Tag Archives: sailing-round-the-world

South Africa

Réunion, Richards Bay, Durban, Knysna, Cape Town

13th October to 30th November

Henrietta arrived in Cape Town last night after a busy and eventful few weeks sailing the stretch from Réunion; about 1,400 miles in one hop to Richards Bay in South Africa, then three hops and another few hundred miles round the bottom of Africa to here. I’m happy to be back in the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s it. If you want more detail you’ll need to read more below, but this is rather a rambling blog post. I’m sleepy.

From Réunion to Richards Bay, my first port in South Africa, and then on to Cape Town was an anxious business. I feared 2,000 miles of fearsome winds, wild seas and so on. That’s what I’d been learning about before setting out.

Fine sunset. A few ships to keep me awake whilst sailing this stretch.

In practice, the anxiety came not from the reality but from reading and hearing too much beforehand. As so often in life the reality does not live up to the hype.

Having read books, blogs, internet sources and listened to others I’d come to expect some severe sailing. In the case of South Africa I’d learnt that there’s one low pressure system after another rushing in from the Antarctic Southern Ocean, each bringing wind reversals and seriously windy stuff and violent swells, just a few days between each episode of horrors. (This was all news to me. I thought South Africa had hot dusty game parks with lions and hippos inland, and warm blue skies with sandy beaches and lovely blue seas along its coastline. I’d been here before you see – though that was ages ago, 1973, and I was on my motorbike not a boat.)

1973 and wild camping. I was quite young.
The motorbike was, I recall, a BMW R27 bought from a missionary in Malawi. This road in Lesotho got too rough to go further.

Sailors suffer their own version of what I call ‘fisherman’s hyperbole syndrome’. This is a fairly harmless ailment that in bar room anecdotes and the excitement of hazy hindsight, converts ten inch mackerel into ten foot marlin. In sailors, this syndrome magnifies a strong wind and choppy sea to storm force winds and mountainous waves.

Nothing wrong with a good story but with time plus the distortions of Facebook’s opinionated commentators and its incubated falsehoods, in rounding the seas of South Africa we hear nothing but horrendous tales of treacherous conditions, foul currents, endless gales and dreadful fog, in which you put your vessel and lives at risk. After all there are an awful lot of wrecks. For me it wasn’t really like that. Thank goodness.

Please don’t take this to mean that it’s an easy bit of sailing. It isn’t. The Indian Ocean and South Africa in particular have given me the most challenging conditions of this journey so far. It’s really quite tiring.

But the hazards of sailing tend not to come from recognised tricky spots where we know we have to be extra careful, but from unexpected quarters. In hazardous places we carefully watch tides, forecasts etc. and we remain alert. Rounding South Africa we remain alert, but there’s no need to imagine it’ll be especially alarming. I experienced only two short-lived rough spells of 35 – 40 knots plus, and that was because I chose not to stop at East London or Port Elizabeth (because I’m mildly allergic to bureaucratic paperwork and knew such ports require it). 

Anyway, the 1,400 mile passage from Réunion to Richards Bay in South Africa was a mix of calm and too much wind, but no serious gales. I was sorry not to stop in Madagascar but it’s still closed.

At Richards Bay there’s a warm welcome from Natasha the OCC rep, a Covid test, a wait, lots of paperwork, more waiting and, after a week South Africa immigration authority decides we visiting sailors may have visas. Passport is stamped and the visa gives me three months. They call us foreign sailors, “internationals” (which is true but sounds a bit grand I think).

Friendly health officials….
We’re welcomed to Zululand Yacht Club with a bottle of fizz!

As an aside, it is frustratingly ironic that as long distance sailors, in Covid terms, we are perhaps the purest people on the planet (extreme social distancing, prolonged isolation etc) and yet on arrival in a new country – if allowed to arrive at all – are often viewed more as 19th century lepers than purity personified.

A friendly photo opportunity on arrival in South Africa (Tuzi Gazi). Don’t tell me I’m irresponsible. I know.

Never mind, South Africa has opened its doors, thanks to extensive behind-the-scenes efforts by notable local individuals.

In a big circle of holding hands, our hosts sing the National Anthem (its long and in four or maybe five languages.)

From the happy hospitality and welcoming Zululand Yacht Club of Richards Bay it was a short overnight hop to Durban. The less said about Durban the better. The silver lining was the Royal Natal Yacht Club which kindly gives visiting ‘internationals’ free membership and a bottle of red wine. The dark cloud is a striking but unlovely city where a solitary city walk to see parks, architecture and local life left me feeling uncomfortable and unwanted. But the beaches are nice enough. Suburbs I’m told are very nice. No hostility there.

I left Durban as soon as I could for a four day sail, nearly 600 miles round the southeastern bit of Africa to the charming lagoon at Knysna where green hills and a neat little town make for a picture postcard stop. 

That stretch of coast includes record daily runs as there’s the amazing Agulhas Current that adds 3-5 knots to boat speed. Too fast, so I had to linger off Knysna waiting for the right conditions to get in. It’s a hazardous entry, 30 metres wide with big swell crashing onto rocks very close. (Commodore of the local yacht club tells me that Lloyd’s of London judge it the second most dangerous entry in the world.) Going in was fine; coming out a week later more alarming – no chance to take a photo.

Entry to Knysna is through that gap.

But it was worth the wait to enter. Too many people have said ‘what could be nicer than Knysna’, but it’s true. The tricky entrance makes it untenable in strong winds or rough seas, and this entrance keeps the crowds away, but if you make it past the rocks, fast currents and shallow bar, there’s a friendly helpful welcome from the yacht club, and a small bright comfortable club house restaurant. And a relatively affluent small town on the doorstep. 

On South Africa’s Garden Route Knysna is normally busy with tourists both local and international (not this year), and well-off South Africans have waterfront holiday homes here. Henrietta had a beautiful rest tethered to the visitor mooring where guillemots (or shags) dive and terns visited. She’s the only visiting yacht so far this summer. I spent days walking, kayaking, doing minor boat chores and eating. (South Africa has a wonderful range of fresh high quality fruit and vegetables, a treasure trove of fabulous food for a veggie.)

And then I moved on, a 290 mile leg to Cape Town. It includes the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas, and takes you from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic; and then past the Cape of Good Hope and on to Cape Town. It’s a beautiful and magnificent piece of coastline, and lots of seals are flopping and diving around as Henrietta approaches.

Approaching Cape Town

So now I sit secure in the Royal Cape Yacht Club Marina waiting for clearance. Henrietta has a fine view of Table Mountain……Health officials arrived as I was writing so now I’ve done straightforward formalities and am ‘legal’. Free to explore.

And the view now from Henrietta.

Belitung and Jakarta

Belitung and Jakarta

26th May to 30th June

Freed from quarantine; travels, food and life in Belitung and Jakarta, but it’s not normal

Sail to Jakarta and back, 470 miles round trip

For most of us on planet earth it’s been a strange few months, strange in many different ways. I shan’t dwell on the strangeness too much. 

Though there are a few folk who seem to relish the forced changes to their lives and plans, and use it as an opportunity to improve things, do things they’d always meant to, or become artists or ventriloquists, I’m not one of those. I hate it. This global bug is a curse, a serious menace, a foul nuisance. I loathe it and it’s crazy vocabulary – everything about it. (What sort of depraved Brave New World, by the way, comes up with “New Normal”?)

But I don’t like to be gloomy for too long and so will soon move on to cheerier stuff. (Anyhow, one more opinion from one of several billion opinions is neither here nor there.)

If you take even a passing glance at conditions in the world’s poorer communities, you quickly appreciate how very fortunate you are to be well-off or live in a wealthier country, shielded from the harsher realities of isolated semi-dependent places. The tight-packed shanty areas of Jakarta or the islands reliant almost wholly on tourism are just two local examples I’ve visited recently. For the impoverished, the destitute, the uneducated and of course those with poor health, there is nothing whatever to value in current conditions. 

Give me freedom, unchallenged health, happy hugs and wholesome handshakes, and opportunity and community vitality any day. For most people I guess, and for most cruisers around the world, at best these are disconcerting times. Like the majority, I ‘make the most of it’, ‘do what I can’, ‘stay positive’, ‘look on the bright side’. You know the cliches.

And, though I detest this loathsome global bug, for Henrietta and me, life has been pretty good.

Our quarantine wristbands – soon to be removed

Released from 14 days of quarantine (16 days in the end, as there were holidays for wristband removers), Laura and I were free, no longer branded as potentially unclean.

Freedom on a motorbike

We hired a car, and then motorbikes, and bought our own food in stalls and markets and stores; went for walks; did the sights of Belitung.

Deep fried bananas with chocolate, sweet toast with cheese

It may sound rather silly but after three months, it’s quite exciting to buy your own bananas, choose your own vegetables and biscuits. It’s even more of a thrill to go to cafes and restaurants, and eat some disgustingly delicious sweet things: – deep fried bananas with chocolate, sweetened toast with ice-cream and green syrup, baby doughnuts with ice-cream. And though many local warungs (small restaurants) remain closed, the few that are open are very happy to find customers. 

Another time, we had soemthing different. Of course it’s not healthy. Who cares?

Another big excitement in the month, a genuinely worthy thrill, was the arrival of a new windlass. If you’re not a boaty person, this is the magical electric machine that pulls up the anchor and chain.

Fresh from Italy…..

And, if you are a boaty person, you will appreciate that it’s been extremely troublesome to try and raise the anchor for a 12 ton boat by hand, and it has severely limited the depths where we could anchor. 

Anyhow, after the miracles of modern global courier delivery systems, this new windlass turned up in Belitung (via Italy and extended global excursion). We went to collect it from a little rain-swept office in the backstreets of Tanjung Pandan (Belitung’s main town). A few days later it was fitted and working – still beautifully shiny too, despite my messiness with outdated Sikaflex.

Still Shiny ; a bit boring but it makes a nice change from photos of food or sunset

Belitung is a big island. For British comparisons, it’s more than ten times as big as the Isle of Wight (England’s largest) with about twice the population. Skye in Scotland is one third the size of Belitung. 

A visit from Alex and his family – they live nearby

Unlike many Indonesian islands, Belitung has few high mountains. We climbed the highest of them, Mount Tajan, a glorious two hour hike through rainforest to about 500 metres, not a soul to be seen and a fine waterfall and pool for cool freshwater swim on the way down. It is indeed another thrill to enjoy a good walk once more. (You see, despite my annoyance and anger over the bug, the month has been full of pleasure as well.)

on the way up Mount Tajan
A swim on the way down

Alas! The time had come for Laura to return home. Flights from Jakarta to Europe were fine; but internal Indonesian flights to get to Jakarta were not at all fine. Her first two bookings were cancelled, no reasons given. 

So we sailed to Jakarta. It’s not a straightforward sail. 

Murky approach to Jakarta

It’s 230 miles close-hauled through fishing boats, ships, tugs and, for us, two days and nights of sailing, a few squalls and lots of sail changes. A good sail (with engine not needed) to end our time together. 

On arrival we’re the poor relation

There’s a marina in Jakarta. Batavia Marina is near the spot where the Dutch established their centre for Dutch East Indies operations centuries ago. It’s mainly taken over nowadays by the mega-motor yachts of Jakarta’s elite, a few slots sometimes available for visitors. 

We move and have our not-so-pretty namesake nearby

After papers were checked and our temperatures taken, we were free to travel throughout the city, facemasks supposedly obligatory, handwashing and temperatures checked at every mall and store, on every street posters and placards to enforce the covid message. Even Grab taxis have a screen to surround the driver.

Ever so grand, smart and mildly interesting, Cafe Batavia
As the only customers the chef came to tell us what it was. I can’t remember but needed a proper meal afterwards
..full lunch here for two a better bargain than coffee for one above…We had both!

But big city life must go on and even here in North Jakarta, the centre of the city’s most serious bug outbreak, cargo ships are loaded, container lorries roar past, stalls sell fruit and snacks, supermarkets trade, traffic trundles along (although far far less traffic than is Jakarta’s norm) and the air is hot, dank and hazy.

A sight little changed in fifty years

Then Laura flew home. She’s an amazing and lovely young woman, and has been a wonderful companion and crew in extraordinary times. I’m sure she knows I shall miss her. But I can see that Germany and Europe have missed her too.

Next day, Jakarta’s museums started to reopen. With fellow sailors and the ever-helpful Raymond, we visit a few, drink coffee, chat, eat and shop. Then, with government offices closed at the weekend, there’s more time in Jakarta before I can clear out. More shopping, walking, sociability.

At the wayang (puppet) museum

Marina life is not for me. After a week of Jakarta’s excitements, and my mind filled with a wealth of very mixed images, I sail back to Belitung. Two sleep-deprived nights of solo sailing in busy waters exhausts me, and it’s good to drop anchor again at Belitung.

The turtles are still here and seem to welcome me ‘home’. There are always friends in nature. Quarantine seems not to be required now, but I choose to isolate myself for a while anyway. There are always things to do on a little boat. And I’ve written this too.

Empty beaches of Belitung

South Sumatra

West and South Coast Sumatra, Sunda Strait, Belitung

14th April to 25th May

Isolation, sailing again, games, fitness, eating and …..stuff

Barogang is about half way down the left side of Sumatra. We’re now at Pulau Belitung (lower right)

Think of Sumatra as a giant sausage with a bulging middle, reclining a bit to the left. The sausage is about a thousand miles long and packed with mountains and jungles and lakes and amazing wildlife and exotic cultures and colourful welcoming people, a fabulous world of diversity. Utterly amazing – I am sure.

But despite sailing its entire length from north to south we have not seen a single bit of it!

We have not even set foot on the Sumatra sausage. (Such are the restrictions needed to appease this global menace of Covid.) Just a few brief footfalls on some of the many islands with exotic names that lie about 60 miles off Sumatra’s west coast: Siberut, Mentawai, Nias, Simeulue.

And we have now rounded the southern tip of Sumatra, anchored as I write this, some 15 miles north of Krakatoa and its adjacent troubled simmering volcano islands. (I finished writing it a long time later, a complete circumnavigation of Sumatra completed – without once landing on it.)

Krakatoa simmers in the distance – tug and barge passing in front

Krakatoa lies in the passage between Sumatra and Java, the Sunda Strait. Scenically magnificent – when the haze cleared enough to see the nearby volcanoes and lush green mountain forests.

Of course it has been disappointing to miss seeing one of Indonesia’s largest and most amazing islands. But compared with the disappointments and frustrations and pain of most of the planet, we have been very fortunate.

This post covers some of what we have done with the past several weeks. (Though I must confess that it is sometimes a case that on Thursday I cannot remember what I did on Tuesday, even though I’m sure we have been pretty busy – at least a bit busy.)

Yachts anchored off Pulau Barogang (drone photo thanks to Javerne)

A month ago we were settled with a cluster of fellow yachts anchored off our very own isolation island, called Barogang. Like neighbours on an exclusive housing estate we were both respectful of others’ privacy and yet gregarious and supportive enough to share news and views, snacks and games parties. And the fleet included some very fine cooks, practical craftsmen and skilled designers. And, in case you want to know, our games repertoire was extensive:- Mexican Train, Rummy, Scrabble, and ‘Chase the Bitch’ (This is the Australian phrase for what I thought was ‘Hearts’); and another Australian one, ‘Spite and Malice’. (Does Australian vocabulary tell us something of cultural differences?)

Empty bottle stock hugely increased since we left

The exclusive isolation island of Barogang wasn’t Alcatraz, of course not. We were well supplied with food, company was sound, a nearby beach enabled leg stretching, body-surfing and other things deemed good for human well-being. Life was leisurely.

Hammock on loan from kind ever-friendly Florence

And sailors more dynamic than us built a roofed bar area, cultivated a vegetable garden, bought chicken, cleared jungle, drank cocktails, stroked pussycats and tickled pigs’ tummies. But after four weeks, and the real prospect of many more, Henrietta was itching to move on. We left.

We left some fine friends in Barogang

Two weeks’ good wind blew us the final few hundred miles south along the Sumatran coastline, past grey and awesome mountains, fabulous skies and glistening turquoise surfers’ swells.

On reflection, the wind was not always so ‘good’; one long overnight stretch included one of those exhausting spells of tropical ITCZ conditions (look it up): winds wildly spinning through all points of the compass and leaping about from zero to over 40 knots. Reef, preventer on, spinnaker pole up, gybe, pole down, preventer off, reefs out….repeat…several times, all the while being rolled and tossed about and drenched with downpours of rain.

Very tiresome and wearisome, and at times like that you wonder if a more normal retirement mightn’t be such a bad thing.

At last some good sailing…

Anyhow, forget that bit; unpleasantness is soon a distant fast-fading memory.

We breezed into the Sunda Strait early one morning a day or two later, turned left at the corner at the bottom of Sumatra and sailed north of Krakatoa, that renowned volcano (too far off our course and recently too active to visit) and stopped at a couple of tiny villages on isolated islands; local people as friendly and happy as ever with waving and smiles – though keeping very well away (bar one cheery young family who came to chat and sell us sweet slimy coconut cakes).

Small peaceful isolated communities in Sunda Strait
Always a friendly smile and wave…
..and colourful local craft

Intention was then to head east along north coasts of Java and Bali to Lombok. But weather gods were hostile. After more than two days furious beating into relentless headwinds, head currents and bang-slap waves, we turned and sailed instead to the island of Belitung. (Billiton in English – the source if you’re interested, of BHP Billiton’s name; here tin mining).  

The local beach at Belitung- on a very wet morning

Our isolation islet of Kelayang

We have a fine place to anchor. Henrietta was here nearly two years ago. But now it is empty: no other yachts, all beach bars and cafes and restaurants closed, rarely anyone on the long sandy beach, a scattering of small fishing boats that continue to putter offshore at dusk.

Swimming to find a way out
Isolated in paradise?

In this Province of Indonesia all new arrivals are quarantined, whoever, whenever, whyever. After blood tests (negative) we have two weeks of isolation. No hardship whatsoever and few folk can have enjoyed such privileged ‘isolation’.

You may ask…

We have the entire little islet of Kelayang to ourselves. (It’s normally thronging with trippers) We snorkel its unique and beautiful rocks, amble on the beach, practice yoga ….and simply appreciate how very lucky we are to be here in Indonesia with the world’s most warm-hearted, happy, generous people.

Freedom in isolation

Laura, quite apart from being the most perfect crew that any sailor could ever wish for, and being an all-round marvellous person, has me sticking to a rigorous Teutonic regime of ‘planking’ (yes, I’ve tummy muscles fit for Mr Universe). Plus she has introduced me to Germany’s National Card Game. It’s called ‘Skat’.

Beauty and the Beast play Skat (Officers’ Skat)

No! Do not laugh. It is the National Card game. It is played with all the serious earnest vigour and concentration that Germany expends on its car industry and beer. Though quite why a nation so hard-working, rational and cultivated should have devised such an absurdly illogical and tricky card game, I cannot think. To be precise Skat needs three people, and, as there are only two of us, we have a modified version called ‘Offiziersskat’. Laura almost always wins.

So you can see, life in the age of Covid goes on. Different of course for all of us.

Aboard Henrietta I am forever conscious that it’s only us human beans that are bothered. The turtles flipper around us in contentment, untroubled dolphins visit, the sun sets and rises, birds sing timidly and sweetly, rain patters down and sunshine bakes us dry.

Whatever happens next is anyone’s guess – not mine.

Where next?