Sunday, January 27, 2013

OUCH!!! --- Plans Change

We were very much enjoying our stay in Mossel Bay and getting things ready to go to Cape Town and beyond and, in an instant, all of our plans changed. It was a typically windy night when we heard a loud crack - like a shotgun going off right next to us. We went on deck and could not figure out immediately what the loud noise had been, but we could see that we had a serious problem. We were tied to a large concrete, commercial pier that had large (earthmover?) tires along it. The problem was that the tide was particularly low and our fenders and fender board were below the bottom tire. The sound actually was the 2" x 4" fender board snapping as the surge in the harbour made Ainia move in and out and up and down. The movement had also damaged the teak rub rail, with its stainless steel edge, that extends out from the hull. Part of the metal band had been bent and was threatening to damage the hull. While June held a flashlight I saw that the boat seemed to be moving in and out. I reached for the metal to pull it out of danger and within an instant I was sitting on the cabin top with a lot of pain and a lot of blood. It all happened so fast that June did not even know that anything had happened. I did not know exactly what happened, just that it was bad. In fact, what happened was that Ainia had gone inward and forward, trapping my hand between the rub rail and tire for just an instant.

June got dressings to stop the bleeding and a coat because we realized that shock was likely. She then rushed off to call for an ambulance, I got a blanket and tried to stay calm and warm. The first problem was going to be getting onto the dock since we were 2+ m below the dock. I was able to stop shivering (shock) long enough to climb up two tires with the help of the two cops who arrived first with the ambulance close behind.  Pretty much as soon as I got up, the shivering returned but the EMTs hooked up an IV and wrapped me in blankets they took us to the Provincial Hospital which is free, but the ER doctor there suggested that we should go to the nearby private hospital which has better facilities and staff. The ambulance crew were still there and within a few minutes we were at the Bay View Private Hospital which is a very spiffy place indeed, but not cheap - $7000 was our bill for five days and the surgery.

Over the next few days we discovered the good news and bad news of the injury. We could tell it was serious from the facial reactions of the nurses who saw it. Before it was sewed back together, one sweet, young nurse let slip, "Its very flat isn't it." There was only one broken bone, at the base of the little finger, but no one was concerned about that, it was other damage that was the worry. Dr. Potgieter, the orthopedic surgeon who fortunately has a particular interest in hands, cleaned up the wounds to the front and back of the hand very carefully - infection was a particularly large concern. He said he lost track of the number of stitches at around 50. He, and us, were pleased to learn that there had been no nerve or ligament damage. In consultation with a plastic surgeon, he did think that skin grafts would be needed since the skin on both sides had been 'degloved' (horrible doctor speak, along with 'necrotic' skin). The doctor also had me start therapy the day after the accident to help my fingers recover full range of motion. They kept me in the hospital for five days in all.

We decided that best place for my recovery was at home and that the sooner I got there the better. The problem was that the commercial dock in Mossel Bay harbour was just not suitable for leaving Ainia long-term. The members of the local yacht club were great, moving their boats to free up a space for Ainia and making sure the engine was working properly. This meant that I would have to fly home by myself while June looked after Ainia. We found a cheap flight (after a costly short one to Jo'burg) on Qatar Airways via Doha and Washington, but it was still 26 hours in the air plus terminal time on three continents. BTW, this was my first flight on Qatar, which was chosen as the top airline in the world in 2011 and 2012, and I was impressed. Makes one realize how mediocre North American Airlines are. Oh, and the Qatar fare was $500 less than anyone else's, so a great combo of price and quality.

When I arrived in Toronto I decided to go directly to the hospital since I figured I would not feel any better the next day. I had asked family and friends who in the Toronto might be best at fixing hands. Hence my son had me at Toronto Western hospital at midnight. Western is the home of the University Health Centres Hand Program. By 4am, I had seen a plastic surgery resident and, more importantly, had an appointment with Dr. Graham, a plastic surgeon and the head of the Hand Program, for 9 am on Monday, less than 48 hours after I returned to Canada. Can't complain about that.

Dr. Graham's take was that I may not need skin grafts after all but that the recovery will be slow and that I would need therapy at the hospital and lots of exercise at home., which is the situation I am in now, doing my finger exercises ten times a day and visiting Western hospital. This gave us a serious schedule problem since I was looking at at least 4 to 6 weeks recovery. This meant that we could not leave Mossel Bay until early March, and perhaps much later. This would push us too much into the fall and that was not on in South African waters, at least for June and I, who tend to be sucky sailors - OK, I am the sucky sailor and June trusts my judgement which makes her an honorary sucky sailor. Ainia would have to stay in SA over the winter, with a possible departure in November.

The big problem, of course, was that if Mossel Bay was not secure in the summer, in the winter it might be terrible. The next harbours to the west were in the Cape Town area. The first of these was False Bay which is a large bay (not false at all) around the corner to the south of Cape Town. Oh, and getting to False Bay means that you have to go around Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa - one of sailing's great capes and second only to Cape Horn in fame. June, who is not a sucky sailor at all, was able to recruit Lew and Ann who had already taken Serannity to False Bay. They had a fine sail in very nice conditions (S to SE winds 15 to 25 around the Cape but problems  came when they approached the False Bay YC. This area is famous for the winds that get focussed between two heights of land. The harbour is not large and the docks are close together so it looked like they could not try to dock. They tried to pick up a mooring just outside the harbour without success, but were able to anchor - let's here if for the mighty Manson. June was in contact with both the yacht club and the local marine rescue unit and they (along with June, Lew, and Ann) were not happy with being anchored off a lee shore in strong winds. BTW, at the yacht club they recorded gusts to 56 knots. June said they were too busy on Ainia to see the wind speed. The marine unit came out with their powerful boat and helped get the anchor up and Ainia into the club's fuel dock. Since that time June has gotten Ainia ready to leave, including arranging for a boat custodian and has flown home.

Some important notes.
People in South Africa have been incredibly caring and helpful. They seem genuinely pleased that you are visiting their country and they want you to be safe and to enjoy their beautiful country.
I will continue doing blog posts in the months to come, although the sailing/travel stuff will not resume for some time.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Diving with great white sharks

Since we have lots of time in Mossel Bay we decided to do a cage dive with great white sharks. There are a number of companies that offer this activity along this coast. It was great fun, but June wondered why there were no other people on the boat over about 35 - perhaps they are just more sensible than we are.

LEFT The shark cage goes in the water. If you look closely you can see that it is pretty battered with most of the bars bent. We were about to find out why. The cage is set up with boat fenders so it floats with 18 inches or so air at the top. You stay above the water until the guy who is attracting the sharks with a couple of big fish heads on a line yells, 'Down', or 'Left'. Then you duck under to see the sharks. The best action happens above the water when the fish grabs the bait and holds on.
RIGHT That is June at the extreme left of the cage getting ready for action. You can see how the cage is attached to the side of the boat.

Some of the action shots. It was really hard to get the best pictures with a point and shoot since there is always a delay between when you push the button and when the image is captured. On a number of occasions, primarily when June was in the cage, a shark would crash into the cage, creating a few more bent pipes. The sharks we saw, about six in total, were in the 3 to 4 m range which does not sound like much until you are really close to them. They are incredibly powerful and impressive beasts. Many of them have scars and even raw wounds on them. I assume that they must bite each other, I can't imagine that anything else could attack them. At this time of year, great whites spread out along the coast and the biggest fish are away from Mossel Bay in search of food. In the winter, all the big ones congregate near a small island that has hundreds of seals on it.

Down the South African Coast #2

Sometimes things go really well, and sometimes they go OK, and then there are other times, and this is one of those. We left Port Elizabeth with what was described as, 'not a great window, but a window nonetheless'. The forecast suggested that we would have to motor for about 10 hours into a 10 to 15 knot westerly (we were going almost directly into it) and that the swells would be two to three metres which is fairly large for bashing into, although the period was something like 12 seconds growing to 17 seconds which meant that the waves would be very far apart. The wind was then to shift towards south at about the same speed which would be ideal. Our goal was to go to Knysna, a lovely resort town with a long lagoon that can only be entered just before high tide. We had about 26 hours to get there which seemed ample.

As they say about the best laid plans .. The wind did not switch and we ended up bashing for more than 27 hours and could not make the tide at Knynsna. Also we had to run the engine faster than normal, about 2300 rpm to make any decent progress. It was not nice. We decided to go into Plettenberg Bay which is a protected (from the west and southwest) spot behind a small but tall island. We got into the bay and dropped the anchor, but when we went to set it by reversing strongly, we got a nasty squeal from the engine. A quick inspection revealed that the raw water pump had croaked and was leaking into the bilge. We closed the engine water intake and decided to sail to the next real town, Mossel Bay since Plettenberg would be uncomfortable at best when the wind eventually swung east of south. Plus there was no way to do a repair there. We sailed off the anchor and were on our way just as it was getting dark. Winds were still from the west and only about 8 to 10 knots. Our first challenge was to get out of the bay. On starboard tack we were almost heading back towards PE, but when we tacked onto port, ie in the general direction we wanted to go, a nasty current kept wanting to take us back into the bay or even worse, onto the reef that extended out from the island. It took us about two hours to get a little distance away from the island and headed generally west north west which meant that every few hours we had to tack offshore again to get some searoom and still the switch to the south did not happen. By this point it was more than a day behind schedule and we wondered if it would ever happen - even though the forecast we got at Plettenberg said it was still coming.

While we were at Plettenberg and in cell phone range we called the port control and rescue unit at Mossel ceptBay and thought we had arranged a tow into the fairly small harbour there. We thought we would be there in the afternoon sometime since it was only 60 miles or so. Finally on New Year's Day we got our southerly wind, not strong but at least in a good direction. We decided to put up the asymmetric to help us get to Mossel Bay before dark. We have two spinnaker halyards and when I went to unsnap the starboard one the snap shackle, a big old one from symmetric spinnaker days came apart in my hand except for the part that fell in the water. OK, I thought, it was old and perhaps just in need of replacement, so I used the port halyard instead. We had a nice sail for a time but then the wind started getting stronger so we thought it a good idea to drop the chute. Drop it we did, the halyard had chafed on something (have to go up the mast to see on what, we have not had this problem before) and broke as were trying to get it down. It quickly became a great long purse seine beside us. Even the snuffer sock that goes over the sail reversed itself so the whole thing was well over 100 feet long and had to be pulled back on deck.

 Next problem was that we had tried the engine to make sure we could use it briefly when we got to Mossel Bay and it would not start, think it is fuel blockage but can't really work on that until we get a new water pump. Next problem, we call port control and they say that tows cannot be done at night so we will have to anchor next to the harbour entrance and wait for the morning. Also the tow will not be by the rescue squad, which is sort of like the coast guard auxiliary, but by one of the official port vessels at considerable cost. Anyway, this meant coming into an unfamiliar harbour area after dark under sail with the wind behind and lots of lights in front of us to anchor. There were also a number of moorings and other floats off the beach to worry about. Fortunately, the anchoring went fine (yay for the Manson for grabbing so hard on the fist go since we might not have had a second one) and we spent a miserable night anchored off a leeshore in 25 knots and considerable swells all night. In the morning a tow launch came out to get us and at cost of not much more than $400 for half an hour's work we were tied up at a dock in the harbour.

Now comes the challenge of getting everything sorted out. The Westerbeke distributor in Cape Town does not have the pump and Westerbeke in the US was closed until January 7th so the part has not even been ordered yet. At least it is a nice place to be stuck if you have to be stuck. It is a very pretty resort town for Afrikaaners that seems entirely safe and pleasant. We will get lots of time to get little projects done and to rest up before we head towards Cape Town and the Atlantic.

We were towed into the dock at Mossel Bay by the Snipe, the harbour/s launch. The tow rope was about 3 inches in diameter. The crew were very professional.

Here we are with Mare Liberum rafted next to us. She is a Vega27, built in Sweden. Its displacement is about 5000 pounds or about 1/8th of ours. Most have a one cylinder diesel although this one has an outboard. More than 3000 Vegas were built and they have proven to be very successful bluewater cruisers for those on limited budgets or for those wanting to keep it simple. Martin and Maria, who own Mare Liberum are young, which helps.

If you want to go cruising on a budget, here is the boat for you, the Vega 27. I almost  bought one of these in about 1973 but the head in a closet did not win favour with all of the crew. You basically just shoved your bum into the cupboard. Mark and Maria had two small surfboards and two wakeboards on deck and a small dinghy tucked away somewhere.
We had a braai (bbq) at the Mossel Bay YC one night with the crews of the four boats that were in Mossel Bay - Swedish, American, Spanish, and Canadian. What made this grouping interesting was that I was old enough to be the father of everyone there (except for June of course). One of the 'youngsters' made a very cogent point. Once we started crossing the Indian Ocean the percentage of younger cruisers on quite modest boats increased substantially. Many of the bigger boats, typically with older crews, are staying in SE Asia to see what happens with the pirate threat or are even having their boats shipped on freighters to the Med. For a boat similar to ours the cost is something like $24,000. BTW, that is Maria and Mark in the middle. with Spanish and American singlehanders on the outside, although one of them had found crew from Reunion to Cape Town.

A few more animals - - Port Elizabeth

While we were in Port Elizabeth we had the chance to go for a day trip to Addo Elephant National Park and a cheetah breeding centre. This was done with the crews of three other boats. In typical fashion they were from all over the world: Brazilian, Welsh, and American, sort of along with the resident Canucks. All of these folks have much more interesting stories than we do. The Brazilian is running the affairs of two companies from his boat using email and phone. The Welsh couple did not set off to sail any great distance. They were bored and decided to sail to France for a change. When they there it was quite cold so they decided to go a bit further south to Portugal which was still cold so they went to the Canaries, Senegal, and the Cape Verdes. From there it seemed logical to go to go the Caribbean and the rest is history. They paid for their adult children to fly to the Canaries since they had not said goodbye. They tend to sail where the wind will take them on their Moody 33, rather than to a particular destination. Their longest passage was 95 days from Panama to French Polynesia. When they came to South Africa they did not bother stopping in Richards Bay or Durban, PE was their first stop. The American, sort of, is most interesting. It is a relatively young  man(early 30s)  and his 12 year old daughter and they are now on their second circumnavigation on a pretty basic Morgan Out Island 41 (eg no furling for the jibs). Dino makes documentaries for various travel channels around the world; we were interviewed for his next one about crossing the Indian Ocean. He is a dual US/Mexican citizen and said he really feels like a citizen of the world. He has no idea what he will do when he completes this RTW, especially as Sasha is getting older and is starting to feel the need to settle down in one place.

Addo is, of course, famous for its elephants. There were close to 60 at or very near this water hole. The group included both males and females which is unusual. Addo females are unique in SA in that they do not have tusks.
We found this buffalo wallowing in a mud bath. He was much bigger, almost rhino size, than any we saw in the other parks.

The main business of the cheetah reserve is to produce new cheetahs for release into the wild in national parks and private game reserves. Ola seemed to be the place's star. She is a six year old female and remarkably comfortable with humans. She loved to be stroked and purred. She licked  your arm for salt and her tongue felt like about 70 grit sandpaper.

I did not realize how large cheetahs are. They are actually a bit taller than leopards but much lighter, although I think Ola enjoys a pretty good life and may have a few extra pounds. For an extra 150 rand you can take a cheetah for a walk on a leash. I think this is a way that they can get people to pay to do a chore that needs to be done in any case.

The reserve also has a pair of leopards that were orphaned when their mother died. They will breed leopards for release when they get older. You used to be able to go into the leopard enclosure but now only the guide does because the animals are just too big and strong, but still friendly.

They also a pair of seven month old male lion twins, again as a result of the mother dying. The lions will not be bread because lions are not endangered in South Africa. In fact there is something of an oversupply. If you look at this guy's paws you get a sense that he is going to be very big. It was incredible to get so close to these great cats. They all are quite wonderful to see.