28 January, 2010


Off to Mossel Bay. It is turning out to be harder to leave here than
expected. Not just weather. I've met some folks who have really made
me feel at home. And I am not really ready to leave them yet; still
getting to know them. But maybe this is as good a time as any, though
it would be easier to say that if the weather wasn't merde.

Thank you all.

27 January, 2010

It is blowing 25 knots from the WRONG direction in Port Elizabeth. I
spent the day watching a track meet. The little girl I was there to
watch WON the 100, 400, and 4X100m. She was wicked fast, or my
animated cheers propelled her to new heights.

"if fate doesn't make you laugh, then you just don't get the joke."
... a line from Shantaram. I'm not sure how this book has escaped me
for so many years. It is a magnificent (true) story of guilt and
redemption ... or so it seems. I am just getting into it. A book to
make you laugh and cry in epic fashion. Gregory David Roberts. I am
already being changed by the book, and that, to me, is high praise,
perhaps the highest.

24 January, 2010



S/V DANCYN navigating through South African shipping on our passage from Richard's Bay to Durban. This was the closest, but not the only one. It is a busy coast. Luckily there is a strong south running current, so only south-bound traffic choose to use it. All north-bound ships stay closer ashore. However, when a strong SW wind blows, it meets the current head-on and causes waves to stand straight up. This is the real cause of the terrible 'rogue waves' that South Africa is imfamous for. When sailing, we stay near the 200 Meter depth contour, which is where the strength of the current starts. If threatened by oncoming SW'erlies, you quickly sail inside of this line and the seas subside considerably. This is counter to tradition seamanship that would say, "go offshore", but not here. Stay close. But watch out for these giant ships.
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19 January, 2010

Passage to East London, South Africa

East London, South Africa.
Finally a weather window. A week in Durban with friends was not too
much. But we are all ready to be at the western front of South
Africa. Leaving would be four boats: Denny, BLUE FALCON, John on
DANCYN, and me.
It looked like a three day weather window with a soft close, meaning
several days of good sailing followed by a change to weak or
unsuitable winds at the end of the window, this is the time by which
you hope to be in port. This is better than a window with a hard
close, which means the fair winds are followed swiftly by a change to
dangerous winds and seas, often being 20+kts from the southwest. Hard
closing windows suck because they add a menacing threat if you fail to
make port by the close of the window—or, heaven forbid—if the forecast
should change. And who has ever heard of a weather forecast changing?
. . Never, right?

Denny left with the change of tide in the late afternoon on Saturday
with BLUE FALCON. I would leave a couple hours later after dark. And
John would leave at 4 am. As Denny motored passed me, he said that
the forecast for a soft close with variables had changed to 15+kt SW.
Already it was changing for the worse. Not good news. We were all
heading to East London, only 240 miles south. This could be an easy
two days—much less if the current was any help—and the window was
three days. I thought, with the soft close, this was enough of a
buffer to be safe. Now the forecast called for SW winds and I would
have to make port in time, though, still, it shouldn't be a problem.
With a boat as slow as mine, and an engine as old, I don't like the
added pressure on performance. But I was already set to go.

Off I went in the dark. Very nervous about navigating through the
busy port. A police boat came and wanted an inspection. I yelled at
them. It was ridiculous. I was trying to exit a port alone and they
want to come aboard?? I told them, as they insisted, fine, but they'd
have to wait until we were safe outside. Then I realized I now had a
pilot boat and asked them to lead me out. Which they did. I became
much nicer after that.

We all set out into light winds with our motors pumping. Motoring
with the light air was a way to make some miles before the good NE
wind started blowing the next day. Leaving Durban, we all had to make
some miles eastward to pick up the famous Agulas Current which flows
down the South African coast. This aquatic freeway is great for
making good miles southward, but, when the wind shifts to a SW'erly,
the current opposes the wind and stacks up to great balks of water and
are some of the most dangerous seas in all the world. This is a fact,
not an exaggeration.
The Agulas Current runs close to land. It is deemed wise to stay
close to the edge so that if SW'erlies come you can sail yet closer to
land to avoid the dangerous swells that build. Because of this
proximity to land, sailors often find they have cell phone coverage.
It was in this way that I found out from a friend ashore that our
three day window had now become a two day window.
I was not picking up much of a current. I was sailing slowly in light
air through the night, trying not to motor. I may regret that now.
What looked like a bulletproof window was now in shambles and it was
actually looking doubtful that I would make E London before the SW
arrived. Where was the NE'er? It was hours overdue. That was the
key. I needed to sail, to make miles, pick up the current and go.
Almost six hours late, the NE filled in and not long afterwards the
current appeared at last. All or nothing, it seems. Before long I
was making good way in moderate winds. But again, the forecast called
for strong NE'erlies, and I suspected would be the case.
By Sunday morning, the second day, the wind increased quickly to over
thirty kts. I was able to preempt it and have my storm sails ready as
the wind came. However I didn't expect such poor steereage. The
smaller and smaller my sails got, I simply couldn't overcome a great
amount of weather helm. This is the effect of wind and sail on the
direction of the boat. Some conditions make the boat naturally want
to sail farther from the wind, lee helm; and some conditions make the
boat round up into the wind, weather helm. Weather helm is more
common on my boat. If I have too much sail the tiller will become
strong and heavy. This is the sign for me to reef my sails down.
But now I was reefed to my smallest sails and still had an incredible
amount of 'helm'. What do to? This was not what I expected. This is
a heavy weather boat after all. But she was bound and determined to
round up into the seas, and Herb, my windvane, who steers the boat,
was struggling to keep us on course. It took a while for me to accept
that I'd have to drop my storm try'sle ( a tiny main'sle for storms)
and sail with the reefed stay'sle only. This way all the sail area
would be forward on the boat and she should steer better.
Indeed, it worked. Well, at least well enough for the windvane to
steer a course not quite dead down wind. It is an important lesson to
learn and unexpected. I really had thought that I'd be able to carry
my try'sle no matter the conditions. In the open sea, I would often
heavy-to in such wind. But running with it, as I was now, is great if
the sea size is safe and the wind in the right direction. It was a
little shocking, I'll say. And will take some serious thinking about.
Now I know. After setting my sails to the growing winds, things got
easier. I checked my course every hour on the chart to be sure I was
following the 200meter contour, which is usually the strength and edge
of the Agulas Current. I was making 8 kts, which is extreme speed for
BRILLIG. 2.5 to 3 kts of that was current. At this rate I would
indeed make E London if the window held open as forecast, but the
worry now was that I'd be arriving in the night, and I'd be arriving
with 25 – 35 kts of wind. I'd have to do everything right, which
leaves, obviously, no room for error. I "hate" arriving anywhere at
night. I used to refuse to enter on principle. Sadly, those days are
gone. I had no choice, and this would surely be the trickiest bit of
the trip.

So, nothing to do but sail. Nothing had broken. I rested in ten
minute spats. I saw a fair amount of shipping. John on DANCYN had
gone farther out into the current, as had been my plan. Out of
shipping traffic there. But now time was of the essence for me. I
took the short line. And this turned out well in the end. The
current seemed stronger for me than for John. And he had considerably
larger seas. DANCYN is an ex-race boat, small, but considerably
quicker than BRILLIG, but not as stout. John was hoping for his first
200m day.
I couldn't really care about how many miles I'd do. It would surely
be more than 150 which was my record to date. As cell coverage came
and went I'd get updates on weather and the other boats positions.
Denny had motored well and was many miles ahead. I would be last. Of
course. As always. I kept regular contact with John on the VHF until
he was out of range. And I listened to weather on the Peri-Peri net
on the SSB. Too rough for the guitar. I rested whenever possible.
The farther out I got the more swells crashed around me. They weren't
large, but choppy and surgy. Things often would be tossed around the
cabin unexpectedly. The closer in, the smoother. For a while in the
afternoon the weather moderated modestly and the sailing was quite
decent. Luckily this trend continued until I was ten miles out of E
London. Clearly the SW was going to hold off until the next morning
when it was forecasted. And the strong winds I feared would carry me
into port were subsiding. As I approached, a text from John, already
in port, told me that the conditions inside E London were calm. This
was the best news I'd heard all day. The rest was less good. He'd
ripped his jib and fallen on his autopilot, breaking it. And to add
insult to injury—he had only managed 199 miles—1 mile short of his 200
mile day. That is a hard one to swallow.
BRILLIG, I proudly say, managed a 185 mile day!! That smashes the old
record of 150. That is averaging better than 7kts an hour. Smokin'.
But they weren't easy miles. Or comfortable ones.
The leading lights into East London were clear, ever for a blind man.
Even though I spilt my coffee all over my gps, it was still guiding me
true. The motor was running and the autopilot was on course. As
foretold the harbor was calm and quite. I anchored off a wharf before
a row of boats on mooring buoys. The squall that had followed me only
dropped a smattering of rain once I had finished clearing the decks.
It was eleven pm and I was safe again in one more port a little
farther on than the last. This one, however, carries a slightly
greater amount of relief than some of the others.

16 January, 2010

hit the road

Leaving Durban this afternoon, evening, or tomorrow morning depending
on when the wind shifts around. I have a good window so I hope to
make some good miles westward and with some luck the window will run
quickly into another one.

I would like to thank Chris Sutton and Tony Herrick (and Katherine, of
course) for being so encouraging and so very helpful. The time went
by in a flash.

And I leave here a true Poona at last. I am honored. Thank you, Tony..

We'll all meet down the road again someday, perhaps in the P.Nor'west.
Until then, "fair winds and foul friends" to all of you.

08 January, 2010

Departing Richards Bay

I'm off. Heading for Durban, but more than likely I will be able to
travel farther, East London, maybe beyond. There is nothing nasty on
the forecast. So. . . make hay, as they say.

02 January, 2010

no change

No news here.

Still in Richard’s Bay, South Africa.  The weather is improving.  In face, a friend left on what looked to be a thin window and turned out to be long enough to get them all the way to Port Elisabeth or beyond.  They screamed down the coast in their cat, hitting 22kts.!!!  Wow.


But I am still waiting on a couple of sheaves that needed new bushings.  When they are back I will catch the next window which should be Wed. . . hopefully, but things change daily.  Christmas was great fun.  But three weeks is long enough.  I am ready to be sailing again.  Once I reach CapeTown I will see a little of South Africa, particularly the Drakesburg Mountains (sp) and then set off for Brazil. 


That is the plan.  But there is some coastal hopping to do first.  And I have to do it right.  This is a brutal coast with serious south-westerly gales.  No Joke.