Richard's Bay, South Africa
We don't have any photos for this section, so this one taken in Durban will have to suffice. See the next page for more photos.
Back at Richard's Bay we reverted to walking as our principal means of locomotion. The shops stood a considerable distance from the yacht club, but local Afrikaners were likely to stop and give us a lift, even though we did not extend our thumbs.
Suka lay rafted alongside the wharf at the Zululand Yacht Club, where fresh water and electricity (220 volts at 50 cycles per second) were available. The presence of a nearby electrical outlet was indeed a luxury, but it felt odd having access to the colossal electrical potential but with practically no device to plug into it. We did, however, apply our orbital sander to Suka's aging brightwork with a vengeance.
On a regular basis, terrific south-westerly gales threatened to lay the place flat, as for a day or two the ferocious storms would constrain the crews aboard their various yachts. The sailboats were rafted to the wharf four and five deep, and in such a storm the boats would grate heavily against one another. Those lying against the quay suffered the brunt of the other tempest-blown yachts. And the crews of the sailboats lying against the wharf were troubled all the more as the eight foot tides rising and falling often displaced their fenders.
“Seemingly an endless stream of remarkably heavy-footed yachtees and their guests tromped across Suka's topsides at all hours of the day and night, using her as a bridge as it were, to reach their sailboats.”
Seemingly an endless stream of remarkably heavy-footed yachtees and their guests tromped across Suka's topsides at all hours of the day and night, using her as a bridge as it were, to reach their sailboats. To our dismay, Suka's lifelines and stanchions were occasionally used as ladder rungs. Such were the cramped conditions inside the little basin. Otherwise, life in Richard's Bay was pleasant. The yacht club was a most congenial place to idle away an evening, particularly during the weekly barbecues. The environs provided ample spaces for our morning jogging forays, mainly along dirt roads leading through thick brush, replete with various exotic flowers, birds and other wildlife. Most noteworthy were the large Bird-of-Paradise trees, and of course the cute little Vervet Monkeys.
"Don't be in a hurry leaving for Cape Town," came the frequent reminder, and practically everywhere we went, people would tell us of the dangers of sailing South Africa's coastal waters. Nevertheless, after lingering in Richard's Bay a month we were anxious to begin the 90 mile jaunt to Durban. However, the weather patterns were now dictating our itinerary: we planned to depart at the tail-end of a south-westerly buster, and to travel with utmost dispatch in hopes of reaching Durban before the onset of the next gale.
South Africa receives my vote for the free world's most inconvenient gunkholing, not because of its appalling coastal weather and inaccurate forecasts, and not because of her dangerous seas or lack of coastal shelters. An even greater inconvenience lurks here: unbridled bureaucracy. At each port along the way, frustrating and lengthy check-out procedures were mandatory. We were nearly ready to depart; the latest gale had finished laying the place on its proverbial ear, and was slowly moderating. This was the appropriate time to start the checking-out procedures, seemingly designed to discourage, even to humiliate, the outbound yachtsman. The tale begins by relating that the buildings housing the customs, immigration, port captain, and harbor revenue officers stand about ten land miles from the yacht basin. A local yachtsman kindly drove us to the individual offices. Our next requirement was to complete a form theatrically designated as the "flight plan." On it, one listed a superfluity of seemingly irrelevant information, then drew a picture of the vessel, depicting the location of its name. This impressive document was only the beginning, and the whole process was trying.
Richard's Bay to Durban
Tenacity, Shambles, Ludmaja II, Suka, and a local yacht whose name I don't recall, were ready to set off together for Durban. As the gale slackened in earnest, the mosquitoes beset us in hoards, so Jenny affixed makeshift screens to Suka's ports and hatches. Then on this night of November 31, the local skipper signaled that the group's departure was imminent, as the south-westerly had slackened appropriately. In turn, each yacht radioed Port Control for final permission to leave. Jenny and I loosened our dock lines, and began milling Suka about the small turning basin awaiting the others. Soon, five masthead lights were progressing one behind the other through the intricate channel. The local vessel, whose skipper was familiar with the shallow channel, had generously assumed the lead. To avoid running aground, we planned to follow the yacht ahead until we gained deep water. And in this we succeeded, if only just.
“Suka was last in line, and I found myself alternately reversing full power to avoid slamming into the yacht ahead, and gunning the engine in order to close a rapidly widening gap.”
The darkness hampered our depth perception. Showing only their masthead lights, each yacht ahead was not easily perceived from astern, and although our leader must have been creeping through the channel steadily, the yacht second in line would move a little too slowly for a minute or so, until its skipper realized his error and increased his speed in order to compensate. The third vessel was making essentially the same delayed reactions with the yacht ahead of it, and the effect only amplified itself as it transmitted back through the line. Suka was last in line, and I found myself alternately reversing full power to avoid slamming into the yacht ahead, and gunning the engine in order to close a rapidly widening gap. Eventually, the cavalcade reached open water, and inasmuch as none of its members ran into each other, or ran aground, we deemed the departure a success.
Having escaped the boisterous Indian Ocean a month ago, we now recouped it, only to find its seas bulbous and nauseating. Clearly, we had lost our sea legs. The wind was zilch; a light drizzle fell; and initially Suka bucked a heavy adverse current, probably a giant back-eddy in the Agulhas' southwesterly flow. But these effects lessened as we motored farther off-shore. Each sailboat went its own way, some holding closer the dark shoreline, others seeking the relative safety of the offing. And as such, the masthead lights of our companions soon dispersed into the blackness of night.
Making her way purposefully as her engine droned with reassuring steadiness, for an hour the little brig rolled heavily, side to side. Then a south-west breeze sprang forth and allowed us to make sail, and this greatly ameliorated the disconcerting rolling. We motor-sailed throughout the night, gazing at a forlorn coastline void of lights save for a beacon at so-called Port Durnford. Also, we stood well seaward, against the probability of an inshore set. Miles off-shore hereabouts, the 100 fathom curve is where the Agulhas Current is purportedly the strongest. Yet while following it we detected little favorable drift.
Dawn found us 15 miles off-shore plying the 100 fathom curve. The south-westerly might have been heralding the assault of another gale, so with land now illuminated we moved inshore seven miles. As the day progressed, the wind increased and veered nor-west, as we had hoped, and thus it propelled the brig happily along the coast throughout the afternoon.
We traveled full tilt in hopes of reaching Durban's harbor before nightfall, and eventually, while peering directly into the late afternoon sun, we perceived a number of huge ships anchored directly off-shore. These undoubtedly indicated the whereabouts of the harbor entrance. While approaching closer, we sailed into a regatta of some sort. The local yachts were out for an afternoon's disporting, and this lively event lessened the seeming gravity of our plight.