Discovering Mossel Bay pt. 3

Cape St. Blaize and a walk through history

Our time in Mosselbaai was sadly dwindling. There was more to see and do, but winds and weather were dictating our length of stay. The port is busy day and night. We watch fishing boats arrive, gulls swarming as they get their share of the catch of the day. The National Geographic cruise ship, Orion, was in port and we watched it glide out of the breakwater on its departure one late afternoon.

ships in and out

There was one day left before a weather window with easterlies would appear and we wanted to make the most of it. It was a bit drizzly with early morning fog, but we figured we wouldn't melt. We decided a visit to the Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse would be a good start to the day. The lighthouse sits high on a rugged sandstone bluff that is riddled with caves. We headed to the point and walked a bit on the Cape St. Blaize Trail. It was too muddy and slippery for comfort, but the views were outstanding.

cape st blaize trail mosselbaai

We backtracked and found the steep road leading up to the lighthouse. Built in 1864, it's one of only two manned lighthouses remaining on the South African coast. Unfortunately,  the lighthouse keeper was not available and no one else was around. It didn't stop us, however, from climbing the steep stone steps to the lower observation balcony and getting a good up-close view of the neatly kept lighthouse and stupendous views of the foreshore below.

capt st blaize light mosselbaai

We enjoyed the birds and wildlife on the rocky, bush-lined road up to the lighthouse. Rock dassies (Cape hyrax) poked their heads out of rocks, reminding us of marmots in the Rocky Mountains. A bit of trivia, according to Wiki, the closest living relatives to hyraxes are modern-day elephants and sirenians (manatees).  A Natal francolin hen jumped out of the bush and ran in front of us. Redfaced mousebirds (love that name) were flitting from bush to bush in great numbers.

animals on the trail mosselbaai

We'd picked up a self-guided map of historical buildings in Mosselbaai from tourist info and enjoyed identifying and learning the history of several turn-of-the-20th-century buildings in town as we passed them. The primary building material was sandstone and some of the buildings were grand. St. Peter's Anglican Church (1878), the Klipkerk (2nd Dutch Reformed Church-1880) and the Punt (Point) Primary School (1909) were particularly fascinating and ornate. The town pays attention to its history and heritage and it shows.

historic buildings in mosselbaai

It was lunchtime and I had my heart set on lunch at the Santos Beach Pavilion, just because of its history and location. We could see the pavilion, sprawled regally on the beach, from Nine of Cups. We'd viewed it on a spectacular day from atop the hill at the Dias Museum. I'd read about it. It was time to visit. Built in 1906 from local sandstone, it was purportedly designed by an architect that drew his inspiration from a pavilion he'd seen on the beach in Brighton, England. The Victorian style was grand and ornate and served as the official reception venue for Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, when he visited in 1925. A lunch of calamari and chips with a cold beer on the veranda overlooking the sandy beach was absolutely lovely.

santos beach pavilion mosselbaai

We soaked up the atmosphere of the place while watching Cups bob gracefully in the light westerly breeze. On the return walk up to town, we had great view of Cups and the entire harbor from our vantage point.

cups harbor view mosselbaai

As we returned to Cups at the end of the afternoon, I took a pic of the mussels that thrive along the breakwater entrance. There's no doubt how Mosselbaai got its name.

mussels in mosselbaai

The weather window is approaching and we're not at all ready to leave this lovely town. We could easily stay longer or return to Mosselbaai again and again and still find it appealing. It's a gem of a place.

Discovering Mossel Bay pt. 2

Enjoying the Dias Museum Complex

Another sunny day in Mosselbaai and we were heading back to town to visit the Dias Museum Complex. Having read more about the museum and all it encompassed, we were keen to get an early start and spend the morning there. First, though we headed to Seven Seas Marine, because what's a stop in a seaside town without visiting the local chandlery? We found some sail slides that might replace all those we broke and chatted with the owner's son for a bit. Then we needed a cuppa and The Old Boat Yard tea room with a craft shop attached was on the way and looked appealing. We stopped for a French press coffee and a wonderful chat with the owner, Annamarie. This is a friendly little port!

old boat yard coffee shop

We finally made it to the museum by 10am. What a gem of a place! The museum complex is comprised of several buildings with a lovely botanical garden in the center. We entered through a replica of a granary built in 1786 by the Dutch East India Company. After purchasing our tickets, we stepped out into the bright sunlight and the gardens. David checked out the sundial …which, he determined on this sunny day, was quite accurate.

accurate sundial in mossel bay

The views of Santos Beach were outstanding as we headed towards the maritime museum building. It was on this very beach that Dias made his first foray ashore in South Africa.

santos beach in mossel bay

I was particularly interested in the Post Office Tree which sits in the botanic gardens under a large, spreading milkwood tree thought to be more than 500 years old. I love this kind of stuff. Here's the story. In 1500, a Portuguese navigator, Pedro d'Ataide, returning from India, left a message in a boot hanging from a tree near a known fresh-water spring, warning that Calcutta had been overtaken by Borneans and was no longer safe for Portuguese. In 1501, Joao da Nova found the note and diverted his fleet to Malacca to avoid altercation. In this way, the first “post office” in South Africa was founded.

Sailors have left and retrieved letters and notes here and many other well-documented places for centuries. We came prepared with written postcards and stamps and I, of course, felt compelled to mail them from the famous Post Office Tree. The museum has provided a large “shoe” mail box in which to deposit them and has promised to hand cancel them, providing the unique, official Post Office Tree postmark.

post office tree in mossel bay

In 1988, a full-size replica of Dias' caravel, built in Portugal, set sail from Lisbon to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Dias' landing in Mosselbaai. On arrival and after much fanfare, the ship was laboriously transported from the harbor and moved intact to the museum where it is now proudly displayed. The maritime museum building, by the way, was built in 1901 as a granary and saw mill. It was adapted in 1987 to serve as the maritime museum.

caravel at the dias museum in mossel bay

We were able to board the caravel and explore above and below decks. There were some modern conveniences installed on the replica for the crew ... like heads, a galley and sleeping quarters. The original caravel had sleeping quarters only for the captain and no galley or heads. The 1488 crew slept out in the elements, cooked on deck and the toilet facilities? Well ... rough accommodations. We definitely prefer life aboard Nine of Cups.

climbing from the poop deck in mossel bay

We were intrigued with the extensive cartography display showing “world” charts during the Age of Discovery (15th-17th centuries) and methods of determining location at sea. One map, purportedly stolen by the Columbus brothers, was purposefully altered to keep navigation information about routes to the “new world” secret.

stolen map at mossel bay dias museum

There's a pleasant circular walk down the hill overlooking the beach past some replica cottages built on original foundations. We couldn't help admire Nine of Cups from our vantage point.

view of cups on mossel bay

The last stop was the Shell Museum where, as expected, there was a large collection of shells from around the world. The exhibits were quite interesting and definitely more than a bunch of shells laid out on display. One exhibit highlighted the many uses of mollusks by man … from ink colors (sepia and purple) to food to adornment to working tools.

shell museum in mossel bay

We had never really considered copulation methods in mollusks, but were surprised to discover that even slugs and snails have a love life. Always something new to ponder.

slug love tmi mossel bay

Once again, we met interesting people and chatted with folks throughout our museum visit. Mario and Grace were visiting from Adelaide and we had lots to talk about. We met Brigita who happily did a bit of research for us on finding some local traditional fabric called “shweshwe”. Belinda, her sister-in-law, joined in the chat. Belinda's husband owned the chandlery we had visited earlier in the day. Everyone asked lots of questions about Nine of Cups and life aboard. They offered friendly assistance for anything we needed.

Brigita related the story of 80-year-old Heinz, a solo sailor who had circumnavigated three times and decided that Mosselbaai was the place he wanted to settle for the rest of his life … and he did. We understand his enthusiasm for Mosselbaai. It's gorgeous here. We're on the look-out for him in town. Oh, the stories he could tell!

Discovering Mossel Bay

Reconnaissance First

Mossel Bay (Mosselbaai) is a small port city of ~60,000 people on the southern South Africa coast, midway between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. We've sailed into yet another province, the Western Cape. It was here on the shores of Mosselbaai that the Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Dias and his crew first set foot on South African soil in February 1488 … the first Europeans to do so. He named the bay, Angra dos Vaquieros (Bay of Cowherds?), but thankfully, it was later changed by the Dutch to Mossel Bay because of the plentiful supply of mussels and oysters found here. By the way, Dias and his crew didn't explore much on their first foray ashore. They made a hasty retreat when the locals threw stones at them.

mosselbaai harbor

After a restful night, we woke mid-morning to a sunny, gorgeous day. We launched the dink and dinghied inside the breakwater for a tie-up at the small marina dock. This required us to go through the Port Control gates to exit on foot, but after a short explanation to the guards, they let us come and go without a hassle.

port control gate

Our stomachs dictated our first stop. The Sea Gypsy, claiming to have the “freshest fish on the water”, is right at the port gates and looked like a lovely place for a seafood lunch … and it was.

sea gypsy cafe

We sat outside under a tent at one of their blue and white picnic tables and watched gulls jockey for the best position to watch us eat our lunch.

gulls altercation

We had a great view of Cups from our table.

cups at anchor

Today was a reconnaissance trip. I'd read a bit about Mosselbaai, but we wanted to get the lay of the land. After lunch, we stopped at the friendly Mosselbaai Yacht Club where they offered us all the amenities the club had to offer. The Tourist Info building was just up the hill from the port. We picked up a city map and several brochures. This is a tourist town on South Africa's Garden Route and there's lots to see and do.

mossle bay maps and brochures

It was too late to visit the well-known Dias Museum Complex, but it's on our list to visit before we leave. Several craft shops caught our (my?) attention and we peeked inside to see what was on offer. I was taken by some fine needlework which embellished individual notecards and bought a couple.

craft purchases

Another craft shop ended up being a warren of individual artisan's shops with a wide range of crafts and souvenirs on offer. We purchased a couple of unique postcards from Taj and had a nice chat with him. At another shop, the artists were taken with Nine of Cups which they could see from their window. They gave us a tiny decorated matchbox fridge magnet as a friendly token. Lacking a fridge for it to cling to, I intend to fashion into a Christmas ornament for our collection as a souvenir of Mosselbaai.

mossel bay matchbox gift

The local Checkers Supermarket was large, modern and well-stocked and just across the street from the tourist bureau and craft shop. We picked up dinner ingredients and while shopping received a call from the yacht club. The wind had picked up in the late afternoon and one of the members was pretty sure Nine of Cups was dragging. That got our adrenaline flowing. A quick visual check and it looked as  if Cups was just fine. Still, we finished up our shopping quickly and headed back to the dinghy. Sure enough, as we exited the breakwater, there was Cups, still anchored, but not exactly where we'd left her. It appears we dragged and the anchor reset itself. We hastened aboard, hauled anchor and re-anchored closer to our original spot. Whew … another tragedy averted although we later rationalized that if Cups had to drag, this was the spot with 40 miles of bay behind her.

Need to re-read David's book on Anchors and Anchoring techniques again, I guess.