October 2017 - Madagascar to South Africa - Page 4

19 October 2017   Mozambique to South Africa (Day 1)
At dawn, the wind was 10-15 knots and then slowly backed to the NE.  We spent the morning tidying up, running the watermaker and getting ready for sea.  There wasn’t much to do, so we were ready to go by 11:00 and then had to wait for the tide, so that we could get over the sand bar in the pass.

Heading back out sea

We were planning to leave two hours before high water at 14:00.  This would ensure that we had an incoming tide which would flatten the incoming swell from the east.  The worst time would be to try to leave in an out-going tide, which would mean that the current was against the swell and would cause steep “overfall” waves.  The other factor in our timing was that, just before high tide, the tidal current would be less and we would have more water over the bar.

“Luna Blu”, “Continuum” and “Fortuna” cracked up early and left the anchorage at 12:00.  The least depth that they saw was 5 metres and the sea was fairly calm, but they had to battle against a strong current over 3 knots.  “Fortuna” have an engine problem and can only run at low revs, so they were only making 1.5 knots over the ground.

We were good little bears and stuck to the plan, pulling up our anchor at 14:00 together with “Red Herring” and “Mowana”.  There was still a strong 3 knot current against us in the narrowest part of the channel between the two islands and the water was very turbulent, pushing us around.  However, it calmed down to 0.5 to 1 knot after that and we made good progress - the waves also settled down to a smooth 1 metre swell.

Our route went along a channel to the south of the shallowest sand bar - the lowest spots were 6.5 metres (2.5m LAT) in a few places after 21°48.10S 35°29.05E.  (Our way points were:21°48.23S 35°27.55E; 21°48.05S 35°28.09E; 21°48.10S 35°29.05E; 21°47.56S 35°30.21E; 21°48.06 35°31.02E.)

Once clear of the bar and in deeper water, we turned SSE and reached away from the reefs.  There was a smooth 1-2 metre swell from the east; east 10-15 knot winds; and we had current with us, so we made good progress doing 6.5-7.5 knots over the ground up to midnight.

Heading South

On our 19:00 SSB radio net, Luna Blu was 13 miles ahead of us, with the rest scattered about, going in slightly different directions trying to find the best current.  Our strategy was to slowly creep away from the shore to a point 15 miles off Barra Falsa and then maintain that distance off shore.  It seems to be a reasonable plan because we had at least 2 knots with us at midnight.  

“Jackster” came up on the radio – they left Madagascar four days ago and are only 70 miles behind us, so they’ve had a good passage.  They are 53 foot long (10 foot more than us), so they are much quicker and, despite the fact that they left Madagascar 10 days after us, they will probably beat us to Richards Bay...

We encountered several trawlers on our route, moving at 3 knots in surprisingly deep water (>300 metres).  They were well lit, had AIS and a very consistent course, so they were easy enough to dodge.

At our 01:00 watch change, we altered course more south, which put the wind at 50 degrees to our port aft quarter, so we gybed the genoa and poled it out to port.  Unfortunately, an hour later, the wind dropped and we were only doing 1-2 knots of boat speed, so I turned on the engine and we motored for the rest of the night.

20 October 2017  Mozambique to South Africa (Day 2)
Our position at 07:00 was 23°28S 35°52E.

As the sun came up, the wind picked up to E 10-15, so Glenys dragged out the sails.  Again, it only lasted a few hours before the wind died again.  The weather forecast shows light winds until tomorrow, but there’s a chance of sailing later today providing that the wind veers to the ESE (in front of the beam) as forecast.

Setting up the spinnaker

There are at least nine boats heading for Richards Bay all expecting to arrive about the same time, so it’s going to be chaos in the port.  There’s very little space in the two marinas in Richards Bay and they refuse to take advance bookings, so it’s first come, first served.  To add to the problem, the marina at Durban, which is only 80 miles away, sustained damage in a big storm 10 days ago and cannot accommodate any visitors at the moment.

It maybe that we can’t get a marina berth at either port, so we might be stuck on a concrete visitor’s wall in Richards Bay.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem to us, but we have our son Craig coming out for a holiday starting on the 18th November and we want to be sure that we have a confirmed, safe berth, so that we can go land travelling with him for a week.

To add to the complex planning, we want to haul-out to replace the cutlass bearing.  One solution is that we haul-out for 5 or 6 weeks, so I’ve been trying to arrange something by email, but it’s slow going with their reluctance to commit to dates.  I sent off another load of emails this morning to the boatyards in Richards Bay and Durban, so hopefully, I’ll get a reply today.  Today is Friday, so if I can’t resolve it today, I’ll probably have to wait until after the weekend (when we’ve arrived) to sort it out.  It’s so frustrating.

We continued motoring until 13:00, when the wind picked up to 8 knots, which was enough to fly the spinnaker.  It was a nice afternoon of sailing.  The wind gradually increased to 12-15 knots and at 17:00, we pulled down the spinnaker and switched back to the genoa.  By dark, we had E 18-22 knots and were romping along at 6 knots on a port broad reach with a reef in the main; a reef in the genoa; and at least a knot of current with us.

Wind picking up

The strong winds lasted for a few hours and then slowly dropped. At midnight, we were back to motoring for a couple of hours; and then we had 10-12 knots from the east; and then the wind backed, forcing us south; and then a trawler was passing by just when I wanted to gybe; and then after I gybed the main, the wind veered, forcing us further north...  It’s tiring stuff this sailing lark.

21 October 2017  Mozambique to South Africa (Day 3)
Our position at 07:00 was 25°35S 34°56E.

A couple of hours after dawn, the wind died and Glenys turned on the engine.  At 07:00, we were halfway with 250 miles to go. If we average 5.2 knots, then we will arrive at Richards Bay at 07:00 on Monday 23rd.

I downloaded two GRIB forecasts – at 1 degree and 2.5 degree resolutions.  Worryingly, the low resolution forecast showed pleasant, light 10 knot ESE winds for the day, whereas the high resolution one showed strong S 20-25 knot winds 50 miles ahead of us.  There was a very defined north-south line between the strong southerlies and the lighter north-easterlies.

Des Cason sent me an email saying “If you go west of 34E you will cross a shear line between two systems – the southerly component on the coast and the outer west edge of the high pressure south of Madagascar generating the NE/E conditions.  By 1800UTC, it’s back to SE10.”  We changed from our south-west course and headed south down the 34°50E longitude line.

The other worrying change on the weather forecast is that the next strong southerly will now hit Richards Bay at midnight on Monday 23rd instead of the morning of Wednesday 25th.  Our current ETA is 07:00 on Monday, so we now only have a 18 hour safety window to get to Richards Bay – the race is on.

High Res Grib showing shear line

I had another flurry of emails about berthing and haul-out  - it’s great having email via our satellite phone.  I contacted Jenny Crickmore-Thompson, who is the Durban representative of the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC).  We’re planning to become members of the OCC when we get to South Africa and, despite us not being members yet, Jenny has taken up the gauntlet and contacted the various people at Durban marina and boatyard.  

The admin office at Durban marina contacted us and offered us a berth in their marina from Monday.  Unfortunately, Durban is 80 miles further than Richards Bay and the strong southerly winds are due to get there only three hours before we could make it, which is too tight for me.  Perhaps we’ll spend a week in Richards Bay and then head down to Durban to haul-out and be on the hard when Craig arrives from the UK.

We continued motoring south with zero wind until 14:00, when I cracked up and changed course to south-west heading directly for Richards Bay.  The nil wind conditions continued for a couple of hours and then, within the space of 10 minutes, the wind increased to 15 knots from the south.  We put a couple of reefs in the main and sailed hard on port tack heading WSW rather than SW, but at least we were sailing again.

The wind was fluky for the next 3 hours, varying in speed and direction.  We had steep 2-3 metre waves from the south, so in the lulls, we were being stopped dead by the waves.  It was frustrating – I had to turn engine on a few times because I didn’t want to keep reefing and un-reefing the sails.  

Eventually, by 19:00, the wind settled down to SE 15, so with all the sails out and a single reef in the main, we were able to sail along at 5-6 knots with enough power to get through the waves.  Our route took us along the 1000 metre contour towards Jesser Point and, at 26°31S 34°15E, we had 2.5-3 knots of current with us.  

A large pod of Dolphins hunting

On our radio net at 19:00, everyone gave their positions and our little fleet is spread out over 100 miles. Alba is roughly in the middle, with the faster boats 40 miles ahead of us.  Some of the boats that are ahead of us crossed the 34°E shear line early this morning and had tougher conditions with 20-25 knot south winds all day, so I’m glad we headed south this morning.

However, the weather wasn’t going to let us off lightly and a persistent drizzly rain set in.  The wind picked up to 20-25 knots from the SE for a couple of hours putting us on a very bouncy close reach. I had to reef a few times, ending up with 2½ reefs in the main and just the staysail.  Even with that small sail area, we were cracking along at 6.5-7 knots , which combined with the strong current was 9.5-10 knots over the ground.

On Glenys’ 10-1 watch, we passed through some kind of localised weather system. The wind backed and died off to 8 knots from the north-east and it rained. Despite changing the sail plan to wing on wing, the wind and sea was so confused that she had to run the engine for an hour before it settled down to SE12-15.  The seas calmed down, so the remainder of the night was pleasant, but very dark with no moon. 

22 October 2017  Mozambique to South Africa (Day 4)
Our position at 07:00 was 27:14S 033 19E.

Dawn brought us 100% cloud cover; SE 10-15 winds and more than 1.5 knots of current with us.  At 07:00, we had 120 miles to go, so there was no way that we would make it to Richards Bay before sunset.  If we average 5.5 knots then we’ll arrive at dawn tomorrow. Once again, we’re having to slow down to arrive in daylight.

Entering the main port of Richards Bay at night is not a problem, but visiting yachts have to go alongside a concrete wall next to the Tuzi Gazi small boat marina and it looks like a tight place to manoeuvre.  Some of the bigger, faster boats will get in about 21:00, which will okay as long as there’s someone around to help find a berth and tie up, but I don’t fancy attempting it in the pitch black after midnight. 

Still doing 7 knots over the ground

The weather forecast is for the SE winds to back to the NE and increase to 20-25 knots overnight.  This won’t be too bad because the wind will be directly behind us. However, with the Agulhas current pushing us south, we might struggle to slow down tonight, so we dropped the main sail and spent the morning bobbing along at 3-3.5 knots through the water (still 5 knots over the ground).

It was a very pleasant morning, the sun came out and the motion was comfortable.  We even had a pod of dolphins pass by.  It was a huge group and they were in hunting mode, leaping out of the water as they pursued their prey at high speed. They didn’t bother to come and play in our bow wave.

At midday, we were surprised to hear an announcement on VHF 16 for a weather broadcast from Capetown Radio.  There are repeater stations all the way along the South African coast and we picked up the weather transmission on VHF 03 (other channels in the area are 01, 24 &25).  We were 20 miles from the coast and it’s nice to know that we’re now within radio range of the authorities. Just after lunch, Glenys spotted land and we turned south, with only 80 miles of coastal sailing remaining to Richards Bay.

The wind slowly picked up during the afternoon and, by 16:00, we had NE 25-30 knots and 3 metre seas throwing us around.  Our sail plan had been reduced to a tiny 3 sq.m. of genoa, but we were still doing 7 knots over the ground, pushed along by a 3 knot current.  Fortunately, the wind dropped to 20-25 knots at sunset, so we were able to slow down a little bit.

Our friends on ”Jackster” had been gradually catching us up and, when they were within 20 miles, I was able to have a chat with them on the VHF.  Jacqui had the GPS coordinates of an anchorage that “Yolo” reported (at 28°48.2S 32°04.7E, 8m deep), which is just next to the main channel inside the port.  “Jackster’s” plan was to sail comfortably and anchor at this spot if they arrive at night. 

I had not seen this anchorage when researching into Richards Bay and was uncertain whether the Port Control would allow visitors to anchor there, so I fired off an email to various cruising friends.  Des Cason came back and said that the Port Control don’t care where you go once you have entered the port.  Tom from “Adina” replied with GPS coordinates and depths, suggesting that we anchor a hundred metres further north than “ Yolo’s” position to keep further from the main shipping channel.

Approaching Richards Bay

Glenys and I discussed this additional information and decided that we might as well sail at a comfortable speed and if we arrive at night we enter the port and anchor.  We let out all of our genoa, our boat speed picked up to 5 knots and the boat’s motion became much more stable.  I wish that I’d done my research a little better because we’ve wasted our time fighting to slow down all day.

By 21:00, the wind had dropped to N 15-20 and the motion was pleasant, apart from the occasional monster roll when a wave caught our stern.  With a speed over the ground of 8 knots and only 40 miles to go, we’d be there in 5 hours.  The sail just got better and better, the seas calmed down and we made good time, approaching the outer port limit at 01:30.

Before I could call the Port Control, they must have spotted our AIS because they contacted us and asked our intentions.  They took basic details port of registration, number of people on board, etc and then gave us clearance after one huge tanker exited and another smaller boat entered.  It’s a very busy port specialising in coal and there were a score of ships at anchor waiting their turn to pick up cargo.

On AIS, Glenys watched “Nathape” go into the Small Boat Harbour, so she called them up.  They said that the harbour was brightly lit and there was a space for us on the concrete Visitor's Dock.  The wind had dropped and it was very calm in the main port channel, so we went past the anchorage and directly into the Small Boat Harbour, where we managed to dock in front of “Red Herring” without any dramas.  

We collapsed into bed at 03:00.  We’re in South Africa…  

23 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
Neither of us could sleep past seven o’clock because we were too excited and wanted to experience this new country.  The Health inspector turned up at 08:00, quickly followed by the Immigration officer, who dealt with all of the seven boats who have arrived in the last 24 hours.  We had to get a taxi to the Customs office which is a few kilometres away, but we all shared a couple of cabs, which were very cheap at 70 Rand (£4) each way.

Meanwhile Glenys walked to the Zululand Yacht Club and managed to get us a space in the marina for a couple of weeks until we get hauled out on the 7th November.  The damn ARC World Rally has a load of berths booked and is clogging up the system, so we’re lucky to get a spot.   There was a forecast for some bad weather arriving later this afternoon, so we told them that we would go in tomorrow.

International Dock

With our administration done, we had a cold beer with lunch and then chilled out in the afternoon – well actually, we fell into an exhausted sleep.  A strong south-westerly arrived at 17:00, accompanied by lightning and rain – we’re so glad that we are here and not trying to race to Durban. 

The large group of newly arrived crusiers went out for a meal at a restaurant next to the dock - it was a loud evening with lots of tall stories.

24 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
We had a slow start to the day, waiting for high tide, so that we could go around to Zululand Marina. Glenys had her hair cut for the first time in three months and picked up two big bags of laundry.  Meanwhile, I sorted out my photos and brought my blog up to date.  I entertained myself by working out a few statistics.  Since we left Thailand 9 months ago, we’ve visited 9 countries and sailed 6,200 nautical miles with 450 hours of motoring. 

For lunch, Glenys went to local shop and bought some “Vetkoek” with a chicken mayonnaise filling.  This is a traditional Afrikaner fried dough bread, which is like a savoury doughnut.  It was very greasy and probably contained my saturated fat limit for a week.

We finally moved at 16:00.  I was a little worried about getting out of the corner where we’d tied up, but it all went well.  There was no wind and with the help of a few touches on our bow thruster, we glided backwards out of the harbour in complete control.

Vetkoek

There’s a shallow spot at the start of the channel to Zululand Yacht Club.  It’s next to the green buoy where you exit from the main channel.  One of the locals told us to cut the corner and the minimum depth that we saw was 6.5 metres until we entered the “dredged” channel to the marina.  Our waypoints were:  28°48.24S 032°04.93E; 28°48.19S 032°05.08E; 28°47.84S 032°05.01E; 28°47.80S 032°05.01E.  The shallowest spot was at 28°48.064S 032°05.052E, which was 2.2 metres LAT.

We were soon safely tied up in the marina.  Initially we went in bow first, but the French guy next door said that we’d be better off pointing south, so that when there is bad weather from the South-west, we take it on the bow and don’t get slapped up the sugar scoop.  As usual, backing into a marina berth was a trauma, but with a lot of pushing, we got in without a single bump.

As darkness fell, we wandered to the Yacht Club bar where we met some of the club members and had a good time.  A bottle of beer or a big glass of wine is £0.60.  They do meals in the evening that are also very reasonable - a huge curry and rice was £2.00.  We’re going to enjoy it here.

25 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
We caught a taxi to the airport to pick up a hire car that we’d booked online a couple of days ago.  The online price was only £10 per day, but when we came to pay for it, the price had magically risen to £30 per day - they automatically added the “super” cover insurance at 200% of the car hire price!  After a bit of hassle, we got them to give us the most basic insurance with an excess of £1,000, but the insurance was still £10 per day. What the hell, at £20 per day the car hire is a bargain. 

From the airport, we headed for the Boardwalk Mall, which seems to be the centre of Richards Bay.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a paper map (I left it on the boat) and having no access to Google Maps, we literally went around in circles in a residential district.  The second time that we passed a children’s nursery, I pulled in and asked for directions.

Land of the Braai

There’s no wi-fi at the marina, so our first stop was to get a couple of SIM cards, so that we could get online.  We bought Telcom cards, but we later found out that the coverage is very poor, so you’re better off with MTN SIM cards.  After wandering around the shopping mall for an hour, we’d had enough and ran away. 

It’s a sad fact of life that “first world” civilisation means huge, air conditioned, soul-less shopping malls.  There doesn’t seem to be any town centre in Richards Bay, just a series of shopping malls surrounded by residential estates.  We drove to the “village” nearest to the marina (Merensee), but that was just smaller and just as soul-less.  There are a couple of supermarkets, a few shops and lots of fast food outlets - KFC, Pizza, Burgers, etc. We're definitely in the Land of the Braai, because there are shelves and shelves of BBQ stuff in the smallest supermarket.

In the evening, we went out to the Yacht Club bar again and had the special which is called ”Eisbein.” This is a local delicacy and consisted of a huge slab of smoked ham hock on the bone - it must have weighed a kilogram.  The meat was very fatty and not something that we’ll have again.  To our surprise, one of the yacht club staff presented us with a bottle of champagne for being an international arrival.  I had to give an acceptance speech, which was very monosyllabic because I’d been extensively sampling a bottle of excellent South African red wine.

26 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
We had a very quiet day chilling out and recovering from our excesses last night.  We wandered off to do a bit of shopping in the afternoon and, in the evening, met Paul and Monique from “Full Circle” in the bar - we had a bit of catching up to do since we last saw them in Madagascar.

27 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
It blew a hooley last night.  We’re a bit exposed on the end of the pontoons, so it was bouncy.  We had another quiet day, enjoying being static after 10 months travelling. I pickled the water maker because we’re unlikely to use it until we leave South Africa in January - I think we’ll be mostly staying in marinas in the towns along the coast.

A south-westerly gale

Glenys spent most of the day working out where we want to go travelling - South Africa is so large that it’s difficult to decide what to see.  In the afternoon, we went shopping buying an ice box and a pair of binoculars ready for our safaris.

28 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
We were up at 05:30 because we’d booked ourselves on a tour to visit Eshowe about 80 kilometres away from Richards Bay.  The main reason for going was that for the past two weeks the Zulu followers of the Shembe religion have been gathering in their tens of thousands for a religious celebration. 

Each year from the 15th to 31st of October, more than 30,000 Shembe followers gather for a month of religious celebrations in the village of Judea near Eshowe.  The village literally springs up overnight at their yearly gathering place.  There is a tremendous emphasis on traditional dress and dance, praise singing, and the blowing of the Horns of Jericho.

There are two sessions of prayer and traditional “prayer” dances performed by five distinct groups. At prayer everybody dresses in long white robes (the elders dress in green).   At the dance, the men dress in traditional warrior-type gear, and older women in modest black and beautifully beaded dresses and headgear.   No shoes, hats, smoking or alcohol is permitted.

Shembe has 4.5 million followers.  The current Shembe, who is the fourth successor to the founder of the religion, is regarded as a miracle performer in the mould of Christ.  After services, thousands queue, kneeling to be blessed and cured.  

The Nazereth Baptist Church was introduced to the continent of Africa by Prophet Isaiah Shembe in 1910.  The Nazerenes believe in God the father (Jehova), God the Son (Jesus Christ), God the Holy Spirit of Ekuphakameni (Shembe).  The church observes the Sabbath Day.

Shembe Church

A Nazarene takes a vow that they may not partake of any liquor, shall not shave his/her hair.  Males will be circumcised on reaching 18.  They must be baptised in a pool of water.   They are not allowed to eat food which is “cast out” - like other Jewish-based religions, pork is singled out strongly.  These basic requirements need to be fulfilled to attain holiness. 

The Nazarenes can observe traditional values which are not in conflict with God’s will -  traditional African attire, dance and the Zulu tradition of speaking to their ancestors is not in conflict with the religion, so many Zulus are a member of the church.

Our guide Joe, was a 30 year old Zulu, who lives in a village close to Eshowe.  The idea of his tour was to see and understand the local way of life.  We started in the main town of Eshowe, which is like any other small South African town, with a KFC and a Spar supermarket.  The first thing that struck me was the lack of any white people walking around - just Zulus.

Joe took us down some back streets to the shop of a traditional healer called a Sangoma.  Generally the healers work from their village, but with the growing number of people living in towns and the townships, this Sangoma has set up a shop in town.   People can go into the shop and request remedies, which include bark, roots and tubers.  

Simple illnesses such as headaches or warding off evils spirits can be sorted out over the counter and the shop had a huge number of bins, tubs and bottles containing weird-looking stuff.   A popular request is for a Love Potion.  Joe showed us the outrageously pink liquid, which is smeared onto the face with the hope of attracting the opposite sex.

Zulu Traditional Medicines

The Zulu people believe in communicating with their ancestors and in traditional healing.  They believe that the Sangoma has supernatural powers of communicating with the ancestral spirits on their behalf.   If the illness or problem is complicated then they will ask the Sangoma for a private consultation during which bones may be thrown and read to determine the future and the root of the problem.

We headed out of town to the Shembe gathering.  Unfortunately, there were still rain showers passing through, so the dirt road was slick with mud and rutted.  We joined a long line of vehicles, some packed high with camping gear and people.  About ½ mile from the village of Judea, when the queue ground to a snail’s pace, we parked on the side of the road, donned waterproof gear and walked the rest of the way.

There was a real festival atmosphere, with tents erected on any spare bit of ground, cars parked everywhere and church officials dressed in white gowns directing and pushing cars around.  Whole families were piling out of their cars, donning traditional gowns and walking barefoot through the mud towards the church. 

We cheated a little and wore our sandals until the entrance gate into Judea, where we then had to go barefoot (with thick mud squeezing up between our toes.)  Glenys wore a sarong and I had long trousers, which seemed to be acceptable.  The “church” isn’t a building - it’s a circle of white stones.  The Shembe pray in the open air and fortunately, it stopped raining.  Men, women and unmarried women gathered in separate areas and there were so many people sitting on mats, that we were uncertain where to go.  

There was some confusion at times - Joe wasn’t a member of the Shembe church and made a few social mistakes… The church “wardens” eventually told us that we had to sit down - it appears that it’s rude to stand during a service.  

Glenys grabbed a prime spot next to some of the ladies, while Joe and I continued to squelch through the mud and eventually found a dry spot in between cars parked at the side of the road.  There were already two guys and three boys sat on mats and they graciously squeezed up so that we could share their mats.

30,000 people at a church service

It was a little bizarre - all I could see was the sides of the surrounding cars.  The preacher was being broadcast on loudspeakers, but I couldn’t understand a word because it was all in Zulu.  I eventually gathered that the preacher was reading from the bible, which went on interminably.  The only redeeming part of the service was when they sang a hymn.  The sound of thousands of people singing together sent a chill up my spine.  The harmonies were very reminiscent of the singing in the Cook Islands - beautiful.

We stayed put for 20 minutes to make sure that we were seen to be respectful of their service and then we sneaked out.  It was an interesting experience, but I wished that we could have gone tomorrow, when there will be lots of traditional Zulu dancing in traditional dress - it’s supposed to be spectacular.

Joe took us to his village about six miles outside Eshowe.  It’s in a beautiful hilly area and the village is very spread out.  Each family typically has a couple of hectares of land (a cricket stadium is about one hectare), so there’s lots of space between the houses.

A family has a number of buildings.  Traditionally the houses were circular with living/sleeping huts, a cooking hut and a separate building for the Spirits of the Ancestors.  Nowadays, a family might have one large house for most of the family with perhaps a separate building for the older, married children. 

The one common denominator is the Ancestors’ House.  Even if someone has a modern, fancy house, they will still have a traditional round house for the Ancestors.  The building is normally empty apart from a few mats on the floor.  The family will have sacrificed one or more animals to attract the Ancestors’ spirits to remain in the house.  

Zulu Family Enclosure

If someone dies away from the family home, then someone in the family will go to the place where the person died; talk to the spirit; and bring the spirit back to the Ancestors’ House.  Small branches from a tree are used to help the spirits return and there are often dried branches hanging in the Ancestors Houses.    

Joe showed us their Shembe Church, which is a circle of white stones.  The Zulus also place white stones around the enclosure for their houses to ward off evil spirits.  

We asked Joe about marriage and he told us the standard dowry paid to the wife’s family is 11 cows, which rises to 35 if the lady is in a chief’s family.  With a large number of people living in towns or townships, there isn’t enough space for everyone to receive 11 cows, so a cash settlement is negotiated between the families.  The number of cows is first agreed and then a price is negotiated for each imaginary cow.  The going rate is 5,500 Rand per cow, which makes a dowry about £3,360 - a lot of money for a villager.

It was a strange disjointed day, but we learned a lot about the Zulu traditional life.

29 October 2017   Richards Bay, South Africa
It was a lovely sunny day, which was good because we’d arranged a cruiser’s Braai at the yacht club.  Des Cason, who had provided us with great weather forecasting and routing advice, came to visit us. Most of the boats who had come down from Madagascar came over to meet Des and his wife Nell.  It was a nice day, very relaxed with a few cold beers consumed by all.

30 October 2017  Ithala Game Reserve, South Africa
It was holiday time - we’d booked ourselves four nights in Game Reserve Lodges.  We were heading north to Ithala Game Reserve, but made a slight detour to the entrance to Hluhluwe Game Reserve to get a map to allow us to plan for when our son Craig comes out to visit in a couple of weeks.  We saw our first Elephant right next to reception building.

The main road goes straight through the Game Reserve and we saw some Impala and another antelope - very exciting.  We turned on to Route 66, which was good at first, but suddenly turned into a rutted, gravel road.   It seemed to go on forever, but it was only about 10 kilometres.  It felt very unsettling being in a little compact car, driving through the middle of nowhere, especially because we were down to ¼ tank of petrol and no sign of a petrol station. 

Nice Lodge

The road finally improved, but there was no petrol station until we arrived at the small town of Louwsburg, where there were two…  It seems that petrol stations are only in towns - townships and villages don’t count.  I think that it will be different as we get towards Cape town, but Zululand is very rural.  My tip for the day is “Don’t pass a petrol station when you have less than ½ tank of fuel”.

After buying some cold beer and wine, we drove to the Ithala Nature Reserve and to the main centre where we were given a lovely one bedroom chalet.   The “resort” is situated amongst trees at the bottom of an impressive set of cliffs.

In the afternoon, we went on a guided game drive, which was fabulous.  We saw White Rhino, Black Rhino, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog, loads of Zebra and several types of antelope. The game drive cost R250 (£14) per person, which is a bargain for a three hour tour with an experienced guide.  The trucks take 9 people and there were only 7 of us so there was plenty of space and it was good viewing from any seat.

We had the evening meal in the restaurant – a buffet which was ok. They had completely run out of red wine because they had a big party of 30 people last night and another 20 person party tonight, so I had to walk back to our chalet and pick up a bottle a wine.  As always at a buffet, I ate too much food - when will I grow up?

31 October 2017  Ithala Game Reserve, South Africa
The alarm went off at 05:15 to go on an early morning game drive which started at 06:00. The animals are more active in the early morning and tend to hide in the bush in the heat of the day.  It was a little cold at first because we are in a mountainous area, but it was a great three hours.

Black Rhino

We saw the same animals as yesterday, but also found three Elephants on a steep sided hill.  There are 180 elephants on the reserve, but they are shy and difficult to find.  The park is 290 sq.km, but can only sustain 100 elephants because a larger number will strip too many trees and cause long-term damage to the environment.  The park’s solution to this growing problem is to shoot contraceptive injections into the elephants.

The highlight of the drive was the Rhinos.  White Rhinos graze on short grass and are very placid - almost like huge cows.  There are many White Rhino in Ithala.  There’s a huge problem with poaching for Rhino Horns, so many of the Game Reserves cut the horns off the White Rhino, which are easy pickings for the poachers.  

However, the Black Rhino (who browse on branches of trees) are much more aggressive and dangerous - the parks leave the horns on the Black Rhino.  We came across a male Black Rhino, who was very, very grumpy and almost charged our truck. We then saw the reason for his bad temper - a female, who our angry friend was trying to seduce, with no luck... 

Hiking in Ithala

We left them in peace and when we returned 30 minutes later, he’d gained favour and we saw them mating. After the event, he looked very serene with a post-coital smile.

We were back at the main centre by 09:00 and had a huge buffet breakfast.  After chilling out in our chalet for a few hours, we took some sandwiches and went for a little drive by ourselves.  We were very restricted because we didn’t have a 4-wheel drive, but it was nice to be able to spend more time watching the few animals we saw.  Impala are beautiful antelope, but they are so common that the guides always drive past quickly.

At 15:00, when it was starting to cool down, we went for a short 2 hour hike along the hillside above the resort.  It was a nice walk to a rocky view point.  After only one day at a Game Reserve, I’ve turned into an Experienced Animal Tracker and noticed that there were lots of signs of African Elephant - piles of droppings and the remnants of branches broken off and chewed.  It was a little worrying, especially as evening approached and there was more chance of elephants moving about.

There are more photos in our Photo Album section.