Ahh, life at sea. The calming warmth of the sun, the peaceful waves, the seabirds frolicking. If only we could experience any of that for more than a few hours . . .
We had all of that on our way to Luderitz. But the closer we got to the tiny town that was once a German outpost, the more things changed. In the African cruising guide we have on board, it mentioned that “as you turn east to enter the harbor, you will encounter a wind acceleration zone . . .” In the past, any time we have prepared for an “acceleration zone,” it has turned out to be anticlimactic. This time, not so much.
About 10 miles out from the turn, we had 25 – 30 knots of wind and were sailing almost dead downwind. This meant that to turn right and get to Luderitz, we would have to turn sideways to the wind and waves, which had increased considerably. I was anxious to see this unique place which apparently looks like a small German town dropped onto a rocky outcropping on the African coast. Gemma called the port and let them know we were coming and asked if we would be able to clear with Customs and Immigration that evening so we could go to shore. It was after hours but the lady on the other end of the radio told us she would alert the officials to our arrival.
As we made the turn to clear Diaz Point, the conditions deteriorated. Josie saw the wind meter hit 44 knots. We only had the jib out and Joe had me roll it up halfway. The waves were blowing spray over the boat, everything was flapping, and no immediate relief was obvious. There were a couple of points of land jutting out and we hoped that once we got behind them, the conditions would improve. No such luck. Luderitz was at the southern end of a harbor and I thought I could see its calm waters in the distance but it was still quite far away.
After about 25 minutes of bashing through the wind and waves, we saw that our next turn would send us directly into the wind and waves. Joe said we were going to turn around and continue to Walvis Bay. He had told us earlier that this was a possibility if we couldn’t make it into the harbor and by that point, all of us thought his plan made sense. It would have taken us several hours in miserable conditions to fight our way into the harbor. As tempting as the abandoned diamond mines and German architecture were, I knew that there were many other interesting places to see that would be far more pleasant to reach.
Since we had planned on eating dinner ashore, I had to quickly defrost some ground beef to make the planned orzo/spinach/tomato/olive salad. We had a nice dinner and then I went out to do my 9 pm – 12 am watch. Conditions had quickly improved as soon as we left the Luderitz area. We still had 25 – 30 knots the rest of the afternoon but at least we were traveling with the wind and waves- it makes all the difference in the world!
It has been quite cold ever since we left Cape Town and most of us have been wearing several layers as well as foul weather (waterproof) gear. We also were keeping most of the windows shut and recently had even started shutting the door to keep as much warmth as possible inside. These counter-measures against the cold would prove to be very helpful to us.
It was 11:55 pm and Joe got up to do the 12 – 2 am watch. I told him it was calm out and I hadn’t needed to touch anything – sails and auto-pilot were taking care of themselves. It was a nice break after the tension of the high winds earlier. I went inside to take off the red Musto overalls I was wearing. I had them down around my ankles when Joe, who had walked outside to look around, jumped through the half open door, slid it shut behind him and threw all his weight on it, as if something were chasing him. Surprised, I stood up to see what he was doing. A half second later, I heard a loud sound and through the glass door, I could see the contents of the cockpit floating around. Over a foot of water was visible sloshing up against the glass door.
Gemma, who was sleeping below in the guest room that is just below the cockpit, yelled out, “Joe!” Then she yelled, “Fire!” I was still trying to get out of my pants. Joe was peering out of the door. He opened it a crack and water poured in, then he closed it again. Flashing lights and crackling sounds were coming from Gemma’s room and I could hear Josie stumbling down the hallway. Both Joe and I moved towards Gemma. I remember trying to decide if I should grab the fire blanket or the fire extinguisher. Then I mumbled something to Joe about Gemma saying there was a fire. It wasn’t my best moment. I was literally caught with my pants down and was also struggling with the confusion of there being a fire in the middle of a flood.
Thankfully Gemma was thinking more clearly and was able to pull the out the cord that had gotten wet and was causing the electrical fire. Josie told us later that she woke up and was sure we were sinking. She was wading down the hallway in ankle deep water and saw Gemma holding fire in her hands.
Joe opened the door and told me he was going to make sure the engine compartments weren’t flooded. He put on his life jacket and went towards the stern. The water levels in the cockpit were still high and he told us we would just let all the water flow inside and into the bilges (space below the floor for this purpose) and then we would turn on the pumps or bail it out. The wave had come from the rear port quarter and had ripped out a grommet on our sunshade as well as torn our storage net down where we put our snorkel equipment and fruit on long passages. There were oranges rolling around, a life jacket had inflated, and everything was soaked with sea water.
Gemma and Josie were already baling water out of the bilges. I was trying to decide what I should tackle first. Gemma said, “Where is all this dirt coming from?” Ah, yes. The dirt. We have tried growing plants on the boat at different times and it has always ended with dead plants, largely due to a soaking of salt water. Back in Australia, Joe was inspired to give it another try and he helped pick out a planter that might work on our boat. The girls planted beautiful flowers and a strawberry plant and we harvested several strawberries before all the plants suffered their inevitable death due to salt spray.
We were just starting a science unit on plants and I had bought a bag of potting soil to use. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to fill up the planter with dirt and plant some seeds since I had plenty of soil. Cobin wasn’t interested so the girls divided up the planter and had rows of spinach and carrots and sunflowers planted. I had been moving the planter around so it would get sun but stay out of the direct reach of the waves. The only place to do this was the cockpit, tucked in behind the cooler where it couldn’t get knocked over. By humans, anyway. I never considered that a wave would dump itself right into the planter, scattering my organic dirt and bits of mulch all over the entire boat, inside and out. We later found a fine spray of it on the starboard side, all the way up to the bow.
Unfortunately, Gemma had left her tiny window open, which 90% of the time would not be a problem. The window is often the only source of air for the entire starboard hull when we are underway and we encourage people to leave it open because the cockpit is normally a very protected place. But this wave filled the cockpit with water and came in at just the right angle to dump a large quantity right down her window.
We all tidied up as best we could and then Joe told us to go to bed because people still had to do their watches and should get some sleep if possible. We could use the shop vac to finish cleaning in the morning. We had a large pile of wet laundry to do. Gemma curled up on the part of her bed that wasn’t wet and the rest of us were thankful to have dry beds to rest in. The kids didn’t twitch and had to wait until morning to find out what had happened.
Today we spent all day desalting, dedirting, and dewetting the interior and exterior of the boat. We rinsed all the fruit and vegetables and eggs that were stored under the stairs, just where the flood of water and dirt landed.
We did two loads of laundry and ran the engines and water maker almost all day to keep up with the demands of cleaning. Although temperatures stayed cool, we had enough sun to get everything more or less dry by late afternoon, before the evening humidity set in. By dinnertime, Gemma’s bed was mostly back together and all the cockpit cushions had been rinsed, dried, and stored. The cushion that was right under the window was 95% dry and was sitting in the last patch of sun to finish drying. We did school and the kids got out their chemistry kits.
Joe was doing some push-ups and planks in the cockpit and the girls and I were inside. We looked out and just then, a large wave came in from the same angle and drenched the 97% of the cushion that was dry as well as soaked all the other cockpit cushions once again. It wasn’t anywhere close to the size of the other wave but was still quite demoralizing. All of us are a bit hesitant to open any windows and keep looking over our shoulders while on watch. Any loud wave action gets us jumping to our feet to close the door.
That night we got a show to reward us for all our hard work. The stars came out brilliantly and the sea glowed in patches, almost like it did in Indonesia. The patches of bioluminescence were accented by sparkles in the velvety black of the non-glowing parts of the sea. All the kids were awake to see it this time but told me I shouldn’t wake the others – they needed their sleep.
After the show ended, the kids went to bed and I finished my watch uneventfully. Josie, Joe and Gemma did their watches and got us into Walvis Bay around the time I woke up the next morning. Joe said that as they were coming in to the harbor, a full-grown seal climbed up on the rear of our boat and schlumped its way onto the deck. Gemma had to chase it off. A smallish inquisitive seal was trying to get up on our transom but Gemma and Joe were already blocking the access points with fenders. Although they are adorable, they can make quite a mess. Another boat in the harbor said that seals had come up onto their boat and through their open door into their salon, leaving an assortment of bodily fluids behind. We plan to keep our door shut against seals and waves.
You can see the little seal poking its head up to see if it can climb up on the transom in this photo.