Like the Horn, the Cape of Good Hope is worthy of its title; especially in winter and against the prevailing winds and currents. For three days, making headway towards the south-west, we continued on our way with a series of wind shifts generated by the small lows which detach themselves from the African continent at a rapid pace. At times we had a powerful N'ly wind warmed by the sunshine when the front of the small disturbance tied in with the descent of the Indian Ocean tradewind. At other times we had a grey and chilly S'ly wind at the rear of these small phenomena, as they breathe in the humid air of the roaring forties. There are no peaceful watches in these conditions. The manœuvres didn't stop for three days as we went through our entire sail wardrobe. There's a bit of moaning when the enormous drenched sails have to be manipulated in lieu of an allotted sleep session. And there's some real griping when the incessant rotations cause a disorganized sea which rears up and becomes boat breaking. This is particularly true when the 4 to 5 knot Agulhas current comes up against S'ly winds and a 40s swell which is climbing towards Madagascar. At this latitude, the contrasts in this Ocean, which is wide open to the south, are startling at times. Winter or Tradewind? The crew is finding it difficult to find the right garb, whilst the albatross flirt with the massive flying fish which are mashed on the trampoline… Amazing!
Yesterday evening, as we headed in towards land, 3 miles from the South African coast, the wind and the sea calmed down for a few hours creating a rare silence. Whilst some, those who no longer yell “land”! as in times gone by, but rather “signal”!, leapt onto their mobiles, the rest of the crew got together on deck, savouring the dry, peaceful moment. This was also an opportunity for some final exchanges prior to tackling the storm. Indeed, after a great deal racking our brains along with Lionel and Sylvain, our router, and after spending a long time weighing up the technical and meteorological arguments and swapping experiences, we opted to make towards Algoa Bay off Port Elizabeth in order to endure the very nasty gales forecast. It has to be said that studying this African coast attentively, there aren't many places to shelter. Save for the bay of Cape Town to the West and that of Maputo to the north, this continent has absolutely no shelter worthy of such a title for over 2,000 kilometres… barring Algoa Bay!
From here, not only do we think we'll be sufficiently protected from the sea and the wind in order to remain manœuvrable, but we're only 300 miles from the Atlantic. A 24 or 36 hour weather window would suffice in order to round the Agulhas Cape and filter along towards the equator. Otherwise, in order to avoid the 10 metre waves modelled by the 50 knot winds and gusts of 65 knots, we would have had to flee northwards and simultaneously postpone our passage around the Cape of Good Hope indefinitely.
After a final effort of 150 miles and prior to the point where the sea was to become nothing more than an outburst of air and water, we slid along under the cover of darkness with the first 40 knot gust and got downwind of this miraculous protuberance spanning around ten miles. Phew!
Since this morning, tacking barepoled along the shore, we've continued to hug the coast, on pain of being projected ‘outside' by gusts reaching over 60 knots. There was a record during Pascal's watch with a peak at 67 knots (125km/hr)! In the squalls, the summit of the waves totally decapitates and pulverises and the water smokes across hundreds of metres. It's a fabulous spectacle!
We aren't alone in appreciating this harbour of relative peace; around ten cargo ships have dropped anchor here along with a few trawlers who are doubtless too far from their base.
In front of us, in a landscape of moderate mountains surprisingly reminiscent of Tierra del Fuego, the town of Port Elizabeth, bordered by sandy beaches and dunes, stretches for around fifteen kilometres. Less than a mile from our bows are the floodlights from a rugby pitch, chimneys, sheds, blocks of flats, a McDonalds, and surely a few warm bistros!
Behind the commercial port, around ten surfers are playing in the waves caused by the wind-levelled backwash!
Just a stone's throw away, just behind the headland, the sea swells and the wind rages.
The height of the waves forecast for this evening is 11 metres, ten miles offshore. It's still a minimum of 24 hours before the waves subside.
Hidden away in Algoa Bay, we're doing just fine!