Guadeloupe to St. Martin

We had a nice stop at Iles des Saintes (or Les Saintes for short). Its a very touristy place, which we normally don’t like, but there’s a charm to Les Saintes. Every day, several ferries come from Guadeloupe loaded with tourists who come to escape to the beaches, restaurants, hiking, and forts. But, most of them leave by the 5PM ferries, so in the evening it is much quieter. There’s a small number of roads that take you to the various corners and beaches of the island. And lots of motor-scooters available to rent. One change we noted first is that the anchorage at the main area is now moorings only and they collect a 12 Euro fee per night. Very unusual at French islands. We have always rented the scooters and zoomed around the island for fun. And we like the fantastic views from Fort Napoleon. Unfortunately, we had cloudy skies on our planned one day stop, and the photography opportunities weren’t very spectacular. The motor-scooters cost twice as much (5 years ago they were 15 Euros, this time 30 for a full day rental. That’s quite a bit higher than we paid in many other countries. We found a nice cafe in town for lunch which was run by the wife of a Gendarme (police officer). They have only been on the island a few months and she opened the cafe in January. She turned on the AC so we ate inside instead of on the street. And she cooked up some galletes and salads that were great. Finished off with some glaces (ice cream) and we were happy. We zoomed around the isand some more, and did some souvenir shopping. And we got a few groceries. Then in the evening we went to a restaurant on the shore. It was the same restaurant where we ran into an American couple who turned out to be Mark and Dana from s/v Northfork who we ended up meeting many times in our travels. So, we thought it appropriate to eat there again. Yesterday morning, I updated the Tahina Expedition map to show our route to Les Saintes from Martinique. Next I went to the customs office, wich is really just a computer terminal in a cybercafe. We just love the French islands for formalities, all they want is your basic information filled out on a computer form. You don’t even have to show paperwork or your passports to an official. We just printed out the form, and the store owner verifies you filled it out and signed it and they stamp it. You’re done! After clearing out, we dropped off the mooring and sailed 25 miles north to Pigeon Island – home to the Jacques Cousteau national park, which is a marine park. It’s one of our favorite diving locations in the Caribbean because it is protected. But, when we arrived, we couldn’t find the two designated sailboat moorings. They had been removed. So, you can’t stay at the island anymore. My long-time plans of diving off our boat and using the ROV were dashed! We moved Tahina to the anchorage on the main island just 1 mile away. Karen was feeling tired so I got my snorkel gear and cameras and took the dinghy over to the island and checked out the sights. Still in good condition and I saw a nice variety of fish and coral life. It’s now Wednesday and we’re leaving to sail all the way to St. Martin. We had our new propellor shipped there and we need to get it on. If we had more time, we would stop at more islands. But, to be honest we have visited all these islands multiple times, and we’re getting tired of seeing how things have deteriorated and prices have inflated. Add to that the increased crime and its a little overwhelming. I will upload a few pictures of our stops later after we get to St. Martin, which we won’t reach until tomorrow. It’s about 150 miles away.

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Visit from Friends

Andy and Aliza

Andy and Aliza

Last week our long-time friends Andy and Aliza arrived for a visit to Tahina while we were in St. Lucia. After long flights, and a very long taxi ride from the other side of St. Lucia, they were glad to finally arrive to Tahina in the wide Rodney Bay anchorage.

We spent a couple of days in the Rodney Bay area doing some sightseeing. But, the real reason we didn’t move the boat right away was that Andy and Aliza had a date at a bar on Monday night. They are both Duke graduates, and the championship game of the NCAA was that night. Needless to say, they were happy with the result!

Rodney Bay

Rodney Bay

We did a walking tour of Pigeon Island, home of Fort Rodney. We even walked to the top of Signal Hill with great views of the bay and surrounding area. Martinique wasn’t visible due to haze and rain the area though. On another day, we managed to organize a trip to do zip lines through the rainforest. Karen did this with our daughter the last time we were here 5 years earlier. So, she was really looking forward to it. Andy and Aliza had a good time as well.

The next day we got up at the crack of dawn to sail down to The Pitons. On the way, we sailed past the main port of Castries and ended up sailing right between two cruise ships arriving. We were also treated to lots of rainbows that morning as there were showers in the area.

The Pitons

The Pitons

The rain didn’t keep us from enjoying the spectacular peaks of the Pitons. We also went ashore to the very swank Sugar Beach Resort and had lunch. After eating, we took a ride up to the resort reception to get information on a taxi ride for our guests to get to the airport the next day. The hotel welcomed us like guests and let us walk around the grounds to admire their facilities. We were very tempted by the nice massage parlor, and enjoyed the garden grounds and lilly pond with spectacular views of the Pitons in the background.

I took Aliza on a short snorkeling trip. We did see a sea turtle and some nice coral and fish. But, had issues with current. Aliza wanted to swim back to the boat, while I continued to snorkel a bit, and she got stuck in the current. Fortunately, the park ranger happened by and picked her up just as I was arriving to do the same in the dinghy.

We enjoyed good meals and lots of catching up with Andy and Aliza. It was good to share a bit of our life and home with them again (they visited us in 2010 in Aruba). Over the last few years, they have welcomed us to their home several times when we visited the US. So, this was our chance to try and return the favor.

Here’s a slideshow showing a sample of the experiences:

View full-sized slideshow

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Tahina Map Update

I’ve updated our route map to reflect our current position in Martinique. The map now shows the green track which shows our circumnavigation up to March 18, 2015. And I am now showing the trip home track in yellow. If you zoom in on Tahina’s position (sailboat icon) you will see our spot in the busy anchorage of Le Marin, Martinique. You can also see not only our route from Grenada to Martinique, but our trip last week down to the Pitons in St. Lucia.

We had a great time last week with our friends from Raleigh visiting (more on that in a post soon). We left on Friday to sail over to Martinique because I was expecting to meet with a mechanic I had been in communication with to repair a part on our hydraulic steering. Unfortunately, the guy wasn’t there on Friday afternoon. So, we a few days delay. We spent some time making some minor repairs with parts Andy had brought for us.

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April Fool’s Day Was Not Fun

Last Tuesday, we left Grenada to make a two-day sail to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. We decided to make an overnight stop in Bequia because it is conveniently located half-way. Tahina made decent time on the 74 mile trip on Tuesday. We had to stay very tight to the wind because the course was east-north-east, and the winds were from the east. Despite our efforts, we had to make a choice when we got near Bequia of either sailing in after dark, or motoring the final 6 miles directly upwind. We opted for the latter course, and made it 15 minutes before sunset thanks to the help of both of Tahina’s engines.

Admiralty Bay is a very crowded anchorage. At least two other boats stopped for the night like us. We were going to try and anchor near a WIFI hotspot, but in the end we just chose a spot at Princess Margaret beach near the back of the pack of many boats at anchor, and dropped our anchor and set it with both engines. A classic sailing sloop with three masts was anchoring and silhoutted by the sunset as we watched and took pictures.

We made some dinner and went to bed early after our long day’s sail. It was nice not having to do a night-watch for a change. During the night, I heard some noise that woke me up, but never figured it out and went back to sleep. Nothing unusual really, as boats often have strange noises.

The next morning, April Fool’s Day, we were up at the crack of dawn preparing to leave. Everything seemed normal as we raised the anchor. We had both motors on in case we needed to manuever, but winds were light and we easily raised the hook and I only needed the port engine to turn us easily out to move out of the bay. We soon raised the sails, turned off the engine and began sailing towards St. Vincent. We had a nice boisterous sail across to St. Vincent, but went close to shore and ended up motoring in the lee of the island so we could get as far east as possible when we came out the north end. This would give us the best wind angle across to St. Lucia.

Everything went mostly fine and we made good speeds across to St. Lucia, although the 20 knot winds stirred up some chop which made it a bit bouncy. We don’t get seasick, but Karen has some back and neck issues and the motion causes her some pain. I was enjoying the sail, and there were lots of other boats to “race”. We passed every sailboat we saw heading north during the day. Unfortunately, I was wearing my new St. Helena hat, and once popped my head out to check on another boat and the wind snagged it off my head and into the rough water! I was really bummed, and briefly considered stopping the boat to try and get it, but the conditions were too rough.

We had just passed a chartered catamaran that was headed for the St. Lucia coast as we headed further north. They were only a few boat lengths away when suddenly the wind dropped as we were in the lee of St. Lucia. We slowed to 2 knots. I expected him to slow down as well, but it turns out he was motor-sailing, and he was headed right for us! I decided I should start an engine and get out of his way. I started the engine and gave it a few RPMs to make us move forward. But, nothing happened. I tried revving up some and again nothing happened! Thank God the charter skipper ran to his helm and changed course to avoid colliding with us. I then started the other engine to move and started diagnosing the starboard engine. It wasn’t long before I started concluding it was acting like we had no propeller. What?! We considered the possibility some sargasso seaweed had wrapped itself around the prop in its feathered state (the blades collapse on our props to reduce drag under sail). But, it was highly unlikely that would happen, and that rotating it at 2000+ RPMs in both directions would prevent them from opening. I checked the gear cable and confirmed it was actuating the saildrive gear.

We opted to wait until we arrived at Rodney Bay to dive under the boat and look. As soon as we anchored I dove under, and my worst fears were realized. The propeller was gone! The locking nut, and the retaining bolt were not there, and the threads were still in place. It was as if someone had removed the prop under water. We couldn’t believe it. There have been VERY rare reports of boats having their props stolen while at anchor. But, this usually happens while the boat was left with no one on board. Admiralty Bay is a really busy anchorage, and a lot of boats stop for a night like us. A catamaran might leave without realizing one engine wasn’t working (we did). And, I had heard a strange noise during the night. OMG!

I consulted the propeller manufacturer, and they said the props won’t come off unless they were installed improperly (no retaining bolt on the locking nut, and the locking nut loose), or due to major damage from a collision or damage to the sail drive. We had none of these situations. They agreed it must have been theft. Wow. This was no April Fool’s Day joke – these props are expensive.

Fortunately, I ordered a replacement prop the next morning in the UK and they had it shipped to our friends who were coming by plane to visit us on Sunday. But, the shipper – DHL – misinformed them that it could be delivered on Saturday. When it got into the tracking system it came out with a Monday delivery date. I called DHL and they said with it being Easter weekend, there was no way it could be delivered on a Saturday. So, another few days delay while our friends get back home and we figure out where to send it duty-free.

One a plus note, we just got a tax refund we weren’t expecting. So, the cost of the propeller and shipping will all go away.

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Celebrations in Grenada

Tahina Celebrations

Tahina Celebrations

We had spent over a week working on the boat cleaning up not only from the passage, but also in preparation for our guests. And, as mentioned before, we also had a number of small boat projects to work on as well. We could have moved north towards St. Lucia, but we decided to stay because there were friends of ours on boats on the way from Africa we hoped to see before we left. Most of our friends who crossed won’t be continuing on the same path, so this would be the last chance to see them.

On Saturday, we went into St. Georges, the main city of Grenada, to do some shopping. We wanted to go to the market for some fruits and veggies, and to some grocery stores. It ended up raining so much while we were there we ended up just grabbing some of the fruits from a small stand outside a grocery store. While there, we ran into some Caribbean cruisers who also had boats in Prickly Bay. They invited us to socialize on the weekend.

We got to know some very nice people on s/v Macaro and s/v Imagine (a catamaran – not the one we know from Oriental). They helped us celebrate the completion of our circumnavigation. The couple from Macaro are from the Houston area, and not only that their work had them in Johor Baru, Malaysia at the same time as us in 2013. We had a fun time chatting with them all, and they were fascinated to hear about our circumnavigation as they also contemplate trips like that in their futures.

Meanwhile, our friends on s/v ThreeShips, and s/v Shango, arrived on Sunday evening after their long passages from Ascension. We got with them the next morning to welcome and congratulate them. And we told them the clearance process, and gave them tips on how to get around Grenada and Prickly Bay. We also invited them all to come to Tahina for sundowners to celebrate our circumnavigations. Threeships had two crew who came with them across from Africa – and they were leaving a day or two later. So, that’s why the photo above shows six, plus Karen.

We had a great time socializing with them all, and it was wonderful to spend some time with some of our fellow circumnavigators before we start the trip home. It was great comparing notes on our South Atlantic crossing and hearing and sharing our tales from the long passages.

We had a bit more to drink than we normally would do before a passage, but we still managed to leave the next morning shortly after dawn to head for St. Lucia. More about that in an upcoming post.

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Projects in Grenada

We have been busy with lots of little projects on the boat since we arrived from our 20-day passage from St. Helena 11 days ago. We also have been cleaning up and re-arranging things for our guests who are arriving next week in St. Lucia. Some parts we need aren’t easy to find here, but our friends have six packages they will bring with them to us. I thought I might share with you what we have been doing as a sample of life on a boat after a long passage like this:

  • Wind direction indicator – part of our mast-head wind indicator was deteriorating enroute. Bought a new one and installed it.
  • Two of our new LED deck lights had some sort of electrical short and are dimmer now. Have ordered new ones with better waterproof features.
  • Our main wind instrument at the top of the mast is ultrasonic. The sensor is mounted on a stainless-steel pole. It screws on the top. While enroute, the sensor had to be re-calibrated twice and I realized it must have unscrewed some due to the violent motion from the rough seas. Thank God it didn’t come off! Went up the mast and re-tightened it, then re-calibrated to the new position. It had to be tightened two complete turns (out of about 10).
  • Keyboard on my laptop has had problems with 5 keys for a while (they randomly work/don’t work). Unfortunately, my backup bluetooth keyboard also died. Ordered a new one from the US. I’ve also tried cleaning all the keys and may try disassembling the laptop keyboard further.
  • Ordering new part for hydraulic steering from dealer in Martinique.
  • Fixed a problem with one of our two spinnaker halyards
  • While up the mast, did a visual check over all rigging and other parts
  • Ordered new prop anode mount and zinc anode for the one that went missing. Meanwhile, the other anode has been deteriorating more quickly, so I dove and installed a new one.
  • We have had problems with occasional leaks into aft compartments in rough seas. It happened again on this trip. Our hatches are not water-tight. I purchased new gasket material and installed here in Grenada.
  • We also had leaks with 3 or 4 of our hatches in the rough seas. Turns out the gaskets in the top of the hatches are one peice of rubber and are glued at the two ends. That glue has decided to go in pretty much all of our 10 hatches. Have spent a lot of time cleaning up the hatches and re-gluing the ends of the gaskets.
  • Of course, all the stainless on the boat had to be thoroughly washed, cleaned of any rust, and some areas needed to be re-treated with protecting polish.
  • A bolt that holds on our swim ladder managed to vibrate itself loose during the crossing. I had a hard time getting the ladder out, and the bolt head was damaged. Found a replacement at a chandlery.
  • Several of our rigging lines, and parts of our sail cover experienced chaffing during the passage. So, new lines and sewing have to be done. In process.
  • Discovered we had some ants on board while enroute. We think most likely it was something we bought in Luderitz or St. Helena. I have been trying to trace their nest and have poison bait out. They have been seen more and more rarely in the last two weeks.
  • A small plastic tube used to measure the level of a water tank broke off. I’ve found some replacement tubing, but trying to find a secure way to join the two pieces air-tight inside the water tank.
  • Found some software upgrades to our chart plotter and AIS. We had some issues with software on the chartplotter enroute and hope it will help resolve it. Also, our AIS is supposed to allow an NMEA position output we can tie into our VHF, but it never worked. The update might fix it.
  • Our boat docking fenders are showing their age and can’t be cleaned effectively anymore. We bought some fender covers, but they didn’t have the exact right size, so Karen has to sew them up a bit to make them fit.
  • Karen is also sewing some new cushion covers for our salon.
  • Karen defrosted and re-organized our fridge and freezer, and took inventory with my help.
  • Karen has been working on cleaning walls and ceilings throughout the boat.
  • Karen has re-organized our food pantries and freed up some cabinet space for our guests.
  • We both have been cleaning floors and counters throughout the boat.
  • Two of our navigation lights were acting up, have to clean the contacts on the lightbulbs.
  • Have to replace zip ties on shackle pins so they can’t come loose. Some have become weathered and have either broken or will soon.
  • Dove on the bottom of the boat after arrival to check for damage in case of collision enroute. Everything looked good, and the anti-fouling is holding up well this time.

Of course, this is by no means a complete list, but gives you an idea of the scale of the activity for the last 10 days or so. And, this list doesn’t talk about home business we have had to take care of after a month at sea. Hundreds of e-mails, phone calls, taxes, etc. have had to be done to reconnect with family, friends, and other business matters.

There have been several trips onland to various stores trying to find parts, and to buy provisions. We have been surprised by the inflation of costs here in Grenada. Prices for even grocery food are much higher than US prices for everything even after the exchange rate. The East Caribbean dollar appears to be fixed relative to the US dollar, so the inflation in prices directly impacts our costs. While we were here, the local chandlery increased the price of their lines (ropes) by 40% on existing stock. Items in the store are often 50% or more higher than in the US. Hence, we have several things coming from the US with our friends.

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Cautions For Cruisers to South Africa

Those of you who know me, and follow this blog, know that I rarely report the negative aspects of experiences in other countries. We have all had experiences with corrupt officials, and businessman in various countries along the way. And, its not uncommon to occasionally find unscrupulous people in most countries of the world. The cruising community has ways of sharing negative experiences, and we try to avoid giving future business to those who treat their customers poorly, when possible. But, sometimes you can’t avoid because the only business available with the service you need is that person we’ve all heard about. There are also sometimes concerns in some countries for security and issues of crime. We have cautions on all of these matters for South Africa. Be forewarned, this is a long post.

Being a businessman myself, I can appreciate how circumstances beyond your control can make you look bad even when your own intent and desire is to give good business. But, at the same time, it is often possible to go above and beyond to make your customers happy even when something goes wrong and the good will generated is better than the cost sacrificed. On the other hand, there are some business people who have no intention of sacrificing their profits no matter what the circumstances even if they failed to deliver quality service. It appears this latter practice is more common in South Africa than in other countries, at least in the marine industry. Given the number of similar experiences by other cruisers in South Africa this past year, I suspect it is more than just bad luck on our part.

Now that we have left South Africa, I want to warn future cruisers to be cautious here. We had very negative experiences with individuals and marine-related business entities in several cases here. And, there are other concerns about sailing conditions, and the political and economic situation.

First, I will start with a few positive words about Richards Bay and the Zululand Yacht Club. They have an active social program and make a big effort to welcome foreign yachties and assist with visiting not only their club, but also with their community and doing sightseeing and shopping. Richard’s Bay is also in a good physical location for going on sightseeing tours to some nearby game parks and other sights. Several yacht club members go way out of their way to be welcoming. And several social events held by the club were open to foreign visitors. They really want you to be happy with your experience.

However, we had a very negative experience with the boatyard of the Zululand Yacht Club. I will not go into all the details here, please contact me if you need to know more. The haul-out equipment for catamarans is delapidated, and in my opinion unsafe for any catamaran larger than 38 feet in length. Be forewarned they charge the same price for hauling out AND hauling back in (I was not told this beforehand). Their haul-out rate was the highest we have seen anywhere (especially when multiplying it by two). They will not own up to mistakes or damage they cause to your boat (including lifting issues or collisions with objects in the yard). Tahina and another catamaran were both damaged during haulout during October 2014 season. Also, the lifting device’s hydraulics gave out during Tahina’s haul-in dropping it 18 inches almost to the ground. I suggested to the haul-out manager afterwards that he should consider making ammends for the poor job and the damage caused to our boat, and he refused to do so in the strongest terms and said he did not see any need to do anything differently and referred me to his contract which states he’s not repsonsible for damages. Speaking of his contract, it actually stated he would not be responsible for causing your death or injury even if he or his staff did so intentionally (I had him strike that portion out of the contract before I would sign it).

We also had issues with the manager of the boat services company (who is related to the haul-out manager). He only bills by the hour and you need to watch the hours he bills very closely (I’d recommend a log book for each worker, and since he bills by the hour – don’t let him bill for worker breaks and lunches). He and his team have poor project management skills. By the way, he offered to make expensive fiberglass reinforcements to the hull of our catamaran. He stated they have done it to many catamarans because they are not strong enough. According to him, it wasn’t the damage caused by the haul-out, but weakness in cat hulls that caused our problem. Note: Tahina never had these issues in previous haulouts, nor have owners of the same model. These are just a few of the business issues we encountered during our 2+ months having work done there to fix Tahina to like-new conditions.

When we initially went back into the water, we did our usual inspections since thru-hulls had been modified. We had to direct them to pull us back out because we were taking on water. It turned out the exhaust port hoses were not reconnected after work had been done on them.

With regards to Richards Bay, please make sure you read about and discuss with locals about safe travel in the area. Crime is a serious problem. There are certain rules that will greatly reduce your risk (like not going out at night), and you should be careful about stopping on the roads (there are many violent hijackings in the area). Also, the Tuzi Gazi marina docks were in very poor condition last year and an entire dock almost came separated from the main dock while several foreign yachts were berthed there late last year.

When we went to book a berth in Simons Town Marina at the False Bay Yacht Club, we discovered two things. One, they quoted us higher rates (20% higher) than what was on their web site (they apologized and said they hadn’t updated the web site yet). And two, you have to pay a significant daily rate to the yacht club (required whether or not you take advantage of all their services). We also found out later the club demands payment to those anchoring in the harbor because they are supposedly “responsible” to the Naval Base for anyone in the port. We paid the fees.

Despite the higher than expected expense, we enjoyed our time at the marina and club. The facilities were in reasonably good shape, and the club was welcoming. Simons Town is conveniently located for sightseeing both locally and in Cape Town. We really liked the quaint local stores and restaurants in Simons Town. The location is especially good if you are willing to hire a car, but you can also take the train into town (be aware of crime issues on the train though). Also, be aware that the wind can blow quite hard (we often saw 50 kt gusts in the marina) on any given day or night – but, this is true in the entire area. The marina waters are well-protected, so the winds rarely cause any surface chop. But, swells do come into the area causing a fair amount of motion. Lines must be checked frequently for chaffing. You don’t want your boat rubbing against the docks.

We also had issues with work done in Cape Town. We had a leak with a hydraulic cylinder for our steering, and assumed it was a seal, so I took it to an engineering company in the city. They put a new seal kit on the cylinder, but it turns out they installed the piston backwards – which I didn’t realized until later. They quickly re-installed it after I pointed it out at no charge. Later, after we left Cape Town, I found out we still had the leak. It turned out a close inspection of the piston revealed a nick in the rod. Fluid was being forced out when the rod went past the seal. They should have inspected it.

Prices for goods in the chandleries in South Africa can be quite high. Some products, like Southern Ropes are made in South Africa, but the prices aren’t special for the ropes in the chandleries. South Africa has no documented process for bringing in parts or other goods duty-free for yachts in transit. Marinas will most likely direct you to using a clearing agent, and you can expect additional fees due to typical African graft expectations. This lack of yacht-in-transit duty-free arrangements (found in most countries of the world) is a serious problem in my opinion that needs to be addressed.

We had several other business issues while in the country. I had a pair of binoculars repaired by the manufacturer repair facility, but after I got them back it quickly broke again. I had to take it back again and they did a better job the second time. A decal company we asked for a quote from in Richards Bay never got back to us after several promises, so someone gave me the name of a decal business owner who immediately came and gave me a quote. Come to find out it was the same company I had worked with before! Then they ended up with the wrong material causing another day delay, but at least they quickly resolved it and didn’t charge me extra when the manual work took longer than they had estimated. It just seemed that quality services are hard to find. We weren’t the only foreigners that had such issues.

Unfortunately, we didn’t escape problems even on our last day in South Africa. We knew for weeks that there was an issue with the process of clearing out in the Cape Town area. Officials for some reason will not let vessels clear out from Simons Town to leave the country. Boats have to go to Cape Town to clear out. Rumors were that the Royal Cape Yacht Club in Cape Town was required to be used for clearing out and you had to pay them fees both for the process and for mooring (slips only). As we, and several other boats, were preparing to leave Simons Town, new rumors surfaced that the customs and immigration officials were not requiring yachts to go to Royal Cape to clear out. Supposedly you could go on the main wharfs there temporarily at no charge and do the process. Several crews attempted to clear out from Simons Town, but were told they had to go to Cape Town.

We attempted to contact the Royal Cape to see if they could accomodate our catamaran. They said they could – and I tried to get them to tell me what the rate would be. Multiple calls to the person responsible, and I never made contact. We left Simons Town anyway, and finally reached the Royal Cape dock manager as we approaced. He said we could use the “immigration dock”. We were happy with that since, as we all know, immigration docks are made available to yachts on a temporary basis for clearing purposes. We got there to find a rather delapidated dock with a finger barely long enough to tie off Tahina. But, we were only there a few hours we hoped at most, so we thought that was ok. We had to jump over gaps in the docks where they were replacing seriously over-weathered wood slats throughout the marina. It was in sad shape.

We went to the marina office to sign in, and they re-iterated their US$25 processing fee, and then told me a fee for the mooring. I explained we were on the “immigration dock” and we were not told about any slip fee. They said “sorry, but there is a fee and you have to pay for the night even if you stay a few hours”. I said I wanted to talk to the manager.

The general manager of the RCYC and I sat in his office for 30 or so minutes. He explained (in what was obviously a frequently practiced speech) a long history (which we had already heard from other boat crews) about how it wasn’t their fault they were “stuck” with having to process all the yachts in Cape Town because the officials “forced it” on them. He explained how his yacht club understood that international yachts are accustomed to simpler clearing out processes and reasonable fees, and in fact his club had research done that showed how valuable foreign yachts are to the country’s economy because they tend to spend a lot of money in the countries they visit for tourism, boat repairs, and provisions, and because they stay much longer than average tourists. He said the results from the study were “stunning” at how much foreign yachts can contribute. He also explained that his club, and all the other yacht clubs, regularly have meetings to discuss how best to “handle” the foreign yachts. Then he had the audacity to explain how the burden of having to clear yachts leaving Cape Town meant the RCYC had to keep slips open that he could otherwise book. I wasn’t buying his talk because we had been told the officials were not requiring the Royal Cape to be used. But, I kept quiet.

Then he said the charge I was getting was for the slip for a night according to our length, times two, because we were a catamaran. He said that is the standard fee and he had no “control” over it.

I said his position was ludicrous because I was only staying a few hours, not over night, and we were on the end of a T-dock, so our width should have nothing to do with their rate. And, I said it was really wrong for him to tell me how much he valued foreign yachts, and then tell me he was going to charge an exhorbitant fee on a supposed “immigration dock” which is free in all other countries. I had not been told about any fee, and in fact had tried to get information on fees the previous day with multiple phone calls. And, I had been told a boat had been moved from my slip and would be going back when we left – how could that be if I paid for it for the night?

He said it was out of his hands and it was clear he would not budge an inch! He just sat there with a smirk on his face. He said it was up to the council of the yacht club – not him. I was quite pissed off with his attitude, but I wanted to leave the country. I didn’t want further debate. So I told him poor customer relations is not a good way to run a business and left. I paid what was plainy extortion. I gave my condolences to the woman who I paid for having to work with such a difficult manager.

We got a taxi ride to start our process of clearing out. It took about 2 hours to get it all done with three different locations. We asked at customs and they said we were NOT required to use the Royal Cape to clear. We moved Tahina to the fuel dock and paid a higher than expected fee for diesel (you’d never know oil prices had dropped by 50% globally) just to finish off our business experience properly.

The attitude of the general manager at the Royal Cape Yacht Club, and his explanation of the “meetings” between all yacht clubs in South Africa, might explain why many visiting yachts this year discovered much higher than expected rates at many of the yacht club marinas we visited in the country. Rates for marine services and goods were higher in South Africa than in many other countries (at least for foreign yachts) – despite the fact that their Rand is very weak in comparison to foreign monetary systems and other things like food, lodging, transportation, and alcohol are very reasonable in South Africa. Also, despite that the quality of the marina facilities were in all cases below international standards – this applied for us in Ricards Bay, Simons Town, and the Royal Cape Yacht Club. In fact, we had never seen operating marinas in such a sad state of disrepair. And we heard similar things about the other ports. In all cases the docks were in sad shape (although Simons Town was slightly better maintained), and supporting facilities were either poor or non-existent. I imagine after the research the yacht clubs had done on what international yachts were paying at expensive countries like Australia was an attractive pricing concept to the clubs in South Africa. But, the research obviously didn’t include the quality of services provided for those prices (or the fact yachties aren’t happy with those prices in those countries either). I never established whether local yacht owners paid the same rates.

In Summary

A couple of positive notes, I will say that the Knysna Yacht Club clearly did not participate in such shinanigans and did not try to charge us even for being temporary members of their club, or for anchoring. A more welcoming club could not be found in South Africa. We also had a great time with our sightseeing – especially Cape Town area and all five of the game parks we visited. We are extremely glad we got to go to those places. We met and became friends with a number of very nice people in South Africa. Some went out of their way to help us and expressed dismay when we mentioned some of our experiences with the businesses.

We were worried about political and economic climate in South Africa. I would pay close attention to the stability factors like crime and security before visiting there again. You don’t have to look far for how concerned citizens are there – most of the housing neighborhoods are surrounded by cement fences with razor wire and electric fences on the top and often cameras and motion sensors as well. Signs usually say they have armed security. This is true in Cape Town, and even in more remote areas of the country like Richards Bay, Port Elizabeth, etc. You are even expected to pay parking “attendants” a few coins to watch after your car while shopping at shopping centers or even the grocery store.

One last caution for sailors, make sure you read up as much as possible on the conditions you can encounter while traversing the shoreline of South Africa. The weather, currents, tides, and shore conditions make for very complex conditions. Also research available stopping points in case you need to divert, and also formalities required as you are expected to do clearances in every port you enter/exit.

Needless to say at this point, we had both strong positives, and strong negatives in our visit to South Africa. And some experiences in between. So, be safe if you are going to sail to South Africa and be prepared.

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Photos from the Passage

Prickly Bay Grenada

Prickly Bay Grenada

Since arriving in Grenada we have been recuperating some from the passage, and begun the process of cleaning up the boat. Not only from the long passage, but also because we have guests arriving in less than two weeks. My long-time business partner and friend Andy and his wife Aliza will be joining us on Tahina for a few days in St. Lucia. They last visited us in Aruba in 2009. Andy and Aliza have frequently let us stay at their house while we’ve gone home to visit in the US during the last five years. Having them visit us is one way we can give back to them for their generosity in sharing their home with us. The picture here shows our view from the boat here in Grenada, so there is some compensation for all the boat cleaning work we are doing!

I processed a few photos from our long 20-day passage from St. Helena. We were never within sight of land until we got to the Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago were passed at night, so Grenada was our first sighting of land after leaving St. Helena. We only had a few wildlife sightings, so much of our scenery was the boat, the sea, and the sky.

We had two encounters with marine life. The first was as we were leaving St. Helena. We saw what first appeared to be a whale shark, but they were moving too fast. They kept up with us as we were sailing at 9 knots for a few minutes. They were larger than most dolphin (about 25 feet) and tan in color, we saw one of the three which moved along us poke his head out and he had a large bulbous forehead. After consulting our whale & dolphin guide we determined they were “Southern Bottlenose Whales”. We didn’t get a good picture though.

Dolphin dancing

Dolphin dancing

Our second marine life sighting was a pod of dolphin off the coast of South America. I was very amused because the reason I spotted them was when I came to the cockpit to check on things a dolphin leapt 10 feet out of the water behind us. They will do this to get your attention when they decide to make a visit and you don’t see them. I ran out with a camera and sure enough there were 10 or 15 of them dancing off our bows. Always a joy to watch them and interact – they are very aware of you watching them and will often stay longer if you talk to them, whistle, and wave at them.

Hitchhiking bird

Hitchhiking bird

We also had several hitch-hikers (only they don’t ask for a ride) – birds. Often during the evening a bird will swoop in and stand on the roof or on a lifeline. We had one very tired bird – the one in the photo – stay for two days. We were 300 miles from any land, so not surprising he was tired.

Full spinnaker view

Full spinnaker view

The first half of our journey was downwind and we were very fortunate to have ideal winds of about 15-20 knots. We missed many of the squalls other boats were getting further north. So, we were flying our spinnaker day and night several days in a row. We did have to take it down a few times for squalls though. We had some nice sunsets and sunrises along the way, and I enjoy taking photos with the colorful spinnaker flying.

Spinnaker into sunset

Spinnaker into sunset

Sunrise view

Sunrise view

Much of our sailing up the coast of South America was on a reach with higher winds and lots of overcast and many rain squalls. The boat got very salty at times, and the sails were often heavily reefed. We were making great speeds though, especially with the Brazilian current adding 1.5 to 2 knots. We had several days of 200+ miles covered including 225, 235 and a day later 237 nautical miles! That’s some of our fastest 24 hour runs in the entire circumnavigation! It was no wonder it only took us 20 days and 7 hours to go 3800 nautical miles. We averaged 187 nm a day for the entire trip from St. Helena.

Arriving Grenada

Arriving Grenada

And here was our view sailing into Grenada at about 9-10 knots on a reach. We had some fantastic sailing with only two brief half-day periods where we motored in light airs. A great way to finish off our circumnavigation indeed.

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We Sailed Around the World

Frank at helm

Frank at helm

For most of my life, I have dreamed of sailing around the world. Most of my friends know me as a very goal-driven person. My wife Karen even began sharing this goal with me after our thrilling sailing experiences in the Caribbean in 2002-2003. It took us a few years to prepare, and get our kids set up getting their higher education started. And to buy Tahina and prepare for the voyage.

Karen arriving at Grenada

Karen arriving at Grenada

We left St. Helena and sailed 3800 miles, taking just over 20 days, and finally we spotted Grenada. The island furthest southeast in the Caribbean we went in 2009 at the start of the trip. Karen joined me on our wide helm seat and we enjoyed the cool ocean breeze as we sailed at 9+ knots toward a momentous occasion. I was overwhelmed with emotion as it finally hit me we would soon complete this dream I have held so long.

My mind flashed through an enormous array of experiences that lead us to this point. Not just the many days and days of sailing, the countless hours of labor on the boat, but also the many exciting adventures and thrilling exotic locations we visited over the years. And the torment of being away from our family and friends for so long. And my mind whirled through the many challenges in our lives leading up to our being able to go on this trip. Not just the preparations of selling our home, cars, and belongings. But, even farther back to starting multiple businesses and finally having one successful enough to give us some financial stability. All that effort, and so much more.

And here we were, finally doing it! We enjoyed the moment for a little while and contemplated what we might do next. We even took some pictures. But, soon the responsibility of arrival overrided and we had to navigate Tahina into the mouth of Prickly Bay, douse our sails, and find a spot to anchor. Later we had to go ashore and do the customs and immigration formalities. We were too tired to seek out new friends to share our achievement. But, in a few days we will definitely organize a social event on Tahina to properly celebrate.

Some statistics: nearly 42,000 miles sailed since we left in 2009, we visited 30 unique countries by boat, 5 years and 2 months to complete the circumnavigation, and two very happy sailors!

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Arriving Tomorrow

This passage has resulted in a lot of changes in our environment. The temperature on board got quite hot of course as we approached and passed the equator, but it has become much more tolerable as we got north and the north east trade winds blew cooler air into the boat.

We had few squalls at the start, but lots of them along the coast of South America.

One of my favorite changes was the slow creeping of the night sky to south, and the constellations I grew up with finally getting back into a more normal elevation. A few days ago we saw the north star for the first time on Tahina since 2010 (not counting trips home).

We had a fantastic current with us most of the way up the coast of South America, but yesterday afternoon it started pushing us from the port side. Last night it clocked and pushed a knot of current against us slowing us down. Fortunately, we had higher winds than forecasted yesterday, and made up some extra miles.

Our time zones have changed as well. So much that we are now on the same time as the east coast of the US!

We can tell we are close to the Caribbean sea, we have seen an increasing amount of sargasso seaweed in the sea. Yesterday there were “fields” of the stuff. Patches 1 or 2 meter wide and dozens of meters long.

It looks like we will arrive sometime tomorrow (Wednesday) in Grenada. This has been our longest passage ever (20 days), and we are really looking forward to stopping the boat and getting some decent rest, having a meal on shore, and celebrating our circumnavigation with a drink or two (we drink no alcohol on passages).

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