by Sibley Reppert
I. Cape Town
I have a catamaran in Africa, at the Cape Town dock near the Royal Cape Yacht Club, in the shadow of Table Mountain. Her name is CATALYST, emblazoned in bold script on her ice blue topsides, and she was launched last Thursday as morning sunshine fled before an approaching northwest gale caused by an anticyclone marauding north from the Southern Ocean. If all goes according to plan, we will cast off on June 15 for the voyage home, some 12,500 kilometers carrying us diagonally across the South Atlantic, over the equator and through the doldrums, traversing the northeast trades to the Windward Islands, and thence across the Caribbean, through the Mona Passage, and north to Massachusetts with assistance from the Gulf Stream.
Catalyst is about to emerge from her cocoon and spread her ice blue wings. She sits now in a shed at Bongers Marine in Helderberg Industrial Park, a quarter-mile off of Route N2 (the main coast route) in Strand. Strand, as the name implies, is a town about 30 miles from Cape Town on the long curving beach of False Bay, which is bounded on the west by the jagged peaks of Cape Point and on the east by a ridge of 1500 meter peaks of the Hottentots-Holland mountains. The buildings in the industrial park are modern, and they stand in stark contrast to the squatter's camp of matchstick huts just a few hundred yards away on the scrubby flat plain that extends from the beach to the highway.
Bongers Marine is owned by Simon Bongers, whose father, Eric, and grandfather were boatbuilders as well. Eric, a tall and patrician man of 67 years, is now retired from building his own boats, and works with Simon on the Atlantic catamarans that Bongers is building. Eric and I corresponded by email for months on the choice of equipment for our Atlantic 42, and since our arrival he has acted as our genial host. Eric sailed for South Africa in the Melbourne Olympics in the Finn class (beating Paul Elvstrom in one race, no mean feat), and built many impressive sailing yachts such as two beauties he showed us at the Royal Cape Yacht Club. Eric has very high standards, and understands sailboats. His involvement is important for Simon, because the Bongers name means a great deal in Cape yachting circles. Jim Duncan, a retired electrical engineer and fellow Finn sailor, came out of retirement at Eric's request to take charge of the electrical installations on the first few Atlantic 42s and Atlantic 55s. Craig Middleton, another sailing friend of Eric's and now commodore of the RCYC, made our sails at Quantum's loft. The boat building community here is and highly experienced, and we are very fortunate to have received the best it has to offer. Simon, patient and laconic, obviously learned how to build boats right at his father's knee.
Ours is the third Atlantic 42 to be built by Simon Bongers, and the enthusiasm of the entire Bongers crew for our boat is palpable. I am impressed with the attention to detail by Simon's work crew, including Brett, his new foreman, Yusaf, the chief mechanic, and the carpenters, painters, and workers that swarm over the boat. Simon's business is thriving. He has four huge Atlantic 55's under construction down on Broadlands road near the squatter camp, another A42 half-built and sitting beside Catalyst, and a power cat sportfishing boat under construction for which he has more orders. Simon is building three new buildings across the street in the industrial park that will make his operation more efficient, because he can separate finish and painting work from the messy work of laying up and fairing fiberglass. Simon takes an intense personal interest in his boats, and takes every step to make sure they are built right. His charming wife, Melanie, took charge of supplying our upholstered pilot house settee and bunk cushions of Alcantara fabric. Every one of Simon's crew is attentive and responsive to my questions and requests for last changes. I am impressed and very glad that we chose to build Catalyst down here.
The past week has been a blur of activity, and Paul and I have been putting in 14-hour days politely motivating the Bongers crew and coordinating with Sparcraft and Quantum Sails. It's a good thing we came down when we did, because we found on arrival that Eric couldn't even find the detailed to-do list I sent on May 2, and many items required resolution. In addition to our boat, Bongers is sprinting to finish Spirit, the first Atlantic 55, and is under heavy pressure from her owner. Jim Duncan is stretched thin with the job of installing very sophisticated navigation, instrumentation, autopilot systems in these boats, as well as their entire electrical systems. At the same time, I have been very impressed by the way the entire crew worked to meet the re-scheduled launch date of May 31. Eric, Yusaf, Jim and others worked far into the night day after day, and it was amazing to watch CATALYST emerge from the cocoon of swarming workers on the appointed morning.
Despite threats of rain, May 31 dawned clear and sunny when a huge 16 wheeler backed in to Simon's shed and the Bongers workers jacked Catalyst onto its flatbed trailer. She was supported under the wing only, with guy lines to bows and sterns and both hulls sticking far out on each side of the trailer. With the workers crowded around, Catalyst inched proud and gleaming into the sunlight with the stark and angular Hottentots- Holland mountains providing a suitable backdrop. Her ice blue topsides and deck house wonderfully complement her tan deck and black bottom - she's beautiful!! In direct sunlight the ice blue looks white at first glance, and then you see the subtle blue shade that becomes darker blue in the shadows.
After she was wheeled in front of the plant, all of the workers, Simon and Eric stood in front of her for pictures, I expressed my thanks, then the police cars turned on their sirens and off we went down the N2 thirty miles to Cape Town, past the green hills of Somerset West, the drear shantytowns of Cape Flats, the looming bulk of Table Mountain and down through city streets to the bustling docks. Her 25-foot beam occupied most of the road, and the driver skillfully negotiated his way past a few "robots" with inches to spare. The folks walking beside the highway with bundles on their heads and bags of oranges in their hands turned to stare at this odd apparition. Along she trundled at 90 kmh, the fastest she will ever go. Paul and I drove behind the trailing police car, scooting close to run the red lights.
At 1300, the appointed hour, she hovered over the water of Table Bay suspended on straps and lifted by a big crane, deck level with the sea wall. Victoria and I climbed up and looked down on the assembled crowd of well-wishers. Victoria called out, "Here is Catayst", poured a bottle of champagne on her starboard bow, and read from her favorite book, Thoreau's Walden.
"I do not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now."
I expressed my hopes for fast and safe passages, new adventures, and new friendships, and then the crane operator slowly lowered her into her element, where she floated like happy duck to the admiring gaze of the crowd. What fun! Melanie and Rikka then served a fine repast of champagne and hors d'oeuvres, and we chatted with our bright-eyed Scots electrician Jim Duncan and Kathy, his equally little and bright-eyed wife, and with Simon and Melanie, as well as Francois, Rikka's husband, a school teacher who made our beautiful cherry pilot house table. And then the north-wester blew in with rainy gusts, a winter gale that spun north from the southern ocean and that served as a reminder that we have much work to do, and quickly.
Later that afternoon the Sparcraft crew used the same crane to step her gleaming white mast, and I sat in the pilot house with Paul and Victoria and reveled in my good fortune to be sitting on such a beautiful yacht with such a supportive and engaged family. Now that the cushions are aboard and the floor boards installed it is remarkable how she has been transformed from the tangle of wires and workmen that crawled all over her just a day or two ago. We sat there for hours as the dusk grew into night and the rain pelted down outside, exploring her cabins, marveling at Bongers' workmanship, planning for our voyage. And, for me, savoring the moment, suspending my nagging doubts about the wisdom of this costly extravagance, and hoping that she bring happiness.
On Friday Paul and I drove out to Strand to attend a braai or barbecue for the workers at the plant. About half of them are Moslem and do not drink alcohol or work after mid-day Fridays, and the rest do drink and are worthless afterwords, so Simon normally closes Friday afternoons. The cookout consisted of long sausages and marinated lamb steaks grilled on coals. I walked around thanking each of the workers. Unfortunately I forgot to lock the car after parking it in front of the plant where the festivities were taking place. Upon returning to the Alphen, I found that my video camera had been taken from the car, much to Simon's dismay. He put then word out later that there would be no recriminations if the camera reappeared, but no camera, and now I have lost my video film of the launching. In South Africa, lock it or lose it!
Our list of Things To Do never seems to get smaller, because new items arise as fast as others are resolved. Nevertheless, I think we will be ready for sea by June 15. The latest glitch is the fact that the wrong dinghy is being shipped for us from New Zealand, a big sport boat with a 25 hp outboard more suited to 60-footer. So Paul and I shuttled around from dealer to dealer yesterday and today, finally locating a manufacturer of Gemini tenders who may be able to build us an aluminum-bottom inflatable on time. We will find out tomorrow. If yes, the price will be very favorable. If no, we will probably go without a dinghy, because I don't want to buy one that is unsuitable. According to Rick Flewelling, the yacht delivery skipper who is helping us get ready, there is a water taxi in St. Helena. We will be able to get transport ashore or tie alongside a dock in the West Indies and Bermuda, even without a dinghy. Also, Rick is working on getting us a loaner life raft that we can send back after the trip. Although I am fully confident to go without one because Catalyst is unsinkable, both Victoria and Paul would prefer that we carry a raft.
For days I have been agitating to make sure the bowsprit or "prod" was ready to be installed promptly after launching so that Quantum could measure the hoist and build the screacher for us. Unfortunately, Sparcraft made two mistakes manufacturing the fitting that holds the inboard end of the prod, and now we are hoping to get the measurement on Monday next. Pete Shaw of Sparcraft was very apologetic when we brought him this news - he is extremely competent and quite disappointed that his man screwed up. We went over the rig with him last night and pointed out some other changes that were necessary, such as another halyard clutch for the second jib halyard, a better turning block arrangement, and a better way to secure the sea anchor bridle ends on each bow. These changes should be accomplished by Tuesday, by which day the sails will be bent and we will be ready for a test sail.
At my suggestion, Simon has arranged for a photo shoot next weekend for both Catalyst and Spirit, the new Chris White Atlantic 55 that is now moored right next to us. The 55 is huge, with a pilot house that is about 20 feet wide inside, although she has a short rig at her owner's request. It will be interesting to see how the two boats perform - she weighs in at 12 metric tons, and we're 6.5. I can't wait to get sailing!!
Hard-working Jim Duncan was aboard Saturday connecting our instruments, so tomorrow I can play with them. He is critical to our schedule, because of the complexity of our interconnected systems that he has to complete. We still do not have a C Sat antenna, and the single side band radio is not wired up - both of which simply must work before we go. A number of mechanical items are incomplete. For example, we found out on Friday that the watermaker is plumbed to supply water to the port tank only. Now Yussef will plumb in a cross-over to the starboard tank so we can balance the load. Happily, the hydraulic steering seems to work fine, as do the engines.
Paul has been a tremendous help and an enthusiastic companion. Vic loves South Africa, and it is a great pleasure to see how she absorbs the world around her. She is outgoing, expressive, curious, and always pleasant. I am so proud to have her as my daughter!
Today we spend the morning looking unsuccessfully for hooks and other hardware in three marine stores, and trying to find a dinghy. Then we drove up R44 to Stellenbosch, and had a fine lunch at a quaint old restaurant called Volkskombuis, situated on the banks of the tumbling Eerste River. I had a Cape Sampler including Springbok pie, Vic had an East African curry, and Paul oxtail stew Cape -style, and we washed this fine repast down with a bottle of Pinotage, a local varietal red, from Middelvei Estate, a Stellenbosch vineyard, followed by a noble Cabernet from the same vineyard. So excellent was the wine that we repaired to Middelvei after lunch and bought a case of Pinotage, 6 Shiraz and 6 Cabernet for the voyage north or other appropriate occasions. Considering the crowd that will be coming by to have a toast aboard before we leave, most of this may be gone by then!
Vic and I recovered from our gastronomic adventures this evening by working out at the excellent Constatia Health Club. I rowed an hour on the erg, and feel quite virtuous.
We are in no hurry to leave this beautiful place; the Cape is spectacular, and the people we have met here could not be more open and friendly. Today we drove down to Cape Point after lunch in Simonstown, on the west side of the Cape Peninsula where the mountains sheltered the British Navy from fierce winter gales like the one that has raged here for the past two days. Simonstown still hosts the South African Navy as well as a marina full of yachts. Above this assembled fleet the town circles steeply perched on a hillside reminiscent of the island of Taboga near the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The houses and shops are adorned with balconies decorated with filigreed cast iron railings and balustrades and with brightly flowering bougainvillea. I understand why Kelly Wright, the Texan who bought the first Atlantic 42 built here by Simon Bongers, stayed a full year in Simonstown before leaving on his maiden voyage to Rio a few weeks ago. It's one of those places by the sea where you just want to drink a cup of coffee at the café, read the paper and forget about the rest of the world.
Vic, Paul and I drove south to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Preserve, observing nothing living except a couple of wind-ruffled ostrich as we crossed the barren, craggy landscape past sculpted outcroppings of Cape sandstone to a parking lot where baboons roamed around looking bored and indifferent to the tourists who stood in groups taking their pictures. The gale blew us right up the path to Cape Point Light (now abandoned because its beacon, 250 meters above the water, was shrouded in fog and provided no help the Portugese vessel Lusitania that foundered on the Cape in 1911). To the south, one could faintly make out two large ships rounding the Cape in the gale for the long slog north. Otherwise, nothing but the vast and treacherous Southern Ocean, breeder of fierce winds like this one. We looked across to the Cape of Good Hope, the southwest corner of Africa, so named by Bartholomew Diaz of Portugal. Here the warm water of the Indian Ocean, carried south along the South African coast by the Agulhas current, battles with the cold Benguela current that flows north from the Antarctic. Sometimes the waves out here get so big they break huge ships in half. No wonder they call this cape the Cape of Storms. No wonder only baboons, antelopes, and a few escapee Ostriches prefer to live down here. The rugged terrain is scoured clean of trees. At the rocky promontory that is the Cape of Good Hope, the northwester picks up the tops of crashing surf and flings the spray in sheets that glisten white against the gloom.
We must take a training sail down here before we leave -- I must say that I have weathered this cape in my own craft.
Yesterday was a great day -- we took Catalyst out for her first sail. She performs beautifully, both under power and under sail, and our sea trial crew of 10 was all smiles. The weather was perfect, with a light westerly and bright sunshine. The view of Table Mountain towering behind the city of Cape Town is awesome and unforgettable. Catalyst proved herself to be light on the helm and as responsive as a sports car. And she moves!
In the morning, Craig Middleton (head of Quantum's loft here, and also commodore of the Royal Cape Yacht Club) and one of his men came down and bent on our mainsail and stackpack, as well as the genoa. The mainsail is not going to be fun to take off at the end of the season, because it's huge and heavy, but once installed it flakes very well into the stackpack, which holds it neatly on top of the boom. Matthias from Sparcraft scampered up and down the mast (a job made considerably easier by our electric winch) and installed our double running backstays. We have modified the standard Atlantic 42 rig to be able to fly a "screacher" (light weight 180% furling reacher) off of a "prod" or bowsprit. Since the screacher halyard and spinnaker halyard both fly from the masthead and the standard running backstays attach to the hounds about 5 feet below the masthead where the jib stay attaches, we specified a double runner to support the mast both at the mast head and the hounds. I have spent quite a bit of time working with Pete Shaw of Sparcraft, Simon Bongers, Craig, and Chris White figuring out a design for the prod, and I am very pleased with the results. It is an aluminum pole with a bayonet fitting on the aft end that attaches to a support plate curving around the nose of the wing fairing. Sparcraft did a beautiful job of fabricating it and the rest of our rig. They modified the bridle that supports our headstay to include a U-shaped plastic channel for the pole to secure it in against upward and sideways forces, and made up aluminum plates that we bolted to the bow beam support brackets at each bow to accommodate both the guy wires that secure the end of the prod and heavy shackles to which we can attach the bridle for our sea anchor. Paul and I spent the morning locating a machine shop to re-bore holes in the plates and buying various fittings, and by early afternoon the whole bow plates were on, the sails were bent, and we were ready to cast off.
Richard "Thirsty" Bertie (who is commissioning the boat for Simon) gave me the helm, and I backed her out of her slip cautiously, then pivoted Catalyst using her motors to head out the narrow channel. As we gained speed I spun the wheel to avoid a boat moored on the opposite dock. Nothing happened! I spun the wheel furiously and reversed the engines, and we narrowly missed our first collision 50 feet from our slip. Yusaf, Simon's chief mechanic, Richard, Brent (also in Simon's crew), and Paul investigated the problem as I jockeyed around between the boats using the engines. It turned out that the rudders were drastically misaligned; this was a useful drill, because Paul was able to see you Yusaf bypassed the hydraulics and realigned the rudders. Afterwards they worked perfectly.
The three-bladed props propel Catalyst without any vibration, and the engines are very quiet. She's a great powerboat! We raised the mainsail using our electric winch (good thing we have it, considering the weight of the sail), unfurled the jib, and checked the rig (the mast looks great, and has just the right amount of prebend). Craig's sails are superb. I am very impressed with the professionalism and expertise of the entire team that has come together to build this boat.
Today we went for a hike from the Alphen Hotel, where we have been staying, up the Alphen Trail that runs along the banks of the gently flowing Diep River, to Kirstenbosch, South Africa's magnificent national botanical garden on the south slope of Table Mountain. "Thirsty" met us on the trail with his two dogs and led us up the winding trail through the woods and past some of the grand homes of Constantia, one of Cape Town's most exclusive suburbs. The path expands into open fields in places, and serves a continual stream of joggers, dog walkers, runners, and hikers, all white and most of British extraction. They all say "Good morning" or "Hello" as they pass you on the trail.
Thirsty gained his nickname on the offshore racing circuit years ago, and from the gleam in his eye I can see how he earned his sobriquet. He raced with Huey Long and Dick Bertram on Ondine, raced an early Whitbread race around the world, and has no doubt wrung a lot of salt water out of his socks. Now he has swallowed the anchor and spends his time with his wife, who suffers from mal de mer, mountain biking on the Cape Peninsula and at a mountainside weekend getaway up the N1 past Stellenbosch.
The estates bordering the path are protected by walls covered by coils of vicious barbed wire, and typically display prominent signs identifying an instant-response alarm company. In the midst of great beauty one finds evidence of white anxiety about black crime and vandalism. Thirsty talked with us about South Africa's economic situation. More than one million young and well-educated white South Africans are now living in London. The tax rate here is 46% plus 14%VAT. Thirsty describes white frustration at the sense of entitlement of South African blacks, and the difficulty of finding workers who have sufficient training. As he sees it, 10% of the population is supporting the remaining 90%, who are not interested in working hard. His comments are corroborated by a story in this week's Cape Times on the "brain drain" that is siphoning young professionals to England and, secondarily, to the United States. Part of this exodus is caused by the weakness of the Rand. The South Africans we have met often describe to us their frustration that everything costs twice as much for them when the travel to England. As Thirsty describes it, young white people are leaving because they find better opportunities abroad and affirmative action is limiting their ability to land good jobs here.
And yet, the white tribe of Cape Town appears to be thriving and prosperous. The well-paved roads are full of new BMWs and Land Rovers. The restaurants are packed and vibrant. The shopping centers, such as the beautiful one at Constantia Village and the much bigger Somerset Mall out near Simon's plant, put most US malls to shame. The Pick ŒN Pay supermarkets are huge and attractive, and offer a selection that is superior to most US supermarkets. Constantia Health Centre, the club owned by Richard Branson of Virgin Air across Constantia Road from the Alphen, is the nicest health club I have ever seen, and it is full all the time with attractive white people riding exercise bikes, sweating away in spinning classes, and working out on Nautilus machines. Victoria and Alfred (no, not Albert) Waterfront, the huge complex on the Cape Town waterfront, was abuzz with shoppers at 0930 this Sunday morning when I drove in to the camera store. And in all of these places, all you see are well-dressed whites (except for a few blacks and more "coloreds" in the Waterfront).
Constantia is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen. Table Mountain rises dramatically to the west, and old vineyards spread across its foothills: Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting. These same vineyards have produced great wines since the eighteenth century (particularly sauvignon blanc), and Constantia wine was a favorite of Boney himself while he brooded in exile on St. Helena. According to a newspaper story I read this week it now appears that he was poisoned by his physician who was trying to convince the authorities that he should be sent back to France for medical care; so he may have gone to his maker drinking laced Constantia. Interspersed among the rolling fields of grapevines are grand estates with tennis courts, consulates, and fine inns. This place is very upper crust; but only a few miles away, on the dusty plains of Cape Flats, acres and acres of squalid tin-roofed squatter shacks spread across the barren land like an incurable cancer. The contrasts are almost too stark to comprehend.
Cat (my other daughter) arrived yesterday morning after a long flight via the Cape Verde Islands. She filled us in on Annapolis, where she just finished a week with prospective applicants to the US Naval Academy. As usual, she came out no.1 on their grading schedule and beat all the boys in her platoon except one in the physical fitness tests. Great to have her with us for this voyage!
A few facts from today's Cape Times. The number of deaths from AIDS in the Cape Town province is expected to be about 6000 in 2001, about 62,000 from 2001 to 2005 and to peak and then level off with about 40,000 deaths a year by 2015. This is out of a total population of 3,154,000 in 2001, of whom about 670,000 are white, 1,450,000 "colored", 985.000 "black", and 50,000 Asian/Indian. On average, whites earn five times more than blacks. 48% of blacks live below the subsistence level of 14,500 Rand per year ($1790 at today's exchange rate); the percentages for coloreds and whites are 20% and 4%. Adult illiteracy levels continue to grow by about 17,000 adults a year. 23% of black households have a telephone, as opposed to 90% of whites.
Crime is the dominant concern among whites. Everybody has crime stories to tell, and I now know first hand not to leave valuables such as cameras in your car. According to Brett, Simon's forman, many of his friends have emigrated to New Zealand, Australia, and England because of fears for the security of their families. The Cape Times reports that hundreds of policemen are killed here execution-style each year, and the anectodal evidence of crime is chilling. Rick Flewelling described a farewell party that was held for him and Connie when they moved to Cape Town from Durban. Twelve couples attended. All twelve had been burgled within the past year, and seven of the twelve had shot the intruders! One of Rick's captains shot three intruders as they attacked his wife in Fish Hoek. 35,000 Rand worth of gear was stolen from a new cat in the guarded Yacht Club Annex recently. And the receptionist at the Yacht Club (very well guarded) was held up at gunpoint this year. Beneath the beauty of Cape Town lurks the fear that South Africa will go the way of Zimbabwe and the rest of black Africa. Underlying the fear of crime is race. One nasty little joke told to me by Nigel, who sells Anderson winches, goes as follows: "What's the difference between a tourist here and a racist? Three days."
It's hard to judge how real the threat of crime really is. Compared to Harlem, or Colon, Panama, or the South End of Boston where we lived for years, I find Cape Town far less threatening. Everybody of all races is polite and friendly, including the pathetic children who beg at the traffic lights in Cape Town. According to the Cape Times, crime has dropped 40% in the "foreshore" of Cape Town due to an aggressive neighborhood policing policy. Apparently the threat is real in Johannesburg, where cars are equipped with flame throwers to deter car jackers and hotels provide guards toting AK47s to escort their affluent patrons to restaurants (this is from Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and excellent travel book about modern South Africa by Gavin Bell). In any event, fear is infecting the body politic down here.
This is our target departure date, but now we face two new problems. Our pallet of equipment has been sitting at customs since we shipped it here in April, but we can't get the goods out of customs until the bureaucrats finish processing unspecified papers next week. Also, we drove out to Quantum to check out the construction of our new screacher only to find they haven't even started it. Not good. I am worried that this past week of incredibly fine weather will not last, that we will be delayed by a northwesterly winter gale here in Cape Town, and that we will be too late into the hurricane season when we hit the northern hemisphere. Are we going to win this race against the clock?
Tonight I hosted a gala dinner in the fine old manor house of the Alphen Hotel for the builders of Catalyst: Simon and his lovely wife Melanie, Simon's charming father Eric and his wife Judy, and Brett, Jim and Francois and their wives. It was a great evening in a gracious setting, and Vic and Cat were lively and beautiful. Thank God for the strength of the dollar!
The Alphen is my favorite hotel, bar none. Good thing, since we have been here more than two weeks. The two-story Dutch manor house was built in 1714 and anchors the left side of a large courtyard of white stucco buildings surrounding a green. The place is now owned by the Cloete family, and the Cloete family tree includes Jacob Cloete, a German mercenary who came down from Cologne, became rich in the wine trade, and bought the Alphen estate and vineyard in 1850. Henry Cloete supported the British in the Boer War, but his wife spied on him for the Boers. Their reconciliation is celebrated by the Boer & Brit Pub at the Alphen. Another Cloete, Josias, fought a duel on the premises with Dr. James Barry, who was found on her death to be a woman. The place has a relaxed and genteel air that I will miss.
Catalyst is moored at the bulkhead of the Royal Cape Yacht Club annex next to three catamarans, including a Moorings 47 and the prototype of the Moorings 42, both of which are leaving Cape Town next week for the long voyage to the Caribbean. Canadians Rick and Connie Flewelling operate a sailboat delivery business and have a contract to sail all of the Moorings cats to their charter locations, usually the Caribbean but sometimes the Med, the UK, Tahiti, Florida, or Australia. At present they have three boats at sea with delivery crews hired by Rick; he is leaving next Tuesday with the prototype Moorings 42 for Guadeloupe. This will be nothing new to him, since he has already made this 5500 nautical mile trip (or ones to similar ports) 23 times for the Moorings, and Connie has done 21 runs. Previously, Rick and Connie spent 10 years cruising Pacific in a 24-foot Lapworth racer that wasn't meant to go to sea. Connie told us about some tricks she learned while living on such a tiny boat without refrigeration, such as preserving meat by coating it with lard and storing it for months in the bilge. Yummy! Last year Rick and Connie finally got an apartment on shore, on Table Bay as it curves north from Cape Town, where Rick can see the ocean from his window and watch his Moorings charges sail into the sunset on their way north. This is the first time they have lived ashore for 35 years. Considering the fact that they spent over 250 days at sea last year, however, it's fair to say they haven't exactly swallowed the anchor.
Rick and Connie have been of great assistance to us. Last Thursday Connie, Vic, Cat and I attacked Pick "N Pay to buy food for a 40-day voyage. The manager at Pick "N Pay smiles broadly when Connie walks in with her list, because she buys 37 days worth of food for a three-man crew about once a week. She wheeled us through the aisles telling us about her favorite South African brands, and soon we had six overflowing shopping carts full of canned goods, fresh meat to be frozen and shrink wrapped by the store, bags of potatoes, onions, condiments, spices, etc etc. Today I paid for the whole lot (only $500 because of the outrageously favorable exchange rate) and three Pick ŒN Pay guys hauled the whole lot down to our dock and lugged the boxes aboard.
Connie then took charge of the normally frustrating process of figuring out where and how to stow all this stuff. She wrapped every potato and onion in newspaper, explaining that they last better so protected, dipped every egg in cooking oil as a preservative, and carefully prepared a check-off list as we stowed the food in Catalyst's commodious lockers. In fact, it's amazing how much room there is on our new boat. The whole lot disappeared into the galley and storage lockers under the "couch" in the pilot house leaving room for another 30 days' food. I can't believe we are actually going to eat all of this food. Maybe we will take a page from Bernard Moitissier's book, and just keep sailing past Massachusetts and on across the Western Ocean, then back around the Horn to the South Seas and the fragile beauty of the Tuamtos, thriving on our vast supply of minced Ostrich, vanilla custard, red kidney beans, muesli, etc.
Rick has been of equal help; he spent today surveying Catalyst with a 50-page checklist of things I would never even think of. He sailed FLASH, the second Bongers Atlantic 42, up to the British Virgins last spring and made many recommendations that have been incorporated into our boat. Rick loves the A42, which compares to the heavy and slow Moorings cats as a Porche does to mom's minivan. Except for a few items like missing door latches we passed with flying colors, which confirms my view that this is one fine sailboat.
Just how fine became apparent when we took her out for a sail this afternoon in a nasty northwester that blanketed Lion's Head and proved the truth of the local adage that you will get wet within four hours after Lion's Head disappears into the clouds. At least the downpour cleaned the decks. We reached across Table Bay past rusty Taiwanese drift netters that make the African Queen look like a cruise liner, inside of Robben Island, the local Alcatraz where Nelson Mandela and his supporters sat behind bars for years as Apartheid died its long slow death. As the wind rose Catalyst just took off, seemingly unhampered by the half-ton of stores we had just loaded aboard and the new dinghy hanging from her davits. The seas were short and nasty, and it would have been very unpleasant in Victoria, our 37-foot monohull sloop. But Catalyst pranced with a fluid grace over the waves, pitching very little, her leeward bow occasionally wreathed in spray bursting through the trampoline between her bows. Her helm was nicely balanced, and Quantum's sails fit very well. We reached a maximum of 14.5 knots, then came about to try out Quantum Sailmakers' new assymetrical chute that we flew from the sprit that Paul and I spent so long engineering during this trip. Amazing! She rose to the long Atlantic rollers and surfed straight down them as we smiled through the rainstorm. She needs almost no helm to keep her tracking straight, and the sprit withstood the loads without any problem. Perfect!! I can't express how fortunate I feel to be sailing such a fine boat with my girls and Paul. The only glitches are a leak in the escape hatch that is behind the steps leading from the starboard hull into the pilothouse, and a cam cleat that burst spectacularly into pieces when the screws holding it to the deck pulled out under the load from the tack line for the chute. I'm glad we found the leak in time for Bongers to repair it.
At last! At 1142, fully fueled with 400 liters of duty-free diesel, we passed the Cape Town jetty after waving farewell to the Bongers crowd assembled on the dock. A 20-knot southeaster laid the Table Cloth atop Table Mountain as the penetratingly bright sunlight illuminated the mountain's crevassed, 500 million-year-old granite and sandstone face. The southeaster is a fixture of Cape summers, and does it howl. It drives moist air up the west side of the mountain, where it condenses into a layer of cloud that lies atop the mountain and undulates down its craggy fissures in a beguiling natural spectacle.
As we left the harbor, a 60-foot sloop sailed in with a bag-piper standing on the bow, playing Scotland the Brave. They are part of yet another "offshore challenge" race for paying customers, this one called the Plymouth Challenge. Nobody waved when we powered by, so maybe they were focusing on the thought of a shower and a drink after the long sail down from the UK.
We raised the chute and took off downwind in glorious sunshine, running between Robben Island and the mainland. By sunset were 40 miles out, and I decided to lower the chute with Vic's help. She climbed on to the trampoline and yanked on the control line to snuff the sail the furling sock. That done, I tried to lower the halyard. But it was stuck in the mast, and the sheath around the braid line slid down the rope and puckered, thus jamming the halyard in the mast. A look aloft revealed the problem - the sheath had chafed through about 6 feet down from the shackle. Paul jumped out of his bunk and volunteered to go up the mast, and soon he was swinging back and forth 50 feet above the deck in the bosun's chair. No visible problem outside the mast. I decided to reverse course and head back to Cape Town. We need a spinnaker halyard for the 7000 miles ahead of us, and have no spare for the one that has just chafed through in a few hours. Obviously, something was wrong with the rig.
So back we went, into the teeth of a 25 knot blow right on the bow, bouncing and crashing over and through big waves that loomed up on the starboard bow. Water swept over the entire boat, but Paul and Cat, our intrepid watchstanders, stayed dry inside the pilot house and our twin diesels pushed us along at over 7 knots. Catalyst handled this test very well, but her port forward hatch leaked badly, soaking Paul's bedding and clothes. Also, the escape hatched developed a leak under the tremendous pressure of the water hitting it as waves smacked the bottom of Catalyst's wing. I sent an email to Simon, and Chris V. called him after I reached her by cell phone. By the time we eased back into the slip at midnight, Simon was there to meet us, his face creased with concern.
II. Cape Town to St. Helena
Underway again. Sparcraft's crew spent half the day up the mast repairing our halyard problem. The halyards were twisted inside the mast, and the spinnaker halyard chafed against the genoa sheave box. They reeved a new spinnaker halyard to replace the chafed one after installing a guard at the hounds to prevent chafe. At the suggestion of Ian of Sparcraft, I reversed the internal spinnaker halyard and made it long enough so we can shorten it during the trip to cut off the top bit in the event of masthead chafe. We also attached a block to the bale at the masthead and installed a second, external spinnaker halyard. Meanwhile, Brett and Yusaf's son pulled out our leaky forward hatch and replace it with a new one brought down by Rob of Central Boating. They also resealed the escape hatch. Now we are finally ready for sea. Cape Town and South Africa are enticing places, but it's time to leave.
The Bongers team put their heart and soul into this boat, and it shows. Every item on every list - mine, Rick's, Brett's, Yusaf's, Simon's - is attended to and checked off. She's beautiful, and it's time to go to sea.
Wind! It came at dawn today from the port quarter, and now we are reaching under screacher at 8-10 knots in 12 knots of true wind. This had been a lucky and quiet passage so far. We departed Cape Town when a big high was parked offshore, and thus avoided the wicked northwest gales that pummel Cape Point every few days this time of year. We are still in the high and will ride it out of the horse latitudes and into the trades that should pick up around 25 degrees S. Last night we spoke the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) St. Helena, en route to Cape Town, and the deck officer on the VHF (a woman) reported force 5 from the SSE starting about 300 miles ahead of us, continuing all the way to St. Helena. The wind at present is SW, and will begin to back around to the SSE as we sail up the right side of the high. The St. Helena reported that they had a good radar image of us at 6 miles and that our masthead tricolor was so bright they weren't sure we were a yacht.
Since departing Cape Town we have flown the screacher 80% of the time as well as the mainsail. It is a lightweight reacher made of 4 ounce radial pentax and mylar in a triradial pattern, and tacks down to a bale on the sprit about three feet forward of the headstay. The screacher has no stay, but rather a luff tape containing two spectra lines an inch apart that, when tensioned, acts as a luff foil for the Profurl furler. It's very easy to set, and measures about 700 square feet, or about twice the size of the genoa. Catalyst goes so fast that even with the wind on our quarter we are sailing at 70 degrees relative, a perfect use for the screacher. I'm sold on it and my only question is how it will stand up to the heavy solar dose it will receive on this trip. No free lunch...
847 miles to St. Helena. Last night was scary. A strong cold front blew over, bringing 35 knot winds and very high and confused seas reminiscent of the Gulf Stream on a bad day. At the time we were right over a huge sea mount called Valdivia Bank where high seas are reported sometimes. The wind came in from the south (fortunately, since we're heading nnw) and howled. We were "steering to wind" at the time it hit, meaning that the autopilot was trying to maintain a constant 42 degree angle to the light wind we had before the shift. Catalyst spun into the new gale and went into irons, unable to maneuver because of lack of boat speed. Cat, Paul and I rushed about in the total darkness clawing down the main into a double reef, trying to use the engines to get her head around, and reefing the jib. The screacher unfurled itself and flogged about badly until we refurled it. Finally we got her around to course and started corkscrewing over the irregular seas that were underlaid by 20-foot swells marching in majestically from the southwest. It was pitch black, and we crashed along at 10 knots to a cacophony of thuds and slams as the waves crashed into the undeside of the wing between the hulls. Sleep in the cabins was totally out of the question, and we all congregated in the pilot house where the motion is least and the demonic noise most bearable. It was a very long night.
Part of the problem was the rig was unbalanced. Catalyst's mainsail has a huge roach, and even when reefed tends to spin her into the wind as she rises over a wave. We tried barberhauling the jib to windward and winging it out opposite the main, but that didn't work well. We settled on sheeting the jib to leeward at a wide angle so it stayed filled, but the pilot had to work hard to keep us on course through the tumult.
Today, as usual at sea, everything is different. The seas steadied out this afternoon and the wind dropped to the mid-20's true, teens apparent. Following Rick Flewelling's advice, we dropped and furled the main and are now running under assymetrical spinnaker only, tacked to the windward bow. What a difference! The boat balances beautifully, and the B&G pilot steers us at a constant 145 relative with tiny rudder movements actuated by its gyro stabilized compass. The boat shows no tendency to broach in 20-25 knots of wind, which translates to 12 apparent as we surge along at 10-12 knots. Wow!!! The sheer power of this cat is awesome. I lay awake last off-watch listening to the rumble of the water surging past, the quiet thum-thumming of the Brooks & Gatehouse autopilot, and the eerie hummm of the hull (oddly akin to a whale's song) as she passes through 11.5 knots of boat speed. Couldn't sleep! Could she broach going down one of these big rollers and flip? Now I'm satisfied this is a safe rig. The chute depowers by breaking if we swing too high or too low and all it can do is pull us forward. If the wind gets too strong we can simply let out the sheet and pull down the sock. I'm a little apprehensive due to my lack of experience in catamaran sailing, because I don't know to tell how much sail is too much. We have an escape hatch and capsize hammocks to live in the hulls if the boat flips, but I sure don't want to try them out!
What a joy to stand in the "front door" leading forward from the pilot house into the cockpit of Catalyst and watch her prance over the waves. Despite her heavy load of diesel fuel, food, water, two outboard motors (one shipped down unnecessarily, another purchased in Cape Town because the price was right), dinghy, and lots of gear, Catalyst feels light and responds very quickly to the seas as they sweep by. Her bows are sharp, knife-narrow, and almost 6 feet high, and it is a mesmerizing experience to sit up in one of forward cabins and watch the opposite bow cleave the waves. The bows dip as the stern rises to a sea, dive into the wave cleanly with little spray as the boat surfs down the wave at 12-14 knots, then rise to reveal 10 feet of black bottom paint before gently kissing the next advancing wave. Very clean, precise, efficient.
Chris White's design is brilliant. Unlike all other catamaran designs I know of, Chris's Atlantic cats feature a waist-high cockpit forward of the pilot house and right behind the mast that you walk into from the pilot house through a full-size door located between angled widows that make the pilot house look rather like a stealth fighter. The rest of the catamaran world does it the other way, with the cockpit like a back porch obstructed from forward vision by a tall cabin on the wing deck between the hulls. With Chris's design, all sail control systems are accessed from the cockpit, which is right in the middle of the boat, including control lines for the traveler, running backstays, spinnaker and screacher sheets, halyards, reef lines, jib sheets, and the anchor windlass. Sailing Catalyst from the cockpit gives us unlimited visibility; you feel as if it's a huge beach cat. With aft-cockpit cats, the house blocks forward visibility and interfere with sail handling. To steer, you have to perch on a high chair and peer over the cabin top. Sail control lines are typically run to winches on top of the pilot house roof on standard cats, making awkward to reach and handle. I much prefer Chris White's iconoclastic forward cockpit design. It's exciting to steer from the helm in the cockpit, and the deep cockpit well provides excellent protection from the wind. The wide decks on each side of the cockpit provide a fine platform for working the sails as well as Cat's Navy seal calisthenics program (!). I can't figure out why other cat designers don't copy Chris's design.
Catalyst's pilot house is the perfect complement to its forward cockpit. Now that I've been living in it for a while, I can say it is the best "room" I've ever owned, a combination of living room, study, office, observation perch, and (its designed functions) inside steering station and navigation station. Looking astern it is reminiscent of the great cabin of Jack Aubrey's frigate Surprise, with big windows giving an unimpeded view astern. Francois's elegant cherry drop-leaf table complements the long U-shaped "couch" that is the central lounging station from which the nautical couch potato can watch the seas roll by. A large desk with captain's chair serves as a nav station and desk. Our GPS, satcom, and single sided band radio are all situated here. The inside helm station is located to starboard of the cockpit door, and it contains the inside throttles and panels for the engines, controls for the autopilot and a B&G repeater, and a big Raytheon color radar/chartplotter that does just about everything except pay your taxes. From the helm seat, you can see the masthead through a hatch, the sails, and the instruments at the forward end of the cockpit. The great advantage of this setup is the ability to sail from inside, venturing outside only to make changes in sail trim or to stretch your legs on a stroll around the deck. We have a diesel-fired heater in each engine compartment ducted to its respective hull, and have used them extensively on cold nights when the chilly Benguela current makes it mark on the air temperature. The pilot house enables you to stay warm and dry while sailing, which is a tremendous change from my years spent bundled up against cold , spray and rain, braced against a sharp angle of heel, in the cockpit of our old boat.
The galley is another great feature of Catalyst's design. The boat's interior is akin to a split-level house, with three steps down from the pilot house into each of the hulls. The galley is "downstairs" in the starboard hull, and it's much nicer than the kitchen in our Boston apartment. It's 10 feet long with counters on each side, and a four-burner stainless steel at the aft end. In addition to a huge amount of locker and workspace, it has twin stainless sinks with foot pumps for fresh and salt water as well as a faucet for pressurized fresh water. A very efficient 5 cubic foot refrigerator and freezer holds enough frozen food to last us a month, and draws only a few amps of power. So far Vic and Cat have cooked up a storm. Tonight they made winter pepper stew, a concoction of beef, red wine, potatoes, onions, spices. Yesterday we had taco night. The night before, Cape Verde Chicken. I took a vow to lose a bit of flab on this trip, but it's going to be a challenge. A challenge increased by the bread maker we have aboard. So far Vic and Cat have made banana bread, country white, pretzels, and cheese and onion bread, all delicious.
In the port hull, stepping down from the pilot house one enters a compartment containing a large work bench and cabinets for tools, as well as a hanging locker for clothes. Our "shower room" is aft, and what a luxury it is. It's commodious, with full headroom, a deck hatch and port, a seat, an adjustable-height shower head, and, in an inboard locker, our Spectra watermaker. This marvel makes about 18 gallons of pure fresh water an hour by means of two pressure pumps, a gizmo called a Clark Pump that efficiently pressurizes the water, and a long membrane that squeezes the fresh water through by rejects the salt and impurities. The watermaker draws about one amp per gallon per hour, which is extremely efficient. We've enjoyed showers daily, and have also washed down the decks a few times with a fresh water deck pump.
Our staterooms are located in the port and starboard hulls forward of the galley (starboard hull) and work bench (port hull), and are mirror images of each other. The aft stateroom in each hull features a queen-sized bunk that is outboard of the cockpit in the wing between the two hulls, and includes numerous lockers and storage spaces. Going forward, one passes outboard of the dagger board trunk into the head (again, one in each hull). The forward stateroom, in the bow of each hull, is forward of the head. This arrangement works extremely well, and gives the occupants of each stateroom complete privacy. What a difference from our old boat, where you couldn't get away from sleeping bodies, mouths agape, and piles of discarded clothes.
All told, we're living in the lap of luxury on a nautical rocketship. I love it!
We're in the Western Hemisphere! To be precise, 20-44.3S/ 000-48.6W, 393 miles from St. Helena, in the middle of a big empty ocean. We're out of the shipping lanes to Europe and the Panama Canal, which follow great circle routes taking the ships (respectively) to the east and west of St. Helena, and have seen nobody since we spoke RMS St Helena a few days back. The clean empty line of the horizon is my therapy.
Catalyst runs effortlessly under chute, going between 4 and 10 knots depending on the wind velocity. The autopilot steers better than I can, no matter what the wind and boat speed. She reels off the miles, and we spend our time reading books, checking email, cooking, listening to music, and just watching the hypnotic motion of the bows as they float over the waves. This is the easiest passage I've ever made.
It's 0200, I'm alone on watch listening to the BBC over the single sideband radio. Glad to hear that Slobodan Milosevicz is in the dock of the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. We continue to run before the trades under spinnaker only, a very stable rig. We tried raising the mainsail, only to find that it blanketed the chute and made steering more difficult, so now it's furled again. I just jibed the spinnaker by myself in 18 knots of wind - very easy, no problem.
The best thing about this passage is our crew. Vic and Cat are best friends and eager watchstanders. Vic has taken charge of the galley, and lectures me that I'm too sloppy washing up and keeping the place in good order. Tonight she made vanilla fudge as well as herb bread for our meal of Winter Pepper Stew that Cat made yesterday. Cat is a superb sailor and I can see her absorbing every aspect of this boat and passage into her mental database. She's has an innate sense of what feels right for the boat. The only problem now is that we need a few more sail changes, wind shifts, and the like to increase the excitement level. It seems that we've been running forever with only one or two jibes per day, and not much active sailing to do. Paul is a perfect shipmate. His mechanical abilities have served us well. Yesterday he discovered, on one of his daily inspections of the engine rooms, that the starboard rudder was disengaged from the hydraulic ram because a collar had slipped below the keyway on the rudder shaft, meaning that we have been sailing with only one rudder (!). Today it slipped out again, so he fabricated a spacer to hold the collar in place. He also found a hydraulic leak and fixed it, and generally takes a personal interest in making sure that all mechanical systems are functioning perfectly. The four of us work well together as a crew, and generally stay out of each other's hair except for the occasional friendly tussle between the girls. I couldn't be happier with this crew.
Happy Birthday to me, now N+1 years and still counting. It's just about dawn, and St. Helena lurks in the murk 32.2 miles ahead. Yesterday we reached our fastest speed to date of 18.2 knots, surfing under chute in 28 kts of wind. The apparent wind was only 10 kt, so the stress on the spinnaker wasn't bad. When the wind blows, she just goes! Lots of surges into the 15's and always above 10. A bit hairy, actually, though completely safe as far as I can figure out. I'm just not used to the power of this boat. Water skiing, anyone? It's quite a cacophony in the cabins when we're going this fast, with the sound of water going past the hull, the slam of waves against the underside of the wing, the moan of the hull (I think it's the port rudder) above 12 knots of boatspeed. Trying to get some sleep in my bunk, I feel like I'm lying in the back of a pickup truck without shocks that is careening down an unpaved, rutted road at 50 mph. It's a lot quieter back in the pilot house, and we still put our glasses on the table with no fear they'll go flying. We doused the chute (Cat, Vic and I) last night at midnight to harden up for StH, and sharp-eyed Cat noticed that the shackle attaching the tack of the jib to the furler had come undone. That fixed, we raised a reefed main, unfurled the jib, and are now racing along at 12.9 this instant on an apparent wind angle of 107, apparent wind speed 20.
III. St. Helena to Grenada
In port, Jamestown, St. Helena. It howled yesterday as we waited at dawn for St. Helena to emerge from the gloom and squalls. Up to 40 knots, very lumpy breaking seas. Good thing I'm not navigating with celestial, because we probably would have sailed right by without finding little StH. Thank God for GPS! It got too much for even a reefed main as we surged to 19 knots, so Paul and Cat doused it and we sailed around the windward side of the island under jib only. It's a grim, drear pile of volcanic rock, towering straight up into the clouds, with a merciless windward face that would mean certain death to any vessel that made a navigational error and ran into it in a gale like this one. Catalyst handled the rough seas very well, scooting along at 12 kt under jib only, never digging her proud bows into the troughs. I steered using the inside helm, which creaked a bit under load, meaning we have to take a look at the hydraulics to see if there are some bubbles in the system.
Eventually we made our way through a 45 knot williwaw at the windward corner of the Island and eased gratefully into the lee of the island, where James Bay is St Helena's poor excuse for a harbor. There, we found Rick's Moorings 42 anchored for repairs to some broken engine mounts, the Island Magic 37 cat that Gary is sailing to Annapolis for the boat show, and two small monohulls bobbing at anchor in the surge. We anchored, dragged in a blast of wind, re-anchored, and set a second anchor close in the lee of Munden point, named after Richard Mundin, who recaptured the island for England from the Dutch in 1673 and built fortifications on the point.
James Bay is a small indentation in rock faces towering about 700 feet straight up on each side of a deep volcanic valley sheltering Jamestown, St. Helena's administrative capital, pop 1300. We took the little water taxi in to take a look after Brian, the Harbor Master, came aboard to chat for a while, give us a map, and tell us how to clear customs. Stepping ashore at the Wharf Steps shouldering our obligatory bags of laundry, we stumbled into one another while trying to walk in straight lines until we got our landlegs, then ambled along marveling at the sight of a Georgian seaport that seems unchanged, except for the perfidious auto, since the day in 1815 when the British fleet transported Napoleon here for his last act.
You walk from the Wharf Steps past a Bond Store built in 1810, HM Customs dating from the mid-18th century, a barrel-vaulted building that was used as a mortuary in the 18th century, past a moat where the Royal Marines built a swimming pool, and through a gated archway penetrating the fortifications of the Castle into the Main Square that was built in 1832. Above the archway is the coat of arms of the English East India Company, whose East Indiamen stopped here to revictual after the long passage around the Cape of Good Hope from India in the days of sail. Above the inland side of the gate is a painted bas-relief of the Wirebird, which is unique to this island. The Castle dates back to 1659, and is still the administrative center of the St. Helena Government. Main Street leads straight up the narrow valley floor and is a most delightful place to stroll. After passing the Castle we ambled into the Castle Gardens to Anne's Place. A déjà vu experience for Vic and me, because her restaurant, with its trellaces, reminded us of the restaurant on the north side of Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas where we enjoyed a delicious lunch with our friends the Mullins during our trans-Pacific voyage a few years back. Anne phoned up to Derek at the Consulate Hotel to arrange for our laundry, chatted with him in an island patois that reflects the human stew of races that populated this place, and explained that nobody works on Wednesdays here.
We continued up Main Street to the Consulate Hotel, a mid-18th century structure. I half expected to see Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin sitting there drinking Madeira, or Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington and Boney's nemesis, who stopped by in 1805 on his way back from India. Thence to Customs, upstairs in the Post Office Building, previously the Officers Mess, where five very courteous ladies sat at their desks doing nothing in the best bureaucratic manner. The government is the only big employer on this island of 4500 people, and Britain subsidizes this small outpost of civilization along with its sister islands Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
The valley narrows to 100 yards or so as you walk inland, past the Market, a prefabricated iron building shipped out to the island in 1865, a Baptist church built in 1854, and the obligatory Rose & Crown. We branched off to the right up Ladder Hill Road, that climbs steeply out of the valley on its west wall. The road is a 1 _ lanes wide, and climbs up to to Ladder Hill, so-named after Jacob's Ladder, an amazing staircase of some 699 steps (count Œem!) that ascends straight up the rock face from the foot of Main Street to the fortress at the top. We walked down Jacob's Ladder, marveling at the sight of the perfect little city below, and returned for birthday festivities on the boat, including a chocolate cake baked by Cat. The Ladder was built in 1829 as a shortcut to the fortifications atop Ladder Hill and the inclined plane on each side was used to hoist manure to the upland farmland. Later Paul, Cat and I tried climbing up Jacob's Ladder. We climbed at a quick pace for the first 300 steps, then rested for a count of 10, gasping. She made it in 9:50, and I followed at 10:10. Somebody told me the record is 4 minutes, set by a French yachtie. The guy must have been an Olympic athlete. I can just see this ladder back in Boston, slanting sharply to the top of the Hancock Tower. Can you imagine all those crew teams killing themselves trying to run up and down it?
This is bliss. We are almost exactly halfway between Africa and South America, running downwind in the trades in perfect weather like the old square riggers. Except that instead of square sails we are flying our spinnaker; we haven't touched it or the helm for the past two days. Schools of flying fish burst out of our bow wave and glide across the waves. The wind blows a steady 17 knots, and we slide along comfortably at 8 knots toward our next destination, the island of Fernando da Noronha 200 miles east of the bulge of Brazil. Emile, the proprietor of the Armchair Sailor bookstore in Newport, back from a 13-year circumnavigation, told us we absolutely had to stop there. He said that wealthy Brazilians fly out to Fernando to drink potent black rum that comes in little cans and to dance one of those slippery, lascivious Brazilian dances that goes very will with rum and makes the prim and proper blush. Sounds like an obligatory stop! We don't have a chart and don't speak Portuguse, and it's not an official port of call, so we will play it by ear. Our alternate waypoint is halfway between Fernando da Noronha and the mainland of Brazil. According to Rick and the pilot charts, the current runs NW along the coast this time of year up to 2 knots, and the best route is to parallel the coast just off soundings. We will stay well offshore of the mouth of the Amazon, pass Devil's Island, the former French penal colony, pass to the West of Tobago, and then bear to port toward Grenada. I have decided not to chance the hurricane season, which is already warming up, and to leave Catalyst at Grenada Marine, where she will be hauled and stored on the hard until the hurricane season is over.
Lots of reading and computer gaming going on around here. Since the boat is sailing herself, we have a relaxed watch schedule, shared by Cat, Paul and me. Vic does most of the cooking and provides learned commentary. We split the watch into three sections of four hours at night, with one person on. In the daytime, we lounge around, practice celestial navigation, sketch (Vic), read books, talk, read electronics manuals, exercise, sunbathe, hang out, clean the boat, check all mechanical systems, inspect the rig for chafe, fish, and (last but not least) eat some fine meals. There's nothing out here but water. We have had no contacts since leaving St. Helena and are not in the shipping lanes. The terrestrial world is just an abstract concept. This is the way the world has always been at this latitude since the oceans appeared on earth.
This morning: I awoke at 0800 and Paul went to his cabin in the port bow for some sleep. While Cat played Colonization on Vic's laptop, I exercised on the broad deck of Catalyst - 100 squats, 2 sets of 50 crunches, pitifully small number of pushups, some back extensions, 30 minutes on the Xiser stairclimber - stripped and showered while sitting on the port stern. Cat won her first game of Colonization in five years of playing (!), picked up the sextant, and took a round of morning sights. I did the same, for practice. Cat cooked up Tiger Oat health bars (good but not too healthy) and baked same. Vic appeared and asked for leave to take a quick shower (watch the water, the water maker doesn't work when we're sailing fast!), drew sketches of the weird fish she pulled in last night (snake mackerel?) I explained to Cat how to use HO 249 for sight reductions. She took a noon sight and was spot on. Paul appeared and chatted about last night's efforts to get the C-sat to work right, and then I made myself a lunch of yesterday's pan-fried chicken breast, cottage cheese, Cat's health bar, and juice. I snapped on the shades cutting the glare of the tropical sun into the pilot house on the northern side (right, we're in the southern hemisphere). I sent a business e-mail and read St. Helena 1502-1938, an excellent history by Philip Gosse. I turned on the port engine to charge the batteries. And so it goes. This is really tough living!
I have spent some time thinking and reading about St. Helena. Gosse's history recounts the important role that little island played in the West's maritime commerce with India and the East, and its much-diminished present situation is well described by Kenneth Bain, a retired British colonial administrator, in a nice little book called St. Helena.
St. Helena's charm lies in the fact that it is a total anachronism. If it were discovered today, in the middle of the South Atlantic, nobody would have any reason to populate it. It's just a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, and today's aircraft and supertankers would have no need to stop there. No major power would hasten to plant the flag. St. Helena would be an uninhabited destination for eco-tourists, like Cocos Island off of Costa Rica, and that's about it. It would not be fortified and fought over.
But in fact, St. Helena is a living history lesson, a perfect little island society, that continues to exist out of the goodness of the British Exchequer although its raison d'etre disappeared the minute de Lesseps completed the Suez canal. It's a complete antidote to the modern world: no airport, no bank, no ATM, mail delivery every two months or so by the last Royal Mail Ship, no pollution, racial harmony, a Governor who drives around in a little car with a flag on the hood, steak and kidney pies in the tropics, a wave and a smile for the visiting yachtie from every (yes, every) person who passes you by foot or auto, lots of crumbling fortifications and remote hiking trails, a tomb of le Grand Empereur sans body, striking scenery, Jacob's Ladder, no tourists except a few Brits wearing sensible shoes who came aboard RMS St. Helena, and a perfect 1929 Chevy charabanc that Colin Corker drives up and down the steep hills with a cargo of sightseers, honking at the turns and waving to everybody.
When Vic was walking up Main Street in Jamestown, a local struck up a conversation:
"Hello - are you from the light blue catamaran?"
"Yes, I am!"
"Are you the younger or older daughter, I heard you're both the same size?"
We arrived with no cash, and asked Brian, the harbormaster, if there was a bank where we could get a cash advance on a credit card. "Sorry, no banks here and you can't get cash on a credit card. You should go talk to Anne. You know, Anne's Place behind the Castle?" After striking out at the food store, we found Anne's Place at the back of the well-tended Castle Gardens, bedecked with flags, burgees, and dozens of autographed tee-shirts from visiting yachts. Anne smiled and reached for her phone. "Well, I don't know, I only do this for yachties, you know. Go up to Thorpe's and ask for Lucinda." Thorpe's is a grocery store in an old Georgian building. The clerk told us to go out the back door out back up the stairs, which lead to an open balcony like the one across Main Street at the Consulate Hotel. This place was probably an old rooming house for the planters who used to ride their donkeys down the steep trail into James Valley when the East Indiamen where anchored in the roadstead. We found Lucinda, who directed us to her clerk, who gave us 200 St Helena Pounds (worthless off the island) on good old Mastercard. Who needs banks?
The source of all this is a wind, the trade wind that blows SE all the way from the Cape of Good Hope in the southern summertime and most of the way in the winter. With its prime location astride the trade wind route from the Cape of Good Hope to Europe, its plenteous supply of fresh water, volcanic soil, and lush inner valleys St. Helena became an essential pit stop for scurvy-ridden crews that had rounded the Cape and were plodding north in their galleons laden with cargoes from India and the Orient. It was a safer place to stop than Table Bay at Cape Town, where savage winter northwesters swept ships to their destruction on the beach.
A Portuguese commodore, returning from India with his squadron, discovered St. Helena in 1502, and the Portuguese kept it a secret for the next 82 years. One of St. Helena's first residents was an unfortunate Portuguese nobleman, Fernando Lopez, who made the mistake of siding with an Indian commander who was beaten by a Portuguese general named Afonso Albuquerque in Goa in 1512. Lopez was handed over to Afonso, and begged for his life. Lopez achieved that goal but lost his ears, nose, right hand, and left thumb, which were cut off by the merciless victor. In due course the much-mutilated Lopez stowed away aboard a vessel homeward bound. When he reached St. Helena, Lopez escaped into the woods and was left behind. He made a home for himself in a cave, explored the island, befriended a bird he saved from drowning, and hid from visiting crews for the next ten years. Eventually his fame spread, and the Portuguese King sent a letter promising safe conduct if Lopez would return to Portugal. Upon his return there, Lopez was frightened by the noise and bustle, went to Rome to confess, and received a letter from the Pope supporting his wish to return to St. Helena. Lopez made his way back to the island, where he lived for the next thirty years tending his orange trees, his pomegranates, and his poultry.
In due course England found out about St. Helena, and for a century Portuguese, Dutch and English seafarers battled for control. The English settled there first, were ousted by the Dutch, and recaptured the island in 1672 after its soldiers scaled a thousand-foot cliff on the windward side, crossed the wild inland highlands, and coordinated their attack on what is now Jamestown with British ships that bombarded the port.
Between 1672 and 1834, St. Helena was administered by the East India Company under charter from the English Crown. This was a period of increasing prosperity for the island, which became a strategic waypoint in the maritime commerce between Europe and the East. As we sailed in from the west in a howling wind, I was amazed to see fortifications that perched on the sheer cliffs of Sugar Loaf Point and Munden Point. Cat, Paul and I hiked on a path that centuries ago was hacked out of the volcanic rock between James Bay and Rupert Bay on a precipitous slope, marveling at the now-crumbling stone walls that act as a guardrail of sorts. The island is covered with such paths around and up its near-vertical cliffs, and the thought of building all those rock walls is daunting. According to Gosse's history, St. Helena was the most strongly fortified island in the world, and its forts contained 124 guns in 1724.
The pathways (even now they scarcely qualify as roads) were probably built by slaves, which outnumbered the whites on the island. The East India Company imported Chinese Coolies in the early 19th century, as well as Malays. When slavery was abolished by England the Royal Navy scoured the South Atlantic for slave ships, and sent the captured vessels to St. Helena. Some 10,000 ex-slaves were encamped there before repatriation, and some stayed. Combined with the mixture of white settlers, the result is a breed of café au lait Saints (as they call themselves) who bear no racial prejudice. What a contrast from South Africa, where considerations of race predominate.
The East India Company hired a regiment of soldiers to man the forts, and St. Helena's history is marked by frequent mutinies and desertions, sometimes fomented by one of St. Helena's many misfit Chaplains, and usually caused by efforts of the Governor to restrict the soldiers' access to rum punch and arrack. The mutineers were usually flogged and hanged, and the Governors meted out brutal punishments for trivial offenses to planters and their women as well. Slaves fared the worst, and were gruesomely mistreated. Often, they committed suicide, or stole a longboat and died trying to reach Africa. Soliders also stole small boats and sailed to their deaths with surprising frequency. But, amazingly, four men actually made it to Nevis in the West Indies after a voyage of 4500 miles in a stolen longboat, a feat surpassing Captain Bligh's famous passage in the longboat of the Bounty. The leader of this fortunate foursome was one Flurcus, who came to the island as a tailor. He and three soldiers, Bates, Shales, and Poulter, demanded to be sent back to England when their terms on the island expired in 1722. Being rebuffed, they took an open boat one night and set sail with only one month's food. How they survived is beyond me.
After the death of commercial sail and the opening of the Suez Canal, the island's economy slumped badly, and St. Helena slumbered in the tropical sun until the Falklands War reenergized Britain's interest in its far-flung island possessions, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, and St. Helena. According to the Harbor Master, many Saints work on Ascension of the Falklands and send money home, or they join the British Army. They save up, build a house on St. Helena, and in due course board the RMS St. Helena for the trip home.
What a perfect island! I'm as pleased to have visited it as William Bligh, Charles Darwin, and Captain Cook were on their voyages. The island has one hotel in Jamestown, the Consulate, and Colin Corker showed us another inland that is new, in a beautiful location, and is awaiting a buyer for 120,000 British pounds ($180,000). They welcome foreign buyers; the present owners are English. If you want to chuck it all and do something different, buy that hotel!
670 miles from Fernando da Noronha, sailing under chute in Force 4 SE wind (13 knots). It's getting hot! We unfurled the canopy that covers the cockpit this morning. Absolutely stunning day, bright sunshine, just cruisn'.
Paul and I have spent a lot of time figuring out the systems aboard Catlyst. We are a far cry from the technology aboard Sitzmark when I raced on her across the Atlantic in 1966, not to speak of those East Indiamen that dropped the hook off Jamestown, St. Helena or Flurcus and his mates in their open boat. When I took possession of this boat I also acquired about twenty manuals provided by equipment manufacturers, from the Yanmar diesel engines to the Raytheon chartplotter and GPS to the Brooks & Gatehouse autopilot and sailing instruments. A typical manual is 100 pages, and some (particularly the B& G manuals) are less than clear. These integrated electronic systems are complicated, and I have spent many a midwatch trying to understand all their features. Since, like most attorneys, I am challenged to arrange a conference call on a modern telepone without disconnecting the third party, I am easily confused and perplexed by Catalyst's electronics.
An example. Our Raytheon RN300, Raytheon's latest and best GPS, is itself a plotter that accepts data inputs from our Brooks & Gatehouse Hydra instruments as well as from our Raytheon RL80 radar/chartplotter. You can enter waypoint information on the RN300 by placing it at the cursor, at the vessel, or adding it manually to a waypoint list using the trackpad. Likewise, you can enter a waypoint using the RL80 by placing it on a chart using the cursor and adding it to a waypoint list. According to both the RL80 manual, which is about one inch thick, and the RN300 manual, "in an integrated system, when a route is made current on any SeaTalk equipment it is sent to all other SeaTalk equipment. This will override any other current route." And: "You can receive waypoints that are transmitted by other equipment on SeaTalk or NMEA. When this option is selected, any waypoint received on SeaTalk or NMEA are transferred an appended, one-by-one, to the Waypoint List." To test this, Paul and I built Route A on the RL80, taking us to Point A west of Noronha, around Tobago, and into Grenada. We selected it to make it active on the RL80 and pressed the "transfer" button. But the waypoints of Route A did not appear on the RN300 waypoint list, and the range of the active waypoint (Point A) is incorrectly displayed on the RN300 as 409.50 miles, although the bearing is correct. Then I pressed "save route" on the RN300, which worked: Route A showed up on its Route List, and the waypoints of Route A finally appeared on the RN300's waypoint list. The range of Point A, 632.7, was now correct. But as soon as the range is correct on the RN300, it is immediately misstated on the RL80 as 409.50 miles, and vice-versa. Apparently, both Raytheon units cannot get it right at the same time. And where does 409.50 come from?
Despite such confusions, the equipment on this boat makes her easy to sail. Our B&G Hydra Pilot links to a "gyro stabilized" flux gate electronic compass that senses tiny changes in direction 16 times a second. The compass talks to the autopilot processor that in turn sends signals to a motor that operates the boat's hydraulic system to move the rudders. The Pilot's software learns the boat's habits (how fast it reacts to waves) and senses immediately how far to move the rudder. The result is the Pilot moves the rudder much less than I do when trying to steer well in high seas, and keeps the boat on course. Also, the Pilot can be set to steer to a constant wind angle or to a constant compass course; we have used the wind mode frequently, because it keeps us sailing at the same angle to the wind even if the wind direction changes.
Catalyst also sports a Spectra watermaker, that produces almost 20 gallons an hour of extremely good fresh water from seawater. (At least it does so when we're not going fast enough to cause the pumps to lose compression due to air in the intake, a problem we need to fix). This morning, I took the watch at 4AM and spent half an hour at dawn rinsing the salt off the deck and cockpit using a hose connected to our fresh water tanks. This would have been unheard of in my younger sailing days, when we had to make do with a couple of quarts per day per person and fresh water showers were out of the question. Likewise with our ability to e-mail home using Inmarsat C, to fix our position using GPS, to refrigerate our food, and to while away the hours typing on a laptop. Flurcus and Captain Bligh had it much rougher.
Which leads to the question, is all this yachting luxury a good thing? Does it increase the pleasure of ocean voyaging? Does it reduce the risk so far that the reward is diminished? The same questions can, of course, be posed more broadly. Is technology a good thing? Or, stated differently, should St. Helena build an airport? Is it possible that technology is not worth the loss of community and "globalization" that it causes?
The answer is you can't go back. The residents of those shantytowns outside Cape Town would jump for the benefits of technology, and without them I would probably be dead or at least toothless by now. The amateur navigators of the 1950's using their Plath sextants and Walker Logs and Kenyon knotmeters on their Concordia yawls were using the latest available technology, and the notion that theirs was better because it required more skill could be used to justify the return to the astrolabe. But you have to ask about the consequences for the human spirit if everything becomes safer and easier and is performed by machines better than by humans. I suspect that is the explanation for the extreme sport craze that compels people to bungee jump, race around the world in Open 60s with toothbrushes cut in half to save weight, careen down canyons in wetsuits, and tramp up Everest.
The offshore sailing scene has certainly been transformed by technology. When Rick and Connie sailed across the Pacific in the 1980's aboard their 24-footer, or earlier when Jack London made his voyage to the Marquesas abord the Snark, it was a rare thing to see another sailboat. Now huge armadas of yachts take place in "rallies" crossing oceans or sailing around the world, and Taiehoa Bay on Nuku Hiva starts to look like Cuttyhunk in midsummer. Without GPS this boom would never have happened, and without roller furling you would not see 50-footers sailed by couples in their 50s, as is now common.
But refusing to use the new technology, climbing Everest wearing wool rather than GoreTex or buying a genoa jib of Egyptian cotton, is ultimately foolish, and proves nothing. The US Navy no longer requires its Middies to learn celestial navigation, and the K&E sliderule is a thing of the past. The old skills required to use these technologies will die, like the art of self-defense using a broadsword.
I enjoyed taking my sextant out of its box this morning a bit before nautical twilight, precomputing the zenith angles and altitudes of the stars I should take, setting my watch to GMT (using the GPS, a bit of cheating there), finding the stars in my sextant, and taking the readings of their altitudes. I cheated again by using my Celisticomp V calculator to perform the sight reductions (we do have HO 249 aboard). The result: celestial fix position, 7-18.4S/025-45.9W. GPS position, 7-17.8S/025-46.1W. Not bad! But am I going to turn off the GPS, start a deck log, use my watch for a chronometer without checking against the GPS for UCT, keep an updated DR plot, guesstimate the current drift from the pilot charts, and make my passage along the coast of Brazil the old way? Maybe Cat and I will do that, but it's different when it's just for fun and you can always take off the blindfold. Rather like those adventurers who set off to ski to the South Pole following Scott's path but use GPS and have air transport standing by. It just ain't the same. I have had enough of the anxiety of going for days without sights, worrying about a degrading DR, worrying I had made a computational error, losing sleep, trying to catch morning and evening stars and keep a reasonable watch schedule. So, I'm a softie. The button's there, and I will press it.
At least we can still go to sea. We can sail thousands of miles seeing nothing by waves and flying fish. We can see the watery world the way Flurcus and his three mates did. We can sail as hard as we want, and take the consequences if we make mistake. We can see the Milky Way slashing across the sky, and ponder the expansion of the universe. We can listen to the thum thum of the autopilot, watch the glowing red dials of the instruments, take note of the green lights on the c-sat, keep an eye on the voltmeter, and drive this little piece of human technology like an intergalactic starship.
Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivee!
Caught a mahi-mahi at dawn using the blue lure. So far we have lost three pink squids to big critters out there. Two broke the line, and the last one bit through the stainless steel leader. This time we used two leaders, and our 110 kg-test line. For the mahi-mahi, about 6 pounds, this rig was overkill. I filleted it on the port stern and later cooked up St. Helena Fish Cakes from What's Cooking, Produced By The St.Helena Ladies Craft Group:
1 lb fish (we used a lot more)
1 lb potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 rashers of bacon, finely chopped (we used smoked beef from South Africa) chili (optional)
pinch of thyme
2 tbsp chopped parsley (skipped it)
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
The eyes play tricks out here. Last night, we relaxed in the cockpit enjoying the cool breeze, star gazing. Paul shouted, "I see a green flare, off the starboard bow!" The moon was not up yet, and the horizon was dark. We peered forward and checked the radar. No contacts. Vic insisted she saw something up there. Was it a setting star? The longer you stare at a spot, the more likely you will see something, a glow of light, that isn't there. The discussions turned to castaways. If you find a boat full, what do you do with them? What if they're not friendly?
Midwatch, sailing under chute at 8 knots toward Point A, our waypoint off of the bulge of Brazil where we expect to pick up 2 knots of current that will push us up the coast of South America. We are in a bit of a race to arrive in Grenada by July 28 so that Cat can fly up to New England on the 29th. She is crewing on Meridian, owned by our friends Steve and M.E. Taylor, that is departing on the 29th for the Bras d'Or Lakes in Canada. Thus, we have abandoned our plan to visit Fernando da Noronha, now 150 miles away on our starboard bow. To make it in time we need to sail 2138 miles to Grenada in 11 days, or 195 miles per day. We will be helped a lot by the following current along the South American coast, and I hope we will not be slowed down too much crossing the doldrums at about 5 degrees north latitude. After the doldrums we should pick up the northeast trades for a fast close reach past Tobago to Grenada. Going to be tight.
Last watch we spent changing sails. A series of black squalls blew in, raising the wind to the mid 20's, so we switched to twin headsails (screacher and jib) for a few hours. This is the classic trade wind rig for sailboats, and works extremely well for us. The boat steers straight downwind easily, and if she veers in either direction the windward jib depowers. The center of effort is lower than with the chute, and we fly this rig comfortably in true winds in the mid-20's. At this wind velocity the chute can be a bit hair-raising when she pivots and thunders down a swell at 16 knots, autopilot whining with effort to bring her back to course. Then the wind abated, and Paul and I raised the chute again at midnight. Everyone else is sleeping, and I'm just listening to the hiss of the wake.
It's 0245, and Cat and I are sitting on the couch in the pilot house listening to the BBC on the single sideband radio. We are hove to in a moonless night, awaiting dawn. The lights of Fernando da Naronha are on our port beam, 18 miles away, and tomorrow we will attempt to make a landing there.
At 1500 this afternoon our plan was to bypass Fernando and press on to Grenada non-stop. At the last minute Cat declared that we should stop there, because it was practically impossible to get to Grenada in time for her to fly north in time to sail aboard Meridian. I had to agree she was right, because we have the doldrums to cross. We hastily convened a crew meeting, and everybody agreed that we would in all likelihood never again have a chance to visit Fernando and needed a break, so why not take a look? By then, Ferndando was 80 miles away on our starboard beam, so we rolled up the screacher, jibed the jib, raised a reefed mainsail, and took off on a beam reach like a rocketship. This was our first opportunity to sail Catalyst on a beam reach in boisterous trade wind breeze. What a ride! She powered over the high seas at 12 knots in a cloud of spray like a big Hobie Cat, and I steered her for an hour in my bathing suit from the forward helm, reveling in the speed - and getting drenched a few times before retreating aft into the pilot house and turning on Thor the autopilot.
Our little problem is that we have no chart of Fernando except a sketch drawn by Emil at the Armchair Sailor Book describing a rock in the harbor entrance. Cat sent an e-mail to Chris, who in turn contacted Emil this afternoon for sailing directions. What service! Now we have a verbal description and can feel our way in once the sun comes up. By sunset at 1900 we had closed to within 35 miles of our waypoint, and soon after I spotted a lighthouse beacon that seemed a whole lot closer. I decided to heave to and await the dawn.
Catalyst heaves to beautifully. We dropped the main, furled the jib half way, sheeted it in tight, and then turned the helm all the way to windward. Now she sits at 60 degrees off the wind, bobbing over 10-foot trade wind seas, crabbing sideways on our desired course at 1 knot. Perfect! Paul cooked up one of the two mahi-mahi we hooked simultaneously earlier today (one line off each hull), and we set three hour watches for the night. The last time I remember doing this was on New Years eve, 1984, the very month Cat was born, when I helped my mother and father sail Victoria across the Gulf Stream to the Abacos. I spent some time this watch thinking about them, and how excited they would have been to take this trip from South Africa with us. I can remember every detail of my sail with them that December. The memories evoked by passages like these are so strong! I am so proud to have my family with me now, and only wish Chris could have joined us. What an odd thing to be doing at 3AM, drifting hove-to off a barren island 250 miles east of the coast of Brazil, listening to Ladysmith Black Mombassa. This is an expensive and uncomfortable way to travel, but it makes life so very real.
But this does seem like the night that will never end. Cat, Paul and I cannot sleep because of the change in the boat's motion. Vic can sleep through anything! The island now appears as a yellow blotch on the radar screen, 18 miles away. What will it be like? Do zay speek Eenglish?
We are anchored in Baia de Santo Antonio just outside a curving breakwater that shelters 20 or so fishing, tourist and dive boats at the eastern end of Noronha's main island. What a spectacular place to watch the sun rise! Nornonha is an volcaic archipelago jutting up 4500 meters from the seabed about 250 miles offshsore from the Brazil coastline, and from the boat I can now see eight uninhabited little islands as well as the large island (name?) where the population of 2200 lives. The shoreline is bold, with serrated cliffs clad in vegetation rising 100 or more meters. Two volcanic peaks jut skyward, Morro do Frances at the island's eastern end and Morro do Pico half way down its northern side. Pico dominates the island like a giant tusk and must be a basalt shaft of volcanic origin, similar to the one on Bora Bora. Pico rises 380 meters, and the beacon I saw 35 miles away is at the top. You can climb up there using a metal ladder, but we were advised yesterday by George, a Scot who sailed in 12 years ago and never got around to leaving, that the ladder is falling apart and the climb is quite dangerous. "But," he said, " if you want to go it can be arranged."
George is a classic burned out yachtie. He set sail in 1975, had two boats, and got involved in research for an international dolphin watch organization. At Ferndando, he found a perfect place to watch Spinner dolphins, an athletic species that love to broach, spin in the air, and play with humans. About three-quarters of the archipelago is a natural park administered by the Brazilian government, and until last year George used to take tourists out to swim with the dolphins in waters of the park. "We had five or six boats out there swimming with 400 dolphins, and the dolphins would come in to the bay every morning to find us for a bit of fun. But then one of the boat drivers got a bit drunk and the park authorities banned swimming with the dolphins. It's a great pity for them and for us. After the ban went into effect they would come right in looking for us, and I could feel them asking what was wrong." George told us he was thinking of moving on. "I've also got a bar" (pointing up the hill above the harbor where we spent last night listening to acoustic guitar music and singing, accompanied by the beguiling proprietress in a skimpy dress) "but I don't go up there anymore because I'm getting a divorce." Ah, now I understand why she speaks English...
Not least among the natural wonders here are the Brazilian girls and women in their tiny string bikinis. Vic and Cat report similar observations about the men. You don't see those white, paunchy bodies mottled with sunburn spots wearing conservative bathing suits down here. These women may be "high maintenance," as Vic observed, but they sure are stunning. Nobody's sunburned or fat. We're out of the Anglo world, and the difference is palpable. These Brazilians speak an alliterative language that sounds even better when you haven't a clue what they are saying, and they exude the feeling that they understand pleasure. Maybe I should stay 10 years or so, just to learn the language and local customs??
Learning the language would definitely be necessary, because almost nobody here except George and his ex speaks English. We arrived, true to form for yachties, completely broke, with only 20 Rand in cash. You can be sure nobody here wants South African currency - only dollars. We have credit cards, and set forth in a daylong adventure looking for somebody who would advance us some Brazilian Reals against our cards. First, Paul somehow sign-languaged a cabbie to drive us to the Banco in his buggy (there are only two kinds of vehicles here, beach buggies and 1975 Toyota trucks). What a gas - Vic and I sat high up above the back wheels, holding on to the roll bar, and we chugged up the hill through the green countryside to a Y in the road where we disembarked and walked down to the Vila dos Remedios, years ago the town of jailors for prisoners who were locked up in the cannon-studded old Forte dos Remedios on a high hill overlooking the northern seaward approaches.
This little town gives the word "sleepy" a new meaning. The main road is roughly cobbled with stones that were no doubt laid by the prisoners, and slopes steeply downhill past the Palace or government offices to a white stucco, tile-roofed church and Banco Real. A few small restaurants and houses line the street. When we got to Banco Real it was closed, but we buzzed our way in using an ATM card to find three ATM machines lined up side by side. Alas, none worked for our cards, because the island is not attached to the network. What, a place that CIRRRUS doesn't reach? (second one, after St. Helena)?
Thence down hill past the church to Atlantis Divers, where we met Tehana, a pretty and friendly young woman behind the counter. Yes, she speaks English! No, she smiled, I cannot give you cash on your credit card. The government thinks it's revenue and tries to tax me, and it takes 40 days to get paid. Any ideas? Maybe the Supermercado or Hotel Esmeralda. Paul finds us another taxi, and off we drive to the hotel. A young man speaks up from the corner of the lobby, "Are you from the big cat from Westport, I saw her when you came in this morning?" Again no luck on getting cash. Back onto the back of the buggy, and our intrepid driver heads for the Supermarket, which is neither super nor much of a market, and is located in the back of what looks like an old prison quadrangle. Suddenly he breaks, turns left, and stops in front of a Pension where he goes to talk to the proprietor. Victory- we get 210 Reals for $100 on my card and now can have a cerveza at George's bar.
The social scene starts at 10pm here and gets geared up at about 2AM. Vic, Paul and walked up the hill above the Porto at 11 after dining at a sushi restaurant (proof it's a tourist island). We listened to a man named Ju Medeiros sing No de Noronha
O tempo passa num vacilo nos esquece
Uniao e uma prece pr'esse no se desatar
Noronha, Noronha, Etc...
By about 12:30 Vic and I had faded (I'd been up all night while we were hove to), so I missed the erotic dancing that Emil told us about. According to George, "the man stands there and the woman rubs her bum against him, pretty simple, just two-step side to side."
With the stars shining brightly, the tropical tradewind, the melodic Brazilian music, and the pretty and friendly people, this place is definitely worth a visit on your world tour. If you can get here...
Yesterday we met the breakwater at 0730 to go on a two-tank dive with Atlantis Divers. It's a well-run operation, owned by a Frenchman, and operates two modern catamaran dive boats. We powered west along the north side of the island, admiring the rugged scenery, into the Park that starts at Ilha Dois Irmaos (Two Brothers) and circles the entire island back to the port on the northeast end. You could spend months exploring the park, and we got just a taste. Our dive boat anchored right next to the cliff at Ponta da Sapata, the island's westernmost point, and we dove down about 15 meters into a huge cave. On the next dive, we saw a few sharks, barracuda, Spinner dolphin, a good display of corals. It was great to get underwater again. A large school of Spinner dolphin were waiting to play in Baia de Santo Antonio as we returned to the port. These delightful creatures shot out of the water, did a few pirouettes, and belly flopped back in. The dolphin come into the bays in the mornings to rest, mate and socialize; at sunset, they head for deep water for dinner.
Before leaving, we wanted to buy some fresh bread, so Catalyst's crew hopped into a buggy taxi and chugged off on another wild goose chase. "Bread, pan, paneiria, pain, you know bread!" we told the driver, who was a bit dull. No response. He took us to a seafood restaurant. More pantomime. He took us to a sandwich shop. Then Vic took out her drawing pad and drew a loaf of steaming bread. Our driver didn't get it. He took us next to a souvenir shop. Vic drew a bowl, an egg, a spoon, and an arrow pointing to a loaf of bread. Our driver looked perplexed and annoyed. Then I smelled bread. "It's over there somewhere!" The driver turned around for the tenth time and drove us to the bakery. Victory!
At sea again, and again under spinnaker, slanting toward the coast of Brazil at 10 knots. The pilot charts (and Rick) tell us that there's a 2.2 knot current about 50 miles offshore, just off soundings, so it's worth a shallow dog leg to find the strong current. It's getting hot (our latitude is 02-53 S), and Catalyst is rigged out in her full tropical kit: shades over the pilot house windows that Craig Middletown made up for us in Cape Town, and a bimini top that unfurls from the pilot house and is fastened right behind the mast. We use the mainsail halyard to hold it up (the mainsail remains furled), and guy it to the barberhauler padeyes beside the two dagger boards. It works really well. With the door between the cockpit open, we have the equivalent of a covered front patio and a shaded den. Catalyst has a total of 25 hatches and port holes, and most of them are open. Quantum made up white Sunbrella covers for the hatches, and we are now using them to keep the sun out of the staterooms. Ju Medeiros sings his smooth songs on the stereo. 1831 nautical miles to Grenada.
July 23, 1500 hrs
It's siesta time. Too hot to do much else but snooze. We're 50 miles south of the equator, about 150 miles from Fortaleza on the Brazialian coast. The mouth of the Amazon is on our port bow. Light going right now under spinnaker. Our sun shades and cockpit awning are rigged. The best time of day is from dawn to sunrise, when the air cools off and the celestial show takes place.
At 0800Z Cat turned off the GPS. We are going to navigate the Old Way for a while, perhaps until our landfall at Tobago. Cat took a morning sun sight, and I took a noon sight. Advancing the morning sun line to get a running fix, I got a fix that matched up almost exactly with the fix produced by my noon sight. The Celesticomp V showed a Z of 0.00 for the sun at my DR position, showing we were exactly due south of the sun and that our DR longitude is spot on. Paul's a bit nervous about turning off the GPS, but is interested in learning how to navigate using celestial.
Last night the wind piped up from the E, so Paul, Cat and I doused the chute at 0400, raised the main, unfurled the jib, and we took off at 12 knots, reaching in flat seas. Of course it didn't last, and the wind died and hauled aft again at sunrise. No complaining, this quiet sailing is delightful and easy.
This place is like a library reading room. I just finished English Passengers, by Matthew Kneale. It's a wonderful historical novel, both grim and hilarious, about the extermination of the Tasmanian aborigines, smugglers from the Isle of Man, and a dotty English parson seeking the Garden of Eden.
We crossed the Line at 0400 this morning, and Neptune paid a call. He was dressed oddly, but then maybe he wasn't quite awake for such an early appearance - shirtless, wearing an ill-tied necktie from some sailing club, his Tilley hit oddly crosswise in the Napoleonic style, aviator shades, and holding a big gaff in his right hand. Anyway, Neptune mounted the bench behind the table, which was covered with the closest thing aboard to the green baize tablecloth used on Navy ships for Captain's Mast. Two hands rousted out Paul from his stateroom, and he stumbled bleary-eyed into the pilot house. Four spotlights dazzled his eyes, and the Guard announced:
"All rise before the honorable Neptune and the Court of the Sea!"
Neptune: "Very well, be seated. Who is this miserable scrub?"
Paul: "It is me Sir, a hand"
Neptune: "State your name in the Flag Alphabet"
Paul: "Gee, Papa Alpha Uniform Lima, ah, Victor Echo Zebra Echo Tango Indigo ....
Neptune: "Wrong, you scalawag, INDIA"
Paul: "India November Sierra Kilo India"
Neptune: Do you swear fealty to Neptune, God of the Sea, and agree to abide by his mysterious ways?"
Paul: "I do, I do!"
Neptune: Feed him this awful bowl of Food of the Sea!
Paul: (gags while chewing)
Neptune: Give him a slug of rum! (administered by Guard)
Neptune: "Are you fit?"
Paul: "Oh, yes, sir!"
Neptune: hit the deck, 20 wheelies! (abdominal exercise wheel)
Paul: gasps, 20 wheelies completed
Neptune: Congratulations, and welcome to the Honorable Order of Shellbacks!"
It's stinking hot. The water temperature is 88 F. We are 100 miles off the coast of French Guyana, and soon will be passing by Devil's Island, the infamous French prison. There is no wind. We are in the Doldrums, otherwise known as the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, a meteorological no man's land between the southeast trades of the South Atlantic and the northeast trades of the North Atlantic. The air pushed into this zone from the north and the south rises, causing squalls. So far, however, all we've had is sunshine. This is where we pay homage to Dr. Diesel. Aboard Catalyst, we have fuel for about 600 miles, which should be plenty. We use one engine at a time, 2200 rpm, which gives us about 5.8 knots at around 2 liters of fuel per hour. The current is adding another 2 knots, so we're making good time over the bottom.
And we won't starve. The freezer still holds enough chicken, ostrich, lamb chops, etc to feed us for two weeks, and we could make it to the North Pole on all the pasta and canned goods that remain. Not that anyone wants to eat much anyway, until the sun goes down. Then we have our meal of the day. In Cape Town, Vic bought a British cookbook (don't laugh), so yesterday she served up welsh rarebit, ostrich steak and bread pudding and today we had shepherd's pie. Since we are powering the bread maker is fair game, so Cat baked a loaf of country white and Vic concocted a fine loaf of raisin bread.
As the sun set this evening we entered a magical zone. The water was perfectly flat, without a ripple all the way to the horizon, like a mirror of pure mercury over which Catalyst glided with the slippery ease of a magic carpet. The sun dipped below a monochrome horizon, and the moonlight glittered as it reflected off the sea under the trampoline. I tried to take star sights, but could scarcely make out where the sea ended and the sky began. Finally I found a bit of cloud that seemed to define a horizon, and took a bright star dead ahead. I found another bit of horizon off the port bow, and a star to go with it. Cat identified the stars: "Follow the arc (of the Big Dipper) to Arcturus, and drive a spike in Spica)." As more stars appeared, we four lingered on the trampoline, listening to the whisper of the bow wave, hypnotized by the perfect stillness of the evening and the luminosity of the sea. A dolphin flashed by the starboard bow, arched gracefully, and was gone. Vic strummed on Cat's guitar. I lay flat on my back on the trampoline, watching closely to see if the masthead might hit the stars.
Finally! We found the northeast trades at 9 North, and now Catalyst is reaching along at 10 knots under spinnaker and main. More importantly, the wind is cooling us down a bit. For the past five days we suffered from daytime temperatures near 100F in the cabin and up to 120F in the sunshine on deck. Twice, we stopped for a swim call when it got unbearable. The water was 88F, and it was discolored to a dark green by the effluent of the Amazon, but at least it was wet. The diesel (alternating port and starboard) droned on at 2200 rpm for days, assisted occasionally by whatever sail would fill at an apparent wind of 4 knots. Lying in my bunk I could feel the heat radiating through the deck, and our little fans were scarce comfort. I would definitely not -repeat not - want to live in Guyana, where such heat must be commonplace.
Tonight we will pass to the north of Tobago, and continue on 80 miles to Grenada. This will be a good test of our celestial navigation. The gps remains off. Our running fixes look good, and Cat will shoot another round of stars at sunset tonight. We should see the St. Giles Island light on our port bow around midnight. Not satisfied with the challenge of reducing sights using my Celesticomp V calculator, Cat just reduce our afternoon sun line using the spherical trigonometry described in Reed's Nautical Almanac and the tables contained in Reed's. The formula is:
Natural versine Zenith Distance = Nat Vers (Log Vers LHA + Log Cos Lat) + Nat Vers (Lat plus/minus Dec).
Cat's math teacher at Andover would be proud of her. She got a sun line within four miles of the one I calculated using the Celesticomp program.
August 1, 1311 Hrs
At this hour Catalyst passed the headlands marking St. David's Harbor on the southeast coast of Grenada, thus ending our passage until next spring. We will haul Catalyst at St. David's Marine for the hurricane season, and hopefully return for some winter sailing before sailing north to Massachusetts.
We passed north of Tobago at midnight today, and turned on the GPS to find that our celestial navigation over the past 1000 miles put us about three miles from our actual position - pretty good!
IV. Some Statistics and Observations about Catamaran Sailing
Our trip from Cape Town via St. Helena and Ferndando da Noronha (incuding dog legs back to Noronha and into the Brazilian coast from Noronha) covered about 5700 miles and lasted about 31 days at sea, for an average of 184 miles per day or 7.7 knots. We spent at least 8 of these days powering at 2200 - 2400 rpm with one engine, giving us about 5.5 - 6 knots (sometime with some assist from the sails). While in the doldrums we also spent a lot of time drifting along at 3-4 knots, thus decreasing our average daily run considerably. Our maximum speed under sail was 19.3 knots, and our maximum sustained speed (for more than an hour) was 11 knots. We frequently surfed at 12-15 knots, and slowed to 8-9 knots on the backsides of the seas.
We made water every day when powering when the weather conditions permitted the Spectra watermaker to operate. Compared to my previous voyages under sail, the availability of fresh water on this one make a huge difference in our comfort. The Spectra watermaker produces about 19 gallons per hour at about one amp hour per gallon using both pumps, and half that using one pump. We found that air bubbles in the salt water supply line frequently caused the system to shut down, particularly when we were sailing fast. Despite this problem we had sufficient water to shower every day and to use fresh water for a final rinse on the dishes. On several occasions we washed down the decks with fresh water using our deck pump and hose. I estimate that we used thousands of gallons of fresh water during this passage - what a luxury!
The refrigerator worked very well even when air temperatures below exceeded 100 F, and we still have 8 meals of chicken, lamb chops, ostrich mince, etc in the freezer. We are very well thanks to Connie's provisioning, and have lots of food left over.
We caught five fish, which provided 8 meals, and lost five rigs - must have been big fish.
We used the spinnaker most of the way, except on days when we ran with the screacher and jib wung out wing-and-wing. The mainsail remained furled most of the time. We found that Catalyst was faster without the mainsail when the wind was aft of 145 relative, which was the case most of the time. Below 145 degrees, the main robs too much air from the chute to be of help.
The assymetrical chute was the workhorse for this trip, and we must have raised and lowered it at least 50 times. We normally doused it when the true wind exceeded 25 knots and set the jibs. At a true wind of 25 knots, Catalyst ran dead down wind at 10-12 knots under the chute and often surged to 15 or 16 knots. We dropped the chute to cut down the noise and motion rather than out of concern on my part that it was too much for the boat to handle. When the boat sails at high speeds in 10-12 foot seas, the pilot works hard in "downwind" mode and sleep was difficult (except for Victoria, who can sleep through anything and always arises with a smile) when the seas and rushing water cause a cacophony of thumps, crashes, shudders, and a variety of other indescribable noises, including the incessant whine and thum-thum-thum of the autopilot and the loud moaning noise from the port rudder that rises like the cries of Poe's black cat when the boat surges past 10 knots of boatspeed. The boat told you quite clearly when it was time to douse the spinnaker and slow down a bit.
The screacher turned out to be a very useful sail, and we used it more than any sail other than the assymetrical chute. For several days we ran with twin jibs and no mainsail, and found that the boat handled very comfortably in winds up to 26 knots true (around 12-15 apparent, due to boat speed around 10 knots). We used it when reaching in up to 16 knots of apparent wind, and found that it gave us almost 2 knots more speed than the jib when reaching in light airs. Often, we unrolled the screacher to give us an extra knot of boat speed when the true wind was only about 3 knots and we were under power.
The mainsail comes into its own when Catalyst is beam reaching, close reaching or beating, and we had precious little of those conditions except when we back-tracked to Noronha across boisterous trades and when the northeast trades finally arrived off of Trinidad. Clearly the boat will sustain higher average speeds when reaching compared to running, because she is not slowed down by the wave train.
Having spent thirty five years trying to make monohulls go faster, I now find that the challenge with Catalyst is when and how to slow her down. She is incredibly powerful when the wind pipes up, and takes off on screaming surfs that seem to last for minutes. In rough seas and force 5-6 winds, she keeps her bows up and shows no tendency to broach or bury a bow. Steering is much easier than in a monohull, and the B&G autopilot handles rough conditions with incredible economy of rudder movement. However, the noise below is something to behold. Often, I would be lying in my bunk trying to sleep, only to feel my mattress jump upward with a huge crash as a sea walloped the underside of the wing. I would then hear the pilot whine to turn the boat for the next wave, and feel her rise a bit as the sea raced under her windward stern. Then, holding on with my butt muscles and unconsciously trying to steer with body language in my queen size bunk, I would hear the rising moan of the port rudder (or sail drive?) and a thundering rush of water flying past. I would start into full alertness and rush into the pilot house, yelling, "What's going on up here?" only to find the intrepid watchstander sitting calmly in the cockpit looking at the stars or sipping a cup of tea and reading a book as the boat raced along under perfect control. "No problem, Dad, everything's fine - go to sleep!" The contrast between the sense of incipient disaster that grips the hearts of the watch below and the joy of the watchstander reveling in this cat's surefooted prancing is unreal.
Despite the noise below when she's sailing fast, Catalyst is far more comfortable than any monohull I've ever sailed on, because she's always level and the motion of the boat is more comfortable. The dreaded activities of cooking, changing clothes, and - worst- going to the head are no more difficult at sea in Catalyst than in a motel. (OK, that's a bit of an overstatement, at times you have to hold on and we did spill one or two glasses that were sitting on the table). In most monohulls, sailing under spinnaker in 10 foot seas and force 5-6 winds is white knuckle time, and the helmsman tires out quickly. In this boat, just point her and let her go, and does she go... I was amazed by the way she handled the seas, and by her smooth motion. Her sharp bows cleave smoothly into the seas, and she does not pound at all.
My main safety concern was wave-induced capsize, where a steep sea pivots her stern up, bow down into a sea, and a gust pushes her over at the same time. I came to the conclusion that, in downwind sailing, it was much safer to sail her under spinnaker (or twin jibs) only than under jib and mainsail. The spinnaker and twin jib rigs automatically depower when she spins upwind on either side, and the sail no longer exerts much force once its is luffing. Since the assymetrical chute is flatter and has an open leach and a relatively taut luff, I think that it is safer than a symmetrical chute. In contrast, the mainsail cannot be let out very far in a gust by easing the sheet, because of the shroud location, and its huge roach high in the air exerts a big rotational moment just where you don't want it. Monohull sailors normally view the mainsail as the safe sail on the boat and the spinnaker as a risky and dangerous sail (witness the cruising races that ban spinnakers), but on Catalyst I believe the opposite is true.
Despite the incredible forces exerted on her hulls and structure Catalyst came through without any sign of structural fatigue. Her rig remains taut, indicating no deflection of the forward cross beam on which the mast is stepped. We blew apart two shackles (holding the tacks of the mainsail and the jib), and the screacher halyard chafed badly in the mast at the hounds inside the mast. The spinnaker and screacher sheets chafed against the upper lifelines, requiring us to loosen the lifelines and cover them in the critical location with pieces we cut from our deck hose. Sheets running through the turning blocks aft chafe on the teak toe rail, which should be shortened a foot or two at its aft end. The sun cover on the screacher was chafed in a few locations by the windward spinnaker sheets crossing it. But none of the chafing was significant, and the sails are all in excellent condition.
The window covers and furling bimini that Quantum made for us turned out to be godsends because of the extreme heat and piercing sunshine. We used them all the time. The bimini unfurls from the top of the pilot house and is tied under the boom just aft of the mast, and guyed on each side to the dagger boards (normally raised for downwind sailing) and forward to the aft end of the prod. We use the spare jib halyard to raise it in the middle, and it makes a great tent.
Catalyst's forward cockpit design works spectacularly well. Sail handling is centralized and safe, visibility is excellent, and you feel from the cockpit as if you're sailing a big beach cat. The pilot house provides excellent visibility and is extremely comfortable for both navigating and lounging (and snoozing on the very comfortable couch). The wide decks are great for exercising and lounging in shady spots.
The prod worked very well, enabling us to unfurl the screacher at will and also to lead the at leeward tack line to the spinnaker that kept the tack well forward. We normally tacked the spinnaker using a tack line running through a snatch block on the windward bow. Also, the prod provides excellent support while you are working on the big trampoline, dividing it in half and giving you something to hold onto.
In sum, this is a great design and great fun to sail. We had a chance to try her out on a beat yesterday, and found that she points easily to 35 apparent and sails at 7.5 - 8 knots in 10 knots of true wind (18 apparent). She keeps her momentum well through the tacks, and balances beautifully.
Copyright 2001 Sibley Reppert
copyright © 2009 chris white designs