Global Voyage

A Story About Sailing Around the World

Ray & Jenny aboard the ketch Suka

3 years, 35,000 miles, Nov 1982 - Jan 1986

Ray & Jenny Jardine

Chapter 16: Southern Atlantic

page 93 of 109


Cape Town to Fortaleza in the Southern Atlantic

Passage to St. Helena

12-1/2 days

February 5, 10 a.m: freeing the dock lines we said goodbye to Wilfrid who had taken leave from work to see us off. Soon Suka had filled away into the Southern Atlantic, as we watched the distinctive landmark Table Mountain withdrawing steadily into the distance astern.

Looking back, we were leaving South Africa with fond memories of dear friends and richly rewarding experiences. Looking ahead, we were laying a course for the island St. Helena, standing insular and forlorn nearly 1,700 nautical miles to the north-west.

Leaving Cape Town.

Three hours after we had embarked, the fax machine produced a weather chart that indicated a strong, westerly depression charging in our direction. Had we been in the vicinity of Africa's southern or eastern seaboard, straightway we would have returned to port. But here we felt the gale would merely blow us in a favorable direction.


The next day we motor-sailed into light headwinds, while riding the strongly sweeping Benguela current. Then at four o'clock again the following morning the convergence passed overhead, and brought with it gale force winds from the south. Seldom had a tempest driven us in the desired direction of travel, allowing us to use it to best advantage. But this one did. We dowsed the mainsail, and after frapping it securely to its boom, we eased it's topping lift and lashed the boom's after end to the cockpit coaming. Then we affixed both running backstays and bowsed them taut, hardened the jib sheet, and trimmed the self steering gear so as to keep the blast fine on the quarter. Riding the storm at seven knots under her own management, Suka proved herself reassuringly stable, and allowed her crew to retire belowdecks to lose ourselves each in a book. The ketch's heavy displacement and full keel, combined with our knowledge as to how to take advantage of them, were now working in our favor.

Riding the gale.

Twelve hours later the wind had intensified, and rather as a precaution we decided to shorten sail by exchanging the solitary working jib in favor of the storm jib. However, the Force 9 winds were stretching the jib sheet bar taut, and had we simply eased the sheet, the tempest could have ripped the unrestrained, sun-bleached sail to shreds. So first I adjusted the steering vane to jibe the headsail, a maneuver that backwinded the canvas, bracing it immovable against the inner forestay where it then stood supported mainly by its clew. Then while I hand-steered, to prevent any wind shift or boat lurch from precipitating an inadvertent jibe - which might have spelled sudden disaster on the foredeck - Jenny crawled forward and dowsed the sail. With the sheet now slack I released it from the throat of the self-tailing winch, then joined Jenny forward, and while she unfastened the hanks, one after another, I began cramming the sail into the forehatch.


Sailing at six knots with just a storm headsail.

Bare poled, Suka made 4-1/2 knots; but after we had bent and set her storm headsail, her knot meter swung to six.

Again we stowed ourselves belowdecks, and I returned to my Louis L'Amour paperbacks, so adroit at conveying the mind elsewhere, like any good read that served as a mind diversion in such disquieting conditions such as these. These few books, incidentally, were a gift from my grandfather, who had amassed nearly the entire L'Amourian collection.

Mountainous seas, the largest we had experienced.

Some were smashing Suka in onslaughts of seething brine.

“The pudding catapulted into the air with what I imagined might have been a 3-1/2 forward somersault. The sad result: an amorphous, yellow blob on the cabin sole. Petrified, the mate could not decide whether to cry or scream, and for the moment I was safe.”

In another thirty six hours the blow moderated, leaving our little brig rushing ahead while climbing stern-ward over the face of each huge and rolling following-sea, and descending gracefully into the successive yawning trough. These were the largest waves we had experienced, and some were crest-breaking menacingly and smashing Suka in onslaughts of seething brine. Nevertheless, Jenny is not one to sit idly about, and that afternoon she baked a sumptuous banana pudding. This was a gallant effort in such conditions, but had been suggested by the over-ripening of her stock of bananas. However, as she was holding her finished product secure on the counter top, where the pudding was cooling, she turned to reach for something, and in easing her guard at just the wrong moment the ship lurched sharply, and the pudding catapulted into the air with what I imagined might have been a 3-1/2 forward somersault. The sad result: an amorphous, yellow blob on the cabin sole. Petrified, the mate could not decide whether to cry or scream, and for the moment I was safe. In jest, I dubbed the affair: "the chef de cuisine's culinary creation, climaxed in catastrophe."

SouthWest Trades

    “From my journal:

    Feb 10. The ship's corrected log from Cape Town is 609 miles. The wind 15 knots SW; seas moderating. Having fallen in with the southwest trade winds, Suka is running free at 5-1/2 knots, flying her full main with the genoa poled-out, wing-and-wing. The sky is sunny and the air warm. A shark, presumably, bit the trolling lure and took the tackle.

    Feb 11. I'm awaiting the number cruncher's (sat-nav) producing our daily position fix, after completing my morning's enterprise of wandering about the decks, frying pan in hand, collecting the daily allotment of a dozen or so flying fish. As Suka travels northwest at a genteel trot, the days and nights are warming delectably, and sitting out on watch unencumbered is a most welcome luxury. We have crossed the 7-1/2 degree west meridian, meaning that ship's time now coincides with Greenwich Time. Such seemingly insignificant events are appreciated by the global rover who navigates celestially. His computations of longitude take into account the difference between ship's time and Greenwich time, and over the years he had watched that difference gradually lessen, now finally to zero.


    Snake Mackerel.

    Feb 14: Valentine's Day. Wind: 10 knots SE; beautiful weather: abundant. We've been catching dorado, one per day; but last night we hauled aboard a 4-foot long, snake-like fish equipped with large eyes and an intimidating set of teeth. We had caught one of these in the South Pacific, and had tossed the repulsive creature back into the sea. But when we later described the fish to the natives, they told us that we should have kept it, as they considered it a great delicacy. So we sampled this one, and found it, indeed, excellent eating. During our morning ham radio chat I described our unusual fish, and Tom Venwick aboard Fair Joanda produced a fish book that identified our denizen of the deep as a snake mackerel. Tom also remarked that this is the same species as featured in Thor Heyerdahl's book Kon Tiki.


    Snake Mackerel.

    “We crossed the prime meridian, longitude 0 degrees; meaning that we are now back in the Western Hemisphere.”

    Feb 16. Caught another Dorado last night - about the only excitement we get around here, and an appetite appeasing one at that. The weather is perfect; the wind is holding a steady 15 knots and we have been riding with Paul Bunyan's washing hung out wing-on-wing, carrying the same sail wardrobe night and day for a week. Also, during the past four days we have been varnishing the brightwork topsides. Yesterday we crossed the prime meridian, longitude 0 degrees; meaning that we are now back in the Western Hemisphere.


The Loss of a Friend

    Certain unfortunate events must be recounted here, as they occurred at about this time; although it should be noted that neither Jenny nor I, nor other members of the Rum Line Net, were aware of them at the time. "No one wants to read about the loss of a yacht, and especially about the loss of a life," Richard Molony wrote to me several months later, "but I suppose there's always a message there somewhere."

    It seems that after 5,000 miles of complaining, Dorothy left Gordon and Mam'selle in Durban, and flew back to Fremantle. In her stead, Gordon's son Colin traveled to Durban, in order to crew for his dad. In Durban, Mam'selle had apparently tangled a piece of rope on her propeller, as obvious marks were later to indicate. Suspecting a problem, Gordon dove overboard, but perhaps due to the lack of underwater visibility, and a lack of diving experience, he did not find the problem. Nevertheless, he and Colin sailed out of Durban, and after stopping at East London they continued on, encouraged by a favorable weather forecast. After passing Cape St. Francis, though, they met with a southwesterly gale, which drove them back toward East London. In the darkness, Gordon cut one of the headlands a little too close. Actually, though, the South African chart reputedly shows a depth of 6.1 meters off this cape, where in fact a rock reef extends 300 meters off-shore. Mam'selle collected these rocks.

    Gordon managed to reverse her off under power, but the ferrocement hull was now breached and taking on water, and soon the prop shaft "let go," rendering the auxiliary power inoperable. As Mam'selle drifted seaward Gordon radioed a mayday. A passing tanker intercepted his message, and relayed it to Port Elizabeth Radio, who in turn alerted the National Sea Rescue Institute. Oddly, though, help was not in coming for another eight hours.

    Mam'selle was not equipped with a life raft, and incidentally Jenny and I had questioned Gordon and Dorothy about this a few months previously, and Gordon replied that he considered his hard dinghy a viable alternative. Anyway, Colin and Gordon unshipped their hard dinghy, but in the melee they holed it on a stanchion. Also, they lost its oars. Abandoning ship nonetheless, they began hand-paddling toward shore, bailing all the while. The wind was strong and contrary, though, and it easily overpowered them, and when they had to admit that they were not advancing, and when they could see that the yacht remained afloat, its lights gleaming, they tried to return, only to meet with failure once again. Throughout the night the dinghy capsized repeatedly in the heavy seas, and Gordon and Colin exerted their utmost in reboarding and bailing. Shortly after dawn the dinghy capsized yet again, but this time Gordon's strength had waned; he was unable to climb back in; and tragically, despite Colin's frenzied attempts to maneuver closer, Gordon drifted away. Colin was eventually rescued by a trawler, but his dad was never found. Nearly awash, Mam'selle was towed into the Kromm River.

Back to the narrative

Several of the yachts that had sailed in the company of Suka across the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope were also en route to St. Helena. By coincidence, all of these had transited the Panama Canal earlier in their circumnavigations, and were now bound for their respective countries breasting the North Atlantic. So from St. Helena the group would disperse, its members heading in separate directions. Within a day of us, but not in sight of course, sailed the British yacht Fair Joanda and the Swedish Crypton. Three or four days behind us stood the American yacht Michael Stuart, the British Moongazer and Capella 1, the German Pusterblume, and the Swiss Aena. Indeed, the fleet was multi-national.

“As I swung the giant petrel aboard, the hook came free of its mouth and the bird tumbled through the open aft-cabin hatch.”

Once, rather than our daily fish, we hooked a large sea bird: a giant petrel - similar to an albatross but not as large. Apparently it had dove onto our trolling lure, for a great commotion astern alerted us to the exigency. I hauled the feathered creature aboard with no little haste, in order to save it from being submerged and drowned. But as I swung it aboard, the hook came free of its mouth and the bird tumbled through the open aft-cabin hatch. We scurried below and gently coaxed the poor fellow into the main salon, and there it stood quietly while I applied an antiseptic salve onto the flap of skin where the fishing hook had penetrated. This was when we noticed that the bird was infested with two-inch long, centipede-like parasites - bugs that apparently lived warm and dry beneath its feathers. These prompted me to carry the beast outside, where it then stood on a cockpit bench pondering its fate for a few minutes before hopping onto the coaming and flying away.

Approaching St. Helena.

About the time St. Helena hove into sight the wind grew light, so wishing to make port by nightfall we hung sails all over the rigging in an attempt to maintain some semblance of progress. To starboard we poled the jib. High to port we flew the cruising chute. At deck-sweeping level we set the genoa. And of course this rigmarole augmented the mainsail and mizzen. As if to add interest, around mid-day the self-steering mechanism dismembered, conscripting us to the helm. Then by late afternoon we came to realize that if Suka was to reach the anchorage before nightfall, Perkins would have to lend its assistance.

We were motoring merrily along when an unidentified yacht crossed our track astern. Peering through the binoculars we saw that the sailboat was without a helmsman. No doubt the condition was temporary, nevertheless the errant vessel veered away on a westerly heading, motor-sailing some 70 degrees obliquely from the island. "The crew must have fallen asleep," we bantered, watching it fade away toward the distant horizon.

The story has 109 pages. This is page 93.
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Page Links
GV 001: Title Page
GV 002: TOC
GV 003: Dedication
GV 004: Preface
GV 005: Prologue
GV 006: Beginnings
GV 007: Work Done
GV 008: Making Ready
GV 009: Departure
GV 010: Sailing Credentials
GV 011: First Lesson
GV 012: Sextant Navigation
GV 013: Safety Harness
GV 014: Murphy's law
GV 015: Spirit of Adventure
GV 016: Holding On
GV 017: First Big Storm
GV 018: Storm Intensified
GV 019: Rolling Violently
GV 020: Mizzen Sleeping Bag'sl
GV 021: Freeing the Propeller
GV 022: Visits by Birds
GV 023: Crossing the Doldrums
GV 024: Nearing First Landfall
GV 025: Land Ho
GV 026: Fatu Hiva
GV 027: Trek Inland
GV 028: Anchor Watch
GV 029: Passage
GV 030: Hiva Oa
GV 031: Skin Diving Circus
GV 032: Almost Like a Jungle
GV 033: Polaris Missile
GV 034: Taiohaie Bay
GV 035: Cascade Hakaui
GV 036: Taipi Bay
GV 037: Cyclone Lisa
GV 038: Cyclone Nano
GV 039: Passage of Patience
GV 040: Tuamotu Archipelago
GV 041: Tahiti
GV 042: Cyclone Reva
GV 043: Secret Sharer
GV 044: Moorea
GV 045: Cyclone Veena
GV 046: Aftermath
GV 047: Good Weather in Papeete
GV 048: Huahine
GV 049: Raiatea
GV 050: BoraBora
GV 051: Rarotonga
GV 052: Tonga
GV 053: Fresh Air
GV 054: Tongan Feast
GV 055: Excursion to Maninita
GV 056: Mariner's Cave
GV 057: Fiji
GV 058: Ndravuni Island
GV 059: Mara Island
GV 060: Aneityum
GV 061: Noumea
GV 062: St Elmo's fire
GV 063: Breakwater Reef
GV 064: Bundaberg
GV 065: Life on the Burnett River
GV 066: Engine Sabotage
GV 067: Flying
GV 068: Aground in Round Hill Creek
GV 069: Gladstone Confinement
GV 070: Tropical Queensland
GV 071: Trip into Townsville
GV 072: Cairns Sojourn
GV 073: Cramped Cooktown
GV 074: Lizard Island
GV 075: The San Michelle
GV 076: Lost Mummy Cave
GV 077: Land's End
GV 078: Darwin
GV 079: Christmas Is
GV 080: Passage
GV 081: Cocos Keeling
GV 082: Crossing the Indian Ocean
GV 083: Rodriguez
GV 084: Mauritius
GV 085: Reunion Cirque de Mafate
GV 086: Reunion Cirque de Salazie
GV 087: Passage to Africa
GV 088: Kruger National Park
GV 089: Richards Bay
GV 090: Durban
GV 091: Port Elizabeth
GV 092: Cape Town
> GV 093: Storm Passage
GV 094: St Helena
GV 095: Passage to Brazil
GV 096: Fortaleza
GV 097: Passage to Caribbean
GV 098: Bonaire
GV 099: Passage to Panama
GV 100: Panama
GV 101: Panama Canal
GV 102: Medidor
GV 103: Costa Rica
GV 104: Passage to Acapulco
GV 105: Acapulco to Cabo
GV 106: Baja
GV 107: Home Port
GV 108: In Retrospect
GV 109: Next Time
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 1981 Baja8 Ed 
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