Defining moments

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about defining moments. Those splinters of time that shape who we are and act as decision making references for the rest of our lives. I find it odd/sad that some of the people I talk to don’t have defining moments or perhaps they do but just aren’t aware of them.

Here are mine:

I was probably about 8 years old. We were on holiday at the Brede River. Like most boys that age, I really wanted to catch a fish. We had tried unsuccessfully from the jetty but firmly believed that the real fishing was out on the boat, after sunset. The dads had made promises that always seemed to dissolve into comfortable couches and post-braai bliss… and it was our last night there. I decided that I was going to go and catch a fish off the jetty, and, in the absence of bait, I decided that bread, mooshed up onto the hook, would have to do. The parents were understandably sceptical, but I was adamant and marched down to the jetty in the dark and cast my line into the water. A few hours went by and I had caught nothing and eventually started falling asleep and decided it was best to go back inside.

I remember walking back into the house thinking how awesome it would have been to be carrying a huge fish! At that very moment, thinking about how great it would have been to catch a huge fish, it dawned on me that no one ever catches a huge fish unless they put their line in the water. You have to be in it to win it.

I haven’t witnessed much bravery in my life. I’ve never seen someone run into a burning building to rescue a puppy or lift a car to free a trapped driver. Sometimes however bravery takes the form of personal courage. Courage to stand up and do the right thing, even if doing so may make you look like a loser in the process. I was 15 and my little clan of nerd friends had a favourite whipping boy called Andrew. Andrew was often the butt of our jokes. One particular day, in the absence of Andrew, the jokes got progressively meaner. Then someone piped up and said “Come on guys, that’s not cool… lets stop”.

I realise that that might seem trivial when compared to rescuing puppies from burning buildings, but if you’ve been a teenage boy you probably know that sticking up for the “loser” isn’t the cool thing to do. In that moment I realised how brave my friend was, and more importantly, how I wanted to be like him.

Your happiness is your responsibility
I think I was about 19 years old. I had recently broke up with my girlfriend, it was New Years Eve and all my friends were out of town. I got so bored and depressed that I decided to just drive around. I wasn’t suicidal or even close to tears… but in that uber-pathetic moment I decided that I was the only one responsible for my happiness. Simple.

Web Based Accounting Software
After many years working as a developer in a bunch of different industries I found myself working on a web based accounting package for a British company. It was painful work and the boss had overcommitted and we were working stupid hours with pizza as “overtime”. One evening, while working late, I decided that this wasn’t for me. I’d only been there for 3 months, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had been putting my heart and soul (and life) into other people’s businesses all over the world for the previous 5 years and I was finally done. I resigned in the morning. I was never going to let a job take priority over my life again.

For about a year I floated around doing odd freelance dev jobs, I even got a job as a barman so I could meet cool people… I made a lot of friends, I managed a band, I lived in a digs with some cool people and some psychopaths. It was fun.

I can be a Butcher
About mid way through my year “off” I decided that I could do anything. Nothing was above me, and similarly, nothing was beneath me. Not that I consider butchers to be at the bottom of some food chain, it was just that being a butcher was probably the furthest thing from what I had done up until then. I never did become a butcher, but I’m pretty sure I could be flippen awesome at it if I wanted to.

A loaf of bread or a pie
At about the same time as the “I can be a butcher” moment I found myself rather broke. There was a shoprite up the road from where we were staying. I walked there, hungry, with only a few rand in my wallet. I had to decide whether to buy a loaf of bread or a pie. I bought the pie.

Many people would consider that reckless. It was reckless I guess, but, I wanted a pie. I had faith that tomorrow would somehow bring more money or feed me. I’m still here so I guess I was right.

I don’t want to make light of it, but I also know what it’s like to live off almost nothing. I know that I was incredibly happy during that time, my life didn’t suddenly fall apart the minute I cancelled my medical aid and couldn’t afford to buy one of the “nice” toothbrushes. That realisation has helped me be a little more willing to take bigger risks in life. In it to win it.

I really like hiking. Especially on Table Mountain. I’m not nearly as fit as I should be, as my waistline is testament to, but I do occasionally just go for walk. It was during one of these spontaneous walks that I ended up about 6km away from my car without any water in the middle of a ridiculously hot summer’s day. (This was on the contour path near Platteklip with my car parked at Kirstenbosch). I came across this tiny little trickle of water, seeping down a rock. I was so hot I ended up basically licking the mossy rock to try and get some moisture out of it. I spent a good 30 minutes getting water in tiny little doses. (I just want to make sure it’s clear here, I was never in any real danger… I was just hot and tired… worst case scenario was some sunburn.) I was incredibly grateful for the water and in the heat I got all philosophical about water and nature’s provision. I started off again towards the car. About 300m down the path I came to a river. Not exactly the Holy Ganges, but enough water that I could actually fill my water bottle will real water, not sandy moisture. What did I learn from this? It’s tough to explain. Perhaps the simplest way to put it is to just say that sometimes in life you need to be make sure you’re not being an idiot by walking a little further down the road.

Death at Sea
Almost 2 years ago I went on a little sailing trip. Myself and another guy sailed a tiny little yacht from Hout Bay to Knysna, and then back to Mossell Bay. (It’s a long story). The reason we couldn’t go in at Knysna was because a huge storm had kicked up and the Heads were closed. The boat didn’t have a functioning radio, life raft or EPIRB. The flares were old and our engine was dead. At sunset, when we realised the storm wasn’t going to die down, we decided to sail to Mossel Bay where the harbour was protected by a breakwater. The swells were picking up and at some points our tiny boat was pretty much dwarfed by the water around us. We were sailing a yacht designed and built for the Vaal Dam in some of the strongest wind and biggest swells I have ever seen. We were being pushed around like a matchbox in a pool full of cannon balling fat kids. The boat’s keel was creaking as if it wanted to snap off (something that would result in almost instant sinking) and then suddenly, in the pitch black, howling night, we hit something. HARD. The entire boat stopped dead for a second. I still don’t know what it was but I do know that I have never felt closer to dying in my life. I imagined myself floating in the middle of the sea, with my tiny life jacket trying to get dodgy flares to work even though the chances of someone seeing them were pretty much zero. The keel didn’t break and after 5 days at sea we eventually got to Mossel Bay in the early hours of the morning.

What did I learn? I don’t know… But I want to do it again. It was fucking awesome.

Sailing Day 4 (The End)

This is the final episode in the saga… I promise.


Morning had just broken and we found ourselves staring at a rather treacherous looking shoreline in the distance, sailing past it as we made our way Knysna. Huge swells lifted the boat onto their tops where we raced along with the wind, only to be lowered into the trough of the swell where the wind was confused and the boat flopped around uneasily. This pattern continued for a few hours until we got our first sight of Buffels Bay and as the sun slipped patiently into the sky I realised how glad I was that we arrived here when we did. Jeremy said that Buffels Bay has a rocky outcrop that reaches quite far out to sea. As the sun rose higher and higher and the light got brighter and brighter I kept on seeing more of this outcrop and having to steer even further away from the shore to miss it. I have this feeling that Buffels bay is so named because of the sound the waves make crashing against her rocks… I can imagine that it might sound like a Buffalo stampede. The sight was quite awesome… and our first glimpse of how this sort of swell was breaking against rocks. The tiny houses in the distance seemed dwarfed by the swell and the spray.

Knysna was just around the corner. Which in sailors terms is apparently an hour. As we sailed Jeremy kept on trying to point out the faint outline of the rocks that make up the heads in the distance… With the sun rising directly behind them and the mist setting in it was quite tricky to see. Eventually we could make out the opening of the heads, but the closer we sailed to them the more nervous we both got. The swells were now about 6 meters high at sea, running in towards the shore, growing in size as the water got shallower, and then smashing the living daylights out of whatever was it it’s way in one huge mess of spray that made it impossible to see what was going on where. There could have been a McDonalds right in the middle of the Heads and we would not have been able to see it.

We had to go in for a closer inspection. We lowered the sails and started up the diesel motor. Cautiously we inched towards the Heads… it felt very much like what it would feel like if a tornado was stationary and you were inching your way towards it for a closer look. The closer we got the more dire the situation appeared to be. The roaring 6 meter swells broke violently and audible, throwing spray 15 meters up into the air… “There’s the channel” Jeremy said, “between that rock and the spike in the distance”… All I saw was an angry wall of water and deadly rocks. I imagined what it would be like, in the water, amongst all of that. It wasn’t a nice thought, but we were both desperate to get off the boat. We decided to motor further out to sea and put the boat hove to (sailing term for a complicated sail and rudder setup that has the net result of not going anywhere… it’s actually quite impressive)

Once we were safely out at sea bobbing up and down as the swells ran past us towards their ultimate goal of destroying Knysna, we found ourselves in a curious situation. The wind had died down, the sun was out and the swell was getting bigger. Luckily this close in to land we had cell phone reception. Jeremy phoned up some friends and was eventually having a conversation with an NSRI guy at Knysna. He confirmed the painfully obvious… we weren’t going to be getting in any time soon. Our only hope was that as the tide came in (we had arrived at low tide) the heads would settle and perhaps the swell would die down… I think we both knew what the chances of that was. We were a tiny sail boat with a tiny diesel engine… Not even the NSRI with their super-duper high speed, built for shitstorms, semi-rigid rescue boat, would try get through the heads.

Since the only other option was sailing 50 miles (between 50 hours and 10 hours away) back to Mossel Bay we decided to wait for the thing we knew wouldn’t happen… Just in case it did. We waited for about two hours before Jeremy got on the phone again. To add insult to injury the heads were now shrouded in mist. The NSRI guy gave us the bad news. Firstly, it wasn’t getting any better and secondly there was an even bigger storm behind us, heading for land. Awesome.

I got on the phone with Lynnae who’d been driving since early morning to come and fetch us in Knysna. I told her the situation and suggested she head home since we had no wind and were going to have to sail 50 miles to Mossel Bay, which for all intents and purposes (remember there was no wind) might mean we only arrive there in 2 days time. I told her we’d get a bus. Mother nature was already screwing 2 people around, no need to include a third. Lynnae said she would head home but would drive back and fetch us from Mossel bay as soon as we knew when we would be there… That’s a pretty big deal in my books. I was supremely thankful. Jeremy didn’t seem to believe me when I said what she’d offered to do. “You’re pretty serious then” he said… “Yes” I replied… “That’s how we roll”.

In what seemed to be automatic mode we rigged up the sails and started heading towards Mossel Bay. At first there was no wind, but every hour the wind speed seemed to increase steadily… So did the size of the swells. Jeremy went to sleep as I sailed up mountainous swells. Swells the size of 3 story buildings, 4 story buildings… Walls of water that you sailed up the side of for 60 seconds and then surfed down the other side in 10 seconds. These swells were so big that photographs can’t actually capture the size of them… they just look like water at a funny angle. Sometimes we would go over the top of a swell and the boat would see-saw over the top, the bow smacking the water on the other side with a thud. This thing that would have scared the shit out of me a few days ago was suddenly fun. It was hard work fighting the swells and keeping the boat heading in the right direction but it was fun. We were making headway… slowed down significantly by the mountains of water we were having to sail over, but we were heading towards Mossel Bay.

The boat was rocking a lot too… and her keel was making creaking noises that betrayed her Made-For-The-Vaal-Dam construction. At this point I should point out that both Jeremy and I were getting nauseous when down below. It’s most telling when you’re trying to do something like tie your shoelaces. Often someone would be down below and then would pop their head up out the hatch for a few deep breaths of fresh air to settle their stomach. Jeremy lives on a boat and was getting nauseous… I think that should give you an idea of the conditions.

At some point during the day we ran into a psychotic bird who would fly ahead of us and then sit in the water right next to the boat as we sailed by. He did this about 15 times, each time flying way into the distance and then back again, literally a meter from the boat. Maybe he was bored.

We also sailed past a shark, its fin just sitting there, just above the water as we sailed by. I guess he was bored too.

In the distance we saw the shoreline with these huge swells crashing, the wind running along the tops of the forming waves, ripping a spray of water 10 metres high above the crashing wave.

The wind got rougher and the sky got darker. We were still sailing towards Mossel Bay. It was about 6 hours since we had left Knysna. As night fell we realised how tough this was going to be. We strained for a glimpse of the lights at Mossel Bay and only occasionally saw them… usually we would see them after the huge swells had pushed us off course and we’d have to correct as quickly as possible.

Suddenly there was a bang. An earth shattering, heart stopping, BANG.

We had hit something. Time passed by in slow motion. My heart raced as I listened for signs of broken keels or rushing water noises… nothing. My blood pressure was through the roof but we were ok… We strained our eyes into the darkness to try and see what we had hit, but could see nothing.

A few minutes later we decided that the wind had got out of hand and we should lower our mainsail. That’s the big one… in this amount of wind we would find ourselves sailing just as fast with a third of the sail area.

We took turns sailing in what can only be called messy conditions. The wind had “dropped” but actually was just coming from us as all angles. With less wind we were sitting ducks being pushed around by the huge swells. Eventually Jeremy went to go sleep. I carried on, fighting the waves and wind and eventually got us 10 miles off of Mossel Bay, but uncomfortably close to a large trawler that seemed to be heading our way. I woke Jeremy up and suggested we just make a break for it and motor the two hours straight for the harbour. Jeremy, ever cautious, didn’t like that idea… if we ran out of fuel nearing the harbour we would be in trouble… not Knysna heads trouble, but still, sailboat on the rocks trouble.

We decided instead to just motor for a few minutes out of the path of the trawler. Jeremy took the helm and I went below to start up the engine. There is nothing more sickening than the sound of an engine that doesn’t want to start, at sea, with a trawler heading towards you. Eventually it started but sounded like it was going to die in seconds. Jeremy killed it. We needed oil. I fetched oil out the kitchen cupboard (Yes, engine oil) and Jeremy stuck his head under the engine cover looking for the place you put the oil in. Jeremy was facing forward and I was facing backwards. I could see the trawler… and I could see Jeremy faffing about trying to be as tidy as possible and not spill any oil. At one point he was wiping the can opener clean and I could feel my head about to explode.

We started the engine up again. This time it sounded better, but by no means healthy. The pitch kept on changing all by itself. Jeremy made comments about it seizing… not the sort of thing I want to hear at sea, with a trawler bearing down on us.

(In hindsight I must admit that the Death Trawler probably wasn’t even moving, but at sea, at night, with only lights to guide you, your brain starts to play tricks on you… tricks that are probably a good idea to be playing since they might occasionally save your life.)

We got out of the path of the trawler and killed the motor again. It was annoying attempt-to-sail-in-shitty-conditions time again. Jeremy went to bed. I tried to sail.

About 2 hours later we were closer. I’m not sure if we sailed or drifted in with the huge swell. We could see the lights of the harbour wall. 3 white lights… Jeremy’s instructions were to head towards them. As I sailed closer and closer I began to try and figure out just where exactly the opening in this wall of rocks was. Eventually I saw a red light. Red = Port = Left… I started sailing towards the right hand side of that. The only problem was that the only reliable inkling of wind we had was coming straight from behind that red light.

Another hour passed as I fought the boat towards that light. I swear to god I could have swum to shore and hour ago… and we didn’t seem to be getting anywhere closer. I woke up Jeremy and requested his sailor voodoo.

Jeremy tried his sailor voodoo for another hour. Huge swells smacked the boat from all sides, the sails would whip open and closed again violently. I was losing my patience and my cool. The boat was sounding worse (whether I was imagining that or not I am not sure) and I was afraid. We were closer to the shore than we had ever been but were still no closer to that red light. I looked behind us to make sure we weren’t mistakenly towing a whale, or a house.

I think at some point I got quite desperate I was willing to call the NSRI for a tow in… real sailors don’t do that unless you’re actually in the water with 2 broken leg and a shark bearing in on you. I exaggerate but you get the idea.

Jeremy laid out the options we both implicitly knew. We could sail out to sea and go “hove to” again for the night (taking turns at watch) or we could start up the motor and try and motor in, risking the chance that the motor will die on us at some critical moment and we would be well up shit street without a paddle. It was past 2am, i didn’t feel like spending the next 5 hours floating around, only to wait another few hours while someone figured out who was going to come and fetch us.

I voted we start her up and run for it. Jeremy readied the boat, tied on the mooring lines and put the fenders in place. Once we were ready we both spoke to whatever powers that be and swung the key. I wish I knew who the patron saint of engine lubrication was.

Once again the sickening sound of an engine not starting went on for what was probably a minute. I kept my eyes on the battery meter even though it always reads completely empty while you’re running the starter motor. Eventually she swung, spluttered and then started. As sick as that little engine sounded it was still a beautiful sound. She was spewing out thick smoke and sounding like death was immanent but we had to go.

Jeremy put her in gear and motored towards the red light. My nerves were shattered as Jeremy ran through the mooring procedure. The green light appeared… that’s starboard… the right hand side. We made a beeline straight between the two. The engine coughed and spluttered but it kept on chugging along. We entered the harbour and tried to spot the sail boats. We spotted the sail boats and I went up on the bow with a mooring line in my hand ready to jump. We spotted an opening but Jeremy said it was too small… At that point I really struggled to care but Jeremy motored us around the other side of the boats. Mossel Bay harbour is loud with machines running all through the night. At some point I stopped hearing our little motor and looked back, Jeremy was looking down… “oh crap” I thought, “it’s just died… what now?”.

It hadn’t, Jeremy was just trying to give me a heart attack by slowing down while we took the corner. We found some open spots and Jeremy shouted which one we were going to take. We motored gently into place and I jumped across to the walk-on (Jetty type thing) and tied her bow line. Jeremy jumped and did the stern lines as we spent a few minutes tying her up.

I think the reality of being off the boat, after almost 5 days at sea, only started hitting home once she was tied up. I was hot, I took off my jackets and harnesses. At some point I had pulled a muscle in my arm but I can’t remember when. I was for all intents and purposes utterly delirious. I found myself walking around, just for the sake of walking, my legs learning how to be coordinated again.

It was almost 3am. I sms’ed my parents and Lynnae. It felt like the Shawshank Redemption. I thanked Jeremy for getting us “home” safe. That night I slept on the boat, about 60 meters away from a 2 story ice making and crushing machine that runs all night. I slept like a baby.

The End.

(I will write a post about the “lessons learnt” at sea shortly, but for now this saga is done. Photos to come soon.)

Sailing Day 3

Firstly, thank you to everyone who’s been reading these posts and asking me for more. I appreciate it muchly!

At the end of last weeks episode I had just woken up to a glorious sunrise and beautiful day, but with no wind.

We had dodged various fishing trawlers the previous night and now we were bobbing at sea while fishing vessels zipped past us like ants hauling in the day’s supplies. We were somewhere near Struisbaai and were watched cautiously by various seabirds who, in this area particularly, think that any boat means fish. The closest thing we had to fish was a desire to jump into the water and swim.

This was perhaps the most boring of days… mother nature teased us along with tiny squalls of wind that disappeared as fast as they had appeared. The water was glassy and technically we were sailing but probably only doing 2 knots in the fast bits and backwards in the “slow” bits.

To give you an idea about speed on a boat I will draw you this analogy. Firstly, ships calculate their speed at sea in knots because their speed is always relative to the water. If they’re running straight into a current/tide it might feel like they’re moving fast but in reality they’re doing half the speed it feels they’re doing. Sailors also use miles because it’s easy to translate miles to knots and know how long it will take to get somewhere. As an example, my office is about 6 miles (9.6km) away from my flat. If I drive in my car I can do that trip in about 10 minutes. (6 minutes assuming 100km/h). Our little sailboat was actually quite quick, the fastest the GPS ever accurately recorded her movements was about 7 knots, but that happened in the middle of a big storm while surfing down a 12m swell, so lets assume her real top speed is 6 knots.

So, 6 miles at 6 knots = 1 hour which doesn’t seem too shabby. However there’s this thing called wind and if it’s not your friend that 6 mile trip can take a long long time. Well, technically infinity, but to be reasonable lets say that day three was spent sailing at roughly 1.5 knots average. That means that our 1 hour trip to my office suddenly takes 4 hours. 6 minutes in a car, 4 hours in a boat.

The real average speed of our entire sail was probably in the order of 4 knots. Today’s average was probably half that… or less.

We sailed and sailed and sailed and tried our damnedest not to get too sunburnt. At some point we passed the Breede river mouth where my parents have their holiday house. You can imagine my feelings when comparing the comfort of their house with my current situation.

Toiletries at sea are not as fun as you might imagine. Firstly peeing is generally done leaning overboard with your body wrapped between two mast stays (steel cables). It’s not all that difficult once you’ve taught your body to pee on demand while facing impending death. Then there is the bucket and chuck-it, which for the sake of all mankind and our harmonious future I will not document any further. You brush your teeth in the same cup you drank your coffee out of, cleaned with sea water obviously, and spit overboard which leaves pretty streaks of toothpaste in the water.

Eventually we neared Stillbaai and while we sat out there in almost idyllic weather wishing for a storm, I can’t help but think that perhaps mother nature heard our prayer but was busy with something else at the time and would get back to us as soon as she was done. At times we were well and truly stuck. We could see wind over there, no, wait, over there… no no it’s back over there… etc etc. Eventually in desperation we decided to start up the motor and try and power towards the wind. We didn’t have a lot of diesel. I would guess we probably had about 40 litres in total, which is actually a lot for a small boat, but not if you take the next 48 hours into account. We motored for about an hour, getting teased by the wind every few minutes as it would fill our sails and make us contemplate turning off the engine… but those full sails never lasted long. During these agonising hours there was something else happening… the swell started getting bigger.

We sailed and occasionally motored all the way to the point where we could see Mossel Bay on our left. I remember it quite vividly. It was dusk and the lights of Mossel Bay slowly grew brighter and brighter off to our left hand side. We sailed passed those lights and both of us were thinking to ourselves that perhaps we should just call it a day and head straight for Mossel Bay under power. In 5 hours we could probably have been having a beer and a prego roll in some or other questionable establishment. We probably should have gone with our gut instincts. Mossel Bay was *right* there and we were sailing directly away from it, directly into a shitstorm.

In fact, once you pass Mossel Bay on your left, the bearing for Knysna (according to the GPS and compass) is uncomfortably right of where you expect land to be. Being dark we could see all the lights on the other side of the bay. Harolds Bay, Wilderness, Sedgefield… and then a whole lot of darkness. And we were heading straight for that darkness. I went below to consult the charts again to make sure that my coordinates for Knysna were correct. They were. Knysna was 50 miles away at 100 degrees. At our current pace we were between 12 and 50 hours away. The swell was getting bigger and the wind more random, albeit aggressively random.

The problem with sailing towards darkness at night is that you don’t have anything to navigate to except stars… And as the weather started getting shittier and shittier those stars would occasionally disappear for minutes at a time. We also had the reference of the lights from the other towns (Wilderness etc) that were somewhere off to our left… but they too disappeared occasionally as the weather rolled in.

It was cold, probably colder than it had ever been. I was thankful for my gloves but was still disappointingly surprised at how a “largish” guy like myself can have such a scrawny little ass. It felt like my ass bones were directly “on” the fibreglass of the boat, even with improvised cushions.

So you’re cold and the most obvious thing to do would be to pull your hoody over your head and insulate you ears etc. The odd thing though is that everytime I did that I found myself getting frustrated and pulling the hoody off within 2 minutes. Eventually I realised why. When you’re at sea you start to use your hearing a lot more than say, driving a car. You hear the wind behind you before it gets to the boat, you hear swells growing behind you threatening to dump a load of water onto the boat… with your ears covered you are essentially sailing “blind” and amazingly the comfort of warmth is nothing compared to the security of “vision”.

This was a miserable night… the swell grew and grew but the wind seemed to become more and more patchy and more and more random. At some point we decided to start motoring again but not before improvising a dip stick to try and measure how much fuel we were using. If we ran out of fuel heading into the Knysna heads we would probably die. No jokes. Fuel becomes that serious. We used strips of cardboard from a box I had brought some supplies in. As carefully as we could we dunked the cardboard and then quickly measured the diesel stained patch. 14cm was our first reading. An hour of motoring later we got 8cm… this scared the shit out of me. Our engine was meant to burn 2 litres of fuel per hour. We wearily decided to keep on motoring for another hour and get another measurement. 11cm. In other words we were either in the Bermuda Triangle or perhaps it might be that we were measuring fuel on a boat that was being tossed around by the swell. We “looked” into the tank with torches and decided to keep on going. I tried to sleep. Ok, so remember how uncomfortable sleeping is at sea? Well, add a huge diesel engine only a thin piece of plywood away from your head and the lovely smell of diesel fumes and hot oil. Amazingly I slept.

We kept on with the exhausted regime of sailing when we could sail and occasionally some motoring, but not before rechecking our fuel levels with our high-tech cardboard strips.

It was darker than it had ever been before. I was exhausted and at times would strain my eyes into the darkness thinking I could see land (i.e. we were too close) or think I could hear the sound of waves breaking on a shore… but all of that was imagined. We were far out to sea and as the sun eventually started illuminating the backs of the distant mountains I was able to relax, knowing that we were still far away from both the shore and Knysna. The swell was bigger than it had ever been before, perhaps about 5 meters. That’s two stories high, but wide enough to not be too threatening.

Knysna was a few hours away. I felt relieved knowing that eventually, probably while there was still daylight, I would be able to step onto dry land… I made jokes in my head about kissing the ground.

Up Next: The roaring 6 meter swells broke violently and audible, throwing spray 15 meters up into the air… “There’s the channel” he said, “between that rock and the spike in the distance”… All I saw was an angry wall of water and deadly rocks. I imagined what it would be like, in the water, amongst all of that.

Sailing Day 2

The problem with the sailing is that when the wind drops you get stuck. Luckily for us the wind hadn’t completely disappeared yet; we were still making headway. We were heading down towards Cape Agulus and would round the Southern most tip of Africa around 2pm. It isn’t nearly as glamorous as you might imagine since when you go around the peninsula you see other peninsulas nearby that annoyingly look equally “southern”.

We started the very very long broad reach run towards mossel bay. At some point during the day we saw a whale and marvelled at the flying expertise of the Sheerwaters (a bird) who fly along the swells with the very tip of their wings just gently touching the water so that they can keep their eyes looking forward for fish without worrying about taking a nose dive.

Boatfood is not nice. Jeremy is a far better sailor than chef, and I was okay with that. To be fair preparing anything on a boat that is rocking and rolling like a bad bon jovi concert is definitely not easy. We had bought a whole cooked chicken which we converted into chicken mayo sandwiches more times than I would like to admit. Exhaustion however was my undoing. You know that feeling when you’ve been horribly drunk and spend the entire night partying and then in the morning you can’t decide whether you’re absolutely ravenous or want to die? Well I think that feeling is somehow linked to your body hating you, and due to the rather severe lack of sleep that I had inflicted upon my mortal coil I suppose my body was reacting in a very similar way. It hated me and I really didn’t feel like eating. (Friends of mine will find this unbelievable… shut it!)

The day turned to evening as we struggled to make the most of the dying wind… but the weather also started looking quite bleak. It got cold and miserable and started to rain. As if we weren’t uncomfortable enough already, mother nature decided to throw us a little bit of water. Eventually I had all 4 layers of clothing completely and utterly soaked, right down to my undies. Being wet isn’t a problem, it’s being wet for 24 hours that really isnt’ fun. Here I was, sailing as evening turned to night, with driving rain somehow magically raining right in my face no matter how hard I tried to pull my hood down over my face.

It got dark and the visibility dropped. Moonlight was occluded by clouds and for the first time I felt very much “out at sea”.

Lighthouses aren’t just those red and white buildings with the light on the top… once you’ve sailed through the night they start to take on this all too well deserved level of respect bordering on adoration. Each lighthouse has its own flash pattern. Groups of 3 every 10 seconds etc. At night you can see the loom of a lighthouse that is literally 24 hours sailing away from you. In childrens storybooks you always hear about how the ships saw the lighthouse too late, as if the lighthouse was this terrible thing that protected some disastrous rocky evil. In reality you spend a large majority of your time at night navigating straight towards a lighthouse. I can imagine the relief of ye olde sailors from eras gone by when, while crossing the oceans, they would finally spot a lighthouse and know that they were nearing the end of their journey.

We took turns again. It was still raining and because getting undressed or dressed at night on a rocking boat takes too much time and energy you end up sleeping in your 4 layers of wet clothes, including bulking safety harness, jackets and soaking underpants. Yay! Eventually even the mattresses were soaked.

The rain stopped eventually and after numerous zombied helm switches at 4am we found ourselves at sunrise somewhere near Bredasdorp. There was absolutely no wind, the sun was warm and the sea was beautiful and calm. We were not moving at all.

I felt betrayed by the previous nights rainfall.

Coming next: “We probably should have gone with our gut instincts. Mossel Bay was *right* there and we were sailing directly away from it, directly into a shitstorm.

Sailing Day 1

(I’ll have to upload photographs later, all I took with was the disposable cam pics and will get them developed over the weekend)

The boat that shall not be named (for reasons that will become clearer in future posts) is small. It’s 8 meters small and it is what sailors call “tender”. ie. It rolls side to side like a mofo at the slightest hint of a swell. But ours is not to ask why, ours is just to deliver the thing. The boat has 1 tiny cabin in the bow that was about half the size of the back of a bakkie with a canopy on. There are two other bunks. One bigger one that is essentially the “dining room table” (har har) and one tiny little wormhole bunk that you use when the sea is very rough. From the position outside where you sit and steer you can look through the hatch into the boat and see pretty much all there is to see. You’re in a small confined area.

It was only two of us sailing. Jeremy and myself. Jeremy is what I would consider a very experienced sailor. He lives on a yacht.

We start packing her and doing the safety checks. Inside she’s smaller than a caravan, a lot smaller. I can’t get my shoulders through the forepeak (the cabin in the very front) door… I have to push my body through side-on and when you’re all rigged up with harnesses and such you actually get stuck pretty easily.

One of her batteries is dead but the other seems fine.

We rig her, she rigs like a dinghy with winches. Once we’re all done we decide to rush out and try and catch the wind that we’ve been feeling grow behind us. We motor out, get the sails up and start sailing. Wednesday afternoon was a lovely day sail. The wind was pretty strong and we were going along at about 5 or 6 knots. That’s not blazingly fast but it’s as fast as this hull can go. Already my bum is starting to get a bit sore. The back of the boat is basically what you’d expect from a dinghy. Hard fibreglass seats that get wet pretty easily and various little bits and pieces that stick up into your back or ass. The actually positioning of the seating and the tiller made you wonder if the designer of this boat wasn’t perhaps some sick twisted sadomasochist. You just didn’t have enough leg room or your back was digging into a cable or your bum was digging into a latch. Not comfortable, even on day 1.

We sailed and sailed and at some point the sun started setting. We decided to start our shifts. By this stage the wind is a bit stronger and the swells are kicking the boat around like a tin can in the gutter. I go first (I think… it’s all a bit of a blur really).

I collapse, exhausted, onto the bunk and try to get comfortable. Again there are various things digging into me and on top of it all the boat is rocking so much that I have to physically hold myself in the bunk to stop from falling out. Needless to say, I spent three hours stressing about trying to sleep and not sleeping. Out of the darkness Jeremy calls my name. It’s my shift… I haven’t slept at all. Exhausted I climb up onto the deck and take over while Jeremy sleeps. The minutes tick over painfully slowly as my eyes drop and I struggle to stay awake. Luckily, unlike driving a car, the waves that smack you act as a great wake up call. You drift in and out of exhausted sleepiness watching the stars and listening to the sloosh sloosh sloosh noises as that boat runs through the water. The arm movement you have to make on the tiller in order to counteract the swell becomes automated. Bioluminessence (Glowing algae?) lights up the breaking waves and leaves a gorgeous path behind the yacht where the keel cuts its line through the water. This is not something that you can photograph. You have to see it. Occasionally we would sail through huge pools of bioluminssence that lit up the boat as if a yellow green sun was rising over the horizon. It was beautiful. My shift was up. Jeremy came back up to sail for the next 3 hours and I again tried in vain to sleep. I didn’t. Before I knew it Jeremy was calling me again. My 3 hours below had gone painfully by and now it was my turn to sail again. Jeremy was also struggling to sleep.

The swell was probably between 4 and 5 meters and the boat would sail up the one side and surf down the other… but each time you crossed the two valleys of the swell the boat would rock violently, emptying the sails and force you to strain on the tiller to keep her upright and pointing in the right direction.

I weariy sailed us to the early hours of the morning but never got the benefit of seeing sunrise… My shift was over, I was shattered and I crashed below. I’m not sure if I slept but when I finally got up the sun was rising on the horizon.

We were beating a line towards Cape Agulus… the wind seemed to be dropping.

— End of Day 1.

In the next instalment: “Jeremy is a far better sailor than chef. I was okay with that.