1 | Cape Town to Mauritius
Dates – 1/5/19 – 30/5/19
Depart – Cape Town
Arrive – Mauritius
Distance – 2300 nm (30 days)
Price – ZAR 60 000
The dates of departure and arrivals on trips like this are not set in stone and every effort is made to factor in the unforeseen events that occur, mainly due to the weather. This sailing route is very unique and interesting and one of a few options in heading North East into the Indian Ocean with a view to reaching Mozambique and Madagascar or other Indian Ocean Islands. Another and more direct approach or route is to leave the Cape and head south until one can clear the Agulhas banks and pick up the west wind. Then one sails east as far as necessary, which is about until one is roughly on the longitude of Madagascar and then putting in a slow course change towards Mauritius.
However, the later route is best left to those that have some experience. Not that it is a hard trip but there is a good reason why skydivers start off with tandem jumps, then static line before free fall. That reason being quite simple. If you don’t like it you cannot go back. Not really true with sailing but it can be very difficult to return on some long legs and can take two to three times as long. Kind of like going down a slide as a kid and then trying to climb back up without going back to the stairs. So therefore, in my experience, it is better to have safe havens or bolt holes, not too far away, for the first few hundred miles. It also gives one the comfort of knowing they can change their minds if it turns out not to be their cup of tea. Very seldom seen, as most people seem to love the challenge.
Don’t kid yourself though, sailing offshore trips like this can be tough and one sometimes has to dig a little deeper than when on Terra Firma but the rewards are oh so rich. My personal life Mantra is, YOU WILL NEVER KNOW, IF YOU DON’T GO. Undeniable?? Totally!
The plans goes something like this, using the first of May as an intended start date we would leave Cape Town and head south to round Cape Point and south east across False Bay towards Hangklip. This first leg is a real jaw dropper and not to be rushed as the scenery is spectacular. The trick is to leave very early and make the most of the daylight. This very first day is totally weather dependant and as the prevailing South East winds have the final say. This time of the year is specifically chosen though, as the Beasterly Easterly slumbers after the summer season. In fact hitching a ride on the back end of low pressure frontal systems is the trick along this stretch of coastline. With the clockwise rotation of lows that are moving West to East and the help of modern technology, ie internet weather sites, it is a whole lot easier to do now than it was in the 20th century. Kind of like surfing a wave of wind around and up the coast. Along this stretch there are possible stops however. Gansbaai is one of the first with its small group of wild little islands that offer some respite from the weather but certainly keep ones pulse alive. Dyer Island and Geyser Island are two of three very exposed little islands but make for an exiting stop over. One cannot leave the boat however but to be in such a remote spot and so immersed in nature is priceless. This is not so much a bolt hole for bad weather only but seldom visited by passing yachts. As this is about 90 + nautical miles away from Cape Town it is unlikely one would arrive in daylight, which is imperative. Therefore it pays to stop off at Hermanus for the night, at anchor and continue the next morning after a good breakfast at a leisurely rate.
It takes about three to four hours to get to the next anchorage, at Dyer Island, so this allows for a bit of site seeing from Ronin before a relaxing afternoon. These kind of anchorages are very exposed and we always have someone on watch around the clock.
Leaving the next morning starts us on our first overnight passage which takes us around the southern most point of South Africa, Cape Agulhas and from thereon out our latitude will be diminishing as we start our way East North East. We can now safely say we are in the Indian Ocean. Next stop Mossel Bay some 150 nm away.
Day four puts us within the perfect time frame to make Knysna. This is literally wishful thinking but not impossible. We have a high tide around 1600hrs and the best time to enter the heads is one hour after high. Even if we put ourselves at the spot, right on time, there is no saying what the weather will be doing on the day in question. Going into the Knysna heads is one of the highlights of this leg but as I said before, the weather has the final say. And if that applies anywhere, it applies here. The heads are notoriously dangerous if there is a swell running. We do however have an advantage on a catamaran, in that we have a very shallow draft and two engines. Not to mention the directional stability in the unlikely event of surfing. The flip side of the same coin so to speak is, one has to be sure the weather is not going to change in the next 12 or 24 hours as we would need to leave the next day . Part of my cunning plan puts us there at new moon, hence spring tides. This still does not change the fact that the sea has to be in a happy mood. But all is not lost as we would then continue on our way, tripping on our lips to Plettenberg bay.
At this point we have the option of making Plettenberg bay by dusk and anchoring for the night, or to keep on going another 100 nm and making Port St Francis by the evening of the fifth day. This is a tiny port but worth a visit and a good dinner at nice restaurants. The entrance can also have its moments but has nothing on Knysna.
In St Francis if we pasted by Knysna, buying us one day to head on, or to chill. This would give us a bit of leeway with the weather. As we do hope to stop in Knysna, we will assume we had. This would put us in Port St Francis by the evening of day six.
Today is the day we plan to head east and start the long offshore passage to Mauritius.This is of course if the weather is right. We have one last contingency plan here and that is if we are held back for a short time, we would consider going into Algoa Bay to visit Bird Island. This group of Islands to the east of Port Elizabeth not only make for another interesting anchorage but actually make for a really good point to head off across the current. But as the clock is ticking and the days are sailing by, we leave this option open and see it more as an interesting way to spend some time waiting for the weather to pass or settle. This is the end of chapter one. From here its onwards and eastwards towards the horizon and into the new world of, Life at Sea.
Day Eight to Twenty-Five
If all is on track this should see us on our way East and by now everyone should be feeling at one with the boat and well settled in. This is the beginning of a whole new experience for those that are doing it for the first time. The first three days are normally the hardest, although that’s probably not the right word. It is just that this world is so alien to us and especially first timers, that it takes a few days to get into the Oceans rhythm. Nights and days come and go at a different pace at sea. But the mind of man is a very adaptable thing. Its almost as if we have some primal instinct that awakens after a few days and somehow stands taller than its host. Never will one learn more about ones self than in situations like these. I won’t confine the experience to sailing only, as mountain climbers and other extreme adventurers will know this too. What makes sailing almost unique though, unlike some activities, is the fact that there is no pause button, never mind a stop. Fair enough when one jumps out of an airplane at 10 000 feet, there is no stopping it either but the trip is going to be over within minutes, one way or another. What I am getting at is the hours and days and weeks that one has to think and feel and assess the situation. The sea can be scary at times but mostly because its not our home turf as such. When people ask me sometimes “but are you not afraid?” and “is it not dangerous?”, I like to make this comparison. Are you not afraid to drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg, with your family in the car, even though it is way more dangerous. Seriously, you might be in control of your car but you have none what so ever over the thousands flying past you less than a metre away at such high speeds that a collision would almost always be fatal. Seriously, I feel safer at sea in a gale.
Like a climber, this is no place to hurt oneself. Therefore, it is super important for myself, as the skipper, to drum safety into my crew. I still to this day thank my lucky stars, that I got though all those years of being a yachtmaster instructor without any casualties. Especially young agile people fresh out of school. Trying to get them to move slowly and carefully is like telling a baby not to cry. Of course I have had some minor injuries happen but even something like a stumped toe can become very debilitating at sea. Remember, the boat is not going to sit still for you while you heal.
And as much as I hate to bring this up, oops, (pun) I have to mention sea sickness. This is one of those things that plague some people, some of the time and other people, well more. I know what it feels like but i never get sick anymore.
It happened to me as a kid going deep sea fishing with my father once. That was over 40 years ago but I still have a mental image of it. There are rare occasions that have made me feel lousy, like working on an engine in bad weather. Because that is when they always seem to have problems. But hey, the good news is that one can get over it in most cases and there is also good medication for it these days. But all the medication in the world wont help if you don’t take heed of good advice. One of the most common causes is alcohol. If you are not an old salt, do not drink any alcohol for a day or two before sailing, especially if it’s a long haul. It is also important to get the medication into your system the day before to see how you respond to it, as it can make one sleepy and also to give it time to do its job. All to often I have seen someone taking a pill when they are feeling sick and well its like, would you mind getting the horse back in before you close the gate. I personally don’t think eating the likes of bacon and eggs is a good way to start a day at sea. Neither is coffee and even tea. Possibly caffeine is the reason here. The best advise I have, is to eat and eat a fair amount. Start off the day with a big bowl of oats if you can. Really keep it simple for the first few days. One thing that you can’t go wrong with is rice. The general idea is that if you don’t get sick to begin with, you will be able to continue eating but if you do get sick, you won’t. Bread is great. Also dry salty cracks and cream crackers. But beware, I love them too, so bring lots. On the whole, it seems that carbohydrates are the way to go. The obvious thing is to get your strength up before you go and to keep snacking. Whatever happens, don’t allow yourself to become hungry or run down, especially on those first few days. The next best thing is to sleep. If you try everything and still become ill, well the best thing to do is sleep it off. Also don’t be embarrassed to tell your skipper. This is one of the biggest problems. People try and hide how they feel in the hopes that it will go away. Rule number one is: don’t go below if you are nauseous. Don’t even think of going to the heads (toilet) to throw up that is. If nature calls and you have to go, tell your skipper you are not feeling well and just be honest. On small, sometimes crowded mono hulls, this can be a problem but on our catamaran it’s a lot more stable and there is loads of deck space. Most often the best thing to do is to get comfortable on deck, as far aft as possible where the movement is less pronounced and try fix your gaze on something static. If there is nothing static even watching the horizon can help. Now the opposite is true too. Being busy can and normally does help. I have often found that by putting a sea sick sailor on the helm is the best cure of all. So, well, its not an exact science. But there are things one can do to help. If you are unsure, speak up and be prepared. This is another reason why I like to start the trip to Mauritius with short legs. Remember, there is nothing better for sea sickness, than to sit under a tree….and the cure is instant. So by day five you will be very sure if you are good to go or not. Of course you are going to go!
Well I could go on and on about my experiences at sea but hey, maybe one day ill write a book. But read all you like. Nothing beats the real thing. This leg from Port Elizabeth area to Mauritius is about 2000nm. This should take anywhere from 12 to 18 days. 14 being the goal. So anyone intending to do the trip from start to Mauritius should allow for 3 to 4 weeks. Especially if one plans on spending a few days in Mauritius once we are there. On arrival, we got into Port Louis. This is a bustling city with markets and shops galore. Spending a day in the city is fantastic after the long trip. Nothing like stretching ones legs after a long stint on board. The general idea is after spending one night there, is to then make the short trip up the coast to Grand Bay. This is a really nice anchorage on the North western part of the Island.