Wednesday 24 December 2014

Sail Cruising False Bay: Simon's Town


Yearning for an exotic cruise on a sail boat? Look no further than your own back yard.


Seal Island up close. The home of the great whites in False Bay
After long discussions through the year, the opportunity came up for a short break into cruising. So a friend and I set off in his boat. A three day trip with no cellphones and hardly any internet.

Provisioning the boat was easy. Two dinners and two breakfasts, some snacks. Water. And, of course, a few beers. It is a holiday after all!

After calling False Bay Yacht Club to arrange a mooring just to find out that there is none, we set off anyway. Real cruising by real sailors.

Peaceful afternoon sailing
Along the way we experimented with a stays'l arranged to be self-tacking. This makes for a lot less work when turning the boat. This had us sailing merrily along the beach front at the coastal town of Strand where I live. Wonderful views from the seaward side, the Helderberg basin making for an exotic backdrop to the golden beach. The wind freshened to seventeen knots, gusting twenty, from a southerly direction. Exquisite sailing weather indeed, not a cloud in the sky and I am sure lots of holidaymakers from upcountry enjoying the weather too.

Balmy weather

Soon we were close to East Shoal, a rocky outcrop about half way across the bay to Simon's Town. We had to make a choice of going north of this shoal and north of Seal Island. This would put us substantially downwind of Simon's Town, so we opted to bear into the wind and beat it southwards. One reef in the main and a bit of the genoa rolled away had us sailing about thirty degrees off the apparent wind at between five and six knots. The stays'l was still up, balancing the rig beautifully and we sailed for an hour and a half without touching the helm. The boat sailed like a dream, making happy noises while punching through the small choppy seas.

We sat quietly in the cockpit, having a grand old conversation about small things and big ideas, just enjoying the calming rythm of the sea and the boat. A balm to the soul, this felt like a continuous meditation in an idyllic atmosphere.

Look Ma, no hands!
Strand beachfront scenery, the Helderberg as a backdrop
Not too long after, we had cleared all the islands and rocks along the way and had to start stowing sails before anchoring. With the Governor's Cup race imminent, the marina looked a-buzz with activity. We opted to anchor in the outer anchorage, next to another boat clearly on a cruise as well. We had left our dinghy back on the quay at home, so we had to arrange the water taxi from the club. We were too late for that, so we just sat and enjoyed the scenery.

It is at times like this that one is reminded of the peace and quiet of an anchorage. A marina is very different, with people walking about, the and the creaking noises from the strain of the boats tugging at the quays. Here in the anchorage it is quiet. We could hear people talking on the beach about two hundred meters away.

Dinner consisted of chilli con carne and a loaf of bread that we baked while the chilli was resting. The evening breeze made small swishing sounds as it caressed the rigging, wafting us into a proper sleep.

Some decent speed
The next morning we caught the water taxi ashore and had a nice warm shower in the club. This left us with the rest of the day just to relax, explore the town and do nothing. It is surprising just how busy you can get just doing nothing, passing the time of day with a friendly chat to the odd shopkeeper and passers-by. Coffee was in order, then some shopping for more provisions.

We had invited our neigbours over for a braai on board that evening, which called for additional provisions. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated, as Simon's Town does not have a butchery in the town. The nearest shop that sells meat is about five kilometers away.

No problem, we caught a minibus taxi to Fish Hoek, the next town. Yes, one of THOSE minibus taxis.

Very cheap fare, we had a wonderful time chatting away with the other passengers and the driver. Our shopping took all of ten minutes, after which we simply caught another taxi back to Simon's Town.

Our stress levels were hitting rock bottom by this time. The weather played along and we had a balmy afternoon. We even had time to read a book. I managed to finish Ayn Rand's Anthem. A wonderful short read.

Our dinner guests arrived shortly before sunset and we had meat on the griddle. How else, this is South Africa in summer. The meat was complemented with a salad and yet another freshly baked loaf of bread.

Wonderful company to share the dinner, our guests turned out to be a couple from California on a world cruise. Lots of stories were exchanged before they rowed their dinghy back. Yes, rowed. No outboard motor to kill the quiet sounds of the anchorage.

The next morning we hoisted the anchor, set our sails and had yet another wonderful sail back home. The wind was the same as two days before, seventeen knots gusting twenty from a southerly direction. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at the boat's performance. We were going at over seven knots average, peaking at seven and a half knots speed over ground as measured by the GPS. Decent performance from a seven and a half ton cruising boat.

This was a wonderful cruise. My first proper cruise where we did nothing and just relaxed. We did not even visit the pub in the yacht clubAnd it is on our own doorstep.

Freshly baked bread
Having done this has now rekindled the wanderlust in me. This cruising thing grows on one. I started reading the sailing directions for False Bay and found lots of other nooks and crannies where one can spend a night or two, given the right conditions.

Increasingly, I get the impression that fewer people do these little overnight trips, opting for far more expensive long trips, flying overseas.

False Bay Yacht Club marina, Simon's Town
For my money, I  am rich in time and have enough money to enjoy my own back yard.

One of the most beautiful places in the world.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-12-24

Sunday 14 December 2014

Pagan Style Lamb Chops

I like lamb chops on the braai. But forever the meat is overdone by the time the layer of fat on the outside is done properly.

Use simple ingredients
Then the chops are definitely not OK. Cooking them until the meat is to your taste leaves the fat still mostly underdone. The chop is also then too fatty to my tastes. Even though we tend to the Banting side of diet, we still eat less fat than the French, I think.

You need hot coals
So here was an opportunity for some real creativity in preparing food. After some deliberation and much consumption of red wine and, especially at this summery time of year, lots of beer. Specifically around the braai fire. South African men treat the braai and their methods like a religion. A very serious subject indeed.

I think that the late professor Marthinus Versfeld, one of the most noted philosophers of South Africa, had it right. He reckoned that this passion for cooking meat on a braai is a leftover from primal days where our pagan forefathers regularly built an altar and offered meat to their gods. Even the Bible states this, adding that the meat was then consumed by the people. This now after the gods that be blessed the offering. Even so for the fledgling Christians of those times. The first murder also was perpetrated as a direct result of a dispute arising from an argument ensuing during a braai.

We need to heed these things, they play an important role in our daily lives.

While the braai itself is very important, the end result is even more so. Imagine dishing up an overdone lamb chop to your loved ones. My wife will simply not eat it. These disputes then rage long after the braai.

So, as you will understand, this subject is very near and dear to my heart.

Cook the meat on all sides
Preparing meat on a bed of coals is not a simple matter for some. In this case, the answer was not that difficult. In the end, the trick is to understand heat transfer and keeping the soft parts of the meat away from heat until the fat is done to a nice crisp state. Then the meat part is done. A two stage process.. Once I had figured this, the rest was easy. You assemble the chops back to a block as for a roast. Use some kebab skewers. Or you buy a roast from the start. For this experiment I used a lamb rib roast.

All sides...
Pat coarse salt all over the outside of the cut, then put it fat side down over very hot coals. Use a can of water placed among the coals to help with preventing flames. The steam will displace some of the air, so this helps. Make sure you don't scorch the fat, it will go bitter. Braai the cut on all sides. The bony parts may be well done, it is OK. They keep the heat away from the inside.

Don't scorch the meat
Once the fat and both bony sides are done to your satisfaction, you take the meat off the fire and cut it into chops. Or remove the skewers.

Now is the time to spice and salt your chops with your favourite braai salt or other condiments. I opted for a Spanish style basting. This is made with equal amounts of freshly crushed garlic, olive oil and red wine vinegar. If you don't have red wine vinegar, use normal vinegar and add a dollop of wine from your glass.

The inside is still raw
Baste regularly and royally. This activity forms part of the psychological warfare that you wage against the rest of the neigbourhood downwind of your braai, so take care. Also, if you make a mistake here, the whole neigbourhood will know, even upwind of where you are. I don't know how this works, I just know that this type of bad news travels in weird directions.

Simple basting, applied with a sprig of rosemary
By this time your coals would have cooled down sufficiently to make the rest of the cooking process a cinch. Cook the meat to your taste, then remove to the side of the coals to keep them warm and allow them to repose. This will help to develop the flavour and allow the heat to disperse evenly through the meat. The colour of the meat will also go to red as opposed to being a dull, unappetising grey.

I served this with blinis and sour cream, adding some steamed broccoli. Nothing to be scared of, a blini is a form of Russian bread. There is a gazillion recipes on the internet. My version was making a basic flapjack batter, adding grated baby marrows and some chopped grass onions. Spices were some coriander and cumin powder, salt and pepper.

Do the meat to your taste
These were baked in a dry pan, scooping spoonfuls of the batter onto the hot pan. These you can do beforehand, they warm up nicely afterwards. Dish up with some sour cream and onions, tzatziki or the like.

The meat is quite rich, so beware of mixing this with red wine and beer.

There, you are done. This dish goes well with a full bodied red wine.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman.

Last updated on 2014-12-14