East London,  Port Elizabeth,  Richards Bay,  South Africa

Heading for the Cape of Storms

We arrived in Richards Bay, South Africa, on Boxing Day. As we were still at sea on Christmas Day, we chose to celebrate the 25th by not cooking anything! In fact, we ended up celebrating Christmas on the 2nd of January instead, by cooking up a feast (roast ham complete with homemade stuffing and gravy) and listening to Christmas music. Our festive attire certainly got a few strange looks from the locals!

Our recent destinations didn’t offer much in the way of Christmas shopping, so for Alex’s gift this year I wrote him this loving and heartfelt poem.

Since our arrival in South Africa we have been hopping along the coast, heading west(ish) whenever a suitable weather window arises. We are getting ever closer to the Cape of Good Hope, or, more worryingly, the ‘Cape of Storms’ as it used to be known. This rocky point, at the southern end of the Cape Peninsula, is infamous for its violent storms and treacherous coastline. It is a major landmark that has a long history of bringing ships to their watery demise, which is brutally evidenced by the countless remains of various shipwrecks.

There’s one other landmark, however, that’s to be feared even more than the Cape of Storms – and that’s the notorious Cape Agulhas (aka the Cape of Needles). This is the most southerly tip of Africa where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean and is the most hazardous section of ocean we are to face on our whole voyage. A strong warm current flowing from the Indian Ocean meets the colder Antarctic current from the Atlantic Ocean. These conflicting currents, along with naturally strong westerly winds, result in unpredictable eddies, violent storms and mammoth rogue waves that can reach up to 30 meters in height! Weather passage planning is extremely important around here, as getting it wrong would be a serious ‘brown trouser’ moment for any sailor!

The closer we get to the Cape Agulhas, the stronger the winds become…
…and the more ferocious the sea gets.
Dolos stones are a South African invention used to protect coastlines from unforgiving seas.

On the plus side, there are plenty of places along the coast of South Africa which offer protective harbours for us wait out the worst of the weather. Moreover, with modern technology and good weather forecasting, it’s entirely possible to navigate through these waters safely – so long as we’re intelligent enough to use them properly!

The lovely harbour at our previous destination, East London.
Sometimes the sea is best enjoyed from a safe distance.
The rough weather has helped to sculpture some wonderful rock formations along the coastline.

South Africa is one of the more temperate countries on the African continent and the ports we’ve visited so far are very well developed. It’s certainly not what you would imagine if you were asked to think of ‘Africa’. Still, that wonderfully intoxicating feeling that (for me at least) is only possible on this continent becomes strikingly obvious when you get into the heart of the country. Harsh mountains with dry iron-red sand somehow give life to thorny shrubs, acacia trees and a vast array of magnificent wildlife. This landscape is where the journey of our species began. It’s impossible not to be drawn in!

An impala scouting the landscape

Even in the built-up and protected harbours we’ve had some interesting experiences with the local wildlife. We take great care to avoid the resident hippo when travelling in the dinghy, and we need to hold our noses when downwind of the boat that the local cormorants have chosen to make their home. Also, monkeys will often try to sneak into our cabin in search for food when we’re not looking. I tell you, if you struggle waking up in the mornings – being greeted by the beady eyes of a vervet monkey in your kitchen will certainly kick start your day!

Alex and I are extremely grateful that the local cormorants have chosen a boat other than Bob in which to roost.
No, that’s not the paint running in streaks down the hull.
A highly skilled ninja fruit thief… sometimes called a ‘vervet monkey’.

We’re now in Port Elizabeth hiding out in gale force winds waiting for our next opportunity to head west. The surge has caused us to chafe through two docking lines and our friends on a neighbouring boat had their primary winch ripped right out of their deck after using it to secure one of their docking lines. Looking ahead, it appears that *there could possibly* be a good weather window next Thursday, which *in an ideal world would* allow us to make the 350 miles to Cape Town in one hop. The timing *could possibly maybe if we’re incredibly lucky* be absolutely perfect as we *might just about arrive* in time for an eagerly-anticipated visit from Alex’s mum on the 27th. We can’t wait to see you Paulina!

[sections bounded by ‘*’ denote text that has been modified by Alex in an attempt to minimise probability of jinxing the weather……. time will tell whether these efforts have been sufficient]


  • Adrienne

    I was born in Port Elizabeth! Left when I was 3 so do not remember a thing, but my family talk about how windy it was living there! Enjoy!

    Adrienne Hintz

    • Sarah

      Wow, it’s a small world. I can’t say we’ve seen much of Port Elizabeth yet but it seems like a very nice place and we have a few days to explore. The Beach Street Brewery is at the top of Alex’s list. The penguin colony at the Cape Recipe reserve is at the top of mine 🙂

  • Alan Brooks

    If you get through this, you will get through anything! Mum is getting excited at the prospect of seeing you and is stocking up with rum!

  • Vicky Hamshere

    I am with you Sarah, at the penguin colony! Love them…They all have such different personalities! This blog is awesome and you are a fabulous poet too. Alex’s maternal step-great-grandmother (!) was from Durban. Did you stop there? I never realised that South Africa had such a long south coastline…you two have really opened my eyes to so much I didn’t know about our amazing world, despite having been to all seven continents! Happy continuing travels. Love to you both, Vicky

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