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?

5 comments:

Richard and Kay said...

Hi Bruce and June, Another great post. It's comforting to know that marine services suck all over the world. We were in Bristol, RI this weekend working on Atalanta, preparing her for the new season and journey south. With 2 feet of new snow on the ground here in Vermont, I'm ready to go.

Safe travels and thanks for the post.

Rhys said...

Yes, that looks like a humpback based on descriptions my late father (a whaler in the late '40s) once gave to me. The crescent-moon, barnacled tail flukes are quite distinctive.

Given your problems getting gear fixed (although the boat seems well suited to the trip), I wouldn't mind hearing if you would've changed your spares list or increased your ability to fabricate or mend more items on board.

I have those welded together tangs and they are better than two pinned together. I have stripped the mast of my smaller boat this winter as I am replacing all the standing rigging (it was 39 years old and owed me nothing). Although quite a few of the pins and assorted bits are in good shape, I did find some galvanic corrosion and passivation, which I imagine would only be worse in salt water.

Great adventures you are having.

Bruce said...

Marc, re spares and repairs
It is really hard to know exactly what spares to have because you don't know what will break and there are limits (money and space) on how much you can bring. I started with two spare raw water pumps and am now waiting for a third one to come from the US (I will rebuild the old one for yet another spare). In 35 years of sailing with inboard engines I have never had to replace one of these pumps so who knew. I don't think I have alignment issues or belt tightness issues, perhaps just one of those things.

Before any long passage I go up the mast to inspect everything and I went up in Richards Bay and did not see anything wrong with the lower's mast tang. As for fabricating stuff, you would need pretty serious tools, on board, (more space and cost) to make those tangs. The pin through the mast is close to an inch in diameter and drilling that hole would be impossible without a good drill press and excellent drill bit. When I thought I was going to have one made, I was going to go to a laser cutting shop.

I am surprised at how hRd it is to get things done in most of the world. On our trip to get anything specifically marine done, you would be fine in St Marten and Grenada, have a chance in Tahiti, and be in good shape in NZ and Oz. South Africa has been a surprise, I thought it would be better than it is. No one keeps any stock. I waged to buy a couple of 4D size AGM batteries and the closest I could come were some solar batteries that are about the right size, bit more than $900 each. I am going to make do and should get back to the US and hit Defender's warehouse sail in 2014.

Rhys said...

Good to know, Bruce, even if it is somewhat discouraging information.

I have no idea why your pumps would fail if everything else in that circuit is OK. Perhaps if the cam is worn inside the block (I recall you have a W-58 similar to my previous W-52), it is setting off vibrations that are wearing the shaft of the water pump, which I assume is the Sherwood F-85, causing premature failure. That's just a guess, however, as I don't know if you are motoring a great deal or not.

The mast inspection is a very good practice, even if it didn't reveal this tang failure. One of the reasons we liked Alchemy is because we can pivot the mast at the tabernacle for canal travel or mast service; it's a relatively trivial operation that allows us to secure the mast for tapping and to replace wiring.

It may be possible, when you are fully recovered, to arrange trans-shipment of 4D AGM batteries to Cape Town, or to pay a cruiser to carry them there, which might be cheaper. The magic of the Internet in part is that people do announce their intentions well ahead of time, and it looks as if you may have a lot of time left in S.A. even after your recovery.

Re: fabrication. Along with all the other stuff I'm doing aboard to get launched in late April, I am designing the forepeak workshop. If you recall, I have a triangular space about seven feet long and eight feet across at the base (the collision bulkhead) to play with, and I have standing headroom. While this space greatly exceeds the "workbench area" of most 40-footers, it obviously reduces the living space. In a pilothouse setup, however, that is not so noticeable as the boat seems broken up into three self-contained "rooms" of galley-saloon, pilothouse (where much time is typically spent), and aft cabin, which can be made as private as is desired.

Anyway, I am weighing the pros and cons of drill presses and stick/wire-feed welding equipment, because I can see making brackets, mounts and other relatively simple pieces while aboard. I already carry a selection of bar and plate stock, and can see, if a tang went kablooey, making up a couple of straps to serve until I could obtain a proper casting.

It only seems pie-in-the-sky until you consider the alternative of being stuck in an under-serviced locale. I do agree that while it is impractical to carry a full range of spares, it may be possible to carry the means to fabricate simple items as temporary fixes.

The last consideration here is also that one could perhaps have a nice little "trade-in-kind" among other cruisers if you could repair failed welds or fab up brackets aboard. While unlikely to be a money-maker, "will fabricate for diesel" is a compelling reason to bring along a two hundred buck stick welder if I already have the amps to run it.

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