Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Day 10 of Atlantic passage to Tobago

Hi everyone and thanks as always for your emails ..... So nice to hear from so many people, and is always a highlight of our day, so keep them coming if you have a spare few minutes to take the time to write :)

Well it's just after 7pm on day 10 as we head into night 10. We had a good night last night with stars and nice acceptably comfortable seas.

That all changed today :) At around 11am the wind came up to 20 knots and with that the sea state started changing rapidly. Ben and I put in one reef and that helped tame the boat a little.

Guds had been napping downstairs and as she came up a huge wave broke over the boat and soaked everything. Sadly our bedroom top hatch was slightly open and in came a sheet of salt water, leaving a pool on our bed. @$*?!!!!! Not good!!!

That set the work load for the remainder of the day. Poor Guds stripped the bedding and we ended up doing 2 loads of washing.... One for duvet and one for the duvet cover and sheets. Of course it's a down duvet so does not dry quickly! We are so happy I installed a washing machine on the boat!!!

It's not all bad as a few nights ago a flying fish dropped down our again open hatch. I smelt something fishy but upon inspection with a flashlight only found a few scales on deck so figured the guy had made it back into the sea after skidding over the deck. Two days later the smell got worse and after a closer inspection found the offending deceased flying fish wedged between our bed and our new mainsail stored in our cabin. That took me about an hour to clean, so at least the sheets got another wash today :)

By late this afternoon the wind was consistently over 20 knots and Cool Runnings was doing 8 to 9 knots through the water, but a 1.5 knot current against us slowed our VMG (velocity made good) to Tobago to 6.5 to 7 knots.... Very frustrating when we are actually sailing through the water at 8 to 9 knots! The wind continued to increase and with it the seastate, so Ben and I put in a second reef. That tamed things further and made the ride a bit more acceptable, although still pretty bouncy and rough.

The wind is now down to 18 to 20 knots as it gets dark, but we have decided to keep 2 reefs in tonight, just as a precaution in case it comes up again or a squall hits us. It will mean going at least 1 knot slower, but it's peace of mind at least!

We are nearing the halfway mark and now have 1,581 miles remaining before we arrive in Tobago..... Bring it on.... Blue skies and turquoise water.... We can't wait and keep that mental picture in our minds on days like today :)

The other big milestone for us was crossing the equator 2 nights ago. At around 10.30pm we crossed the equator back into the Northern Hemisphere ..... It was a low key cerebration aboard as we are already " trusty shellbacks", but we did ask Neptune to grant us safe passage :)

So with that back to another night watch for me.... Like Guds said in the last blog update, there is no real rest or stopping.... We just continue westward towards the beautiful Caribbean :)

Cheers from Dave


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Sunday, February 11, 2018

Night Shift on night 7 of Passage to Tobago

When we write about our days at sea on passage, it probably sounds idyllic... sleeping, reading, eating pancakes... should I throw in a couple of children with halos balancing on their heads, willingly doing their school work...? Just a reminder though, that we do this day and night and day and night and day and night. There's no stopping at the end of the day and turning in for the night, so speaking of which, let me tell you about our night last night...

Dave took the first shift and I went to lie down from around 8:00pm. When I took over from Dave just after 10:00pm, all looked good. I did notice a ship that was heading towards us, and decided to keep an eye on it. By midnight, the ship was within about 7 miles of us, and, judging from the AIS info, our angle and the ship's angle, it should pass us within 2-3 miles in about 35 minutes. I decided to wake Dave, just so he was aware, because it was close, but no danger. I have no problem calling the ship on the radio, but ever since a bad experience in Indonesia, where I answered a call from a ship, and when the response was rude and we had to deal with cat calls on the radio for the following couple of hours, we decided to let that be Dave's job, after all, he is the Captain.

So he radioed the ship, asking if they had seen us. He responded that he could not see our AIS (Automatic Identification System), but would check radar. He came back and said he could see us on radar, and would pass behind us. Dave checked our AIS settings and realized we were traveling in "silent mode", which means we can see other AIS signals, but we can't be seen. He had put it in silent mode a few days ago when a suspicious, rusty looking Chinese fishing trawler snuck up on us, and since they didn't have AIS, Dave didn't want them, or if there were others in the fleet ("they travel in packs, you know"), to be able to see us!

So AIS back on normal mode, Dave checked with the ship to see if he could now see us, and he could. He was a very nice Indian gentleman who was intrigued with this little sailing vessel bobbing around the ocean, and he and Dave proceeded to have a long conversation, Dave answering all sorts of questions from how do we get fresh water (water maker), to how many countries have we visited (we didn't actually know, we thought around 20). He had come from Spain and was heading to Brazil. Our midnight rendezvous and conversation with the ship now complete, Dave said I should get some sleep and he would take over the watch. So I snoozed from around 12:30am to around 3:00am, when it was time to take over from Dave.

At around 4:00am, the wind suddenly died. The sails started flapping and I switched on one of the engines. This woke Dave, who had had about 1 hour of sleep. He came up in time to feel the wind suddenly go cold. We looked at each other and simultaneously said "squall! ". Dave turned on the radar, to see what we were dealing with, but it takes about a minute to warm up. During that time, we lowered our canvas enclosures to stay dry and the rain had started bucketing down! When the radar finally booted up, it showed us in the middle of a big, ugly red and yellow blob, a big storm. It was pitch black, and all we could see was the rain coming down in sheets where it reflected in the navigation lights. The wind had switched 180 degrees, now coming out of the South, when previously it had come out of the north! And it started building...15, 18, 20, 22, 24 knots... not the 30+ knots we've experienced before, but we had a full main sail up, and with the n
ew
angle of the wind, we had to be careful. The worst was the sea... it had been whipped up into a frenzy, with waves coming at us from every angle and poor Cool Runnings was like a bucking bronco trying to ride them!! With Dave trying to manage the wind angle and me lending support where I could, we rode out the storm for about and hour and a half.

In the grey, dull light of dawn, we decided to drop the main sail. The sea was so confused that the main was starting to flog, swinging violently from side to side. We did what we could from the cockpit, but eventually Dave went out in the pouring rain to get the final part of the sail down, only to notice that a pulley or shackle, some fitting that holds the sail up, had broken. We will have to have a closer look once daylight arrives.

We sailed for a while on the jib only, but eventually the storm died, and along with it, the wind. Exhausted, I went to sleep for a few hours, while Dave kept and eye on things outside. It's now his turn, he's catching a few hours of sleep before we face another day, our 8th of this passage, and do it all again... day and night and day and night and day and night...!!!

The good news is that we broke the 2,000 mile barrier, and have 1,884 miles to go! Even better is that the sea has calmed down somewhat and we are no longer a bucking bronco. We should also cross the equator today, and are hoping that we will get out of this unstable zone soon thereafter. I wonder what tonight will bring...??!!

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Ascension Island, South Atlantic Ocean

Hi everyone ....Dave here and hoping this blog post finds you all well!!!!

As I write this we are at sea on the longest individual leg of our journey thus far...sailing 3,012 miles from Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean to Tobago Island in the Caribbean. We are on day 6 of this passage with 2,135 miles remaining! So far all has gone well, and we are currently motoring through the doldrums as we are now 2 degrees south of the equator with no wind. Based on the weather forecast we anticpate we will have to motor for about 3 to 4 days to get into the northern hemisphere and the NE trade winds.

We had a wonderful 5 days stay in Ascension island. It is even more remote and less visited than St Helena, but such an interesting place with so much history.

We arrived on a Monday night at around 9.30pm and found a safe place to anchor in Clarence Bay which is just off the small settlement of Georgetown. The island is owned by the British and has really remained a military outpost since early settlement. It was first discovered in the 15 hundreds, but only occupied in the 18 hundreds when the British established a garrison there to ward off any possible attempt to rescue Napoleon imprisoned on nearby St Helena.

Ascension island was surprisingly interesting. We didn't know what to expect. There's all sorts of interesting stuff going on there. There are 2 military bases (1 British and 1 US), a BBC relay station and some other equivalent British agency like the NSA, listening to "stuff" with tons of weird aerials, antennas and satellite dishes and golf ball like looking radar domes. Super secret spy stuff, we think!!!!! The place is practically deserted, it's quite eerie. No-one on the street of Georgetown, but there are about 800 people living here. All contract workers or military. No permanent residents. Because of the BBC relay station, we were able to get BBC World News and BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) loud and clear, which made for a nice change!

On Tuesday morning we launched the dingy to try and go ashore to check in, but the swell was huge and breaking waves were crashing over the one and only landing spot, a small pier that juts out into the sea. After calling the authorities on VHF they advised not to attempt a landing as it was too rough :( So back to the boat we went and had a chill day which was a good thing as we were still not feeling 100 percent.

On Wednesday we were able to land and check in and walk around the small settlement. The landscape is like mars. Just red and black earth, dry, barren, lava flows, razor sharp rocks everywhere, and then one mountain called Green Mountain that is like a rainforest in the clouds! It was all a biological experiment dating back to the days of Darwin, to see if plants were planted on the mountain, if it would increase rainfall. It worked, but to think it's all man made is just unbelievable!!!! And of course the very few native plants are now endangered, 3 species already extinct! All fascinating stuff out here in the middle of nowhere!

On Thursday we met up with Andy Hobson, whom Hazel from St Helena had asked us to take some plants to, for his wife, Janet. So we met Andy on the pier in the morning and he was kind enough to give us a tour all around the island! As it turns out Andy was a former competitive Laser sailor in the UK....such a small world!

Our tour started with Andy opening up the museum and fort for us which was a great bonus as we had attempted to see it the day prior, but it only officially opens on a Saturday....lucky for us Andy had the keys :) We looked around at some fascinating artifacts, old photos and descriptions of life on Ascension Island over the past few hundred years. A quick walk through the fort reveled more of life back in the 18 hundreds.

Next up we drove through the American base and then the British base, and then to the small settlement called "Two Boats" town. It's called this as there were two old boats stood up right next to each other, and back in the day before cars, the boats were used as a stopping point to get some shade in the blistering heat.... Remember there are no trees or any shade on the lower part of the island!

We had some lunch at "Two Boats" and admired the view as it's situated up on a hill fairly high above sea level. After this Andy drove us up Green Mountain and the highest point on the island. What a contrast!!!!!! From a Mars like landscape on most of the island to just lush rainforest!!!!! It was spectacular!!!! We parked the car and proceeded to walk around the forest and to a collection point for the island's first fresh water supply. There was an old fort up high and now also some gardens that locals use to preserve some of the endangered species of plants.

After this we drove to the remote east part of the island where NASA had a tracking station for the early space expeditions and also the moon landings. Sadly the remote buildings are now closed off and abandoned, but it was amazing to see and think of the history just in this one location! In this same area we saw the area that the Ascension Island Frigate bird nest.... The only place in the world. These birds are HUGE, and coinsidently we had one circling our mast late yesterday looking like he wanted to attempt a landing, which would have been the end of our instruments at the top of the mast!

One final stop on our way back was Comfortless Bay where the poor folks that contracted Yellow fever back in the early days where abandoned and left as outcasts to die. There were a number of old graves from that time. Again the landscape is simply stunning, as baron and stark as you can imagine, with volcanic rock everywhere as though it was formed yesterday. Against this aridness was a spectacularly beautifully crystal clear turquoise blue water in this little bay. With that Andy dropped us back at the pier at around 5pm after a wonderful adventures day.

Andy thank you for taking the time to tour is around this beautiful island and explain so much of the fascinating history to us.... It was certainly the highlight of our stop and very much appreciated!

For us the day was not yet over as we had booked to go on a turtle tour that evening at 9pm. A huge conservation effort is going on and scientists studying green turtles, seabirds, land crabs and working on saving endemic plant species exists on the island today. So at 8.30pm we launched the dingy again and made a night landing at this tough pier. We walked up to the conservation center to wait for our tour. We could not believe our eyes when in walks one of the guides for the night, no other than Simon, who was the official that checked us in on Chagos Island last year July! It turned out that Simon's wife works on Ascension Island and he was visiting and volunteering with the turtle conservation efforts!

So after a brief catch up with Simon, watching a video on the turtles, we headed down to the beach in the dark to see if we could spot some laying eggs. These particular green turtles are pretty big and actually live and feed off Brazil, but come just to Ascension Island to lay eggs.... Quite a distance just to nest! We could see at least 6 turtles at various stages of making their way up the beach to laying eggs and making their way back to the water. The whole cycle takes a few hours. We found a turtle in the midst of laying her eggs. With the guides direction we positioned ourselves behind the turtle and with a red light (they can't see) watched as ping-pong sized egg after egg fell from her into a carefully dug nest. Apparently in this stage of laying eggs they go into a trance and are not even aware we were watching. It was truly spectacular to witness this miracle of nature and one we will always remember. We watched as she finished laying her eggs and then c
overed
them up at a painfully slow speed, obviously exhausted from the nights efforts. She rested for a while and then began the long journey of about 100 meters back to the ocean.

After saying our goodbyes to Simon we headed back to the boat in awe of what a day we had just experienced.

The following day we decided to just chill, and the day after on Saturday marked the final voyage of the resupply ship RMS St Helena, that has brought supplies and passengers from Cape Town to St Helena and Ascension Island for many years. I believe it was built in the 1980's and has become obsolete now that an airport has opened on St. Helena and is also too costly to continue running. Ascension has a military airport and receives some items through that as its primarily a military island and population. With this being a historic day for the RMS St Helena a big celebration was planned on the island which included guided tours of the ship on Saturday before its departure on Sunday. We were lucky enough to secure a tour, and along with the two other sailboats moored with us, Tangled Up and Alma, we enjoyed a trip out to the ship and a guided tour around.... Very cool to see and quite a historic event we were able to be part of. After the tour we headed into the groce
ry
store for one last stock up on some limited fresh produce, before saying our goodbyes to Jonas from Alma and then heading back to our boat for one last goodnight sleep.

The following Sunday morning we upped anchor at around 9am, waved goodbye to the island and RMS St Helena, and headed off into the deep blue South Atlantic Ocean. Ahead of us lay a huge distance of over 3,000 miles, probably about 20 days at sea, and 4 time zones to cross before we would see land again.... quite a daunting task, and one we have learnt to take one day at a time so as not to be overwhelmed by the task ahead. We've done lots of sleeping and reading and the kids have been doing some school work in the mornings. Yesterday we had pancakes for breakfast, always a treat on passage!

And so ends this blog update. We will hopefully write in the days ahead of how the passage is going and what we are up to. Please fee free to drop us a note on our satellite email address hibberd@myiridium.net .....we love getting updates from everyone and hearing from friends and people that follow our blog.... It's always a highlight of our day :) just please remember we can only receive a simple email with no attachments or pictures.

Take care and wishing you all the very best.

Cheers Dave


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Saturday, February 3, 2018

St. Helena

I had every intention of bringing you all a nice description of our experiences in St. Helena, that tiny island in the South Atlantic Ocean, along with great photos, and what happened? We left you hanging on Day 8!! (But we made it, obviously! And I write this now, as we prepare to leave Ascension Island on our 3,000 mile passage to Trinidad and Tobago).

There are two WiFi hotspots in Jamestown, Anne's Place (a snack bar/restaurant) and the Consulate Hotel. Shortly after we arrived, we bought a voucher at Anne's Place for £3.30, which got us 30 minutes of internet time. I had to send forms to Ascension Island (our next stop after St. Helena) to get an entry permit, and, when my email, with only a small attachment, was still sitting in my outbox at the end of my 30 minutes, I realized that I would never be able to upload any photos, or do a blog update via the internet! So I'll have to do the photos at a later date, which is a pity, because words cannot fully describe the vast differences in landscape, the old buildings and forts and friendly people that we encountered here!

We arrived in the early hours of the morning on Thursday, January 18th. The only indication (other than our chart plotter) that the island was there, were a few lights warning mariners of the dangers ahead. Slowly, as dawn broke, the mammoth rock that is St. Helena started to form, and we wondered again of the Portuguese explorers of the past, who discovered this island in 1502, and how on earth they possibly came upon it. It must have been by accident, because it is literally in the middle of nowhere. They must have been so excited to find a new land, but was their excitement short lived, when, on first sight, it seems that it is just a barren lump of rock sticking out of the ocean? How long did it take them to discover the lush, green interior and the beauty of St. Helena?

Our trusty spinnaker had pulled us for days and nights on end to our destination, and after 10 days, we finally lowered it and motored the last mile to the big mooring buoys that are made available to visiting yachts. Since we arrived early, we used the time to clean the boat and get everything back in order (if you haven't realized by now, Captain Dave runs a tight ship!). He and the kids washed the salt of the 10 day passage off the outside, and I scrubbed and cleaned and wiped and tidied the inside. Soon it was time to go ashore to clear in at customs. We'd heard different reports regarding check-in – some boats reported they had to go ashore to check in, while others said the authorities came to them. In our case, Port Control asked us to come ashore, so we hailed a water taxi and went on our way. There is no safe place to land your dinghy in St. Helena, so they run a water taxi, for a small fee, that ferries yachties to and from their boats to the wharf. The
only
painful thing with check-in here, were the fees: £35 harbor dues, £17 per person at immigration (£68), £2 per day mooring fee and then the taxi fee, which in the end was about £20. But we were here, and after our passports were stamped, and our fees paid, we were free to roam about the land!

Jamestown in nestled in a valley between 2 very steep, very barren mountains. There is one street, and you enter through an archway, part of the old castle, that has been there since 1832. On the one side, is Jacob's Ladder, 699 steps that go straight up, as if it's a ladder climbing up into the sky! It used to work on a pulley system, where they would bring supplies up to Ladder Hill Fort, strategically sitting on top of the mountain. On the other side, on Munden's Point you can see the remnants of more fortifications, a reminder that this island was a strategic port of call during the British Empire.

On Friday morning, we decided to take a walk to the "Heart Shaped Waterfall". We walked and walked, out of town, up windy roads, asking locals along the way, if we were on the right track. "Oh yes! It's just around the corner…just keep going", was the usual response. So we kept going. Eventually, we saw a tiny sign off the road, that said "Heart Shaped Waterfall". Yes! We were almost there! Well, not quite. That sign took us just to the start of the track to the waterfall! Another 45 minutes or so later, we finally stumbled on the waterfall, which turned out not to be a waterfall at all! No-one had told us that the waterfall only falls in winter, during the rainy season! As we sat at the base of the waterfall, all 4 of us strained to try and see this famous heart shape. We looked at it from every angle, trying very hard to imagine any type of heart shape. No-one could see it! It was only the following day, when we took a tour, and the tour guide s
topped
on the side of the road, and pointed it out to us, could we clearly see the heart shape! I then also read a small caveat at the bottom of the description "the waterfall is best viewed from the road". ARRGGHH! We had walked almost 3 hours to see it, when all we had to do, is view it from the side of the road! But never mind, it was good exercise, and the walk, once on the track, was lovely, as we walked through ever changing landscape, from dry, grassy land, to lush, green forest, and the base of the waterfall was gorgeous, even if there was no water falling, just a light rainy mist!

We also had another treat in St. Helena. Dave's sister, Kim, organized for us to stay 2 nights at "The Consulate Hotel", and then the owner, Hazel, threw in another night for free! The hotel was empty, and she said it made no difference if we stayed 2 or 3 nights. Hazel is possibly the kindest person we have ever met. She took us under her wing, and spoilt us rotten! The hotel itself was so full of history, it was amazing. In the dining room, one of the beams on the roof was the original wooden mast of a ship, called the "Darkdale" that caught fire and sank off the coast of St. Helena in the late 1800 or early 1900's. Also in the dining room was the steering wheel and other original artifacts from the ship. The hotel itself also had a long history, being built in the 1800's, and you could still see the walls that are about 2 feet thick! It was such a treat to stay there, and be off the boat and away from the rolly anchorage for 3 nights!

On Saturday morning, we were able to take a quick tour of the island, with one of the local tour guides, Robert Peters. Unfortunately, Robert had another tour in the afternoon, and had to be back at 1:30pm, so we felt our tour was a little rushed. Our friends on Shuti, who arrived on Saturday morning, took the same tour on Monday, and they were underway for the entire day, from 9:30am to about 4:30pm, whereas we only had 3 hours, which was unfortunate. But it was still great to do the tour, as it gave us a good general overview of the island, and we were able to get a car on Monday, and go back to the places we either had missed, (like the Napoleonic sites), or wanted to see again. And we were able to see the incredible differences in vegetation, from the dry, desolate, rocky landscape, to lush, green rolling hills with forests and meadows! It's quite bizarre and amazing to see! While Dave and Benjamin relaxed in the hotel on Saturday afternoon, Gaby and I went for a
walk,
and ended up climbing Jacob's Ladder! It took us about 20 – 25 minutes (we unfortunately didn't time ourselves), and took in some spectacular views at the top!

Absolutely everything closes on a Sunday in St. Helena, and it was a ghost town! Gaby and I went for another walk, this time exploring the 3 Sisters walk and up along Munden's. It provided some spectacular views of the anchorage and Jamestown. We had also planned to meet Shuti in the afternoon, to all climb Jacob's Ladder together, but by this time, Benjamin had come down with a nasty cough, fever and flu-like symptoms. He was not feeling well at all, so we thought it best not to do the climb, and had to give Shuti the bad news. They climbed it without us, and we watched as one by one, they reached the top: First Yoav, then Eyal, then Momi, then little Dror, who had been with Lilach the whole time, but suddenly got a burst of energy and left her behind!

First thing on Monday morning, Dave headed off to the tourist office, to see if we could get a rental car. We'd been told that there were no cars available, but Dave was determined! He came back with two thumbs up – he'd secured one! So on Monday, we packed up our stuff and quickly took it back to the boat, and then headed out to explore in our rental car. Poor Benjamin was not well at all, and slept for most of the drive. First stop was Napoleon's tomb. Napoleon was brought to St. Helena as a prisoner after his defeat in the battle of Waterloo in June 1815. It took 2 months for the HMS Northumberland to sail to St. Helena, and Napoleon landed at Jamestown on 17 October 1815. He spent the first night in Jamestown, and then spent 2 months in a house called "The Briars", which we saw from a distance. Soon after, he moved into "Longwood", a beautiful house in the hills, where he spent 5 and a half years before his death at the age of 52, in May 1821, aft
er a
prolonged illness. It is said that he was frustrated at being confined on the island, but he had free reign, and would ride his horse around, and explored pretty much the whole island. He loved the beauty and tranquility of the Sane Valley, which is where he was buried and where we visited his tomb. Almost 20 years after he was laid to rest, the French exhumed his body in 1840 and took his remains to France.

The island's remote location meant it was an ideal place for the exile of key prisoners, and along with its most famous prisoner, Napoleon, the island also housed some 6,000 Boer prisoners, brought here from South Africa, during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. We visited the sites where thousands of Boers were housed in rows upon rows of white tents. Also brought to the island in 1890 as a captive was Chief DiniZulu, the son of Zulu king Chetswayo. We drove all over the island, marveling in the sheer magnitude of the dry, barren rock faces, and then the lush, green hills and forests that could have convinced a soul you were in England. Many of the hillsides are covered in flax, which was imported from New Zealand, and was a thriving industry until the 1960's. The fibres from the leaf of the flax plant were used to make rope, and the flax was exported to many parts of the world. For a long time, donkeys were used to transport items around the island, and today, ther
e is a
donkey sanctuary for those poor little guys who are now living their last days out in peace!

We were also curious to check out the new, controversial airport that has been built on St. Helena. Up until the last quarter of last year, when the airport finally opened after many delays and problems, the only way on and off the island was by ship, the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) St. Helena. This ship is a combination of cargo and passenger ship, and has been serving the island for the last 27 years, and its predecessors for many years before that. Many "Saints" (the name given to local St. Helenians), were opposed to the airport, thinking that easier access to the island would destroy its unique character and completely change the dynamic of the island. The airport, however, has been fraught with its own problems, and we heard many different stories as to what those actually are, but we understand that because of St. Helena's sheer cliffs, the wind shear on the runway is so strong, that bigger planes cannot land, and while originally they had planned for 737's to be
able
to land, now, only a small Embraer plane, which can carry only 74 passengers can land. Now, each Saturday, a plane that flies between St. Helena and Cape Town brings a handful of tourists to the island. Supplies will still have to be shipped in by cargo ship, but the RMS St. Helena is being retired after many years of service, a sad ending to a way of life for so many Saints. (We will have the privilege of seeing, and boarding the RMS St. Helena as it makes it last stop in Ascension Island, before being decommissioned).

We returned our car and headed back to the boat. We spent the following day just relaxing on the boat. Benjamin spent the day in bed, and took a while to recover. We put him on antibiotics as it sounded like the cough had gotten into his chest. On Wednesday, Dave, Gaby and I went for a quick snorkel on the wreck of the "Papanui", a passenger ship that had been transporting 360-odd people to Australia in 1911, when it caught fire and sank in the harbor of St. Helena. No-one died, and the survivors were cared for by "Saints" until another ship could come and take them to their destination. Dave also spent 3 hours in the cold water, scrubbing the hulls, so we would have a clean bottom for our trip to Ascension!

We then went to shore to get our final provisions and say our farewells to Hazel and Kathy at the Consulate Hotel. Timing is everything in St. Helena with regards to shopping and/or eating. On Wednesdays, the shops close at 1:00pm, so we had to rush to make it before they closed, but I managed to get a few oranges, two loaves of bread, some frozen veggies and, very importantly, some chocolate, before the doors closed for the day! We then went to see Hazel, who loaded us up with her whole kitchen, it seemed! She gave us a case of long life yoghurts, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, all from her farm, and the most precious commodity on the island: eggs! Eggs are almost impossible to come by on St. Helena. Hazel has some chickens on her farm and had been saving eggs for us over the time period we were there! We felt so incredibly spoiled. She wouldn't accept payment for any of the food, and asked only to "pay it forward". So, as a start, we gave some egg
s to
"Shuti". Gaby declared that Hazel is possibly the kindest person she had ever met, and we certainly agreed with her!!

So early on Thursday morning, January 25th, while it was still dark, we let go our mooring lines and headed off in the direction of Ascension Island, some 700 miles to the NW. We had a good passage with relatively light winds, which was fine, because no sooner had we left than Gaby, and then Dave got sick with whatever Ben had had. Coughing, fevers and body aches, the virus we'd picked up was pretty nasty. Luckily, we have plenty of antibiotics on board, and a direct line to Dave's sister, Kim, who is a nurse, (and also has direct access to doctors!), and who told us what to take and what to do. We arrived 5 days later at Ascension Island, a volcanic outcrop even more remote and more stark than St. Helena, an island that we didn't have much information on, and didn't really know what to expect, but that has certainly exceeding any expectations we had!


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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Day 8 - South Atlantic Ocean crossing

Hello there ....its a beautiful sunny day out here .... Yay!

We are now officially back in the Western hemisphere having crossed the date line in the early hours of this morning from East to West :) Our position at 3.30 pm (GMT +1) on Tuesday Jan 16th is 18 deg 11.3 S and 001 deg 44.86' W . We have 263 miles remaining to St Helena and on a COG of 300 deg. Winds have remained nice at 12 to 20 knots and seas around 1.5m with easy motion. Our trusty spinnaker has been pulling us along nicely for many days and nights now!!!!

Based on the latest weather forecast, which shows winds dying a bit tomorrow, it looks like our arrival will be early morning on Thu 18th which will be a 10 day passage.

Guds made pancakes for breakfast this morning to celebrate another sunny day :) Lots of reading and listening to good music continues and is the daily routine aboard Cool Runnings.

Yesterday was washing day and after a full load of laundry the boat looked like a Chinese Junk with washing lines strung in all directions!

Last night at about 3am an alarm sounded.... When I went to the helm station to see what it was I got a bit of a shock when I read "depth alarm 41 feet". I have the alarm set at 50 feet in open ocean just to give ample warning if we approach any shallow area. I cancelled the alarm but continued to watch the depth sounding sit between 38 feet to 41 feet for about a minute. My guess is it might have been a whale below us but will never know. Even though it was pitch dark last night, we finally had the stars out again with no cloud cover :)

Finally, our deepest sympathies go to Guds brother's family of Volker, Jean, Isobel and Max in the UK who lost Jean's dad Frank after his passing over the weekend. We were so sad to hear the news last night, but we are grateful you just spent a wonderful Christmas with him. Take care of each other and our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Anyway, that's about all our news so take care everyone.

All our love Dave, Guds, Ben and Gaby

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Day 7 - South Atlantic Ocean crossing

Hello there.... Not much happening out here in the middle of the South Atlantic over the last 2 days evidenced by us seeing no ships or AIS signals. I even decided to call on vhf channel 16 asking if anyone could hear me.... Nothing, Nada, Crickets..... I know we have about a 30 to 40 mile reach on vhf, so definitely nothing out there I concluded :)

At 7.16pm on 1/14/18 (SA time GMT +2) we are at 21 deg 06' S and 002 deg 57 E. You can see we are only 2 degrees now East of the date line and soon will pass into the Western hemisphere. Time to change our clocks probably to St. Helena time which is UTC normally but in summer I believe they use UTC +1.

We have 580 miles remaining to St Helena. On a COG of 305 deg and BTW is 301 deg. Wind speed varies from 12 to 20 knots now predominantly from SE vs the SSE. Currently 17 knots and our SOG is 7.5 to 8 knots. Seas a little bumpier for some reason at 1 to 1.5 meters.

We enjoyed some sunshine yesterday but today started off a little overcast and luckily turned sunny again this afternoon.

For Sunday breakfast Guds made late morning scones :) The morning was spent reading, while this afternoon we had popcorn and watched 3 episodes of Seinfeld, including the famous Soup Nazi episode :) So for dinner tonight we had soup... and yes Guds allowed us each a bowl of soup with no antics!

Life continues at a slow pace out here.... Tracked down one annoying squeak and cured that with some WD40, did a rig and boat inspection and found 1 safety ring missing in a pin holding the top starboard lifeline in place, so replaced it and immediately taped over all remaining cotter rings to prevent any further losses.

A few days ago in the beginning rough seas the plastic cowling underneath the cockpit drain area that protects the cockpit drains from having sea water surge up and in, broke off sadly and was lost at sea. It's not serious in the current seastate but something I need to try and get a temporary rubber fix made in St Helena to prevent sea water gushing up through the drains in rough seas. It needs to allow water that may get into the cockpit out, but no sea from below in.... kind of like a one way valve setup. We definitely want a more permanent fix than the current shammy cloth I have over it now, that just "dampens" any sea surging up through the drains. I think given time we could source one from Lagoon and get it shipped to some where in the Caribbean.

Other than that, just reading lots and researching our route forward and listening to good music... Mellow mood aboard :)

That's it from the Cool Runnings crew!!! Thanks again for all the emails!!!!

Cheers Dave

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Day 5 - South Atlantic Ocean crossing

Hi all.... Dave again with a quick update on day 5 of our passage.

We are at 24 deg 43' South and 08 deg 11' East. We are on a COG (course over ground) of 310 degrees and doing roughly 6 to 7 knots in 12 to 15 knots of SSE winds. Completely cloudy and overcast skies for yesterday and today. Seas are a comfortable 1 to 1.5 meters. We now have 941 miles remaining to St. Helena.

Time is passing slowly out here with not much to see except the occasional ship which are now becoming less frequent.... Meaning we must be getting away from the main shipping routes. With the overcast conditions and no moon the nights are PITCH black.... So bad if you turn off the navigation lights you literally can't see the front of the boat. Never a nice feeling not being able to see at least the horizon or some stars :)

Gaby has almost completely gotten over her cold thank goodness and Guds and I are still healthy.... Yay! Gaby and Guds made some cup cakes today to celebrate us having less than 1,000 miles to go... Very yummy!

This morning we took down the main sail and jib and put up the spinnaker as the wind is moderate and directly behind us. What should have been a short 15 minute sail change turned into a 2 hour ordeal as the spinnaker was so twisted inside its sock I could barely hoist it. We decided to take it back down to fix the twist and could not pull the dousing sock down over it. So started the ordeal.... We ended up taking the spinnaker down the old fashioned racing way with no sock. Got it all down and laid it all over the foredeck and sides and began untwisting it. With that eventually done we stuffed it all back in the spinnaker sock and had a successful re-hoist!!! I am glad we did it in moderate conditions as I would not like to have done that in 20 plus knots of wind. It ended up taking all 4 of us to untangle and re-hoist..... It's at times like this that I realize how much the kids have learned and what an integral team we have become :)

By this time it was lunch time as we had not even had breakfast. The rest of the day has been a little easier... A quick vacuum and cleaning inside the boat and then catching up on emails.

I am so glad we put our at sea satellite email address in the last blog update as we were so happy to receive so many emails from so many old friends. A big thanks for dropping us a line.... So cool to get news and updates in such isolation out here.

With that I will sign off and go and get some rest before night shift tonight. All the very best to you all and wishing you a wonderful weekend.

Cheers from Dave, Guds, Ben and Gaby

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Atlantic Ocean Crossing - Day 3

Hi all

Dave here for a change.... I thought I would try and do a brief update from sea.


We are at the end of day 3 on our Atlantic Ocean crossing and heading towards St. Helena Island. Our position is approximately 175 miles west offshore from Luderitz, Namibia and we have 1231 miles remaining to reach our tiny destination in the middle of the South Atlantic.

We had a rough first 2 days start to this passage with winds around 25 to 30 knots from the South and big seas around 3 to 4 meters. But the good news resulting from that was we covered over 180 miles each of those days... Not to bad for us :) Today the winds died to a more pleasant 15 to 20 knots still from the south, so we took out the 2 reefs we had in the mainsail and enjoyed the sunshine and somewhat smaller seastate.


Poor Ben had caught a cold just before we left Cape Town and even though he eventually got over it poor Gaby now has it. Never fun to be sick when at sea!!! Guds and I are pumping vitamins determined not to catch it, as we do all the sailing and have to be healthy on such a long passage with about 8 or 9 days remaining at sea.


We have seen a ton of ships on AIS and close up as we slowly transit through the main shipping route around Africa.

On tonight's dinner menu is burgers and a salad :) Guds is an absolute trooper...always keeping her scurvy crew fed and watered :)


That's about all for now.... It's 6.11pm and I will start getting things ready for tonight's watch.....listening to some good music and watching the sun slowly fading.

A big thanks to all that have emailed us on the sattelite phone email hibberd@myiridium.net (no attachments please) and for the comments on the blog.... They are very much appreciated and so lovely to read when we are at sea.... Gives us a feeling that we are not completely isolated out here.


Cheers Dave




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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Saying Goodbye to South Africa

Goodbyes are never easy, and we’ve been saying a lot of them recently as we wind down our time in South Africa. But goodbyes are particularly hard when it’s your whole family you have to say farewell to! This is what I had to do in the late afternoon of December 26th. After a lovely Christmas with my mom and dad, 2 of my brothers, sister-in-law and nieces, we had to catch our plane back to Cape Town, to finish our preparations for our final big ocean crossing. Detlef, Karené, Téa and Maya, thank you for hosting all of us, and we wish you all the very, very best for your move to Glasgow, Scotland!!
Cheers!  To good times past and new beginnings

Back in Cape Town, we had one more day with our friends on “Moby”, before we had to bid them farewell as well! Loic spent the day checking out, and filling us in on the process, while Ben, Gaby and Victor caught a last movie together, seeing “The Last Jedi”, the new Star Wars movie. We squeezed in one last pizza dinner together, the two families making up a lively party of 9 at the pizza place!
The kids enjoying a last pizza together:  Victor, Arthur, Ben, Gaby and Anna
Early on Thursday morning, December 28th, while Moby was making final preparations to depart, we took Cool Runnings to the fuel dock to fill up our tanks and our jerry cans with extra diesel. As I was pumping the fuel into the tanks (Dave was inside monitoring the level), the dock hand looked quite surprised and said, “you’re doing a man’s job!”. I replied with, “Yes, I cook, I clean, and I pump diesel!”. He just laughed and went on his way! Back in the marina, we were just in time to head over to “Moby” to say goodbye. We helped them with the lines, and then ran to the bridge to give them a final wave and watched them sail off, on their way to St. Helena. We hope to catch up with them in either the Caribbean or Bahamas.

Moby sails past us on their departure...Goodbye guys...we'll miss you!  Hope to see you soon!

The following day, Friday, we did the first of 3 provisioning shops! Before leaving for Johannesburg, I had inventoried all our supplies and compiled a list of what we needed to buy. We started with the big items: flour, sugar, pasta, rice, long life milk, tinned food (tuna, jam, tinned veggies etc), and then the challenge was to find space on the boat to put it all! With 4 extra sails, we are already heavier than we’ve ever been, and all big storage spaces are taken up! But I managed, and we probably could have left then and there with the amount of food we bought! But we did two more shops after that: the next one was remaining items that I didn’t find the first time round, and items like cleaning supplies, toiletries and snacks (dried fruit, nuts, biltong, cookies and chips). Our last shop, the day before we left would be the fresh items: fresh fruit and veggies, dairy (yoghurt, cheese, butter), and bread that would last us the first couple of days. Provisioning is always a painful chore, but once it’s done, it’s done for a while, and I’m hoping (and planning) not to have to provision again like that for the remainder of our trip to Florida. 

My frame of mind when provisioning!
 
That Friday we also took a little time off to have a look around Cape Town. Dave had missed out on the Peninsula Tour the kids and I had done with my brother, Volker, at the beginning of December, because our new window was fitted on that day. So we decided to be tourists for the morning. We tried, in vain, to go up Table Mountain. There were so many cars, they were parking halfway down the mountain!  We decided to skip it, and continued the drive along to Hout Bay, along beautiful Chapman’s Peak, through Simon’s Town and back towards Cape Town. 

Looking back onto Hout Bay:  the clouds and sea seem to be in synch with their patterns
 
We stopped at the impressive Rhodes’ Memorial, perched high on the northern flank of Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town. Cecil Rhodes was a mining magnate and politician, founder of the De Beers diamond company, and served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. An ardent believer in British imperialism, Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia). Although he died at a relatively young age (49), he left behind a large legacy in South Africa, and had the foresight to leave a large track of his land on the slopes of Table Mountain to the South African nation. Part of this estate became the upper campus of the University of Cape Town, another part became the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, while much was spared from development and is now an important conservation area.

49 granite steps, one for each year of Rhodes' life lead up to a bust of the man himself

The view from the memorial is pretty spectacular

Ben and Gaby peek out from behind the giant columns, while Dave takes in the view

We had been watching our friends on “Shuti” on their tracker, and talking to them on the phone. They had left East London a few days previously, and it looked like their ETA in Cape Town was going to be Saturday, December 30th in the afternoon. Although we had arranged that we would go to our friend Stephan’s house in Agulhas, on our return from Johannesburg, we decided that we would wait for “Shuti” and then they could join us for New Year at Stephan’s. (They had all met each other in the Seychelles, and Stephan had kindly extended the invitation to both Shuti and Moby). So on Saturday afternoon, a happy Shuti crew arrived at the V&A Marina, and slipped into a berth, not far from where Moby had just been berthed. They missed each other by just 3 days, but such is the cruising life!

Shuti arrives while the lazy seals on the dock are not at all bothered by the excitement!
We left Cool Runnings again on Sunday morning, December 31st, to go and ring in the New Year at the Southernmost point in Africa: Cape Agulhas. It was about a 3 hour drive from Cape Town to Agulhas, but it was a pretty drive, first through Sir Lowry’s Pass just outside of Cape Town, where we climbed a hill and had a good view onto False Bay, and then through some pretty farmlands, before finally reaching the rugged coastline of southern Africa. 

View from the top of Sir Lowry's Pass

Looking back onto the road
 
South Africa's rugged coastline - at Cape Agulhas

Stephan greeted us with a glass of Dieu Donné wine and some beer on tap and took us for a quick drive around L’Agulhas and neighbouring Struisbaai. The weather took a turn for the worse, and a cold, strong westerly wind started blowing. A few hours after our arrival, the Shuti’s arrived and together we all went to explore the Agulhas Lighthouse and walk down to the tip of Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet!

With Stephan and Shuti at the Southern most point of Africa!  
It's official:  he was there!

The Agulhas Lighthouse was built in 1848 and was the third lighthouse to be built in South Africa. Today it is the second oldest operating lighthouse in South Africa. We all climbed the old stairs inside the lighthouse to get to the top and take in the view. It was cold and windy, and those of us with a fear of heights did not take the additional outside stairs to the very top! 

The Agulhas Lighthouse

There were a total of 72 of these steps we had to climb to get to the top!

Ben and Gaby climbed the extra outer stairs to the very top!
We were holding on for dear life, trying not to get blown away!  

It was incredible to think of all the ships that have passed this point, looking for this very light as a guide to safety, and to know that not long ago, we were one of them! We had passed Cape Agulhas at dawn on November 25th, luckily in calm weather, and had seen the lighthouse from the ocean. A windy walk down to the actual southernmost point followed our tour of the lighthouse, where a cool ground sculpture of Africa gives a good overview of the entire continent, and we all had fun tracing our steps of our travels through South Africa. 

Ben balancing at the tip of Africa, while Eyal explores the Congo and Gaby and Yoav visit Algeria!

Ben is "sitting on the top of Kilimanjaro"  (South Africans will recognize the lyrics from a song by Johnny Clegg and Juluka!).  The lighthouse can be seen in the background

New Year festivities were low key and as rain settled in, there were also very few fireworks to be seen, only a few flares that burnt red into the sky, and then faded out. Soon it was midnight and just like that, a new year had begun! 2018 was upon us, and for us it meant crossing the Atlantic Ocean and heading home. We knew that next New Year we would be back in Florida, and our trip would be over. Knowing how fast 2017 flew by, we were a little saddened that 2018 was already here! New Year’s day was a similar, low key affair, with Stephan’s many friends popping by to say hello. 

A New Years Day outing - Dave, Lilach, Dror, Yoav, Des, Gaby, Stephan, Ben, Gudrun, Momi, Eyal.
Agulhas in the background

A reminder of how tough this coastline can be

Another view of Agulhas, without the humans this time!

Once again it was time for goodbyes as we got ready to head to Franschoek the following morning. Stephan had graciously opened both his Agulhas and Franschoek homes to us all (Cool Runnings and Shuti), but he was staying behind in Agulhas to enjoy the rest of his holidays before heading back to work and producing fine wine! So we bid Stephan and his girlfriend Des farewell and made the 2 hour drive to Franschoek. Steph, a huge thank you for your hospitality and good wine! We hope to see you in Florida sooner than later!! 

The Shutis and Cool Runners wish Stephan goodbye.  Thanks for everything...!!
 
Driving over the mountains and seeing the Franschoek Valley below never gets old and I marvel at the beauty every time we do it. The Dieu Donné vineyard is nestled on the slopes of the valley, and with the grape picking season coming up at the end of January, the vineyards are all green and lush.

The Franschoek Valley

We settled in at the farmhouse, and then were treated to a tour of the Dieu Donné wine cellar.  The kids played on the lawn and explored the vineyards.  

In the wine cellar

The view from Dieu Donne's restaurant

The grapes will be ready to be picked soon!

A protea grows in the garden
Later, leaving the kids to their own devices, Momi, Lilach, Dave and I drove into town and did a quick meander of the streets of Franschoek and stopped for a cup of coffee. We then bought the ingredients for the boys, Ben and Yoav, to make pizza that evening. Later on, with the sun setting behind the mountains, we sat outside on the veranda and enjoyed pizza that had been loving prepared by our kids (and Lilach supervising the oven). 

The sun sets over the mountains

Pizza on the vine covered verandah

Stephan's house at Dieu Donne is the typical Cape Dutch style architecture

Our down time came to an end, and on Wednesday we all had to head back to our boats to continue with our to-do lists. We did the second of our big shops and we also had a very important day to prepare for the following day, January 4th: Gaby’s 12th birthday!! Last year in Sydney, this year in Cape Town…not bad for a 12 year old!

Happy Birthday, Gaby!!

A Cape Town Birthday
Unfortunately it fell on the day before we had to check-out, and taking into account the length of time it took Loic to check out Moby, Dave decided to get some of it done on that morning. If I had to describe the process in detail, it would double the length of this blog, so I’ll just say it took him all morning to do one part of it. After some retail therapy (the birthday girl needed some new PJs!), we met Dave for a celebratory birthday lunch. Later that afternoon, we met on Shuti for cake and further celebration! Momi, Lilach, Yoav, Eyal and Dror sang “Happy Birthday” to Gaby in Hebrew and then again in English! Yoav had made a special “pudding cake” for her, which we’d sampled at his birthday in Chagos, and each boy had made her a present: Dror sewed a bookmark out of felt, and stitched a “G” on it; Eyal made a little bag, and stiched “GH” on it, and filled it with chocolates, and Yoav made a bracelet out of yarn. It is birthdays like these that we will remember forever!

Cake and presents on Shuti!

Thank you, Momi, Lilach, Yoav, Eyal and Dror for hosting Gaby's birthday party on Shuti!
On Friday around lunchtime we headed over to the Customs and Immigration office for the final part of our checkout. Because Dave had taken care of most of it the day before (which entailed getting clearance letters from the V&A Marina, the Royal Cape Yacht Club and the Port of Cape Town), the actual clearance from Customs and Immigration wasn’t too bad, and only took about an hour. With clearance papers in hand, we headed back to our boat. We had come to the end of our stay in South Africa! It was hard to believe. There were still people we hadn’t seen, and things we hadn’t done, but we had to think of all the friends and family that we did see, and the amazing experiences we had had. 

Our track shows some of our travels around South Africa!

A quiet evening of reflection was followed by an early morning start on Saturday, January 6th, as Cool Runnings let go of her dock lines one last time, and headed out of Table Bay. We waved goodbye to Momi and Yoav who had come to help us with the lines, and promised to see them soon in St. Helena. They had a few more things to take care of, and were planning to leave on Monday, January 8th. 

Good Bye, Cape Town!


We motor sailed 60 or so miles north to Langebaan, where we pulled in to wait out unfavourable weather that was forecast for Sunday, January 7th. It is here that I write the blog, while the wind blows and the rain falls, thankful that I have another night of calm, tied up to a dock, before heading out tomorrow morning on the second longest passage of our journey.

Back at sea:  just outside of the Langebaan Lagoon

The 1,700 mile trip to St. Helena will take us 11 or 12 days. Dave and I will have to get back into the rhythm of “Eat, Sleep, Sail”, taking our turns on night shift and resting when we can during the day. When our fresh bread runs out, and the store bought yoghurt container is empty, I’ll be going back to baking bread and making yoghurt. We have loved our time in South Africa, but we are all ready to move on, to get back to the simple life and to explore new places. This also marks the beginning of the end for us…we are on our way home…

St. Helena, here we come...

Thursday, December 28, 2017

An African Christmas

Very early on the morning of December 13th, a sleepy Cool Runnings crew emerged from their cabins and assembled on deck. We didn’t have a sailing emergency…we had a plane to catch! Our 6:30am flight to Johannesburg from Cape Town meant we had to leave our floating home at about 4:30am. We had a last check of the lines to ensure our boat would be OK in our absence and walked the short distance to the roadside where we were able to catch an Uber to the airport.

Winging our way to Johannesburg
Our plane took off as scheduled and we arrived in Johannesburg 2 hours later, where we were met by my brother, Detlef. (I have 3 brothers: Thorsten is the oldest, and also lives in Johannesburg, Volker is next in line, now living in Nottingham, England, but whom I was able to see in Cape Town, and Detlef is the “youngest”…I tell him he’ll always be my baby brother!). It was a happy reunion for both the siblings and the cousins. I had briefly seen Detlef, my sister-in-law Karené, and my 2 nieces, Téa and Maya in June of 2013, when they were living in Germany, and I had a business trip to Vienna. I had also seen Detlef again in 2014 when he came to see us in Florida after a work trip to Mexico. But the kids had not seen each other for 5 years, although they had connected over Instagram over the last couple of months.

My brother Detlef and my sister-in-law, Karene
Sadly, Detlef had to leave for Scotland that evening, as the whole family is in the process of moving to Glasgow! So, to give the cousins some extra time together, we took the girls with us on a short 5 day trip to Mpumalanga, or what was formerly known as the Eastern Transvaal. Our main aim was to spend a few days in the Kruger National Park. We had had a fantastic time in Mkuze Game Park when we first arrived in South Africa, but we took the opportunity to visit the Kruger Park , because, let’s be honest, how soon will we get the chance to see these majestic wild animals in their natural habitat again? 

The Kruger Gate ("Hek" is "Gate" in Afrikaans) - one of the main entrances to the Kruger Park

A statue of Paul Kruger, the then president of the Transvaal Republic, who had the foresight to establish a national game reserve in 1898.  At that time, it was called the Sabie Game Reserve.  It was later changed to the Kruger National Park in his honor. 
We left early on Friday morning, and drove towards the Kruger. After a breakfast stop in the small town of Dullstroom, and a drive through the beautiful countryside, we decided to take a back road to the Blyde River Canyon, to check out the Bourke’s Luck Potholes. The “potholes” are the result of decades of swirling eddies of water where the Treur River meets the Blyde River. Extensive erosion, as the water swirled around, has formed these amazing, smooth, holes in the rock.

Ben explores the pools at the top of the Potholes

The water then cascades down in a series of small waterfalls into pools below

The rock has been eroded into smooth, round potholes

Bourke's Luck Potholes
Unfortunately the weather closed in, and we were not able to fully appreciate the beauty of the rest of the canyon, as low cloud cover and mist obscured some of the magnificent views normally visible from the viewing points. Instead, we drove on to our destination, the Protea Kruger Gate, on the Sabie River, right outside the Paul Kruger Gate, one of the entrances to the famous game park. It had been a long day on the road and sightseeing, so we decided to take it easy the next day and just enjoy the amenities of the hotel. 

Dave takes in the view as the clouds close in

Blyde River Canyon

We spent two full days in the Kruger Park, and were very lucky with our game viewing. The first day we drove into the park, we were getting very discouraged. We had been driving around for at least 2 hours, and had not seen a single thing, bar a few Impala. 

We started feeling sorry for the Impala, as there are so many of them, most people don't stop to admire them. He's still awfully handsome, isn't he?

Then our luck changed, and we stumbled upon a herd of elephant! I never tire of seeing these huge creatures lazily flapping their big ears and wrapping their long trunks around branches, ripping off leaves munching on grass. There were also many babies among the animals we saw, and what’s not to love about a baby ellie?! 

Baby Elephant crosses the road

Mom follows

Such majestic creatures!
A stop at the “Lower Sabie” camp, situated on the Sabie River, gave us our first glimpse of hippo and water buffalo. Life was getting better. After some lunch at an enclosed picnic spot, we continued on our drive around the park. A short distance later, we noticed a car stopped on the side of the road, a sure sign that there’s a sighting of something! Before we could get to the spot, the car pulled off and came towards us. The driver rolled down her window and told us that they had been watching a hyena at the waterhole ahead. But better than that, she told us they had just seen a cheetah under a tree, about 5km away! We drove on, and did see the hyena under the tree, but it was the cheetah we were really interested in.

Hippos wallowing in the Sabie River

We drove on, carefully monitoring the distance and the landscape around us. It is amazing how camouflaged these animals are, so it was all hands on deck for cheetah spotting! We were soon getting discouraged as the 5km mark approached, and we’d had no sign of the cheetah. Another car came past, and confirmed that they had seen the cheetah too, and even offered to turn around and show us where they’d seen it! We declined their kind offer and soldiered on. Not a minute or two later, Dave spotted it! The beautiful, sleek cat was no longer sleeping under a tree, it was walking along the side of the road! We slowly followed it, driving alongside it as it walked along the road, sometimes crossing in front of us, once lying down in the road in front of the car! Before long, it walked a little deeper into the bush, and in seconds, it was gone! We felt so lucky to have seen it, and see it so close!

Sleek Kitty Cat




Feeling happy that we’d seen elephant, buffalo, hippo, many buck, giraffe and the cheetah, we decided to call it a day, and head back to the hotel!

The next time we went into the park, we decided to make it an early morning, as game viewing is often best early in the morning or at dusk, when it’s not yet too hot. We all rose at 5:00am and were in the bush by 6:00am. We took the first dirt road we could, and our strategy paid off. Running across the road ahead of us, was a frantic herd of buck…chasing them was a wild dog! Wild dogs are pretty rare, and we were thrilled to see one hunting! But it got better…soon 2 dogs crossed our path, unsuccessful in catching the buck, but back on the hunt in the grass next to the road! We followed the dogs as they sniffed and ran and even dug up and ate some kind of meat that they had buried under a log. We thought that was great to see, but it got even better. 

Something caught his attention

 About 10 minutes after spotting the first wild dog and following the 2 dogs hunting, a pack of maybe 20 dogs ran across the road to meet up with the 2 we’d been watching! Their tails wagged and they yelped and sniffed and greeted each other, just like any dog would do!! As the cars multiplied, the occupants watched in awe of this amazing sighting! The wild dogs pretty much ignored the cars and went about their business, many of them lying in the road, in the path of the cars, so we couldn’t move for quite a while!

The pack of wild dogs cause a traffic jam!

Wild dog can be distinguished by their big, round ears and mottled fur

This guy was in front of our car, so we weren't going anywhere!

Once mobile again, we saw giraffe, more elephant and many impala, some kudu and nyala, and were enjoying our game drive tremendously. Soon we noticed something lying in the grass in the shade under a tree. At first we thought it was just one animal, probably a hyena sleeping. But something startled it, and first one, then 2 little heads popped up, and we realized we were looking at 2 hyena pups suckling from their mom!! We watched them for ages, the pups drinking their fill, and the mom just lying down. Every now and then, they’d pop their heads up, to check on their surroundings, and then lie down again. I have to admit that I think hyenas are rather ugly, but even the ugliest baby is cute, and that goes for hyenas too! The pups were adorable…actually looking more like the wild dogs we’d seen that morning rather than hyenas! 

The two pups look up.  Mom is still lying down

Just as we were about to drive on, and leave the mom and her babies, she decided it was time to move, and got up, and started walking along the road. The naughty pups followed, but took their time, playing in the grass, and falling further and further behind their mom. Every now and then, she’d turn her head around to check on them, and at one point, she was so far ahead that she stopped, turned back and waited for them, essentially closing the distance between herself and her pups. The naughty pups then disappeared into the bush behind us, and the poor mom, turning around and not seeing them, started to panic. She walked back, and then started running, frantically looking for her babies. She too disappeared into the bush, in the direction where the pups had disappeared, so we assume she found them, and gave them a good spanking for not sticking close to her and straying off the path!!

Mom gets up

She waits for her pups

They take their time emerging from the bush

Clearly a hyena with its shorter hind legs, giving it a hunched appearance

Mom looks back as the pups play around behind her
Onwards we went, and our luck stayed with us. We saw 2 male lions sleeping under trees, just once or twice lazily looking up in our direction. Did you know that lions will sleep for up to 20 hours a day?! Lazy buggers…! 

Lazy Lion
Still a favorite...the good old Zebra

We were also rewarded with 3 rhino, looking prehistoric with their armour-like skin and horns. Tallying up our sightings later that day, we realized that Lady Luck had certainly been shining on us: we’d seen wild dog, giraffe, elephant, lion, rhino, hippo, baby hyenas, wildebeest, zebra and countless buck! All that was missing was a leopard, and although we tried hard, we had to count our blessings, and leave the park without seeing a leopard. We are so thankful, and feel so blessed to be able to experience seeing these incredible animals living their lives in the wild, and share this beauty and these experiences with our children!

Rhino grazing in the grass

An elegant giraffe...just to give a perspective to its size!
Kudu
We came across this group of elephant surrounding a small elephant that was lying down.  We don't know if it was just resting, or if there was something wrong with it.  


Soon it was back to civilization, and Christmas preparations! My parents drove up from KZN, and my brother Thorsten joined us from his neck of the woods here in Johannesburg. We were almost a complete extended Wedekind family unit, just missing my brother Volker, who was back in the UK with his family. 

With my oldest brother Thorsten, my dad, mom and youngest brother Detlef on Christmas Eve, 2017

The kids having fun with their cousins
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, as well as the preceding days, we were rewarded with beautiful, hot weather. The kids were able to swim, jump on the trampoline and play in the park, while the adults chatted, reminiscing of childhood Christmases and past times, enjoying family time and wondering what the future held for us all as we would soon be going our separate ways again; my folks back to their little house in New Germany, Detlef and his family to Scotland, and the Cool Runnings crew about to embark on their last major ocean crossing before the adventure of a lifetime slowly comes to a close!

Merry Christmas from the Cool Runnings crew!