Knysna Rally 2021, by Paul Morris – Savannah.
“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.” – Yvon Chouinard – pioneering climber and founder of Patagonia.
The possibility of adventure is why we go to sea, because things seldom go exactly according to plan on a sailing boat. Have you ever felt more in-the-moment than when you’re focussed on getting through that difficulty on the water? Or felt more exhilarated than when that tough moment has been well negotiated and the boat and crew are safe again?
Have you ever entered the Knysna Heads?
With little wind the fleet motored to Cape Point. Shortly after rounding the Point the predicted northerly started like someone had switched it on. I reported this on the WhatsApp group. “What speed?” asked Pete. We don’t have wind speed on Savannah. If it blows my ponytail over my shoulder it’s probably over 15 knots. If it blows the hair-tie away, it’s time to reef.
The sea was uncomfortable for much of the passage. My French speaking crew, Jean Louis and Thomas, were excellent. Both experienced skippers, and both having several Mossel Bay Races between them. I had complete faith in them. Not so my stomach, which occasionally threatened, but didn’t carry out, mutiny. Jean Louis produced home-made soup from the galley and a solution to every problem. Thomas too, brought his experience with good navigation and routing advice.
When the wind filled in, the sailing was good and reefed, we still made good speed. I saw 10.4 knots GPS speed, which I thought was pretty good for a tubby, 40 year old Miura. On his watch, Thomas was trying to surf. For his efforts, he got 11.4 knots over ground and two waves down his neck. I heard his cursing from my bunk. And the words most sailors will have uttered, ‘Never again!’
At midnight I reported that we were nearing our next landmark: Danger Point. The scene of a tragedy rather than an adventure. In 1852,the troop carrier HMS Birkenhead hit an uncharted rock, sinking with the loss of many lives. The soldiers stood in ranks on deck as she went down, while the women and children took to the life boats. The ‘women and children first’ protocol became known as the Birkenhead Drill. Alone on watch, it was a reminder of the hazards of this coast. A reminder that adventure isn’t always laughed about at the bar afterwards.
Through the night it was two hours on watch, four hours being rolled around in my bunk. We hand steered at night to conserve power, which also served to keep me awake. The light at Quoin Point pitched and yawed off to port. At some point I heard the breathing of dolphins and saw their phantom-grey forms in the liquid black.
I went on deck for my 6am watch. The sky was getting light. Jean Louis headed to his bunk for some well-deserved rest. We were rounding Cape St Blaize and there was a breeze. Dolphins joined us once again. I was enjoying the sailing after so much motoring that I kept on the wind rather than motoring into the anchorage. After a while I tacked back towards the breakwater and woke the guys to drop anchor.
As far as Cape Town to Mossel Bay passages go, we had a good one. Cassiopeia on the other hand was having more of an adventure, if we’re to follow Chouinard’s definition. A diversion to Simon’s Town to drop off a sea-sick crew member, some anchor problems, a suspected engine issue that turned out to be a lost propeller blade. And they still kept on, in spite of the strengthening wind, determined to join the rest of the fleet. Geoff and his crew were far and away the most determined and tenacious of the fleet and quite an inspiration.
I think we could call the entrance into the Knysna Heads an adventure. The videos tell the story better than my words can. Faros surfing like a J-Bay pro. Lexi spinning the wheel like Lewis Hamilton. Vixen losing one of its engines. Me, dry-mouthed and adrenaline-soaked with my eyes fixed on the transit markers that led us in.
The pay-off was the cold beer and warm hospitality we received from Commodore Jakes and the members of the Knysna Yacht Club. A friendly club in one of the most beautiful locations in the country.
We all have our reasons for going to sea. The possibility of adventure is always lurking in the recesses of our minds, even if we don’t always admit it. There are few better ways to feel completely alive.
Bring on the Knysna Rally 2022!
Thanks to Pete for his vision and leadership in organising the Rally and to Kerry and Hilary for their hard work in making sure that it offers something for everyone.