Category “English – Sail stories”

Night Nav

Sunday, 29 August, 2010

By PG Jonker

The Friday we sailed from Table Bay to Mykonos, Langebaan, on the Downwind Dash.  On Saturday we had the Pursuit Race which finished at about 17h00.  I’d rather not say how well it went in either of the two races.

Skippers Matthys & Ralph then decided it’s time to head back home while the weather was good.   Should the weather turn resulting in a strong sea and South Easter against us, the prolonged pounding Mafuta would take is simply so bad that the yacht will then rather have to stay docked at Langebaan until the weather improved. 

We put the mainsail up for stability and motored out of the Langebaan lagoon into a windless sunset evening.

We left the Langebaan lagoon and turned in a Southerly direction, heading in the general direction of Cape Town.

[Lighthouse on the Southern head to entrance to Langebaan]

Now this is the epitomise of peace and quiet.  The soft throbbing of the three cylinder Volvo engine underneath us (one feels it, rather than to hear it) has this absolute tranquilizing effect on me.   OK, maybe the sea sick pill was also doing its bit in this regard.  But this is the most serene setting I can imagine.

[Skipper Matthys Lourens deep in thought]

By nightfall it became rather chilly.  Well, it actually became really cold.  We became engulfed in very dense fog.  It was a moonless night, and with the fog around you it had a rather disorienting effect.   Thank goodness for a GPS and experience skippers.

We aimed for House Bay, a snug bay on the Northerly side of Dassen Island, about 11 km’s off Yzerfontein.  The plan was to lay over there until the next morning, and then motor home at first light.

As we approached Dassen Island its lighthouse could be seen coming around every few seconds.  However, entering House Bay turned out not to be as simple as motoring in and dropping the anchor.  The navigational map of Dassen Island bears names like “Foul”, and “Roaring Sisters”, and the remains of ships unsuccessfully navigating around the island bears testimony of it not being plain sailing.

House Bay is in the form of a horse shoe (well, this is probably the typical form of any bay, not so?).  The idea is to try to enter, and stay, as close as to the centre of the bay as possible to steer clear of the dangerous parts.  Apart from the lighthouse’s light coming around regularly, however, we could see absolutely nothing.

Johan van Dyk made himself comfortable at the navigation table where he plotted our position on the map from GPS readings every two minutes.  Mafuta barely moved.  I was posted on the bow as a look-out.  In the pitch dark and fog I would hear the surf breaking, and see the light from the lighthouse.  However, the next time I would hear the surf or see the lighthouse, it would be clear that the yacht in the meantime turned through 50 degrees or more, without me getting any feeling of movement at all.  Very disorientating.

Eventually, upon Johan’s instructions from the nav table, the anchor was dropped.  By that time his map looked like kiddies’ art.

When the sun came up the next morning we could see that we were positioned perfectly more or less in the middle of House Bay.

The good conditions prevailed, only now without the fog, and we motored back to Cape Town in a further uneventful trip.  More or less uneventful, depending on who is telling the story.

After a nice, sea sick pill induced nap, I eventually came up from down below to see what’s happening outside.  Still being half asleep I stood right there where the boom’s slight movement gave me a wack at the side of my head.  This convinced me to go back down below for another snooze.  An hour later I felt somewhat more rested and went back up again.  Peering out over the ocean something caught my eye and I stooped down to see what it was.   Just as I stooped down, from the corner of my eye, I caught sight the boom swinging past my head, this time missing it with only millimetres.  It would have been an exact repeat of the incident of an hour earlier if something did not distract me!

No further incidents detracted from a very enjoyable weekend.  I still sport the bump on my head, though.


Mykonos downwind dash

Saturday, 21 August, 2010

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.


Pursuit Race – Langebaan

Saturday, 21 August, 2010

By PG Jonker

The Saturday after the down wind dash from Table Bay to Mykonos, Langebaan, a pursuit race is hosted by the Mykonos yacht club.  Boats are set off in staggered fashion depending on their handicap.  In theory, if everyone sails to the best ability of his boat, everyone should finish at the same time.  Which means that the boat that finishes first takes line honours and need not wait for handicap calculations to be performed to know what his final position is.

Mafuta departs at 11h25:54.  Precisely, ek sê.  After the first turn we have the wind from behind.  This is now dashing!  The wind is blowing at some 25 knots, leading to the skipper’s decision to rather not hoist the spinnaker.  The decision turns out not to be over cautious.  We have great fun watching other boats getting bogged down in the water at peculiar angels as the wind in their spinnakers keeps them there.  One yacht loses his spinnaker in the wind. 

Those who successfully get their spinnakers up, though, come flying past us never to be seen again for the rest of the day. 

The race takes the whole day.  By the time we are back near the entrance to the Mykonos yacht club the wind is blowing to up to 35 knots. 

It turns out that some masochist worked out the route.  Just as you think the end is in sight, you realise you have another few legs of the race left, and that you might only see this spot again an hour or more later.  The increasing wind and water splashing over the deck makes the taking of pictures impossible – except, of course, if you have an underwater camera.

The crew hangs over the guardrails to stabilise the boat and keep it more upright against the push of the wind.  Those dressed in proper foulies are still warm and dry.  I can report that the municipal type of rain suits that you buy at your nearest hardware store are not made for this kind of conditions. 

By the time we reach the finishing line we are pretty tired, and most of us also wet.  Later the evening there is a prize giving ceremony, but our name is not called out.  I can only assume it to have been an error on the side of the judges. 


A Whale of a time

Wednesday, 21 July, 2010

A Tale of a Whale

[Do not try this at home]

Today I’m proud to say that I know Ralph Mothes.  I had many a memorable sailing outing on Matthys Lourens’ yacht, Mafuta, with Ralph also joining the crowd.  I’m  glad also to note that I do not have to use the word “know” in the past tense, as Ralph is still around.

It’s not any man that can boast an encounter with a whale and live to tell the tale.

On Sunday, July 18thRalph and Paloma Werner were on an outing with Ralph’s yacht Intrepid in Table Bay harbour.    Intrepid is a 10m yacht with a steel hull that Ralph uses, apart from sailing it for his own pleasure,  for training at Cape Town Sailing Academy.

Apparently Ralph spotted the whale from a distance away where a motor boat was circling the whale.  The whale then made it into Intrepid’s direction, breaching once.  Intrepid was in its way, but could not move due to lack of wind and the fact that it’s engine was not running.

The whale disappeared under the water, and then breached again right in front of Intrepid.  A picture had been taken, apparently by a gentleman from Botswana who is reportedly only known as James, and who was on another boat at that time (obviously).  This picture is causing a bit of a debate in the media on its authenticity or not.

The whale landed on the deck (actually on the roof), dismantling the mast and causing some R150000 worth in damages.  [Contact Ralph if you have a spare mast]. 

Ralph reckons that they would have gone down if this was a glass fibre boat.  A whale of a tale, huh?   But now I wonder:   can you imagine the story the whale had to tell when he got home?


For more detail, see the links below.

Heads, you lose …..

Saturday, 19 June, 2010

[Story also in Afrikaans @]

I found sailing to be a rather interesting learning school.

For instance, did you know that the toilet on a yacht is called the “heads”?  And the heads are not “downstairs”, but “down below”, in yacht speak.  Also, it is not “down under”, as this is where Australia is.  This means that you do not announce that you are going for a wee in the toilet.  No, much more exotic than that. 

“I’d say, ol’ chap, just going down below to use the heads, I say”.  

So I thought I better learn how to use this appliance.  Well, I know how to use it, but I mean, what to do after I’ve used it, understand.  OK, so I ask the skipper to give me proper instructions on how to flush the heads.  The instructions went something like the following.

“You flip this little lever to the left, open the sea cocks, and pump. Then you flip the little lever to the right, pump again, and close the sea cocks.” 

Goodness me, I’ve heard of tennis elbows and sea man’s feet, but sea cocks sound rather serious.  No, I get told, it’s not a medical condition; it’s the swivel faucets to be found in the plumbing around the heads.

Now you need to understand that I’m not the handy kind of guy.  It takes some time for me to assimilate instructions such as these.   So OK, the lever that gets flipped to the left, is that now if facing forward or backwards?  No, when looking forward, I’m instructed.  Ag, never mind what direction you’re facing, it goes to the portside.  OK, good, but which lever is it that we are actually talking about in the first place……?

The final instructions:  when done, make sure both sea cocks are closed.  

OK, so now I’ve got the basic terminology.  Lever to the left, pump 15 times.  Lever to the right, pump 15 times.

And all I wanted to know is how to flush the toilet!