Timing is Everything
We soon agree on the tactic to deal with the daunting sail ahead of us: coast hopping. The biggest challenge in this sailing area is the rapidly alternating, strong northerly and southerly winds. The latter is especially notorious, as the mighty Agulhas sea-current runs southward. Strong winds against this strong current can create monster waves. In those circumstances, it is important to seek shelter in a safe harbour, of which there are only a handful along the route. So timing is everything!
Our first weather window is short, so we stop in Durban. Fortunately, our arrival is calmer than the departure from Richards Bay. The northerly wind that brought us here is almost gone, an omen that the weather is about to change. We are happy that we can shelter here when the wind blows strongly from the south in the coming days.
While moored at the very hospitable Point Yacht Club, we keep a close eye on the weather. The club is in the center of Durban, which, unfortunately, is plagued by unemployment and crime. On the bright side, our South African friends Marlize, Jacques and their girls visit us and act as ambassadors to their country, driving us around town and introducing us to their favorite beach club. We spend a bittersweet day together, as it is also time to bid them farewell.
Thunder and Current
After a few days the wind changes to the north again. We calculate that we should be able to reach East London, about 250 miles away. The Agulhas current is reported to be near the coast on this stretch, so we only need to keep a few miles of distance from the beach to take advantage of it. But when the beginning northerly wind slowly carries us south, we don’t notice any current. Threatening storm clouds build up in the evening, lighting up the horizon in the distance almost every second. While trying to estimate how the bad weather will develop, we are suddenly startled by a bright flash and a deafening bang.
“That was very close!” Floris exclaims in horror. A few more near misses follow. Lightning strikes in front of and next to us, while the thunder booms loudly above us. Tensely, we sit in the cockpit until the we can no longer hear these impressive forces of nature. It was undoubtedly the heaviest thunderstorm we have ever experienced, so we are glad to have escaped unscathed.
The next morning, the Agulhas current is still nowhere to be seen, even though we have already sailed about 100 miles. Just when we start to worry about our schedule, our speed picks up very quickly on the GPS. Soonafter, the current picks up to almost six knots, propelling us southwards at 11 knots. In the middle of the night, we enter the harbor of East London with strong winds. Big waves break even within the harbor piers, but Ivar steers Luci with a steady hand to calmer waters. We breathe a sigh of relief after we tie up to a mooring buoy belonging to the local Yacht Club.