17th September 2003

9 days since we landed in South Africa and time to start collecting everything that has happened into something resembling a story. To me, trips never feel as though they are real until I get to the airport. Before this there is always so much to plan that the thought of a country on the other side of the world seems a little abstract, so this is where my journal begins.

Arrival at the airport was a little worrying, as the check in desk informed us that we wouldn’t be able to get into South Africa without proof of ability to leave the country i.e. plane tickets. After the hasty purchase of tickets to Manzini in Swaziland , we were given our boarding passes and made our way to the departure lounge. The flight passed in a flurry of bad films and brief sleep, before the showing of a tourist guide to South Africa , which helpfully pointed out that some white people do casual labour and some black people have white collar jobs. So there can’t be any problems with racial division.

Perhaps inevitably on landing we found that our flights to Swaziland weren’t enough to get us into the country, they wanted to see return tickets to the UK . Explanation that we were leaving the country by boat confused matters further as passport control asked why we had flights to Swaziland if we were sailing from Cape Town . Fortunately judicious use of Jedi mind tricks and charming smiles saw us reluctantly allowed into the country.

Met at the airport by one of Thom’s friends, initial impressions of South Africa were in line with expectations. Towering over Cape Town , Table Mountain was topped by a toupee of ragged cloud, obviously not firmly attached but a reminder that it is still winter here. As we drove from the airport social inequality became apparent as we passed first huge leisure park developments with multi screen cinemas and casinos, then five minutes later sprawling shanty towns. Will almost refused to believe that people lived in them all year round, although I think he is starting to realise that many of the people here are very poor. The locals tell us that the situation is improving, with large housing developments under construction, but it is clearly going to take many years to reach anything approaching an equitable situation.

It seems likely that this trip is going to place me firmly on the wealthy side of the divide. After picking up the car that has been lent to us for the duration of our stay, we headed to the Royal Cape Yacht Club, an establishment slightly less fancy than it sounds, albeit it with a number of multi million pound yachts in front of it. We spent a pleasant day here, staying on one of the catamarans moored in the docks. Seals splashed under the boat, oblivious to the long tentacles of the jellyfish that drifted in the water. A suitably maritime start to a sailing trip. The making of a Bollywood movie on the veranda was an entertaining backdrop to lunch, and particularly the attempts of the leading man to make his quiff sturdy enough to stand up to the wind that blew in from the sea. He failed.

Dinner was in Panama Jacks, an upmarket fish restaurant in the middle of the docks, and the only place I have ever been that thinks ‘They’re very rare’ is going to encourage me to eat something.

The next day we headed to Knysna, our current mooring place and the birthplace of Alleykat. The South African roads and apparent lack of police allowed us to make rapid progress through a landscape that probably deserved a slightly more reflective pace. Dark clouds were punctured by occasional sunbeams, lighting the rolling green plains of the Garden Route , the fertile fields guarded by a ring of mountains that formed our horizon.

About 4 hours drive east of Cape Town , Knysna is a small town with a population of 2000 whites, 4000 coloureds and 8000 blacks (don’t ask me why they separate the ethnic groups when they count these things). Probably best described as a South African equivalent of Salcombe (basically a small seaside town with a large boating community), it’s fairly quiet at the moment as most tourists have more sense than to visit in winter. There is a nightclub, which will be visited once Rowan (our 4 th crew member arrives). Unfortunately unless I can arrange some fake ID the over 40’s club will have to remain a mystery. The locals seem to think it’s an expensive place to live, but if you can buy a round for 5 people, including crisps for five quid there isn’t much to complain about.

Late in the evening and refreshed by pizza, we arrived and went for the first look at our new home. Alleykat is a beautiful boat and certainly several steps up from our student house (please try and avoid thinking that this wouldn’t be hard). Wooden trim contrasts with the white of the hull, and she is generally so spacious that it is easy to forget that our home is a boat. Except when going to the toilet where I have to bend double to avoid the ceiling. Fitted with all the best toys, we have a hi-fi, surround sound DVD, multiple fridges, satellite phone and the PS2 is on the way. Beyond this there are the radars, depth finders, GPS and automatic charting that are, in theory, going to make our passage across the Atlantic and beyond relatively painless, once we learn how to use them.

The first sail in the boat was another milestone on the trip; I was relieved to find that it doesn’t seem to difficult, although there is still a lot to learn. The sea is always compelling, but it is strange to look to the Southern horizon and know that nothing interrupts the water between here and the Antarctic. Towards land sprays of water occasionally break the surface, as whales clear their blowholes, ready to dive again in search of food. The Southern Right Whales are in the middle of breeding (perhaps not literally), so we hope to see some up close as we sail round to Cape Town in a couple of weeks. Although the sea here is full of life, our attempts at testing it’s culinary value have so far been largely unsuccessful, much to the chagrin of Will who is intent on becoming a competent fisherman. So far a few small tiger mullet are about the limit of our skills, providing a tasty meal, much to the horror of the local fishermen who accused us of eating bait. The landbased wildlife is also pretty exciting, I think it will take a while to get used to baboons running out in the road in front of the car.

That pretty much covers the last weeks events, there is plenty of stuff planned for the next week, including a trip to Jefferys Bay ,which will probably mean nothing to most of you, but is in fact the site of one of the best waves in the world. Unfortunately I’m not exactly keen to get in the water, with a fatal shark attack reported in the paper this week, and the only bodyboarder I’ve met telling me how his friend was eaten a couple of years ago. Makes mackerel seem a little bit less scary.

Weird things about South Africa

You can’t see the Plough in the night sky
Supermarkets are allowed to sell wine, but not beer.
Water goes down the plug the wrong way

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