We had finally arrived in Simons Town on the 10th of March 2008 after carefully negotiating the infamous east coast of southern Africa, also named wild coast or ship wreck coast for obvious reasons.
Some nasty weather that had hit us when sailing down the Mozambique Channel from Madagascar towards Richards Bay, just south of Mozambique had taught us plenty respect for these waters – an uncomfortable experience but nevertheless an important if not essential lesson, that made us understand what we were dealing with when heading out to sea.
A major overhaul for Heraclitus was overdue and many discussions, dreams, wishes and some fine instinct had finally taken us to the southern shores of Africa. The naval shipyard of Simons Town, located on the western shores of False Bay just 20 miles north of the Cape of Good Hope turned out to be the perfect choice.
The naval shipyard is located within the parameters of the South African Navy’s headquarters. Built over 100 years ago to accommodate almost all sizes of ships, it also reflected the countries intricate history and was set within the breathtaking landscape of False Bay. But most fortunately for us, it was run and kept up with pride by a bunch of very fine and dedicated men of whom many had not only excellent skills but also truly big hearts.
Although we drastically underestimated the work that had to be done and the time it would take us to complete the job, I feel when looking back that we had lucked out and that the decision to repair Heraclitus in South Africa was a very fortunate one.
What first appeared to be just benign curiosity for a strange looking sailing vessel made of ferro-concrete quickly became an attitude of appreciation that generated extraordinary support and incredible generosity for Heraclitus and her crew. We were touched by a humbling sense of brotherhood and real friendship that surpassed our most daring dreams.
The crew was struggling, living the life of a construction worker, hard labor for 6 days of every week in what locals called a real Cape winter. We did most of the work ourselves, but fortunately we were joined by helping hands of old friends that came from afar and of the many new friends we made while in South Africa.
We were given hundreds of pizzas, fishcakes, fresh bread and croissants. We got free tools, scaffolding, wood, gaskets, bolts, screws, sand, cement and magic additives, shackles, paints and ropes and more. To top it all up we found a home just 10 miles away across the beautiful mountains on the Atlantic side of the wind swept Cape Peninsula, surrounded by breathtaking nature and the brilliant company of our hosts, oaks, horses and even a cobra.
In the end the ship had been high and dry from mid April till the beginning of December 2008 and it had taken us over 7 months to complete all repairs.
A near gale was blowing on the day of our launch and the naval harbor master was kind enough to assist with a tug boat and its skillful crew and to safely accommodate Heraclitus right behind one of their Navy’s brand new submarines at one of their finest berths until the rough weather had subsided.
The next 3 weeks we spent alongside, just opposite the yacht club behind an odd looking old ship called Cable Restorer. Now it was all about preparing for the upcoming voyage of over 4000 nautical miles to Brazil. Reinstalling and trouble shooting all of those systems that are an essential part of an ocean going vessel and, most importantly remembering and trying to explain to the new crew what it means to be a sailor.
Being afloat again was refreshing and the prospect of crossing the southern Atlantic on Heraclitus after going through lots of hardship was very exciting.
Many of us got impatient and any further delay of the date of departure was going to put group dynamics to a serious test, but being in the water also meant being back at the mercy of South Africa’s notorious weather patterns.
The Cape of storms lived up to its name and two vicious systems passed through while we were contemplating the right moment to leave.
We put all our fenders out and were secured by over 10 mooring lines to the dock, whilst listening in awe to the ropes creaking and violent gusts singing their terrifying tunes when hauling through our rigging. Having to take good care to not get knocked off ones feet by up to 50 knot winds, reminded us all that caution, respect and humility are crucial advisers when taking out to sea.
On the early morning of the 20th of December we cast of our lines on a calm and beautiful day, waving good byes to a few faithful friends.
Sailing again on waters home to seals, penguins and great white sharks we rounded the famous Cape of Good Hope around noon. The ocean was sweet and tender, somehow just right and I was grateful for a gentle start, which made our actual trial run less hectic than expected. The fact that the steering compass did not perform at all for the first 24 hours was acceptable when sailing around the Cape in a gentle to moderate breeze.
After rounding the Cape, Heraclitus could still be seen off Scarborough beach on the western peninsula by some of the friends we had made during our stay in Africa .At about sunset not only the coast line but also the signal strength for our mobile phones had faded and we were finally out of reach for good.
We abandoned the idea of sailing close by Cape Town for some last show-off photo opportunities, instead we decided to sail away from shore to keep a safe distance, find the south east trade winds and the Benguela current that would take us north along the west coast of Africa.
The first few days were unusually quiet for these waters before the weather turned back to normal by South African standards. We made good way for almost a week, sailing North West, towards the small island of Santa Helena our only possible stop in the South Atlantic.
We were a crew of 14 - 5 women and 9 men, mostly Europeans but still remarkable in composition with writers, musicians, a professional baker, an electrician, a medical doctor, fire fighters, architects, ocean addicts and even one that had mastered the booty clap.
Heraclitus did well in relatively rough seas and we felt good about what we had done to her during our time in Simon’s town – no leaks after replacing more than 50 square meters of hull and deck was good news. Engine, generator, masts and sails were going strong in winds of up to 30 knots.
We all loved the change in routine, being on different watches, 4 hours on 8 hours off; the fantastic sense of freedom when surrounded by nothing else but the ocean’s blue, the southern sky, the moon, stars and planets and the magic of unobstructed horizons.
Great freedom for the eyes, time to sleep, time to think, to digest the past and for some of us also enough time to overcome even the worst attacks of sea sickness.
Not all went perfect, especially in the middle of the night on the 29th of December, 400 nautical miles of the coast of Namibia and just 2 days before New Year.
We were sailing in a force 6 when suddenly the mainsail came crushing down on deck with a violent noise. We flicked on the deck flood lights, called all hands on deck and saw to our great surprise that 700 kg of battens, ropes and sail had collapsed but were somehow neatly packed and still held up strongly by the 2 lines that secure the aft boom of the sail – the lazy jacks had not broken, the cloth was not torn, the halyard blocks in one piece and none of us had a scratch. With combined strength we lifted the sail back over the side on top of the roll bar and secured all with plenty lashings – We wondered if after all fortune might just be the most important companion out here.
We decided to drift until dawn, to assess if there was any damage to the top mast during daylight.
It had been the pin of the main halyards shackle that had come undone – the 2 safety wires that are supposed to prevent the screw pin from working its way out from the body of the 1 inch shackle had broken.
We were lucky and had the main halyard re-rigged by the one who had mastered climbing coconut trees on Pacific islands already as a little boy. Heraclitus was under way with all 3 sails up by noon on the same day. It was still over 3000 nautical miles to Brazil.
The Trade winds had left us and we did not make much way for over a week, mostly drifting on a dead calm South Atlantic Ocean. Santa Helena was close and we decided to take the opportunity and feel some Terra-Firma under our feet.
Santa Helena is of volcanic origin, British territory and home to about 4500 refreshingly hospitable islanders. We found good humor, cold beer, many smiles and discovered that what first looked like some huge rock in the middle of the South Atlantic had a very lush and beautiful interior. We truly enjoyed our short stay.
It was only about 300 nm left to go when we approached the northern limits of a massive oil field east of the Brazilian coast. Lots of ships traffic and the surreal glow of huge distant flames lighting up the night sky heralded the vicinity of civilization and a new continent.
We decided to cut across the southern tip of that oil field to save some miles but also in anticipation of the Brazil current which could have taken us of course to the south.
The winds were in our favor and we saw Cabo Frio at 7:29 am on the 15th of February.
Heraclitus was almost flying and we raced past Rio De Janeiro at night to finally arrive at Baia Ilha Grande in the late afternoon of the 17th. Upon approach, when heroically trying to free the catch of the day – a box fish, full of poison and not fit for human consumption, from the line that we were trawling, I managed to ram the hook into my own hand and was for a few weeks kindly nicknamed captain Hooked, after being professionally freed from the embarrassment by our lovely ships doctor.
We dropped anchor over night and enjoyed some too expensive but therefore ice cold beer and cigarettes that we got on board with the help of a local who paddled along in his canoe.
Early morning next day when preparing to raise anchor we were approached by a sailing boat and happily surprised when realizing that it was friends that had come to greet us. Brazilian host Manno from Matutu,, Irish Gordon an old fan of Heraclitus came with Luca on his boat Santa Paz to guide us safely through the bay to our new temporary home - Farol De Paraty a fine marina just half a mile across from the old town, just 4 days before the beginning of carnival.
Heraclitus finally arrived in Brazil after traveling the South Atlantic for 60 days – content, satisfied and somehow almost happy and ready for anything we hope.