Friday, December 28, 2012

Down the South African coast - #1

I know, this is supposed to be a sailing blog, so it is time to get back to talking about actually, well, sailing. From Richards Bay the steps along the coast are to Durban (90 miles), East London (260 miles - this is the toughest one since there is absolutely no shelter anywhere; the coast is essentially a straight beach), and Port Elizabeth (130 miles). The secret of going along the coast is to wait for a weather window and then get as far as you can before the dreaded southwest 'buster' appears - which is tied most often to what are called 'coastal lows' which spin off from the really big lows (sometimes in the 960 mb range which is what hurricanes have) in the Roaring Forties. An extra wrinkle is that as the lows approach, the northeasterlies (the direction you want and are using) build, often to the 30 to 35 knot range and cause quite big, short seas, which may contain swells from the southwest as well. It can be confusing, at least until you start to see the patterns. A local said the NE winds are called the 'beastly northeasterly', because they can be uncomfortable, but at least they are not dangerous as the busters can be once they get to 20 knots or so. There is also a useful radio net, Peri-peri radio which gives weather reports, forecasts and advice.

We got a good forecast and left Richards Bay one lovely morning. There was almost no wind in the harbour and the forecast was for slowly building winds from useful directions (moving to northeast). The only problem was that the weather had not read the forecast and there were still SW winds in the 15 knot range. These followed the 30+ knot squall we got just as we left the harbour. In any case, after  making very slow progress into the swell and wind (motoring) we decided that discretion is the better part of whatever and had a very nice sail back for an hour or so.

Next morning, we tried again and the conditions were right for heading SW. It looked like the weather window would be long enough to skip Durban and go all the way to East London. After a few hours we found the Agulhas Current which you try to ride southwest. Our highest speed was 12.4  knots and we averaged more than 10 knots for four hours at one point when we probably sailing about 7 knots.  All

Here is a typical current chart for the eastern part of the South African coast. The Mozambique border is at the top and East London at the bottom. The brighter the colour the faster the current. There are areas with currents greater than 3.5 knots in the area between Richards Bay and Durban. What you want to do is stay in an area of fast current but not be too far away from the coast so you can close to shore if the winds swing to the southwest since in these conditions you can get enormous, dangerous waves - the guides talk about 20 m. In general, the suggestion is to follow the 200  m depth contour, although we found that good currents seemed to start at around 100 m. Note that the current pattern is constantly changing.

Once we got opposite Durban our joy dissipated when we got a new forecast that closed the weather window about 12 hours sooner than we expected and we were going to be about 70 miles from East London when the winds switched (in our limited experience it seems that the forecasts over-estimate the length of windows). No problem, we would just have to go to Durban until the next window. Unfortunately we were about 24 miles offshore at this point and had a long way to go in.

Durban harbour is extremely busy as was Richards Bay. This is the AIS display on the chartplotter with us leaving the harbour (the second time). There are many freighters in the harbour and about two dozen ships anchored outside waiting for their turn.
Our stay in Durban, at the Point Yacht Club, turned out to be much longer than we expected as you shall see. At first it seemed like a short stop and we left as the weather window was opening. We were only about two miles from the harbour entrance in 25 to 30 knots from the SE with a nasty left over job when the fitting that held our lower shrouds to the mast sheared off and it, along with the two lower shrouds fell onto the deck. Needless to say this focussed our attention since my first thought was that we could lose the mast. We quickly tacked to put the load on the shrouds on the other side and rigged the two running backstays (strong, hi-tech lines that are attached to the mast above the shrouds) to provide extra support for the mast and headed back. To be fair, the mast did brilliantly and even at the worst moment it did not appear like it was going to fail. Hail to Ted Hood and Bristol. It is like a stout tree. I think a lot of boats would have lost their rig with this failure. On the way back into the harbour we called a 1000 foot container ship and explained the problem and asked if we could go in first. The pilot was most helpful, told us to cross his bows and enter down the north side of the channel with him coming a bit to the south in the narrow channel.

Broken mast fitting. The two stainless plates sheared across the holes through which a large pin goes to a similar fitting on the other side of the mast. This is back of the fitting which was against the mast.

This is the Point Yacht Club in Durban. The Royal Natal Yacht Club (founded in 1856) is next door. The RNYC is a much more modest affair than its grand name would suggest. South African yacht clubs do not seem to own the docks where their boats are. The docks seem to be privately (individually) owned and are managed by a separate company. Dockage was fairly inexpensive, 160 Rands, which is less than $20 a night. When we first arrived we had to anchor since all the docks were full. They charged 50 Rands (~$6) for this. The yacht clubs give free temporary memberships to visitors which allows you to use their facilities.

 We had a number of repairs to do somewhere and decided to do them in Durban rather than later since we had to fix the mast fitting in any case . This turned out to be a good idea since we found out that many businesses in SA close a week or so before Christmas and stay closed for three weeks or more. The mmast fitting turned out to be the easiest thing of all. There is a small store near the harbour called Cruising Connections run by Tony Herrick. He sells mainly used stuff including charts and various boat fittings. Included is a 'junk box' of stainless fittings that he sells by weight. In this box was a fitting exactly as we needed. In this one, the two plates had been welded together at the top which seems like a good idea. With the old one the two plates were loose and just held together by the nuts on the threaded rod through the mast. The only problem was that the two lower holes had to be drilled out a bit to fit our shrouds, the large top hole was already the right size.

We got the local rigger to make up a new shroud to replace one with a broken wire strand in it (the number of boats that arrive in SA with one or more broken shrouds is very large indeed) and to drill out the two holes. That was fine except he only drilled out one hole and was just heading off on holiday to Mozambique and closed his shop for the holidays. He arranged for a very helpful guy who ran the boatyard at the marina to drill it, but he did not have the right drill. Finally he got one and did the drilling which took about one minute. We took our outboard and inflatable to get serviced on Wednesday (after calling and being told they could do the work within a couple of days) and they assured us that they would be fixed no problem. BTW, we had to rent a car and drive almost an hour to find these guys in the hills north of the city. We called Friday and they said they were working Saturday and it would be ready for Tuesday (Monday was a holiday - these guys have almost as many holidays as the Aussies). We rented a car and went to pick them up on Tuesday and they had not even looked at them and did not know when they could get to them.The owner did not even have the courtesy to talk to us and sent one of his underlings who seemed like a very nice guy, but far too willing to promise what he could not deliver. We loaded everything up and headed back to the city. If you are in Durban and name 'Gary's Water Sports' comes into the discussion - run away. I think what it comes down to is that Gary knew that we would only every be there once and he wanted to focus on the local customers before the holiday - which he could and should have told us in the first place. Note for cruisers, I sent an email to Noonsite suggesting that this guy's company be delisted.

We also took our SSB radio in to a company called Imtech which is part of Holland Radio. They provide electronic servicing for ships all over the world. I wanted to get the HAM frequencies on the radio unblocked since I got my HAM license when I was last in Canada (VE3 CCV) and also have the radio reprogrammed so I can transmit on marine data channels. They said they had the manuals to do this and it would not be a problem. Two hours of expensive labour later, nothing had changed and they did not know what else to try, so the radio went back on the boat unchanged. Do I appear happy with getting things fixed in Durban? I doubt it.

While we were in Durban we went to a Christmas concert in the Botanic Garden featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They are most famous for their collaboration with Paul Simon the Graceland album that was the top album in the world 27 years ago (hard to believe its been that long). Since then they have remained prominent and have won three Grammy awards and performed at the soccer world cup and at the ceremonies when Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. They and their opening group only did a couple of Christmas songs, but that was irrelevant in the enjoyment of the evening. There were about a thousand people at the concert and we were sitting on the grass about 5 m from the stage so we could see and here everything. Most agreeable evening

Here is the first audio link on the blog. It is to an interesting song and video. Shosholoza seems to be like an informal second national anthem . It was performed as the encore to the performance we saw and certainly got a lot of people up and dancing. The video ties together the song, the national rugby team and its symbol, the Springbok which is a type of antelope that lives in dry areas of the country. At the end of the video there is a statement about losing the Springbok as a symbol - no idea what that is all about. There have been a lot of politics associated with rugby. (Background with a bit of a simplification but here goes), traditionally rugby has been associated most with the Afrikaans population, while cricket has been the English game, and soccer the black game. Black South Africans had traditionally not cheered for the Springboks because they were a major symbol of their oppressors. Among the Afrikaaners in particular, the game is almost like a religion. Games between the Springboks and the Kiwis and Springboks and Aussies are incredibly important. There is even a 'super' rugby league that has teams in the three countries. Think hockey in Canada for a comparison. 

In 1995, shortly after the end of Apartheid, South Africa hosted and participated in its first world cup (they were banned from previous world cups because of Apartheid). Nelson Mandela, being Nelson Mandela. made a big point out going to the games and rallying all the people behind their almost entirely white team (with one black player). Hosting and winning this tournament made a major contribution to the growth of the new, 'rainbow' nation, although there is still much, much more to do.

Shosholoza by Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Invictus is a very good film about the role that the 1995 Rugby World Cup played in uniting the new South Africa. Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Francis Pienaar, the captain of the Springboks. It is apparently quite faithful to the real events. Freeman and Damon were both nominated for Oscars. This film and the Shosholoza video make an interesting pairing.

Meanwhile back to sailing, we finally got out of Durban and headed for Port Elizabeth we hoped, or at least to East London. Again the weather window was shortened and we ended up going into EL. We had a terrific sail, again with lots of current helping us. With the current and a bit of surfing down a wave, June actually had 15+ knots showing on the GPS briefly. When we altered course towards East London we noticed that Morley was not steering well. When we went back to look at it (her?), we noticed the rudder was floating behind us tied to the boat by its safety line. When we got it on board we found that the 'safety tube' had fractured. This tube is a piece of stainless tubing that is purposely of lighter construction than the rest of the rudder assembly. The idea is that this tube will break first if you hit something and the rudder itself will be safe. We put the spare on in East London and hope we don't break another since the company that makes these is closed over Christmas.
The break in the 'safety tube' of Morley's rudder - the picture might make more sense if it was turned upside down with rudder downward. The spare safety tube is to the right. It is hard to see in this  photo, but you can see the reinforcement we had done to the hole that the main pivot pin goes through - it is at the bottom left of the assembly. Over the years the hole had become oval-shaped and it meant that Morley was not as precise. The wobble in the rudder blade also increased the strain on the hole and made it worse. I had two thick washers welded to the housing and a longer, thicker pin made. This would be an easy fix for the Monitor people and seems like a common problem from talks with other cruisers.

One of the fascinating things with the Agulhas is the temperture. On the way to EL we were experiencing water temperatures as high as 34C (our sensor may be about 2 degrees high, but no more). When we started heading in toward the port we noticed the temperature steadily dropping as we moved into shallower water, in particular where the water was less than 100 m. By the time we got near the harbour the water was only 17C and it felt like we were standing next to the door of a large freezer. It also got a bit foggy as the warm air from the land spread over the cool water.

The port of East London is actually in a river, the only one in South Africa. We were only there for about 27 hours at anchor. We got a forecast that suggested we could get to Port Elizabeth overnight, but that we would have to motor since winds would be light. Accordingly we left the harbour at about 7 pm and had to deal with quite a bit of fog until we reached warmer waters offshore. I am sure that there are nice mathematical solutions to the problem but it was never entirely clear at what angle you should leave the shore to get into the current in the most effective manner. Do you go straight out to reach the current as soon as possible or do you go at an angle so you are moving towards your destination at the same time you are heading out. We sort of went at a 45 to 55 degree angle. A second question is how far out to go. If you are at a point where you are getting 2.5 knots of help is it worth going offshore for another hour to try to get 3.5? We used satisficing behaviour (yes, there is such a word, I was thinking about doing a doctoral dissertation on satisficing wrt school textbooks), rather than optimizing and followed the 100 m contour pretty much and generally were going between 8 and 9 knots. It was an interesting experience. You had to keep an eye on the boat speed, the water depth and the water temperature. At one point the water temp dropped 0.5C and the depth went from just over 100 m to about 90 m and boat slowed by about a knot. We angled out for about five minutes and recovered speed,, depth, and temperature. We left EL with another boat that could motor faster than we can, but they stayed within four miles of shore while we were 8 to 10 miles off. We arrived in PE an hour before they did even though we went further.

We saw lots of interesting wildlife on the way to PE with several whales, a large shark on the surface, some seals, a lot of large sea birds and even many African penguins.

We saw several whales on the way to Port Elizabeth including one (too) up close and personal in the dark and fog so you know it was close. At first they look like logs and are motionless, but when you get close they move away slowly. It is not impossible that Morley's safety tube was broken by a whale but we have no evidence of it. We have seen no large logs or other flotsam.

Does anyone recognize what type of whale this is? Humpback?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Southern Africa Land Cruise 3 - Lesotho

For those who need a map to understand where things are. Richards Bay is northeast of Durban along the coast in inset map. On the big map, Sani Pass is in the southeast corner of Lesotho near the "g" in Mokotlong. Maliba lodge is near Mahobong in the north. Mamohau, Mahlefekane, and Katse are north of Thaba Tseka. Semonkong is shown.

After our visits to the game parks and battlefields we returned to our boats in Richards Bay to do some boat work and relax and then it was off to Lesotho for our second 'land cruise'. Lesotho is a tiny country that is completely surrounded by South Africa. It is sometimes called the 'kingdom in the sky' because the lowest point in the country is about 3200 feet above sea level and most of the country is mountainous with some areas over 10,000 feet. It is a very beautiful and very poor country with a huge AIDS problem, with more than 20% of adults HIV Positive. After I retired from teaching in 2006 I went to Lesotho to volunteer so to some extent is was a chance to revisit an old stomping ground.

Lesotho's lowland area is on the northern side of the country and accordingly that is where most of the border crossings are. We decided to enter on the south side over Sani Pass. Our first day took us near the border in the Drakensberg range of mountains. We stayed at this self-catering spot on a farm near Underberg. We had this entire house with two large bedrooms and a huge living area in-between that even had a ping pong table. Accommodation in South Africa tends to be pretty cheap and quite high quality.

The South African police do not allow you to enter Sani Pass unless you have a 4 x 4. Here we are in our Mitsubishi Crew Cab on a fairly typical part of the Pass. We even used the low range of the 4 x 4 in a couple of places. It was a real stump puller. Soon after starting up Sani Pass we were into the clouds. We rose above them just before we got to the Lesotho border at around 10,000'
You never know what is around the next bend of the road in Lesotho.
This guy was much more curious than most sheep. June keeps telling me about the lovely white sheep in Wales. He would not qualify. It was sheering season and we saw a lot of bald sheep too.

What you don't expect in Lesotho, a five-star hotel. Maliba Mountrain Lodge is located in a national park and has a new paved road with 30 speed bumps in about 15 km. They meet you in the parking lot with hot towels which is a nice touch when you have been driving on some pretty crummy, dusty roads.

We did not stay in the main part of the lodge which was a bit pricey for our budget, if not our tastes. Instead we had this chalet which had four bedrooms, three baths and two decks over the river right behind the house. The price for the four of us was less than $100 and it was self-catering which saved us the cost of restaurant meals. Lonely Planet consider Lesotho to be one of the best value destinations in the world.

These girls are students at Mamohau High School, the residential school I taught at in the Highlands. The school was not in good shape with many broken windows that still had broken glass on the ground. When I was there the principal was rarely present since he was busy running his private businesses. It appeared that things had gotten worse, at least in the repair of the buildings.

Thee are the two classrooms that I taught in most often at Mamohau. The vice-principal disappeared for two weeks and he taught the Form E (like grade 12) English classes, so I had two of those. The Form E math teacher was away sick (not a good thing to hear in Lesotho) the entire time I was there so I taught those two classes. At the end of Form E the kids write the Cambridge overseas exams at the English CSE level. If they pass they can go to the country's university or its college and the government pays. Most students do not pass, with math being the killer subject. Remarkably, the country spends more on education as a percent of its GDP than any other country. They are really trying but there is much room for improvement in teaching.

I was really looking forward to seeing this building at Makelefane Primary School which was even higher in the mountains along a 4 x 4 road to a diamond mine. When I was there, two classes were held in a tent (think wedding reception tent) even though it snows up here pretty often. The local people decided to do something about it and started building using only a shovel, a long steel rod to dig rocks out of the ground, a hammer for shaping the rocks, and  a long string, made of woven grass, that they used for the layout. The problem was that they had no money for doors, windows, or roof. Our charity, Help Lesotho, agreed to buy these and it was my job to figure exactly what to buy (at a good price) and get it delivered to the mountains. Here is the result (we did not buy the blue paint).
In contrast to Mamahau, Makelefane showed real civic pride. Everything was impeccably clean and in good repair and since my time there, a new kitchen building (kids are given breakfast and lunch) and new latrines had been built as had a water line from a nearby spring. The principal of this school was a real force of nature and demanded the best from her teachers. Unfortunately she was killed in a car accident a few years ago, but her legacy appears to be in good shape.

Inside the school building. My innovation was the purchase of some fibreglass panels for the roof. They have the same profile as the corrugated metal sheets and make the interior much brighter. Walls are plastered with mud. Don't know who gave them the Canadian flag.
This is the Katse Dam, the second largest dam in Africa (185 m high). It is the centre of the enormous Highland Water Project which diverts water to South Africa and generates most of Lesotho's hydro power. So far there are two dams and three diversion tunnels. A third dam and another tunnel have been agreed on and there could be more in the future. The  next picture was taken along the little platform to the left of where the water is coming out.
Hard to take this picture since the dam overwhelms your perspective and it curves in two directions. We were lucky enough to get a tour inside the dam wall. There is a lot more to it than just a concrete wall with many walkways, stairways, control structures and a laser survey system to determine if the structure is shifting in any direction. Unfortunately they do  not allow photos inside.
This is the water diversion tunnel for the Highlands Water Project. From here a 12 m diameter tunnel goes 48 km to the north to a hydro-electric plant. From there another long tunnel takes the water into South Africa. Eventually the water is used in the rapidly growing Gauteng (Johannesburg) area.

This is the Katse highway just where it starts its descent from the Highlands toward the lowlands and South Africa to the north. You can see the road in the lower right corner and snaking back and forth along the right side of the photo. A good highway was needed for the dam construction because trucks with ready-mix concrete came on average every 40 minutes for several years. Once the concrete pour started it could not be stopped until it was done. The whole project was most impressive. It generates quite a lot of money for Lesotho but unfortunately not many jobs.

We stayed in these 'rondavels' at Semonkong Lodge south of Maseru, the capital city. These are modern versions of traditional houses. The people of Lesotho are wonderful stone masons. The road to Semonkong was very much under construction as a new, fully-paved road was being built. A much needed paved road is also going to be built between here and Katse. This is much needed as east-west travel in the Highlands is very hard. If the architecture makes you think of the Lord of the Rings, it should/ Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein which is not far away.

Inside our rondavel. The fireplace was much appreciated since the nights were chilly.
We visited Semonkong on the busy shopping day of the week. People ride their horses or lead their donkeys for as long as  4 hours each way to do their shopping and meet their friends. Most are shepherds who sell their wool to Chinese buyers.

Lew showing a picture in Semonkong. He is not that big. Most Basuto people, and especially men, are quite slight. The wearing of blankets is traditional although today they tend to be polyester rather than homespun wool.
Many, many stores in Lesotho are owned by Chinese people who come here to make some money with every intention of going back to China. I bought 99 pairs of school shoes for kids at Makelefane from a woman from Beijing. The store is still there, but has been sold to new owners. The older man here owns quite a large, mainly food store  in Semonkong. The other store, which is more of a general store is also Chinese-owned. He told June that he would like to hand the store on to family members at some point and retire to China, or he may just sell the store. The younger fellow is his nephew. He came to Lesotho for some adventure and has no interest in staying very long.

We rented horses and went for a trail ride at Semonkong. Lesotho 'ponies' are famous for their stamina and sure-footedness over difficult terrain. June had a very nice horse. Mine only had one (slow) speed. I asked the guide if mine was old and he said, no, just lazy.

We rode our horses to this, the tallest waterfall in southern Africa. You can rapel down the cliff to the left of the waterfall. It is supposed to be the highest commercial rapel in the world (204 m)

June was fascinated by the women carrying things on their heads - in some cases even their purses. When we bought a large bag of cheesies at the store in Semonkong she had her chance and did very well walking about a half mile on a rough road and down a big hill with only a couple hand corrections. She wasn't interested in trying a bucket full of water for some reason. By the way, South African cheesies are much superior to those in North America - good flavour and some substance to them. You can actually chew them.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Land Cruising in SA 2 - Returning from Kruger

Our return from Kruger to Richards Bay was further west through lower parts of the Drakensburg mountains and the Battlefields region of Kwazulu-Natal. The scenery of the former is lovely with beautiful sweeping forested hills, while the history of the battlefields was intriguing and critical to the history of South Africa. In quite a small area between the mountains that mark the border with Lesotho and the sea there were literally a few dozen significant battlefields from a period of not much more than 60 years. Zulus, Boers,and British - pick all of the possible combinations and you will find where they fought. We only had time to visit a couple of these but a history buff could lose himself here for weeks.

Part of the Blyde River Canyon. The drive from Kruger southward was often quite gorgeous
This delightful lady was selling various kinds of nuts on the streets of Grakskop near the Blyde River Canyon. This small tourist town  has a restaurant, called Harrie's that has raised the making of pancakes, sweet and savoury, to an art form. You could drop this restaurant into any great Western city and it would be a big success.

Boer - Zulu War, Battle of Blood River, 1838
This monument is at the scene of the Battle of Blood River where a party of 470 very well-armed Boers destroyed an attacking army of between 12,000 and 15,000 Zulus who bravely, but suicidally attacked a heavily fortified ring of wagons. This monument is almost a religious shrine for South Africa's Afrikaner population who are descended from Boers.
A little bit of the back story is needed to understand this battle. The Boers (Dutch-German .mainly) were the original white settlers of South Africa. When the British took control of the colony they decided that they would leave the areas where they had lived to the south and west and head into was is now KZN and Free State provinces. They went in epic wagon train journeys in what are now called voortreks. In this part of KZN their leader, Piet Retief arranged for the purchase of land from the Zulu leader Dingane. At the end of the successful negotations, Dingane had Retief and his party murdered BTW, Dingane was not a nice guy. Earlier he had killed his half-brother, the legendary Shaka. The Zulus then attacked Boer farms and killed about 500 farmers, their families and servants.The Boers responded to this outrage by sending a 'commando' to attack the Zulus. The commando even had two (or perhaps three) small cannons with them along with many rifles and much ammunition.

At Blood River, the Boers chose the place of battle very carefully with a river on one side and a deep ravine (donga) on another. The Zulus always used the same battle tactics with a battle formation like a buffalo's  horns with two encircling elements surrounding a powerful central force. Because of the terrain, the could only attack from one side. This illustration shows Boer cavalry leaving the laager late in the action to chase fleeing Zulus, killing so many trying to cross the river that the water went red. Something like 3000 Zulu were killed while the Boers had none killed and only a few wounded. Note that inside the laager are the many oxen used to pull the wagons, along with horses.

This pile of rocks marks the centre of the Boer's laager. Around it, during the time of Boers, a life-size ring of bronze wagons along with the fencing used to connect the wagons was built as a monument to the battle which became a centre-point in Boer nationalism and the belief that there was a covenant between God and the Boer people that gave South Africa to the Boers. The SA government have now built a museum across the river to memorialise the Zulus who were killed here.We tried to drive there but the road was just too rough for our heavily loaded Hyundai. BTW, James Mitchener's novel, "The Covenant" is highly recommended if you would like to know more about South Africa's history including the story of the Boers.

British-Zulu War 1877, Battle of Rorke's Drift
The British seemed not to have learned the lesson of the Boer's incredible victory in 1838, that is to keep your forces massed in one place and let the Zulus attack you. They sent a force into Zululand in 1879 to put down a Zulu revolt but allowed their forces to get spread over a large area near Islandlwana. This meant that the Zulus were able to  attack small elements individually. The result was one of the worst British defeats ever. Meanwhile, about 10 km away a tiny British garrison of only 140 were left to defend a field hospital and supply base after a few hundred native soldiers left. The force here was led by a military engineer and included the commissary department, and the wounded from the hospital. One thing they did have was lots of supplies so they built defensive walls from the hospital to the store using mealie (corn meal) bags. In case they could not defend this perimeter they built a second wall from biscuit tins that would allow them to only have to defend about a third of their small area. Finally, they built a tiny circular redoubt (perhaps 3 m in diameter) if the inner wall fell;. They did this because they knew that the Zulus did not take prisoners.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 Zulus attacked Rorke's Drift over two days, but the bastion did not fall. By the time that the Zulus withdrew, the garrison was almost out of ammunition for the modern Martini-Henry rifles that were their salvation. The army gave out a remarkable 11 Victoria Crosses to the defenders. A British general thought this was excessive since the defenders were fighting for their lives and really had no choice but to be courageous and hence did not deserve such an exalted medal - an interesting perspective to be sure. Some observers say that the large number of VCs was to draw attention away from the disaster at Isandlwana just a few miles away on the same day.

This is what Rorke's Drift looks like today. The buildings were not there during the battle. The stone trench marks one of the mealie bag walls. It is hard to reconcile this peaceful setting with the savagery of the battle that took place here.

This is the poster for the 1964 movie, Zulu, which is based (more or less) on the Battle of Rorke's Drift. It was Michael Caine's first big role - he was a remarkably handsome young man btw, June notes. Zulu was a big commercial success. Zulu Dawn, released in 1979 told the story of the Battle of Islandlwana. In spite of a first-rate cast including Peter O'Toole, Burt Lancaster, John Mills and Bob Hoskins it was not very successful - going to show that audiences want to see victories more than defeats.

And a footnote to the last posting about animals ...
We got this picture from our friend Lew. This is the hippo that is reputed to be the one that bit off a man's  leg in St Lucia. The guide who told us that said that they killed a hippo after the attack, but it was the wrong one. The now dead hippo was a quiet sort who had been in the town at night for more than 15 years. We saw this guy on our way home from dinner one night (we drove even though it was not far). The next night he was right outside our guest house driveway. And I thought that the raccoons that frequent the streets of Toronto at night were a problem.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Land Cruising in Southern Africa I - Animals

 South Africa and its neighbours are fascinating destinations and many (most?) cruisers take the opportunity to rent a car and head inland. You get a taste of what is to come in Richards Bay. There are lots of monkeys wandering around and there are even hippo crossing signs on the highway between the harbour and the town. We did two trips inland sharing our vehicles with an American couple, Lew and Ann who remarkably are also from Lake Ontario. They are members of Henderson Harbor YC on the eastern shore of the lake. They are very experienced cruisers having been on their boat for 16 years. From here they are going to Europe and want to spend the summer in Scotland. The following summer (2014) they plan to go down the Danube to the Black Sea.

Lew and Ann Tucker along with Bruce and June at a restaurant that served  things like a shish-ka-bob on a hangar.
We went to three parks for a total of 7 days of animal viewing. You really only need to go to Kruger National Park since you can see all of the animals there. I can't recommend a visit to this park too highly. It is a remarkable place to visit and a highlight of our cruise.

Don't go any further unless you want to see a lot of animal pictures...

This was our first encounter with large African wildlife. This white rhino was slowly wandering down the main road of iSimangaliso park right towards us. He got very close to us before realizing that we were there (they have terrible eyesight). They also don't seem terribly bright since it took him several seconds to figure out that we were also pretty large and that one of us would have to change course. He then veered to his left and passed us no more than 4 m away.
We also met these rhinos on a road, in this case quite a narrow one. You could almost imagine their thought processes as they went from, 'Hey, we wanted to go that way' to 'Well, I guess we will go this way instead.' The fight against rhino poachers is a very serious one as a few hundred rhinos are poached every year (the wild population of white rhinos is less than 20,000 while there are less than 5,000 black rhinos in the wild). To indicate the seriousness of the problem, one of the South African papers had the headline, "Poacher shot in ambush". We were lucky enough to see both although our good pictures are only of white rhinos.

These African wild dogs that we saw in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park are quite rare and considered endangered. There are only 3000 to 5500 of these animals in the world. We saw this pack of seven resting in the sun next to a waterhole. They have huge ears that they turn toward any sound that they hear.

This guy is reputed to have the longest tusks of any elephant in Kruger NP. We managed to bump into him (well not literally) on one of our drives.

Large groups of elephants contain only females and children of various ages. You have to be very careful around such groups since the Moms are very protective. The park makes a point of displaying photos of cars that have been attacked by elephants.- a large elephant with its front legs on your roof will do more than damage the paintwork. Solitary males in heat are also dangerous - sort of like some guys I have known. We had one close encounter on a narrow road with an apparently agitated elephant and ended up leaving in a hurry.

Kruger has an excellent elephant museum. This display shows the result of a fight between elephants. The winner's tusk broke off after it got stuck in the skull of the loser who apparently was on the ground at the time. Elephants are not always the gentle creatures they appear to be.

This is a sable antelope. We could not find him in our animal guide and when we showed the picture to one of the rangers he wanted to know if we had seem him inside Kruger since they are quite rare this far south.

Hippos spend most of the day in the water, but this group was resting on the shore.

We stayed in a lovely tourist town named St Lucia. It has one problem (or fascinating feature depending on your perspective). Hippos come out of the nearby estuary at night to eat the lawns in town and they can be very dangerous. A month before our arrival a man went out of his house because his dog was barking. He did not see the hippo in his backyard. The hippo was frightened by the dog and man and bit the man taking off his leg. More people are killed by hippos in Africa than by any other species.

You never know who you will be sharing the road with.

Widebeest are related to buffaloes and have the reputation for being quite stupid. For no particular reason they will start running (and they run very well) and are just as likely to run toward a lion as away.

Any time you see many cars stopped in one place chances are good that there will be lions. These two chose to mate right beside Kruger's main road.

We called this solitary old male the Lion King. He had a very sad-looking face.

The Cape Buffalo is one of the 'Big Five' species (along with lions, leopards, elephants, and rhinos) that trophy hunters wanted to kill, likely because of their great horns. They can be dangerous. If you haven't seen Battle at Kruger on youtube you should
Battle at Kruger

We saw a herd of about 1000 buffaloes cross the road. Fortunately there was a break in the herd and we did not have to wait until all of them crossed.

You can see one masked weaver bird building a nest among many other nests. The males build the nests from pieces of grass. After it is done, the female comes along to check the construction. If she approves it is a match made in heaven. If not, she pulls at  the grass that attaches the nest to the tree until the nest falls to the ground. Then it is back to work for the male.

 Most animals just ignored the cars in the parks. Giraffes did seem a bit curious.

Giraffes are extremely beautiful animals and move incredibly gracefully.

This little owl lives in a bush next to a busy washroom entrance at a rest camp in Kruger. Dozens, if not hundreds of pictures of him are taken daily.

This spotted hyena was just outside the compound in which we were living. All of the accommodations are inside electric fences. Outside these areas you are not allowed to be out of your car unless you are accompanied by an armed ranger.

The marabou stork is in the running to be considered the largest bird in the world. They stand up to 5 feet tall and have wingspans to 12 feet. They are also a bit on the ugly side.

There are tens of thousands of impalas in Kruger and the other parks. In addition there are many other types of antelopes both smaller (some are not much larger than an average dog) and larger.

Powerful male impalas have harems with ten or more females. Meanwhile the rest of the boys hang out together and practise the skills needed to challenge one of the dominant males.

Saw a Secretary Bird but did not get a good picture so had to borrow this one. These birds-of-prey are iconic in Africa. They are the national symbol of Sudan and are on the South African coat-or-arms

Not all of the interesting animals are mammals or even very large. These are dung beetles. They make a large ball of poop that they roll to their nest (a hole in the ground that they have dug). They put their eggs in the dung ball and roll into the hole. Because roads are convenient spots for rolling, many vehicles have bumper stickers that proclaim, "Dung beetles have right-of-way".

Kudus are one of the larger antelopes. The great horns made them attractive to hunters, although it would not be hard to shoot one - they just stand around eating and watching for lions.

Warthogs have to be one of the ugliest animals in the world.

These vervet monkeys look gentle and cute (note the tiny baby between the others) but where they are used to people they become sneaky robbers. We had one steal a 1 kg bag of peanuts off our picnic table. Later, after we were aware of the risk, another stole some cheese. In both cases they wait very patiently a few meters away from you and then strike,, in both cases going between the people sitting at the table.

We came to quite like zebras. They are quite elegant beasts and live quietly on the veldt in great numbers often near other grazers. If someone could domesticate them there would be a revolution in the horse market because they are beautiful animals. Each animals particular stripe pattern is unique.