Z E P H Y R

M y  S t o r y
P A G E   16


December 2007 to January 2008


And off we go... 9:06am 18th December 2007
And off we go... 9:06am 18th December 2007
The 18th December 2007 dawned bright and clear. We were all up having coffee by 6:30am. At 7:30am I met Tertius at the Customs office to have our passports stamped and to take my car up to his house where it will be stored. Elsabé made us more coffee and then we all went down to the moorings. We were ready to go and we all said our good buy's to each other and I am not ashamed to say that I shed a tear as this was the culmination of four and a half years of work, some of it very challenging and frustrating. We cast off at a little after 9am and motored slowly past the other yachts where there were people such as Gert (blowing his horn at us) and Anita, André Breedenkamp as well as Schalk and Heila who gave us a little wave. We then stowed the fenders and mooring lines, and took Zephyr out of the harbor (after asking Port Control for permission to leave) into the bay making a pass in front of the Yacht Club where Ann, Craig, Elsabé, Andrew and Jeannie waved to us for the last time. We hoisted the sails and set out on our heading towards Cape Town, some 249 nautical miles of sailing

Once we rounded the Mossel Bay peninsula, we set our heading to 229° and by the time we were across from Dana Bay (where Anton flashed a mirror at us) we (Tertius actually) said conditions were ok to hoist the ginnaker, which we duly did at 11:45am. Our boat speed went up from around 4 knots to 6,5 knots. This however did not last very long as the winds slowly picked up and when they got to around 19 knots at 4:30pm we took it down and hoisted the main and genoa sails. By 11pm we had to start reefing the sails as the wind had reached 25 knots gusting to 30 knots. We had a very spirited ride and were "pooped" (swells breaking over into the cockpit) quite a few times during the night. As it was completely dark, I could not see the swells that were curling over (which was probably a good thing) but I could hear them coming. One time, I was sitting right at the back of the cockpit on the port (left) side and was knocked clean off the seat by a breaking swell, not a very pleasant experience.

We reached and crossed Cape Agulhas at 5:15am on the 19th December, 20 hours and 10 minutes after leaving Mossel Bay which is very good going in a laden 36 foot yacht!!! I received an SMS from Natie at 4:45pm the same day saying that he was watching us from Cape Hangklip (the Eastern peninsula of False Bay) and he said we looked good out there. We were 7,5nm off the coast at that point so I assume he was watching us through binoculars. Little did we know then that some two hours later our main halyard will decide to snap at the splice rendering the main sail powerless. This happened at 6:15pm on the 19th December in the middle of the bight of False Bay (34°28'S and 18°40'E). There was no way we could climb the mast to see if we could rectify the problem as the sea was much too rough. We decided to bring the main sail down, leave the genoa out and motor-sail the 34nm to Hout Bay. Some 6 hours later we hove-to opposite the two Chapman's Peaks at 12:33am on the 20th December. I kitted up and climbed the mast to see what we could do but unfortunately the halyard had disappeared down the mast so I could not retrieve it. We then decided to motor the 2nm into Hout Bay proper and tie-up for the rest of the night. We were in bed by 2am for a welcome but un-scheduled sleep.

It was a blessing in disguise that I could not retrieve the main halyard earlier because when I went up the mast in daylight I noticed that the block (pulley) for the ginnaker had shattered. We also noticed that the lines going from the wind steering to the helm had chafed badly. We managed to get the main halyard back up the mast thanks to a spare pull-thru line I put in in Welkom. The ginnaker block was also replaced with a bigger, stronger block. We knotted and whipped the main halyard end to it's shackle and all was in order again. I decided to call Jürgen Appel from "Precisely" as Hout Bay was his home port to ask him if he knew where we could get some 8mm line for the wind steering system. As luck would have it he was in the marina so we made our way over to him and after looking at what he had to offer us, which was all too thick, he kindly drove us to the local hardware store to see what we could get there. Low and behold, not only did they have 8mm line but it was Dyneema© line which is exactly what we needed. So I bought 12m of the stuff as well as 20m of normal 6mm braid for lashing things down with. Jürgen took us back to the marina and we replaced all the wind steering lines with new stock. After tidying up we were ready to leave and at 3:40pm on the 20th December we cast off for the last time from South African shores, some 54 hours after leaving Mossel Bay.

We set a course of 310° and headed for Saint Helena island, 1,690nm away, in as straight a line as we could. We were on a 3 hours on, 3 hours off night watch system which was working quite well for us as the seas were still fairly rough at that stage. Sometime during the night of the 20th/21st December it got rough enough for the plastic storage drawers in the saloon to part company from their Velcro© holding straps, depositing tins of food etc. all over the floor. The next morning Tertius put the drawers back together and tidied up. I did a "Heath Robinson" repair to secure the drawers using some of the 6mm line we bought in Hout Bay. By 9am on the 20th December our position was 3255.3132'S and 01625.5633'E. At this time we also noticed that the batteries were not charging enough according to the power we were consuming. The electric water kettle which was being used through the inverter was identified as being one of the main culprits so we banished the kettle into a locker and started the generator for the first time. Power problems would plague us for weeks to come.

Our first fish on the trip - a yellow-fin tuna
Our first fish on the trip - a yellow-fin tuna
We started settling into a routine of short sleeps at night with longer sleeps during the day. It was also around this time that we started complaining about our sore bums. The constant and relentless movement of Zephyr was bruising our bottoms and we resorted to sitting on cushions from the saloon. This did help quite a lot. At 9am on the 22nd December our position was 3152.3992'S and 01450.3562'E. Tertius was still having problems with sea-sickness and his Stugeron sea-sick tablets were not doing their job. I managed to persuade Tertius to take a Valoid suppository (he can be quite stubborn sometimes - ha ha) and the change in him within 30 minutes was quite dramatic. So dramatic that within an hour he was busy in the galley cooking us a fantastic steak, mashed potatoes and petits pois green peas which was our first decent hot cooked meal since we left Mossel Bay, over 4 days ago. The seas were still quite rough but we were making good progress with boat speeds around 7 knots. On day 6, 23rd December we had to replace two of the blocks (pulleys) on the wind steering system with bigger diameter blocks as the small ones were failing and damaging the lines. On day 7, 24th December, Tertius installed the antenna for the SSB radio and set about tweaking the radio and it's antenna tuner. Our position on day 7 at 9am was 2836.9495'S and 01205.8953'E. We also started a new night watch system - 5 hours on each night alternating the watches. Basically the first watch was from sunset to midnight and the second from midnight to sunrise. This worked well for us and this is how we did our night watches for the rest of the trip to Trinidad. During the day we slept according to who had the first watch.

On day 8, 25th December, at 1:25am while I was on watch, I heard a "thunk" sound coming from the back of the boat and almost immediately the tiller-pilot alarm went off. Looking over the back of the boat I was horrified to see that the rudder of the wind steering system was missing !! The whole rudder, gone..... I then switched my head lamp on so I could see to turn the tiller-pilot alarm off and start hand steering. This is when I saw the rudder trailing along behind the boat - thank GOD it was still tied to the boat with a lanyard. I hauled the 2,1 meter (6 foot 8 inch) long assembly aboard and started hand steering as I did not want to wake Tertius up. About 4 hours later, Tertius got up and once I told him what had happened, we set about re-installing the rudder. Tertius took over the hand steering and I climbed overboard to re-fit the rudder, securing the one and only grub screw holding the assembly with "stud-lock". I would hate to think what the rest of the trip would have been like if we lost the rudder and had to hand steer the next 4,900nm to Trinidad. Our whole voyage would have changed dramatically as the wind steering system was like having a 3rd and 4th person aboard who steered the boat day and night, either by the wind or with the tiller pilot fitted, according to the prevailing conditions. I doubly appreciate the wind steering system after hand steering for those few hours !!! Our position at 9am on the 25th December was 2707.0001'S and 01021.0694'E
We then settled down, wishing each other a merry xmas and had breakfast. During all this drama I completely forgot about the parcel Elsabé gave me to give to Tertius on xmas day. Only the next day, after Tertius phoned home and Elsabé enquired after the presents, did I remember them. I felt like a real klutz but after Tertius opened his present he felt better. There was even a tin of chocolate covered toffee's for me - thanks Elsabé !!

On day 10, 27th December, we saw our first ship out at sea, a very large oil tanker. It glided past on the horizon and was never a threat. Also on this day, Tertius re-did the SSB antenna and we opened the radio itself to cut two diodes which opened all channels for transmitting on. By now, after 10 days at sea, we were out of the strong winds and unsettled seas and the temperature of both the air and sea was starting to creep up making for much more pleasant sailing, but more importantly, much more comfortable sleeping !!! It is difficult to describe life on board but picture your kitchen at home (for example).... Tilt the whole room 20° or more to one side, now let it pitch back and forth about 10° each way, 24 hours of the day, week in and week out.... Can you hear the things falling around in the cupboards?? Now, open the grocery cupboard to get the mustard out and watch as everything but the mustard falls on the floor... and while you are down there picking everything up off the floor, the mustard bottle will come flying out and hit you on the back of your head... All the while you are either holding onto a grab handle or leaning against something to try and stay stable. Now that you have everything back in the cupboard and the mustard bottle in your hand you can start looking for the plate that had your food on it where you wanted to add a little mustard to in the first place.... I think sailing would be a nightmare if one did not have a sense of humor, a touch of resilience, and lots of patience. But at the end of the day it is a lot of fun, especially with the right sailing partner. Our position on day 10 at 9am was 2317.6951'S and 00529.7288'E.

The next 8 days to Saint Helena Island seemed to blend into each other as our routine was well established by now and we became so used to the constant boat movement. We managed to do some more work on the electrical system, improving the charge to the batteries but we still had to run the (very noisy) generator every couple of days. It was also during this time that I developed a love/hate relationship for the ginnaker. I christened her Margaret (sorry Mrs. Thatcher) because she was a real BITCH !!! Maggy, as she later became known, performed perfectly in ideal conditions. But go over her very narrow comfort zone and she would throw violent tantrums. She is so powerful that she can easily pull the mast right down, broaching the boat and then re-filling with wind so violently that I often thought she was going to fly off into the blue yonder taking the mast and rigging with her. Maggy was quite happy in winds up to 15 or 17 knots but we often flew her in winds of over 20 knots and this was clearly not what she wanted. I was very patient with her but I often threatened to convert her into t-shirts or bed sheets... Tertius found this quite amusing but I was genuinely concerned that she was going to break something. Tertius also tried many things to try and make her more stable in higher winds but at the end of the day the solution was simple - take the bitch down when the winds go over 17 or 18 knots!!! Our sailing instruments were also starting to play-up. Whenever there was a temperature change, usually at sunrise or sunset, the display on the outside instruments would go hay-wire, showing what looked like Chinese or Sanskrit writing. We really did not know what it meant when the boat speed read  ¦¬¯  knots and the wind speed was  ¬´¯  knots!! The only way we could see the wind data was to look on the repeater located inside the boat, and for boat speed we checked the GPS speed on the laptop computer. Note to Navman: I think you and I need to have a serious chat....

My home made Saint Helena flag
My home made Saint Helena flag
During this time we also "moved house". We were sleeping in the aft (back) cabin and decided to move the food from the fore-peak to the aft cabin and make our sleeping quarters up-front. The fore-peak was more comfortable to sleep in and we had the added advantage of having the heavy food containers in the back of the boat which lightened the bow somewhat. The day before we were due to arrive at Saint Helena Island I made a courtesy flag from a description Ann gave me over the Iridium phone. The flag was made out of a piece of sky blue non-slip mat suitably decorated with the Union Jack in the top left corner and a shield in the middle right half using felt-tip pens and tippex correcting fluid. I was proud of my efforts and nobody seemed to notice the home made flag - or at least nobody said anything about it.

We arrived at Saint Helena Island, a British colony, just before midnight GMT on Friday the 4th January. Before entering the anchorage I called "Saint Helena Port Control" on VHF channel 16 as is customary and required. A very nasal lady replied from "Radio Saint Helena" and directed us to drop anchor on the Eastern side of the anchorage. This lady was so funny with her very formal and nasal sounding voice to begin with but she insisted on calling us "Sailing Vessel Zippo"!!! This, even after I spelled our name, "Zulu - Echo - Papa - Hotel - Yankee - Romeo", to her. This persisted for the whole time we were there even on the SSB radio later on. Tertius and I could hardly see what was up ahead when we came it to anchor as it was pitch dark but we inched forward and dropped the hook in about 8 meters of water in what looked like a good spot quite close to shore. The next morning, after wishing Tertius a happy birthday and lavishing him with a rare and hard to find, bright yellow monogrammed Zephyr wind breaker, complete with hood and pockets, we looked back to where we motored through when we came in and we were horrified to see how many lines (ropes) there were criss-crossing the water behind us. How we never got one of the lines in our propeller is beyond me... But hey, this is Sailing Vessel Zippo, and we can do anything.... The radio lady also asked us how long we will be staying and I replied "we will be departing early Monday morning" not knowing then that Customs and Immigration don't open on Saturday or Sundays. But our lady told us that she will inform the authorities in the morning. We were eventually contacted by the Harbor Master on Saturday morning who said he will meet us on the landing peer at around 9:30am. At 10 to 10am he called to say he was waiting for us. So we hailed the water taxi and went ashore. I noticed that he was dressed in civilian clothing and this being a British Colony 'and all that old chap', I expected a more formal approach and attire. We soon realised that Port Control, Customs, and Immigration were all opening their offices just for us to clear in! We paid our dues at Port Control, and then went to Customs where I had a problem with my documentation but Tertius and I rectified the problem later, we then went to Immigration where the lady stamped us in and out of Saint Helena - this was very kind of her as it meant that we did not have to go to her office on Monday morning to be stamped out. So far so good on Saint Helena, our first port-of-call since leaving South Africa.

We then went to a well known bar/restaurant called "Ann's Place" for a beer and lunch where we had fish cakes, chips and salad in celebration of Tertius' birthday. We then spent the rest of the day walking up-town and along a rather steep road that went to the top of Ladder Hill. I must say that the "Saint Helenians" are very friendly and we were greeted by just about everybody we encountered.
Jacob's Ladder. Saint Helena Island
Jacob's Ladder, Saint Helena Island
The view from the top of the hill was quite stunning and we also had a long chat with one of the locals, a man who was not happy with the state of affairs on the island, nor was he very happy with the way Britain was running the place. We then walked down the 599 steps of Jacob's Ladder and headed back to Zephyr. No sooner were we aboard again when a dinghy approached with two people in it. We exchanged greetings and then I realised who they were - it was the family aboard the catamaran "Almost There" who I got to know in Mossel Bay. This is a cute story - Al, his wife and their three adult children sold their small-holding near Ficksburg, bought an old Dean catamaran, fixed it up and set off from Durban to sail around the world on a shoe-sting budget. It took them 8 months to sail from Mossel Bay to Walvis Bay before setting out for Saint Helena. Their boat is so basic. All they have aboard as far as instrumentation goes is a laptop computer with a GPS connected for navigation. No depth meter, no wind instruments, no speed instruments, not even a burgee atop the mast, no self steering... nothing. Al says that there are five self steering systems aboard and each of them steer for two hours at a time - he is referring to the five of them aboard of course. As to wind speed and direction, he says you stick your head outside and you will see what the wind is doing !!! I know what it is like to sail without instruments and I don't think it is very pleasant.

We were invited to "Almost There" for an evening of fish and pancakes. We did not have our dinghy inflated, so they fetched us on theirs at around 6:30pm. We had a really pleasant evening with them and at around 10pm we were ferried back to Zephyr, their outboard motor running out of gasoline just as we reached Zephyr. So we got our jerry can out and filled their outboard up for them. It was the least we could do after such a nice evening. The next day, Sunday 6th January, Tertius and I set about giving Zephyr a good spring clean. Tertius even vacuumed the carpets crawling around on his hands and knees. We also had a slight accident by bumping into a small boat that was moored behind us. The plastic sheer-pin on the wind steering rudder broke and we had to replace it - but with what? In the back of my mind I thought I had a spare on board but I could not find it. So we asked Al if he perhaps had one for us but he did not, so we decided to make a wooden plug and in this regard Al said he has wooden dowels which he went to fetch a few short lengths for us in different diameters. Al and his son also helped us to clean Zephyr's hull below the water-line. This made Tertius very happy as he was sure we would get an extra ½ a knot out of Zephyr. While cleaning the hull, I was amazed at how clear the water was - it was like swimming in a GIANT fish tank and when I looked up at Zephyr, it looked like she was suspended in mid-air. The water was also warm, around 27°C and we could see the anchor and chain lying on the sea bed some 8 meters below and all the fish swimming around - some of them quite large. I eventually found the spare plastic pin for the wind steering rudder and we fitted it, but I will keep the wood dowels as a backup anyway. There was an old ship wreck nearby and once we had finished cleaning Zephyr, Al and his son went there by dinghy to do some fishing (I think they fish to eat), and about an hour later they came back with 6 nice fish, giving one to us. Guess what we had for supper that night...?

Departing Saint Helena Island
Departing Saint Helena Island
Monday morning, 7th January 2008 dawned bright and clear and hot. I had to go into town again to show a document to the Customs official and while I was away, Tertius arranged with the water taxi to take our jerry cans to be filled with diesel. We had already filled the water tanks with the last of the Mossel Bay water we had in jerry cans and re-filled them again with Saint Helena water. I finished at Customs in 2 minutes (phew...) so I decided to pop-in to "Ann's Place" and use their internet kiosk to quickly post a message on the Zephyr Blog as I knew the diesel would take a while. I finished and got back just as the diesel was being loaded so we lashed everything down, lifted the anchor and were on our way by 9:30am, going past "Almost There" on the way out to say good bye. Little did we know then what was waiting for us...










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