Trystan Grace returns to his much loved Cape Town
It had been a long flight, but a smile crossed my face as I looked, bleary-eyed, at the familiar exit sign as I strolled through the airport terminal; ‘Welcome to the Mother City’. I was back in Cape Town, one of the world’s loveliest cities.
There is some debate over where the nickname ‘mother city’ came from. Possibly from the fact it was the first city in South Africa, established in 1652 as a refuelling station for ships bound for the East following the spice route. Or maybe the name was derived from the Greek ‘metros’ for mother and ‘polis’ for city, or perhaps, because the city is so laid back, it takes nine months to get anything done!
Cape Town has other nicknames, one being ‘The Cape of Storms’, and this was the reason I was here on this particular visit. I am quite familiar with Cape Town as my father lives close by in the wine region. This time, however, I was meeting Kraken Yacht’s chairman Dick Beaumont who was combining a stopover mid-voyage from Hong Kong to the Mediterranean to meet various yachting journalists to test the flagship Kraken 66 White Dragon. The challenging conditions presented an ideal location to test a rugged blue water yacht and Dick’s claims of her ocean sailing pedigree.
Having met Dick in arrivals, we headed for White Dragon, she was berthed at the beautiful Victoria & Albert waterfront, at the foot of the iconic Table Mountain right in the centre of the town. As we drove he told me how surprised he was to discover how much he loved the city and life here. I’m ashamed to say that throughout my visits to Cape Town, I had only sailed here once, and that was only down the coast for a bbq with friends. Stepping back onboard White Dragon, I brimmed with excitement, knowing we had many beautiful days of sailing ahead of us, exploring different parts of the Cape’s rugged coastline.
Before we knew it, having stocked up on fresh provisions, we were welcoming our first journalist, Sam Jefferson, Editor of Sailing Today. Sam has been a great supporter of the whole Kraken blue water ethos and we were very happy the editor himself had devoted the time and effort to come to Cape Town to test a Kraken.
Having looked at the weather, we decided to sail down the coastline, around Cape Point and head up into False Bay to Simon’s Town, a picturesque fishing village popular with tourists and locals alike. This whole stretch of coastline is beautiful and well worth visiting. I had previously driven there on my way to Cape Point and remember stopping off at Boulders Bay, just a few kilometres south, which is famous for a colony of African penguins.
Unfortunately, very unlike Cape Town, we experienced a flat calm, at first, and had to motor our way down to Cape Point. The saying goes in Cape Town if you don’t like the weather, come back in an hour, but unfortunately, we were only treated to a light breeze at best. We passed by Hout Bay and the incredible Chapmans Peak Drive, one of the world’s most scenic roads, winding its way around the rocky coastline.
Soon we reached the famous Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, wrongly assumed by some to be the southern tip of Africa, which is actually Cape Agulhas, about 90 miles to the south-east. This treacherous stretch of coastline is the meeting point of the warm-water Agulhas current from the Indian Ocean and the cold-water Benguela current from the Southern Ocean which turns back on itself. This meeting point produces tremendously turbulent conditions above the surface and rich and diverse sea life below.
As Sam had never been to South Africa before and had literally driven straight from the airport to the boat, we decided to lower the tender and take in a pleasant evening ashore. It was a great evening, discussing the sail down and the features and values we instil into our yachts. Sam admitted that he had had a desire to personally test our yachts and see these features first-hand, and also it presented a far more demanding testing experience than in the Solent where the majority of boat tests are carried out.
I woke in my bunk to the slow roll of the hull and the sound of the wind whistling through the rigging. After a hastily eaten breakfast, the crew mobilised to weigh anchor and prepare to sail. Sam took the helm and we set off for the home leg in about 20 knots of wind. As we rounded Cape Point the iconic ‘Twelve Apostles’ came into view, this magnificent geological feature, which shapes the austere cliffs of the Cape of Good Hope, tells you you could be nowhere else on earth. Clouds departed and left us with a beautiful blue sky as we skirted the coastline back to port. We asked Sam if he wanted to write in the yacht’s guest book, to which he scribbled ‘Wow, a truly amazing yacht.’
The next morning after bidding Sam farewell, I was shaking hands with Peter Nielsen, Editor of the US publication, SAIL magazine. This time, under advice from some local friends, we decided to sail north about 60km to a small Island called Dassen Island. We had been told of a sheltered anchorage to the north of the island and that it would be a good spot to drop the hook overnight. We slipped the V&A berth mooring lines, waited for the two pedestrian swing bridges to open, and under the gaze of crowds of onlookers, headed out to sea under a beautiful clear blue sky.
As we left the shelter of Table Bay the wind got up to about 25-30 knots and we enjoyed a very pleasant sail at 8-10kts. We launched the drone, orbiting the yacht as she powered through the waves, capturing a shot which ultimately would adorn the front cover of SAIL magazine a few months later. With the drone battery starting to dwindle it was time to come into land, a task which was made all the harder with White Dragon shouldering on through quite big seas. Great care has to be taken bringing a drone back aboard. In the approach to the yacht, great vigilance and timing are required from the catcher as you pick your moment to descend the last five feet. With the drone safely back onboard, we focused on the looming flat island expanding in front of us.
Dassen is a very rugged, windswept, barren island, featuring just a lighthouse and a few research structures used to monitor the bird colonies which call the island home. To that end, the island is restricted to all but research teams, however visiting yachts can anchor in the relatively sheltered Northern Bay. We set the anchor as the sun dropped, sharing the bay with just one other fishing boat. The island held beauty in its desolate state, the old shipwrecks littering the shore, gradually being reclaimed by nature, a reminder of how this coastline can be very unforgiving.
The sun sank lazily below the horizon as we devoured the excellent meal Dick had prepared and exchanged sailing stories, Dick and Peter’s yarns were especially interesting with their many years of sailing and Peter’s long career in journalism.
The next morning the soft clanking of the windlass broke the silence of the bay, we rounded the tip of the island and bade farewell. The sailing conditions were perfect, I set about taking photographs of Peter at the helm who was unable to hide a smile whilst exclaiming how well she sailed. Peter asked Dick whether Kraken had generated much interest in American and Dick said some but that we needed to crank it up, Peter replied ‘my article in SAIL magazine will fix that’. True to his word he wrote a fantastically supportive two-page spread and had a White Dragon Cover shot for the front of the edition the article appeared in. Peter’s parting words in the yacht’s guest book read ‘A beautiful yacht and a fantastic design, excellent sail!’.
After Peter’s departure, we had a few days before we welcomed the next journalists, however, there was no respite as a few potential clients had contacted us with their desire to see White Dragon whilst she was in Cape Town. Before long, however, we were once again waiting for the swing bridges to release White Dragon to the open ocean with Yachting World’s Toby Hodges and Mike Kopman sitting in the cockpit. With the expected conditions, we decided to head east again past the magnificent Cape Point and the massive cliffs but, by a cruel twist of fate, we were once again denied any wind on this easterly run.
Upon nearing the Cape, we noticed a strange patch of water to our port side. Our local crewmember Dan let us know that we had found Bellows Rock, a 200m long granite shelf which is only visible at low tide by the breaking swell. Infamous amongst local sailors for the obvious dangers, many ships have met their end on stormy nights navigating the Cape of Good Hope. Most notably, you can still dive the wreck of the SS Lusitania, a Portuguese ocean liner which wrecked here on a foggy fateful day in 1911.
With the promise of wind the following morning, we anchored in Simon’s Town and Dick prepared his famous White Dragon chicken curry, made from a blend of spices and flavours Dick has gathered from all over the world, with a large dollop of Mrs Balls famous South African chutney the meal was complete.
The next morning, we woke to find a good 15 knots blowing through the bay. By the time I first sipped my coffee it was 20 knots. At this point I started to sit up and notice, not that high winds would stop us sailing but high winds would ground my drone. Realistically the limits written in drone manuals are very conservative, about 19 knots for my DJI Phantom 4 pro. In the right conditions, with the right planning they can perform well in far higher winds, around the 30-35 knots mark is where I fix my limit, especially over water. With the wind instrument in the corner of my eye during breakfast, I watched the wind surpass 35 then 40 knots while still continuing to increase. With the need to come up with a back-up plan, we called the Simon’s Town Yacht Club and asked if any boats were available to be camera ships.
We arranged to meet the gnarly captain of a twin-engine fishing boat in the bay an hour later. As the wind hit 60 knots, Toby looked in dismay at Dick and said: ‘Damn! Yesterday, not enough wind and today too much!,’ to which Dick replied, ‘Don’t be daft Toby, this is why we brought you here, a proper sail test for a real Blue Water yacht, we can hardly say we can’t go out because it’s a bit windy !’. Toby smiled, ‘Fantastic, let’s go!’ With that, I found myself jumping down into the fishing boat, camera in hand, greeting the local captain, who was slightly bewildered anyone would knowingly venture out in these conditions.
Once out of the shelter of the tiny bay, the fishing boat was pitching heavily in the breaking waves. I jammed myself into a position and protected my camera from the relentless spray. White Dragon ploughed through the waves as she followed us out of the bay, Toby behind the helm as the main was reefed and the jib unfurled and sheeted hard to punch upwind. I shouted instructions to our captain over the howl of the wind to move us into position, making sure to capture every angle. I certainly felt a pang of jealousy watching my crew sit quite comfortably in the cockpit while we felt every wave jolt us around in the fishing boat. White Dragon was flying, her 46-tonne displacement seemingly forgotten as she effortlessly cut through the waves at 9 and 10 knots to weather. I could see smiles all round in the cockpit; Toby because he didn’t quite expect the yacht to sail like this, and Dick because finally, we had the conditions to prove her ocean-going pedigree to one of the sailings world’s most respected journalists.
After 30 or 40 minutes the fishing boat captain shouted ‘ This ain’t lekker mate, I’m getting back in’. I sat on the quay for a couple of hours waiting for White Dragon to come back in and drop anchor. Toby said it was all great stuff, but he wasn’t on the fishing boat!
As we waved goodbye to Toby and Mike I stepped back down into the saloon, bedraggled from the photoshoot, the guest book laying open on the nav table read,
‘White Dragon conquers another great Cape, thanks Dick and Kraken for your hospitality and for putting the boat in the best location possible to show her colours – 50 Knots, no worries!’ – Toby Hodges Yachting World
And thus, I found myself resting back into my seat as the aircraft wheels left the runway. I gazed out at the last African sunset, on this trip at least, replaying the last few weeks in my head. The superb sailing adventures, filled with enthralling stories, innumerable laughs and marvellous feedback. We greeted many new people and bade farewell to many new friends. We had tentatively hoped that Cape Town would provide a location fit to test a Kraken, we were not disappointed. It is certainly a land of extremes, pitting extreme weather and challenge against breath-taking scenery and superb sailing potential.
Having explored most of it, by land and by sea, I implore you to visit. Much like Madagascar, Cape Town is just another example of the rewards for navigating the challenging Indian Ocean. From the wonderful coastline and spectacular craggy mountain ranges, the rolling vine laden valleys, the old-world charm and arty urban vibe of downtown. Cape Town really is a melting pot of not just African culture, but of everyone that landed here at the Mother City and discovered this hidden paradise.