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.

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