Departing Rio had us all slightly more prepared, and slightly less frantic than the previous two starts. The food situation, which was still a full freeze-dried menu, hadn’t improved yet, but I suppose it was good to have something to work on in Cape Town. I won’t mention the freeze-dried again, as it still makes me feel ill just to think about it.
A few more crew on board, and we started off massively overpowered, with too large a headsail up, and subsequently the bow team spent the first 2 hours of the race mostly underwater, trying to deal with the carnage that was the foredeck. The routine of watch systems and sailing was soon settled into however, and the sailing was relatively uneventful (deeply subjective use of ‘uneventful’). We sailed South East, gently skirting down the bottom curve of the ever present South Atlantic High (SAH).
Running a 6-6-4-4-4 watch system gave a good amount of down time when things weren’t busy. Not that any of us should ever have been at a loose end – either busy sailing, or busy sleeping!
Our course ended up a bit too Northerly, and we ended up caught in the SAH, with progress slowing. These conditions also brought some intense periods of fog, making for some dramatic evenings.
Finally broken free of the hold the SAH had over us, it was a straight run to Cape Town, with clear skies and good seas making it a quick run for the last quarter.
It was on this approach to Cape Town that I first understood what it is to ‘smell land’. I had heard it as an expression before, but never really paid it much thought. Smelling land doesn’t come into daily life much, and doesn’t actually sound that pleasant a concept. I was to learn that it is very real, and quite a special feeling. We were probably a day off shore, and quite abruptly there was a different scent to the air. It’s not that being further offshore smells of anything else in particular; I’ve always found it distinctive by its lack of smell. That is why for me the smell of land is so noticeable. It’s the swift addition of a dimension to the odour of the air that wasn’t there before that forms the first clue. This then develops into something recognisable as a sweeter smell. Coupled with a quick check of the charts, and you know it’s getting close.
Our arrival into Cape Town was again a late night/early morning. I thoroughly enjoy an opportunity to sail in somewhere at night. It’s such a different perspective and first impression of a country than any other. Watching the land slowly emerge over the horizon, at first indistinguishable from clouds, then forming a more defined image far ahead is magical. Something akin to watching a photograph develop in a darkroom; appearing from nothing, to something uncertain, and then quickly becoming a definitive and unambiguous image. Although that image on the distant horizon is just like a newly developed photograph, it is not yet complete; there is still work to do until that picture is truly realised, complete, and touchable.
Our actual arrival was further animated by assisting another Clipper yacht into the marina, after they had suffered a complete electrical loss and were unable to use their engine. We began with an astern tow, and undertook the final pilotage and mooring with them tied alongside us. A passage of 25 days in all, although it felt significantly more than 6 days shorter than the previous one. The wonders that keeping busy and constant activity can have on the human mind. How time flies when you’re (mostly) having fun.
PS. While in Cape Town, halloween occurred, and I thought this splendid effort by Henri Lloyd was worthy of an inclusion.