Monday, 11 December 2017

5 November Kruger Park safari day 1

In summertime the gates open at 5am when it is just light. We were ready and waiting ten minutes early. A stream of coaches and safari trucks passed us to go to their waiting area. Finally the gates opened and we advanced to registration; car details, driver details and our booking form checked. The park counts you in and it counts you out. When you leave you have to get a 'clearance' from your last lodge stating how many people are leaving.
female impala

leopard tortoise

Admin done and we were off! At a steady 30kph along a tarmacked road David looking his side I looking mine. First spot was not an Impala, but a leopard! A leopard tortoise crossing the road. Later we spotted two rangers walking down the road carrying guns. They were on poacher patrol – looking for people who sneak over / under / through the fence to shoot rhinos and take their horns.
male kudu
female giraffe

For our day we meandered east and south with a breakfast stop in Skukuza camp and a check on the 'Spottings Today' board, working our way to Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp. You drive slowly with the windows wound down, stop frequently to watch impala, kudu, elephants, giraffe, eagles, take detours along unmetalled loop roads and it is fantastic. On our first day we saw over three hundred elephants; the biggest herd, about 70 to 80 animals, were in the river while we sat in our car high above on the opposite bank drinking coffee from the Thermos taking time to enjoy the scene.
We finally reached Crocodile Bridge at 5pm, twelve hours since we began our day, and about 70 miles from Phangeni gate, checked in, found our cottage on the perimeter, and, as the sun was going down toasted an excellent day with a glass of wine. All the cottages have an external kitchenette on the balcony, a fridge inside a monkey proof cage, and a barbecue. We saw a single male hyena prowl the fence and bandicoots slipping along the grass.

colourful bee eater

4 November Pilgrims Rest and Hazyview

Tomorrow we'll be going in to Kruger Park and it will be a dawn start each day so today we gave ourselves the luxury of having a leisurely breakfast and a walk around the town before driving to Pilgrim's Rest in Mpumalanga.
Jacaranda in bloom

Pilgrim's Rest main street

Pilgrim's Rest is an historical village owing it's existence to a gold strike in 1870, the first proper gold mining settlement in South Africa. Tents gave way to houses at the turn of the century and what is left today are those Victorian houses. Gold was mined here up until the 1970s and then the town was left..until it was restored to be the tourist attraction it is today. We were fortunate to be here when the jacaranda trees were in bloom making the main road particularly pretty.
High above the village is the cemetery with graves of the early miners who came from England, Wales and Scotland. The cemetery owes it's improbable setting to The Robber's Grave, the only grave that lies on a north-south direction. It contains the body of a thief banished from Pilgrim's Rest for stealing gold from a tent, after which he was tarred and feathered and chased out of town. He foolishly returned and was shot dead. Buries where he fell, the area around his grave became the unofficial cemetery.
Graveyard above the village
With the natural and cultural sites ticked it was time to make our way to our next over night stop, Hazyview, chosen because it is only twenty minutes drive from Phageni gate in Kruger Park.

3 November Blyde Canyon

Continuing north from Sabie we passed through Graskop town and along the scenic R532 to Rourkes Luck Potholes. We were sufficiently early to beat the tourist coaches and had time to wander and explore before the masses arrived. The potholes have been created by a tributary river cutting deeply through soft sandstone; gulleys, pools and small waterfalls and a couple of pedestrian bridges for viewing.

Onwards from the Potholes to view the Three Rondavels (round houses), three prominent rock formations on the opposite side of Blyde Canyon. From here we could see out to the lower veld (low fields) and across a reservoir. This wonderful little lizard was also enjoying the sun.

Blyde Canyon

Three Rondavels

overlooking reservoir

dinky lizard
From here we retraced our path back past the Potholes and took a side road which would take us to the edge of the escarpment, places like Wonder View and God's Window. God's Window had a pleasant walk through original forest to gave out over the valley floor.
from God's Window to Lower Veld

Our overnight stop was at a comfortable chalet park, Settlers Rest, which is happens to be across the road from the best restaurant in the town, The Glasshouse. Wonderful food and a restful night.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

2 November Road trip day 1 Sudwala Caves and Sabie

It's 5am and we're walking off the boat at the start of a seven day road trip. Our friend Gary is going to be looking after Polly and checking on Jackster.
The drive north is a long one, about 500 miles, taking us up the west side of Swaziland. (Later I discovered if we' d brought our passports we could have taken a crafty short cut through Swaziland to Crocodile Bridge entrance to the Kruger Park.) The further north you go, and past the vast open cast coal mines, we found the more scenic the drive becomes.  This part of South Africa has the largest man made forests in the world - pines as far as you can see in every direction.  Timber production and processsing is Big business here.
With a couple of journey breaks we reached the Sudwala caves mid afternoon. These caves are at the top of a steep road in Pre Cambrian rock and reputed to be the oldest caves in the world. They are big too. You could fit a bus into the entrance and drive a car inside. Our learned guide, with no others on the tour, was able to give us a personal tour. We stopped at a stalactite which is hollow and when struck with a rubber mallet echoes through the depths. Back in history a tribe lived here while their enemies roamed the tops looking for them the entrance concealed by vegetation.
for whom the bell tolls

is it a gorilla?

in front of the entrance

Bride Veil waterfall

The ceiling is vaulted and hung with small bats. 700M in and there is a purpose built stage and seating which is used for music performances and presentations, behind the seating steps lead to the Devil, a stalagmite form bathed in red light.
Sudwala Caves were certainly worth a visit and half an hour later we were at our first stop; Merry Pebbles Cottages and Camp site nestling in a crook of the Sabie river. A good place to stay and the Wild Fig restaurant in town centre serves excellent food (it's number 1 on Tripadvisor).

Next morning we were away so early we reached the entrance to Bridal Falls before they opened. The chap unlocking the gates let us is for R10. It was nice, a pretty spot, but we've seen many spectacular falls on our travels we're picky about what we rate as worth-a-detour. These were the only falls we paid to see.

30 October Richards Bay

We've been here one week and what have we learned? Checking in is easy; immigration and health visit us in the Small Craft Harbour (you must come to SCH to check in) and we take a taxi to Customs. There's an ATM between Dros and Mustang bar and the lady at the cafe near the ATM will phone for your first cab. Customs allowed us to phone for the next taxi to take us to the Mall to buy a SIM card.
Small Crraft Harbour, tug blowing water

reverse view from our bow

The Boardwalk Mall is massive. The supermarkets big, shelves stocked and a wide range of affordable meat and fresh produce; strawberries, peaches, apricots, avocados. I was in heaven.
Back in first we were rafted alongside another Amel, but when a boat was able to move around to Zululand yacht cub we were able to move to their place on the wall in front of Dros restaurant. With many fenders and a fender board to keep us off a wall fixed tug size black rubber buffer and lines tied to the wall mounted rings we were sweet as. During our stay boats came and rafted on to us. More visitors than wall space.
I was busy on the internet researching and booking ,first a flight home to see my family and friends and then a road trip north to the Blyde Canyon and Kruger National Park. David was also busy on the internet ordering boat parts for me to bring back from home. Nothing major has gone wrong since we left Thailand in January; David's programme of regular checks and maintenance, kind handling and good fortune has meant we have have been free to enjoy our sailing.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

16 to 23 October Passage to Richards Bay

Because of the distance (1100nm) to Richards Bay and the frequency of southerly wind systems which migrate up the Mozambique channel it was our plan to head first to Bazaruto island off the coast of Mozambique, about four or five days, and then see if there was an opportunity to continue to Richards Bay. A group of boats had left Madagascar a week before we did and were still in Bazaruto waiting for the return of northerly winds.
For the first 36 hours of our trip the winds were light and we motored 260T to reach the NE winds and find the south setting current. Once we found the wind we sailed in 15 knots of NE winds to 100nm off the coast gradually turning more south as the wind allowed until we found the south setting current. This was when we saw there was an opportunity to head straight to Richards Bay. This was confirmed by Des Cason, formerly of Peri Peri Net who helps cruisers with weather forecasts as they come and go from South Africa. He said, and I quote, 'You must have done something good in a previous life' because it is rare to be able to do this passage without having to duck in to sit out a southerly.
As we neared Bazaruto the six boats which had been pinned down there for 12 days were able to take advantage of the same good weather forecast and we joined the fleet for the last four days of our trip. The closer we got to Imhambane Point the more the current picked up and we flew on down to reach the entrance to Richards Bay at 3am. Our top speed was 10.3 knots! We might have exceeded this when surfing down a wave but focusing on boat handling rather than camera handling I missed the photo op.
Within an hour of arriving at the port entrance we were safely moored in the small boat harbour. Port Control directs all foreign boats to this harbour to complete arrival formalities.
It had been 7 days and 21 hours since we had lifted anchor in Boeni Bay in much better conditions than I had dared to hope for. Jackster arrived in good order, our only loss on passage David's favourite fishing rod, reel and rod holder lost to something BIG when we were sailing at 9 knots, unable to slow down fast enough to save the gear. So if you see a sail fish dragging a rod could you ask him if we could have our kit back please?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

15 October Boeni Bay

15 49.48S     46.0.5E
We've been in Boeni Bay for a week waiting for a weather window to cross to Richards Bay, South Africa and tomorrow is the day to go.
It's been a pleasant week in this quiet and protected anchorage. There is a small village behind the beach with two or three families living there although no one has been out to visit us. Each day we watch the fishing fleet sail out on the ebbing tide and sail back in on the flood. Jackster sits to the current rather than wind and at night it has been totally quiet.

Twice we took the dinghy across the bay to a low lying island to walk on the beach / rocks, look at the huge boabob trees and to burn our combustible rubbish. On our way over we met fishermen in simple canoes who were casting nets to catch small fish, perfect Polly size fish. They were happy to trade their small fish for hats, sunglasses and fishing line and hooks we'd brought. Polly was very happy with the swaps.

Jackster was the only yacht in the anchorage; our friends on Inspiration Lady were 13 miles north of us in Mahajunga. They too were watching the weather forecasts waiting.

6 October Mahajanga Harbour

15.42.91S 46.17.79E 5m LAT
Following our early departure from Maharamba after a sleepless night we arrived in Mahajanga early afternoon. The first thing you notice is the sea is red.

red sea

The north entrance channel is as shown on Navionics with the red and green markers in place.
We anchored south of the breakwater which gave us shelter from the ocean swell, close to a gas tanker which was tied stern to the breakwater and bow to a mooring with both anchors out. We'd been warned about the holding here to be 'like talcum powder'. The benefit of this spot is that there is a safe place to leave your dinghy while ashore. Dinghies and outboard motors have frequently been reported stolen in Mahajanga. A friend had theirs stolen during the night two weeks ago when it was tied alongside the mother ship and they were sleeping in the cockpit next to it. They may have been anchored off the main harbour which is further up the river.
harbour view
We took our dinghy to the smaller boat ramp in the north east corner, or inland end, of the breakwater, which is the HQ of Surveillance des Pecheurs (Fishing authority). David gave one of the policemen a ride out to their rib which they wanted to bring ashore and, in a return of kindness, they gave us a lift in to town.
When we came back loaded down with shopping and 100L of diesel at sunset our dinghy was happily waiting where we left it at the top of the boat ramp. The guys were so friendly and helpful they helped putting the dinghy back in the water and carrying our goodies. Giving a small 'gift' is appreciated and we feel they'll continue to help the yachties who follow.
We stayed overnight illuminated by the arc lights on the gas tanker, everything removable in the cockpit locked away and all lockers secured. There was only a light breeze and we sat to the strong current. There was a tidal range of 4.5m this night.
Next day we left on the last third of the ebbing current taking the southerly channel. The river is red because of soil erosion in the hinterland. The red water is visible from space: astronauts have commented that it looks like Madagascar is bleeding into the sea. It is. Deforestation for timber and agriculture has resulted in an estimated 110 tonnes of soil per acre loss per year. Mahajanga commercial harbour has been re-sited further towards the sea because the river is silting up. The southern buoyed channel is now approximately 5m shallower than shown on our charts.
Why is the soil red? According to my internet research it is laterite which is rich in iron oxide and bauxite, also found in southern Africa, India and Australia. A rock formed by the weathering of earlier rocks in wet, tropical conditions, ie it rusts on exposure to water and oxygen. It is a poor soil for farming.
It was slow sailing for the morning in light winds and then a motor 5 miles into the heart of Boeni Bay. This channel has not silted up and we had plenty of depth all the way in.

Monday, 30 October 2017

5 October Moramba Bay

14.53.35S 47.20.48E 7m sand, mud, shells
We've just left Moramba Bay after a week of beautiful views, baobob trees, sifaka lemurs, black parrots, eagles, dolphins , happy people and strong katabatic winds.
Near us there were no villages, just small groups of huts where the people lived by fishing from their pirogues.  Late each afternoon one or two pirogues would visit to swap fruit and vegetables or small fish for Polly for clothes, food, fishing line and hooks and whatever else we had to give that they wanted.  

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Village boys
Sifaka aka ghost lemur

sifaka of same group

27 September Nosy Lava

  1. 14.33.39S 47.37.81E 10m
  2. 14.34.84S 47.36.71E 6m sand
Nosy Lava is a large island lying approximately north south. It is possibly the last safe place to get in the water and check the hull before departing for South Africa. All subsequent anchorages will be in rivers which have murky water and murkywater crocodiles.
We arrived late in the afternoon with Ngalawa and we both found the bays on the north east side were being blasted by a north west wind. The south side of the island, under a bluff gave us better protection and calmer seas.
looking north from 2nd anchor spot

light house by Gustav Eiffel

view from light house

Next morning the wind had shifted to offshore southerly and we could motor around to anchor off the old prison and old jetty. The Ngalawa's were faster out of the starting blocks than we were and were already on the island by the time we had anchored.
prison gates
Prisoner accommodation
Near the old jetty are the abandoned buildings of a prison which was closed in 2004 after a cyclone damaged it. Living in one of the old buildings is a small, sad looking family. We asked them which way to reach the abandoned lighthouse, an early Eiffel tower, designed by the same Gustav Eiffel of Paris fame, which sits atop the highest point. We followed a man made path until it ended at a stone building. From there we struck out cross country up gulleys, around hillocks on the zebu paths to the light house. As you would expect there were great views across all the island in luding spotting the path we should perhaps have taken. Going off piste once more we leaped like gazelles down the hillside to the path where we met the Ngalawas and their guide. They'd been to see the nest of the only crocodile on the island, but he wasn't there.
Back at the beach we spent another half hour walking through the prison, being shown the spooky isolation cells and blocks where 40 prisoners were held. At one time there were 1600 inmates. The French speaking guide was unable to understand, or us to convey, questions about when it was first a prison, but he did show us a lot of zebus and goats who now choose to live here.

We were back on our respective boats at 10 o'clock and underway to Moramaba bay shortly afterwards.