Last days in South Africa

13 Feb


Simon’s Town was our base for a month to power through pre-Atlantic preparations. There were rounds of maintenance catch-up, some new projects, and a few repairs. And then…there was a lot of fun, making memories with friends. Yes, we’re in Namibia now…but I want to hang onto these memories here!


Day hike near Simon’s Town: that’s the Cape of Good Hope in the distance

The Cape Town area is a gathering point for westabout cruisers, and people we’ve spent a lot of time with over the last year, and some over the course of many years. But here, paths diverge. Casting off for sailing adventures sounds solitary, but the reality of seasonal routes and patterns—especially crossing regions like the Indian Ocean—means that by happenstance (and design) we spend extended time with familiar boats and faces. But there are a myriad of destinations, routes and timings for boats heading into the Atlantic from Cape Town. It’s bittersweet not knowing when favorite faces will be in our company again.


Siobhan and her bestie, Ava. there will be tears!

Making memories to last, we took an adults-only trip to the wine country. This the first time we’ve left the kids on the boat overnight. Kind of a big deal although they’ve long been capable of this, especially in a secure marina with friends all around. For Jamie and I, South Africa’s winelands were an irresistible getaway, so we planned a night at a B&B with friends and spent a couple of days touring vineyards: incredible scenery, enjoying lots of wine tasting, delicious food, and great company. We really don’t splurge on stuff “for us” like this much, and it was a very fun indulgence.




every winery we visited was a feast for the senses


beautiful picnic hamper, with the vineyard’s chardonnay of course…


…with this view. many old OLD wineries with classic Cape Dutch architecture

the struggle is real

SO many wines to choose from for a tasting flight. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.

On a sadder note, there were terrible bush fires. We passed one in the morning on our drive out to the wineries, and our dinner site looked out at a burning hillside. It was devastating, and you could feel the weight of it in the staff: losing vines isn’t like losing a seasonal crop. It takes many years to recover. These fires aren’t just burning tinder, it’s jobs and livelihoods.


this entire hillside was later consumed

this entire hillside was later consumed


burning night

Fires hit closer to our temporary home at FBYC as well. The buzz is that these are probably arson, but the land is also incredibly dry, and it wouldn’t take much to set off a blaze. Driving along the coast one afternoon, flames were only a few hundred feet from the road.

brush fire

Those bush fires also mean there’s a lot of ash blowing around: smoke obscured the mountainside behind the marina when fires flared nearby. Totem was pretty dirty from coal dust in the ports of Richards Bay and Durban; we were looking forward to the “clean” air around Cape Town. Instead, the ash that blew over Totem daily made her the dirtiest she’s ever been.

bush fire smoke

Clear weather…and not fog, but smoke from the brush fires

ashy lines

our dinghy davits lines: stb side WAY dirtier than port, purely from how the wind tunnel blew ash on them differently

Goodbyes are even harder for the kids who have shaped much of their world around close friends. With an unusual number of family boats in the Indian Ocean, they’ve had a particularly social year – especially as north and south traveling boats came together around Cape Town.

Kid crews and fast friends from Utopia, Windarra, and Totem

Kid crews and fast friends from Utopia, Windarra, and Totem


for the record, there’s no problem with “socialization” for cruising kids!

It was fun to meet up with a number of people who have been following us online, from cruising families who’ve returned home to those with plans and dreams to go. We got together with a land-based nomadic family, too. It’s pretty neat to meet with these families, compare notes and tips from surf-n-turf angles through our mutual appreciation for this way of life. The land-based nomads are a lot more hard core than we are, to be honest. We get to travel WITH our floating caravan – they’re full time family backpacking. WITH KIDS! They’re truly Taking the Big Break.

Bad picture / great memory! I plead 1) camera phone 2) late night 3) great South African wine.

Bad picture / great memory! I plead 1) camera phone 2) late night 3) great South African wine. Siobhan is tired…

Another memorable meetup: Colin runs an amateur radio station out of his home, and we connected with his station for weather data many times in the Indian Ocean. Stations like his are the critical connection for our HF radio to access internet-based resources like weather. We are so grateful for people like Colin – they add a safety net and measure of peace of mind to our travels. And, grateful to his family, who lets radio gear take over space in their home!


South Africans we met were incredibly hospitable and welcoming. It wasn’t what we expected. Not that we expected they’d be aloof, we just didn’t expect SUCH warmth and friendliness. Like when plans to stop in for a quick visit with a formerly cruising family evolved first into – hey, everybody in the pool! – and then a braai broke out. As they do, here in the land of the best barbecue ever.

Kris demos the fine art of the South African braai

Kris demos the fine art of the South African braai. those are boerwors, y’all.

Or the great crew at the NSRI (sea rescue) station next to the yacht club: one of the guys is a reader here and knew we were close by, but the whole crew of NSRI Station #10 made us feel welcome, with educational tour of the facilities and lifeboats for a few hours one morning. Thank you so much, Herby!


watching NSRI crew launch to go aid a whale tangled in a net

nsri station

education about the noble work the NSRI does, on a volunteer budget and supported by donations. it’s incredible, really

There was even time to fit in a little family sightseeing. We HAD to visit the Cape of Good Hope, large as it looms in maritime history. We got a rare family pic of everyone in front of the signpost with distances to points around the world…and realized that Sydney, Australia (we left the Aus east coast almost four years ago) is CLOSER than New York…where we expect to be this summer. GULP.


Siobhan’s looking uncomfortable here because my gypsy girl had to wear shoes


this little guy played peek-a-boo for a few minutes. cracked me right up


THIS, so close to a major population center. South Africa is amazing!

One thing we did miss out on by staying over the ridge in Simon’s Town was Cape Town centric sightseeing. Nothing could keep us from day tripping out to Table Mountain, but there’s a lot more to explore in CT. Somehow our rental car days were skewed heavily to chandlery rounds for boat parts instead of touring…but that’s what we had to do.

table mt view

the magnificent view of Cape Town and beyond, from the top of Table Mountain


Abseiling (rapelling) from Table Mountain… Lion’s Head in the distance

As we depart, a couple of goodbyes are especially hard for me. There’s Utopia, who we’ve spent a lot of time with since meeting in Malaysia two and a half years ago. They’re not leaving South Africa for a while; we’re making plans to catch up in the Caribbean, but that’s probably a year away. The Delos crew is another, and the boat we’ve known longer than any other in the cruising ‘hood, first meeting in Mexico back in 2009. For fans who follow their tremendously popular YouTube channel, they are just as wonderful as you would hope.


the guys at dinner out, after some filming together…stay tuned

Delos won’t be Atlantic bound this year; I wish I knew when we’d meet up again, but I don’t. And that, in a nutshell, is the tough side of cruising partings. But cruising also teaches us that diverging paths often meet again, after intervening adventures enrich our lives and give us no stores to share.


a couple of faces I am REALLY going to miss! see you guys in the Caribbean next year!



  1. Dennis Wilcoxon

    Hi Ms Gifford,
    There are no black folk in your pictures. Is there still an unspoken aparthied in SA? Is the cruiser community sort of insulated from the majority of Simon town? Of course shopkeepers, workers are going to be of mixed races but how about wine country, hiking the trails? Management at yacht services? Etc?

    This is something I’ve noticed in other blogs from the cape. I know that cruisers are the most culturally inclusive people from all walks of life and countries of many flags and colors. What’s up with this whiteness in SA?

    S/V Colleen
    St. Petersburg, Fl, USA

  2. Pingback: Last days in South Africa | Sailing Totem

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