Sailing to Australia

The waves crash onto the coast. The evergreen flowers emit heavenly odours that permeate through my, uh, lavender dwelling. The sun lazily creeps up from the ocean. What a great way to wake up – pure relaxation. What a great day to sail to Australia. Wait, what?

Maybe it’s the power of the solstice that gets to me but I find it a great day to immigrate to Australia aboard the 12m long Romonza. I reckon it will probably take a month or to reach there – enough time to perfect my Aussie accent.

I like harbours. It probably started when I went on the cruise ship, Rhapsody. That ship has since been renamed and sold off to some other non MSC shipping consortium but that is not important. These behemoths are just amazing. These chunks of steel that weigh thousands of tonnes are kept afloat by pure engineering ingenuity (and physics but let’s forget about that for now.) Anyway, the Mossel Bay harbour is a pretty shallow harbour due to the coastline being very steep and, like offshore from Cuttings Beach in Merebank, there is an offshore pipeline that is utilised by ships to transfer oil and gas. As the water around Mossel Bay is pretty cold, there is an abundance of fishing trawlers here with several fish processing factories around the harbour.

The day was amazing to sail the big blue. The wind was pretty negligible and the sun did not gaze down and drain us of all our energy – it was just right. We blissfully sailed towards the horizon at a brisk pace. Sailing away from civilisation is very much like taking off in a plane where the houses below rapidly shrink. Here, though, this shrinkage does take some time but I think this does have a better effect. Mossel Bay has an abundance of enormous houses – as you sail into the bay, these houses slowly shrink until the houses look like mere specks. At this distance, it’s difficult to discern a large house from a smaller one. Weirdly, this does make you realise the unimportance of these large materialistic possessions of man. Anyway, this is a bit too much thinking for this marvellous day – I lay back and just enjoyed this. It would be a few more hours before we pass Mauritius and Reunion.

The Romonza is a whaling vessel equipped to catch Southern Right Whales. These whales are, on average, around 14m long. That is big – trust me. These whales are slow swimmers that keep to the surface. When harpooned, the excessive blubber, which is meant to keep them warm in the Antarctic Ocean which is where they spend most of the year, makes these whales float. The meat is pretty palatable and the oil is pretty useful. Hence, this was the “right” whale to catch. Seeing that it lived in the South and that there already was a Northern Right Whale, the early whalers christened this beast, the “Southern Right Whale.” It’s pretty amazing how man just shows his power over an animal several times his size through a name.

Southern Right Whales actually are amazing creatures. Even though I was told that these creatures are 14m long, you can’t fathom what that means until you see these in the flesh. About an hour into our journey, a mother and calf decide to put on a show for us. As the waters in the Antarctic get colder, the whales and calves make their way up to the coastal waters of South Africa. Hermanus is famous for its abundant land-based whale viewing. These animals aren’t shy and nonchalantly play and speak even though our boat comes within 10m of them. The whale’s call is majestic yet eerie. Hearing it for the first time will give you goose bumps. Despite their size, the whales come very close to shore – a few fishermen on the bank actually stopped fishing to view these whales as they put on a show which lasted almost an hour. Anyway, we harpooned the mother…

A feature of Mossel Bay is the Seal Island maybe a kilometre out to see. Home to 3000 Cape Fur Seals, it is a sure fire way to clear your sinuses. It is also Happy Hour for the Great White Sharks that frequent these waters. When I say frequent, I mean frequent – this week, SIX Great White Sharks were spotted in these waters. Although the waters around Mossel Bay have an abundance of fish, these Cape Fur Seals are rather choosy and prefer the hake that reside up to 60km from the coast. They go out in groups of around 15 and return with 12-13. The rest get eaten by Great White Sharks. If you have watched any of the nature channels, you might have come across the flying Great White Sharks. These sharks breach in their pursuit of seals. It is terrifying. These multi-ton animals force themselves out of the water then reaching dizzying heights of up to maybe 3m above the water surface. Go try and jump 3m into the air and then imagine these killers doing the same from underwater. These sharks inhabit the Mossel Bay coast. You are welcome to go deep water swimming in these waters – I’m pretty cool chilling at the shore hey.

Seeing that we’ve harpooned a whale, it wasn’t advisable to sail all the way to Australia. I was pretty hungry after all and whale braai is undoubtedly the BEST braai you could ever have! ANYWAY, in all seriousness, the trip was absolutely stunning. I didn’t actually plan to go on the boat but in hindsight, this four hour cruise relaxed me oh so much. These creatures are best left alone to roam and rule the oceans that they grace. It is great that we live in a country that allows these whales to live in peace and the only hunting that occurs is in my over-active imagination. The crew of the Romonza were pretty clued up and could answer all the questions we asked them. The boat is pretty large and the swaying and rocking was pretty agreeable – no seasickness detected anywhere here. Mossel Bay, also, is the cheapest place to go whale watching from a boat. As you go further west towards Cape Town, the price slowly creeps up until you get to Hermanus where you have to sell a kidney and your bottom left molars to afford the ticket.

“Now that’s a Fire,” and other events that lead us to the Fish Eagle

A highly recommended attraction of Kimberley actually lies some twenty kilometres north of the city. Taking the N12 north, one takes the Riverton turn-off to get to, well, Riverton. Then, after what seems like forever along a road straighter than freshly GHD’d hair, here is where the Northern Cape Aquatic Sports Club is situated. It is also where the Oceanos was recovered and left.

Kershen has this pretty awesome friend named Rowen that I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks ago whilst in Jozi. Rowen’s job is to be professionally awesome. He is probably the best in his field as well. 🙂 Anyway, Rowen has a boat. Boats are pretty cool. These marine contraptions have fascinated me for years. I never did get into the mechanics of their inner workings but nevertheless, travelling freely on the open water with the wind blowing in your hair is a great experience. My aim was to drive the boat. The aim never did materialise as I think they DEFINITELY have laws against driving whilst intoxicated. Also, if I make a mistake, we will tip over into the mighty Vaal to freeze to death like Leonardo Di Caprio did.

The Northern Cape is not renowned for its water. The solar potential of this province, however, is immense. Even in winter, the sun glares down on you with the intensity of summer anywhere else. The vast space available in the province gives promise to the renewable energy potential of the area. With the hopeful advances in solar technology and what is energy’s Holy Grail – energy storage, maybe one day our country’s electricity supply will come from the sun. Looking over at the mighty Vaal though, one would never guess that we had a water problem. Then again, crossing parts of the Amazon takes 30 minutes by commercial airliner. This river, I reckon I could swim across. Though I didn’t hazard trying – it being cold and all and all and all.

After a quick launch, Rowen took the boat for a spin. I’m pretty impressed with this picture. That boat was doing some speed and I managed to capture it pretty well. Kudos to my little Canon SX110 IS…

Riding shotgun in a boat is breathtaking – partly because the resultant wind does not allow much air to enter your nose successfully. This icy cold breeze cleans your face of all the pollutants brought on it by our modern, industrial lifestyle and allows you to become one with this natural beauty. Vegetation lines this mighty river as far as the eyes can see whilst the animals faunacate on the branches, in the air, on the ground and in the depths.

A boat is not a boat unless it has 6×9’s in them. Our boat did. Classic rock, a dop and the Mother Nature makes for a great life.

As we laze, floating down the mighty Vaal, the sun leaves the sky as gloriously as a phoenix. The river shimmers whilst attempting to reflect the grandeur of the sun. I sit back, close my eyes, and smile.

It’s pretty hard sailing at night. I wonder if sailing is the right word here seeing that we had no sails! Anyway…Man must make fire. Man must eat. We made fire. We ate. It rained. The fire was a Man’s fire. That pitiful rain stood no chance! Bwahahaha! It did rain pretty heavily though. Rain in winter is cold. Man solves this with Brandy. I did not feel cold. Whenever Rowen stepped into the rain, it seemed to rain harder. I should warn him to go check out his karma – apparently your local GP can do this along with your normal check-up.

The night was hectic. Apart from questionable hygiene, the night took its toll in other ways as well. My eyes were eaten by a savage beanie. Kershen lost his hand to a Corsa Diesel. I must say he did show good form by not spilling his dop. Kudos to Kershen…

Back on the river on this glorious morning, we see the sights that were rather dark last night. Kimberley also has a meteorite crash site. Scientists have studied this area alongside the Vaal River and attributed the rock formations to a meteor strike sometime in the past. It’s not a hugely impressive site but maybe this is where all the diamonds came from – OUTER SPACE! Booyah!

As with all Apartheid creations, the riverside resort of Riverton is partnered with a resort for the oppressed. Named Langley, the area where it is situated is actually better than Riverton with a flat piece of land cleared to allow for easy picnicking whereas Riverton’s picnic spot is built on a slope. Apartheid infrastructure: FAIL. We did discuss and deduce that the Apartheid planners probably got sick of the flat Platte land all over Kimberley and added this slope for a bit of excitement.

Dams aren’t the only ways water is collected from the river. There are two huge towers sticking out the Vaal that collect water and provide it to the town and surrounds. Kimberley is not small – it has over 300 000 residents yet this method provides ample supply. There are shock stories about the supply though with bodies being found in reservoirs and the like. I still drank the water – impurities and bacteria are a way of life and bottled water just makes you more of a sissy. I’m still not drinking the water in India though! Anyway, apart from the swallow nests, one can see a few holes about two-thirds the way up the tower. This is the overflow and either in 1998 or 1988 (I know there was an eight somewhere in the year); the river was so high that these were covered.

Even the breathtaking sunset of the previous evening could not come anywhere close to what happened as we sailed down river. Atop a branch in yonder distance, I spot a large brown bird perched and watching the world. It majestically takes of and flaps its graceful wings as it sails across the blue sky. It lets out its call – next to the lion, Africa’s most powerful and unmistakeable call. I witness the Flight of the Fish Eagle. I close my eyes and take this in. And I smile…