Swimming with whale sharks

Whale sharks are the worlds largest fish up to 12m long (same length as Timshel) and are found in large numbers around St Helena in January and February, it is thought that they may breed there. They are docile filter feeders and go about near the surface with their huge mouths gaping feeding mainly on plankton and fish eggs. Each fish has many Remoras or sucker fish attached. You can go on a boat trip to snorkel with these giant sharks, the interaction is quite regulated, only so many swimmers per fish, time limited to 45 minutes, and you must be at least 3m away, 4m from the tail. But the sharks don’t seem to have been told this, they are curious and tend to follow you so you are often frantically swimming backwards to get out of the way; even though you know they are filter feeders it is quite alarming when you find yourself close to the mouth. We found a group of 3 sharks, often you had a fish to yourself, it was a fantastic experience – and the water was even warm.

St Helena

St Helena is a British Overseas Territory in the middle of the South Atlantic. The language is English (with a distinctive St Helena lilt), the currency is pounds, you can use U.K. ones but St Helena notes and coins don’t work at home, they drive on the left and strangely the time zone is GMT, just at the other side of the world. The island was first discovered by the Portuguese in 1502. Later it was a Dutch then a British possession. For many years ships needed St Helena as it was a vital staging post until the opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of steam ships; later St Helena needed the ships as they were the only means of supply. The airport (subject to much controversy when first built as the wind shear was found to be too great for planes to land) has only recently opened. St Helena is famous as the place where Napoleon was exiled and died, our tour of the island included the house where he lived, his original tomb (his remains were later removed to Paris) set in a scenic peaceful Glen, Plantation house where the Governor lives, and also the islands oldest inhabitant at 150 years, Jonathan the giant tortoise, launching the daily meteorological balloon, High Knoll Fort, the Arboretum and various scenic views. Jamestown is a picturesque old Georgian town with a castle, entered from the harbour area via an ornate archway and with narrow streets with lots of small shops. Contrary to our advance information we were able to buy provisions here, including fresh meat and some vegetables, fruit did not seem to feature. Of course it is expensive and you have to visit all the small shops rather than one big one. The island also boasts a distillery and an exclusive coffee plantation. At the prize giving and pizza social on Thursday night we and Airpower were awarded a bottle of St Helena gin each for assisting Pinta. On Friday night there was a fish fry at the St Helena yacht club down near the Wharf – very sociable. The club and also St Helena Yacht Services is run by the redoubtable James and family. We did the checking out with Immigration, Customs and Port Control on Friday afternoon, the official start for the leg to Salvador in Brazil was on Saturday morning, but because Steve had not yet seen anything of the Island being busy getting the mainsail furling gear fixed (we were lucky to find Larry who welded and fabricated a part for us) we elected to stay an extra day, as did Misto. This gave us a chance for a tour of the interior of the island, a look round the little museum in Jamestown, and for Anita to do Jacobs ladder – the 699 steep steps up to the upper town at Half Tree Hollow. Her time of 8.34 for the ascent seemed fairly creditable; fastest in the WARC fleet was Jack from Blue Pearl, followed by Suzanne from Emily Morgan (8 min dead). And we got to go to the Australia Day Barbie held that evening on Influencer along with the group of boats also leaving later taking an alternative route via Ascension Island and Fernando di Noronha. We will meet up with them again at Cabadelo our final Port in Brazil.

Cape Town to St Helena

Just by chance, we got quite a good start out in Table Bay and were sailing nicely towards Robben Island when disaster struck. Our Raymarine instruments started to check out one by one, presumably some failure of communication between them; of course we have some paper charts, an independent GPS and AIS and even a sextant,but at this early stage it seemed most prudent to head back in and try to get them fixed. We got the details of an electrician from John on Madrigal, we contacted Karl and he met us at V&A marina almost as soon as we tied up again. Then he was through the boat like a whirlwind, ceiling panels don all over the place, declaring it must be “the backbone”. The offending bad part was located and fixed and we were able to set off again that afternoon following 1 bridge opening behind Airpower. Out in the bay again we met Misto who’d suffered a broken bowsprit in a sudden gust, which also ripped a hole in their forward strut, so they were also returning for repairs. Looking at the weather maps it seemed advantageous to head up the West Cape coast to avoid a big hole in the wind before turning west for St Helena. But the next morning the wind went light then ahead, so we spent some days motoring or tacking slowly up the coast. Some of the faster boat went north to Walvis Bay in Namibia, we considered checking into Ludervitz to get fuel, but at this point we got a favourable forecast and headed west towards our destination instead. A few days later we heard a plea over the SSB from Pinta (Halberg Rassy 48 from Hungary) for someone to give them so fuel; both their diesel tanks were contaminated with sea water and they needed clean fuel to run the generator and keep their systems running. The closest boats were us sailing a parallel course about 80 nm to the E, and catamaran AirPower about 80 nm behind (SE). So we agreed to divert across and Airpower to attempt to catch up. A day later the 3 boats managed to rendezvous, but only after we persuaded George that he had to stop and wait as Pinta was going faster than the two craft trying to assist. There was 20 knots of wind and a big sea, somehow Airpower (who had rather more spare fuel than Timshel and trading on catamaran stability) in a fantastic display of seamanship managed pick up the fender trailed on a long line from Pinta and transfer one can of fuel, but the next attempt resulted in the line getting round their starboard prop. We agreed to sail on and try again the next day. Airpower set their Parasailor, undeterred by the fender and fuel can dragging underneath the boat – it was far too rough to consider trying to free them. George managed to get his generator running with the first portion of fuel. Next day, another mid-Ocean rendezvous, Dave and Jill on Airpower heroically managed to transfer another 20L of fuel, despite only having one engine but this time due to a miscommunication their long line was lost – let go both ends. However this was enough for Pinta to generate electricity for the remainder of the voyage. We had only stood by to render help if needed but it was a relief to be able to set sail again for our destination. Discovered to our horror a few days later that the bottom of the foil of our in mast furling gear had sheared off AGAIN. This had happened on the way to South Africa and had been welded together, now another bit had broken. Fortunately the forecast for the remainder of the passage was fairly benign so we decided our only option was to sail on with the main as it was setting more or less headsail or cruising chute depending on the conditions. Bones from Emily Morgan kindly offered to come aboard to help get the sail off as we came into St Helena. We were very pleased to have his assistance when we arrived on the Wednesday evening just in time for the island tour next day.

The mainsail reefing gear was serviced and fixed last March at great expense by the riggers in Newcastle NSW. They had trouble getting the system apart and cut off one piece of tube at the bottom – declaring that it was just a covering piece and that everything would be fine without it – WRONG – that part is actually a torsion tube not just a cover and without it the rest of the lower foil is subject to unacceptable shearing forces. The riggers were lovely guys very helpful and good at sail repairs, but I guess we had felt at the time that they weren’t that familiar with the Selden furling system and we were paying top rates for them to “learn on the job” – our job! N.B we also found that had completely failed to set up the rig, merely relying on tape to indicate previous set, rather than checking wire tension or anything, with the result that the whole rig was massively slack- not a professional job at all.

We were lucky that in remote St Helena we found someone (Larry) to weld the stainless steel and fabricate the required part for the reefing gear otherwise we would have been sailing on headsails only.

Moving on from Cape Town

We’ve had a great Christmas and new year here – must come back. Finished up with a go at Dragon boating. But it’s now time to go, the fridge is stuffed, fruit and veg nets bulging and on every boat any spare space has been filled with South African wine. Oh and we filled with diesel and water too. Next leg may be slow as forecast is no wind. Looking forward to St Helena though. Not sure how the comms will be from there. The parrot came for Christmas but he’s staying.

Christmas Day

Timshel had the little tree and some decorations, Santa came and filled the stockings, but no time to open all the parcels as departure on the wine tasting trip organised by Josh and Mark of Mad Monkey was 08.00. The first winery, Grande Provence near Franshchoek also housed a cheetah project – for a small donation you could stroke a cheetah. Then to Richard Bransons Mont Rochelle for a superb lunch, then to Marianne winery near Stellenbosch for more tasting. Lovely day, superb scenery, great company, thank you so much Josh and !ark.


Christmas Eve

John and Angela from Madrigal organised a pot luck Pontoon party. The marina lent tables and chairs so we could have a sit down meal with Johns wine and the dishes everyone brought. The dining area was set up on the very wide finger between Madrigal and Mad Monkey to keep out of everyone’s way. It was a bit tight – no one fell in but one chair did (hastily fished out before it sank). A great time was had by all, and the carol singing did get a bit loud as the evening went on.

Mossel Bay to Cape Town

Fortunately we didn’t have to wait very long for the weather to be right to continue our trip. Only a couple of days in Mossel Bay, the yacht club was very friendly and we got fuel in cans by taxi. Left early on a very calm Thursday morning on company with Amandla (Lisa and Fabio), after a few hours motoring got wind and had a great sail from then on. Passed Cape Agulhas by moonlight, but we did get to see Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. We were going to take a lot less than the expected 2 days to get there so anchored just round the corner in Granger Bay for the rest of the night, before going into Cape Town harbour in daylight next morning. You have to negotiate two opening bridges, but the crew of Pretaixte were there on the pontoon at the V&A marina to take our lines and welcome us. Nice to catch up with our friends again. N.B V&A is Victoria and Alfred NOT Albert! Alfred was one of her sons. It’s a nice marina, right in the middle of the tourist and shopping area built where old warehouses used to be. A few Christmases ago Aberdeen had dolphins everywhere; here it is rhinos. The harbour is home to cormorants, a few penguins and many noisy squabbling Cape Fur seals. Who occasionally get on your pontoon or even your boat. They can be quite fierce when crossed.