Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
On the afternoon of January 26th the Captain held a lecture on ship handling. The rains had subsided that afternoon – and so the crew settled onto the quarterdeck to learn a thing or two. Primarily he discussed docking – a daunting and fascinating job. There are many factors one must account for including, but not limited to wind, current (and counter current), traffic, anchorage, drift, heaving lines, ships boats, timing… The Captain has manoeuvred the ship into some pretty tight spots on this trip alone: Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga; Port Ouest, La Reunion. He seems to do it with such ease and yet he admitted that is can often be a very challenging experience, no matter how many times you do it. As he said, he is still learning. At some point you have to put down the book and stop discussing the scenarios and just do it – although I am sure that by that statement he was not implying he was going to let any of us take the Picton Castle for a spin! We shall stick to the skiff for now!
January 26th also happened to be the Captain’s birthday. The crew organized a dinner in the Salon in his honour. Donald cooked up an absolute feast – roast beef, roasted potatoes, squash and cabbage salad – with apple pie for desert by Sophie. It was incredibly nice to be able to show our appreciation to the Captain and it was equally important to be able to gather as a crew. Laughter and good conversation around a pretty mahogany table piled with fine foods does the heart good (Capt’s note – it was a lovely evening indeed and what the salon was designed for!).
When we woke up the next morning all sail was furled once more, the engine was purrring and the decks rolling. We were close off the coast of South Africa well down the coast from Durban. We knew that we were entering a bit of a front and that for a time we would have strong headwinds. The lookout was shifted back to the bridge – as a more comfortable spot than the focs’le head which was getting some spray. A low front, created by the temperate climate on land (land being Africa) collided and mingled with a high front off the coast, and for the majority of the day and night we were in a gale. 25-30 knot winds, a lot of pitching and rolling and yawing and large unruly waves. We had entered the Agulhas current – an extension of the Mozambique current – which hugs the coast of Southern Africa. Not unlike the Gulf Stream this current is created when the naturally westerly movement of ocean water from Asia and Australia runs up against land and has nowhere to go. It is particularly strong against the coast of South Africa because Madagascar creates a bit of a funnel effect. In fact it has been recorded to be as fast as 5 knots in places. As Mate Mike explained to the crew, the wind driving against the current was the reason the waves were particularly large. As the winds die down, so will the waves.
As I write this we have just passed Port Elizabeth and are getting ever closer to Cape Town. The waves are substantially smaller this morning and the ocean an eerie green colour – chlorophyll in the water from plankton or the effect of heavy weather stirring the pot? The coast of Africa has been visible for a few days. It appears as a hazy line of mountains and sloping hills during the day – and a string of lights at night. At first the lights gave the appearance of a row of blinking ships off our starboard bow, beam and quarter. Being in a major shipping lane the lookout might be forgiven for thinking it so. Indeed we have been passed by many a tanker – all headed toward Cape Town now – a common link and a common destination. Here we come, Cape Town!