A bit of travel, sustainability, crème brûlée - that sort of thing.


Sailing, at last!

By on April 10, 2014

At last, the day arrived. After fifty days of waiting, I was madly excited. After more than four years of building, the owner and builders were emotional. We were leaving Knysna behind, and sailing 300nm or so to Cape Town.

There were many friends at the DryDock restaurant, where the boat had spent so many months attracting tourists. Tables were brought out, champagne and fantastic fingerfood provided by our smiling and generous Captain Dario. Even the local media came to interview us and photograph the event. Of course, while all this was happening we were frantically running around finishing things off. We even picked up a hitch-hiking sailor in the last moments! As Dario said, if we wait until we are ready we will never leave.

An emotional send off, pushed right to the minute, and we were motoring out of the marina toward ‘The Heads’, where we needed to be before high tide for a safe exit from the estuary into open water. We were setting the sail while cruising under engine through the narrow channel between sandbanks, and properly stowing and securing the last loose items right up until our exit over the wave. But somehow we were ready, or ready enough, and we set sails at last and headed toward the sunset.

With a crew of 12 the pressure is eased. We worked four hour shifts, in watches of four. I was on 0400-0800, and 1600-2000. Both sunrise and sunset, which is beautiful, but both breakfast and dinner too, which is less perfect. The galley makes everything feel more ‘hectic’, as they say down here, and I don’t intend to get seasick.

I spent the whole journey in a learning frenzy. Learning the feel of the rudders, and the timing of the swing of each correction, plotting positions on the paper charts, working out the electronic interfaces for the gps, radar, and chart plotter, setting the screecher and learning it’s tells, rigging a preventer for the boom, choosing stars to follow for a steady heading, finding our flow with tasks like keeping the  logbook updated and making coffee… time flew by on the first day. I wanted to be in the middle of everything, and know why each decision was made. My first sunset at sea was stunning. But soon enough it was time for a stint in the galley. Something easy for the first night. Burgers and chips.  And I was starving.

What was I thinking!

At the helm, following the horizon with the wind in your lungs, it’s easy to feel good. At the stove, with grease spattering, rolling with the swell, hot and humid, smells you can taste, and focussing on chopping onions makes it easy to feel bad. It was my challenge, a lonely test of suffering.
Thankfully, suffering is not something I hate. It is suffering, and intense, but also a challenge. Challenges are good. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the satisfaction; the bigger the satisfaction, the harder its worth trying for it.
By the time twelve burgers were cooked and assembled, chips cooked and salted, and burns sworn at and treated, I swore I would never eat a burger again. Greasy food is horrible.  In fact, I was determined I would never eat anything again. An hour in the galley had not cost me my lunch, but it had been a near thing. I was so green that I glowed. But it was a victory! I brought the food up to the flying bridge, carried like a medal of honour.
With the cool wind in my face and the stars as a reference I was hungry again in minutes. And not only hungry, but deeply relieved. After months of being quietly terrified of the unknown misery of seasickness, I no longer was. Not that I feel I could scoff a deep fried mars bar  while riding the mast in a storm, but the everyday swell was alright. To some extent at least, seasickness can be defeated by the mind.
Though the stugeron probably helped a bit too.

32 hours later, I was up and ready for our 0400 watch. Bundled up warm, in foul weather gear to keep out the wind, our bleary eyed watch took over on the bridge. Captain Dario was first at the helm, and the stars were gleaming all around. The gps compass was not showing us a constant heading, so calculating our course over ground with the paper charts and following the slowly rising stars kept us on course. After only 25 minutes Dario broke the peace. “What is that? Port bow. What the hell is it!?”

This was no drill. His voice made that clear. And so did our eyes. In the light of our spotlight we saw it, fifty metres or less off our port side was a mammoth bouy, floating silently by. Standing five metres above the water, listing heavily to one side, white but unlit and without reflectors for light or radar. 50 metres further to port and we would have been in the liferafts, with a shattered port hull. A deeply sobering moment. The sense in calibrating our gps compass came clear. Without a steady heading, the radar saw each target in a different place each rotation, and so saw it as noise. Not even a bouy at 50m was visible. And with the radar unreliable, four to a watch was not so relaxed. After that all eyes were to forward, scanning the sea for disaster.

On saturday the daylight brought calm seas and steady wind, and by lunchtime we were cruising at 15 knots under sail, approaching Cape Point with almost no swell.  Sailing at its best, with sunshine and perfect visibility putting all concerns to rest. With a shift in the wind to the west forecast, we made as much ground as we could before turning north up the coast past False Bay. By mid afternoon we were motoring in through the traffic separation zone, bringing Cape Town a new talking point for its waterfront. With a few niggles to sort out and some last bits of work to be finished, we will be here in Cape Town for at least a week more. But while Cape Town is a wonderful city, I can’t wait to get back on the water. She may be the best looking boat in the harbour, but Nereid’s built for sailing, and now she’s got a taste for it we won’t keep her moored for long.

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