February 2018 - Namibia to St Helena

1 February 2018   Lüderitz, Namibia
We went on another tour with Heinz - this time to see the old mining town of Elizabeth Bay.  Just past the entrance to Kolmanskop, there’s an entrance into the "Sperrgebiet” (Forbidden Zone), where Heinz had to show our permits to enter.  They have searching rooms where people are x-rayed and have full body searches to stop diamond smuggling.

The Forbidden Zone is huge - 300 kilometres along the coast and 100 kilometres inland.  There are several active diamond mines including one at Elizabeth Bay.  Diamonds were mined off and on at Elizabeth Bay from 1911 to 1948 with major interruptions due to world wars and economic recessions.  The mine was reopened in 1991 with modern infrastructure and the workforce now lives in Lüderitz. 

It’s 28 kilometres from Elizabeth Bay to Lüderitz and most of the way, we drove on a well graded road - the workers in the new mine use the road to commute to Lüderitz.  The landscape is barren, rocky desert and the only wildlife that we saw all day was three Black-backed Jackals.

Elizabeth Bay

In 1926, a small town was built at Elizabeth Bay to house mineworkers and their families.  This was abandoned in 1935 and it is quickly returning to the desert - a windswept place of fragile ruins.  Heinz took us on a tour of the place, telling us stories about the people who lived and worked here.  There was a huge diamond processing plant, which crushed and then graded the gravel, reducing it to a size that would yield the most diamonds for the area.  Men then sifted through the gravel and picked out the diamonds.

The town housed white Germans in style, with single men sharing a house while married couples had their own six room houses.  Black workers were housed in dormitories with mattresses on the concrete floor separated by three foot high walls - very crowded.  The black workers would have a two year contract, separated from their families, while the white workers were allowed to bring their families.

There was a large “Casino” - a social club with a restaurant and bars; a school; and a train line linked the town to Kolmanskop and Lüderitz.  The ruins of the buildings are deteriorating faster than in Kolmanskop, because the town is right next to the sea and battered by the wind.  There is no sweeping sand like Kolmanskop and the crumbling walls stand bare and skeletal.   

A small pack of Brown Hyenas has taken residence in the ruins.  They feed on a large colony of Cape Fur Seals in a bay about 4 kilometres to the north of Elizabeth Bay.  We weren’t lucky enough to see them, but we did see many tracks, their white scat and they have dragged seal carcasses into a boiler room in one building - it stank to high heaven.

It’s Crayfish season and Heinz got us 2 kg of live Crayfish, which we ate with relish in the evening.

2 February 2018   Lüderitz, Namibia
It was another windy day - we had blue skies, but the wind picked up to over 40 knots in the afternoon.  The wind on the GRIB files shows only 25 knots gusting to 30 knots, but Lüderitz is in a wind acceleration zone.  There’s a huge area of sand dunes to the north of here, which heats up during the day.  The hot air rises, pulling in air from the surrounding area, so at Lüderitz, air is pulled in from the south adding 10-15 knots onto the prevailing south wind. 

Luderitz

We had a day pottering around the boat.  I reviewed the way that our navigation electronics are linked together and made some slight modifications.  For my future reference, I then made some notes about NEMA and the way I have it configured.

The wind was making everything rattle on the boat and I went on deck several times during the day to check for chafing and things coming loose.  In the afternoon, we heard a worrying metallic clunk on the deck.  I went to investigate and after some searching found a pin from a shackle lying on the coach roof, which had come from the mainsail outhaul.  

The wind had been rattling the end of the main sail so much that the shackle had unscrewed.  I replaced it and put some seizing wire on the pin.  I noticed that the eye on the end of the outhaul has been chafing, so I need to spice a new eye on tomorrow.

3 February 2018   Lüderitz, Namibia
Thankfully the wind had died off, so we spent the morning doing some chores, going into town to the supermarket.  I had an upholsterer glue the sole of one of Glenys’ sandals back together - they isn’t a cobbler in town and I figured that he’d have some decent glue.  

We also did a couple of runs to get drinking water - there’s a lot of sediment in the water in the harbour and we don’t want to clog up our filters by running the water-maker.  Fortunately, there’s a water tap on the east side of the waterfront square, which has plenty of clean water and it’s not too far to lug the heavy 20 litre jerry cans back to the dinghy.  I’m told that the water is very pure - it comes from an underground river in the desert. 

Germanic Architecture

As it was a Saturday, there were lots of people wandering around town.  Many of them were carrying big bags of “Top Score” maize meal.  “Pap,” or maize meal porridge, is a staple for most Namibians.  It is eaten anytime of the day, but especially with dinner.  Many Namibians only eat one meal a day, so it tends to be a big dinner with lots of Pap.  It’s boiled to the consistency of porridge or mashed potatoes and typically eaten with fish.  Pap itself doesn’t have much taste - it’s a cheap carbohydrate that fills you up,

In the afternoon, we went for a stroll around town, going up to the iconic Victorian Gothic church on the hill.  We then headed out to Shark Island, which is a rocky peninsula next to our anchorage, which was a notorious concentration camp for the German Empire.

The land and bay of Luderitz was bought in 1883 from the indigenous Nama people.  The Nama are the largest group of the Khoikhoi people, most of whom have largely disappeared as a group, except for the Namas.  The early German settlers called them Hottentots and they were nomadic farmers and cattle owners. 

From 1904 to 1907, the Germans, who had colonised present-day Namibia, waged war against the Nama and the Herero (a group of Bantu pastoralists), leading to the Herero and Namaqua genocide in which they killed at least 80% of the Nama and Herero populations. About 19,000 German troops were engaged in the conflict, of which 1,000 died.  Germany officially recognized the genocide in 2004 and at that time their newpapers reported 65,000. 

African Oystercatchers

The war was motivated by the German desire to establish a prosperous colony which required displacing the indigenous people from their agricultural land.  Large herds of cattle were confiscated and Nama and Herero people were driven into the desert where they starved or died of dehydration. Captured prisoners were interned in concentration camps on the coast, for example at Shark Island.  Additionally, the Nama and Herero were forced into slave labour to build railways and to dig for diamonds during the diamond rush.

The Shark Island camp operated between 1905 and 1907 during the Herero Wars.  Between 1,000 and 3,000 Africans from the Herero and Nama tribes died here as a result of the tragic conditions of forced labour.  Their labour was used for expansion of the city, railway, port and on the farms of white settlers. There are still legal battles for compensation taking place between Germany and the Namas.

There’s now a pleasant camping area on the headland, but we turned right just after the port and clambered down to the rocky coast line, where there were plenty of Gannets, African Oystercatchers and Cormorants to watch.

4 February 2018   Lüderitz, Namibia
It was really cold in the morning, with a light wind from the north bringing in a damp, thick fog.  We cowered down below with the hatches and companionway closed until 10:00 when we met Heinz and “Dreamcatcher” ashore to go on Koichab Dune Tour.  Heinz and his son Jurgen had brought two 4x4 trucks and we were soon on our way along the only road out of town.

4x4 driving on Koichab Dunes

About 20 kilometres in land, we turned onto a faint trail leading across the desert, which is hard-packed, rocky sand.  In the early days of the Luderitz settlement, goods were taken inland on ox-carts, which took days to cross this barren patch of desert.  Heinz stopped next to some remains of a wooden ox-cart which have been well preserved by the hot dry climate.  There’s very little vegetation and no sign of water, so it’s easy to see how the Herero and Nama tribes died in their thousands when forced out here by the German Empire in 1905.

We continued on passing rocky hills and after an hour came to the edge of the Koichab Sand Dunes, where there is an underground river.  The water is 10-20 metres below the surface and is very pure.  This is the source of the drinking water in Luderitz and there is a pipe line through which water is pumped to the town, 40 kilometres away.  There are trees and bushes here which send down long roots to seek the water - the first sign of greenery since we left Luderitz.

After a lunch of Frankfurters in buns, Heinz and Jurgen let some air out of the tyres of the trucks to give better traction in soft sand and we headed off into the Dunes.  We then had great fun, driving up and down the sand dunes, sometimes making it up the steep slopes and sometimes not…   

The sand on the dunes is very fine and very dry, so it flows like cooking salt.  The prevailing wind blows the sand up the west slopes and deposits sand on the east slopes.  Heinz tells us that the angle of the leeward slopes is 38°, but it seems a lot steeper than that when you are driving down it.  At one point Jurgen got stuck when trying to drive back up a slope and had to be towed off.  Great fun.

Koichab Dunes

We stopped several times to look at the stunning scenery and once to have a play at dune sledging.  Good fun on a simple waxed board, but the long walk back up was so hard that I only did it once.

We saw a few Oryx, which are a large antelope, but they were all very shy and cantered away upon hearing us approach.  They are very well adapted to living in arid conditions and can exist by eating only the sparse desert grass from which they derive most of their water needs.  They concentrate their urine and absorb all possible moisture from their faeces, which look like hard black beans.

After three hours of driving through the vast area of dunes, we arrived at our campsite in a protected hollow between the dunes.  Heinz and Jurgen gave us collapsible tents and bed rolls, so we soon had our tent perched on a flat area overlooking a stunning view of the dunes.  We had a few beers while watching the sun go down, which enhanced the red colour of the sand.

For dinner, we had Oryx steaks and Boerewors sausages cooked on a braai, which went down well with a bottle of red wine.  The stars came out in the clear sky and, after chatting by the campfire for a while, we retired to bed - a great end to a fabulous day.

5 February 2018   Lüderitz, Namibia
We didn’t sleep well because it was boiling in our tent with absolutely no breeze.  Glenys and I were up before dawn and climbed to the top of a nearby dune to watch the sun rise.  It was well worth the effort because it was beautiful to watch the sun chase the shadows from the dunes, especially knowing that there was no one else within 40 kilometres of our camp.

Heinz regularly uses this place as a campsite and has set up an interesting camp toilet.  An old metal oil drum is sunk into the sand on the other side of a small ridge.  Heinz has a toilet seat screwed to a piece of plywood that fits over the oil drum.  A spade painted with the words “Engaged” is placed on the ridge and whenever anyone goes to the loo, they stick the spade upright in the sand.  It’s a stunning view when sat on the toilet.

Camping in the Namibian Desert

After a breakfast of bread and jam, (it’s definitely not haute cuisine on this trip), we packed up camp.  Some diesel was poured into the toilet oil drum and the contents were incinerated.  Apart from a few tyre tracks and footprints, there was no sign that we’d been there.

We had a last bit of fun driving out of the extensive sand dunes and then drove along a gravel road through the stony desert, following the water pipe back to Luderitz.  It was an excellent trip - a tad expensive at $3,500 NAB (£175) each, but we saw a very special place.

Back at the boat, we found that one of the two ropes attaching Alba to the mooring was hooked around our keel.  I managed to release it without too much drama, but the rope is covered with our blue antifoul paint, so I guess that we’ve lost patches of our new antifoul.

We had a quiet afternoon, catching up on lost sleep and an early night.

6 February 2018   Lüderitz, Namibia
We had a slow start to the day.  I set about editing the scores of stunning photos that I took of the Dune Trip and didn’t bother to check the weather forecast until 10:30.  We were planning to leave for St Helena after the 10th, but it looks to be very windy on the 10th and 11th and then there’s a few days of very light winds.  The best time to go appeared to be tomorrow, so we decided to go for it.  Starting a 1,335 mile trip tomorrow?  Don’t Panic Mr Mannering!

I rushed off to do a couple of trips ashore to fill our water jerry cans at the stand pipe and topped up our water tanks.   

9°C is damn cold

After lunch, we went shopping to buy enough provisions to see us across the South Atlantic Ocean.  There will be slim pickings in St Helena and nothing in Ascension Island, so we have to be self-sufficient for 6 - 8 weeks until we get to Jacaré in Brazil.

In the evening, we went out for a meal with Martin & Maggie from “Dreamcatcher”.  We went to the Barrels pub, which had a great atmosphere and did good food.

7 February 2018   Namibia to St Helena (Day 1)
I woke to the disturbing sound of no wind.  Thinking that we’d probably be motoring away from Namibia, I worked out that we had used 35-40 litres since we left Cape Town. I poured one of our 21 litre jerry jugs into the main tank and refilled it in town. We now have 420 litres of fuel in the tank plus 63 litres in jerry jugs  - enough for 160-240 hours of motoring depending on how fast we run the engine.  We could motor for 1,000 miles out of the 1,335 miles to St Helena

Another thought that occurred to me in the early hours of the morning was that I ought to check the propeller after the mooring line had been caught around the keel a few days earlier.  The thought of jumping into the cold, dirty water was not appealing, but it had to be done.  I didn’t intend to be in the water very long, so I just put on my 1mm skin suit for protection against the nasty looking jellyfish pulsating around our boat.  The 9.5°C water literally took my breath away, but the propeller and stern gear all look OK.

We zipped ashore to buy the diesel and fill up another three jerry cans of water. Glenys spent our last Namibia dollars on some carvings and a painted fabric from a local guy in the waterfront square. By the time that we’d lifted the dinghy on deck, most of the morning had gone and we dropped the mooring at 11:10.

Back Sailing

There was some wind outside the harbour, but unfortunately it was from the NNW – not good when our required course was NW.  The today’s forecast showed a small high pressure system next to the coast, so we motored for an hour to get away from the land.  The NNW wind persisted and picked up to 15 knots, so we pulled out the sails and sailed west, pointing as high as we could.  

Three hours later, after passing through a nil wind area, the wind backed to the SSW at 5-12 knots – we’d escaped the land effect and were into the prevailing winds.  We poled the genoa out to port and sailed wing-on-wing, slowly heading towards our destination, 10 days away.

About 20 miles out to sea, we came across several large groups of Cape Fur Seals (20 or more) hunting together, which is something that we haven’t seen before.

Unfortunately, the wind remained fickle all afternoon and into the evening, occasionally veering by up to 90° and dropping down to 5 knots  - at times our boat speed dropped below 2 knots.  Normally, we would crack up and start the engine, but we have to preserve fuel on this long passage.

Thankfully, a few hours after dark, the wind picked up to 8-10 knots and backed to the south-west putting us on a beam reach, allowing us to roar along at 4 – 5 knots.

Cape Fur Seals

At our 01:00 watch change, there were four fishing boats within sight - all without AIS.  One was particularly close and appeared to be coming directly at us.  We were only doing 4 knots, so I turned on the engine and increased our speed to 7 knots, but the fishing boat changed course, still coming directly at us.  Glenys turned on our deck light to illuminate our sails, but he kept remorselessly heading for us – I could clearly see his bow despite it being a dark night.

I powered us around 180°, which backed the sails, but this was no great problem in the light 8 knot winds with the mainsail preventer in place.  I gunned the engine and motored at 7 knots in the opposite direction.  This seemed to confuse him, but he then started to turn towards us again.  Glenys was screaming into the VHF radio,  “Fishing boat on our port bow, this is sailing vessel Alba.”  After a couple of calls, he stopped turning towards us and we slowly drew away from him.

I continued motoring away from him for ten minutes, slowly circling back on course and he disappeared off into the night.  We turned the engine off and sailed away at 3-4 knots, keeping a beady eye on the other fishing boats.  Goodness knows what the hell he was doing – was it malicious or was he just coming to have a look at the “interesting” sailing boat?

An hour later, I was motor-sailing again because the wind dropped to 5 knots again and our boat speed was less than 2 knots. To make matters worse, we had a ½ knot current against us, so we weren’t going anywhere and there were still fishing boats around. We continued motoring until dawn.

Albatross

8 February 2018   Namibia to St Helena (Day 2)
It was a miserable, cold, grey morning with a light 5 knot SSW wind and a sea mist wetting everything on deck.  While we were in Luderitz, our decks, rig and ropes were covered in sand and dirt blown from the desert.  Unfortunately, the condensation from the sea mist isn’t enough to wash everything, instead we now have wet muck on every surface and have to wash our hands every time we adjust a rope or go on deck.

Last night, Glenys and I agreed a strategy of only motoring at night – it’s so depressing doing a three hour night watch and only going 3 miles.  Like good little sailors, we turned the engine off at 07:00 and then slopped around, only managing an average boat speed of 1 knot.

I downloaded a GRIB weather forecast, which showed there’s a trough coming through causing these light SSW winds, which will persist all today and all tomorrow.  Early on Saturday 10th, we should get SSW 15-20 for a few days.  The good news is that the water temperature has risen by 1½° to 11°C.

At 09:00, I cracked up and turned on the engine – I’d had enough of the sails slatting and the boom banging as we rolled in the remorseless swell.  I reasoned that we’ve still got enough fuel to motor for at least 5 days – that’s 2 days until the wind arrives plus a reserve of 3 days to get us into St Helena. 

Bizarrely, 30 minutes later, the wind suddenly veered by 180° degrees and increased to 8-10 knots from the north.  We still had the spinnaker pole set out to port, so I had to spend 15 minutes stowing the pole, swapping the running back stays and gybing the sails, so that we could turn the engine off and sail hard on the wind on starboard tack making 3.5 - 5 knots.  

Fog Horn

We have a constant stream of Shearwaters and Albatross flying past us, who are struggling to stay aloft in the light winds. I spent a while trying to photograph them, but the sea mist kept fogging my lens and the dull conditions made for dull pictures. It was frustrating – sometimes I waited for ½ hour and none came near; and at other times I’d spot one very close, but by the time that I’d scrabbled for my camera, it was gone.  It kept me occupied for a while.

The wind dropped and backed to dead ahead at midday, so we started the engine again.  The cold, saturating mist persisted and we heard the mournful sound of a ship’s fog horn when it passed  three miles in front of us – we knew it was there because of the wonders of AIS.  We dug out our fog horn, which is a small human-blown horn like you’d use at a football match.  Glenys made an effort at sounding it, but it’s unlikely that the ship heard us because our horn’s range is probably only ½ mile.

I went to bed at 13:30 and, as I was snuggling down under the duvet (in the only warm place on the boat), I heard Glenys pulling out sails and cranking winches.  When I surfaced three hours later, we were cracking along at 6 - 7 knots on a port beam reach with 10-12 knot winds.  To make things even better, the fog had lifted and the sun was shining.

The wind continued into the night until 23:00, when it dropped again.  After 3 hours of motor-sailing, the wind veered by 30 degrees and picked up to 8 knots from the west putting us close hauled with 5 knots boat speed.  We continued sailing until dawn.