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06 December 2014…   Welcome to Africa!

Things were slow to get rolling here in Richard’s Bay because Customs & Immigration didn’t get out for THREE DAYS to check us in!  The rule of thumb is that you’re not allowed off the boat until you’re cleared into the country nor is anyone even allowed to approach you.  So we spent the time getting ourselves and the boat back together.  Fortunately things are a little more relaxed here and since there’s a laundromat that we can see actually see from the boat we were able to sneak over and unload about 5 weeks’ worth of clothes, some of them wet, soggy & smelly!  So the time wasn’t wasted but we were anxious to get to a phone & internet hooked up, load up on groceries and get some very important projects underway.

on the other side of the fence then he was on full alert!  We were finished with our visit anyway, but we were hustled out in a hurry.  Again, it’s sometimes necessary to remind yourself that they’re still wild animals no matter how docile they may seem!

Our time here in Richard’s Bay has been fantastic and it’s gone by so quickly that we’ve had to sit back and evaluate where we’ve wasted time.  But we haven’t: everyday has been full of projects and running around but we’re still leaving with a list of things to do!  We’ve actually seriously considered leaving Calico Jack here instead of bringing her around to Capetown for the time we’re gone on our inland trip.  It’s just such an easy place to be.  But the big projects are finished now and since we have everything for our overland trip booked in and out of Capetown it just makes more sense to be there; also, timing will be better for moving on once we return.  With our visa issues seemingly settled and a space reserved at the marina (didn’t know that would be a toughie!), all that’s left is to get there.

31 December 2014…   Around Cape Agulhas

It was a quick and easy run from Richard’s Bay to East London.  And I do mean quick!  There’s still some current in this area and when we found it, we were screeeeeeaaming along at an average of 8 knots!  We accomplished 350nmiles in 56 hours which is quite a feat indeed for our matronly girl.  We pulled into East London for a stopover that was to be only about 36 hours, waiting on a small weather system to pass.

But as always, Mother Nature gets her way.  The weather changes very quickly here and our brief stopover turned into a full week.  A full week of not-much.  While we usually like to get off the boat and meander around, we were told straight away that it’s not safe to walk in the CBD, not even in the daytime.  Instead, we hiked in the other direction to the grocery store and even that was strange.  Let’s be frank and say that the racial tension here in South Africa is still alive and well and this was our first real taste of it.  In Richard’s Bay, we could pass absolutely anyone on the street and exchange a greeting.  I will say that when the passerby was black, it was usually us that initiated it but it was almost always met with a smile and reciprocated.  Travis and Doug even had two ladies teach them a few words in Zulu one day!  In East London, however, our greetings weren’t so graciously received.  I’m very sad to say that we were met with everything from complete indifference to cold stares, if there was any eye contact at all.  I’m not certain, but I think we were even yelled at at one point.  Only 3 people responded to our usual greetings and only one of those with any friendliness.  I know we can’t change what’s gone on in this country one “good morning” at a time but I was very saddened nonetheless. 

Photos: Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands  ... on the way

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07 October 2014…   Land Ho!!

Second-longest transit of our trip: check!  And we made great time.  We usually calculate our mileage conservatively at 100 nautical miles per day so the 120-125/day we were actually making shaved down our travel time considerably.  In the end, we accomplished 1986nm (2482 statute miles) in 17½ days.  Well done, Calico Jack!

Weather-wise, the passage was pretty much what we expected.  It was squirrely for the first several days: lumpy, confused seas plus squalls that rolled in made for a lot of “Yay, Windows!” moments and boat bites (mystery bruises earned from being ricocheted about!).  We’ve read that vessels with self-steering gear often suffer damage through this area because the seas are so bad.  By about the halfway point the weather had settled down somewhat and it was nice to be down below leading a “normal” life.  It also made for some amazing starry nightwatch shifts and additionally, we enjoyed one of those rare occasions where the orange sun was sinking into the sea off our bow while the moon was rising orange off our stern.  Nice.

Mechanically-speaking, we fared well on this passage.  If you recall, we had a lot to talk about on our Pacific transit because everything kept breaking!  This transit’s only casualty is a dead battery charger which we were able to bypass.  We did have a small panic moment when it looked like the freezer was dying again but it ended up being only a loose wire.  We made the whole trip without getting water in the engine which is excellent news but most importantly, Otto made most of the journey with few hiccups.  Most of it.  The last 36 hours coming into Rodrigues he was being very persnickety indeed.  Once we got him going again, we decided to bypass Rodrigues and just head straight to Mauritius; from there it’s only a day’s sail to a technician in La Reunion.  Mother Nature had other plans, though, as there was to be no wind for 2 days so we pulled over for a rest.
2012: A Sea Odyssey
S/V Calico Jack
2012: A Sea Odyssey
09 September 2014…   It’s Christmas Time!

It sure feels like it anyhow as Calico Jack shakes off the Bali Blues and gets some ocean-blue under her keel again!  She was feeling a little beat up: cushions trashed, paint scratched from being run into by every worker that stopped by and filthy filthy, filthy bottom, gunwale & mast (Travis sent me up and I came down black!).  Even the flags needed washing. 

But we’re underway again and all is right in the world.  Although we were cursed with light winds on the first day (proving once again that the weather forecasting in this area is never accurate!), it was a very nice sail over but not without a couple of hiccups.  The hardware on the spinnaker failed the first day out: it parted at the top and the whole thing fell into the water off the starboard side.  We hauled it aboard and bemoaned the fact that we had lost the very-handy sock for it.  Firing up the engine, we turned around to look for it knowing full well that the metal ring had probably already dragged it under and it was fast approaching the ocean floor.  Then the lightbulb came on for both of us at the same time: it should still be attached to the sail somewhere, somehow.  Sure enough, we dragged the sock and all its tangled line up from the port side.  I don’t know how we didn’t get it wound up in the prop but we were grateful!

Yoda (the Kubota) passed the test on this first leg out and the freshwater leak we acquired in Bali seems to have disappeared for the time being –yay!  He’s purring like a kitten, too, the best he’s sounded in years!   The autopilot continues to be a problem, though, and it could become a huge problem down the road if we don’t get it sorted.  Let me illustrate how important the situation is.  I’m sure you folks chuckle at how we have proper names for a lot of our gear: Yoda, Fang (the Rocna anchor), Little Sparky (the dinghy), Yertle (the Turtle, our outboard motor), Manuel (the windlass for hauling up Fang.  It’s not electric, it’s manual and Travis is the “Man” in Manuel!)… Some of them we dream up, others just materialize and stick without discussion.  It’s inevitable, as we come to rely on these components, that we should acquire an attachment to them (well, at least for us weirdoes).  But the autopilot is a step beyond this for Otto truly earns his place on Calico Jack as a crew member.  Some insurance companies will even back this up as they sometimes require three people aboard to qualify for coverage but they’ll often accept only two if there’s an autopilot in the mix.  That’s how important he is.  The fact that he’s diligently steering the boat on its course means that we can read, nap, cook and otherwise have a normal life without having to be at the wheel steering.  Can you imagine driving a car for three weeks straight?  Even with one other person to share the duties, it’s an onerous task.  Add the roll of the sea and the lack of power steering and you’re starting to get the picture.

Travis spent the first couple of days trying to troubleshoot the problem –tracing wires, poking around with the volt metre- with the help of our friend back in the States who gave us helpful advice from half a world away.  It’s looking like the computer is failing but it’s hard to say for sure as it’s an intermittent problem (always the weird, intermittent problems with us!).  As such, we really don’t want to order an $800 part without knowing for sure that it’s truly the issue.  We’ve looked into it regardless, since it’s so important on the cusp of our upcoming 3-week passage, and discovered that we wouldn’t be able to receive it in Cocos Island in a timely fashion anyway.  End of story on that score.  So, we’ll just run with it the way it is and pray it holds true until we make it to the other side.  It can go for 30 seconds, 30 minutes or 3 hours running just fine and then it trips the alarm and we need to reset it.  It’s annoying, but far better than hand-steering.

Indian Ocean to South Africa
World Tour Archives:
It isn’t difficult to sense the community spirit here on CI.  From the exuberance of the ladies at the visitors’ centre, to the roadside chalkboards announcing community events and commemorating birthdays, to the harbour cleanup where the local dive shop donated air tanks and organized a group dive to collect trash from down below the H2O.  We signed up to participate –apparently, we were the first international yachties to do so!- and not surprisingly, there was little trash to be found but we did our part, enjoyed a nice dive on top of it and were invited to the BBQ that followed.  We were even given a ride there and picked up on the road on the way back.  Once again, we’ve been overwhelmed by the hospitality and friendliness of the Australian people.  It’s a multi-ethnic community, mostly Chinese, Malay and European-Australians.  The Chinese actually make up just under 70% of the population and we were told about how very generous they are, hosting a lot of events and just generally giving back to the community.  The multiculturalism is evidenced, once again, by their side-by-side religious buildings.  Churches,mosques and temples (Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist) all living in harmony.  The singing from the mosque here was, for the first time, absolutely beautiful!  Remember that we arrived in Indonesia during Ramadan and the songs and prayers were bursting forth from every mosque via a p.a. system until the wee hours of the morning –and starting again in the wee hours of the morning!  In one anchorage, we had it coming from both sides!!  I’m sorry to say that most of them seemed to be tone deaf (sorry, I’m a jerk!) but not the case here.  We stopped what we were doing to listen to this man’s voice echo over the water every afternoon.  And the bonus of having so many cultures packed onto this little island?  There is always a celebration going on!  Holidays of every denomination are celebrated by everyone –sounds like fun (we missed the Chinese moon cake party by a day, boo!).

They call this the “Galapagos of the Indian Ocean” for its plentiful and endemic animal life.  It’s the only home for birds such as the beautiful Golden Bosun, the Abbott’s Booby (the largest of the boobies) and the Christmas Frigatebird.  But what it’s most famous for is the abundance and diversity of its land crabs like nowhere else on earth.  Robber Crabs (known elsewhere as Coconut Crabs) are plentiful here as are 20 other species of crabs of all different colours and sizes.  Most remarkable is the annual march of the Red Crab.  At the beginning of the rainy season, about a hundred million of them make their way from the forest down to the beach to mate.  We missed the event by a couple of months but we’ve seen pictures of the sea of red on the roadways –it’s incredible!  Happily, the locals take great pride in their little island-mates and they have systems in place for herding them through “crab crossings” under the roads, “crab bridges” over the roads and sometimes roads are closed altogether and detours set up until the red sea has subsided!  This must be quite an undertaking because there are four waves of them altogether.  Kudos to the dedication of the locals for respecting what a vital part of their ecosystem these little guys are!  Click here and here for more information and some incredible photos!
So, our five days here were very well spent.  We hiked and we swam.  We fixed our spinnaker and stocked up on a few things –but not much!  Lettuce $8, Beer $5: the choice is obvious even for this salad lover!  On the other hand, it’s a duty-free island and a 1litre Captain Morgan could be had for only $13.50, the cheapest good hooch we’ve seen since Panama.  Gotta love it, but too bad the budget is too tight to truly stock up! 

15 September 2014…   Goodbye…Again!

So I says to Travis, “I don’t know why you’re still dragging that fishing line.  We’re back in Australian waters and we’ve long since determined that Australia has no fish!”

We’ve arrived at Cocos (Keeling) Islands and this will be our last stop in Australian waters.  It wasn’t an ideal crossing.  Our first day out from Christmas Island we had a band of waterspouts cross our path which was fairly interesting!  Travis counted seven in all, about four of them being visible at a time and he called me quickly on deck just in case we needed to act in a hurry.  The first one passed to our port about 2-3 boat lengths away and then a second passed just one boat length away!  We had most of our canvas reeled in but we were still delivered a pretty good jolt and I looked up to see the swirling clouds above us, like we were in the eye of a storm!  Luckily they were small when they were nearest us but we watched them as they moved on, increasing in strength.  No harm, no foul. 

The winds for the crossing weren’t as forecasted (quelle surprise).  They were more from the east than the southeast we were expecting which made the run very rolly and uncomfortable as the wind was right on the bum.  On top of that, we had some very confused seas and Travis has read that we can expect these same conditions for about half of our next run, a lovely 10 more days of fighting gravity.  Great.  But on the bright side, we had a great big moon for the passage and even enjoyed one of those evenings where the sun was setting orange off our bow while the moon was simultaneously rising orange off our stern.  Neat.  Having a big moon is always great for nightwatch but then again, without a moon there are a zillion stars.  Win-win.
Our movements were restricted on the island since car rentals were expensive, scooter rentals were only done by the week and the bicycle rental guy was off island!  But we dinghied into shore one day and were met by a local couple that live on Christmas but have another home and a boat in Perth.  We got to talking about boaty things and then, despite their own commitments for the morning, they scooped us up into their car and gave us a mini-tour of the island!  They took us to the rainforest to some beautiful lookouts –the island is 63% national park; they took us past one of the mines –the leases run out in 20 years at which point, the economy will change here; along some woodland trails to a little temple in the woods; and just generally imparted on us a ton of local knowledge.  What a treat and thank you for a wonderful morning Hugh & Robin!  Again, the hospitality has been overwhelming.
We would have been sad to miss Christmas Island as we really enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, tourism is down here and it’s mostly due to the bad rap it’s getting on the issue of asylum seekers.  Because it’s so close to Indonesia, Christmas Island is often the destination for migrants to land and use it as a gateway to start a new life abroad.  It was a big issue while we were on the mainland as well -they have their own problems with it, exactly the same issues.  But it seems it’s easier to draw the focus away from the troubles in their own back yard and place the burden exclusively on this far-flung little rock.  And sadly, it’s working.  Mainland locals warned us that this was no place to visit, that it’s nothing more than a filthy penal colony, “Why would you want to go there?”  It couldn’t be further from the truth. Three customs boats were patrolling the harbour when we arrived and continued the baaaack and foooorth tirelessly during our entire stay while in fact they haven’t had a boatload of migrants try to land since December!  As for this “penal colony”, we visited the detention centre –creepy, right?  Not so.  The housing looked similar but nicer than units they set up for construction workers.  There were no bars, no big fenced-in enclosures (where are they gonna go on an island, right?), just low normal fences that enclosed the housing compound and the nearby sports field where the kids were playing a game of footy.  The nearby recreation centre was open to them where they had access to a basketball court, swimming pool, etc.  This certainly wasn’t the prison complex we were led to expect and if we hadn’t been told, we might have mistaken if for a normal community.  Which is pretty much what it is. 

As for the rest of the populated area, it has a big chunk o’ dusty industry smack-dab in the middle of it!  Phosphate mining drives the economy here and they have an assembly-line belt that moves it down to the main harbour for loading onto the ships.  Otherwise, the streets are wide and quiet and Christmas Island actually reminded us a lot of Grand Turk –not a lot going on, you could lie down and have a nap in the street!  It’s island time here: businesses are closed for a couple of hours over lunch and don’t expect more than a half-day on Saturday, if they’re open at all.  Restaurants will stagger their opening hours/days so you have to be in-the-know to find lunch.  Luckily they have a fantastic visitors’ centre with an enthusiastic, ever-helpful staff.  We were directed to lunch, walking trails, invited to community events and schooled on the special features of the island. 
We arrived to Christmas Island and picked up the mooring in deep blue clear water, ahhhh!  It looked like great snorkeling right under the boat!  It started to cloud over, though, when we checked in with customs and discovered that we were in a bit of trouble.  The online information we rely on says that we need only to radio in to announce our arrival from about 10 miles out.  In fact, we were supposed to have emailed them 96 hours out and we were informed that we had broken the law by not doing so.  Two countries in a row we’ve been told that –outlaws on a roll!  We weren’t sure if we would be fined or just asked to leave but as Australians they were still pretty nice about the whole thing!  As a rule, ignorance of the law is no excuse, he said, but we told him where cruisers get a lot of their information and he said it explained why so many boats were showing up unannounced this year.  He took the address and said that he would log in and update that information and we were thankfully let off the hook.
We dodgy boaters are segregated to Direction Island in the northeast, away from everyone else.  It’s a quarantine island and they used to “detain” cattle here.  A ferry connects us to two other islands but we’re happy here in our little corner.  It only comes twice a week at which point locals and tourists come to enjoy a BBQ and a day at the beach but otherwise, we cruisers have it all to ourselves and it’s been great.  We’ve enjoyed bonfires on the beach and as the anchorage has filled up, everyone waiting for the next weather window, the gatherings have increased in size each time!  This also defines a good anchorage –good company.  We’re back with Dragonsbane and Egret, friends we know from the Pacific, and we’re making all sorts of new friends so the big Indian Ocean won’t feel so lonely after all.  We’ve really missed this socializing among boaters –wish we could stay and enjoy this island a little longer.

Checking in to Cocos was seamless and friendly and we find ourselves in the best anchorage we’ve enjoyed in about a year!  There are many things that can define a good anchorage.  Maybe the holding is good or you have good access to services or the dinghy ride isn’t too long.  In this instance, we are anchored off an idyllic little island with powder-soft sand and decent snorkeling in gin-clear water.  As we dropped the hook we were greeted by three black-tipped reef sharks who gobbled up the flying fish corpses we scooped up from the decks!  Another boat was lucky enough to have a dolphin escort coming into the anchorage and there are supposed to be manta rays, although we haven’t seen them.  Needless to say, our underwater lights have been great fun here!  And since Yertle is still on the fritz, we’ve been using the kayak as transportation and it’s the ideal place for it (just called “the kayak”, by the way!).
However, our weather window awaits and we’ll be leaving tomorrow for our 3-week run.  It’s going to be sloppy out there for a while, which I’m not looking forward to, but I’ve been busy in the kitchen tonight preparing passage food so we don’t have to be downstairs cooking while it’s lumpy.  Curries, coq au vin, spaghetti sauce…Take it out of the freezer, slop it on some rice/pasta/instant mash, heat and you’re ready to go, easy peasy.  And so I guess we’re as ready as we’ll ever be.  Travis has pampered and stroked the autopilot (fingers crossed Otto makes it!), everything is tidied and stowed, reading and knitting projects are lined up.  We’ve even left our mark on a tree here at Direction Island.  I make it sound like we peed on it but it was a little classier than that (a little).  And speaking of classy, I woke up this morning to discover Travis with a shaved head, something that was on my list to do for him.  He said that if he can take care of his own dentistry, he can certainly cut his own hair!  He keeps breaking his fillings on popcorn, believe it or not, and this week he took a Dremel to a broken molar that was too sharp.  Yep, classy.  Fingers crossed here, too –that tooth needs to make it across an ocean!  Needless to say, popcorn is banned, at least while we’re out of range of a dentist.  Anyway, it’s become too expensive for a cheap snack!

So I guess this is goodbye, Australia.  Again!  And goodbye Anyone, for that matter, for quite a while!  Keep in mind that our Spot device doesn’t have coverage in the middle of the Indian Ocean so we’ll disappear for a couple of weeks.  We’ll be arriving in Rodrigues the first week of October or so.  See you on the other side!
And that was Rodrigues.  We were gutted to have to leave so soon as it’s such a pretty and chill island and it’s free to stay there, besides!  Free dockage -yes, at an actual dock- and the local telecom company even offers 30 minutes free internet per day.  Whoa, outstanding!  But the island is lacking in some things that we really need right now like propane, fuel, water and an autopilot technician –we’re really skidding in sideways.  So it’s on to Mauritius we go and we’re halfway there as I type this.  The autopilot about drove me nuts on watch last night with the alarm going off every 10-15 seconds (enter: iPod!) and we ran out of propane today.  Cold leftovers it’ll be this evening, I’m afraid, but at least it held up long enough to cook today’s lunch which brings me to the….
And we were glad we did.  We reconnected with 2 friend boats who filled us in on what there was to do on the island but unfortunately we were only looking at two days and they fell over the weekend when nothing was open!  We did, however, arrive in time for the weekly market and we wandered around marvelling at fresh produce we haven’t seen in 5 weeks or better (what “fresh” there was in Christmas Island would have required a small loan).  Salad was on the menu that day and it might have just been the best salad this month but it tasted like the best one ever!  Ditto on the apples: don’t pass up the chance to try the Pink Lady if you ever see it in a grocery store.  We got internet hooked up and took care of some online business including booking our inland Africa travels: 6 weeks from Nairobi, Kenya to Capetown, South Africa.  It’s going to be epic!
Man vs. Fish Scenario.  As you know, it’s a real sore point with Travis but he was excited about this Indian Ocean crossing as he’d heard of boats actually having to institute “no fishing” days because the freezer is full!  Not so for us.  Two spit the hook and we managed to get two smaller mahi aboard but that was it.  No-fishing days: pffftt!  The freezer was far from full and we were starting to think we’d have to develop a taste for flying fish and the squid that had committed hari-kari on our decks.  Then yesterday Travis was just about to reel in the hook for the night when he got a bite –then lost it.  Damnit.  As he began to reel it in, the fish went at it again and this time he was hooked!  It took about a half hour to get this monster aboard: at about 4ft, he’s probably the biggest one we’ve landed on Calico Jack!  In pitching and rolling seas with the autopilot screaming at us, Travis and the fish were waging a battle against each other on the back deck.  He still had a lot of fight in him and it was quite the kerfuffle.  When it was all said and done, he was sliced up into what works out to 9 meals for the two of us and we thanked him as we put his huge carcass overboard.  And guess what?  Today was a no-fishing day for Calico Jack as the freezer is full –we even had to sacrifice our ice stores! 

And then today we witnessed something truly bizarre.  A mahi-mahi, bigger than the one we caught yesterday, was swimming alongside the boat and was overtaking us as we cruised along at about 6 knots!  With barely a swish of his tail, he passed us and began to swim in our bow wake like a dolphin!  We’ve never seen anything like this and we’re wondering if maybe it was his buddy we hauled onboard yesterday and he was flipping us the fin.  Regardless, it was a crazy thing to witness.  And people think there’s nothing interesting to look at out at sea…
17 October 2014…   No Rest for the Wicked

Leaving Bali so late, we knew that it was going to be rushed across the Indian Ocean.  Our stops were brief, between only 2 and 5 days at each of our three stops so far.  We were anxious to get to Mauritius and just hang out for a bit!  We were tired.

The last two days coming into Mauritius had Otto being naughtier than ever so it was a lot of hand-steering.  This can be especially frustrating at night since you have no visual point of reference and so are left to stare at the digital numbers on the compass –the one that’s malfunctioning, remember.  Without getting into too many boring details about the problem, those numbers we were staring at would race up and down 80 degrees in each direction within seconds.  Futile.  At least there was a full moon so by 3am when we were really tired, we could follow its beam to the horizon until 6am when then sun started to come up.  We arrived in Port Louis, Mauritius exhausted but we weren’t done yet.  We had chores to do but we were surprised at how quickly things came together!  The laundry guy met us at the boat before we were even finished our check-in.  We told him we were leaving first thing in the morning and he vowed to be back by 8am.  And there he was –talk about service!  We had to move the boat off the customs dock first thing but we rafted up to a friend’s boat for a couple of hours so that we could march up the road and get our propane tanks filled.  Then we moved around to the marina dock briefly to fill up with water and give our girl a well-deserved bath before heading three hours north to Grand Baie.  Before we even had our anchor down our friend Doug aboard Fellow Traveler, who we haven’t seen since Bali (and we didn’t think we’d be seeing until South Africa!) was in his dinghy and on his way over.  We had him aboard and cocktails in hand within minutes –we don’t mess around!  We were glad to be parked for a while.
It was a nice sail over as we were blessed with winds we weren’t expecting.  Getting in was to be tricky, though, as there’s a rally in the area and the marinas are mostly booked out for them.  We pulled into Saint-Pierre on the south end of the island and were told that they were indeed full –but so was the only other marina!  We explained that we needed mechanical work done and they were kind enough to let us stay on their concrete wall.  So here we are paying full price for a high-traffic spot with no water or electricity hookups, and no access to the showers because they’re out of key cards… And we’re very happy for it; we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have a spot at all.  We found out later that our friends aboard Dragonsbane were turned away here two days earlier because there was still space at the other marina but now they may be forced out of that marina as the rally boats arrive…  So yes, we’ll take our crappy little spot.  It has easy access to the street, we’ll haul our water and we’ve even set up our shower in the front head that we’ve used maybe 3 times in 11 years!!  It’s delightful.

Within a few hours, we had a phone hooked up and we called the technician.  He arrived promptly the next morning and we now have a new motor on order; it should arrive in about a week.  Hopefully that problem is taken care of.  Now we have one more big problem to solve before we can rest: South African visas.  I’ll keep the details short but suffice it to say that it’s been a lot or runaround and misinformation.  There have been policy changes regarding their visas as of late and not even their own websites or embassies are up to date on them –we were given false information at the High Commission in Mauritius (after we’d hauled our happy asses all the way down there just to make sure!).  The short of the story is that when we arrive back from our inland travels, we may not be able to re-enter South Africa to get our boat!!  Huge problem.  We are emailing back and forth with The King, as we call him –Travis went straight to the source so we’d be sure! We don’t know yet what the solution is but if we need special visas, we may have to fly back to Mauritius to apply for them (but there may not be time for them to be processed); we may need to find a safe place in Namibia to leave Calico Jack (which isn’t hopeful); or we may need to cancel our inland plans altogether (right after we’ve just paid a $1600 deposit).  You can get visa extensions but they’re essentially temporary resident permits: painful to acquire and they demand things like police clearances that we can’t get because we’re not in our home country (and haven’t been for almost 2 years).  (SIGH!!)  We always fall outside the box!   We’re hoping The King comes back with a solution to this problem, and we want it in writing!  The kicker is that Calico Jack is allowed to be in South Africa for 6 months, but WE aren’t –and we can’t get back to get her.  Go figure.

So that’s where things stand at the moment.  We’re anxious to get all this wrapped up so we can get to the business of enjoying this island.  Reunion is stunningly beautiful!
Grand Baie is lovely.  It’s touristy but the water is clean and the amenities nearby –including a big modern grocery store!  It was a fun place to hang out with friends old and new: we had a cookout on the beach, had friends over for dinner and we went bowling one night which was a blast (haven’t done that in years)!  Even our errands seemed quite simply accomplished.  Travis was taken as a walk-in patient at a dental clinic and in a jiff he had three fillings put in his head for only $90!!  It seemed too easy. 

But our relaxation was over much too soon.  Travis quickly determined that he had done everything possible to self-diagnose the autopilot issues and it was time to get to a proper technician.  The Simrad guy for the entire Indian Ocean, it seems, is on the next island over and we’d already been in touch with him.  Too bad it meant rushing out of Grand Baie, though.  We checked the weather and the best time to leave was the following morning so we fuelled up and didn’t even have time to say goodbye to everyone as we hauled anchor at 5am, made our way back down to Port Louis for checkout and were on our way to Reunion.
p.s.  Fun fact!  Did you know that the dodo bird existed only on the island of Mauritius?

Unfortunately for him he was just a bit too tasty and, being flightless, easy to apprehend.  The final nail in the coffin was that the dodo never developed the fear of humans that might have given them a fighting chance.  For centuries now, we have picked on these poor fowl: after we chased them down and put them on our dinner tables, we insult them further by calling them stupid (“Quit being a dodo!”).  In our opinion, being a little too trusting and unable to fly doesn’t make them dim-witted, but sadly it does make them extinct.  The last one was seen in 1662.
31 October 2014…   Brie, Baguettes et Bordeaux

L’Ile de la Reunion is a small island between Mauritius and Madagascar and will be our last stop before the crossing to South Africa.  It is a department of France: they are on the Euro, they speak French and Creole almost exclusively and the three Bs listed above are readily available and cheap!  The locals are quick to pointedly remind French tourists that they’re not going back home to France, “You’re IN France!”  And all of our banks are screaming at us that someone is trying to access our funds from France.  So I guess it’s official: we’re in France!  We’d heard that the city of Saint-Pierre in particular is a piece of the real mother country so one day when some French tourists came by we posed this question to them.  Their answer was, “No… it is much friendlier!”  They were quick to add, though, that they’re from Paris and that Saint-Pierre feels much more like the French countryside.
Reunion is amazingly beautiful and even before arriving in port I was snap-happy from the cockpit: sharp green mountains split by deep treed gorges with colourful little communities and agricultural land scattered on the plateaus in between.  The ruggedness of the land plus the added benefit of beautiful beaches reminds us a lot of the south island of New Zealand and it, too, is a hiker’s paradise; Reunion boasts almost a thousand kilometres of trails to discover.  So as soon as we had our feet under us we rented a car, threw the tent in the back and set off to explore the beauty of this rock.  And it has so much to offer.
It’s been fun exercising my French language muscle here and I’m pleased to report that it hasn’t completely shriveled in the year since I last used it (even though the local dialect -a Creole mix- can be difficult to understand).  It’s a good thing, too, as very little English is spoken in Reunion; pretty much all of their tourism comes directly from France and we’re met with surprise when locals learn that we’ve travelled all the way from the US!  So I’ve had plenty of opportunity to practice especially as Calico Jack seems to be somewhat of a local curiosity parked where she is.  The concrete wall is far from private and it’s a popular place for the locals to stroll by and peer at us like we’re a living museum exhibit.  On the weekends especially, this area is the venue for kids to rev their engines, squeal their tires and blast their hip-hop until the hull vibrates into the wee hours of the morning.  Still, we wouldn’t trade our little spot for one in the marina proper.  We’ve met a lot of nice people at our streetside venue, locals and tourists alike, and we have easy access to everything Saint-Pierre has to offer: weekend markets, street festivals plus the usual amenities that include the three Bs listed above (the French are certainly on to something!).
We didn’t think we were going to make it to the Cirque de Cilaos but a delay in departure left us an opportunity.  This time we boarded the public bus and let me tell you the journey to get there was half the experience!  Cilaos is accessed by a winding road with 420 turns, many of them hairpin turns.  It was a crazy ride as we maneuvered our way along the narrow road that clings to the cliff sides.  The driver honked as he neared every corner to warn those coming from the other direction because he had to drive into the oncoming lane to make the turn, at times letting cars pass us on the inside to manage the corner.  Then imagine the scenario where two buses are meeting!  To make it even more fun, there are two single-lane tunnels barely neither wide nor high enough for the bus.  We negotiated our way in with literally inches to spare, on one occasion having to back up to align ourselves properly as the curve at the entrance is tight.  We were in the back seat for this one.  Yikes!  You almost didn’t want to look out the window!  Almost.  It was an exciting journey!

The wrong time to visit Le Maido :(
The right time to visit Le Maido!
The following day we continued our circuit of the island towards the northern end.  This is the “big city” where the communities are closer together and we cruised through the capital of Saint-Denis.  I guess we weren’t expecting such a large city on this tiny rock but Saint-Denis is about as urban as any normal city on the mainland.  As such, we didn’t spend much time here, choosing instead to make our way to Le Maido, a lookout over Cirque de Mafate.  The problem here in Reunion, though, is that most of the natural sites have to be visited first thing in the morning before the clouds come to hang out around the mountains –and we had only 2 mornings with the car.  So our trip up the mountainside along crazy winding roads had us driving through the clouds which was fun in its own right but the view over Mafate was… well, it wasn’t!  It was completely blanked out but it was fun to see the clouds whip up and swirl around the slopes.  Then we had an epiphany: if we got up extra extra early on the day the car was due back we’d earn ourselves an additional morning!  So we got up at 5am and made the trip back.  And…totally worth it!  This is arguably the best accessible viewpoint on the island and WOW!  The massive green caldera opened up before us with the rising sun behind the mountains and the clouds billowing over the peaks from the east.  Bad lighting conditions for the camera, but a feast for the eyes!  The unique thing about Cirque de Mafate is that there are no roads yet 800 people reside in hamlets called “ilets” (literally, “small islands”) scattered about the basin.  The other two cirques have ilets as well but their name couldn’t be better earned than here in Mafate for they might as well be islands in the ocean: they are completely inaccessible save the challenging tracks that connect them.  To truly experience Mafate is to strap on a backpack and take to the trails for a few days; there are over 100 to explore.
One of the unique features of Reunion is that is has 3 “cirques”: huge collapsed volcano calderas.  A UNESCO world heritage site, they occupy the middle of the island in a clover shape surrounding the island’s highest summit, le Piton des Neiges (3071m).  Each cirque is enclosed by the surrounding mountains and cliffs earning them their name because of their circular shape.  Two of them are accessible by road and we drove into Salazie the first day.  The journey in was breathtaking as we snaked through the mountains deeper and deeper into the interior.  What makes Salazie different from the other cirques is the lone massive peak in its centre, le Piton d’Archaing; it’s very imposing.  We took a little hike, pitched the tent for the night and wandered into town for dinner.  Hell-Bourg, despite its odd name, was recently voted one of the prettiest towns in France!  It has a distinct Creole history and you can tour the old houses that are clearly marked.  Even just wandering the streets aimlessly, there is a palpable smalltown charm about the place with its colourful buildings and unbeatable surroundings.
And as if Reunion weren’t interesting enough, it also has an active volcano!  When we drove along the east coast the first day, it was through many old lava flows that streak down the mountainside and into the Indian Ocean in an area called Le Grand Brule (“The Big Burn”). Each flow is signposted with a date and there’s an eruption of some sort nearly every year, the last major one having occurred in 2007.  This was all very interesting but not nearly as much as hiking le Piton de la Fournaise (“Furnace Peak”).  I mean, if you’re allowed to climb to the top of an active volcano, why wouldn’t you?  Once again, the journey there was part of the experience as the caldera is accessed via a road from the west that has you winding up the mountainside with fantastic views of the lush plains below.  A little further up takes you to La Plaine des Sables that looks more like a lunar landscape than anything here on earth with its pitted, black sand floor.  Just a little further along over the bumpy moon-surface and you’re at the volcano.  
Cilaos is a pretty little mountain resort town known for its hot springs, wines, embroidery and lentils (!).  It’s as picturesque as you’d expect a mountain resort town to be with a lovely church at its heart and a lively artisans market –so we were told.  What we were after were the hiking trails!  After having safely arrived, we fortified ourselves with béchamel croissants (lordy!) and coffee and set off to get sweaty.  Cilaos is the starting point for many paths of varying difficulty and you’re spoiled for choice because honestly you can’t go wrong here: the whole area will have your jaw dropping.  We opted first for a hike that brought us through the forest to a lookout point over the town and its surrounding ilets with the towering green walls of the cirque as a backdrop.  After lunch we squeezed in another jaunt down a gorge trail that terminated at some pretty impressive waterfalls considering the lack of rain at the moment.  The river has chiseled out soft basins along its bed and as it spills over the cliffside it hits more rock that shoots the water straight out horizontally.  Imagine it in the rainy season!  After exploring for a bit, we hightailed it back up the exhilarating trail and caught the next scary-bus home.  We are very glad we had the chance to make it to Cilaos!
(These falls are a good size -check out how tiny the people are at the top!)
The hike to reach Dolomieu Crater (2631m) is a 5-hour excursion over different types of solidified lava.  Some of it looks like your garden variety rock but in other areas it looks stringy/wrinkly where the lava has folded over on itself, akin to the caramel in a chocolate bar commercial.  We also traipsed across lava like what you’d find in your gas BBQ; it didn’t make for good footholding and it was difficult to climb/scramble.  All the same, it is a popular hike and we tried to keep ahead of the ant trail as we headed for the top but we were all of us met with the same thing: clouds!  Ha ha!  What seemed like an early wake-up call at 5:30 obviously wasn’t early enough!  Still, there were some great views on the climb and we’re always up for a good huff & puff up a mountainside.  These are the remedy for the weeks we spend sitting around on the boat to get from A to B.  Sadly, though, at the end of our time here we’re feeling all fit & ready again, only to sit on our butts for another 2 weeks and let our hard work just melt away. (Le sigh!)
The autopilot has been fixed for a few days now but just when we were poised to leave with a great weather window for the crossing, the local weather was such that the harbour entrance was deemed too rough and it was closed down by the Harbourmaster.  Disappointing, but not a crushing blow!  We used the extra 3 days to our advantage to travel a little more, stuff the freezer with more passage food and stuff our bellies with some good local Creole fare!  We have enjoyed our time here in Reunion immensely and it will easily be one of the highlights of the entire trip.  Tomorrow we set off on the most challenging crossing of our journey, the 2-week haul to South Africa.

17 November 2014…  The Worst Is Behind Us

The crossing of the last open stretch of the Indian Ocean is a daunting one for any sailor; for the circumnavigator, it will be the most challenging passage of their entire journey.  It is fraught with extreme weather conditions coming up from the Antarctic including high & erratic winds, heavy lightning & thunderstorms and big seas.  Then as you approach the coastline, your goal just in front of you, there’s the Agulhas current to deal with.  It runs from north to south and if high southerly winds are going against it the conditions can become treacherous very quickly and very mercilessly.  The icing on this fun cake is that how you fare depends a little bit on luck as you really can’t get a reliable forecast any further than 3 days out; it’s a 10-14 day passage.  The best you can do is study the patterns and pick the best window for your first few days.  After that you’re committed and you just have to deal with what comes.  This crossing has been the end of the road for many vessels in these taxing conditions.  There are stories of boats rolling, sinking or just plain disappearing on this passage between Reunion and South Africa.

So were we worried?  Well, that’s my job!  Historically when my worrying is done before departure it always turns out that there was nothing to worry about in the first place (knock on wood!).  So I did my due diligence, intently following the blogs of our friends on Dragonsbane who departed 10 days before us and they encountered some pretty heavy conditions.  Once we leave the dock, though, my worrying is done and all that’s left is to deal with what’s to come.  We’ve dealt with bad weather before –this is nothing new and it can happen anywhere.  We have the means to check the weather underway and be prepared for what’s coming.  As per the dreaded Agulhas current, we live and work with one twice as big in our backyard: The Gulfstream.  We’ve crossed it many times and in the right conditions, it’s a pussy cat.  Our timing has us here at the ideal time to cross as it’s at its weakest in October/November.  We’re in good shape.
(My hiking boots finally gave up the ghost here.  After transporting me over the Inca Trail, up mountains & down valleys in New Zealand and all points in between, they met their end here on this volcano and I finished the walk in what were basically moccasins.  Thanks old friends!  It’s been fun!)
The violent roll of the boat sent things flying that have never, ever budged before and had us gripping the surfaces in the cockpit like a freaky cat in a cage –only we were fighting to stay inside!  And cold: 2 t-shirts, 2 hoodies/bunnyhugs/jumpers, 2 pairs of socks and sweatpants.  Plus a blanket.  All bundled up, one’s reaction speed is not optimum and on one occasion I wasn’t able to get my cat-limbs out fast enough and ended up with a bump on the head.  Boat bite.

The last few days of the transit were touch & go as there was a southerly gale expected and we needed to make it into port before it arrived to whip up the current.  The problem was that we didn’t have much wind to propel us and we were getting low on fuel.  It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster as the wind picked up and then died, over and over again.  We ran the engine selectively with Travis having to constantly bleed the lines to eke out another few hours of running time: we were sucking air as the boat rolled.  The whole thing was a bit nerve-wracking because if we didn’t make it into port, we would have to turn around and go back out to sea in snotty conditions for 3 days waiting for the current to settle down again!  Needless to say, we weren’t relishing this possibility.  But we made it in at the 11th hour: 3am, to be more precise!  Richard’s Bay is a sizeable shipping port so a nighttime entry was feasible.  We held station outside the entrance as we waited for clearance to enter the channel, hanging out near a grim reminder of our journey’s risks: a sunken cargo ship.  It’s not only small boats that need to exercise caution here as evidenced by this steel monstrosity that is currently being cut up and disposed of.  Its timing in the current had been unwise and in the choppy conditions the bow and stern had been raised high up on top of the wave crests; with nothing supporting the middle, its back was broken and it just folded in half.  (*Shiver).

They were expecting us at Tuzi Gazi Marina and we knew where we would be docking.  Given that it was so late, we chose to forego the skinny fairway lined with other boats and we opted instead for a side-to dock that was "safer".  Said dock ended up being a rickety low thing with a hole in the middle that Travis almost jumped into!  This began our worst docking ever.  And I mean ever, since being on boats.  Coming in for our second attempt, I said, “That’s ok, honey, at least there are no witnesses.”  Just then, a neighbour came out to help; so much for no witnesses and to our embarrassment, we actually had to make a third try to get it right.  Gawd!!  But still, we had arrived in Africa and with only an hour’s sleep under our belts we poured ourselves a rum & coke to cheers Travis’ birthday!  But we weren’t done yet.  At sunrise we helped to jockey a bunch of boats around to prepare for the incoming weather and Calico Jack was safely in her home only an hour before the first winds hit.  We were glad to be here.

Customs & Immigration didn’t make it out to the boat the first day but we still felt confident going out to celebrate Travis’ birthday at a restaurant just a stone’s throw away –literally.  We were joined by new friends who gave us a warm welcome and we were also reunited with old friends who had arrived in the days before; they had been worried about our making it in in time.  We all ate & drank, exchanged stories and just generally blew off the stress of the journey behind us.  This last crossing felt like a lot of work and we’re glad it’s over.
So with the weather forecast constantly changing, Travis picked the best window he could and we shoved off to get this thing over with.  We ran a lot south the first few days, aiming for a corridor between two weather systems we were anticipating but at the last minute everything changed and we ended up in the thick of it anyway.  Winds of 35-40 knots and heavy rain were easy to manage and there was no lightning or crazy wind shifts.  We were lucky: these were the stormiest conditions we encountered on the whole trip but we still had our challenges and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a pleasant run.  Light, contrary winds and counter-currents made for slow going.  Even with the engine running, we were making only 3-4 knots at times and of course, there’s only so much fuel to burn.  The weird currents made for a very uncomfortable motion on the boat and my seasick symptoms lasted an entire week which drove me a bit stir-crazy. 

Since we were waiting on repairs, we decided to take care of all our other business that would otherwise has been done in Capetown: we dropped off our gibbled outboard motor for repair; medical is good here so on our list we ticked off annual checkups including teeth; everything we need for our inland trip has been taken care of including shots and equipment.  And much more.  All of this seemed so easily accomplished here in Richard’s Bay as everything is centrally located and easy to find.  To boot, prices on everything are quite reasonable which I guess is not the case in Capetown (where everything is “oppenheimer”) so we’re fortunate to be able to wrap all that up right here.

While much of our time has been spent on chores, we’ve managed to squeeze in some fun stuff, too, of course!  The locals have been great and we’ve very much enjoyed their company and the company of fellow cruisers at the weekly braai.  Don’t mistake a braai for a regular old cookout, though, for they aren’t the same thing at all!  Braai is an institution here, much like the barbeque is in Australia.  We’ve enjoyed some good food, cheap drinks, and it turns out that our mechanic happens to be quite the dancer!

We also can’t say enough about our South African family aboard the yacht Sea Shoes.  Lawrence was the very first person we met here in Richard’s Bay.  At 3am (remember the witness to our embarrassing docking scenario?).  Well, he and his wife Anne and daughter Lorecan are kind of the unofficial greeting committee here at Tuzi Gazi Marina and they do a great deal to get cruisers settled in at their first port on this continent.  Cruisers themselves, they know just what we need and have been an endless source of help and information on all things boaty and non-.  But it doesn’t end there.  Imagine our surprise to be invited to American Thanksgiving at their place!  Along with our American friend Doug (who’d just arrived) we joined them for turkey and all the fixin’s and their fantastic company.  Talk about hospitality!

High on the list of things to do here are the game parks.  Because we’re planning our big inland trip, we didn’t think we’d be spending our money on parks when we arrived but it turns out that there’s so much to see and do not an hour’s drive away.  Sea Shoes goes game viewing about every two weeks and it didn’t take long to figure out why: you can go to the same park two days in a row and it’s a completely different experience.  Cheers to the de Robillard family for appreciating what’s out their back door because so many of us don’t (ask me what Key West attractions I haven’t checked out yet!).  We tried to organize an excursion with them which would have been fantastic because they’re such experts on the local wildlife but scheduling just didn’t work out.  Instead, we made three separate excursions with fellow cruisers and had a blast –even if we had to run back to Sea Shoes with photos of animals to identify!

Another ocean crossing and a few more casualties: one winch handle overboard (no small deal, they’re at least $60!), one sail that needs restitching and another autopilot issue that needs addressing.  The autopilot motor we had replaced in Reunion works like a champ but the sound that we were hearing that we thought was associated with that problem has persisted.  Travis suspected that it had to do with the keyway and he was right.  For the mechanically unenlightened such as myself, it’s the thingamabobby (metal joint) that connects the doohickey (steering arm) to the flappy thingy under the boat (rudder) and makes it all work together and steer properly.  This thingamabobby has seen some wear and now it fits loosely, causing play between all the aforementioned parts. (Simple, right?)  Our hope was that this could be repaired in the water as a haulout here costs a fortune!  Looking to avoid that at all costs, Travis was willing to remove the rudder in the water but as it turns out, it wasn’t necessary.  Our guy Jannie, solver of weird problems, was able to fashion a new thingamabobby with the rudder in place, whew!!  Provided that all works as planned, this will be our third major problem solved and maybe we’ll be good for a while.  Between the engine rebuild, the autopilot motor replacement and now this, it’s been an expensive half-year of chasing mechanics around!
(Note my excitement over a sail repair.  INSIDE the boat!  Ugh.)

Our first trip was just north to iSimangaliso Wetland Park.  While there is a lot of wildlife to spot here, the main attraction is a boat ride to find the hippos.  I say “find” but they were plentiful.  These big fatties hang out in the river during the day so all you can see are their heads but they are impressive nonetheless.  The nearby town has “beware of hippos at night” signs because they meander ashore in the evenings to find fresh water and despite their size, they can move quite fast and are aggressive so one has to be on their toes!
Our final visit was to Emdoneni Lodge, a rehabilitation facility for threatened/endangered African cats.  Here they provide care to injured or orphaned cats and they conduct tours daily to promote awareness and education.  They also have a breeding program and routinely release the offspring back into the wild.  The resident menagerie is comprised of four local breeds: the cheetah, the serval, the caracal (African lynx) and the African wildcat and they’re all very different.  The African wildcat could easily be mistaken for your house tabby whereas the cheetah is… well, a lithe killer that can run at speeds of up to 70 mph, make a quick 90 degree turn at almost the same speed and come to a dead stop within 2 metres!  This impressive performer is the fastest land animal on the planet!  Don’t sell the other breeds short, though, for they are hunters as well.  At feeding time, the caracal jumped an amazing 10 feet or so to retrieve his dinner!  In fact, the fences of the facility aren’t actually high enough to hold them –they stay willingly for the free meals.  For the injured, it’s a smart move; one of the caracals, for instance, was the victim of a shooting and is missing an eye.  She’d never survive in the wild but she’s a great momma and currently has 2 new babies.  As soon as they’re weaned they’ll immediately be taken to an area in the back where they will have no human contact, keeping them wild to be released.

Our second and third excursions were to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park.  It’s pronounced Sh’SHLOOeey, by the way, and we’re back in a country where we’re butchering the local language -add in the Zulu “clicks” and you’re really in for a linguistic adventure!  Anyway, the park was magnificent, a real introduction to Africa and all it has to offer.  We saw 3 of the Big 5 the first day: buffalo, tons of white rhinos and one elephant.  Apparently any white rhino on the planet has its origins in this park for it is here that it was brought back from the brink of extinction!  Also present were giraffes, zebra, impalas, kudu, warthogs, blue wildebeest, baboons, the leopard tortoise and many species of birds.  And SO close to the car you could almost reach out and touch some of them –if you were stupid enough (Mr. Rhino, you can just keep that big horn to yaself!).  It was pretty incredible.  The second trip was a completely different experience and it was the Day of the Elephant!  We enjoyed a herd of about 10 as well as a couple of encounters with individual behemoths.  Again, really close up –you keep the car in gear for a fast getaway just in case!  Instead of the plentiful impalas, there were more nyalas this time, another type of antelope. We did see lions but they were so far away my I-can-see-the-rings-of-Saturn zoom lens couldn’t even capture them.  But babies.  So many adorable babies of almost every species!!  It’s just incredible to see these amazing creatures for reals after having grown up watching Mutual of Ohama’s Wild Kingdom on TV!

All of these cats are threatened to some degree and there are a variety of reasons for this.  Loss of habitat is an obvious one.  They’re also being hunted either by farmers trying to protect their livestock or by others for their meat and beautiful skins –especially the gorgeous spotted serval.  Sadly, many of them fall victim to the exotic pet trade.  Interbreeding is a big problem, particularly with the African wildcat –it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find one of pure blood as they’re mating with common housecats.  The cheetah is the one who’s in the most danger: the population has become so small that inbreeding is a problem and a shocking 50% of kittens are born infertile.  50%!!  That’s why breeding programs such as these are so important.  Our first encounter was with two baby cheetahs -only two months old!- who were brought in from another reserve, fresh blood for breeding.  They were soooo cute and we got to play with them.  Them and their teeth!  Never forget that these are wild cats and they play pretty roughly!  We also got to interact with two younger servals who were very playful and one full-grown cheetah.  He was a big lazy dude -until he caught sight of an impala
From East London it was a 24-hour run to Port Elizabeth.  Our weather windows are small and ever-changing but the good news is that things are a little easier from now on because we have more hidey-holes to duck into along the coast.  The current that was helping us along is almost non-existent now -as was the wind- and we had to motor the whole way!  On the up-side, we were treated to some of the best bioluminescence we’ve ever seen.  I came up for my watch and was delighted to see the light show; doubled with a beautiful starry sky, I figured I was pretty spoiled.  When the orange-slice of a moon rose, I thought the show might be somewhat less but it actually got better!  The crests of our wake were lighting up almost as bright as a neon sign and the prop wash looked like the milky way.  (I tried to get it on film but I guess it was a treat only for us –sorry!)  And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, the dolphins came to visit!  How amazing to watch them ghost along under the surface, the shapes of their sleek bodies completely enveloped in bioluminescence; then they would break the surface and stir up another wash of sparkles!  A half dozen of them were playing around the boat and then… AND THEN!!  They were hunting a school of fish right beside us!!  We could see it all in minute detail: the tiny fish kicking up the sparkles made the water shimmer around us.  It was like watching the whole scene, perfectly detailed, with x-ray vision.  I wish I could describe how amazing it was.  It is easily one of the coolest things I have ever, ever seen with my two eyes!!

Our stop in Port Elizabeth as well was to be only for 48 hours and we might not have stopped at all were it not for another episode in Travis’ tooth saga.  It’s not only mechanics we have been chasing from country to country!  Our last annual checkup was in Australia in January but we’ve since sought help in Indonesia and Mauritius and we thought we had things wrapped up in Richard’s Bay with our visit there.   Not so: Travis was gobbling up our stash of antibiotics and the pain was only getting worse.  Port Elizabeth is a bigger centre and we reasoned that we stood a better chance of finding help, especially during the holidays, and as luck would have it the first dentist we called had a cancellation NOW and we hopped in a cab as quickly as we could.  As I waited outside, I noticed that our guy was more than a dentist: he was a “prosthodontist”.  Of course, this would mean more decimal places on the bill!  Which it did, but it was worth every penny.  Doc had us up and running with some creative dentistry in what turned out to be a rather complicated situation involving deep, 90-degree roots and a major nerve.  One of the other dentists declared that the repair he was making was only a temporary fix and now we know that he didn’t want to touch this mess that would have otherwise required putting Travis in the hospital under general anesthetic –a major procedure.  So yes, the bill was about double what we were expecting but still easily half of what we would pay in the States so we’re happy. 

Another thing that cost us a lot of money in Port Elizabeth: skilled scammers.  I’m not proud to say it, but we were duped by some con artists at the ATM and when I say “we”, I mean the three of us were standing there and it happened right under my nose.  It was a trick of sleight of hand and distraction and once we figured out that something was wrong, Travis rushed back to the boat to get online and cancel the card.  Within 15 minutes, however, they had managed to acquire $550 of our hard-earned cruising fund.  I’m so mad at myself.  This isn’t the first country we’ve travelled in where stuff like this happens and we think we’re careful at the ATMs.  If you think you’re pretty savvy, too, don’t get too cocky because these guys are slick –it happened so fast that I’m still in the dark as to how they actually got our PIN.  I wasn’t the only one duped, either, as another cruiser was robbed at the same ATM and talking to sympathetic locals as we awaited the police, it’s a pretty common thing here in the tourist areas.  But it doesn’t make me any less frustrated and angry as I harbour a particular loathing for thieves: go out and make your own damned money!  Having said that, we do expect petty theft in the poorer countries we visit.  Your shoes might disappear from the dinghy and heck -our entire dinghy disappeared in Curacao on our Caribbean trip!  But to have someone rummaging around in your bank account is another violation entirely.  But my favourite part of the whole experience was when the police actually arrived -one hour and two phone calls later.  The cop berated me, calling me everything but an idiot for what had happened.  I paused, took a deep breath and calmly said that instead of making me feel worse about something that’s already happened, maybe could we start doing something about it?  But he was unwilling to even take us to the police station, stating that he had other things to do than to wait for Travis to get back and why was he even gone?  Telling him that Travis actually WAS there when we first called a bloody HOUR ago would likely do no good; they took off and we were left to get to the police station on our own. 

On the flip side, bless the friendly locals who are saddened and even embarrassed that this is happening in their town (South Africans have an endearing habit of apologizing for things that are in no way their fault!).  They say this has been a real problem recently and that the culprits are often not even South African -they come in from countries as far away as Nigeria and target the tourist areas.  They extended many sympathies to us, offering any help they could give: “Can I get you a water while you’re waiting out here in the hot sun?”   So sweet and we were even offered a ride to the police station which we never would have found on our own.  Filing a report is futile -they will never catch them- but we need the paperwork to file a dispute and get our money back, something that we and our bank are confident will happen.  So in the end, it’s not a crippling tragedy as we have multiple accounts and cards set up for just this reason and now Travis stands like a bulldog beside me as we use them at the ATM!  This crap can happen anywhere -in fact, it’s a small miracle that this hasn’t happened already in 2 years of international travel- and we reassured the locals that this in no way will affect our high opinion of South Africa.  And it certainly wasn’t going to ruin Christmas!

So that was our only foray into town; the rest of the time was spent within the confines of the harbour.  Fortunately, the yacht club was a happening place and we filled up on the social scene, having a blast with fellow cruisers and locals alike.  We really felt welcome here by the local boaters.  Oftentimes in these yacht clubs it seems that the locals like to stick to their own and they don’t bother with us transients.  Too bad –meeting new people is most of the fun and a large part of why we’re out here!  But here in East London boaters and non-boaters alike came down to the yacht club to hang out and we met and mingled with a great many friendly and welcoming people.  It was a great time.
(With Doug, Lucy & Megan)
With a week to kill, Calico Jack got some much-needed attention as we think we’ve finally found a wood finish compatible with what we use at home -we’re giving it a test drive with the handrails.  We had almost given up on finding anything and it shows.  Between the wood, the faded/stained/chipping deck paint and the hull paint that’s starting to go, Calico Jack is beginning to hint at the miles we’ve subjected her to, especially in the last 6 months or so.  It’s funny because in Bali we were commenting on how great the paint was holding up, then it started to go all at once!  A little elbow grease will do her some good if we can find the right products.
(It's not ALL fun and games, ya know!)
We were starting to worry, though, that time was running short to make it around the cape to Simon’s Town before our plane leaves and we were forced to investigate other alternatives for leaving the boat of which there are few.  This is the busiest time of the cruising season and spaces are difficult to find.  The space we had reserved in Simon’s Town was even up in the air as the slip we were promised became un-promised when its tenant dropped out of the rally.  “What are your plans?” the email asked.  “Ummmmm, we’re still coming!!”  Ahead of us at Mossel Bay it was getting ugly with people fighting for space as weather prevented people from leaving and a fishing tournament was about to get underway, so no hope for us there. Port Elizabeth (where we only just managed to get a space) is dirty with manganese ore dust that they load onto the big ships and all long-term boats there are black because of it -you have to hire a lady to come wash the boat once a week.  Furthermore, the staff, as nice as they were, didn’t seem to be interested in anything happening in the marina if it’s only even two minutes after closing time so that’s not very reassuring.  So, at the veeeery long end of this all, we took a good weather window from Port Elizabeth straight to Simon’s Town that would get us in just under the wire –no room for error so it was a little stressful!  It was also a little sad.  Because of the dodgy weather and our time constraints, we actually ended up spending a whole lot of time at ports that weren’t really on our list, and no time at all at places we had been looking forward to seeing (namely Knysna and Mossel Bay).

But all’s well that ends well, as they say.  We pushed on around Cape Agulhas and made it into Simon’s Town a day earlier than we were expecting.  We had to run the engine the whole way but we’re not proud –we just needed to get here!  Weather conditions were tame around the Cape apart from the cold -you know it’s cold when you have sea lions and penguins frolicking beside the boat!!  Yep, penguins.  So awesome!  (It’s worth mentioning here that it’s actually Cape Agulhas that is the southernmost point in this country despite the fact that it gets far less publicity than its smaller, more famous sister to our west, the Cape of Good Hope.)  Once around the corner, though, the wind started to build throughout the morning as we approached our destination and let me tell you that it. is. winnnnnnddddyyyyy here!! 30-40 knots is an average day.  Once we were safely at the dock we were thankful we’d arrived early and were concerned for those behind us.  The increasing wind made for some hairy dockings for other boats and our friend Doug had to spend one bouncy, uncomfortable night out in the anchorage before coming in the following morning.  But we’re all here now and there is much jubilation for this is another major milestone for everyone.  We’re past the challenging conditions of this southern coastline and into the smoother sailing of the Atlantic.  For us in particular, it means more goodbyes as friends move on while Calico Jack takes a little rest.  We’ll need to make new friends for the next ocean!
Weather windows were changing into weather “slivers” and when we determined that we would be spending Christmas in Port Elizabeth, the decorations and lights went up albeit only for a few days.  Totally worth it!  Then we tackled the crowds at the mall and accomplished our shopping for each other in about two hours, stocking stuffers and all!  We weren’t the only cruisers stranded there, either, and we had potlucks on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with 17 of us in attendance.
(Modest decorations aboard Calico Jack)
Bags packed, we’re headed out on the train this afternoon to Capetown and tomorrow we fly to Nairobi to begin our overland adventure.  If you want a sneak preview, you can find our itinerary here.  After our last inland trip, I have no grand illusions of keeping up the website for we’ll be hauling along at a very steady pace.  Eight countries in six weeks!  I'll keep updating the map and we may be present on Facebook occasionally so check us out there, otherwise I’ll be keeping my notes as we go and you’ll hear about it all when we get back.  It’s going to be epic!

So, we hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season and we wish you the very best for a fantabulous 2015 to come.  Happy New Year!!

p.s.  Travis got me an elephant for Christmas.  Yep, an elephant!  More on that later.

We’re almost all buttoned up now.  We’re happy with where the boat is: sturdy docks (the best we’ve had in SA) and a staff that seems to care.  If that weren’t enough, we also know a local cruising couple here so there will be many eyes to see if anything is awry with our girl.  She takes care of herself but it’s just nice to have that little extra peace of mind and it was totally worth having pushed on to get here.
(If you look closely you can see wee Calico Jack on the left at the end of the ramp, in front of the big catamaran.  A primo spot!)