10:45 p.m., December 29:
In the blow's aftermath the seas were yet tousled, so in light airs we motor-sailed topsy-turvy through the persistent slop. Holding land some five miles abeam, we navigated using the sounder and by taking compass bearings to various headlands and to the occasional beacon. Again, the Cimmerian coastline seemed desolate.
Michael Stuart and Crypton had departed Durban an hour after we had, and by taking a broader track seaward they had found stronger current. By daybreak they had overtaken us. The day was one of gorgeous weather; mid morning we silenced the engine and filled the sails on a broad reach.
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The following afternoon, as we approached East London, the barometer was once again sliding past 1011 m.b. on its descent. The other two yachts elected to press on, but a sense of prudence suggested that we duck into East London. So we motored into this harbor dredged from a river, and made fast alongside a tug, near a bridge. The 250-mile jaunt had gone without a hitch, and had featured north-easterlies for most of the way.
Quark lay rafted alongside a few other yachts, and Charlie (the diesel mechanic) and Jeanette had been living here in East London several months after having sailed directly from Mauritius. Through the grapevine we had learned that these two had reported enduring a pair of severe gales a ways offshore, the worst storms these well seasoned seafarers had ever encountered. But troubles far enough in the past are no longer viewed as so appalling, so "We had a pretty good trip across" was Charlie's current abridgment. He had landed a job as an industrial refrigeration mechanic, and reported that the boss had extended him the use of a posh apartment and a Mercedes. "Sure beats picking tomatoes for a living like we did in Bundy!" he exclaimed.
New Year's Eve, the East London Yacht Club invited us visitors to attend their upcoming gala festivities. But the club's facilities stood a considerable distance from the yacht basin, and anyway, Jenny and I were much in need of sleep. So wearily, we turned in.
First Day of 1985
The following morning we enjoyed a leisurely walk through the town's deserted streets, understandably quiet on that first day of 1985. Presumably most of the locals were now dealing quietly with the standard ailments incurred in their ringing-in of the new year.
The barometer lay relatively low but was holding steady. I telephoned the airport met offices at Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, and both gave a reassuring synopsis: there were no known coastal lows away to the south. So at 5 p.m. we decided to sally the 135 miles to Port Elizabeth. East London's check-out procedure on a New Year's day consisted simply of my radioing Harbor Control for permission to depart. "Permission granted," came the reply, "and have a good trip."
In superlative conditions we filled away, and throughout the night followed the 50-fathom contour, some seven miles off-shore. As before, the somber coastline appeared largely unpopulated, and we navigated strictly by depth sounder with an occasional reassuring position fix complements of the sat-nav. By morning the wind grew light and we motor-sailed past Bird Island and across Algoa Bay. Much to our delight, inquisitive seals came frolicking playfully close alongside, while a host of sea birds wheeled and turned as though ushering us ceremoniously toward Port Elizabeth.
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We entered the port at 2:30 p.m. Because the little yacht club marina was now filled to capacity, Harbor Control directed us to tie alongside the tug Clarke, moored idly to the wharf. This suited us perfectly.
Tied alongside a tug in Port Elizabeth. On the left side of this photo is the tug "Blue Jay."
For the record, those present included Spirit of Victory, Michael Stuart, Fair Joanda, Nina, Crypton, Elefant from West Germany, Cabane III from Finland, and a few others. And there among the group sat Comitan. We were relieved to see that ol' Josh Taylor had arrived safely.
Suka is on the right.
The next day a south-westerly gale ripped through the harbor, buffeting Suka viciously against the sturdy tug. But we had grown accustomed to this sort of abuse, and had acquired a couple discarded auto tires to use as massive fenders, first serving them with old ropes so they would not blacken the hull. Leaving Suka secure, we joined the cruising group ashore, and spent a most pleasant evening at the yacht club, happily removed, for once, from the clutches of the stormy sea.
During our second day in Port Elizabeth, while the buster howled, we were surprised by a familiar, large ketch motoring into the harbor, her skipper securing her to the wharf aft of Suka. We stared incredulously at the Dutch yacht Why Not!?, single-handed by our friend Leen Verkaik. The last we had heard was this boat had been dismasted in the Indian Ocean, that Leen had suffered a back injury, and that he had eventually reached Rodriguez Island where he planned to spend a year effecting repairs. Yet astonishingly, here he was; and both he and the yacht obviously stood in good stead. Talking with him, we learned that this was his first landfall after a 30-day passage from Mauritius. After Leen had rested a few days we invited him aboard for dinner and to hear his story.
While building his prodigious ketch, Leen had taken the brunt of much scoffing from friends and relatives. "Why are you doing this?" they implored. "Why not!?" Leen would reply. "It's better than getting square eyes from watching television." Leen related his having departed Christmas Island a few days after we had. As he was single-handing, he had decided not to risk entering Cocos Keeling, despite our urging him to hail us by radio so that we could dinghy out and pilot him in. One night, several hundred miles west of Cocos, and while we were safely inside the lagoon, a dwindling gale left Why Not!? rolling heavily in big seas without benefit of a steadying wind in her sails. Leen noticed that all four lower mainmast shrouds had loosened. The stayband, where they attached to the mast aloft, was apparently slipping. He tightened the turnbuckles enough to alleviate the snubbing. Then a few hours later the yacht's violent rolling caused the stayband to give way, and the mast fell with a mighty crash.
Why Not!? was a steel-hulled 47 footer, and her solid wooden spar was massive. Like an aged spruce tree it had snapped above the deck. However, its upper end was still suspended from the triadic stay, attached to the mizzen masthead. Thus, the top of the main masthead dangled a few feet above the deck, and was swinging back and forth mightily like an erratic pendulum. In short order it swept the topsides clear of anything standing in its path. For three days Leen struggled to regain some order out of the chaos. Then came a particularly large sea that heaved the stricken yacht while her skipper worked aloft on the mizzen. He lost his grip, and because he was not wearing a safety harness (for after all, the yacht was not moving through the water) he plummeted onto the cabin top, injuring his back.
Not to give in, Leen patched himself up, and continued working throughout the next days and nights. Eventually he managed to lash the main mast at an incline against the mizzen mast, and to jury-rig a sail plan that then carried him across the vast Indian Ocean. He reached Rodriguez 60 days later. However, while making his landfall the engine refused to start. As the vessel stood bereft of adequate sail power, Why Not!? soon found herself on the reef. Never mind, she was strongly built of steel, and the islanders soon towed her off with only a few scratches.
After stepping ashore, Leen telephoned his son, who had lent a hand building the vessel in Holland. The son then amassed the necessary repair materials and with them boarded a jetliner. Meanwhile, dead batteries charged and engine started, Leen motored to Mauritius, where with his son, he ingeniously repaired the giant wooden mast. This he did by butting the ragged ends together, placing a massive stainless steel collar around them, and then pumping epoxy under pressure through grease zerks. Moreover, Leen had salvaged all the rigging intact, and was able to use it without modification by carefully maintaining the mast's previous length.
Two arduous months later, Leen - one tough hombre - set sail for Port Elizabeth. Indeed, Why not!?
Jenny and I became friends with the four-man crew of a tug residing near Suka. One day they invited us on their usual morning tour of duties. The Blue Jay normally acted as a pilot, leaving her much larger sisters to do the actual pushing and shoving. As a ship neared port, Blue Jay would proceed to the fairway buoy for a rendezvous, where she would then come alongside the new arrival. Typically, a long rope ladder was lowered over the ship's topsides, and the African Piloting officer, whom we were now delivering, climbed up, hand over hand, and boarded the ship. If the ship happened to be departing instead, the process was reversed.
Jenny driving the tugboat "Blue Jay." This became something of our morning ritual: "going to work" we termed it. I found it amusing that after a few days, little attention was paid to her steering.
“Of the 20 or so yachts lying in port, Suka was the only one supplied with an electrical cord, fed from Blue Jay's cabin.”
Our 7 a.m. jaunts with Willie, Bernard, Michael and Eddie aboard the Blue Jay became something of a morning ritual: "going to work" we termed it, for if we failed to appear on time, they were likely to come calling for us. Often, as the tug returned to the harbor (when the pilot was no longer aboard) Jenny would assume the vessel's helm, and I found it amusing that after a few days, little attention was paid to her steering. These Afrikaners certainly were personable, and they could not seem to do enough for us. They drove us on sightseeing tours, gave us lifts to fetch groceries, and once delivered us to fill a propane tank. Moreover, of the 20 or so yachts lying in port, Suka was the only one supplied with an electrical cord, fed from Blue Jay's cabin.
The four-man crew of the tugboat "Blue Jay" and their pilot (second from left).
Port Elizabeth, St. George's Park.
“Comitan's compass card sometimes flip-flopped.”
We had last seen Comitan's skipper Josh Taylor in Richard's Bay. The manager of the yacht basin there, Bruce Hancocks, was well experienced in sailing the South African coastline, and he magnanimously took it upon himself to see that Josh reached Cape Town safely. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Josh would be pressing his luck to its virtual limits by tackling the passage round the infamous Cape, either alone or with Heidi. Here in Port Elizabeth, then, Bruce told me the story of their journey thus far. It seems that after he and Josh had departed Richard's Bay, Bruce had hand-steered for a considerable number of hours before finally asking Josh to assume the helm, so that Bruce could rest belowdecks. A few hours later Bruce emerged, to discover that land had disappeared altogether, even though Josh claimed to have fastidiously held the proper heading. With the conditions arousing his suspicions, Bruce decided to close the coast. Comitan's compass indicated that shore lay to starboard, but Bruce could not correlate that with the way the seas were moving. He felt that despite what the compass indicated, Comitan was presently heading north-east, traveling in the wrong direction. Against Josh's protests, Bruce turned the yacht around and then reset the sails. A few hours later, indeed, they sighted land ahead. This was when they first discovered that, inexplicably, Comitan's compass card sometimes flip-flopped. Nevertheless, they had barely reached the Durban Harbor breakwater when the buster hit. Wisely, they rode the gale at anchor rather than enter the harbor and subject themselves to the tempest of clearance procedures and the inner harbor turmoil. After the buster they sprinted for Port Elizabeth, where they sheltered for two days during the next south-westerly, poor Josh all the while protesting that Bruce was being overly domineering. Then the day after I talked with them, they set off for Cape town.
The fact that little Michael Stuart with her shortened mast had passed Suka one day out of Durban had further impressed upon Jenny and me the need to haul Suka out of the water for a long-overdue bottom scrubbing. We telephoned ahead to Cape Town's yacht club, only to learn that the marine railways there were fully booked. The ways in Port Elizabeth were available and inexpensive, no doubt because they were rickety beyond measure. So with some misgivings Jenny and I visited the slipway's manager and paid for a haul-out. If we should need a ladder, the chap informed us, it would cost extra.
The haul-out in Port Elizabeth to re-paint the hull with antifouling.
After a few scruffy workers had winched Suka recklessly up the rickety ways and onto dry land, Jenny and I set to scraping and sanding away most of the old bottom paint, without the benefit of power tools, which were unavailable here.
Midway through our first day of work, a black fellow happened along and asked rather emphatically for employment. "To feed my family," he implored, taking a sheet of sandpaper and setting to work. The sight of the black employees of the Port Authority hanging idly about had not bode well with us. "How much do you charge?" I asked skeptically.
"One Rand an hour."
That was the equivalent of a mere 50 cents US per hour, so I said "OK." That afternoon, Cecil Mongezi performed the work of any three men stateside. He was a member of the tribe Xhosa, a word pronounced by first clicking the back of the tongue and then quickly saying "closha." Despite repeated attempts neither Jenny or I managed the pronunciation.
Cecil helping us remove the old bottom paint by hand.
Cecil showed me his credentials, which the law required all blacks to carry. Also as required by law, Cecil lived in one of the "locations" far from town, where the blacks were kept away from the cities as much as possible. On the days he elected to come looking for work, Cecil would board the bus at 5:30 in the morning, then once at the train station he would endure a lengthy train ride to the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, from where he would then walk the remaining miles into town. The round trip fare was the equivalent of 33 cents US - nearly an hour's wages, should he be so fortunate as to find a day's employment.
When the afternoon had spent itself I presented Cecil with his pay, along with a well earned bonus, and invited him to return the following day if he cared to work again.
That night a noise awoke Jenny and me. I climbed the companionway ladder to find a couple of gooks milling around Suka, obviously casing her. Discovering my presence, they ran away.
“Your man Cecil here is different," Bernard said. "He works hard and acts responsibly, and I am not prejudiced against his color. And this is what the world fails to understand about we South Africans.”
The next day Cecil returned, and the three of us resumed our work. The time spent in Cecil's presence passed quickly, as our new friend enlightened us with his perspectives, and as we plied him with unending questions. That afternoon, Bernard, one of our white, Afrikaner friends from the Blue Jay, came by to apprise our progress and to wish us well. I hardly knew what to expect when the two factions met, but to my amazement Bernard began speaking with Cecil in the Xhosa language, and in friendly, relaxed tones. "It's like this," Bernard explained to Jenny and me. "Our problem is not that we don't like blacks, but that the majority of them don't care to work in any way, or even to treat their fellow man with respect. They fight and steal from each other like you wouldn't believe." (Cecil lifted his shirt to reveal four stab wound scars.) "With their numbers and behavior, they must be kept away from the cities as much as possible; otherwise they would overwhelm us. The problem is insurmountable and we're doing what we can under the circumstances. Your man Cecil here is different. He works hard and acts responsibly, and I am not prejudiced against his color. And this is what the world fails to understand about we South Africans." Indeed, Jenny and I were learning not to judge people by whatever common misconceptions prevailed back home.
After we had worked hard throughout the morning, Jenny fixed a hearty lunch; but Cecil would not stop working. "Not hungry now, eat later," he demurred. I think this was his way of showing us how important the job was to him. That evening I invited him back for the third and final day of bottom work, and with enthusiasm he said that he would return. However, the following day he failed to appear, and to this day I shudder to imagine how his fellow tribesmen might have relieved him of his windfall pay.
With the hull newly painted, Suka is ready to slide back into the water.
That afternoon the yard staff relaunched Suka by simply letting go. At that she accelerated down the ways at a shuddering speed, only to smash stern-first into the sea. But when at last Suka lay again safely afloat, I felt a tidal wave of relief at no longer having to worry about her falling sideways off that frail cradle.
Genets at the "Snake Park."
Gaboon Viper at the Snake Park. "The highest venom yield of any venomous snake in the world, but quite passive and will rarely bite."
Behind a feeble chain-link fence, lions at Wide Horizons Park, Port Elizabeth.
We were ready to begin the 188 mile jaunt to Mosselbaai, weather permitting, which it was not. Unlike Durban, though, Port Elizabeth was a most pleasant place to find oneself waylaid. So we used the storm-bound confinement - and then some - to best advantage. We visited a snake park and the Pearsons Hothouse Botanical Conservatory; both were within walking distance of the small harbor, and both most interesting. The crew of Blue Jay arranged for Jenny and me to take a personal tour through the colossal container ship Waterberg, replete with an elevator to reach the bridge, and two mammoth, three-story-tall engines.
We enjoyed a personal tour through the colossal container ship "Waterberg," with the captain showing us around the inside of the ship. What I found most interesting was the three-story-tall engines. (Understandably, they didn't want us to take photos.)
Willie, with his wife and children, took us for drive through the countryside and then to their home for a braai.
On another day, Willie, a crewman of Blue Jay, invited us for a drive through the countryside and then to his home for a braai, the South African customary barbecue. We met his wife, two children, and his black maid who worked for moderate wages.
Baboon on fence post.
During a pleasant drive into the hinterland.
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On another day, Jenny and I joined John and Virginia Houk from Joggins on a trip in a rental car to visit one of the ostrich farms, near a place called Oudtshoorn. After a pleasant drive into the hinterland, we toured the facilities at length. Here, we learned, the birds are raised commercially for their meat, feathers, eggs, and so forth - in much the same manner as cattle elsewhere are exploited. After the tour, our group of perhaps 30 was ushered into an arena and afforded the opportunity to actually ride one of these gangly creatures. Oddly, Jenny and I were the only volunteers. Bravely, Jenny went first.
Jenny prepares to ride an ostrich. Hands grabbing the base of the wings. Legs under the wings and over the drumsticks. Now, sock off the head, and let's go! (Pretty funny!)
A black fellow, one of the two professional "ostrich jockeys," selected a bird from a cluster of a dozen standing by, and while holding it in place, his assistant plopped a sock over its head. Jenny climbed aboard, bareback. The sock was removed and the ostrich commenced prancing around obediently for a few minutes. The ride appeared to be enjoyable.
“My brief ride terminated as I catapulted into the air and landed in a heap, dust swirling about what seemed like a crater I had plowed.”
Then came my turn. Unintentionally no doubt, the staff provided me with a rather ornery bird. The sock was placed over its head and I climbed on. However, I could not seem to grip the creature, and kept sliding down its hind quarters. Because of this, I began to suspect that the ride might not be enjoyable. Nevertheless, the attendants admonished me to grab the thickly grissled base of the wing roots, and to lock my knees over the bird's bulbous drumsticks. And this I did, although largely without effect. Before I could seat myself more securely, one of the attendants removed the sock and the beast shot away. In the accelerated moment I lost grip on the wings and grabbed instead the bird's long, supple neck. This appendage proved worthless for clinging onto; it felt more like an overgrown wet noodle, for it afforded not the slightest support. To say the least, I was for those moments wildly out of control. What amazed me was that my body weight hardly slowed the powerful creature, and more so, how suddenly the bird could skid to an abrupt halt. At this, my momentum carried me forward, but my clinging to the feeble neck had no effect. My brief ride terminated as I catapulted into the air and landed in a heap, dust swirling about what seemed like a crater I had plowed.
Humbled, I rose, brushed myself off, relieved to find that all working parts still functioned. The onlookers were incredulous - especially Jenny, who despite my explicit instructions to photograph my ride, had merely sat there mouth agape. No damage had incurred to man or beast. However, it must be noted that there were no further volunteers for ostrich riding.
The jockeys saved the show by staging a valorous hundred-yard ostrich dash. They steered by gingerly grasping the creatures by their necks, and physically pointing the heads in the desired direction of travel.
Ostrich chicks at Oudtshoorn.
Upwind of the yacht basin stood a titanic bulk-ore ship loading facility. During our seventeen days in Port Elizabeth, this plant had been exuding black dust, some of which now coated Suka's rigging, as well as the rigging of the other long-term yachts. The weather began showing signs of improvement, but before we could depart, this boatswain needed to clean the ketch's masts and stays. Innumerable times during our voyage the mast steps proved advantageous, and this was certainly one of them.
Suka sails out of Port Elizabeth with a farewell wave to our good friends on the Blue Jay. What an interesting two-week visit it had been!