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Cape Town to Simonstown via Cape Point

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Cape Point as viewed from the deck of a Pacer 27 Sport - Photo: Charles Crosby

19th September, 2010

Trip in a nutshell:
Distance: 65.2nm.
Max Speed: 16.2 knots
Ave speed: 7.5 knots
Time: 8hrs 26 mins
Weather Forecast: Cloudy, with 30% rain. Wind NW 20 to 14 knots. Temp 17C
Weather Actual: Accurate. Wind gusts up to 25 knots in late afternoon
Course: Cape Town Harbour – Hout Bay- Cape Point – Simonstown
Seas: Reasonable with 2.5m swell – Lots of kelp all along the route and the odd whale
Sails: Full and Reefed Main (Quantum), No.1 Genoa (Quantum), No.2 Jib (Quantum), A2 Masthead Asymmetric Spinnaker (North), A0 Fractional spinnaker (Quantum) ; A3 Fractional Asymmetric (North)
Crew: Trygve Roberts (Helm), Charles Crosby (Genoa/Spinnaker), Phillip Rentschler (Main), Joshua Banks (Bow) - Total: 360 kg

The allure of rounding the Cape of Storms in a small boat has a morbid fascination for many. And so it was for some of the crew on Regent Express, who happily gave up a dry day on land to venture out into the wild waters around Cape Point on a day of wintry rain squalls. Despite the lofty ideals, we also needed to get the boat around to Simonstown for the annual Spring Regatta. We had been debating if it was easier slipping the boat and taking it over on the trailer or sailing it around, but the sail option won us all over.

Above: Happiness is planing a Pacer 27 on the open sea. The boat behind us is the 52ft Thunderchild. From the left Trygve, Phill and Joshua. Photo: Charles Crosby

We had been watching the weather forecasts very carefully all week. The desired westerly winds we were looking for, predictably did not make their appearance. The next best breeze would be a North Westerly, which would give us a nice downwind sail to Cape Point, but the downside of that is a 18nm beat back up to Simonstown. We had the date pegged for Sunday 19 th September, and with all arrangements in place, met at Royal Cape Yacht Club at 07h30. We had enough fuel on board in case there was little or no wind.

Above: Approaching our final gybe for the port reach past Cape Point. Photo: Charles Crosby

The first problem arose when the outboard would not run. Fifteen oily minutes later with fuel filters cleaned, the problem was still not resolved, so we carted the outboard up to the shed with a set of tools to see if we could discover the mysteries of the mechanics of that frustrating little 5 horse power machine. Charles and Phill, who are both a great deal more mechanically minded than I am, set to the task, but things were not looking hopeful. I then had the “phone a friend” idea and called my J27 friend, Alan Taylor asking him for the loan of his outboard, which he readily agreed to (gentleman that he is). Even more fortunately his boat is locked with a combination lock, so we could get access right away. Whilst Josh and I were collecting the J27's outboard, Phill gave a whistle indicating they had managed to clear whatever was ailing our outboard. We decided we would take the J27 unit with us as a backup, if ours failed again. As things turned out, it ran without any problems.

Problem No2 - a missing crew member. Our 5th crew member, Connor, was late. He had forewarned me that he would be attending an after party of the University Yacht Club, which I accepted on condition that he was on time for the departure, but it would seem the Tequila or whatever he had imbibed, dulled his wits to the point where the alarm clock became inaudible. At 08h15 a sleepy Connor phoned in to ask if we could wait for him as he had overslept, but time was of the essence and we needed to get going as we were already an hour behind schedule and a very long sail awaited us, so we told him to sleep it off. I was a bit concerned about facing a long upwind leg with only 360 kgs of crew mass on the rail.

Above: Joshua, Phill and Trygve concentrating as Regent Express zips downwind. Cape Town Stadium is just visible top right - Also worth noting in this pic is how perfectly neutral the helm is - one of the hallmarks of the Pacer 27 design. Photo: Charles Crosby

The outboard performed faultlessly on the way out of the harbour as we prepped the Code Zero spinnaker for the first leg to Green Point. As soon as we cleared the western breakwater, we killed the motor and got the kite up, but the wind had a peculiar feel to it, ranging in strength by halves. So we would have 10 knots for 20 seconds and then the wind speed would drop down to 5 knots for 20 seconds and then back up to 10 knots. Big drops in wind speed cause the apparent wind to change rapidly on a boat that accellerates so quickly. That pattern established itself for the entire day and we all felt it very unusual for a north westerly, which is normally very steady in both strength and direction. It made for alert trimming and helming as we tried to keep our speed up in a lumpy seaway peppered with kelp.

Above: Pleasant sailing conditions on board Regent Express somewhere near Llundudno sailing efficiently in 10 knots of wind at 8.54 knots of boat speed - Photo Charles Crosby

Abeam Green point Light we dropped the Code Zero in favour of the A2 masthead Asso and the boat felt more comfortable with the extra power aloft, which had the log sitting steady between 8 and 9 knots. The wind was strengthening, but the oscillations in power continued to test us. Time and distance slipped by quickly as the Pacer 27 reveled in the downwind conditions. By the time we were abeam Barker Rock, the boat speed went to 10 to 11 knots. At one stage just to leeward and about 10 boat lengths ahead, we saw the unmistakable blast of a whale exhaling. It took maybe half a second for everyone to respond as we worked our way clear of the whale as quickly as possible, with the recent "whale jumping on yacht" saga still very fresh in our minds! The 52 ft Thunderchild had left RCYC at the same time as us and somehow we managed to stay ahead of them, conceding that they were short handed and were not flying a spinnaker. The longer we were at sea, the greater we stretched our lead which ultimately resulted in us arriving at FBYC one hour ahead of them and obviously a big boat like that would slaughter us upwind. We did several gybes, all of them beautifully executed with only four crew as we flew down the coast towards Hout Bay. Opposite the Sentinel, the breeze dropped right off down to 8 knots and with it, a paralell drop in speed. The GPS was euphemistically predicting a 14h10 arrival time in Simonstown, but GPS's don't know about upwind legs in sailboats!

Above: Joshua trimming the A3 spinnaker near Cape point Reserve as we close in with the shoreline on the port gybe - Photo: Charles Crosby

We gybed back out to sea to find fresher pressure and near Slangkop light, the speed was back on. To add to the enjoyment of the sail, the seas were a lot flatter along that stretch of coast line, sending the Pacer's speed up another notch into a steady 12 to 14 knot range. The boats in the feeder race from Hout Bay to Simonstown which had started at 0930 from Hout Bay Yacht Club were ahead of us, but we were closing the gap on them fast. Before Kommetjie, we overtook the first Muira and after that we lost count as we zipped through the racing fleet doing double and triple their speeds. As long as the sea is quite flat, this little boat really flies downwind. Just off some lonely white beach, the wind speed started getting too much to carry the A2 with such a light crew, so we took it down and Joshua buttoned on the smaller, A3 asso, which is a fractional spinnaker designed for heavy weather deep angle sailing. That made such a difference as our boat speed remained the same but the boat was behaving itself much better.

Above: Regent Express in the process of overtaking the two back markers in the feeder race. The front boat had major problems with that spinnaker wrap. Photos often dont tell how big the seas really were, but in this one, the swell size is evident. - Photo: Charles Crosby

The landmarks were zipping past – Noordhoek beach, Kommetjie, Scarborough, Misty Cliffs, and some unmarked lighthouse I never even knew existed. The unspoilt shores of the Cape Point Reserve sharpened into focus as we approached on the port gybe. Still the boat speed remained in the 12 to 14 knot range as we closed in on Cape Point itself. One final gybe onto port brought us planing in towards the tip of Cape Point looking majestic and imposing and bringing the size of our small craft into perspective as we surfed into the wind free zone in the lee of the mountain.
Above: A Farr 38 dwarfed by the bulk of Cape Point. Photo: Charles Crosby

Our long downwind sail had come to an end, taking just 4.5 hours to get from RCYC to Cape Point Light, so it was time to pack all the spinnakers away and hoist a headsail for the first time since we had left Cape Town. Conditions were fluky close to the Point, but the breeze steadily increased as we went out to sea on port tack. The 18 mile beat up to Simonstown lay in waiting for us with a very large, dark and ominous looking cloud promising that this would be the tough part of the day. It is a long slog up the bay with the wind still ranging up and down in strength. It would take a full 3 hours to beat back up to Simonstown.

Above: A bit cold and miserable. Cape Point still visible right at the back of the picture. Trygve and Phill doing what must be done - Photo Charles Crosby

Then the rain came – and with it the wind speed went up to 25 knots, which meant we were seriously overpowered, which in turn galvanized us into sticking a reef into the main. Still the wind speed wobbled up and down the strength scale like a yo-yo and whilst I spent some time sitting on the rail whilst Charles took the helm, in one of those low speed cycles managed to immerse my legs above boot height in sea water as the boat rolled to windward, with the resultant salty wet foot experience. It's a good thing for the skipper to do a bit of rail time occassionaly. It gives him a very clear understanding of what the crew are experiencing in every race.

Finally Roman Rock Light House loomed ahead out of the gloomy sky as we did our final tack into the harbor. A wonderful day out on the water and a great sailing experience to bank.

Above: Roman Rock Light just outside Simonstown harbour. Photo: Charles Crosby

More on False Bay next week as the Spring Regatta gets into gear. We were given a VIP berth at FBYC right in front of the club house. What a treat to moor in such clean water. The rudder and keel are clearly visible - something we rarely experience in Cape Town harbour.