We arrived St Helena on Sunday 12 March after an 8 day passage. We left Walvis Bay where the water was 18C dressed in fleeces, thermals, hats and boots. As we sailed west the sea and air temperature gradually warmed up and is now a balmy 26C. As the days went by we could shed the layers. We were not quite down to our tropical attire as the nights at sea were still a little chilly. It was a fast passage for us with 2 light wind days. We did not have to motor at all which was a bonus. The down side was that it was very cloudy with rain squalls and fairly roly.
We were expecting to see lots of wildlife and to catch fish. We had 1 night where there was quite a lot of phosphorescence and we saw a few dolphins briefly! We caught no fish much to our disappointment.
St Helena is a strange island, as one person said it looks like someone has dropped a meteorite in the middle of the ocean. The island is steep sheer rock cliffs all around. We are moored off James Town which is the main town. Getting ashore is a challenge, we take a water taxi which goes along side a wharf. There is no protection from the swell so we have to grab a rope on the shore and jump ashore on the top of the swell. Usually a few people get off to receive the bags and to help the remainder get ashore. It is worse at low tide which is in the morning at the moment, getting back in the afternoon at high tide is not quite as bad.
The town runs along a valley between the cliffs. There are a few shops and restaurants. The jail is next to the police station at the bottom of town. There are no ATM's to get cash you have to go into the bank. Very few places take credit card and if they do they charge 5% though the bank also charge 5% to get cash! A supply ship arrives every 2 weeks and after it unloads there is a mad shopping frenzy to get fresh fruit and veg. Some things are grown on the island but they have a drought so there have been no potatoes on the island for 6 months. Eggs seem hard to find as apparently the chickens are moulting and not laying! Internet is available at the hotels and restaurants and costs £3.30 for half an hour. In this time, with the slow speed, you can just about check a few emails!
Thursday we had a tour of the island including Napoleons home and a distillery which brews local rum from Prickly pear cactus. Friday we swam with the Whale sharks. It seems that most of them have already left but we were lucky enough to find two. Amazing animals and huge!! Lots of remora and shark suckers all over and especially on the tail. Unfortunately, it was very rough and 15 minutes in the water snorkelling was all we could cope with.
We finally left Simons Town on 30 January. We motored the 15 miles down to the Cape of Good Hope and rounded it fairly closely. We had to motor as there was little wind but the swells were quite big. At times the front half of the boat was clean out of the water. We were sailing with friends Jack and Sandy on Zorana and although we were fairly close their whole hull would disappear behind waves.
After rounding the cape we had an uneventful day motoring to a small island north of Cape Town called Dassen Island. We anchored overnight mainly because we could not stand the thought of being up all night in the cold!
We left the following day and had a 3 ½ day sail to Luderitz. It was fairly miserable weather and very cold so we were huddled up in thermals, fleeces etc.. Arriving in Luderitz there were lots of seals basking in the water. It is a fairly small harbour which exists mainly for the diamond mining industry. It is a small town thousands of miles from anywhere in the middle of the desert and we are not sure why anyone would choose to live there. It is very windy caused by the cold sea air hitting the hot and so most afternoons it blew about 30-40 miles an hour.
A group of us did a tour to the old diamond mining town in land which is now deserted and being consumed by the desert.
We left the boats in Luderitz and did a trip with Sandy and Jack to Fish River Canyon. It was a 500km trip which was slow as most of it was on gravel roads. We had a stop at a distillery which was based underneath a dam creating a green oasis in the middle of the desert. The government grows fruit there and the distillery uses the fruit which is not high enough quality to export. We also stopped to see wild horses and Oryx on the way and arrived at the canyon late afternoon.
After being so cold on the boat it was a shock to suddenly be in temperatures of +30C. We stayed near the canyon and then drove via another route back the following day. On the way we got a puncture so had to change the tyre and then buy a new one when we reached a town. The scenery was very varied and interesting even though most of it was desert.
We did a few boat chores before leaving for Walvis Bay on 14 February. We left on a fairly windy day so the seas were quite boisterous which was fine until a wave was dumped straight into our cockpit and on me (Karen)! It wasn't too bad other than I got wet! After that the seas calmed down and we arrived in Walvis Bay after a day and a half.
Walvis Bay is much bigger than Luderitz. There is a big cape which is covered with thousands of seals and lots of big ships were anchored inside the bay. The yacht anchorage was right down the south end of the bay which took about an hour to reach from the cape. Then from the anchorage we had a dinghy ride of about 1/5 mile to get ashore at the yacht club.
While in Walvis we met up with a local guy called Matt who was extremely helpful to us giving us lifts into town and helping us find parts. We did a few trips with him, The first was a ride into the dunes towards Sandwich harbour. We were literally driving over dunes near the water just following tracks from a previous vehicle. Fortunately Matt was a very good driver. On the way back he drove up a dune to show us the salt pans and then drove us off this incredibly steep edge. It was like a roller coaster ride with the track giving way underneath you. Then he took us back up and did the same backwards!
The lagoon south of the anchorage was full of thousands of flamingoes which we stopped to see on the way back from the dunes but by the time we came to leave Walvis Bay they had all gone.
We did another tour with Matt the following day to see the Welwitschia plants and the surrounding area.
We joined with Jack and Sandy again to drive to Etosha for a few days. We hired a 4 wheel drive vehicle as it is the rainy season and we were warned that if it rains the roads may be flooded by the rivers flowing. On the way we stopped to see some ancient rock carvings and spent the night at a town called Outjo. The following day we drove the remaining distance to Etosha and spent 4 days game viewing.
Although it is not the best time of year too visit we saw lots of animals and birds. The highlight was watching a pride of lions stalking a group of Impala. Unfortunately, we only saw 1 black rhino in the distance and we only saw 1 elephant. Elephants migrate from the park in the wet season so are difficult to see. We had given up hope of seeing one and were thinking of returning to the camp when a very large male walked out of the bush straight in front of us.
Once we returned to Walvis Bay we prepared to leave for St Helena and finally departed on 4 March.
Most of S Africa closed down for Christmas so work stopped on the boat. A few days before Christmas there was a cruisers get together at a local vineyard. We were all driven to one vineyard for a tasting and then to another for a lovely lunch and more wine! It was also a good opportunity to meet up with friends we had not seen for a while.
We had a day visiting the botanical gardens which are on the other side of Table mountain from Cape Town and on the way back to Simons Town, we drove Chapmans Peak which is a very dramatic drive around the mountains along the coast. Another day we drove to Stellenbosch to do some wine tasting and to start to buy some wines ready for our departure.Our other local outing was a drive down the Cape to visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. It was a lovely scenic drive and then we walked up to the light house and looked where we would be sailing when we left.
Christmas eve we went into Cape Town and met up with friends who were in the marina there for a Christmas lunch. Before lunch we all went to an engagement party for Tom and Suzie on 'Adina' on the dock at the V&A marina. An unusual place to have an engagement party!
Christmas day we had our usual breakfast of champagne, smoked salmon and scramble eggs before joining other cruisers for lunch. We all brought a dish and then we BBQ'd our own meat. S Africans do not call it a BBQ though, it is a Braai!
Boxing day we left the boat for a few days holiday. The first day we drove to Swellendam with a stop at Cape Aghulas. It's the most southern point of SA but it is not very dramatic, Cape Point is much prettier. We did an outing from there to the De Hoop nature reserve. It was a long drive on gravel roads and the car was covered in red sand when we got back. The park does not have any of the big 5 but was pleasant with some rare antelope.
The following day we had a long drive to Knysna. We were told it was a very pretty town and as we had not stopped there in the boat decided to go and see it. We were fairly disappointed. The drive along the garden route was no where near as pretty as the area around Cape Town. The traffic through the town was horrible and the town was an overdeveloped seaside resort which had been completed spoilt by all the building. We reached our accommodation, parked the car and decided to walk everywhere until we left. Knysna Heads, the harbour exit, are very dramatic and worthy of a visit. The remainder of the town was just capitalising on ripping off tourists.
Our drive back was inland and was more dramatic with scenic mountain passes. We stopped at Robertson which is a wine growing area but much less commercialised than Stellenbosch. The wines were just as nice but much more reasonably priced. Then we drove through Franchoek for a nice lunch at the Noble Hill vineyard and then onto Cape Town for New year.
New Years eve we stayed on Anthony and Davina's boat, Divanty, in the V&A marina. All the boats in the marina got together for a party on the pontoons and then we all watched the fireworks at midnight. The party continued until about 4am and as it moved onto Divanty we had no chance of going to sleep until it ended!
After New Year it was back to work. We had the boat lifted so that we could change valves on the rear toilet. Sounds a small job but it took 3 days to undo the old bronze fittings, run hoses and work out how to fit the new valve!
Once we were back in the water we had to get the remaining work done on the main engine and get the generator repaired and re-installed. It seemed to take us weeks to get the work completed ready to leave. Many of the things we were hoping to get done have been left until we get to the Caribbean.
By the end of all the frustrations we were glad to leave.
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