Saturday 26 July 2014

The Run To Durban

Our woes with the fickle wind were not over yet.

We were on the run, not running before the wind, but for a short while. We sailed for a decent bit, then the wind freshened to a gale and we had to shorten sail yet again. Taking green water over the coach roof again.

This was getting tiresome.

Then we saw the barometer dropping a whopping twenty points, from 1025 to 1005 Hpa over twelve hours. Scary, very scary.

We immediately set. Course for the port of Richard's Bay, our closest shelter. Game-fully we struggled against the sea and a north-eastern gale to get closer inshore. The wind freshened to 38 knots, gusting 45. I promise you the crew was not a bunch of happy campers then.

We game-fully fought the weather, but shortly after sunrise we realised that we were fighting a losing battle against the elements. We had already blown to a position south of the harbour entrance and were still over twenty miles offshore, going straight to Durban.

We resignedly changed course accordingly and tried to get a weather update on the VHF radio. Richard's Bay port control curtly informed us that they were not at liberty to divulge weather information. So we were stuck for the moment.

Our satellite phone airtime was on the verge of running out, but I managed to get a message through. Half an hour later we had decent weather info and was able to take stock of the situation and update our passage plans.

Then, two hours later the wind died completely. Quite contrary to expectations. We sighed a heavy sigh of relief and started both engines. I was not taking any chances of getting stuck in the open ocean with such a low pressure system around us.

The rest of the sixty odd miles to Durban was covered in due time, seeing our arrival in Durban at two o'clock in the morning.

Never had I seen such a tired bunch of sailors tying up a boat. It took us the best part of half an hour to get the boat tied properly in the dark, with a gusty wind making life that more difficult.

We had arrived just in time. The wind freshened to around fifteen knots in the marina, which is sheltered. We were very glad to be tied alongside and not out  at sea in these gusty conditions.

It always happens in the middle of the night, doesn't it? A bit like Murphy's Law. Things go wrong or a problem crops up at the most inopportune times.

We had the worst gale force winds in the hours of darkness after midnight. On all three occasions.
Then we had the most inopportune gusty wind spring up just as we were entering harbour at Durban. The very wind that I was scared of being caught in out at sea. We barely made it into harbour in time.

Almost. It cost us some serious sweat to get the boat tied up properly without banging itself to bits against the quay.

Then the rest phase kicked in. Funny how your body does not adapt to the change in sleeping pattern. We now did not have to stand watch, so we had time for proper rest. Which, true to form, did not come.

All three of us had intermittent sleeping patterns, waking you up every two hours or so. After a week alongside, I still battle to sleep longer hours.

Perhaps it it the specter of the last leg of the voyage looming that keeps me awake.

The boat did not come unscathed through all the adverse weather, so there was some repairs and maintenance required. And a lot of cleaning. With stormy weather everything gets clammy and a bit  damp. Your clothes in the cupboards start to grow mould, so there is lots of washing and airing of linen and clothing.

The refrigerator and freezer gets a good scrub as well. Things start to leak sometimes, developing a smell and some growth if one is not careful. Interesting how your mother's teachings come back to you in a roundabout way.

Being a ship's captain sounds very romantic and stylish, until you do a bit of thinking. The job is more of a housekeeping job than the seafaring part. The seafaring just makes it more difficult, as this house bobs around on the ocean.

My perspective certainly changed. There is an overt realisation that the job of a captain is very rich and that the scope is far wider than meets the eye. I thought I was properly prepared, but learnt a lot on the way.

Seafaring, yes. One knows how to sail, but each boat has its own idiosyncrasies. But the housekeeping requirement is relentless. The motors have to run for so long twice a day to keep the batteries charged to keep the instruments and the refrigeration running.

Then there is the watch-keeping. Three hours on, six hours off. Except in my case I had to do the cooking, so every day I was awake from about four thirty in the afternoon to half past six. Dinner time. Luckily I did not do washing up and cleaning duties.

But it gives a new perspective on being in charge and be responsible for everything on board, including the well-being of those sailing with you. Not always easy.

But now the boat is serviceable again. Provisioning is under way. What remains then is the clearing out via the bureaucratic process before we hit the road home.

Time to say goodbye to the land.

Sea fever getting back to me.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-25

Thursday 24 July 2014

Sailing Out Of The Doldrums

Our doldrums woes were not over yet. The wind died on us yet again.

It is most frustrating not to have a weather forecast. It eats away at one's psyche.

We have been taking it very easy for the last few days, just relaxing and catching up on lost sleep. The lazarettes were repacked to have the stuff judged for most urgent use at the top. We also checked all the blocks and shackles on the mast and sheets after finding a loose split pin on the deck. The culprit was soon found and the problem fixed.

We lost a shackle after the mousing came undone and the shackle pin unscrewed itself.. Not something you need often.

The worst problem was identifying the source of the oil slick we were trailing. We tried every possible source, then checked them all. In the end we decided it was the last bit of spilled fuel from an earlier break during a storm. We then washed the bilges properly.

Yesterday we motored for seven odd hours in an effort to find some of the Agulhas current. We had drifted back several miles during the night, a heart breaking occurrence, if any. Our gamble paid off and last night we drifted at around one knot in a southerly direction. Free transport for a change.

This morning we ran the motors again as is customary to charge the batteries. Then a nice breeze sprung up from the ocean.

What a relief! At the time of writing we are merrily sailing along at around six knots in a more or less south westerly direction. Hopefully Mother Nature had taken pity on us and will keep the wind  going to take us home.

We still are seeing the most magnificent sunrises and sunsets. Both are a vivid red. A wonderful sight. Sometimes there are absolutely no clouds. Then the sky is lit up from a dark blue through all the yellow and orange to the vivid red. Difficult to tell the greens, though.

Perhaps this is where the green flash stories come from. Or maybe my eyes are just not accustomed to seeing hues.

Of course, having clouds around always make for a picturesque scene. The cloud patterns conjures  up amazing beams and rays as the sun comes up or sets behind them. There are so many photo opportunities that one needs to be a bit harsh and not take too many photos.

I think the red sky may be due to the fact that we are looking over dry land at the sunrise and sunsets.

Two days ago the moon was full. With no wind and a flat calm sea it seems like one has been transported into a dreamy haze of surreality. Much like the dream catcher symbols that the Native Americans have and is depicted in some movie introductions.

You see an oily smoothness, the water lazily moving up and down from some far distant disturbance. Then there is a lightness beginning to happen, a lazy brush painting the world a silver coat that envelops your thoughts as well. You sit mesmerized and watch as the scene unfolds before you, the shades of silver and grey cast by the clouds as the moon rises.

Then the world changes to yellow for a while before being bathed in a silver bath when the moon is high enough.

Sailing in these quiet conditions, it is easy to understand the visions of native folk. We have such visions here on board as well. To think that these people are regarded as backward by some so-called civilised westerners. Perhaps they are just more attuned to the world around them and the wonders of nature. I get the idea that they are much more advanced in their psyches than most city folk in the western world.

It is an easy transition back to Nature, this voyage through the doldrums. However, not many people will make this voyage, as your progress is not under your control. Weather conditions in this are are shaky, to say the least. Nothing consistent, except the variability. Luckily it is not variable into gale force conditions.

This voyage is also an easy transition into the backwoods areas of your mind. An exploration of your inner being, where there also may be some doldrums, not being visited that often. Much like this area of the globe we are traversing.

Not many people travelling here, I'm afraid.

A lonely path for all, even if you do have travelling companions.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-14

Homeward Bound At Last

It's been a while now since my last post. We weathered a cold front, which did not leave much energy towards literary efforts.

Whatever energy we had was used to keep a level head under the circumstances. This is not easy when you take the odd wave over the coach roof on a 14m catamaran.

This sort of weather was certainly not expected in the area where we found ourselves. I rather fancied the idea that cold fronts would pass more to the south of us, stealing our wind by pushing the high pressure cell over our heads.

However, I was rudely awakened.

After three days of absolutely no wind, we had advanced about sixty miles per day, mostly due  to the currents in the Mozambique channel. Then came the cold front.

I remember it well. There was a squall and I shortened sail accordingly, letting it out once the squall had passed. Then there was a second squall and I did the same.

The third squall did not stop for three days. I dropped the main sail after about half an hour. The sail remained where it was and we sailed under a sliver of jib, just riding the storm. This happened during the midnight watch. By sunrise the waves had grown to over six meters.

We shortened sail some more, just so we could lie a-hull. This time we drifted about fifty miles a day due to the wind drift and the current.

The buffeting of course also claimed its toll. The saloon windows had sprung leaks again, probably as a result of the twisting of the hulls in the storm. So now we have to dry out the boat every so often.

The barometer eventually started climbing and I knew our ordeal was almost over. We rode out the last of the waves that day, then set sail again.

Three reefs in the main and a sliver of jib. The sea was still uppish and we certainly don't want to break anything here in the open ocean. We sailed along at around three to four knots for the rest of the night.

This morning we checked out the waves and the wind and decided to put up some more sail. So now we are sailing merrily along at around seven knots. The water still splashes over the coach roof, but this time it is due to our fast speed, not the wave action.

A positive difference for a change. It is now day ten of our voyage from Nosy Be in Madagascar to Durban, South Africa. We had hoped to be in Durban already, but the weather did not play along.

How many times have I written that you can't order Mother Nature around. Now I am feeling the growing pains!

We are still having decent food on board, but for now it is limited to one cooked meal per day at dinner time. We eat snacks like a sandwich at the other times. However, it seems that none of us is really hungry at the moment. Your body complains about the constant buffeting and you lose your appetite. I make sure though, that everyone has at least one decent meal per day.

One must not allow your body to degrade to a level where you cannot think poperly. And in this weather I need all the crew I can muster. The boat is not really laid out for single-handed operation, although it is possible.

This layout has an interesting side-effect. The amount of sail carried is very much influenced by the weather and the boat's design parameters. This we all understand.

However, crew numbers, their proficiency and fatigue level also play a part in this equation. You can sail at breakneck speed, bumping through the water and slamming through the waves, but your crew will not be able to rest as much as needed. How long before there is an accident?

So we ease things a bit. We are not in a racing mode. Take it easier, take a day or two longer. So I take it easier, let the sails out a bit. Ease things up.

Then, a while later, I realise that we are going at almost ten knots through the water. The wind had changed. Mother Nature taking us home.

Enjoy the ride. Live longer.

Sail fast, live slow.

I have a T-shirt saying that.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-10

Doldrums Off The East African Coast

We are still living inside the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Or on a Saturday Night in Toledo, Ohio, the song by John Denver. John Denver's version of being bored is more tongue in cheek that Coleridge's.  We sit and watch the sun rise, the moon rise, then the sunset and the setting of the moon. This as opposed to visiting the bakery and watching the buns rise or sitting in the park and watching the grass die, as John Denver would have it.

Coleridge had a much heavier tone to his description of boredom.

Perhaps we are in a different situation, but eventually boring nevertheless. It is easy to think this as you go through the roller coaster of emotions on this voyage.

The past few days saw us sailing for about twelve hours a day before the wind died and we had to motor. This pattern had been slowly changing, however.

To less wind, more quiet sea. The peak thus far was today, when we had a glassy smooth sea at sunset. However, when I came on watch at midnight things were different.

The moon was lazily setting into an oily smooth sea. There was no swell even. Normally one loses some feeling for the swell when lying down. Tonight is no exception. But even on deck I am able to walk around without fear of falling over.

In fact, the sea is flat calm that I was able to photograph the moon sinking into the sea using a hand-held compact camera. The camera even reported sufficient light to focus.

I was also able to get shots of the southern cross and the two pointers, but these were a bit shaky.

Flat calm sea indeed.

On the other hand we have a serious problem with this lack of wind. If I did nothing, we would run out of food in the middle of the ocean, just like the sailors of old. Or we may run out of fuel before the wind came back. Which will have our refrigerated food go bad with the same starvation staring us in the face.

But we are resourceful, can think and make decisions. Like going closer to the coast to make use of any breezes there may be due to the effect of the hot land. Hopefully our windless woes will soon be a thing of the past.

I am also making an experiment with the pineapple vinegar. We started the experiment today, so we shall see how it goes.

Today was also the first time we had the full main sail up. Up to now we played it safe with the fluctuations in the wind and sailed with one reef in the main to alleviate the deck work load required by the solitary watchkeeper.

The little wind there is is so steady that I decided to shake the reef and see what speed we can make using the full main. The wind was on our port quarter, so the main could actually be blanking the jib.

This was not the case and we had some very good sailing in flat water for about an hour. Then the wind died.

On preparing to pack away the sail we found a shackle pin in the sail bag. Quite disconcerting, as the pin was very thick, meaning that it was supposed to hold down something big and  strong. We found the culprit a few minutes later. Luckily, the shackle was still in place. It was the shackle at the clew of the main sail, holding the clew and the girdle round the boom together. The webbing and the outhaul line had held the shackle itself in place. Talk of some luck.

Another latent problem sorted.

Up to now we have only seen three man made things in the ocean. No, that is not correct. One of the crew saw two ships, the rest of us saw a drill rig. But the crew member in question saw the drill rig in full dress as they switched on all their lights as we approached. This of course happened in the middle of the night, so only the watchkeeper saw the spectacle. The rest of us just saw a bright light on the horizon.

Speaking of bright lights, we are now running with navigation lights again. But I got caught out the other night when I saw another bright light appearing on the horizon. I quickly switched onb the navigation lights, just  to realise fifteen minnutes later that it was indeed the planet Venus rising. Another sign of very calm weather.

We have started our fishing efforts again, but to no avail. Probably due to the calm conditions and our slow progress. The closest we came to catching fish were the whales visiting us late this afternoon. They visited again just before midnight, scaring the living daylights out of the watchkeeper as they blew next to the boat.

Interesting how the simple things in life become important when you are far away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-06

The Doldrum Cruise Start

The full implication of the East African doldrums finally came to light today. In a roundabout way too.

But I am getting ahead of the story.

I made my usual phone call for weather info on the satellite phone today. In fact three calls. Of which two gave me sketchy information and one, inadvertently, gave me more useful information.

Us sailors need weather information to plan our passage and course for the next forecast period. On voyages close inshore we get the forecast on the VHF radio at set times, depending on where you are. But out in the ocean one is dependent on phoning a friend to help with this service. It makes life at sea a lot safer.

Today I had two sets of information in which the informants gave me some ideas of their own. The third informant was my wife. She gave me an update on the weather at home and the forecast for the rest of South Africa for the next few days.

Now, you would argue that the information is valid only for the region in question, which would be right. However, it is quite possible to derive a forecast for our whereabouts from the South African forecast.

This is possible because we are north-east of South Africa and close enough that cold fronts passing over the country will affect our weather over here. Cold fronts in this area travel from west to east and lose some of their impetus over the southern African continent.

So today I learned that a strong cold front passed over Cape Town two days ago, passing over the eastern part of the country by today and tomorrow. This means that the south Indian ocean high that sits near us will be pushed north to give us the doldrums. Then the same high pressure system will move south again as the front passes, giving us back our wind.

To conclude this very heavy essay on weather, I forecast a northerly to north-easterly wind of around twenty knots two or three days hence. In support of this, our wind started coming back today with a light air of around five knot out of the north-east and the barometer dropped by one hectopascal and stayed steady.

Ocean weather systems 101, I guess. Only time will tell whether I am right.

We made a few turns on our path the last few days in in our quest for optimal speed and progress. This had a positive reslut that we picked up a current of around one knot, helping us along, whereas before we had none. Thank heavens for small mercies.

In addition we are now on an ocean cruise. We re-budgeted our food and fuel and found that we could live quite long waiting for the wind to come without having to motor like mad to get to a fast food joint.

Today was wash day, tomorrow boat cleaning day. And so we shall keep ourselves out of mischief.

The pineapple vinegar is fermenting merrily in the bath and we are making attempts at fishing. My guess is that we won't catch anything at the speed we are going at present, though. Hopefully the situation will soon change for the better.

Today was also baking day. We haven't had fresh bread for a few days now after the last of the store-bought bread ran out. It was nice to have a slice of warm bread with real butter for a change. It appears that I have now come to an understanding with the oven and the two loaves came out nicely baked with a thick caramelised crust and a fluffy, elastic crumb. Not too bad for an off-the-cuff recipe.

We also have some reasonably fresh flour of French origin and type '00'. This is not readily obtainable where I live, so I had to make do with what I have. A whole new learning experience, using a different flour than the ones I am used to, in addition to a new brand of instant yeast. Life in the galley gets quite interesting as well!

We were able to relax our strict regime today and watched some movies. This may become part of the daily routine by the looks of it. Good entertainment and not too taxing on the mind.

A voyage with a difference, this oceanic cruise. Quite a positive experience.

My first and hopefully not the last.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-06

Down The Mozambique Channel

Yesterday was a day of repairs and finding out how well our repairs work.

We also made some progress into the narrowest part of the Mozambique channel. Just where Africa makes a bulge and Madagascar has a cape by the name of Cap St Andre.

We topped up our fuel from our spare diesel in canisters. I also recalculated our consumption. The repair on the main sheet was tested and found serviceable. I also lifted some of the restriction on the usage, as we have very mild weather at present.

It appears that the weather is settled into a standard pattern of a southerly wind commencing from just after midnight, backing to south-east early in the morning. Nice and steady, it blows at around seventeen knots. This wind continued through the day, dying away towards the middle of the afternoon. Then we motor.

It is here we I had to re-plan the strategy for this part of the voyage. How fast can we go for how long? We need the batteries to start the motors as well as for keeping our freezer cold. Not to mention our water maker.

We don't carry overly much water, but have enough for the voyage plus some spare. But it does mean that we need to economise on fuel usage.

We appear to have picked up some current as we leave behind the influence of the Madagascan “mainland.” Which helps a lot.

Madagascar is an island, but it is large enough to count as mainland as far as influencing the weather is concerned. Hopefully this influence will wane as we cross to the African side of the Mozambique channel.

As of the time of writing we just on a thousand miles away from Durban, our next port of call. Home. Well, almost.

But very frustrating when you sail at seven and a half knots for half the day, then chug along at four knots to conserve fuel for the rest of the time. Daily runs are sitting at around one hundred nautical miles per day, while we are expecting at least a hundred and fifty.

The vagaries of sailing.

We plan to make a stopover in Durban to rest and recover. The boat needs some attention and tlc after my ministrations, so there is work to be done. The next leg of the voyage includes rounding of two of the four most notorious capes in the world, namely Cape Agulhas and Cape Point. And it is winter there at the moment. You want the boat to be as ready as possible before starting the voyage.

On this delivery we have the luxury of a large video screen, so movies after dinner seem to be in fashion on board. Some relaxation, forsooth.

I have yet to read a book on this voyage I have been kept busy with the captain's work, which never stops. And I have been the main cook on board as well. All of this, along with working my shifts, take up most of my waking time, so hardly any time left for reading.

I am managing my time to have as much sleeping time as possible. Which is not saying much. Normally with our watch-keeping we work three hours on and six hours off. However, in my case I have to cook dinner. So every day I have to be awake from around four-thirty in the afternoon to start preparing dinner.  I have a broken sleeping schedule two days out of three.

It takes a toll after a while. My erstwhile skipper will probably laugh. He explained this several times on our previous voyages, with little effect. It is only now that I am wearing the same shoes that the message hits home. At least I feel like I am growing into this role and that my body clock has adapted.

My sleeping pattern now is something like sleep two hours every now and then. Sum total of sleeping hours per day then comes to around eight, but in snippets. Eating sensibly and smaller portions help a lot to stay alert and mentally agile for the task at hand.

Our freezer now has some space for more fish. But that is not all. I have this idea of using some of the fresh pineapple to make a sour ferment to use as vinegar. Then we can have a lovely fruity pickle for the fish, unique to the Hungry Sailor. Spices are no problem, we just left one of the hubs of the spice trade.

I am looking forward to this one. Imagine, a totally natural and chemical free fish pickle. Organic, too. I very much doubt whether the locals use GM seeds to grow their pineapple crops. From what I have seen, they use the wild ones to restart new growth.

And not to mention fish biltong. Properly spiced and dried fish, using our own home made vinegar. The plans are in place, along with the logistics. Now all we need is some fish.

I shall start the vinegar tomorrow. We have a pineapple left. And some local rum from Madagascar to disinfect the whole lot.

Ahh, what fun it is to have creative ideas using appropriate technology!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-04

Reparations Day

Macbeth once remarked on a question from his friend Banquo on how his day had been that “such fair and foul a day I have not seen.”

Perhaps a bit harsh in our circumstances, but a valid comparison nevertheless.

Today we did a mop-up of all the things that broke, fell around and became messy in general. The weather had subsided during the night and we all had some rest.

But not I. The engine failure problem kept me awake as I was trying to figure out the various possibilities of what could have gone wrong. During this morning's inspection, I found that the fuel filter bracket had broken loose from the mounting and the fuel filter was hanging in the air suspended by the various pipes that are connected to it. But the worst was to come. The fuel filter itself had cracked open and was dripping fuel.

This was all fixed within about an hour's work using some very creative engineering applied to materials at hand. Notable of which is the good use of cable ties.

But the worst part is that we lost an estimated sixty liters of our precious fuel. This in an area of the ocean which is known for its doldrums at this time of year. The very reason that makes it one of the better cruising destinations in the world.

You sail when there is wind during the day, then anchor at a suitable spot during the dead times to enjoy the beautiful sun-filled sky and beaches. Not to mention the diving spots.

One can but hope that our provisioning is up to the problems posed by Mother Nature. Otherwise we may be very thin by the time we get to a suitable reprovisioning point.

Our broken main sheet was repaired in quick time by rearranging the culprit blocks that caused the chafing in the first place. But a fat lot of good that did, with no useful wind. Still, the mainsail is now serviceable again.

We are al settling into the daily routine of a regular delivery voyage. Three hours on, six hours off. Interesting how fast our biological clocks adapt to the change in sleeping regime.

My crew looks like two hippies from the sixties. Perhaps they like the sea gypsey lifestyle. All they need now is to learn how to cook. Then I could take a break from the rigid timetable that I am following on this trip and have some more rest.

Our freezer is still stocked sufficiently with fresh fish that we don't really have to fish at present. In spite of this, the crew is starting to put a line out of their own accord just to keep busy. Another interesting development amongst people who are more used to texting their friends on their cellphones rather than doing outdoorsy things.

Perhaps I have the makings of more Hungry Sailor types on board!

Tonight we watched a movie after dinner. The first time we really had a chance of doing so. We are motoring along under a moonlit sky on a glassy smooth sea at around three knots with absolutely no wind.

The wind died around four in the afternoon. Hopefully it will return around two in the morning, like last night.

We had the most exquisite sailing conditions today. A steady wind of seventeen knots, gusting to twenty, just abaft our port beam, the sea having swells of around one and a half meters. Blue skies and a warm sun. Almost like a page from a travel brochure, as I said before. This is the “fair” part of the expression.

One is always thankful for such mercies. It gives one time to recoup and revitalise both body and spirit.

Today I am signing off watch with a song in my heart.

Things are looking up again. We are about seven hundred nautical miles away from our waypoint on the East African coast near Inhambane in Mozambique. Seven days of sailing at the present rate, hopefully better than that.

Who knows what adventures await us?

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-03

And Then The Storm-Blast Came

I suppose it had to happen. All fair weather on a voyage like this seems to be too good to be true. 

Today Mother Nature decided to show us one of her nastier moods.

For the last three days you may think we were part of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

“Day after day, day after day
Nor wind nor breath nor motion.
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.”

These words from Samuel Taylor Coleridge certainly rang true. We were shopping on the first day, luckily for us. But there was not a breath of wind for most of the day.The second day was yesterday, when we had to motor, as the sea was glassy smooth with no wind either.

To follow on with Coleridge's words: “Then the storm blast came.”

Early this morning the wind came up.  A nice breeze at first, which grew to a howling gale just after sunrise. Twenty-eight knots, gusting to thirty-five, complete with swells of over five meters. We changed course to have the swells on our port beam, but still got swamped every so often in the cockpit. Quite something on a 14 m catamaran.

Of course this was not the only thing that happened. The main sheet chafed through and we had to effect hasty repairs at five o'clock in the morning. In the dark, I might add. This exercise had to be repeated an hour later as the same thing happened.

We stowed the main sail and tied the boom down until we could make a repair on it in quieter weather. The chafing was due to broken blocks.

Luckily the wind abated towards afternoon and the sea settled enough for us to have a comfortable dinner. The first decent meal of the day.

But that was still not the end of our woes.

Shortly before my watch started at midnight, the port engine started overheating and had to be stopped. We shall do an inspection in the morning.

So now we are wallowing along at one knot in a variable wind in order to conserve fuel.

One wonders what will happen next.

All of this yet again brought to mind one of life's lessons as taught by sailing. The nice pictures that you see in brochures and books are but part of the screen saver of sailing.

The real experience is a lot of hard and dirty work, interspersed with these nice experiences. One of the biggest jobs in sailing instruction is to make the students aware of this other hidden part.

You do not have a garage or friendly service station to come and help you if you get into trouble. You are on your own and have to make do. Mostly far away from land.

But I had this experience right outside Cape Town harbour, where the boat's motor died just as I was about to enter harbour. I had already obtained permission from port control to do so. So we sailed away and did some tacks and gybes while I fixed the problem. I wonder what the official in the control tower was thinking.

Sailing is far more than just the fun part of racing on a sunny day. The biggest part of sailing lies in what I call ship's husbandry. It is all those little tasks of looking after the engine, the instruments and the working parts of the boat. Making sure that the rigging integrity is still good. And making sure that the boat is properly provisioned. It includes also looking after the safety and navigation equipment and making sure that you have a proper passage plan.

And then making sure you have a properly prepared crew.

Some of the students thought that this was a bit much. Not quite what they were expecting from a sailing course. So now I have some of them on board on a long voyage, with the same things happening and the same level of responsibility required of all of us.

Except now you can't phone for help.

Hopefully some of the lessons are driven home.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-03

Wednesday 23 July 2014

On The Road Again

Or would “All At Sea” be a better title?

Whatever the case, we are on our way again on this Odyssey to deliver the boat to Harbour Island, Gordon's Bay. The last few days were quite hectic, with Tony packing in as much of the Madagascar experience as possible.

We dived in several spots and fished on our way wherever we went. With a modicum of success. But this level of activity takes its toll and we were all quite exhausted by the time we had the boat provisioned for the voyage to Durban. Then it was time to see Tony and Marjo off before we slipped our mooring lines and were on our way.

We were so eager to go that we opted to stop at Russian Bay again to clean the water line of all the growth of the last two weeks. The marina where we were moored had a vibe that was just too depressing and the water were a bit murky. There was a muddy bottom after all.

In contrast, Russian Bay has the most beautiful beaches and a sandy bottom to drop your anchor. The water is clean and warm, making it a pleasure to hop in the water to clean the hulls.

This last indulgence quickly came to an end and half an hour later we hoisted anchor and said goodbye to this beautiful place. This time for good.

I now fully understand the inner conflict that some sailors have of casting off and leaving versus staying another day. Or perhaps even longer.

We met an American sailor who has been on an extended cruise since 2004. This cruising life grows on you.  And this area has so many beautiful places to visit that it will keep you busy for years. The sea is flat and the wind mild. The conditions are so benign that you find the local fishermen in their little sailing canoes quite far out to sea. They go about their daily toil without batting an eyelid, sailing and paddling several miles out to sea to their favourite fishing spot.

This may sound weird, but here you do get reefs quite far out to sea, where the water is about ten meters deep with some drop-off cliffs. This is where you find the game fish that these fishermen are after.

This voyage has been filled with so many activities that my blog posts had to take a second place for the time being. But now we are on a watch-keeping schedule and things have quieted down, allowing some free time for recording my experiences.

I picked up quite a few culinary skills on this trip. These include cooking prawns, something that I have never done but was on my bucket list. The basic trick to get crispy prawns is to have them completely dry, then dusted with a bit of flour before frying them in butter and oil. Easy, if you know about the dryness requirement. And these came out the best I have ever tasted.

Another quick salad idea also came up. A three bean salad, “sousboontjies” for my Afrikaans readers. Normally made from dry beans soaked overnight, then cooked to a mush, this one is a lot easier.

Start with a small onion, a slice of sweet pepper and a knob of garlic, mashed. Fry these in light oil until theonions are translucent. Then add two cans of beans, e.g. red kidney beans and baked beans and cook these slowly for ten minutes. You may add some vinegar if you want to. Definitely add some sugar, say two table spoons. Stir the pot to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan and burns. Voila! Sousboontjies! Very easy, even if it is a bit of a cheat. The cooking makes the beans more digestable. If the sauce is too thin, simply mash some of the beans with a fork and put them back in the pan. Thicken to taste.

Now as I sit here writing these words, my heart feels lighter and there is a feeling of elation. The cruise part is a wonderful experience, but the ocean crossing is what draws me. Going somewhere, seeing only blue water for days on end.

This gives an emotional freedom that one normally would not even dream about.

Tonight there is no moon yet.  The wind just died and I had to furl the jib away. The sea is flat. The milky way makes a light path on the water. For me, this is therapeutic. Meditation time on watch.

I am almost out of words.

May there be more of this!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-01

Lost in Paradise

This is how I felt the last few days.

We cruised around the islands of Nossy Be, Nossy Komba, Tany Kely and a place called Russian Bay. We anchored off Hellville and went ashore for supplies and a look around.

The place resembles any town on the African continent, with friendly people all around wearing smiles and a colourful spread of garb.

The shops are clean and so are the streets. There is proper sanitation and the streets don't smell of excrement and rotting garbage. We visited a small village on the island of Nossy Komba, where a friend of Tony lives. Children in school and evrybody happy. They have the most magnificent views imaginable, with their houses pitched against the hillside.

And they have all the food that they want. Fish from the sea, bananas, papayas, cocnuts, chickens and the odd zebu. A zebu is a species of ox. The people also eat the fruit bats, so they have ample protein in their diets.

Fish makes up the most protein, while they grow cassava for starch. A convenient water taxi service connects the villages along the coast, so they have ample transport. They also have internet and cellphones, so things ae looking up. In the village we visited they have electicity from a small hydro-electric plant running from a 100 mm pipe with a 85 m head of water. This gives them about 8,5 KW, which is sufficient to drive the internet connection, charge their phones and to have a movie at their outdoor movie house twice a week.

They have no refrigeration.  There is a small ice plant to supply ice for their cool boxes. They also have no bicycles or cars. These are not required, as all transport happens by sea, which is very flat with hardly any swell.

The children are all happily in school, learning life skills as opposed to skills required by industry as in the western world.

We spent a few days cruising around and snorkelling wherever the water allowed. I saw the most wonderful unspoilt coral heads, much better than those in the Seychelles.

The sunsets and sunrises are unbelievably pretty and there are enough little bays and inlets to keep you busy on your voyage of discovery for several years.

We spent a night in a place called Russian Bay. This bay was named after a fleet of Russian ships got stuck there with no funds and had to make do for themselves after the USSR government just abandoned them in their plight. It appears that most of those vessels are now in service as fishing vessels.

We had the most wonderful food on board. Fish is plentiful and we had prawns and boiled potatoes for dinner one night. We fried the prawns in oil after drying them and dusting with flour. You need very dry prawns and hot oil. These prawns never saw a freezer. Think about that!

Fruit is also plentiful and we traded some for fish we caught.

Boat building appears to be a popular skill and the workmanship is exquisite. Especially considering the three or four pieces of tools that these men use in their art. A saw, a small hatchet and a heavy machete is what is used. Then there is a hammer for the nails to hold the boat together. Yes, nails. Big and thick, they are home made from 8 mm steel bar. The wood is planed with a wooden block plane, very old style tools. Watertight integrity is ensured by careful fitting of the planks, as well as some caulking. The ribs inside the boat are made from the fork formed by a branch from the tree trunk of a mangrove tree. Very strong wood and quite sustainable at the rate that these people use the wood.

An outrigger completes the stability requirements of these small vessels which are quite fast, if on the heavy side. All of them have sails.

Some have the standard dhow rig, which Prince Henry the Navigator copied for his caravel rigs. The smaller boats have a square sail suspended from two poles standing up from the deck like a wishbone. The bottom ends of the sail have sheets for trimming. This allows the boat to sail about twenty degrees upwind.

The people are past masters at sailing these little boats. It is a wonderful sight to see them tacking through the marina, dodging the mooring lines and working their way upwind to get back home.

I have seen a dhow docking under sail. In light airs, this is an art in these heavy boats.

This has been a wonderful experience of life in a simple form. Using appropriate technology and the resources at hand. And the people are all very happy and friendly. I have not really seen any grumpy faces at all. Hardly any illness.

One wonder how long this paradise will last before “civilisation” catches up.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-06-30