We deal with setbacks before exploring South Africa’s Imfolozi wildlife park. Our rewards come in the form of a unique experience and insight.

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Richards Bay (ZAF)

“Let’s first work on the boat, then explore the countryside”, Ivar says in a strict tone. Floris sighs deeply. He has read about the world-famous South African game parks in the region and is eager to go on safari. Despite his enthusiasm, he cannot deny that we have work to do. Brown rusty spots on the deck and in the cockpit stare at us intently. “The longer we wait, the worse it gets,” Ivar justifies his determination. “While you attack those spots, I’ll see why the engine’s battery alarm went off as we entered Richards Bay. We are probably done in a few days.” But will it really be that simple?

Repair or Replace?

Ivar runs a test of the engine, which reveals that the alternator no longer supplies power. He immediately sets out for help and soon finds Morgan, a tech jack-of-all-trades at Zululand Yacht Club. “The alternator is broken,” he reports from the test bench a day later. “We can fix it, but a new one is on the shelf and costs about the same,” he continues. We realize that it is smarter to buy a new one than to repair the 17-year-old alternator. Even though we use our engine as little as possible and we are not dependent on an alternator for our energy balance as we have solar power and a wind generator, we still want the entire system to work properly. “Hopefully they can recycle the materials from the old one,” Ivar thinks, wishfully.

Dremel King

In the meantime, Floris has started to routinely attack the countless brown rusty spots. Although the maintenance we did in New Zealand is still fresh in his memory, we have already sailed more than 10,000 nautical miles since then. The combination of a steel boat and saltwater remains difficult, of course. “The gift that keeps on giving”, Floris remarks in frustration.

First, he removes the rust stripes, so that the core of the paint damage becomes visible. He then numbers all the spots with pieces of masking tape, to prevent overlooking one later. There are more than a hundred spots, a new record. Floris then picks up the electric dremel, a multi-purpose tool with a fast-spinning spindle. He meticulously grinds away all the rust until the bare steel emerges again. Next steps: degreasing, applying primer and paint.

Setback

But soon Floris calls Ivar. “Have a look. I can’t seem to remove all the rust around the foredeck hatch and at the cockpit edges.” Ivar concludes that a more powerful tool is needed. He takes out the grinder and hangs up cloths against the dust. But the more rust he grinds away, the worse it seems to get. The stainless-steel ring on which the foredeck hatch is mounted appears to be pushed upward by rust. That explains the brown cracks in the paint. Water must have seeped through these cracks, Ivar fears. To fix this leaking, useless little hatch once and for all, we need to remove it and close the deck with a steel plate, he decides. Fortunately, Morgan knows a good welder, and he can start the next day. Meanwhile, Floris rinses the cushions from the forecastle. They were indeed soaked with salt water, due to the many waves that washed over the deck on the passage across the Indian Ocean.

Another Setback

While the welder is working on the foredeck, Ivar discovers that the rust at the cockpit edges continues under the wooden planks. “I have to take these off first”, he concludes. In good spirits, Ivar starts to remove the winches that are mounted on top of the planks. Then he cuts away the sealant with which the planks are attached to the underlying steel frame. Only after hours of hard work the wooden planks come loose. What we see next stuns us: whole pieces of steel have transformed into a rusty mess. “It appears we have some more work for the welder”, Ivar sighs. Floris is disappointed and sees the safari adventure go up in smoke, too.

Every Advantage Has its Disadvantage

“The advantage of a steel boat is that you can find someone anywhere in the world who can repair steel,” Ivar says regularly. “The disadvantage is that this is unfortunately quite often necessary,” Floris invariably remarks. After closing the hole in the foredeck, our welder gets to work with the steel in the cockpit edge: entire pieces must be renewed. While Luci spits out showers of sparks through the grinder and screams like a suckling pig, we do our utmost to prevent these nasty, rust-causing steel splinters from spreading. We also must guide the welder and his steelworker, constantly clean and apply many layers of primer and paint on the rusty spots. There seems to be no end in sight.

Shared Sorrow is Half the Sorrow

Fortunately, entertainment at the Zululand Yacht Club eases our suffering. They regularly organize fun evenings there, sometimes even with live music. Three times a week there is a South African ‘braai’, as they call the barbecue here. It doesn’t take long before the locals know exactly who owns the corn cobs, courgettes and stuffed portobello mushrooms that we bravely and stubbornly grill between the gigantic pieces of red meat. On other evenings we make our way through almost the entire menu of the yacht club restaurant. The prices are so attractive that cooking ourselves is not worth it. The time and energy we save with this is better spent tackling all the boat chores.

We also appear not to be the only ones with boat maintenance challenges. Every international sailor has his or her own story. From broken autopilots to leaks in the cabin: shared sorrow is half the sorrow. The warm bath of the nice encounters with foreign sailors certainly helps. For example, we meet Kayo, a Japanese solo sailor. She sailed non-stop from Darwin to Richards Bay in 54 days, an impressive feat. Smiling, she tackles her long to-do list to keep her meticulously cared-for boat in top condition.

Mutual Love

More than two weeks later than planned, everything is welded, painted, sealed and mounted again. Luci is in great shape when we leave her alone in Richards Bay and drive a rental car towards the Imfolozi wildlife park. Kayo joins us on a walking safari in Imfolozi, a well-known game reserve. “Luci is a demanding lady”, Ivar reflects on our unplanned maintenance episode. “She only has to give a squeak and we’ll tend to her.” “Very good!” Kayo says. “Boats are like women: all the love you give them, you get back.” Now that the suffering is behind us, we laugh heartily with her. She’s right, of course. Luci has been taking us safely to the most amazing and remote destinations for almost seven years now!

Under a Watchful Eye

At Imfolozi’s base camp for hikers we meet our guide Mphile and her colleague Spha. They lead us to the tents and emphasize that the camp is not fenced. “Elephants, lions, leopards, wild dogs, giraffes, wildebeests, baboons, buffaloes and other animals that live in the park: they can all come here,” they report. The proximity to so many wild animals around us excites us. However, the rifles that Mphile and Spha constantly carry with them don’t exactly fuel that excitement. “Pay attention at night. If you see eyes, it is better not to go to the toilet block,” they caution. We hardly sleep that night because of all the animal noises. Luckily, we don’t have to go to the bathroom.

Guests in the Wild

The next morning, we pack our backpacks for the multi-day hiking expedition. Our group is unusually small: just us, Kayo and the two guides. Soon we cross a river, which fortunately turns out to be shallow. “Don’t worry, the crocodiles and hippos should be further downstream,” says Mphile with a big smile. Fortunately, she is right, and we reach the other shore safely.

“Behind the tree!” Mphile suddenly shouts. We sprint as fast as we can to the designated tree. As we hide behind the trunk, a colossal rhinoceros with her calf races right past us. This is exactly what we were warned about while studying the rhinos from a distance. “They can be very aggressive, especially if there is a calf involved”, Mphile told us. We were just focused on getting closer to get a better photo composition of the ponderous, peacefully grazing vegetarians. We know better now and are glad this ended well. What more adventures await us in the South African wilderness?

We follow Mphile and Spha over countless miles of hiking trails. “Large animals have made these trails”, Mphile explains, as if she sensed the question coming. “Just like us, they don’t like having to struggle through thorny bushes all the time either.” While she flawlessly finds her way in this labyrinth of unmarked paths, she talks extensively about excrements, plants and insects. We regularly see rhinos, zebras and impalas, an antelope species. To our disappointment, they are very wary and usually keep quite a distance. “Animals are like our brothers and sisters: we should treat them with respect. That’s why we don’t want to use our guns, only in an emergency”, Mphile says. She describes what we all feel: we are clearly guests in the wild.

Sleeping with Rhinos

After we arrive at a flat patch next to the river, we set up camp for the night. Our guides fetch a sheet against the rain. Five mats with sleeping bags fit exactly under it. We gather wood for a campfire. “The most important thing is that the fire stays on all night”, Mphile stresses. “When animals smell the smoke, they keep their distance.” After a simple but tasty meal prepared on the campfire by our guides, darkness falls. The night watches begin, and we take turns, moving the logs further and further towards the center of the campfire. We hear a cacophony of animal sounds. The screams of the baboons sound very close. “What a bizarre idea that the rhinos practically sleep next to us…” Floris whispers in awe.

Zulu King Shaka

The stiffness after a short night quickly disappears when we go on a hike in the morning. Our first destination is a viewpoint, where Mphile tells us about the history of her people. “This is the rock of Shaka, the most famous Zulu king. He often came here to hunt. The Zulus did this in a controlled manner. They only took what they needed, so that the natural balance was never disturbed.” We see how the river meanders through the landscape, and we spot several elephants in the distance. We realize that large parts of South Africa must have looked something like this before European colonization.

Lights Off!

After another night in the wilderness, we return to base camp where a shower and a meal await us. When we are back in our tent in the evening, we suddenly hear rustling and gnawing nearby. Floris grabs the headlamp, unzips our tent and shines outside. What a spectacle: not even a ship’s length from our tent, two adult male elephants feast on tree branches. “Quickly, turn off the light!” hisses Ivar. “You might alarm them, and they will storm right at us!” But the elephants seem not to have noticed us at all and continue to gnaw on undisturbed.

Successful Rewilding

Before leaving Imfolozi, we take the opportunity to drive through another part of the park. The animals here are used to cars, so we see giraffes, zebras, and wild dogs up close. In the visitor center we learn that a hundred years ago the rhinos in South Africa were almost extinct due to poaching. Thanks to the establishment of this gigantic wildlife park, the rhinos are now so well protected that there are too many of them. To help restore nature’s balance, the park managers regularly anesthetize animals and move them to other parts of Africa.

Not only the rhinos are doing well here, all other native wildlife, insects and plants also thrive. The social benefits are also very visible: the local population finds work as guides and in the souvenir shops, lodgings and restaurants in or surrounding the park. Or as a park police officer, because there are still poachers. Tourists like us provide the necessary finances. We conclude: if you sleep with the rhinos, you not only have a unique wildlife experience, but you also support an extremely successful form of rewilding, which is both ecologically and socially beneficial.

As we drive back to Richards Bay, we reflect on our adventures. After all the boat maintenance setbacks, we couldn’t have asked for bigger rewards!

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