Durban, South Africa to Port Elizabeth, South Africa   January 2009

January 28:  Wednesday

Indian Ocean

1130  Was awake at 0400 again and found wind still in southwest and rain.

At 0930 wind went calm, and although it was still raining, I left.  A young man passing on the otherwise deserted dock kindly handled my bow line.  There was only a fender width between me and the neighboring boat.

Powered in limited visibility I could just make out The Bluff, which is on the opposite side of the harbor.  Called Port Control on my handheld VHF as required.  Couldn’t understand what the young woman who responded said, so continued on my way.

Rain has continued.  I’m presently five miles northeast of the harbor entrance, heading east when I want to go southwest.  Double-reefed main, deeply furled jib.  Tired and wet.  Hard work getting sails set.  I wore my foul weather parka, but not the pants.  Fortunately water is warm.

1530  I would not have left in these conditions without the wind being forecast to back east and then northeast.  After four rough hours, it seems to have started to.  I’ve tacked and am now sailing around 210º at 5.3 knots.  Occasionally slamming off three foot waves. 

I’m south of Durban harbor, which is again visible after being lost in rain almost since I left.  I think I’m still inside the Agulhas Current, certainly the strongest part, and hope gradually to make my way out to it.  May become easy if the wind continues to back.

A ship passed close heading north.  I thought that perhaps my waterproof handheld VHF had failed in the rain, so I called him to test the VHF and he responded, which seems to prove that it is working.

1700  An hour ago wind backed to the east and I’ve been able to ease sheets and sail 200º at 6 knots.  Still bumpy, but much better.  Coast again obscured by clouds and rain. 

Wind continues to back.  Going to have to put on foul weather gear and go on deck to re-trim.

1915  Just as I was eating one of my French canned meals that don’t require cooking found in Australian supermarkets last year--this one tuna and pasta--a little over an hour ago, the wind died.

After I finished I put on my clammy foul weather gear--steady rain has continued all day--and went on deck where I took the reef from the main and completely unfurled the jib.  Even with full sail, our speed was only between 2 and 4 knots.

Believing that this was a lull before the wind backed further and filled, I stood in the rain for a long time.  Only when I finally came below and stripped off my foul weather gear did the wind do what I expected.  Our speed jumped to 7 knots and our course to 170º.  So back in foul weather gear, back on deck, re-trim sails, reduce jib.  Still making 7 knots.  And below to make a cup of tea.

I’ve worked hard today.  Not a desirable start, but at least a start.


Last year I suspected that my foul weather pants are no longer waterproof.  Back in the U.S. I decided I might have been wrong and that water had simply come in around the ankles, so I didn’t buy a new pair.  Today proved this is not true.  Rain soaked through.  Maybe I can find a replacement in Port Elizabeth.

January 29:  Thursday

Indian Ocean

0530  Not a bad night.  I was up every hour or so.  Saw two ships. 

The wind continued to back and by 0300 was starting to blanket the jib, so I underwent the ordeal of getting into my foul weather gear and went on deck to lower the main.  The foul weather pants are a kind of a wet suit in that once I have them on and warm the water inside with my body heat, they become comfortable.

It stopped raining for a while before midnight and is not raining now, but was at 0300.

Sky low, cloudy.  More rain predicted.

The coast has started to fall away to the southwest and we are presently 16 miles off a shore similar to California’s Big Sur and as void of harbors, making 8+ knots, 2 of which are current, under slightly furled jib.  The wind has veered a little and is now almost on the beam.  It is predicted to increase during the day to 20+ knots, at which point we might be making 10 over the ground.

Soon will go on deck to set out solar panels.  Despite the overcast I think they will provide some charging.  Batteries topped up well while powering out Durban Harbor. 

We are 102 miles from Durban.

1210  Noon Position:  31º 57’ South; 29º 47‘ East.  Durban 145.  Port Elizabeth 238. 

Rain finally ended this morning, at least for a while.  Clearing blue sky ahead, and enough sun shining through thin clouds overhead to provide solar charging and to dry my foul weather gear.  

Moved more stuff from quarter berths to the v-berth, including the radar dome and bags of provisions.

We’re rolling ahead of 3’ waves on a broad reach with the genoa still perhaps a quarter furled.  THE HAWKE OF TUONELA could carry more sail, but with SOG of 7+ knots, we are going to be there tomorrow night and I will have to slow down until dawn.  Don’t think even if I pushed hard we could arrive before sunset. 

Motion smooth enough so that I was able to pump the bilge with the electric pump rather than by hand.  Usually when the bilge needs pumping, we are heeled and bouncing and the water moves about too much for the electric pump to suck it up.

Now that I’m out here I regret stopping at Port Elizabeth, though if the front predicted for Sunday is as advertised I will be glad to sit it out.

Fell asleep this morning sitting up reading.

We’ve taken enough water over the deck so that I think the new forward hatch has fixed some long standing leaks.  However, the new small hatch in the main cabin has not.  I’ll have to see if its lever can be adjusted so that it seals more tightly. 

Not certain, but I may have also fixed a long-standing leak over the port quarter berth.

Cabin drying out. 

1645  A beautiful afternoon with great sailing.  Sky is mostly blue, with only a few scattered white clouds.  Oddly the barometer has fallen.  I hope that doesn’t mean the next front is moving this way more rapidly than previously predicted.  It was not due until Sunday.

I dried my foul weather gear and the shoes and hat I was wearing yesterday.  Forgot about the shorts and t-shirt until a few minutes ago.  They are on deck now.

I sat on deck, listening to music on the replacement cockpit speakers I brought back with me from the U.S., which I have covered with pieces cut from a plastic trash bag and held in place by a hose clamp, can still hear through them, as THE HAWKE OF TUONELA sped through the water.

Sea blue.  Many white-caps.  Wind probably near 20 knots.  Waves only 3’. 

Although I have been on deck more today than yesterday and visibility is much better, I haven’t seen any ships.  Perhaps I’m out beyond them.  Now about twenty miles offshore.

THE HAWKE OF TUONELA has been making 8 and 9 knots over the bottom, only about 1½ knots of that current.  I just had to take another couple of wraps in the jib, which was starting to overpower the self-steering vane, and looking at our heading may have to jibe to starboard.  We are heading around 210º and want 235º.   Even higher when the coast trends more west southwest after East London, which is 75 miles ahead.  Port Elizabeth is only 202 miles.  At 8 knots we would be in sight by tomorrow sunset, but not likely in.  The last weather prediction I have is that the wind will be lighter tomorrow.  I would rather go on than go in, but haven’t officially cleared out of the country and did tell Carol she would hear from me this weekend.  Last time I was in Port Elizabeth, they had the transit boats rafted to a commercial wharf.  Don’t want to go in after dark, and also don’t want to spend the entire night sailing on and off, but may have to.

January 30

Friday:  Indian Ocean

0600   Two ships in sight since I got up an hour and a half ago.  One passed east of me heading south.  The other, a container ship, just passed  a mile west of me heading north.  I was tempted to call him on the VHF and ask that he send an email to Carol, telling her I am continuing to the Virgin Islands, but didn’t in case the email wasn’t received and she would worry.  Really don’t want to stop, but will.

Last evening the wind increased.  Our SOG was at 9 and 10 knots.  I reduced the jib to almost storm jib size, and when the wind decreased in a few hours, left it that way even though we were then under canvassed.  Although I woke several times as usual, the night was unusual in that I didn’t ever have to go on deck.

After I got up this morning, I jibed to starboard.  We are 32 miles offshore.  Port Elizabeth is 123 miles away on bearing 259º.   Still with too little sail set, we’re rolling along at 6 knots beneath low coastal clouds that the rising sun will probably burn off.

1200  Wind went very light this morning, then backed to northwest, blowing directly from Port Elizabeth at 12 knots and increasing.  Sunny.  Making 8 knots close hauled on starboard with full main and partially furled jib on course 215º.  Listening to South Africa beat Australia in a one-day cricket match in Perth. 

How could I ever not have realized that once I went to sea I would want to stay here?

Don’t know if I’ll get to Port Elizabeth.  Depends on what the wind does.   Not going to beat to get there.  Have no weather information.

Noon position:  33º 53‘ South; 27º 30‘ East.  Port Elizabeth 93 miles, bering 268º.  Cape Agulhas  375 miles, bearing 261º.  Day’s run 162.     

1615  Tacked two hours ago in 55º, making better than 8 knots on each tack, naturally pointing higher even than THE HAWKE OF TUONELA usually does with the aid of the Agulhas Current.  Now sailing west on a very close reach at 9 and 10 knots under sunny skies.  The highest SOG I’ve seen has been 10.3 knots.

Unless conditions get much worse, I am going to bypass Port Elizabeth, which is about 60 miles ahead.  I’d be there in the middle of the night and don’t feel like wasting this good sailing.  I can always turn back if it gets seriously rough, or duck in and anchor behind a headland.  There are several possibilities west of Port Elizabeth.  The shelterless stretch between Durban and East London is far behind us.

On the radio news this morning I heard that nine men were killed in a shoot out with police in Durban.  Also that the governor of Illinois has been impeached.

Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa, is 340 miles ahead.  The last weather forecast I saw before leaving Durban showed a front passing there on Sunday, when we might be there too, with 20 to 25 knot winds from the southwest.  The Agulhas Current dissipates on the Agulhas Bank.

January 31

Indian Ocean:  Saturday

0620  A half hour after I decided to continue to Cape Town we lost the current and the wind.  Our speed dropped form 10 knots to 4.  And then the wind filled from the west and without my touching a thing, THE HAWKE OF TUONELA began to head directly for Port Elizabeth.

As the wind increased to 20 knots, I reduced sail to reduce pounding and slow our arrival.  I set the alarm clock first for 0100, and reset it for every two hours, but always woke before it went off.  I tacked at 0330, then tacked back at 0530. 

Two ships going into Port Elizabeth passed this morning, one of them in good visibility after dawn, dangerously so.  I even called him on the VHF, and in thickly accented English he shrugged it off.

At the moment we are in Algoa Bay, but still 11 miles from the harbor entrance, and not heading directly for it.  I will continue on port tack for another hour in the hope of the seas smoothing as I come nearer to the shore, then tack or possibly power.  Should be in by noon.

1310  Was in an hour earlier.  Have since shaved, showered and had lunch and a beer at the yacht club.

Tacked up Algoa Bay this morning against 20 knot wind and small, steep chop.  Finally three miles from the harbor entrance I furled the jib and turned on the engine.  Then I lowered the main and  began the other preparations for entering harbor:  moving solar panels below, bringing up and tying on dock lines and fenders.  I had bought up the tiller pilot before starting the engine.  As always when the boat has been heeled over and bounced around, it took a while for water to move through the engine cooling system.  I have to give the engine more RPM’s initially, about 2000, to start suction, than I normally would when first starting.

As I neared the harbor, I called Port Control on my handheld VHF.  Worked fine.  Several conversations ensued, which concluded by their turning me over to Rescue 6 boat, which led me to a berth at the yacht club, on which four men were standing to handle my lines.  Quite helpful.

Here in the shelter of the harbor, the day is sunny and fine, but from the second floor of the club house I could see that out over the bay it is still blowing hard from the west.

Very nice to be clean, shaved and feed.  I’m tired.  More so than I should be for a three day passage.  But then it started and ended with rough weather. 

Glad now I came in.  Will Internet.  Top up provisions.  Clean and dry out boat.   See if I can do a load of wash done.  Then with a forecast of something other than west wind for three days, will set out for the Virgin Islands.  Cape Agulhas is 283 miles west.

1630  Cleaned and dried out boat and gear this afternoon.  A good day for it.  Sunny.  81º.  Made up v-berth. 

A much smaller harbor, marina and yacht club than Durban.  Very quiet here on the outer edge.  Like Durban, the marina is tucked in a corner of a commercial harbor.  A container container facility is opposite, but at some distance.   On another side a conveyer to load some bulk mineral.  I was told manganese.  The upper deck of the passenger ship that almost ran me down this morning is visible in the north arm of the harbor.

I should perhaps explain that we were eleven miles away from the harbor mouth, in deep water and not in a designated shipping channel at the time of this morning’s incident.  In the chop and with little sail up, I had limited maneuverability.   Waves stopped us dead when I tried to tack; and often THE HAWKE OF TUONELA failed to come about and I had to disengage the self-steering vane, take the tiller myself, fall off and gain momentum to carry us through.  So I wasn’t stupidly demanding right of way, which I did have.  It would have been simple for the ship to have altered course a few degrees and pass safely behind me.  As it was he was so close ahead that the slightest wind shift would have driven me into him. 

Much shorter walk to shore here, but I’m probably going to have a gin and tonic on board instead of going to the yacht club.

A woman who lives aboard a ketch five boats down from THE HAWKE OF TUONELA has kept books of yacht arrivals for years.  I mentioned that I was here in December 1987.  A couple of hours later she came back and there it was:  RESURGAM; Webb Chiles.  Not likely I’ll repeat in 2031.