Last year my sailing was restricted because of an injury to my shoulder which I elected to have repaired with surgery, basically I had 4 ½ months off the water in August through December so I wanted to make up for lost time and after agreement with work and Jane a 4 week vacation to Cape Town was booked, with Jane joining me for the first 2 weeks. I’m very fortunate to have such a trusting relationship with Jane and such an understanding employer who will be flexible with me regarding leave and really looks after me.
Normally I like to come in December when the wind isn’t quite as consistent but the swells are usually more consistent and slightly more frequent. So arriving at the end of December for 4 weeks in January I thought I’d be sailing with plenty of wind and not quite as much waves. As it turned out the wind was a lot lighter than normal with quite a few southerly days rather than the South Easter that Cape Town is famous for. There was a whole week where the normal weather systems were disrupted by a weather pattern known as a “Black South Easter”. This happens when a low pressure gets trapped between the two dominant areas of high pressure that make Cape Towns’ summer weather so predictable and it lasted about 5 days. During this time it was overcast and grey, it rained quite a bit and also on one day the South Easter blew but it was grey and overcast, hence “Black South Easter”. There was still plenty to do as there is a lot to see and do in Cape Town itself and especially in the surrounding areas. We have a favourite fruit farm we like to stay in in the Franschoek wine area and once again stayed with our hosts who are now friends. A trip along the Garden Route is on many people’s agenda but that can take several days, so I could recommend visiting Hermanus which is easily do able in a day and the drive along the coast is stunning.
We also had a period where the wind blew from the North West and it coincided with a good long period swell. My friend Piet called the night before to set up a trip to Witsands/Misty Cliffs and the next day we headed down to Witsands for a starboard tack session. It was probably a little too cross off to be honest but the waves gradually built up to logo high and my confidence riding the waves in the direction which I’m not practiced in steadily grew to the point where I was not feeling too “left handed”. Around Mid-afternoon you could see that Misty Cliffs was working and Piet headed off on a “down-winder” to join a few of the pros who we could see riding the huge barrelling waves. Meanwhile I drove Piet’s van 1km down to Mistys and attended to the all-important photography using Piet’s camera gear. There were about 5 people on it, all of whom were extremely capable and talented sailors, including our own Phil Horrocks and Jamie Hancock. Graham Ezzy, though, was the standout sailor, I guess all the years at Hookipa just shone through; there were massive aerials off the lip from over mast high waves, wave 360s, goiters, and a huge push loop.
We had another memorable session on the south peninsula. Again Piet had it in his sights a few days before hand and kindly invited me to join him. Piet had it mind to sail Scarborough, but when we got there, it wasn’t really working and it was massively windy so we settled on a little sailed alternative. Piet helped me understand the break and how to get out to it which involved negotiating a 5m wide, 70m long channel in very light gusty wind between rocks and two kelp beds before making it out to the waves. Everything dropped lucky on this day; the wind came in just at the right time and the long period swell also started building just as we arrived. All of this coincided with the light being right for photos and the tides being right to be able to bottom turn without being caught out by the kelp waiting to snag a fin. Sailing in over mast high waves, on an unfamiliar break, with no escape route other than a 5m channel between rocks and kelp beds is a pretty intimidating experience and I can tell you this was just about the most exciting thing I’ve done for a long time! Anyway once I’d relaxed a bit I started to get into the rhythm Stefan Kohrs another experienced and capable SA local joined us and the three of us had the whole break to ourselves. A little later as the tide started to drop some of the South Peninsula locals and Phil Horrocks joined in whilst it was my turn to take pictures.
Most of my sailing was done at Sunset where the wind is usually perfectly cross off for down the line wave riding and also “Italians” which is about a mile north along Sunset beach where the wind is about 20 degrees cross on and perfect for jumps practice whilst still being able to wave ride. I met up with Jem Hall here a few times for some photo duty and to get some much needed back loop practice in. I have landed a few backies at Rhosneigr but there is a huge difference to landing one “every now and then” to being able to land them consistently! It was great sailing with Jem; he gave me loads of little tips that made a huge difference to my sailing really quickly. Likewise following some coaching from me last year I have to Jems’ his port tack sailing is now vastly improved and he is definitely invited to Rhosneigr!! It just goes to show the best coaches can give but also take feedback. Jem also lent me his RRD Wavecult 83 which is a perfect light wind wave board for me, with a 5.0m sail it gets up and planing quickly and easily in surprisingly light winds. This enabled me to get more jumps in and get more waves on the lighter wind days. Just because the board is more of an onshore design it doesn’t detract from its side shore capability, it’s incredibly loose and very snappy on the cut backs.
One of my all-time favourite spots is Haakgat and towards the final week I still hadn’t managed to sail it because conditions just hadn’t been right and I was getting a little worried I might miss out and not get to sail it at all during my 4 week trip. Haakgat is a side shore spot that only really gets working when the waves are logo high and more. After sailing at Italians all afternoon, I took a trip up just to see if it was working. Sure enough the waves were in at logo to mast high and enough wind for a 4.5m sail. It was late in the day and the place was packed but it had only just started to work properly as the tide was turning to drop. So it was my lucky day, everyone was winding down and starting to pack up for their Saturday evening but I had a brilliant 1 hour session riding clean mast high waves with only 15-20 other sailors so it wasn’t too crowded.
In the last week the weather was again changeable and, opportunity for a couple of trips to Cape Point. One where the wind was cross-on from the SE with head high waves and another to Platboom Bay with the wind from the WNW with perfect cross off light wind “float and ride” waves up to logo high. There was also a really nice 1 1/2 hour evening session at Sunset where some nice punchy long period waves rolled in with a cross off SE wind, perfect for wave riding.
I got quite a bit of surfing in too, I only managed to surf once last year, but now my shoulder is fixed properly I wanted some quality time to regain my confidence and timing on the waves. I really enjoy surfing at Long Beach; it can hold up to 4ft before closing out and has nice long rides left and right of a couple of peaks dependent upon the sand bar. It gets a bit busy especially during holiday time (first two weeks after Xmas) and also gets very competitive but you just need to wait your turn and be patient and you’ll be rewarded with some quality waves.
So sailing in Cape Town, what’s it really like? Firstly you have to be prepared to travel, the wind and swells do come in to forecast but that can change and so you have to be flexible so whilst most of the sailing is done on the Northern Beaches Sunset and Melkbos, many people will also venture down to Whitsands or Cape Point on the Southern Peninsula. Secondly, its busy and can get very competitive, so don’t get upset if someone else is on a wave that you bagged first…it’s all part of the experience and getting “ansy” about it isn’t worth the bother, just go and get another one. Thirdly, the waves are powerful and take no prisoners so be prepared to take a pummelling and for breakages, boards get broken, masts break, people get injured. The good news is the Cape Town is set up with people who can fix things quickly and cheaply! Fourthly, chose your spot to suit your sailing style. Freestylers take advantage of Ritvlei a lake behind the dunes, the best spots for jumping are slightly onshore which means in the main is Italians, Big Bay, Melks and or Witsands. For cross off DTL wave riding Sunset is many people choice and for side shore Haagkat is a particular favourite of mine.
I mentioned Stefan Kohrs earlier, he was born in SA, but grew up in Germany. He now lives in Cape Town and runs a safari business “Out of Africa Safaris” catering for Europeans who want to get off the beaten track and see wild Africa. Stefan also happens to be a committed surfer and windsurfer and speaks English, German and Afrikaans. So if you fancy a proper safari contact him via his website and he’ll sort it for you!
Many thanks to Jane Tomlinson, Piet Streicher, Stefan & Lisa Kohrs and Jem Hall for the great photos.
Logistics and equipment
I flew with Virgin, the direct flight from Heathrow takes 12 hours and Virgin have a very generous sports baggage allowance which allows you one sports bag to 23kg without charge and then £40 for each bag thereafter……a very good deal I’d say.
I took my trusty RRD Hardcore Wave 76, Ezzy Elites 5.0, 4.5, 4.0. There were a few lighter wind days where I sailed Jems RRD WaveCult 83 and lest I forget I’ll bring two boards next time!! (Yes coach!!)