Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Passage to Hout Bay

[Kyle]The forecasts for the next two weeks for our leg between Mossel Bay and Hout Bay included a lot of really strong winds in both directions. Even the tailwinds looked treacherous. Fortunately, before all of that started, there was going to be three to four days of very light winds. After our last two legs, we were rather looking forward to a few slow days in mild seas for a change. If the trip took four days instead of one-and-a-half, that would be fine if we could avoid having to take a beating on the way.

We even started with winds that were just the right direction to allow us to sail out of the harbor, rather than use the engines. We quietly untied our lines from El Marlyn and Begonia was blown sideways into deep water. The gull chick was watching us, but neither of its parents woke up until we started unrolling the jib. By that point, they seemed to decide we were too far away to be a threat. They watched us for a few seconds and then tucked their heads back under their wings. After a couple of easy gybes where we had to help the sail across by walking the clew over, we slid silently through the breakwaters. Then the mainsail went up and we were on our way – at a knot-and-a-half, but at least we were moving.

After leaving Mossel Bay we had dolphins and pretty sunsets to detract from the cold

We tacked our way westward and were lucky enough to arrive at Cape Agulhas in daylight the next afternoon. We had also just tacked away from the coast, so it was right next to us. We crossed twenty degrees east longitude at 17:33, just as we were finishing up our dinner, with the great lighthouse in the background. That is the line that officially separates the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic. Sunrise in the Indian Ocean, Sunset in the Atlantic. Pretty cool. We have sailed over 73,000 miles together since leaving the Atlantic at Gatun Locks in Panamá in 2014.

On the afternoon of day 2 - we passed Cape Agulhas - the southern-most point in Africa and the place where we officially transit from the Indian Ocean and into the Atlantic. We were especially happy to pass in daylight AND in calm conditions

The next day, we were once again fortunate to pass close by the Cape of Good Hope in bright daylight. The terrain around there is just stunning, with high, craggy mountains. We were so glad to be able to actually see it since typically, there would be just as much chance that it would have been dark or we would be too far offshore when we passed.

Passing Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope - also in fine conditions (we were very lucky); from here we can start heading north again. Once we reached Slangkop light we were a little more confident we would arrive before dark at Hout Bay

The wind then picked up just enough for us to be able to sail into Hout Bay at sunset on our third day. Uh, Wow!

Like most others sailing around the southern tip of Africa, our first choice for landfall was at one of the marinas in Cape Town’s city center. That was also the reason everywhere there was booked solid when we inquired months earlier (at least for Catmarans). We finally managed to find a berth in the Hout Bay Yacht Club as a kind of suburban consolation prize. Thus, we were really not expecting too much.

While it is true that the facilities are somewhat dilapidated, with slightly wobbly docks that aren’t all level, giving the place a slightly funhouse quality, Richard, the guy that runs the place, could not be more helpful or welcoming. Plus, and this is a really, really big one, Hout Bay has to be one of the most stunningly beautiful bays we have ever seen anywhere. It reminds me of Baie d’Anaho in the Marquesas or maybe one of the Norwegian Fjords, except that it is perhaps even prettier. We were NOT expecting that. Suddenly, it felt like we got a way better deal than all the boats who went directly to Cape Town. Plus, we actually did get a better deal, since Cape Town proper is almost three times the cost.

Begonia made it to Hout Bay Yacht Club around Sunset - once safely tied up, we opened a bottle of wine to celebrate - a wonderful gift from our friend Merinda

We are so happy to be in this beautiful part of such a beautiful city in a beautiful country with all of the worries about the Indian Ocean crossing, the Mozambique Channel and the rounding of the southern capes behind us. Time for a bit of fun.

Sometime later Kyle climbed the mast to do his usual rig check - the pictures he took give a much better view of the Hout Bay harbour and scenery - we are very happy to be in such a beautiful place. We can see Table Mountain from our boat, we even occassionally get Cape Fur Seals visiting the docks

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Mossel Bay

[Kyle]We were so happy to be in Mossel Bay. It’s one of those places where the winds that we needed to get us there from the east are also the same winds that would make it untenable if we did, since the bay faces that direction. That’s why it was good for us when the following gale that got us to the south coast switched to light headwinds the day before we arrived. By the time we pulled in, all that remained was a smooth and rapidly decreasing swell. That would allow us to stay until the east winds returned in thirty-six hours. Now, with having been given permission to tie up in the much better protected inner harbor, we would be safe to stay until we had the best overall conditions for our next leg.

The main reason we were so keen to be able to stop in Mossel Bay was that Maryanne has a friend there. She worked with Merinda back in the mid-90s and since then they have maintained a friendship, albeit a long-distance one. If we had to give Mossel Bay a miss, we still would have driven to see her from Cape Town, but stopping in where she lives was even better, especially since Mossel Bay was supposed to be a nice place in its own right.

Our spot, rafted up to a stinky old fishing boat (El Marlyn), did not initially seem like a particularly nice one, but we’ve seen worse. The main thing was that we were safe behind the breakwater. As we climbed onto our guano-covered neighbor to find a place to secure our lines, we were repeatedly dive-bombed by the very territorial pair of Cape gulls that had taken up residence there.

Maryanne went to thank the Harbormaster for squeezing us in. I was making sure our engines were shipshape for the next use when I was hailed from outside. I emerged with oily hands and a headlamp on to find El Marlyn’s deck lined with five police officers. Uh, oh.

They were actually very nice. I think they had just started their shifts, saw the American flag, and popped over to make sure that we hadn’t snuck in without clearing Customs. Snuck in from where? Mossel Bay is about as far from each of South Africa’s coastal neighbors, Mozambique and Namibia, as you can get. Once I explained that we had come from Richards Bay, they said they just needed a quick look at our passports to verify we were the same couple who cleared in, and then they were off with smiles and good wishes. They didn’t even come aboard.

Once we were tidied up and had a look around, we decided that our berthing situation was actually pretty good. We were on the outer end of the commercial tugboat pier, which put Begonia behind two levels of guarded security, one for the port and another for the pier itself. El Marlyn shifted around in the gusts and floated up and down with the tide with us so our fenders and lines had much lighter duty than if we had been tied to the pier directly.

Getting ashore via El Marlyn and the gull protection squad

The transit of El Marlyn’s decks was still a bit of a gamble. When we noticed the gulls aboard were protecting a fluffy down chick, their aggressiveness made more sense. Now when they screeched and dove at us, it seemed kind of sweet. Their agitation was entirely proportional to our proximity to the chick, who was on the pilothouse roof. We avoided that area and the parents slowly seemed to realize that we meant no harm. The dive-bombings turned to just screaming, which turned to keeping an eye on us, which turned to opening an eye every now and then to see if we were still there. Maryanne and I could even tiptoe past sometimes without waking them up.

The one big downside to being in the commercial port was that they had a No Alcohol policy. They were so serious about this that they breathalyze everybody coming through the gate. Any result other than zero, even if it’s way below the driving limit, will get you turned back. That meant there would be no celebratory, passage ending beers at the nearby pub, nor any wine with dinner unless we were already hidden aboard by then.

We were too excited rest so instead we took a quick tour of Mossel Bay. We found the Tourist Office, the Gin Tasting, the old Shoe 'mailbox' and some beautiful coastline all in a short walk.

{Maryanne: Actually there is so much within a short walk, museums, plenty of restaurants, cafes and knick-knack stores, even a zipline over the ocean, and plenty of nice coastal walks too}

Now that we were finally on shore, we could meet up with Merinda! She met us on the deck of an outdoor restaurant overlooking the bay. She and Maryanne had a lot of catching up to do, which was fun for me because I got to hear Merinda’s version of many my favorite stories of Maryanne’s.

Since we couldn't sleep we called Merinda a day early to join us for a meal in the sunshine!

Merinda treated our arrival like it was a big event and spoiled us with a whole blur of fun local activities, driving us essentially anywhere we could even think of in her car. We went from one pretty spot to another, generously interrupted with cafes, bakeries, and restaurants, and always accompanied by good conversation.

A coastal walk shared with Merinda and the rock hyrax (called Dassies here in South Africa)

We ate out A LOT, enjoyed the sunshine AND enjoyed the views from atop Cape St Blaize Lighthouse

A side trip to visit Hartenbos

Best of all was a surprise she had arranged for us with the help of her brothers Pieter and Carel. They are both pilots and they each own a gyroplane. (A gyroplane has a main lifting rotor, like a helicopter, but it is not driven by the engine. Instead, it windmills from the forward motion of the aircraft, which is propelled by an airplane-style propeller). After a sunny day of fun with Merinda that would have been a great one in its own right, she drove us to the airport to meet her brothers.

Despite having never met us, Pieter and Carel were more than happy to take us each up for a scenic flight of the area, so very generous. I had never been in a gyroplane before. They were more than patient with my many novice questions, then we strapped in and taxied to the runway. I was with Pieter, Maryanne with Carel.

The open cockpits made the aircraft feel less like something we were in than something we were on. Like the difference between being inside a car and outside on a motorcycle. The views were unobstructed. They were also a lot quieter than I had expected.

Kyle was so happy to be talking flying again - thanks so much to Pieter and Carel who gave us the opportunity

After a very short takeoff, we departed the traffic pattern and headed toward the sea. After a while, both aircraft dove in formation into a canyon and we wove our way down to the beach making tight turns and pulling gs. These things are fun!

At the beach, we flew low-level while Pieter and Carel swapped between lead and wingman. We went to the end and then returned via low and slow passes by cliffs and rocky headlands. We even did a pass by Mossel Bay’s harbor to make sure those gulls hadn’t set Begonia adrift before returning to the airport. We had been gone almost an hour. I already wanted to go again. The sight picture for landing a gyroplane is definitely one that I am not used to. The downwind leg (parallel to the runway) seemed way too close to have enough room for the turn to final approach. We did, it turned out. Carel and Maryanne landed first, then Pieter flew over them and landed in front. That seems backwards, but Pieter later explained to me that by the time Carel touched down, his gyro was in such a low energy state that it would have been impossible for him to either climb or catch up to us and present a hazard. Pieter touched down right on the numbers. These weren’t the normal numbers at the beginning of the runway that airplanes aim for, they were the ones at the far, other end. Even though I understand the physics of gyroplanes, years of conditioning as a pilot of airplanes with pretty high approach speeds was making me feel like the picture was all wrong. We are going too fast and there is NOT enough runway left.

Of course there was. We slowed, touched down at about three knots and pulled onto the taxiway.

A beautiful scenic flight around the area, complete with movie-like canyon section, sharks in the water, and some amazing scenery. The vibration of the aircraft is a bit too much for the iphone image stabilization to calculate so the enlarged pictures have a bit of a queasy effect on the viewer - sorry about that!

Afterward, we were all enjoying near-beers at the aero club, aglow with memories of our flights, when Pieter invited us to his home for dinner. Why, yes, that would be lovely, thank you. Carel wasn't able to join us as he had other pre-made plans, but the rest of us could come.

Lovely doesn’t begin to describe Pieter's home. Merinda had told us about it, but there was no way she could have prepared us for what it was like to actually be there. I really can’t either. I had ridden with Pieter in his car, so he and I arrived first. When he showed me through the front door, my jaw dropped. The main floor is very open and visually feeds you through to the view out the back of a sublime and rugged mountain range fronted by rolling hills. Every part of the house seemed to be designed to flow into that view.

In fact, it was. Pieter explained to me that after a lifetime working in architecture and design, he had built this house as a culmination of all of his best ideas - his dream house. Everything in it, every tiny thing, was meticulously thought out. Even the bedside tables are individually ergonomically designed to be better than just a box with some drawers. The bathroom we used has special colored toilet paper, that matches the décor. Plus, the house has so much solar capacity that they put way more power into the grid than they ever take out. Load shedding does not have an effect on them.

I have been in a few nice houses, Hearst Castle and the White House come to mind. Both of those are unquestionably bigger, but neither is as nice. Hearst Castle is a bit gaudy and the White House is a big maze. Pieter’s house is a tour de force of elegance and minimalism. It feels so much like a work of art, rather than a place that people live, that it was hard not to feel guilty about setting our things down when we arrived. The artist was perfectly gracious about it all, convincingly insisting that he wanted us to be comfortable and not to worry about it in the least. It was just then that I realized I was wearing a T-shirt. A T-shirt! Not even a nice, monogrammed one, but a regular old one that I probably wore on our last haulout that has paint or sealant stains that I have probably stopped even seeing. Oh, dear.

After a delicious dinner prepared by his wife, Alta, Pieter invited us to screen the new Top Gun movie in his home cinema. Maryanne and I have one of those. It’s an iPad and a Bluetooth speaker. (It does take up the whole cabin, so that counts.) They make nicer ones now. Pieter has one of those.

Wow! I hate regular movie theaters now. Top Gun is the new Jennifer Connely movie where she plays a woman with a flighty boyfriend who has trouble committing because he’s obsessed with his job. The experience was so good that it didn’t feel so much like we were in Jennifer’s house, it felt like we were on the movie set with Jennifer in her movie-set house. The movie also had several action scenes featuring her boyfriend that were especially vivid and action-y. from a tiny speaker near my right ear, I swear I could hear the Director saying, “Tom, I thought we agreed; no more overacting!”

Pieter and Alta invited us stay over for the night, but all of us, including them, had things planned the next day, so we politely declined. As Merinda drove us back to the boat, the three of us were all going back and forth about what an amazing day it had been. We agreed to meet up again tomorrow after a bit of a sleep-in to recover.

We took a tour to Point of Origin cave where the earliest known evidence of modern human exists

We had another day together with Merinda before an especially good weather window for our next leg to Cape Town. Merinda got up early and drove to a place she likes so that she could arrive with a gift of fudge for us. Oooh, that was good fudge! We started the with a tour of a cave where the oldest evidence of modern humans have been found, dating from 165,000 years ago. Then it was scenery, food, scenery, scenery, food, until a final, tearful farewell on the pungent tugboat pier. Mossel Bay is a beautiful place. Merinda and her family made it so much more so with their kindness and generosity.

[Maryanne]A Huge thank you must be extended to Merinda for making our visit so amazing (and fattening). She gave us 101 new great memories and we hope we don't have to wait so long to see her again!!! We thank her too for many of the photos we've used here. Time and weather conspired against attending the many great experiences Merinda had planned for us, so there is another great reason to (hopefully) return one day.