Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Whether to weather the weather

Caracal (Kruger National Park)

Richards Bay was a joy to us after our passage from Tanzania. We reveled in the abundance of fresh produce, good wine, quality beef, and the friendly people. Zululand Yacht Club, besides being possibly the most affordable marina anywhere, went to great lengths to accommodate the influx of cruising yachts and even presented each International boat with a bottle of champagne. With all the cruisers around, there were plenty of opportunities to socialize (braai, anyone?). We even had enough Americans (and honorary Americans) and turkey for a Pilgrim-sized Thanksgiving dinner.

Elephants frolicking and bickering (Kruger National Park)

It was a good thing that Richards Bay was a pleasant place to be, as it became a bit of a bottleneck for cruisers headed to Cape Town. Everyone was waiting for a decent weather window which never seemed to materialize. The run from Richards Bay to Cape Town is one of the most challenging routes in the world because of the Agulhas current (a SW running current that can reach 6 knots), unpredictable weather patterns, and a lack of good anchorages to stop along the way. The combination of the current and gales from the wrong direction can be dangerous. 

Fortunately, with good weather forecasting available and lots of wisdom (such as the locally known and colorful Des Cason who volunteers to advise cruisers like us), you have plenty of information available to let you know when the going is good. But no amount of analysis is going to change bad weather to good, so we (and lots of our cruising friends) waited. And waited.

Our luck at spotting leopards continues

While we were waiting, we decided to take a short road trip to Kruger National Park and Blyde River Canyon. We saw a lot of animals during our economy car self-drive through Kruger.  Even though there weren't  anywhere near the numbers of animals compared to Tanzania, there were several that we hadn't seen before. A highlight was the dung beetles, which are hilarious in real life (especially 3 beetles fighting over one dung ball). We stayed at a campsite in the park with a resident warthog and hyenas howling at night. We also experienced a half-hour thunderstorm where we were pelted with near golf-ball sized hail that we were certain would dent up the rental car (luckily it didn't).

Thunderbird (ground horn-bill)

Saddle-billed stork


Why did the hyena cross the road? Maybe he didn't...

Love is in the air (the smaller one is the male)

Greater kudu

Blyde RiverCanyon was like a mini-Grand Canyon. We spent a day taking in its highlights and stretching our driving-atrophied limbs before heading back to Perry. As luck would have it, a weather window opened up for the day after we returned to Richards Bay. So we set about checking out of Richards Bay (which involved visiting four government offices and an impressive amount of paperwork, including a sketch of our boat and a diagram of the route we were going to take), getting diesel, shopping for groceries, and cooking a few passage meals.

Bourke's Luck 'potholes'

The Three Rondavels viewpoint

After buying some takeaway chicken dinners from the Zululand Yacht Club, we set off shortly after 5 p.m. for the 350-nautical mile journey to East London. To make it to East London before the next weather front, we had to leave right after the southerly winds had slowed, not allowing the kicked up seas time to subside. Our passage from Richards Bay to East London was fairly miserable. 

Atypically, both Matt and I got sick the first night (it may be a while before Matt will eat Peri Peri chicken again). Other than a brief period of downwind sailing, we had confused and large seas the whole passage. It was a relief to make it to East London. Unfortunately, we had to wait outside the harbor for an hour while tug boats navigated a big tanker out of the harbor. That made us two for two in having to wait for boat traffic before port control would clear us in (we had previously waited outside Richards Bay for two hours when we arrived to South Africa). Erie Spirit now refuses to follow us into a port because of our bad luck in this department.

East London is a small rural area and the Buffalo River Yacht Club was very welcoming and friendly. We got mixed messages from locals about whether or not it was safe to walk from the yacht club to the other side of the river. However, at least one restaurant told us they stopped delivering pizzas to the club because their drivers kept getting mugged. We lived in Chicago for years without ever being mugged, so while all the talk of mugging since we have gotten to South Africa is a bit unsettling, it's hard to gauge how worried we should actually be since half of the warnings seem to come from taxi drivers with a vested interest in keeping us from walking!

From East London, we headed to Knysna (pronounced 'nice-nah'), considered one of the most scenic places in South Africa. This passage was better. Considering the constant chilly drizzle and having to run the motor for half a day, you can see how low the bar is for a good passage these days. We had considered skipping Knysna because the narrow entrance can be tricky in the wrong conditions. Below is a satellite image of the entrance to the harbor on a typical day. Generally, you want to avoid the white foamy areas so you don't want to do it when it's all white foamy areas.


We took the advice of Mike at the Knysna Yacht Club and timed our journey to arrive about an hour before high tide to avoid breaking waves and adverse current. Sonrisa and then Erie Spirit led the way into the the forbidding fog. Our timing was right and we all made it through unscathed.

Fog at the headlands ('The Heads'). Seeing where you're going is overrated.

Over the hump

Kynsna is a beautiful coastal town that reminds us a bit of Cape Cod. It is popular with retirees because of the reasonable cost of living and bounty of natural beauty. Everyone walks and (almost) nobody gets mugged. Between the scenery, oysters and sushi, it will be hard to work up the motivation to leave.

The Heads from inside on a calm day

Mussels at the East Head Cafe

Andrew and Matt enjoying craft beer at the Knysna Distillery


  1. A thunderbird.....why would anyone want to name a classy car after that?

    1. Not sure they did, but they sure have plenty of attitude.

  2. Amazing, again! I live the pictures and hearing of your travels! Such amazing experiences for your boys, who have grown so much!! Thanks for sharing your incredible adventures! My grandsons lived seeing all the animals you've seen!! Continued safe travels!!

    1. Thanks, Lory! Love seeing pics of your grandkids and you. Hope you're well and safe right now!


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