Durban and East London

18 December 2017   Durban, South Africa
As it was Monday, we went to the marina office and checked in properly with the office staff.  We chatted to a few other cruisers who are also waiting for the next weather window on the 20th and they haven’t done much in Durban either. It started to rain during the morning, so we couldn’t even be bothered to go to the cinema.

In the evening, we dashed through the howling South-west wind and driving rain to have a quiet dinner by ourselves in the Royal Natal Yacht Club 

Lots of Forbidden Stuff

19 December 2017   Durban, South Africa
It still looks good to leave for East London tomorrow, so we paid our marina bill, filled in our new Flight Plan and walked down to get our stamps.  The first stop was at the Port Authority, which is in an office just past the Customs building.  They checked and stamped our forms and gave us a slip of paper stating that we had fully paid our harbour fees (free for the first month for international visitors). 

Immigration filled in more forms and gave us a stamp.  We filled in another form at Customs, then took our stamped Flight Plan back to the Port Authority, who send it to Port Control, who we have to call before we can exit the port.  We have 24 hours to leave the harbour before the Flight Plan expires.  What a palaver.

Fear is a funny thing.  The 1 kilometre walk between the marina and the customs building is along a wide pavement, next to a grassy park, alongside a busy, modern dual lane road, with shops on the other side. We met several cruisers who wouldn’t walk along this road even in the middle of the day – we did, but we were very vigilant. 

The authorities are obviously trying to smarten the place up and improve security.  There was a huge sign in the park next to the marina, forbidding about everything bad that you could think of... 

On the way back from the Customs, we stopped in a Spar supermarket and were surprised to see a guard with an automatic machine gun at the ready, guarding two security guys loading an ATM machine.  Perhaps we’ll not go out at night.

Happily Motor-sailing

20 December 2017   Durban to East London (Day 1)
The alarm went off at 04:30. We checked the weather forecast to confirm no change and then eased our way carefully out of the tight corner of the marina.  There were dozens of small sports fishing boats calling up Durban Port Control, all heading out to take advantage of the blue skies and settled conditions.  After getting a terse, monosyllabic approval to our request to leave the port, we motored out of the port entrance at 05:00 into a gentle 1 metre swell coming from the south.

The wind settled down to 5-10 knots from the south-west and we motored south looking for the Agulhas Current, which sets south at up to 3 knots.  For the first hour, we had a favourable 0.5 knot current, but then encountered an adverse 1-2 knot current for the next two hours. We had no current for the next hour or so, but as we continued into deeper water, the current increased and by 11:00, around 13 miles offshore, we were being pushed along by a 2 knot current. Later in the afternoon, we had over 3 knots, so at times we were doing 8.5 knots over the ground.

I put out two fishing lines and rigged up the new set of birds that I bought in Richards Bay.  In the afternoon, we had two strikes, but didn’t land either – one on the rod whizzed out and eventually snapped the line and the other was taken by a bigger fish/shark, leaving us only scraps on the hook.

The wind remained light all day.  It backed to south allowing us to motor-sail on port tack, but refused to increase enough allow us to sail.  The swell from the south gradually built to 3 metres with confused waves on top presumably caused by the wind against current.  These waves made us pitch and slowed down our boat speed, so when we tried to sail, we didn’t have enough power to cut through the waves.

Sunset on the way to East London

By 20:00, the wind had backed to the south-east at 8 knots and we had 4.5 knots of current, so despite only being able to motor at 4.5 to 5 knots, we were doing 9.5 knots over the ground. Unfortunately, the change in the wind confused the seas even more so it was a horrible crashing ride.  I tried to hold the mainsail out with a preventer to try to gain some boat speed from the wind, but gave up as the boom flogged around in the waves.  Eventually, we rolled the main away and motor-sailed all night with just the genoa.

By midnight, the wind had backed further to north-east and thankfully, the seas had calmed down – I guess that this was a result of the wind being in the same direction as the current.  It’s a nasty bit of sea along here.  We’re travelling in very benign wind conditions with 5-12 knot winds, but it looks like even light winds with a southerly component kick up a boat-stopping choppy sea.  I’ve been told that they commonly get 8 metre high breaking waves in a south westerly gale – something to avoid...

At our 01:00 watch change, we’d lost the 4 knot current and only had 1 knot.  There’s a plateau in the sea bed sticking out from the shore at 32°00.6S 29°29.1E, so I steered us south, heading back out towards the 1,000 metre contour, where I picked up a 3 knot current again.  I don’t know if it was the best thing to do – perhaps the current would have come back if I’d stayed further in.  Who knows?  At least we had a 3 knot current with us again.

21 December 2017   Durban to East London (Day 2)
Just after dawn, the elusive current disappeared on us again and despite heading out to 1000 metres and then back in again to 300 metres, we couldn’t find it.  However, the skies cleared to a stunning solid blue and the wind settled down to ENE 20, which allowed us to finally turn off the engine and run downwind, wing-on-wing in relatively calm seas averaging 6.5 to 7.5 knots.  At 09:00, we had 60 miles to go, so we were hoping to get into East London before dark.

It continued to be a lovely day and we found the current again at the 300 metre contour when we were 45 miles from our destination and then we had a couple of knots with us most of the way to the breakwater – a fabulous day’s sailing after last night’s unpleasantness.

Approaching East London at Dusk

A couple of miles from the harbour entrance we called Port Control (on VHF16, working channel 12) and after a couple of questions, they granted us entry to the port.  We motored to the end of the port where there is a bridge blocking the river and about twenty fore-aft trot moorings belonging to the Buffalo River Yacht Club.  

There used to be a jetty on the north shore against which visiting yachts could moor, called Latimer’s Landing, but it is now derelict.  There were two choices - anchor in 12 metres of water or pick up a mooring.  As it was getting dark, we decided to anchor and sort it out tomorrow.  Fortunately, one of the yacht club members, Graham shouted that there's a single visitor’s berth alongside their floating pontoon, so we pulled up the anchor and moored alongside.

Graham helped us with our lines and we invited him on-board for a few cold beers to get the low down on the area. The club is only open on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and they normally do a Braai on Christmas Day for the visiting Yachts.  It’s not advisable to walk around the port area, so we’ll need to get a taxi wherever we go.