Dec 98 Enews

We send out an Email newsletter about once every couple of weeks. Here’s the latest installment from Alex.  If you’d like to be included in the future, send an Email to Jeff and he’ll sign you up.  By the way, our list is not used for advertising purposes nor is it ever sold or passed on to Email marketers.

Hi Everyone,

 Here's what’s going on from the traveling crew of Out of Bounds.

Well, this is it!  This is the moment we've been waiting for.  After more than a week of watching we have finally found the right weather window to leave Richards Bay.  Over the last month we’ve been closely observing the weather patterns and the way that they form.  What we’ve learned is that the area around the southern tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet is a veritable weather machine.  It pumps out low-pressure systems that blast up the coast one after the other.   Combine the high winds with the Agulhas current and it’s very often unpredictable and always dangerous.  In fact, it can be argued that rounding the Cape of Good Hope is more perilous than Cape Horn.

Never since leaving Newport 25 months ago has the meteorological information been more important to planing a passage. Knowing that this was going to be the most challenging sailing we have yet encountered we have been gathering as much info and talking to as many people as we could. Though our pre-planing began months, ago it was not until we arrived in South Africa that it was essential we be as prepared as possible for this passage. In addition to the written material we already had, we looked for people with local knowledge who have either sailed the passage before or have weather expertise. As such, we now have a very good understanding of the potentially dangerous situations that develop and how they effect this area of the African continent.  By anyone’s account there is a lot to know about all the forces at work, but one of the most important elements in this equation is common sense.  Without it all the knowledge in the world is useless.

I don’t want to bore you all with the details on how this weather stuff works, except to say that the patterns form faster, move faster and, combined with the coastal current, is a deadly force to be reckoned with. Not only did we read about some of the tragedies that have happened off the coast, we were present when one occurred. I am referring to the sinking of a 90-foot fishing trawler 10 miles off Richards Bay just last month.   It happened during one of the southwest “busters” that regularly slam the coast. I had just returned from the Phinda Game Reserve and was feverish with (what I later found out to be) malaria when I arrived back at the boat to find the wind howling from the southwest. Despite my condition, I made sure the lines were secure and then went below for the evening with the rain pouring and the wind blowing more than 40 knots across the deck.

The next morning on the VHF I began to hear Richards Bay Port Control hailing a vessel to no avail. This went on all morning until the message changed to any vessel seeing or in contact with said vessel to report in. It was at this point that I was informed that our friends off of the yacht “Truant” were on their way down from Madagascar and were due in the night before.  My heart might have skipped a beat were it not for the fact that someone had just spoken to Truant and they were all right. They were on passage when the conditions forced them to hove-to 100 miles north of Richards Bay in 50+ knot winds and “very rough” seas. Thank God “Truant” was OK, however still no contact from the fishing vessel overdue in Durban.

That afternoon, reports started coming in that a man claiming to be from the missing boat was found wondering a local beach. Soon after, SASAR (South African Search and Rescue) authorities became involved and it was confirmed that the man was a survivor from the lost fishing boat. It turns out that the fated vessel had experienced mechanical problems causing it to turn abeam of the waves and capsize unexpectedly.  In the mean time, as this news trickled in, several air search and rescue teams were busy looking for survivors.  However, even after two days of searching, all they found were several debris fields scattered off shore.  According to the captain, the incident occurred in the early morning hours and that the boat sank so quickly that none of the remaining 13 crew made it out of their bunks.  Out of 14 people who went to sea, the Captain was the only one left alive.  

I wish that I could say that was the only boat to disappear off this coast recently, however it is not.  In a recent article from Cruising World it was reported that in 1998 alone there have been 3 yachts lost.  There were different circumstances surrounding each but a common thread through all… they were not careful enough!  Not the kind of stuff you want to hear before embarking on the same trip, but definitely a lesson in respect.   If you want to understand the reason for our concern and why this is such a nasty stretch of coast, check out the explanation on anomalous waves and the Agulhas Current on the OOB website.

As we embark on our trip to Cape Town let me leave you with an excerpt from a piece of literature on sailing the coast by Chris Bonnet. This demonstrates a good example where common sense was lacking.

In October 1970, Captain Wilhelm Schroder was taking the “Stephaniturm”, a 499-ton German-built supply vessel, on her maiden voyage from Europe to Malagasy. In Cape Town Schroder was quoted as saying, “My ship can sail with absolute impunity in any of the seas between Alaska and Singapore.”  Yet, one week later he was one of the five among his crew lucky enough to be rescued after his ship capsized in raging seas near Durban. The wind at the time was about force 8 or 9 – not exceptional, however he said that he had “never seen such high seas”.   The chagrined skipper had just learned that keeping to a schedule can quickly become the least of a captain’s problems.

Wish us luck!
Alex for the crew of Out of Bounds,
Bill, Suzie, Mick, Sally & Lucy the dog!
Tuzi Gazi Marina
Richards Bay, South Africa
Lon. 34 04.75 E, Lat. 28 47.69 S

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