage of this. They joined in the glut, diving into the water for a morsel.

We also saw a dolphin or two, surfing the slipstream of the rudder and the boat's bow wave. These animals will jump out of the water to attract your attention, then they will frolic in the bow wave and the slipstream of the rudder. Performing a dance that is indescribable in it's intricacy. Then they would disappear suddenly.  Almost as if to say that our company is too boring and they are now done with the visit. It must be wonderful to have the freedom of choice that they have in terms of association.

The cherry on top was the whales. I have always seen whales along this section of the coast. These huge animals don't dance, they just come alongside the boat, look at you with a beady eye, then they sound and disappear. An immensely satisfying experience, until you realize that these animals are at least twice the size of the boat. Then you get scared. Normally too late, as the whales will have dis­ appeared by that time. Luckily these giants of the ocean are not really aggressive.

The views of the land seen from the boat of course are just something else. This is not something that one sees every day. And normally you would be driving by in a car, speeding along and having a very quick impression of what the countryside looks like. Things are different in a boat. A sail boat goes along at more or less six knots, depending on the wind. Therefore a journey of two hours by car for the hundred and eighty kilometres from Saldanha to Cape Town will take about twelve hours by boat.

You have lots of time to see the sights and contemplate the beauty of Nature. We travelled on the day of the full moon. We saw the moon rising over the mountains of the Boland region, making a light path on the glassy smooth seas. In fact, the moon is so bright that it obscures all but the bright­ est stars. Combine this with the city lights along the shore and you sit with an idyllic environment, albeit quite cold. The water temperature around this neck of the woods, so to speak, is around thirteen degrees C. This cools the air too. But a jersey and a proper wind jacket does wonders.

The four of  us on board were silenced by this wonderful sight. We just sat there and drank it all in.  Two of the crew were on competent crew course, so they got a chance to steer by the stars. Get a course to steer from the skipper, turn the boat in that direction, then look for a star straight ahead. Keep the boat pointing in that direction, aiming for the star.

Yes, the star will move in the sky as the earth rotates. But it is good enough for the next hour or so. A wonderful adventure, sailing at night.

The whole experience is just overwhelming. To me it is akin to having a very long meditation exercise. Your whole being and senses are enveloped in this cocoon of peace.

At the end of the voyage you are quite rested emotionally, if a bit tired physically. It is times like these that one just sit and enjoy the experience.

And give thanks to your Creator for the ability to enjoy this.

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2014-05-18.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Exploring Stews In A Wintry Cape Town: Moroccan Lamb And Lentils

I have not really had a real chance of cooking at home for a while as I was mostly occupied with sailing instruction. This led to some severe withdrawal symptoms for a decent slow cooked dish on a cold winter's evening.

Well, such an opportunity came about this weekend, with a cold front passing Cape Town towards the end of the week, bringing with it some real winter. The weather outside is quite cold now, with the tail end of the cold front still with us.
Having had some time to consider, I thought it was time to explore the culinary styles of North Africa. Morocco came to mind, as quite a few fellow bloggers seem to like the flavour and there is a plethora of recipes on the internet. I had a short spell or two of trying to find Moroccan spice mixes, with varied results. Mostly because I got distracted by other things.

Like the sailing thing, for instance.

However, withdrawal symptoms are wonderfully forceful, in this case a positive force. I did some more research on the internet and found that the spice mix is quite easy to assemble from basic spices. All of which we have in the house.

This gave the proper impetus and I went ahead. This was a real exploration, with me not having a clue what Moroccan food tastes like. I have never been there. In addition, the spice mixes that you find in places other than Morocco would probably be adapted to local palates.

Having said that, there is also a mitigating factor in that each local Moroccan Mama cooking for the family probably has her own version of what is right. Hence my version would then be Moroccan lamb and lentils a la The hungry Sailor.

Basic ingredients for this dish consist of lentils, tomatoes, lamb or beef and perhaps a potato or two. Definitely an onion.  Spices are varied, but seem to include a hot chilli, cumin, paprika, ginger, garlic, a little cinnamon, turmeric and some lemon juice.  And of course some salt and pepper to taste. This from my research on the internet.

The process differs between places and cooks, so there I knew I was in my own well-known territory of creative processes. No pun intended.

Most of the standard recipes call for olive oil. However, if you want decently caramelised onions you need to fry them in real butter, which I did. I also used some of my masala paste, as it contains all of the spicy ingredients, i.e. ginger, garlic, chilli and a little turmeric. Or you can use a slice or two of fresh ginger, a fresh chilli and garlic to taste.

Also, I like to brown the meat a little before adding the other ingredients. The caramelised part of the meat adds some flavour to the inherent stock formed by the cooking process.

Speaking of meat, most of the recipes call for boneless cuts. I beg to differ, as I think that the marrow adds some fatty content which adds to the taste and keep the dish from being too dry.

The end result was quite delicious. I shall make it again. It is a differs from the Northern Indian and Pakistani style curries that we usually make at home. This dish is not as spicy, although flavourful.

Containing lots of legumes which needs to be well cooked, this dish lends itself to very slow cooking. Many of the recipes on the internet go for the fast and furious option of a pressure cooker, which I abhor. I also prefer to cook the meat very slowly.

The list of ingredients seems long, but please bear in mind that I am using pure spices, not spice mixes. You may add some honey, golden syrup or sugar if you think that the tomatoes and lemon juice will make the dish too acid. Many of the recipes on the internet include honey.

We had this dish with rice, but it is certainly well worth the effort to make rotis or chappattis as a side dish.

So here goes.


500 g Lamb. We used some lamb knuckles and a leg chop, cut into cubes.
1 cup lentils. We had brown lentils
1 can (400g) whole peeled tomatoes
1 fresh tomato, coarsely chopped
2 small potatoes, coarsely cubed
1 sachet tomato paste
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon masala paste. (Recipe here)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 generous teaspoon paprika. I used the smoked and hot version
1 generous teaspoon ground cumin
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 tablespoons lemon juice
300 ml vegetable stock. I used 2 generous tablespoons of Ina Paarman's stock in boiling water.
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of ground cinnamon
small sprig of fresh cilantro or coriander leaves for garnish
dollop of real butter
some olive oil for frying


Melt the butter in the pan and add the onions. Fry the onions until they are translucent and getting brown on the edges, then add the mashed garlic and the masala paste.

Fry this for another minute or so, then add the olive oil and the meat.

Fry the meat until it is brown enough to taste, then add the canned tomatoes, the fresh tomato, the tomato paste and all the dry spices. Add the lemon juice and the vegetable stock. Mix through thoroughly and turn the heat right down to let the pot just simmer. Add salt at this stage. I now regularly use Maldon or other flaky sea salt.

Add the lentils after twenty minutes to allow the meat to cook a while. The lentils will cook faster than the meat. Simmer the dish for another half an hour or so, until the meat starts to go tender. Then add the potatoes.

Simmer until the everything in the pot is tender to your taste, then turn the heat off and add the coriander leaves. Allow the dish to rest and develop flavour for at least an hour.  I use an enamelled cast iron pot. They cook a lot better than anything else and this resting of the food works better with their heat retention characteristics.

Now cook the rice. This will force you to let the dish rest! Then dish up.

Bon Appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-05-10