Route around Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

Potentially the roughest passage for us and I quote "Few attempt to to make this passage in one go without seeking shelter in one of the few good ports en route. In fact lack of shelter is only one of three factors that make sailing along this section particularly difficult, the other two being the Agulhas Current and the unpredictable weather pattern. The Agulhas Current runs in a SW direction following the 100 fathom line and can uptain up to 6 knots in places.... SW gales and the strong south-flowing current can generate giant waves up to 60ft in height and even higher." That said, this trip is done in 4 smaller sections and the warry sailor will wait in port until the next favorable weather window comes up and then take another small step forward. Cape Town for Christmas and New Years!

Start Date Source Destination Miles Duration Days
  Richard's Bay Durban 110 1
  Durban East London 250 2
  East London Port Elizabeth 125  
  Port Elizabeth Knysa 175  
  Knysa Mossel Bay 45  
  Mossel Bay False Bay 200  
  False Bay Cape Town 50  

Step 1 complete!

Durban to East London
This is a 250 mile stretch with no options for stops. The Transkaii coast is considered the most dangerous leg in rounding the Cape since there is no good to place to stop in case of bad weather.

Let me tell you!
The trip started as predicted. We wait for the tail end of a south west buster and we head out. This was about 5pm Thursday. As soon as we exit the Durban Harbour breakwater we find what we expected. Light south west winds and confused seas. Our mission now to sail south east for 15 miles until we reach the 100 fathom depth contour line. There we find the famous Agulhas current. We find it by looking at the water temperature. 68 degrees in Durban, 75 by the time we get in the thick of the current.

Well if the seas were confused before, now they are chaotic. We are motorsailing in light winds waiting for the wind to shift. 11 pm and still no persistent wind shift. Persistent I say becouse in the last couple hours I have tacked twice and still kept sailing the same course. A real mixture of hot and cold air. The air temperature going from 80 to 68 degrees and back in a matter of minutes. Spooky stuff! Almost impossible to stear a straight course. The steap waves easily overpowering the slow moving boat. Still the GPS tells us we are moving a good 5 knots over ground. Time for me to rest.

7 am: wake up for my shift and the wind is still light and variable. Now that I can see the motion of the boat through the water I get a little sick. I just can't seem to get in rythm with the boat to stear a straight course.

9 am: end of shift straight back to sleep.

11:30 am: I wake up and the boat is moving! Dave and Stacy got the spinakker up and the expect North East winds are pushing the boat over 14 knots on the GPS! Water temperature starts to drop so we decide to jibe the spinnaker and head slightly more offshore. To jibe the spinakker we usually drop it and the set in on the opposite tack. Dave and I are barely able to bring the spinakker down. The wind has picked up 10 knots up to 30 knots in the last 5 minutes.

12:00 noon: Spinakker is down and we are sailing with the Jib alone. Winds speeds 30-35 with gust to 40. Boat doing 7 knots over water, 10 knots over ground. Seas building.

Just after sunset: Visibility sucks. All I see is a grey haze fading into the horizon. Just then I see a cargo ship pass us maybe 500 yards to starboard. Never saw him coming. Too early to see his lights and the beast is painted a dull grey with yellow tops. Just another something to think about during your watch. The fact that this is a major shipping lane.

12 midnight: No signs of the wind diminishing. We just sailed 120 miles in 12 hours. Beating our best 12 hour period by another 20 miles. Seas from behind 12-16 feet, steep and with breaking tops. Light spray coming from the top of the white caps. Oh! did I forget, pitch dark with huge dark clouds and lightning all over the place. At least there is no thunder I keep reasuring myself... Kind of freakish to see and hear the white foam of the waves as they lift the boat up and pass under you. Somehow I keep thinking of a little known fact. One in 200 waves is double the average size. One in 2000 can be freak wave... 1,2,3,4,...

1 am: we hit our target point to head inshore. Like magic within a few miles the water temperature drops dramatically to 65 degrees and the seas calm down.

7 am: Picture perfect we enter East London Harbour under light southeast wind and it is a beautifull day! 250 miles in 36 hours. Tied up and having breakfast by 9am, Too much coffee so I type up this e-mail. Stats are in... 210 miles form 3:00 am to 3:00 am. Not bad.

Final thoughts for the day... Just happy I was coming down this way, not going up the coast. I just can't imagine what the seas would be like when the wind blows against the current! In no time was the boat in danger, but we were definetly exploring new limits of our comfort with the boat's performance. By the way Happy 2002. A big wet kiss for all the Hotties! A hug for the gents! May this be another prosperous and healthy year! (I suspect if the story got any better the guys would be getting kisses too!)

See Ya! Jo