East London to Algoa Bay
We were up at 0400 checking out the weather and deciding whether to leave East London or not. The next port of call, Port Elizabeth (PE), is an overnight of about 134nm and reputed to be less stressful than the Durban to East London leg. The weather window was short, but afforded us enough time to make port, so we decided to haul anchor and head out.
As we were preparing to leave, one of the local tugs, all dressed in colorful flags, passed by. We figured the nautical display definitely wasn’t for our benefit and wondered what occasion or dignitary’s visit was responsible for being all decked out.
The day was upon us as we maneuvered our way out of the Buffalo River, through the breakwater and back into the Indian Ocean. The view was lovely and reminded us that two of a sailor’s favorite days are when he arrives in port … and when he leaves again.
We sailed with light breezes under a clear, pale blue sky. Fringing low clouds clung to the horizon. Pods of dolphins worked hard for their breakfast all around us. Gulls and terns circled in the sky above and gannets, their heads golden in the morning sun, dove at breakneck speeds into the sea. The day was as pleasant as it gets along this coast.
We found the 200m contour line and with it the Agulhas Current once more. The current is less strong as it widens and dilutes after East London, but we were still enjoying a 2 to 3-knot push. The winds increased in the afternoon and the combination of a southeast swell, leftover southwest waves and building following seas had us bouncing around akin to a washing machine at times. The forecast called for E/NE winds till the morning. We prefer to arrive at a new, unfamiliar port during daylight hours and so slowed down a bit, heading out of the current a bit closer to shore. With the staysail alone, we were still tooling along at 7 knots.
We were doing well with the easterly winds with an ETA of 0630 in Port Elizabeth. Just after 0200, the wind god flipped a switch and the wind changed to west. Bah! We could either motor the rest of the way to Port Elizabeth (about 6 hours), beat against the westerly winds for 8-10 hours, or seek an anchorage at Bird Island, one we’d read about in the Tony Herrick’s cruising guide about 35 nm from PE. We hove-to for a couple of hours, planning to make the anchorage in Bird Island at first light. We could hear the breath sounds of either seals or dolphins, swimming nearby. Closer to shore, the ride was more tenable. The night was cold and windy, but the sky was clear and star-studded.
At first light, we were motoring the 7nm to Bird Island. We could see the beacon of its distinctive red and white lighthouse flashing in the distance. Penguins popped up, curious about the visitors, then dove shyly as we neared. A seal flipper, then a nose, peeked out of the water. The cacophony of bird cries increased as we neared the island. A flotilla of gannets took flight as we dropped the hook just in front of the lighthouse. It was a bit rolly, but we could deal with it. We tidied up quickly, set the anchor alarm and headed for a nap. Birdwatching could wait.