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

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