From ‘A Lonely Splendor’ (Page 32) – ‘From South Georgia to Cape Town’

    Jan/Feb 2004

    So on Saturday Feb. 15, we left South Georgia behind us. In a southwesterly breeze and under a blue sky, we made good progress on a northeasterly course. We did not steer a great-circle course for Cape Town yet, but we wanted to get out of the ice, out of the convergence zone and out of the cold water first. While zigzagging to stay clear of the icebergs that showed themselves in magnificent tints of white and blue, a southern right whale came close by. How different it must have been in these waters before humans came down here to hunt these beautiful creatures almost to extinction.

    Looking over our stern, we saw the contours of South Georgia vanish in the golden light of the setting sun. A melancholy stillness came over Terra Nova; each of us had our thoughts about the magnificent island we left behind and the long journey that lay ahead of us. As on the voyage out, we slowed down during the dark hours for as long as there were icebergs to be expected. Despite this prudent approach, we made good progress during the first days: We logged more than 110 miles every day. On the third day out there was no ice in sight, the water temperature had risen from 40 to 45 degrees F, and I hoped we had left most of the ice behind us.

    The weather map on Feb. 19 only showed a small frontal system. However, it came our way very rapidly. The dropping of the barometer showed us that it was intensifying, something that was underlined by the wind that started to shriek through the rigging. Before long, we were reefed down to our 75-square-foot storm jib only. The seas were building up, but Terra Nova took them easily on the starboard quarter and only now and again a wave broke over our stern and partially filled the cockpit. In the early dark hours we broached, were knocked down, and water came in through the ventilator in the galley, the only one that was left open. It is amazing how much water can come in through a 4-inch ventilator, like someone had opened a big fire hydrant. Hardly before we had realized what had happened, we were upright again.

    As soon as we came on deck, we found out that the steering line from the Aries windvane steering had broken, causing Terra Nova to yaw and come square to the seas. Except for a lot of water in the galley, the only damage was the breaking of our danbuoy and the plywood vane blade of the Aries. While Corri kept us at a relatively comfortable downwind course, Evert and I started to replace the broken steering line. Hanging over the stern and sometimes half submerged, we managed to haul the line through the leading blocks and connect it to the short chain that fits to the tiller. We always keep a couple of spare vane blades, so soon we were underway again. Two days later we spotted two icebergs about two miles north of us! Obviously, we were still not out of the danger zone. We kept on spotting ice every couple of days until we were 10 days out of South Georgia and at 43 degrees south, 15 degrees west.

    The existence of the island of Tristan da Cunha, although 350 miles to the north, was made clear by many white-chinned petrels that surrounded us. The subspecies with the white stripe on the forehead only nests on this remote island. Making a short stop at Tristan was out of the question; we would have ended up right in the center of the South Atlantic high-pressure area. Down here, we mostly kept nice winds from the western quadrant and the daily runs varied between 110 and 140 miles. The temperature rose to a comfortable 54 degrees.

    During the evening of March 11, the 26th day and with 136 miles to go, a deep depression far south of us swept a cold front over us. Just to cool down the euphoria of our approaching landfall, it was an hour of hard work getting three reefs in the main and hoisting the storm jib instead of the staysail and yankee. Two days later, just before dusk, we saw land! No charts were needed, the GPS could be switched off, the pilotbook had not to be used. Although we had never been here before, we could recognize this silhouette — unmistakably Cape Town�s with the famous Table Mountain.

    Under the influence of the landmass, the wind died and we motored for the last couple of hours, using more fuel than we had during the whole crossing. It was dark when we entered the harbor of Houtbay, 10 miles south of Cape Town, and found a welcoming party waiting. Tony and Susan from the yacht So Long, whom we met in Patagonia, had sailed straight from Cape Horn.


By Ocean Navigator