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Spring in South Africa

 

 

The move from English high summer to the tail of the South African winter made little difference for us, despite the complaints of South Africans about the cold. In fact we were soon racing again, this time on our friend Fiona's boat, 'Ebb Tide', across False Bay to Gordon's Bay, where the locals demonstrated once again that they had mastered the art of serious partying. We strove to keep up, but were still in our bunks hours before the others.

It had been a full year since our last haul-out in Uruguay, which had only been a quick scrub and paint job. We anticipated a good deal of work on the bottom, but found that there was relatively little more than usual to do. The marina manager, Roger McCormick, hauled 'Sunstone' with loving care in the yard's very effective 'home built' lift.

 

 

 

We then set to work transforming 'Sunstone's' bottom back from the blue we had been forced to use in South America to its usual elegant black. Clothed with equal sartorial elegance Tom logically undertook the wet sanding in the rain to ensure full coverage of his person with blue spatters - prior to equally full coverage with black spatters from the new paint.

 

 

 

In the meantime, Vicky attacked one of her top five favourite jobs, cleaning and painting the bilges until sunglasses were required to inspect them. There were only a few short splines to replace. 'Sunstone's' bottom remaining virtually as fair as it was when first launched in 1965. 

 

Once back in the water, we were plunged into activity. James Burwick pulled in along side us in his Open 40, 'Anasazi Girl' in which he hopes to break the record for the passage from Cape Town to Tauranga, New Zealand. It is hard to imagine two more contrasting 40 footers! A sail in the the boat also made this clear, with 12+ knots showing on the speedo steadily in 20-25 knots, close reaching with two reefs and a small jib. James hopes to set off in December 2006.

 

 

 

 

Like many clubs, False Bay Yacht Club has a ceremony to mark the start of the new sailing season and in this case the accession of a new Commodore. This year was particularly note-worthy for them with the installation of their first lady Commodore, Christine Farrington. The day was blessed with perfect weather, though with no wind for the 'sail-past', which was entirely under power. We decided that rather than dress overall, we would display all 34 courtesy flags of the countries we have visited, as well as a couple of race pennants. The result was colourful and apparently striking enough that 'Sunstone' was awarded the prize for the most beautiful yacht in the sail past. (More of this later)

 

 

We had been told repeatedly not to miss the spring flowers, which erupt across the landscape of the West and North Cape after the winter and spring rains. They were early this year, so we made a special trip north. They were spectacular. Photos cannot do justice to the panorama of colour across the otherwise barren fields near Langebaan. Through these flowers also wander the Leopard tortoises on their mating and breeding journeys toward the beaches.

 

 

 

 

From the coast we also swung inland through the rugged scenery of Cape Province, interspersed with occasional lush green valleys, such as Citrusdal, where rivers and irrigation have made intensive farming possible. From Citrusdal we drove further inland on gravel roads to Ceres and then along the scenic, but hair-raising road through Bainskloof, along the edge of a jagged gorge, occasionally overhung by rocky out-crops. The hills around Paarl gave us the opportunity for some hiking, before our return to Simon's Town.

In an attempt to regain some of the fitness we had lost through lack of exercise and too much good food in England, we got out on our bikes as regularly as the strong local SElies would allow. The coast road from Simon's Town toward Cape Point is very scenic, running along the rocky shore and then climbing to give higher views over False Bay and the Capes to the East. One day we surprised ourselves by completing the hilly circuit as far South as the entrance to Cape Point Park and then toward the western shore of the Peninsula over the ridge to take the winding Red Hill Road back down into Simon's Town. It was a tough bike, by the end of which we were pretty well shattered, but satisfied. It wasn't really much, considering that serious local bikers regularly make the circuit from Cape Town, right down the length of the Peninsula and back again, over 100kms, in a handful of hours.

 

 

 

 We were determined to get 'Sunstone' back into race trim after our winter maintenance and so entered the FBYC's Cape Point Race, which starts in Hout Bay on the western side of the Peninsula and finishes back at the Club, having come round Cape Point. On our way to deliver the boat to Hout Bay on the day before the Race we had a wonderful close up encounter with one of the many southern right whales which take up residence in False Bay for the spring and summer months. The Race itself gave excellent conditions for us, with a brisk beat all the way out to Cape Point, followed by an easy run back to the finish. With our excellent female crew of Helen, Fiona and Shireen, led by Vicky, with Tom as token male, we managed a second place to the local wizard, Billy Leisegang, in 'Our Diane'.

 Part of 'Sunstone's' prize as winner of the most beautiful yacht in the Opening Cruise, was, for us, an unaccustomed two nights ashore in a self-catering flat in the old Waterkant area of Cape Town. We took the opportunity to do some shopping, a little more sightseeing and then had a pleasant day out with Dave and Erica wandering the Botanical Gardens and having lunch at a winery.

 

Having determined that her hip was again road-worthy, Vicky set out to run it in - literally - by doing the 5km fun run in the Simon's Town Penguin Festival. She even came away with a Penguin medal for third placed woman. This acted as a prelude to one of our 'Sunstone' parties - this one with the excuse of 25 years of ownership and nine years since departure from England - as well as a chance to thank our many Simon's Town friends, who had made us so welcome. It also gave 'Sunstone' some practice at sitting considerably lower in the water. However, we were not yet ready to re-burden her with all her cruising gear, which we had kept ashore in a store, so that she would be light and fit for racing.

 

 

 The FBYC's Spring Regatta is their major sailing event in which a number of boats from other clubs also compete. Though it was quite close to our intended departure we were determined to take part. Once again our stalwarts, John Curtis and Viv Worrall organised their South African holiday to be able to be with us for two of the three races, while local Derek Jacobs provided our local knowledge throughout. For the first race we were glad to give an opportunity to two boys, Athenkosi and Dumisani, from the Izivunguvungu Sailing programme. Izivunguvungu gives a chance for youngsters from the townships and informal settlements, or shanty towns to learn to sail. Tacking to dodge whales and competing against another beautiful classic, 'Vortrekker', we managed three first places in our class. As is 'Sunstone's' fate, there were inevitable rumblings about ratings, so perhaps it was just as well that the regatta was our last event in South Africa.

 

With the racing done, we made a quick circuit of the local attractions with John and Viv, taking in some wineries and the Cape of Good Hope - all thanks to Tanya Barten's kindness in loaning us her car for that and many other journeys.

 With John and Viv safely winging their way back to England, we settled to the serious business of refitting 'Sunstone' for cruising and passage-making, as well as stocking her with stores for a 5,000 miles passage, which we reckoned could with bad luck take 50+ days. At the time the process seems never-ending, but it does all get done, until there really doesn't seem to be a single corner which isn't filled. Then to top it all, we go round the boat securing everything, screwing down, tying up and lashing together, until we are reasonably confident that even in the first hours underway nothing will come seriously adrift, even if we are thrown around. This is particularly important when leaving South Africa, as many boats experience some of their worst conditions ever while crossing and getting clear of the Aghulas current, which curls southwestwards around the tip of Africa.

 We thoroughly enjoyed our time in South Africa and were made very welcome by virtually everyone we met. Though we didn't perhaps see as much of the physical variety of its scenery as if we had traveled to the eastern half of the country, the Drakenberg and the high velt, we still saw a great deal. We don't perhaps have quite the appreciation of some South Africans for its 'beauty', however, we could still appreciate the austere splendour and scale of the landscapes, however, bleak. Like the American West, what is truly remarkable is the fortitude of both the indigenous peoples and the early settlers in extracting a living from such a brutal environment. Otherwise, it is the variety and beauty of the wildlife that is most remarkable. For the visitor, it is very easy to be critical of South African society - too easy. Outside the work place there is still little racial integration of social life, that we saw. However, the same could be said by a visitor to the USA or the UK. Life for the vast majority of black South Africans is still terribly hard. Nevertheless, there are many, many South Africans both black and white, who believe fervently in the dream of the New South Africa and are working to make it a reality. Whether they will achieve it remains open to question. The slow pace of improvement for the majority, terrible rates of violent crime (18,000 murders a year) and fraught questions about land-redistribution and black empowerment may still be the rocks on which the dream founders. However, South Africans have managed to travel, without terrible blood-shed or civil war, some way down the road to their dream. That in itself is remarkable.

 

 

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