Knysna Rally 2020 by Paul Morris.
The passage from Cape Town to Knysna can be tricky, not least because sailors have to round two of the most infamous capes in the world. There were a few old salts muttering cautionary tales around the bar when the Knysna Rally was first mooted. Notably those who’d been in crews racing in the various iterations of the Mossel Bay Race. In fact, I did once hear Pete Sherlock, that veteran of the Mozambique Channel, say that sometimes it feels like the Indian Ocean is trying to kill you.
In true cruising style the crews taking part in the Knysna Rally 2020 sat down for a leisurely breakfast before casting off for Knysna. The Magnificent Seven consisted of Amarula (Pete Sherlock), Equinox (Yannick Berlion), Strumpet (Justin Spreckly), Set Sea (Greg Davis), Ielool (Johan Erasmus), Malu’lani (Grant Saunders) and Vixen (Ian Munro).
The wind from the South made for a long motor to Cape Point. Ielool decided that an attempt at sailing would help stabilise the boat in a very uncomfortable sea. This ended up costing them several hours on the rest of the fleet and put them in some of the strongest winds later on in the passage.
As the voyage continued the winds increased. Off Agulhas vessels eventually experienced wind speeds in the high 30 knots. Yannick told me that at one point he saw a gust of 50knots. The swell was big, and breaking. Ielool had a wave break into the cockpit. The other vessels all had waves over the deck during the blow.
1021 John Roos reports: “News from Ielool: 25 knot SW wind gusting 22-plus. Big following seas. 4m swells, occasionally bigger. Just had a swell break over the stern into the cockpit. Top downhill surf speed on GPS 15.267 knots… Almost due south of Agulhas. Regards to all from Ielool crew.”
At 1819 Greg Davis on Set Sea reported breaking a dagger-board and then snapping a steering cable while struggling to keep the boat “tracking straightish”.
Greg’s daughter, Greta, writing about the passage says: “None of us knew what we were doing except Greg who luckily has enough knowledge for all of us. But even so, considering how many things we broke I got the feeling somebody was trying to slow us down so that we didn’t hit the storm of a lifetime as we reached The Heads. Needless to say, that person wasn’t Greg. It was the best day of our lives followed by the worst day of our lives. And a very dramatic night, dodging fishing trawlers with no navigation lights off Agulhas, followed by a much more comfortable complimentary treat of a night spent in the Protea Hotel in Mossel Bay – much needed, especially for Greg who hadn’t slept at all since leaving Royal Cape 36 hours before.”
Meanwhile, Malu’lani had some problems of its own. Grant Saunders replies “Hi Greg, we had to change the water impeller in 36 knots and big seas just completed the job now guys we are 53 miles from Mossel bay doing 8 to 10 knots should be there around 1 o’clock see you there”
1651 Strumpet: “30 miles from Mossel bay. 35kts. Wet, fun and fast 20kn top speed so far. Going to moor there tonight. Knysna in the morning.”
1934 Equinox: “All well, 3 reefs in the main and reefed jib”
2004 from Grant “Malu’lani crew finally eaten all staying on watch till we get to Mossel bay wind gusting to 39 and still big seas our spirits are high and the boat is going well see you guys soon.”
From Ian Munro at 2023: “Vixen 15nm from the point. Under reefed jib. Beers will be sweet tonight.”
Finally from Mossel Bay at 2100: “Equinox is safely anchored in the bay. What a ride!!”
For some crews the stopover at Mossel Bay provided not only a good meal and rest but time to let off a bit of steam. Reliable sources tell us that one crew enjoyed practicing Man Overboard drills in a fountain.
The entrance to The Heads is notorious. Strong tides, two bars to cross and if there’s a swell running, waves breaking across the entrance. The fleet waited in Mossel Bay for the swell kicked up by the big westerly to abate. And for the next rising tide.
The day before the fleet was due to enter lagoon, Vitor WhatsApps a photo of the Heads: “Still breaking right across.”
“After yesterday it looks easy” replies Pete.
“After yesterday, anything is easy” writes Yannick.
Meanwhile, from Mossel Bay, Johan sends a picture of a sweating bottle of fizz, “Rounding Cape Agulhas was a first for Ielool’s crew. I promised bubbles on rounding, but under conditions it simply was not sensible. So here we are, bubbles with breakfast on arrival in MB”
At 2104 Pete messages: “Fleet is on the move! Strumpet and Set Sea are leaving in the morning. Ielool, Malulani, Equinox, Vixen and Amarula are leaving now for a first light try at the heads”.
It’s forty-odd miles from Mossel Bay to the entrance to the lagoon. The fleet planned to enter the Heads at first light. The first WhatsApp message is from Yannick:
0434 “Equinox is here, we are circling waiting for daylight…”
Photographs by Ashleigh de Villiers and others tell the story. This is a dramatic and potentially dangerous entrance. The waves were still breaking on the Eastern Head side of the entrance. With the help of a local guide to pilot the fleet through the Heads, all vessels made it safely across the bar and headed to the Knysna Yacht Club to tie up.
On passing through the Heads, Pete tells me, “It wasn’t as bad as it felt at the time.” Is it ever!
I’m told, “What happened in Knysna, stays in Knysna”, so I’m assuming the partying was epic. One boat had to recycle eight empty brandy bottles. And if you’ve heard of a pavement pizza, you should know that there is such a thing as a gunnel pizza. The less we know about that the better.
I’ll let the Commodore have the final word. Neil Gregory, after experiencing the cruiser-style catering on Amarula, complete with freshly ground coffee every morning, was heard to say: “No more racing! I’m sold, cruising’s the way to go”
Here’s to the Knysna Rally 2021.