I forgot to mention in the last blog that former South Africans Dave & Shauna from S/V Dragon, who now live in New Zealand, were in Durban for the holidays and stopped by to say hello several times and invite me for food and drinks.  It was great to catch up with them.  Wes and I handled lines for them through the Panama Canal and Lauren and I had a memorable climb with Dave to the peak of Bora Bora.  I had been reminded of them when looking at a plaque and displayed newspaper/magazine cuttings in the yacht club that came from an epic storm that beat-up a yacht race pretty good in the 80’s.  Dave’s name was listed as the skipper of a boat that was knocked down or rolled, dismasted, and sustained other damage, but made it back to port unassisted.  One boat was lost with all crew in the storm, and one is now a famous photograph after being driven ashore on the Wild Coast and being tossed well up onto a high rocky ledge by massive waves.

There were also a couple of interesting sights on the way out that I didn’t mention.  One was a spot of very strong and turbulent current/overflow as I was leaving.  It was actually two areas, both with the tell-tale surface signs of large currents.  One area was filled with breakers when there were no shallows, and right next to it was an area I sailed through that looked like boiling water, with lumpy, undulating, bobbing waves covered with small wavelets.  There was nearly a 2 knot counter current through that spot, but it didn’t last long.  It’s strange to see what must be water that has made it’s was all the way across the Indian Ocean now colliding with the coastal shelf and the coastal Agulhas current.  Another odd site was several boobies and gannets resting in the water.  The birds themselves are a common sight in the trades, but always in the air.  I guess in the light winds it made more sense to quit with the flapping and take a breather.

Not long after typing the last blog, I found a southbound current, and as usual, it lasted for the first half of the night and by the second half it was gone and maybe even replaced by a slight counter current.  By the next day, the wind was pumping from the NNE at 20-30 knots and the slight counter current was resulting in what are probably the largest and steepest waves I’ve seen (at least 4 meters).  Only the jib was up, and the boat never had a problem, but I actually jumped up to run out and watch a couple of them that I saw massing up behind the boat and put on a life jacket / harness and PLB for what ended up being no good reason.  When we finally left the small counter current around sunset, the wave height dropped dramatically.  I really don’t want to see what it’s like to be out in the strong current when a big blow and swell come in.

When I changed course from following the coastline to heading toward East London and nearing the shore, the wind started to die.  To time my arrival for daylight at about 4:30 am, I furled the jib and ran on bare poles (we still have the furled jib, mainsail under cover, and deck structure as windage) at between 2 and 4 knots, with the autopilot steering happily all the time.

DSC_0607 Moon hanging over the East London skyline at dawn

Single handing has been an interesting experience that definitely isn’t for me, and I don’t think it’s just because I’ve never been a big fan of the idea.  I’ve always enjoyed sailing for the social aspects – spending fun and memorable times on the water with friends, and for the ability to see otherwise difficult to reach destinations and experience them in a unique and less touristy way.  There was a period when I didn’t anticipate having a close friend or partner that was able to circumnavigate with me, and during that period I saved money but didn’t really have an interest in taking the trip.  The joy of it for me comes from sharing the experiences and adventures with someone.  I’ve always thought single handing was for people that want to set records, have something to prove to themselves, can’t find a woman who’ll have them (sorry, most single-handers are guys), can’t afford crew, or can’t get on well with others in a small space.  I’m definitely not going for any records, but I don’t know that I’m liking the way the rest of the list looks at the moment.  Single handing is good for my figure, though.  For me, cooking at sea, especially in the type of seas that often get kicked up around here, is generally more likely to result in food passing up and out my mouth than down and in, so there weren’t any gourmet dishes, though I did manage a couple of warm things to eat.  Having seasickness and hunger being so related gets to be a little annoying after a while, especially when the seas build up.  You get feeling hungry, but cooking makes you feel sick, so you don’t eat, which makes you feel sick.  Luckily I had enough fruit, snacks, etc. to keep me going for two days and I’m sure that with time to get my sea legs or in calmer conditions it wouldn’t be as big of an issue. For the record, no feeding the fish for me since the passage leaving New Zealand in May.  If I can manage for a few more days of sailing, I’ll have one full ocean under my belt without any chunky donations on my part.  There are a lot of places to go and things to do that are fun by yourself, but being at sea definitely isn’t one of them for me.

The safety issue is a problem as well.  On long passages in mid ocean, catching a bit of sleep, perhaps with the radar and AIS alarms set, isn’t such a big deal.  Here, the route along the coast here is in the middle or at the edge of a shipping highway.  I had ships passing on both sides constantly, and of course the AIS decided that now would be a great time to act up.  Clearly it’s longing for some holiday time off.  There were ships that passed within 2 miles of me that never showed up on the AIS and others that would blink on and off the display, mostly off.  I removed and checked all the connections, opened it up to check for water damage, did a master reset on the chartplotter that displays the AIS info, disconnected the radio that feeds through, and verified the antenna seemed to be working, taking several breaks to let my stomach settle from the concentration and motion.  No dice.  It did seem to be a little bit better after I put it all back together, but it’s still not working properly.  Only once did I see a ship that looked like it was going to run me down, however, and it was coming from astern (where closing speeds are less than 10 knots instead of over 20 for the ships coming from ahead).  After a couple of calls on the radio, a nice South African fellow came on and said that they could see me and that they would change course, then he asked a few questions about our trip.  In general, we seem to be visible on everyone’s radar, which is good to know.  Luckily, the rain squalls dotting the coastline never found me, so I never lost visibility.

Losing consciousness is another thing.  You have to sleep sometime.  The goal was not to sleep more than 15 minutes at a time, but my wristwatch alarm isn’t up to waking me up all of the time.  After snoozing trough one alarm and waking up to find that a ship had just steamed past me from ahead, I tried always taking it off and setting it on the pillow next to me with the wrist strap wrapped around my ear, and that worked pretty well for the first night.  I thought I was doing well on the second night as well until halfway through the night, after I’d changed course to cross the shipping lanes and head into port.  I suddenly awoke at midnight sweating laying on my side (it’s been pretty cold at night so I had pants and a sweatshirt on).  I can’t recall exactly what time I was last up to check, but I think I must have slept for over an hour.  My watch was still laid over my neck, right beside my ear, so I think a louder alarm clock is in order.  I think I was through the dangerous traffic before I fell asleep, but my course was straight for the shore.  I was about 20 miles off when I woke up (any and all former roommates of mine are laughing now, as I’m a notorious loud alarm snooze smasher).  It reminded me of the time Antoine (the famous French singer/sailor single hander that we met in the Tuamotus) said he was sailing for Bora Bora and fell asleep, only to be awakened by his catamaran being lifted sideways by a the large waves starting to stand up and break on Bora Bora’s fringing reef.  He recovered just quickly enough to bring the boat about before it sailed onto the last wave that breaks onto the reef.  There’s another famous story from the first solo round-the-world race where either Robin Knox Johnston or Bernard Motissier was awakened by dolphins clicking and chirping when the wind had changed directions and his wind vane was steering him on a collision course with the southern extremities of New Zealand.

Anyway, I’m just past 1/3 of the way to where I’m trying to be by New Years and if the forecast holds, I’m hoping to make it in two more hops.  I should leave tomorrow for a 130 nm run to Port Elizabeth and then just sleep there for half a day or so before leaving at night to make a 3 day run to Simon’s Town in False Bay, which is across the way from Cape Town, where we’re hoping to ring in the New Year.

For now, I’m tied up at a dock here in what seems to be pretty clean and quiet East London wishing I hadn’t fallen asleep for that hour or two so that fatigue would overcome the nerves that are used to being alert and I would just fall asleep.