Port Elizabeth and beyond

We left East London just after sunrise on the 3rd of December with a gentle ENE pushing us down the coast. An uneventful trip ensued to PE although it was damp and cold. Coming into Algoa Bay, motor sailing into a SW wind and low cloud was easily the coldest I had been in many months. We had been spoilt; board shorts and t-shirts had become our standard outfit in anything but the worst weather and now we were reminded that we were moving south!

On the way down the coast, as I check the charts, I notice that there is a ‘Recommended Anchorage’ annotated just offshore of the Kasouga River! I remember visiting there often when living and working in Port Elizabeth and that part the of coast does not lend itself to anchoring by any stretch of the imagination! It makes you wonder how this got onto the charts and hope that no seafarer in urgent need of an anchorage relies on what the chart says!

Arriving in PE early in the morning of 4 December, brought back all sorts of memories from my student and early working days. Algoa Bay Yacht Club was where I started sailing keelboats with some amazingly talented people. I still sail with some of them today.

Having family in PE meant family time and how great it was to be able to spend unrushed, quality time with them.

It was also nice to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen for years!

PE always pleases with its friendliness and creativity. We had a family breakfast at a restaurant in the country, called Grass Roof and were seriously impressed with the food quality and service.

Another fantastic place that we found was the Bridge Street Brewery in the Baakens Valley, not far from the harbour entrance. Started by the original creator of Mitchell’s Brewery, it is a micro brewery and a really good restaurant. We tried the tester wheel where a small glass of each of their brews is served and then decided on which one to pair with our meals! A most enjoyable way to pass an afternoon!

Being close to the heart of Calamari country, I just had to sample the local fare!

Unfortunately, Port Elizabeth has one of the best and friendliest yacht clubs in the country, ABYC, but the same cannot be said for the marina. It is not in great shape and is really only suitable for a temporary shelter from a SW or westerly wind (which is fortunately when most cruisers will need it). The moment the wind swings into the east, the Manganese ore loading berth in the background to the photo above comes into play. It is then directly upwind of the yacht moorings and the wind carries a fine brown dust towards anything moored in the marina. This ore dust coats everything and sticks to sails, decks, halyards, lazyjacks and in fact, every part of your yacht goes brown! Washing down becomes an endless task!

The easterly winds also kick up a proper swell and accompanying surge across the harbour and the floating breakwater does little to stop the yachts and the marina from engaging in a deadly dance, often resulting in snapped mooring lines and dock cleats.

After two days of these conditions, we decided it was time to move on to our next stop down the coast, Port St Francis.

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Durban to Simon’s Town, via a few familiar haunts…

Durban to Simon’s Town, via a few familiar haunts…

Leaving Durban with the promise of a medium strength north easterly wind, we set off early on the morning of 29 November, loosely in the company of 7th Heaven of Hamble, Anniara and Rythmn representing the UK, Sweden and Canada respectively. And those were just the ones we could identify! When the south westerly lets up and the wind becomes favourable for the next leg down the coast towards Cape Town, every boat that needs to get west, jumps at the opportunity.

The rule for sailing west is pretty simple; aim offshore from Durban until the water warms up to around 25C (indicating that you are in the Agulhas Current) and then run parallel to the coast until the barometer starts to fall at which stage you hope that you are within a few hours of either Port Elizabeth or East London or a sheltering bay further west because there is no stopping anywhere between Durban and East London, at all.

This stretch of coast is not known as the Wild Coast for nothing! All nautical charts of the area carry extensive warnings about the incidence of ‘abnormal Waves’ and advise that due to the steep shelving of the Continental Shelf along this coast and the powerful Agulhas Current, the area is known for abnormal waves that have made large ships disappear in conditions of strong south westerly winds agains the SW flowing current.

Two of the most famous instances of disappearing vessels were of the 150m ship, the Waratah, in 1909 and more recently, the loss of the yacht Rubicon in 1984 during a race from Durban to East London. No evidence was ever found of either vessel or any of their crew.

Having said all that, when one has the right weather conditions, the trip down the coast is impressively fast! We found around 3.5 knots of favourable current and were rewarded with speeds of nearly 10 knots over the ground with minimal effort, all the way to…..

East London.

Anita and I lived in East London for 5 years after we got married and we have many happy memories of the time spent there. The opportunity to stop in, see how the place had changed and catch up with old friends was too good to miss.

We docked in East London at 20h00 on 30 November against the harbour wall, guided in by flashing torch light from a friend. Having made fast to the tall wall, we did what cruisers do best……chatted away for hours over a cold beer or two!

Two days in East London, charging around in a borrowed car, was enough to reassure us that, although still beautiful and friendly, we have moved on and East London is not home anymore.

Friends visiting for tea.

Looking back towards the mouth of the Buffalo River from above the now disused Latimer’s Landing.

After a quiet night aboard we made ready to leave for Port Elizabeth early on the morning of 3 December.