Port St Francis to Knysna

A 10 knot Easterly and a favorable tide saw us leaving Port St Francis at 10h00 on Friday 10 July. Now I’m not superstitious but I don’t usually leave port on a Friday, just in case! This would be a test case and theoretically the only thing that could go wrong would be an impassable Heads on arrival in Knysna. The consequence of that would be having to find a place to sit out the forecast westerly gale predicted for Saturday afternoon and Sunday. We had two options, one would be to take a decision to run for Mossel Bay some 45 miles to the WSW, involving mostly motoring in the dying breeze and hoping to get there before the westerly arrived. The other option was to take a leisurely trundle back towards Plettenberg Bay, 22 miles to the East and anchor in the lee of Robberg. This would have been “Plan A”.

As it happened, a call to Jerome of the Knysna NSRI reassured us that there were no dangerous conditions in the Heads and that a transit would be quite simple.

The Knysna Heads seen from the sea side.

Having not sailed through the Heads for around 30 years, it would be fair to say that I was quite focussed on getting my line right. The leading lights are easily visible from the correct position and with Anita looking aft to spot for unexpected swells we had an uneventful transit. A sharp turn to port near the wreck just before Emu rock sees one lined up for the channels into the Lagoon which are all marked by red and white ‘safe water’ marks.

As a matter of interest, I decided to have three of our four onboard chart plotting systems recording the track we sailed through the Heads and up the lagoon. If we had blindly followed our default plotter, iSailor, it could have been embarrassing. Open CPN and especially Garmin were far more accurate in this case. There have been time, especially in the Indian Ocean, where the reverse was true.


Open CPN, less detail at the same scale, but more accurate.

Mark 1 eyeball proves to be just as relevant today as it was when man first started navigating.

On arrival in the Knysna Yacht Club mooring area we were greeted by local yachties preparing to do a sail past of the SA Navy vessels that had been participating in the Knysna Oyster Festival for the last two weeks. The friendliness continued once ashore with the Club Manager, Tracey, making us feel really welcome and several club members warning us that many a visitor has stopped in for a week and stayed a year or more!

And with scenery like this, who could blame them?

So, where to now? That’s easy. Back home to Simon’s Town. When? Well that’s a completely different question…….

Port Elizabeth and beyond, again!

I last wrote about our travels in December last year, entitling the entry “Port Elizabeth and beyond”. I didn’t ever write about the “beyond” and the reason for that is that we had a totally uneventful sail back to Simon’s Town and actually didn’t get very far beyond that, except for a brief foray to Langebaan after New Year! As circumstances would have it, I now find myself in a position to write this blog in real time as we have recently visited Port Elizabeth again, and are now working our way west, towards “beyond”! A planned trip to overwinter in Madagascar had to be put on hold for various reasons so with the opportunity to reconnect with family visiting from abroad, we picked a weather gap and sailed east to PE. Or more accurately, we sailed as far as Danger Point and motored around Cape Agulhas to Mossel Bay. The gap in the often miserable Cape winter weather was clearly too big! Winter is a season of extremes in the Cape. One can have absolutely idyllic weather with calm seas and gentle winds, or one can experience the mother and father of all Southern Ocean depressions and accompanying storms that would make you wish you had taken up bowls instead! It’s all in the timing and if you get it right, passage making along the coast can be an absolute pleasure. Stopping in Mossel Bay to top up our diesel tank was a pleasant experience mainly due to the fishing fleet being out at sea and us having the harbour to ourselves! The Border Control unit of the SA Police were efficient and friendly checking us into port and the Jetty Manager for the fishing company was somewhat amused to be filling such a ‘small’ (400ltr) tank! We clambered up the somewhat slimy tyres to the dock and took the opportunity to hunt down a decent cup of coffee and a cooked (by someone else) breakfast! It was a good decision to fill up with diesel as we only managed to sail for 7 hours in the next 200 miles to PE! We arrived in PE in thick fog, at one stage being only a mile and a half off Cape Recife and unable to see the lighthouse. New levels of load shedding did come to mind! A most enjoyable two weeks was spent re-connecting with family that we last saw up to 10 years ago. Way too much eating out and socializing saw waistlines taking a bit of strain! On this visit to PE, we were able to take a little more time to relax and explore the city and meet up with old friends as well. What impressed me the most was the explosion of restaurants and coffee shops, with the quality of offering easily rivaling the accepted ‘foodie’ cities like Cape Town. However! My favorite eating place in PE just has to be the sit-down/takeaway joint at the entrance to the PE Harbour called “This is Eat”. Good value for money, proper seafood and as tasty as any I’ve eaten in way more ‘sophisticated’ restaurants! Fish Curry and Rice! We were lucky with the weather during our two week stay, gentle Westerlies and mainly sunny, warm days reinforcing the ‘secret season’ mythology. Nostalgic walks along the beachfront were a highlight and what a bonus to find the ‘Something Good Roadhouse’ still operating in Summerstrand! When the easterly winds returned, it was ‘déjà vu all over again’ and definitely time to move on! Manganese ore dust and bucking marinas tend to erase the positive feelings one has for a place in double quick time so it was best to move along while the warm, fuzzy feelings were still there! A dawn departure with a stiff 25 knot East wind and a typical choppy sea saw us out of Algoa Bay quite smartly. Nine hours later we were 53 miles along the coast, hove to off Port St Francis, waiting for the tide to rise sufficiently, and the east wind to drop, before attempting a transit of the narrow and shallow entrance. The Harbourmaster, Johan Barnard, was most helpful with advice and having a dinghy on standby inside the entrance in case anything went wrong! This was clearly expected as there was a sizable gathering on the balcony overlooking the entrance as we, fortunately, made a well timed transit in between some big sets that would otherwise have put us up on the unforgiving dolosses!Video by long time skipper and crew mate, Frans Loots!

A very pleasant couple of days were spent in St Francis Bay, Chez Loots, sleeping in ‘proper’ beds, yakking away until the wee hours of the morning and taking old dogs for a walk! With the advent of another east wind (gaps in the prevailing winter westerlies are rare at this time of the year) it was time to cast off and sail westwards once again. Destination, Knysna, if sea conditions in The Heads permitted. We really hoped they would as the forecast was for 24 hours of favorable winds, followed by a rather unpleasant westerly gale, with rain.