Monday 17 November 2014

Taking the plunge

I was recently approached by a friend to participate in his campaign to participate in a long distance ocean race. Starting in the historic Simon's Town, the race then continues around the famous and awesome Cape Point and continues to the distant island of Saint Helena. One of the most remote places in the world. Only reachable by sea.

There is no airport on the island. However, this will soon be changed forever. Construction work on the airport is well under way.

So this opportunity knocks on my door. To sail in a race to this remote place, steeped in history.

I have been to the island several times, stopping there on the way across the Atlantic ocean. Not much to see on the island. Napoleon's house, the Anglo Boer War graveyard in the dell, Plantation House with the world's oldest tortoise. Interesting, but limited.

But the visit is not about the tourist attractions. It is about the getting there.

This will be the first time that I shall go there just to get there. The island is the end of the voyage. Once one starts to think about this a little, one then realises that that is not quite the whole picture.

You have to get back home again.

And therein lies the rub.

Going to the island is relatively easy, the voyage is basically downwind and with the ocean currents. Going along with prevailing weather patterns, following the trade routes of old.

Getting back is a different story altogether. You travel from the island due south until a day after you see the first albatross, then turn sharply to port and continue on to Cape Town. This will take you right down to just north of the roaring forties in the South Atlantic ocean. With the swells higher than the boat's mast. Following a route just north of Gough island and Tristan da Cunha, you then turn slightly north again to reach Cape Town. A far longer voyage than the race itself.

Or you can sail back whence you came, making a landfall at Walvis bay on the Namibian coast. This route is much shorter and will allow you to replenish supplies at Walvis Bay. However, this route will take you against the wind and the ocean currents.  Not an easy route either.

From Walvis Bay you then do what is known as harbour hopping.  Wait for a suitable weather window, then dash to the next harbour.

Altogether an interesting voyage. Supplies in St Helena are very scarce, with sketchy supplies to the local market. Almost all their fresh produce comes from Cape Town and Britain, which makes food very expensive.

So the provisioning for the race must then include provisions also for the voyage to Walvis Bay.

Interesting thinking required here.

All of these thoughts washed around in my head before I answered the question. Shall I or shall I not?

Eventually my sense of adventure prevailed. My friend is a sly old fox and read my instincts correctly.

So I took the plunge. Again.

Having said this, I started to wonder just how many of us face similar opportunities and do not even  recognise them. This opportunity is probably the last time that one will visit the island in its present state. Soon, people will travel there by air. Already there is talk of a five star hotel advertising the most remote golf course in the world. The time capsule of almost medieval culture will then be exposed to big money and the tourist business.

People often come up to me and tell me that I am living a dream. Interesting, this phenomenon.

I live my dream, yes. And I used to think that other people are also doing the same thing, not just eke-ing out an existence. After some reasoning and deep thought, I realise that lots of people have, like me, buried their dreams deep inside themselves and are working hard to conform to some social needs fired by urban civilisation. Some, it seems, die at twenty, but is only buried at eighty.

It took two knee replacements and the passing away of one of my children before I realised that life is terminal. I then dug up my dreams, dusted them off and made a lifestyle change.

Now, life is not really easier. Putting food on the table takes much the same effort. Life is much richer, however. I have freedom of my spirit. And I am less of a slave to Mammon, the god of money.

I am rich in experience.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-11-17


  1. Hi Ziets!! Just love this bit of excellent writing.... straight to the soul!!! I commend you for your life choices! Gyp-sea

  2. Thanks Gyp-sea!

    It was brewing in me for a while now.