Mykonos downwind dash

By PG Jonker

[Published in Leisure Wheels, September 2010]

“Board at own risk” read the notice on the side of Mafuta where she lay on her mooring at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, Cape Town.  Both sides of the boat, mind you, just to make sure that the message is “inescapably clear”, to quote Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean.  Hah!  Should have known there would be a catch somewhere.  When skipper and owner Matthys Lourens invited to a weekend of carefree sailing bliss on a yacht I should have thought it is too good to be true.  There had to be strings attached. 

Mafuta is a 37 feet Bavarian cruiser / racer, I’m told.

Three cabins down below can accommodate 6 people sharing in comfort.  The bunks in the dining area can also be converted to sleep a further two people.

The occasion is the downwind dash from Royal Cape Yacht Club (Table Bay) to Mykonos, Langebaan.  A spirit of expectation is in the air.  Everyone enjoys a breakfast at the RCYC.  Pretended good natured backslapping through clenched teeth with accompanying good wishes is in good order.

Downwind dash

OK, we all know the South Easter is the hallmark of Cape Town.  Hence, a downwind dash with the South Easter in your back.  On the wings of the wind down to Langebaan.

Starting time is 08h30.  It is an overcast and absolute wind still morning.  The sea is as calm and flat as can be.   At the starting line there is a jostling for position.  The best position is at the windward side of the starting line, so everyone aims for that spot. 

Now this is a simple matter of supply and demand.  There is only one uppermost upwind spot.  And there is only so much space at that end of the line.  There is a marked absence of a spirit of ubuntu and sharing among contenders.  To the contrary, colourful language is in the order.  It is done loudly, and often with all crew member participating in the exercise – one would not want the receiver of the message to be under any misunderstanding as to what is conveyed to him.

The hooter goes, and off we go.  All merrily dashing down wind, mos.  

Now there are certain basic conditions for successful sailing.  First and foremost, you need a boat.  Check.  You also need plenty of water.  Check.  Then, of course, there is the little thing about the wind, you know.  And this is lacking on this glorious morning.

A massive tanker (OK, I know all tankers are massive, but I need to mention it for the effect) comes steaming out of the harbour and handsomely outpaces all the contending yachts.  Maybe it was a fast tanker, OK.

It’s a bit of an anti-climax.  Everyone is worked up, adrenalin is pumping, sails are in position, and for me as an outsider it appears as if friendships have even been put at risk with some well aimed obscenities during the jostling at the starting line.  And now there is absolutely no wind. 

The upside is the pleasure in seeing some of the yachts even moving backwards instead of forward.  But it’s only funny when it happens to other yachts. 

Eventually the wind starts pushing.  Two hours later we find ourselves near Robben Island.  In the channel between Robben Island and the main land we encounter quite a number of whales.  They are amazingly big.  It is difficult to describing them civilised without resorting to some expletives.  Majestic should do.

The sound of them breathing reverberates through the air.  Every time one of them surfaces and you hear it breathing it feels like you are right on top of the animal, only to see that you are as much as a few hundred meters away.

Absent from our crew on this trip is Ralph, who was the senior skipper on board the previous year.  Ralph made international headlines in 2010 by surviving a whale jumping on his yacht (

Four and a half hours later we find ourselves opposite Koeberg.  By car it would have been some 20 minutes, depending on traffic, to have reached Koeberg.  The word “racing” seems peculiarly out of place for what we are doing.  By five o’clock the afternoon we pass Dassen Island between Dassen and Yzerfontein, now doing a healthy 7,5 knots, which brings back a bit of a smile amongst the crew, with Skipper Matthys Lourens at the helm.

Two dolphins join us.  With absolute grace and ease they play around the boat.  Our speed is not much of a challenge to them, and they soon become bored and go their own way.

After dark we enter Saldanha Bay harbour, aiming for Mykonos through the passage between Jutten Island and the main land. 

In the dark two other yachts overtake us.  It’s a fascinating sight.  The yellow moon is a bit more than half full, with the hare in the moon peering down on us.  To our starboard side we can only make out the two port lights of the overtaking yachts.  It is hypnotic, with the purposeful movement of the boat under your feet, and the whooshing sound only of the water passing underneath. 

Skipper Matthys decides to give these guys a run for their money and instructs for the spinnaker to be hoisted.  However, the spinnaker refuses to deploy due to the lines becoming entangled.  In the dark it is not possible to rectify, so we give it up as a bad job and watch the form of the other two yachts disappearing in the darkness.

Thirteen hours after we left Table Bay, at 21h26, we pass the finishing line. 

In no time the fire is lit for a braai.  A stainless steel box with a lid is a permanent fixture on the aft port side for this purpose. 

Another hard day in Africa simmers to an end.



3 Responses to “Mykonos downwind dash”

  • Pg – Dit klink ongelooflik lekker !!!
    Weet net nie of ek oor die rammelende waters sal kan seil , sonder om seesiek te word nie!

  • Ek raak self hondsiek, maar dis waarvoor seesiekpille mos daar is! PGJ

  • persoonlik verkies ek my voete stewig op die aarde en teen daai spoed onthou ek hoekom….