Rounding The Cape of Good Hope

1 January 2018   Mossel Bay, South Africa
It was blowing a hooley with 30 knot south-west winds, but we were fine in the marina on the floating pontoons. There are two German boats out at anchor, who seemed to be okay with good protection from the land and the harbour walls.  

However, there are four boats, double-rafted against the concrete wall of the central fishing jetty.  The inner two boats, “Peregrine” and “Toomai” had a sleepless night being pressed against the huge tyres and having to constantly adjust their mooring lines in the two metre tides.  I guess that tonight will be no better.  

Reminiscing with Pete

After a quiet morning, Pete Bath, an old skydiving friend, came to visit us with his girlfriend Hayley.  Glenys laid on lunch aboard Alba and we had a lot of catching up to do because we’ve not seen Pete for over 15 years. After lunch, we jumped into his flash BMW and Pete took us to his home in Knysna.  

On the way, we stopped off at Knysna Heads, which is a narrow passage into the well protected Knysna lagoon.  We initially wanted to sail into the lagoon, but it is notorious for big waves over the entrance bar and there’s a good chance that we could have been trapped there waiting for tides and weather to coincide to get out.  I was expecting to see large breaking waves because of the strong on-shore winds, but the pass was fairly calm, probably because it was just approaching high tide.  

Pete lives on a gated estate in the hills above Knysna, where he built his own house overlooking a gorgeous river valley.  It’s a beautiful spot and the estate even has its own 18 hole golf course.  We had the inevitable Braai, drank lots of red wine and reminisced late into the night.

2 January 2018   Mossel Bay, South Africa
Being in a house, we indulged in a long hot shower, finished off our laundry, had toast and marmalade for breakfast and then Pete drove us back to Mossel Bay.  It would have been great to stay a few days, but we needed to vacate the berth in the marina at noon, so we had no time left.

First Time Anchoring in South Africa

Back at the marina, I checked the weather forecast and there’s still a good weather window to get to Cape Town leaving tomorrow morning.  It looks like the wind will be mostly behind us and we should round the feared Cape of Good Hope with only 15 knots of wind – touch wood...

I walked to the Yacht Club to pay our berth fees.  The first night was free and, with two nights at 190 Rands, the total added up to £20 for three nights – a bargain.  I wandered over to the Port Control office to hand in my Flight Plan.  The guy told me to just radio in when we were leaving the port and wasn’t too interested in my Flight Plan document, but because I’d gone to the effort of filling it in, he graciously accepted it saying that he would “file it” (possibly a euphemism for putting it in the waste paper bin.) 

We left the marina late in the morning and went out to anchor at 34°10.54S 022°08.51E in 6 metres depth on good holding sand.  This is the first time that we’ve been at anchor since we left Mozambique 2½ months ago and it’s wonderful (apart from the damn jet skis using us as a turning point.)

Now that we’re anchored in clean water, I ran the water-maker to test the generator and the new low pressure pump that I fitted a month ago.  To my great relief, everything performed flawlessly, so that’s one item off my checklist.  I then had a reality attack, realising that in 2 weeks’ time, we will have to leave South Africa and start our 6,000 mile voyage across the Southern Atlantic Ocean to the West Indies – gulp!

3 January 2018   Mossel Bay to Cape Town (Day 1)
The weather forecast was still good, with the south-west winds arriving at Cape Town at midday on Saturday 6th, so with only 240 miles to go we had plenty of time. We were ready to go at 08:00, but there was no wind at all and it wasn’t due to pick up until 12:00, so we hung around.  Leaving at midday was actually much better timing, putting us at both Cape Agulhas and Cape Point during daylight and we’ll still get into Cape Town on Friday afternoon, 24 hours before the weather changes.

Putting up the spinnaker pole

I was a little confused about Cape of Good Hope, Cape Agulhas and Cape Point, so I did a little research: 

A common misconception is that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa. This  was based on the early sailors thinking that the Cape was the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The southernmost point of Africa is actually at Cape Agulhas about 150 kilometres to the east-southeast. The currents of the two oceans meet at the point where the warm-water Agulhas current meets the cold water Benguela current and turns back on itself.  That oceanic meeting point fluctuates between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point (which is about 1.2 kilometres east of the Cape of Good Hope).

When following the western side of the African coastline from the equator, however, the Cape of Good Hope marks the point where a ship begins to travel more eastward than southward. Thus, the first modern rounding of the cape in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias was a milestone in the attempts by the Portuguese to establish direct trade relations with the Far East.  Dias called the cape Cabo das Tormentas ("Cape of Storms"), which was the original name of the "Cape of Good Hope".

With some trepidation, we set off for the Cape of Storms at 09:30 – we ‘ve never been good at waiting to leave.  There was hardly any wind at first, so we motored for a couple of hours, but by 13:00 we had 15 knots on our port beam and were trucking along nicely.  In fact, too nicely – we were doing 6 knots with some current with us, so we’d get to Cape Agulhas before daybreak.  By 14:00, we were down to just a reefed genoa, rolling downwind, trying to slow down.

Another night at sea

It was a beautiful blue-sky day, but the wind was cold, so we had the aft and side flaps down on our bimini to give us some shelter, yet still had to wear a fleece.  “Peregrine” and “Ui” left at the same time and were in AIS range all day.  

The east wind continued into the night and at one point increased to 25 knots with suitably bigger waves, but it wasn’t any problem apart from making us roll more.  On my 7-10 watch, I was engrossed in a book, when one of the big rolls caught me by surprise and I slid sideways off my seat before I had chance to grab hold of something.  I slammed down onto the cockpit floor, bruising my left elbow badly – damn annoying, but at least my Kindle is okay.  I moved my seat onto the cockpit floor and spent the rest of the watch down there.

My 1-4 watch was idyllic - the wind had dropped to East 15-20 knots, the wave height and motion was much calmer and we had a full moon with clear skies.