The short version? We made it from Cape Town to Luderitz, Namibia in six days, stopping twice along the way and leaving an endless ocean for endless sand and stone.
For the more patient readers:
(14 March) From Cape Town, we sailed through the night, taking turns at the helm. Isolde and I took the first nap shift and took over from Muir and Oloff around 11pm, doing our very first 3 hour night shift. We continued to take turns all the way to Stompneus Bay where we would have shelter from a rising wind. Once anchored, Isolde cooked a warm napolitana pasta and we drifted (figuratively) into sleep.
(16 March) The day started with Muir inspecting Ongemak’s underbelly to ensure that nothing had gotten stuck in, or damaged the propellor. There’s quite a bit of kelp floating around the coast and it is almost impossible to avoid it getting chopped by the propellor, making unsettling sounds. Ongemak passed inspection and the we motored into the bay.
St Helena Bay is said to have the best sailing conditions on the West Coast. This was verified by smooth swells, even winds and countless frolicking dolphins. Lambert’s Bay lay on our nose by the early afternoon and we reached its harbour before sunset, all looking forward to steady land and restaurant food. Exhausted, we settled in at “Isabellas” – a lovely harbour restaurant with exceptional food and service.
(17 – 20 March) We woke with the realisation that leaving Lambert’s Bay would mean leaving South Africa with no stops before we would reach Luderitz, Namibia. A three day (and night) sail lay ahead. Muir and I grabbed our surfboards and headed to the Campsite surf break. We each caught at least one great wave before we needed to rush back to start the longest stretch yet. By 11:30 we were off, just in time to ensure we avoid an additional night’s sail.
By day, we all took turns at the helm. Because Isolde and I were still “dry” behind the ears, we were given combined shifts at night while the captains each sailed solo. Shifts were as follows, over three nights:
8pm – 12pm: Muir
Midnight – 3am: Oloff
3am – 7am: Isolde and Ronell
The guys had it rough – having to steer, navigate, be on lookout and with no one to bring up snacks and coffee at leisure. Together, Isolde and I could decide on the navigation, sail configuration, whether a light meant land or boat and build each other’s confidence to hopefully be able to run shifts solo soon.
On the first night, Muir reported a psychedelic experience when dolphins came to play and bring with them a light show of trailing and twirling phytoplankton. The very next evening, during the handover of shifts, Oloff, Isolde and myself were graced with the same experience. Indescribable. Furthermore, we experienced beautiful night skies and have started to identify constellations.
Even though the ocean swell threw Ongemak from side to side throughout the day, we were averaging 6 knots/hour on the last day and had developed our sea legs to the point of cooking pots of food with the help of one-pot recipes and our trusted wonderbag. By the time Ongemak turned towards land, she really started to make a run for it with 30 knots blowing onto her beam. We made it into Luderitz around 6pm where Oloff and Isolde tied us to our swing mooring.
We grabbed a few essentials and made two trips with the dingy to the Waterfront to meet Oloff and Muir’s University friend, Werner Stolze and his wife, Renata. Werner and Renata live in Keetmanshoop where they own and run Desert Optiks. We spent one evening with them in Luderitz and then they opened their home to us. I am writing from the Stolzes’ dining room table in Keetmanshoop.
The drive between Luderitz and Keetmanshoop accentuated the stark contrast of spending 6 days on water and then driving through nothing but sand and stone. It is the perfect place to dry us out before the next endeavour of crossing the big blue Atlantic.