Pylades in South Africa



Crossing  the INDIAN OCEAN



Darwin was 33 deg. under a hot blue sky, all sunshades are rigged. Several days supermarket shopping and lugging supplies as Pylades is provisioned.  Kay goes to the hospital for final check up on her mending fingers and meets a nurse from County Clare who opens gates as it were. Surgeons appear and give opinions that all is well and the plaster is removed.  A Physiotherapist arrives minutes later and works on Kay’s hand for an hour and insists she returns a few more times before we depart Darwin. The power of the Irish Diaspora knows no end. 


Asked to carry some gas canisters to Teddy’s Bar in Kupang, Indonesia by a ‘Sail Indonesia’ helper, we agree, but on reflection we realise that they will be sealed and the penalty for drug smuggling into Indonesia is death. We state our worries, so Kay accompanies him to Woolworths Supermarket to buy a soda stream gadget and a few spare gas canisters, the bona fide of the cargo is ensured. We have used ‘Sail Indonesia” as our agents to procure our cruising permit and a letter of guarantee that we shall leave Indonesia with the vessel.  This waives the necessity of lodging a bond to the value of the boat with the Indonesian authorities. They were efficient to deal with.


8th August; 16.00 set sail for Kupang in Timor 450 miles west. Wind proves unreliable over the next few days and progress is made mainly under engine. The sea is calm and the passage uneventful.  Indonesia is closed under fine sailing conditions on the morning of the 12th and we anchor off the beach at Kupang. Hailed from a tiny timber canoe by Oyn we are requested to go to the shore (as none of the authorities have boats) to pick up a quarantine inspector. An officious little creature who objected to getting his feet wet and to the size of our dingy. Onboard he produced the most amazing array of documents which he proceeded to cover with dozens of stamps, it was Peter Sellers at his most bizarre, he kept stating that he had not eaten nor drank since dawn as it was the holy month of Ramadan, he then requested whiskey. The skipper lied and said we had none, he spotted a box of wine, I said OK and went to get a glass, but quick as a flash the light fingered inspector was stuffing the full two liter box into his official bag.  


After sundowners and dinner we sleep fitfully in this uneasy anchorage, that is until 0400 in the morning when an unearthly wailing filled the air and shot us out of our dreams. The mosque was calling the faithful to prayer and everyone else at megawatts, the minarets have been replaced with a high speaker tower, they are high as the Christian majority (95%) in the town who have been known to hurl rocks at same and we can well imagine why.  However, it was not just a call to prayer it broadcast the whole hour long service sung as would a demented sheep. This was to occur five times per day the skipper pined for his  FCA 303 snipers rifle the speakers were well within range, but such an action could plunge the entire country into war.  Speaking to some Christian residents about the whole scene they were very abusive about the arrogance of these broadcasts, but at least they said there now was peace.  Fifteen years ago the Muslims had soaked the local priest in petrol and set fire to him and the Christians retaliated by burning out a load of Muslim houses and cars. All sounds a bit familiar, where would we be without it.


08.00 Saturday we met Ayub on the beach he was to be our English speaking guide he ordered a taxi while explaining the procedure, we had to check in with customs then immigration back to customs then the harbour master   As it was Saturday official  offices were closed but he had friends everywhere and would see us right, they all might have to be helped a little as government pay was very poor and to get a government job one had to borrow for substantial bribes and they too had to be paid back.


A customs officer arrived on the beach and clearing in commences, many forms are filled and stamped, he explains after immigration we must return and receive more papers. First we go to an ATM and withdraw 1,200,000rp. On top of the 1,950,000rp we had procured in Darwin, we were now multi millionaires, one Euro equals 10833rp. Arriving at the Immigration office the only sign of life was a pile of plastic rubbish smoldering at the front gate.  The official who was to clear us in was playing football, we returned to the city, informed he was in the shower and would proceed with the clearance, we all returned again to the office, he following on a motor bike. Ayub passed 150,000rp from us to the official who informed that he was locked out of the office but fair play to him did he not pile furniture up against a wall and swing over it and effectively broke in to get our clearance stamps. As an aside everybody at all times appear to be dialing, talking on or at least fiddling with their mobile phone, big fancy ones at that, not as we remember them, the way to an official’s heart we found was to admire his mobile phone.


Many smiles and handshakes and we were off back to town, The skipper went to ‘Teddy’s Bar’ to meet and inform Teddy we had the ‘stuff’ for him.  Just then three customs officers reappeared.  Teddy whisper’s “hush” and disappeared. Sweet hot coffees arrived to the table, Customs Officers, Kay, Ayub, taxi driver and I all sat around the table, filling forms with much stamping and handshaking, Pylades was officially imported and off we went on a long drive to the Port Captain.  For an office that was supposed to be closed there was an inordinate amount of persons about. Another pile of forms were filled, signed, stamped and new ones typed with two fingers on an ancient typewriter by a man with one gold stripe. All the papers were then passed to a man with two stripes who altered a few things and passed them to a man with three stripes and same again and finally we were ushered through a door framed in pink silk curtains into a carpeted office with soft chairs to a space that had the ambience somewhere between a funeral parlor and a brothel into the presence of the Port Captain sitting on a large swivel chair under a coat of arms and portraits of the incumbent President and flanked by two lesser stripped secretaries . He was swathed from head to waste in gold braids and oozing charm signed our copious forms with a bejeweled hand.


Leaving the Port Office we looked down at the port below, a single ship was docked but no activity apparent.  Behind, on the hill overlooking the harbour was a large and very dominant cement factory; we were told that nothing had been produced there for many years.  It had been closed due to endemic corruption.  Our paperwork now complete we concluded it might not be the best place to arrive if one did not have a visa or CIAT (cruising) form. On our way back to the city we were shown the Mayors house, a massive series of white painted colonnaded buildings all in extremely bad taste ‘architecture never lies’ then back at the anchorage the taxi driver and Ayub eradicate large sections of what remained in our pockets.


Now free to roam the town on foot we take stock.  Being the only white or indeed tourist of any shade in town, every where we were a curiosity, keeping a low profile was not an option. Constantly greeted with ‘hello mister’, ‘goodbye mister’ many came to us to practice a bit of English, The vast majority were very friendly, the roads were abuzz with tens of thousands of light  motorbikes some with husband, wife and three children on board, most had helmets but children never had.  A bike would whiz past; behind the driver were dozens of live screaming chickens tied to poles. Weaving through all this were the boom busses, small vans that could pack in about 12 people, festooned in decorations and blasting rock music, constantly blowing their horns and a young fellow hanging out the open side door touting for business.


A vibrant exciting place Kupang, one could however understand the dearth of tourists. The city was filthy, we reckoned it had never seen a bin collection, piles of rubbish everywhere some smoldering, one had to watch every step, broken footpaths, open drains, ruined  buildings, filthy water lapping on the shore, the rivers and the sea are tips.  Ayub had spoken to us of the endemic poverty with people in the countryside eating leaves and starving. There was corruption at every level, he told us in the hospitals there are no medicines, however if you can afford to bribe you can get, the schools are expensive and you must pay for everything. There is little or no work he said for anyone, exasperated by a huge and young population growing by about 2,000,000 a year. By day one notices hundreds just hanging about.


Ayub told us his only income was the occasional visitor, every morning he goes to the airport hoping to meet someone he can perhaps help, and then back to the beach to see if any yachts have arrived.  He put his head in his hands and said ‘why O why are we being left behind’; we could not find words to comfort or predict a bright future. He brings us to meet Toba the man who has a wife and children at home but sleeps under the broken pier by the beach , if a dingy comes ashore helps them up the beach and minds the dingy for 30,000rp (2.5 Euro)a day, he was a lovable fakir like man worth his weight in gold to us. He said his income will cease with the departing of the yachts. We think we are the last this year.   


Later in the day Teddy goods were delivered, he was most grateful offering us a bed for the night in his hotel, which might well have proved to be very interesting!  An establishment that could have been a set in a Vietnam War movie complete with flags, girls and sixties music.


15th August; taking a boom box bus for the supermarket, everybody smiled though they were quite surprised that we had boarded. It was packed and resembled the inside of a very hot loudspeaker, cost about 10p, unfortunately because of language problems  we got out at the wrong stop and had to hike another mile, but the sights were worth it.  At one stage finding it difficult to cross a road with the density of traffic, a man standing on the roadside  grabbed Kay’s arm and rushed her across the road, first time in her life helped across a road!.  Every second there seemed to be a new mini  adventure. Finally located, the supermarket was full of stuff but not as we know it, we bought some and taxied back.


The skipper was deposited at ‘Teddy’s’ to chill while Kay went to the street market for a few more bits, as she disappeared out the gate  the skipper while looking on a tranquil sea, sipping a cold beer and listening to ‘Hey Jude’, felt a warm hand caress his shoulder…”hi, you on your own”  a soft voice said  “You could say that”  I replied   Mind if I sit down”  “No not at all”  ”What is your name she intoned .. Ferrrguss”…. “That’s a lovely name”—“thanks” “and yours”—Ciynthia she purred. “And what age is Ciynthia I asked –twenty four” so similar”  I said. “Are you REALLY on your own she asked again”.  I explained that my wife was shopping and would return shortly, there was a longish pause and as she placed her hand on my thigh she said “So I suppose” ,”no boom boom!” .” No boom boom today” I said. I asked her if I could photograph, absolutely she said and I did. As she exited the yard on her motorbike prayers from the mosque drifted over mixing with bar music and Kay returned. Any news she asked…..


16th August; 07.30 exit Kupang after two days and nights with fickle winds we anchor at Lehok Gingg.  For the first time in months the skipper goes hull and prop cleaning and fits new prop anode, resulting in the usual panting session, getting less fit methinks!. We had come to this area in the hope of seeing the Komodo Dragons, on the beach we found fresh footprints of same but encountered none. Next day we sailed to North Komodo making over ten knots between the islands in a swirling tide here the water was crystal clean and we could see our anchor down in 12 meters such a relief after the murky waters of the past months. In Monjo we had some of the best snorkeling since Tonga. A riot of coral colours and reef fish lay beneath our ship.  As we raised anchor the next morn, the clear visibility allowed us to maneuver the boat to unwind chain from the coral heads and minimize damage.  Anchoring near coral always raises such ethical issues and while large sections of Indonesian coral had been destroyed by locals fishing with explosives and cyanide, that still does not change the issue for us. As the sun rose on the 23rd we pick up a mooring at GiliAir, a tourist resort island with the only transport being by horse and buggy. Here for the first time we notice some boats of our fellow travelers. We spend two very chilled days here and even eat out twice, the food being excellent and the costs minimal. 


25th August; 04.15 exit for Bali, a favorable current speeds us south, we encounter the amazing Balinese spider boats along the way, dozens of tiny Triamarans with colorful sails whizzing along in a big rolling sea. We tie at Bali International Marina at 12.15, it is rundown but with a certain charm, over the coming days we stock with all the essentials. The center of town is a 10km taxi ride away, every where there are shrines and temples to the many and varied gods of the Hindu. Thousands of statues were swathed in colorful materials with offering of flowers and incense at their feet. It appears as a very gently private religion as distinct from the Muslim chanting  blaring from the mosques which despite again being but a small minority in the city they make up for that deficit with pure volume.  However, they are not alone in the volume stakes, a large three storey tourist ship docked close to our marina berth makes out to sea and a back twice a day accompanied by mega watts of angry foul mouthed ghetto rap.  We failed to see the connection between the noise and relaxed tourism, requests at mitigation were denied. Somewhere there must be a virus that preys on mans most vile invention, amplifiers!!.


The skipper decides to have a snack in town from one of the thousand restaurants and spends a few very ill days regretting.  Eating out, drops back off the agenda. We discover the vast ‘Carrefour’s supermarket and stock the boat from there, fill our tanks with large bottles of drinking water purchased through the marina, fill our diesel and the exasperating gas bottles. We have unearthed an international conspiracy against the cruising yachtsman. This is expressed by the surplus of officials in every harbour (except the French) who’s sole purpose in life is to harass the cruising yachtsman, the multifarious types of gas bottles and fittings which forces clandestine fillings, threatening entire marinas if a smoker should pass at the wrong moment and finally the simple expedient of connecting a hose to the local water tap, each of which has its own unique fitting.  


1st September put to sea bound for Cocos Keeling 1120 miles to the west. Five days later under the lee of Christmas Island we saltwater shower as we stream past at 7 knots 1.5knots of that are from a favorable current. On the 8th we slowly negotiate our way in through the stunning colours of the Cocos lagoon and anchour in the lee of Direction Island.  Customs arrives on a jet ski and provides a wealth of information to boot. Snorkeling is magnificent but the boat constantly has one reef shark circling, when two more join and begin to circle the skipper closer he abandons hull cleaning and the water. The adjacent beach is a classic white sand atoll scene with overhanging coconut trees. 


When Darwin and the Beagle arrived here in 1836 he commented on the abundant bird life on the island, however in 1854 a ship was wreaked on the island and the abandoning rats found a seemingly inexhaustible supply of food, chicks and eggs. Like humans they quickly expanded their population to ensure non sustainability. The birds have disappeared but moves are afoot to change the order of things, a rat eliminating team with tons of poison was working on the island as we were there.  We walk down the windward side of the island and find other phenomena that Darwin would not have witnessed, thousands of discarded flip-flops and plastic bottles ranged along the high water line, so this is where all the rubbish we witnessed being dumped in every drain, river and beach in Indonesia ends up.


During our stay the skipper accompanied by Jon and Jennifer of Ile de Grace

snorkel the rip, this is an opening where the nutrient rich water of the ocean pours through the outer reef into the lagoon at about 5 knots, one gets as close to the outer reef as possible and jumps into the center of the rip, you are then whisked along through the chasm filled with myriads of large fish species and a fabulous background of coral. It was amazing, the skipper did this thrice.  Two of the other islands of the group are permanently inhabited and ethnically divided; Home Island has about 500 mainly ex. Malay Muslims on welfare with West Island having the airport and 150 non permanent Australians mainly in administration and services. There is no discernable income to the island group; all apparently funded by the mining resources of Australia.


On the 13th and 14th respectively sees us celebrating  both our birthdays with a fire on the beach, guitars and boxes are played, food and wine is quaffed a most memorable 65th for the skipper, where is time going?  Also fêted is news of the release of our fellow cruisers and friends from Denmark Jan, Marie, their children and crew of sailing boat ING. They had been held captive by Somali pirates for seven months. 


!5th September exit Cocos Keeling for the 2300 mile haul to Mauritius. The first day or so is fine sailing with 15knots and light seas, by the 18th the wind is gusting 20 to 30 knots and the seas are 3.5 meters and confused with a swell from the south battling a swell from the south east, we roll horribly in the melee with a wave every so oft sweeping over. For the next few days the cockpit is uninhabitable and below is to put it mildly, uncomfortable. With the main and staysail stowed we are running under a third of the genoa. The hatches are locked in position, below decks  we read, popping our heads up every 15 minutes like marine moles to watch out for shipping, we sight a few far off.    


Every morning Kay runs an SSB radio net between the boats that left Cocos at the same time, at 10.00 local her dulcet tones call out, “this is yacht Pylades, Kay calling, is anyone on frequency”  Information is then exchanged on positions, weather and any on board news.  We are not exactly keeping tight formation, the American 48 foot sloop is 122 miles ahead and the American 42ft catamaran is 75 miles behind, but all is well as we slowly tramp along towards our destination.


24th September; celebrate passing the half way mark with a glass of wine. The wind and seas ease back and it is now possible to sit in the cockpit again we even manage a saltwater shower at the stern.  Now with full genoa poled out to port and staysail to starboard but no mainsail, as we are holding over 140 miles a day we just leave well alone.  And so the Indian Oceans slowly is traversed, we get a day here and there of glorious sailing in reasonable seas under blue sky and the next day its squalls and cross swell.  When Joshua Slocham the world first single handed circumnavigator passed this way in the late 1800’s he said of the sea that he had never before so often in the cockpit been drenched, suffice to say that not much has changed.


28th September; 03.30 during a telepole maneuver at the bow the skipper notices that the baby stay has gone slack; the SS strap toggle securing the stay to the deck has torn right across.  With various options looked at we reattach the stay with a high load shackle and tighten up.  However the load is now out of line and a weak point.  We proceed under reduced sail and hope for no repeat of previous weather. Later that day Rodriguez is passed to starboard, we had planned to stop, but hear over the SSB that no water is available there and as our tanks are very low we press on.  We meet more than expected shipping on the passage, perhaps having been driven around South Africa due to pirate activity.


 2nd October; 02.00 arrive Port Louis Mauritius, Having failed to raise the port authority on two occasions on the way in they unfortunately respond as we prepared to tie at the customs dock .  They ordered a very cranky skipper and co. back out to sea were we drifted slowly offshore until 06.00.  The skipper later raised the matter with the authorities as to why they have excellent leading and port and starboard lights and do not permit port entry at night, or were they afraid of the dark!  They apologised and admitted that we should not have been banished!.


A great deal of paperwork later we tied at the marina, which turned out to be one of the nicest and cheapest we have ever stayed in. The town had a lively market full of colorful luscious fruits, spices and vegetables, the general vibrancy and good humour of the people were a treat.  Rashid, the Indian taxi man and general Mr. Fixit appeared each morning on the marina, he could and did fix and organise for the sailors, nothing was a problem for Rashid.  We got a replacement for our broken toggle from a German cruiser ‘Momo”. We also noticed that our port lower spreader had jumped about 75mm up the rigging; skipper inspected all the rigging from aloft and eased the spreader back with a block of timber and a lump hammer to its rightful position. It was a very social period with about 10 boats preparing for the haul to South Africa.  An Irish dinner is hosted on board ‘Second Wind’ to thank Kay for her radio work on the Indian Ocean,


Natural selection, the driving force of evolution has no foresight and when the ancestral pigeons of the Dodo arrived in Mauritius a few million years ago they found a land of plenty with no predators. Thus they evolved into large ground feeding birds and with no one to flee from lost the ability to fly.  In 1507 sailors arrived and called this bird the Dodo which in Portuguese means stupid. The fearless birds were almost inedible but were easy prey and perhaps for sport clubbed to death in their thousands.  The introduction of dogs, cats, rats which eat their eggs and sugarcane planters who destroyed the habitat, all were extinct within two hundred years. The concepts of conservation and of sharing the planet with all species of our shared ancestry had still to dawn on man.


11th October; exiting at midday we have a fast and again boisterous passage of 140 miles. We tie at Le Port, Reunion (an overseas territory of France) 24 hours later.  A very friendly  and record fast check in, Customs clearance took about 30 seconds, stamp, stamp, bonjour and they were gone and they never asked for our clearance papers from Mauritius…vive La France.  The currency is the Euro. The town is about 20minutes walk from the dock with the stamp of France over its old architecture and huge French supermarkets, one could want for nothing! We take bus rides out to the towns of St.Dennis and St.Pieirre.  Also into the spectacular interior and tramp the mountains around Cap Noir. The views and  air are so refreshing and like every time we venture into the hills we say ‘we must do this more often’.  The social scene in the harbour is dominated as usual by weather and the route to South Africa.


We meet again our South African friends on their yacht Wizard of Africa a powerful 60 footer which had lost its mast off Australia, and blew out the mainsail just before we met them in Bali. They persuaded that Richards Bay would be a more pleasant landing than Durban. We were glad to hear that Gerrie, the skipper who had to divert from sailing to Chagos to Rodriguez, because of a detached retina, had flown from there to home where he had some treatment to his eye and was hopeful of retaining the sight, with more treatment to come on his return


Kay took photos of some children sailing Optimists around the harbour. the instructor later asks could we send him the photos.  He explains that that was the first time they have been training the children down at the Marina; this was due to a spate of shark attacks outside the harbour, one of which consisted of a great white shark jumping out of the water trying to get a canoeist, who escaped with just a bad fright. “I am not permit to train za childs in ze arbour, but if I lose a one to a shark za parents they vould be upset, vhat can I do”?    


31st October; at noon we leave Le Port, Reunion and make for a waypoint 574 miles about 120 miles south of Madagascar to keep in water safe from the reputed freak waves that lurk off its coast.. Two days of sailing in light winds and little sea we run into a rain cell which lashes us for about 12 hours and switches the wind from the north east to the south, swells breaking on the bow snap the anchour tie and the skipper eventually regains control of the anchour and reties it at the bow, despite being in full foul weather gear still gets drenched but at least its warm water!  The next day we were close hauled in light airs but almost able to lay the course.  We do our worst distance ever of 89 miles. 


Over the SSB we receive the shocking news that Wizard of Africa has gone down after hitting a drifting container at night.  Their EPIRB worked and Gerrie and his four crew were picked up from their life raft by a freighter and were to be dropped off in Singapore.  We heard later that the ship  diverted and dropped them off at Mauritius, from where they flew home.


5th November; a dirty enough night as we round the southern tip of Madagascar wind goes 20 to 30 knots and we run into a counter current which turns the waves into furies, we get pooped.  However slow our progress is we reflect that if we had been sailing this route 165 million years ago the going would have been a touch slower as we would have been sailing through what is now India. and indeed had we rounded the African Cape we would then have to plough our way up through Antarctica  and then a bit of what is now South America.  That is before all those continents started off on their tectonic plate voyages, which continue at about the same speed our fingernails grow. Madagascar stayed more or less put!

This corral piece is covered by sparkling sequins which make this black cheap prom dresses stunning. Little ruffle detail is intentionally applied on the end of the dress skirt as another scent of decoration. 


7th November; a calm day and are under engine when an alarm goes and our faithful Autohelm 4000 packs up it appears that the electronic compass is not talking to the steering motor. Luck has it that the wind springs up and we set off under full main and headsail and have two glorious days of sailing.  On the 9th the wind decides we are having it too easy and goes up to 25 knots we run into a counter current, it gets very uncomfortable as we twist and turn in the Mozambique Channel. 


10th November; talking to the ‘Peri Peri’ net that is a South African net run to give weather information to cruisers. We are informed  conditions look good and that the 20 knot southerly should be gone before we reach the dreaded Agulhas current. All pilots warn against entering the current in a southerly. However it persists so we hove-to 80 miles out from Richards Bay with a south wind whistling to 30 knots through the rigging and 3 meter seas. While hove-to we find  the engine compartment flooded it has come from the stern gland, we start the engine and spin the prop, something is caught around, it will not shut correctly. Am not going down to look, we hope it will get us in.  Having not seen a ship for days, out of the night one bears directly down on us. We call him on the VHF he agrees to change course, he misses, it’s a long night. We note that we are being brought north by a south-easterly current.


11th November; At dawn the wind eases backs easterly, we press on for Richards Bay, 30 miles out the wind has gone north east, perfect, as we get into the grip of the Agulhas current we start to fly along at 7to 9 knots. By the time we enter Richards Bay its blowing 30 knots we are over canvassed, the self steering cannot cope the skipper hand steers the last few very quick miles.  Elation grips us as Pylades sweeps through the entrance in sheets of spray. We are ecstatic to have crossed the Indian Ocean, a crossing we had never planned from the start and which we had approached with a certain degree of trepidation. It had proved to be a testing ocean indeed.  We tie in the small boat basin at 19.00, open a bottle of Champagne  and crash asleep. Next morning a troop of monkeys gambol about the dock and visit our ship.  We are in Africa.



Miles sailed since Bellharbour:  28,468

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Posted: 8:18:32 AM - 11/14/2011

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