No need for alarm clocks here. Inquisitive penguins were playing round the boat before dawn broke. Seagulls, cormorants and oyster catchers added their voices to the cacophony of the morning chorus long before we rose and set sail north, along the Western Coastline to Langebaan.
Most of the other yachts had sailed on to Langebaan the night before so we were one of only a few who stopped off at Dassen Island. This part of the cruise was very leisurely, as the Lagebaan leg was organised as a holiday for a few days before Christmas, where the crews socialised in the marina restaurants and bars and played at water-sports.Most of the owners left their yachts in the marina on Christmas day and Boxing day and made their way by road back to Cape Town, returning a few days later to continue up the coast. A few of us, who had no homes to go to in Cape Town, stayed on the boats in Langebaan lagoon. Spending a non-traditional Christmas, in glorious weather, on the boat was very therapeutic indeed.
Charlie had decided he needed to relax before we reached Langebaan and handed the tiller over to me when he thought it was safe enough to do so. No one seemed too concerned that I had never handled a 40ft yacht ploughing through the sea at, what seemed like a fair rate of knots to me, so why should I? How exhilarating to be at the helm with the wind whistling around my ears as I spotted a school of whales ahead. A slight, temporary, alteration in course, of which I was quite proud, and the danger averted a collision was avoided. That was the first and the last time I saw whales while at sea. Although potentially dangerous, to be so close to a school of magnificent Southern Right whales is an experience I shall never forget. You know they are big but when you are in close proximity you realise how big.
The weather turns
As they say ‘all good things come to an end’ and as soon as the crews returned to Langebaan the weather turned nasty. Squally rains battered the lagoon and looked as though they might not relent for a day or two. So the reveries continued. Not thinking for one minute that we would sail tomorrow I entered into the spirit and partied the night away. The next thing I realised, while hanging on to my bunk for dear life, was that we were flying, it seemed, out of Langebaan, with a hurricane astern bursting the sails and propelling us at hair-raising speed through a mountainous sea.
Not only did I have the mother of a hangover but I could not conceive how anyone in their right mind would set sail on a day like this. I soon discovered that I was not the only crew member suffering. Save for Dave Murch, who had a reputation for occasional unbridled lunacy, the rest were somewhat jaded. I learned later that he had taken a unilateral decision, without consultation with Skipper Charlie, who was locked in his cabin with a female companion, to sail. He navigated single-handedly from our moorings to the harbour walls and then seconded a couple of the more able seamen to raise the sails, firing the boat out into the open sea. The first words I heard that morning were “That’ll fuck ‘em” courtesy of Murch at the helm.
A day from Hell
That was a day from hell I’ll never forget but would prefer not to remember. It is probably the only time in my life I imagined death to be a pleasurable experience. Dragging my body around the lurching boat, permanently at 45 degrees in attempting dignified evacuation of unwanted stuff from both ends was hardly possible in that environment. That I was still alive when we docked at Lamberts Bay was a complete surprise and not entirely welcome when the last words I heard that day were “I need a drink” from Mr. Murch.
By now it was evident that a mutiny was brewing. Rations had all but gone; the captain was conspicuous by his absence; Murch had had his day of glory and the boat was like a ‘tip’. There was only one thing for it. Jump ship, which David and I did late one evening. Bobby had a couple of spare bunks and was happy to accommodate us for the trip back to Cape Town. I don’t think Charlie even noticed we had gone as we met up at the Yacht Club back in Cape Town Waterfront for a celebratory drink. I have no idea what we were celebrating but despite the near mutiny we had a great time, a wonderful experience and I could nearly call myself a sailor at the end of it.
New Year’s Eve party then back to Durban
Every New Year after the cruise Gunter, who owns a horticultural nursery, used to host a fancy dress party in the grounds; and it really was a fancy affair. One of Bobby’s crew, Budgie put us up at his house for a few days and a few of the wives and girlfriends cobbled together outfits for David and I. The theme was Arabian Nights and whilst we weren’t likely contenders for ‘Best Costume’ we certainly would have walked off with joint first for the scabbiest thieves from the Kasbah.
The flight back to Durban, after the best New Year party ever, allowed time to reflect on two weeks of enormous fun during which time I met many people, some of whom were to become a part of my new life in South Africa for the next 20 years and a few who still remain friends to this day.
James King is a writer, blogger and photo-artist. Born in England, he travelled to over 20 countries and in 1995 emigrated to South Africa. In 2011 James moved to Thailand, in semi-retirement, where he built and sold one house, renovated another, wrote various e-books and started a blog (jamoroki.com).