Cape Town to St Helena

My first solo ocean passage was not without excitement. Leaving Port Owen involved motoring a few miles down the Berg River to its entrance at Laaiplek. At an awkward bend in the river the engine died. Luckily for me I was being escorted by many friends and given a helpful tow out into the bay. I spent a night anchored of Stompneus Baai getting things a bit better organized and set off a day later in a fresh SE breeze. Pete Hill on China Moon left at the same time and was soon speeding off out of sight.

My first night at sea was not easy. The wind picked up to gale force and I wasn't able to get the Navik to steer the boat. Here is an extract from my log, written after things had calmed down.


6th March 2002

...I unfurled the jib and was soon racing away at 6 knots. I was really on my way at last. The euphoria lasted till late afternoon when I realized that the wind was really picking up and the swells were uncomfortably looming. I battled to reduce the roller furling jib to more manageable proportions and tried to get the Navik to work. I hadn't really used it before and conditions were becoming a bit rough. Speedwell is so easy to steer that I managed to get her to stay on course with the Navik connected, but unbeknown to me, not really in working order. By now the weather had deteriorated badly with the wind gusting to gale force at times and the seas regularly swamping the cockpit. I went below to try to find my oilskins but as I hadn't expected to need them I had to give up. Sinbad was looking quite terrified in the forepeak. The motion was violent. Water was swirling up through the floorboards as the bilges were flooded. I needed to pump out every 20 minutes to keep things under control. By now I was soaking wet as every time I stuck my head out to look around I was struck by nearly solid water. The Navik seemed to be all over the place but we were heading roughly downwind with the swells so I decided to just let the boat do it's own thing. By now I had managed to roll away all but a tiny scrap of foresail. So I lay down on my sodden bunk and let the sea do it's worst. Every few minutes she'd be thrown violently on her side and water would cascade down on me. Lowest point was probably when I had to use my bucket (heads) and while struggling to get it outside to empty it the whole lot emptied itself nearly in my face. That was the only time I suddenly got seasick. Resolved then and there to only use a bucket with a lid in future. Managed to get a few hours sleep by just shutting everything out and cuddling Sinbad next to me.

Next morning the weather was still much the same but daylight made it easier to cope. I could see that the Navik was falling apart and had to find a way to fix it. I used a few plastic cable ties to reattach the vane to the control rod and eventually managed to re-connect the paddle. The direction adjusting screw had also sprung adrift so I rigged up some bits of string to fix it in position. It was impossible to use my Primus cooker as the motion was far too aggressive for the makeshift gimbal arrangement. Dinner the night before had been a few sucks from my opened condensed milk tin. After a few days I was rapidly losing weight.

Chart Table

Mopping Up

At last after three nightmarish days the wind dropped and the sea calmed down giving me a chance to do a bit of cleaning up. The picture shows the state of my chart (a copy on soft paper) after being attacked by sea water and Sinbad. I resorted to drawing grid lines on the chart table. Fortunately the details of St Helena were in the top right hand corner which, though wet, remained stuck to the table after Sinbad had skidded across it.

All the chocolate and treats I had stored in the bilge were ruined by being soaked in a mixture of sea water and diesel and had to be thrown away along with about 30 snack bars, a dozen eggs a few litres of fruit juice in soggy tetra brick containers. I managed to dry out some of my clothes and the duvet, although they never really felt properly dry because of the salt still on them. I was covered in countless bruises and my hands and feet were in an awful state from being constantly wet.



Round about midday on 25th March I sighted St Helena . Quite a wonderful feeling. I didn't arrive at the anchorage until late that night, but there was a full moon and I had no trouble finding a spot to anchor. I was pleased to see that "China Moon" was there already. Pete had in fact been waiting over a week for me.