Thursday, February 12th, 2015
We understand aboard the Picton Castle here in Namibia, southern Africa, that there have been some serious proper winter going on in North America. Seems that there has been a big old winter storm in New England and Ontario that went on to Nova Scotia – even made the news here on the radio in Luderitz, Namibia. The radio news report goes on to say (as we gaze out at dry burning African desert) that this snow storm is huge and headed for the UK.
While we have many miles yet to sail, now having rounded the Cape Of Storms and sailed from Cape Town after a three week stay, we are excited to be heading soon for the fantastic islands of the Caribbean, and what promises to be an excellent tradewind trans-Atlantic passage on the way. Only 8,000 bluewater miles to go until we get to Grenada. And then heaps of sweet islands only daysails apart. But first we will be putting into very isolated St Helena way out in the middle of the South Atlantic, most famous for being Napoleon Bonaparte’s island of exile after Waterloo. Then on to the Grenadines, and Windward and Leeward islands of the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, and Aruba, Bermuda and then into Lunenburg after over two and half years at sea and all over the South Pacific. All is well aboard. We have a good gang. The ship is in great shape and plenty good rigging, carpentry and sailmaking projects going on.
The Picton Castle has been alongside at Luderitz, Namibia after a nice but short four day passage from Cape Town with fair winds. The pilots here are from Cuba or Russia. A very lovely, friendly and interesting spot. A well protected harbour, a rare thing along the coast of Africa. And a good thing with the screaming winds around here. Just not many coves or bays in this part of the world. This is a small, low to the ground earth-tone town surrounded by the most desolate desert. Sailing these waters give enriched respect for those early Portuguese explorers who made their way here. Easy enough to say; “they sailed down along the coast of Africa, never getting out of sight of land”. Sounds easy, and safe. Well, there is no sailing ‘down’ the coast hereabouts. Strong north setting currents and screeching southerly winds the norm making navigation and piloting extremely difficult; and as for ‘not getting out of sight of land’, well not so easy that either with a very low coast shrouded in fog much of the time, or shrouded in sand storms most of the time. You can barely see the low coast around here and it would have been hard to get in ‘sight of land’ without wrecking your ship, if not for GPS and radar. It is quite difficult to remain in sight of land without risking the ship seriously. And then, there are bloody few harbours for hundreds of miles. In short, it would be a damn tough challenge to explore this coast come from the north in little caravels, or anything else either. So the Portuguese explorer Dias and company were probably pretty tough and savvy guys. There was nothing easy about ‘sailing down the coast’ around here.
Luderitz is a small town set on this long bay behind rocks and barrier islands at the edge of the sea. Cold water, warm desert winds making for plenty of fog at times. The land configuration makes this an extremely windy place at times too, wind can scream in from the SE at 65 knots at times. Sand is everywhere, as outside the town may as well be the surface of the moon. In spite of losing Germany as a colonial power here after WWI, Luderitz remains redolent of its colonial German heritage in a number of ways. The architecture is turn of the last century German with must stucco buildings built between 1906 and 1916 all so dated in gothic numerals prominently. Many still speak German here as well and dining ashore will remind anyone of Germany in short order with robust German dishes. There is an oyster company here that has a small hideaway oyster bar and restaurant overlooking their docks that is a hit. 50 cent oysters, $1.40 pints of good (German type) beer, not so bad. Lobsters, oysters and fin fishing, along with diamond mining are the jobs around here. Diamonds are a big deal here, and almost a forbidden topic. I will see if I can get some for my treasure chest. The story goes that ALL the diamonds already belong to DeBeers, even if they are lying on the beach or in the gravel by the side of the road. Hiking off the roads is FORBUDT for the same reason, no one is allowed to pick up diamonds. Seems a bit odd that they already own them prior to mining. I get it that it would be forbidden to sneak into or around their mines but off the beach? Big fines and jail time if they find a rough diamond in your pocket. Big diamond mining vessel just pulled and tied up astern of us. The stories they tell of diamond security aboard are insane. We are told that they vacuum the dust aboard to recover small diamonds and so on.
Hot African sun here but cool, even cold, ocean sea breezes calling for jackets, and surrounded by desert. Not just arid and dry but full on big sand dune desert. Nothing green in sight. Yet there is evidence of the Kalahari Bush people having been here on their wanderings. Stone paintings deep in the Kalahari of what can only be lateen caravels and also whales. Although how they could see a whole whale to paint it
accurately is another mystery. You sort of have to swim with them to pull that off. An old diamond camp ghost-town is not far away. Curious spot. A German mining camp ghost town remains as a museum from the early 20th century when they just raked diamonds off the surface and carried them off in buckets.
The long central jetty in the harbour berths a couple dozen beautifully built wooden fishing trawlers that would look at home in the North Sea. Treks into the desert by the gang left us with a new appreciation of the notion of survival where it is so baren and desolate.