Local knowledge is always the way to go when you're sailing in unknown waters, especially when those waters are notorious for wretched weather and gobbling up boats and sailors. You can read all you want and study the charts and check out the weather, but getting firsthand knowledge from folks that know the waters and have done it before, perhaps many times, is priceless. They know what to look for and what to avoid. Two-time circumnavigator, Tony Herrick, has welcomed our fellow SSCA members and foreign cruisers to Durban for years. He's a little slower since he broke his ankle recently, but when we stopped in at his shop, we received a warm welcome. He's a bit older than we are and he's brimming with local knowledge and sailing tales.
Tony owns and operates "Cruising Connections" just a block from the Durban Marina and Point Yacht Club. His tiny shop is chock-a-block full of nautical charts, cruising guides and miscellaneous boat parts. His own book, Sailing the South African Coast, is a must for sailing down the Wild Coast from Richards Bay or Durban to Cape Town. We bought his guide and he was only too happy to review it with us, share his local knowledge and point out good anchorages along the way.
Tony's advice to us was substantiated as we talked to Rob Bowman, a knowledgeable local who spends lots of time at the marina. He sells boats, provides maintenance and repair services, offers sage advice when asked and is particularly helpful to visiting sailors. His advice? "Wait until the barometer plateaus at the end of a southwesterly. Head out to the 200 meter contour to catch the best of the current. You'll be in East London in 33 hours or so. If the weather's good, head for PE (Port Elizabeth). Otherwise, stay put in East London and wait for the next weather window."
Then there's Gilbert Goor aboard Zazu, an ex-pat Belgian, author of And The Wind Carried Us. His advice concurred with Rob's and Tony's. He added "The best you're going to see is 3-4 knots from the Agulhas current. You'll be fine. Once you get past the Kei River in East London, the going gets easier."
With all this local advice plus cruising guide references and weather reports, we're feeling a bit easier about the upcoming passage down the Wild Coast. Now … if only a weather window would appear.