Feb 27 - Happenings

We've spent these last few days walking around town and going into many of the shops. Surprisingly, there isn't a lot of tourist stuff to buy for souvenirs, but we think that that infrastructure will be developed. We walked up and down Jacobs Ladder today, 699 steps, each about 11" height. This was built as a funicular, no longer in use, that was used to haul supplies up the mountain on a continuous loop type of basis. Mules did the work; men did the unloading. The view from the top of the mountain overlooks James Bay and is beautiful. Our knees and calves are feeling it, though. We've been using the wifi at the Consulate Hotel, which also serves a bit of food, has good coffee, and a good selection of books for sale at one pound each. Tourist forms have been faxed to Ascension Island (fax facilities are at the "Sure" office, which is the Cable & Wireless spot, just a few doors down from the Hotel), and we've been cleared out by Customs and Immigration. Last night we had happy hour aboard Mantra, with the crews of Coruisk and Shango there as well; a mini OCC gathering as all of us are members.

Feb 24 - Island tour

The crew of four cruising boats (crew represented America, Scotland, Holland and France - a nice mix!) hired one of the local legendary tour operators, Robert Peters, to take the ten of us around St Helena. Robert's been doing tours for a long time, and is full of anecdotes of the island's history. As there are no cell phones on the island (!!), he can be reached thru the Tourist Information Office at the head of Main Street; can't miss it. A few of the places we visited: Longwood House, where Napoleon spent his exile years before his death, Napoleon's Tomb (before his mortal remains were sent back to France), St. Matthews Church, St Paul's Cathedral, Plantation House (the Governor's residence), Jacob's Ladder, and the road to the new airport. By the way, islanders are justly proud of the new airport under construction, scheduled for completion in the next year or so (?); however, bringing jet planes to a small island will obviously change it forever. We're happy we are here now and enjoying the present island way of life before the inevitable encroachments of modern society come to fruition. No cell phones on the island?! No high-rise buildings or chain hotels?! Few bars or eateries. Just your basic very small island whose history goes back hundreds of years. We were told that about 300 yachts per year visit St Helena. Preliminary estimates have about 30000 tourists visiting by plane in the first year or so...change is a'comin. At any rate, when approaching the island by boat, it appears to be a huge rocky island; the interior, though, is splendid. Green, lush, varied, forest, farms, , beaches, narrow roads...we really enjoyed seeing it, and recommend Robert to yachties following us. Cost for the day's tour - 10 pounds/pp for groups of 8-10 people. Note: there's one bank in town to exchange currencies; there is no ATM, but a Visa card may be used for cash withdrawal there. Life in the slow lane. We've also learned that supplies and passengers arrive by HMS St. Helena once a month; the ship then goes to Ascension island, then returns to St Helena (without supplies) before going back to Cape Town. Obviously, air travel will change all this.

Feb 22 - Safe arrival St. Helena

Pos: S15deg55.495min / W005deg43.516min. This last night was a rocky-rolly one as we put in a third reef in the main to keep our speed slow to plan arrival to St Helena in the daylight. Some other boats we know had arrived at night, but I wanted to see the island in the early morning and imagine what Napoleon and his entourage might have felt upon first seeing their place of incarceration. It worked out well; at sunrise (0611 UTC), we could just see the outline of the island, and were still 15 miles from our outside waypoint. When we were 10 miles out, I called St Helena Radio on VHF 16, and they instructed me to call back when we were 2 miles from the yacht anchorage. There are yellow and red mooring balls in James Bay now; the red ones are for vessels over 20 tons. They are a new issue, the powers to be apparently having decided that support of visiting yachts is a good thing, and that the difficult chore of anchoring in 60 feet of water with a rocky bottom wasn't conducive to tourism and people wanting to come visit and stay a bit here. The really good news is that we finally caught some fish, just outside the island; a nice dolphin fish, and a 4 foot wahoo. The last time we caught fish was in Chagos, and that was by dinghy! At any rate, the wahoo was on the deck and Port Control called and told us to get ready to go in to Immigration and Customs by water taxi. So much for relaxing a bit. Everyone was very accommodating, and the paperwork went smoothly; fees were put off until tomorrow, Monday, when the bank will be open to obtain British pounds, and we were requested to return to their office for payment. The water taxi is a good idea around here. The swell near the landing area is terrible even on a calm day, and landing by dinghy is just dangerous. As it is, you jump from the small water taxi onto a concrete pier, grabbing a knotted rope hanging down from a cross beam; not for the non-athletic or faint of heart. I've concluded it's been a somewhat demolition derby for yachties getting here. We know of two boats whose engines have packed it in; one boat is getting shipped back to South Africa, the other boat is going forward to the Caribbean without an engine. Another yacht had engine troubles, but sorted it all out and blamed dirty fuel as the culprit. Two boats we know of blew their spinnakers and another lost its spinnaker halyard. One yacht had its watermaker motor burn out, another its refrigerator compressor pack it in. One had a rigging failure; we're unsure of the details. And these are just a few of the yachts we know or have heard about....At any rate, we're happy to report that our damage report aboard Infini was quite minor; one block developed a crack in its stainless bale from crevice corrosion; it's already been replaced this afternoon. So...this has been a nice 1215 mile, 10 day passage; a bit slower than we would have liked, but we had no major gear problems and there were lots of sail changes, wind shifts, and reaching pole usage. We're really excited to be able to, once again, explore a tiny island (8.5 X 5 miles) with so much history.

Feb 18 - Enroute

Pos: S18deg37.2min / E000deg52.3min Course: 290T; Speed: 5.0 knots. Sails: Full main, Yankee jib and staysail; port tack. Wind: SW-SSW 8 knots. Reminder to self: don't expect what the gribs say. SE winds have been predicted for days; we had strong SW winds of 15-20 last night; wind strength has moderated quite a bit, but direction is still SW-SSW, which is working out well for us. We'll pass our 000 degree meridian of longitude in a bit, passing into the western hemisphere again; it's been a very long time - 3 years, 4 months ago during passage from Tonga to New Zealand! We still have a daily morning check-in with the Mobile Maritime (HAM) Net at 0635 UTC with Sam, ZS1SAM, at 14316 USB. So far, no luck fishing, although it's not for lack of trying. All's well aboard.

Feb 16 - Enroute

Pos: S19deg52.6min / E004deg34.4min. Winds have been from the S-SSE-SE. We've been making good time, in the 140-155 nm/day range, but winds are forecast to ease a bit, so we'll see how it goes. We'll be celebrating reaching our half-way point later today. All's well aboard.

Feb 14 - Enroute to St. Helena

Pos: S21deg10.9min / E009deg19.5min at 1345 hours. Course: 290T; speed: 6.5 knots; sails: double reefed main; 85% Yankee poled to starboard; seas: 6'. Day 1 mileage: 143 nm; Day 2: 152 nm. We're making good progress in the S-SE tradewinds. We could go a bit faster, but are sailing conservatively and usually have a reef or two in when the winds creep up over 20 knots. It's feeling a bit warmer now, away from the South African and Namibian coast. We're also seeing flying fish (and one wayward squid!) on deck again; it's been a long time. All's well aboard. And...Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Feb 11 - Departure plans

We're planning departure tomorrow for St. Helena, approximately 2253 km. (1400 miles). Final provisioning has been done, and we've cleared out with Immigration and Customs. Sue's posted a few new photo albums - enjoy!(1400 miles)

Feb 5 - Road trip

We rented a VW Polo from Hertz. It handles well and gets great gas mileage, but we were forced to turn around and abandon our plan to visit Twfelfontein because the suspension and tires on the gravel roads leading out of Swakopmond weren't up to the task. Little did we know…. a large 4 X 4 with good springs would have been a much better choice. As it was, we stayed the night at the Namib Guesthouse in Swakopmund (highly recommended; a beautiful place, reasonable prices, great food, friendly people and very convenient location; phone +264 64 407151; www.namibguesthouse.com) and left early the next morning to see the sand dunes of Sossusvlei and Sesriem. The drive to get there was amazing. First, you drive through Dorob National Park, then the Namib Naukluft Park. Gaub Pass and the surrounding terrain is worth seeing; our cameras were in constant use. We also spotted wild horses, zebras, ostrich, oryx and springbok. Along the way is a small rest stop called Solitaire; don't miss the apple cake at the café; really good stuff; fuel, an ATM, a restaurant and campground are also nearby. Continuing our drive, we ended up booking a self-catering "tent" at the Desert Camp (www.desertcamp.com; phone +27 21 930 4564). This is a nice stop, and less expensive than the resort lodges nearby (we calculated about ½ the price!). The entrance to Sossusvlei opens at 0620, and we were dutifully parked in the short line. It takes about an hour to drive a paved blacktop road to where the road ends. There, one pays N$100 (about $9USD, return included) for a 4 X 4 vehicle to transport you the remaining few kilometers to the end of the line (near Deadvlei); this is where the red sand dunes stretch out in front of you and you're transported into a true African experience. You can walk as long as you'd like, but we found that after a few hours of climbing and walking along the spines of a few dunes that we were ready to stop; it was about 1030 AM and the sun was starting to warm everything up. The shapes and colors of the dunes are difficult to describe; you really have to see them; magnificent. The sky was a clear blue without a cloud in the sky (today), and there was no sound except our own thoughts and our heartbeats. This is a unique and fabulous excursion, highly recommended. After, we ate lunch at the park restaurant and drove back to Walvis Bay.
Pic: One of the many wind sculpted dunes on our way to Sossuvlei.

Feb 1 - Daily happenings

Walvis Bay is the largest port in Namibia. We counted over 50 ship AIS targets, and there were plenty more craft around. The yacht anchorage is in front of the Oceans Restaurant, and is obvious by the many masts on moorings there. Depth is about 3 meters, and moorings are available for rent from the Yacht Club, a blue and white building furthest to the right out on the point when facing the shore. We met Pascal and Martine from the catamaran Steel Band, just as they were returning from a last provisioning before heading out to St Helena. Pascal related that any boat service or repair required is available here; nice to know. We walked into town, about 2-3 km each way, to the Spar supermarket. There’s also an OK Grocery and a bunch of chain food outlets. Because it was Sunday, all the shops were closed except for the groceries, open until 1 pm. We’ve been using the hot showers at the YC; their internet is sketchy. Much faster internet is the wifi at the Oceans Restaurant; blazing would be an apt description. What a nice change from the frustrating, slow internet thruout our stay in SA. Matt was able to go kite surfing as well; the flat waters conducive to fast speeds and acrobatics. The many pelicans and flamingoes make a nice backdrop to the lagoon, and there’s a nice walk along the waterfront esplanade for viewing. Should also mention that we’re moored right near a bunch of catamarans which take tourists out for harbor and seal tours every morning.
Pic: Matt kiting among the local pelican flocks.

Jan 31 - Walvis Bay

Pos: S22deg57.080min / E 014deg28.698min Where was the wind on the way here? It's blowing over 25 knots just in time to anchor...what else is new. We had a mixed bag of no wind, motor sailing, a nice sail in 10-12 knots, but no steady, predictable, "set your sails and forget it" wind. Otherwise, arrived a bit over 48 hours from Luderitz; a decent enough time. We launched the dinghy after dealing with an engine alarm going off that indicated no salt water was going thru the system. Hmmm...there was salt water going thru the pee hole....Inspection revealed the remains of a jellyfish in the SW intake acting like a blocking plug; yep, gotta watch those critters around these parts. Talking about critters, there are thousands of fur seals cavorting around here. We never tire of watching their antics. Just after anchoring, a dinghy came alongside and a guy offered his mooring to us to use during our stay here. How nice is that? It was blowing like stink, this guy and his wife were drenched, and here he was making the effort to come out to welcome us to Walvis Bay and offer his mooring, which was much closer to shore than where we had anchored. Unfortunately, he told us they were from Windhoek, so we won't have the chance to buy them a libation and get to meet them properly. Pay it forward. All's well aboard; more when we get internet.
Pic: The pelicans are the biggest we've ever seen. White with pink tones. This one on the roof of a moored 'boat house' next to us.