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Ostrica of Orwell Newsletter Aug.2007 - John and Jean Armitage

OSTRICA OF ORWELL Oswestry England

John and Jean Armitage

Newsletter 25 August 2007

No! We have not returned and swallowed the anchor! Ostrica is still a long way from here, lying snug in a berth at the Tuzi Gazi Marina, Richard’s Bay, some 100 miles north of Durban, in South Africa. Apologies to those who may have heard some or all of this lot before but please indulge us once again. Here comes our ‘wanderings’ this year…..

January was interesting. The welcome arrival of Yasmin to Joanne and Stuart was the day before Jean had surgery to her eye. This then required her to lay face down for 24hours x 10 days. Not much fun except for the domestic howlers her house-husband performed. We are happy to report all was successful so we were soon off back to South Africa.

The heat and humidity of the southern summer were passing as we set off for Durban where we had appointments for painting and re-rigging. Waiting for weather is part of sailing life there, and when we did leave we had a brief 24 hour ‘window’. There was plenty of wind and sea, which woke-up John’s stomach, but when it suddenly died (not John) in the early hours we smelt trouble and hurried to stow all sail. We then enjoyed the scariest time so far in all of our 13 years of wanderings. For over an hour-and-a-half we were in a violent thunderstorm with spiders’ webs of lightening constantly overhead and bolts striking into the water all around. The rain was dramatic in itself and the radar unable to penetrate it. We were ready with the EPIRB and liferaft as we could not understand how our 17m high mast was being ignored. Afterwards we found the only damage was that the wind sensor on the mast-head had been fried by static charges.

On arrival in Durban next morning we were refused a berth at the marina due to damage where a pontoon had been sunk, and later we saw the damage to buildings and trees from the storm. So we were stuck out at anchor in the ninth busiest port in the world at the mercy of the wash from ships and tugs when we received a strong wind warning of 40 plus knots. Are we having fun yet? It was up anchor and off to find a hole to hide in but due to the joys of mobile telephones, friends ashore, helpful contractors and all on a Saturday afternoon, we arranged an immediate haul-out, one week earlier than booked. Ostrica and crew were safe on land when the southern buster came howling through. These winds come on the fronts which rush from SW to NE along the coast, arriving with a few minutes warning, rarely last 18 hours and then life returns to a very pleasant normal.

Ostrica suffered the indignity of being stripped of all removable deck gear, instruments, canvas, running rigging, etc in preparation for attack by the painters. This was the first time ever that the hull and coachroof had been painted, the gel coat being 23 years old. Standing rigging for the mainmast was measured and lots of items sent for re-chroming. New canvas dodgers were ordered, the liferaft serviced, anchor chain replaced, anchor galvanised, and so the list went on. Once the painters took over we accepted the hint, and went on holiday.

In Richard’s Bay we had bought an SUV which we now filled with our kit and set off to see something of our host country. The NE of S Africa is defined to the west by the Drakensburg mountain range, which erupts vertically from the rolling landscape over which we had driven. Here we were able to relax at last. We rented a thatched ‘cottage’ in the Kamberg national park. Several days of walking included a guided climb to a rock shelter in the upper cliffs where there is extensive rock art by the San people which has survived for several hundreds of years.

In the Royal Natal Park to the north end of the Drakensburg rift we walked every day and climbed high under the shadow of the peaks, which we left to younger legs. Jean had a lucky escape when she trod on the tail of a snake. With only a brief sighting she was able to describe it sufficiently for the local warden to identify it as an extremely dangerous puff adder, the bite of which has to be treated within an hour or two or you don’t survive. If .someone trod on your tail would you bite back? ‘A very lucky lady’ they said.

We received a pressing invitation from a couple whose wedding we attended in Scotland some 38 years ago. They left the UK on their honeymoon to settle near Johanasburg where they have lived, worked and now retired from a successful accountancy career.

They were going to be at their holiday home on the coast, south of Durban, and please would we come. Off we went, driving through changing scenery, comparing it all with parts of the UK and occasionally Australia or New Zealand. Our hosts looked exactly as we had remembered them, and were generous throughout the busy days we spent exploring the sands, seas, restaurants and social life of Southbroom.

By now we were becoming used to the high fences, the razor wire, the unpleasant guard dogs, the armed response private security patrol vans, and the caution which surrounds everyday life. Reading the newspapers revealed the extent of the crime and violence particularly in the cities. We concluded it was best to be off the streets at night and always have the car doors locked , no jewellery or watches in sight and never be alone at ATMs. All the usual street wise stuff but to the highest level. Hopefully this will suffice and so far we have not heard of any cruisers coming unstuck travelling away from cities.

All too soon we were on our way again, northwards towards the Mozambique border, to spend time in three vast game reserves. On the way we diverted for two nights (complete with a Faulty Towers hotel) so we could visit the site of some of the Zulu v Brits. battles of 1879. At Isandhlwana, 24000 Zulus routed 4900 red coats and there are moving memorials of white painted stones scattered over the rolling landscape where the hundreds of soldiers were buried where they fell. Onwards to Rorkes Drift, the site of the famous Michael Caine, Sean Connery epic film ‘Zulu’, where 170 redcoats held off 5000 marauding Zulu who had pursued them all day following the rout at Isandhlwana. This time the cavalry really did come over the hill and saved further slaughter on both sides.

That was quite enough of the serious stuff so onward to find The Big Five ! But how do you define which of the dramatic wildlife of Africa are so described? We had to ask. They are the ones who can easily, and seemingly often do kill people! Great! Lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros here we come. The game reserves of Ithala, Mkhuze, and Imfalozi-Hluhluwe covered many thousands of square hectares in total. We stayed for a few days in each with either thatched roof or canvas over our heads at night. The grunts, roars, screeches and rattles of the night were left behind at dawn as we motored out along hundreds of kilometres of dirt track at about 20 kph. Cameras at the ready, one looking left, one right, and ready to stop and silently watch any movement. Thus we would be occupied until about 10.00 when a return to base allowed for cups of tea and a snooze before resuming along different tracks for evening watch until dark when one had to be back in camp, the gates closing behind the last vehicle. We will spare you the all the names of animals and birds we were ticking off a list of hundreds. These did include the big five, some very close. It was a test of patience and perseverance to find the lion and leopard but other species, particularly the different ‘bucks’(antelopes), were prolific. Lots of giraffes, zebras, rhinos, buffalos and a few elephants. To see the wreckage left by a herd of elephants which had been feeding on trees was amazing. But where were they now? Follow the mountains of fresh dung, but as we were not allowed off the dirt tracks this had limited success. Coming around a corner in thick bush on a single width track to find a surprised, short-sighted, bad tempered few tons of rhino. only a few metres away, is ‘interesting’. Should you ever visit us we can certainly bore you into a long sleep with all the photos. There is an easier way to see all this. Private game ‘parks’ proliferate where a large area of land has been fenced and game imported for the express purpose of providing sightings for tourists. You are almost guaranteed to see all the major species, and in a only a couple of days. You are driven around by wardens who have a good idea where to find perfect photo opportunities. We were fortunate to have the time to not only see the wildlife in the reserves but perhaps to get a ‘feel’ of Africa.

Back to Durban and to work. It was not a surprise but a bit disappointing to find little progress on the paint job and none on the rigging. We moved into a B &B, living aboard was impossible, and started prodding and pushing to get the work rolling. Early arrival in the yard at 0700 arriving with the lads, stay until about 1800, (two hours after they had finished). Long days produced success eventually with Ostrica literally looking like new. There were many frustrations but this is Africa and there is a local saying, certainly amongst people we have met: ”AWA,” i.e. Africa Wins Again. While all the contractor’s effort was being expended externally we both dug deep into the bowels of Ostrica and cleaned, sanded, then painted the bilges and most lockers. This is an upside down sort of existence for much of the time and was found to be well overdue. We did find a few things we did not remember but,of course could not throw away, ‘just in case’ it may be needed in the middle of nowhere.

Our sanity was saved by Fred and Eva who are amateur radio enthusiasts, well Fred is, and who, twice each day, work a HF radio net for contact with yachts and others sailing from CapeTown northwards and eastwards out as far as the Maldives and Chagos. Fred is up before daylight trawling sources of weather information which then enables him to pass on the forecasts and reports for whichever region each boat contact is in. This is very special.

We had been in touch long before arriving in S. Africa and now they turned up in the boat yard looking for us. Off we were whisked to their home for dinner, then to their Yacht Club at Bluff for braais and to watch the rugby on t.v.

Launch day was 14th May and we tied up about half a mile away on piles at Bluff Y.C. The boat was put back to full working order and we were suddenly relaxing ‘at home’ once more. The social life of the club was a magnet but we persevered with the preparations and decided we had to return to Tuzi Gazi in Richards Bay to leave Ostrica before returning to the UK. So we had yet another round of farewells, took a weather window with southerly winds and had a blessed uneventful sail. To be greeted by Nell and Des, Yo and Dan at 0700 in the morning with hugs and ribald comments was great. Their attention and willing assistance to look after Ostrica in our absence is very special, as is their tuition to improve John’s cooking at the braais. We were soon back on our preferred berth and had allowed ourselves just enough days to put Ostrica into ‘laid up afloat’ mode before the big silver bird dropped us back in Manchester on 13th June.

Our plan was to enjoy the British summer months with our family, you know the sort of thing, building sandcastles on the beach, have a paddle, get a sun tan, sink a few real ales……… It rained, then it rained again, until we have had the wettest summer on record. Yes we did build the sand castles but were in full wet weather gear. The north wind precluded grand-parents from paddling, forget the sun tan, but we have enjoyed too much ale. Friends have been to stay in our little nest here in Oswestry. Garry and Kerry from Mooloolaba were here last week, on their way ‘around Europe’. John knocked down walls, built new ones, moved a door, refitted some of the bathroom, and generally enjoyed himself ‘improving’ this literally new house. Jean has made curtains for all the windows at last, delayed only by the committee being slow in choosing materials. The 40 yr old sewing machine has had to have surgery, but seems (pun) to have recovered. To try to delay similar failings in ourselves we have been exploring the paths and byways around here taking long walks when the weather has allowed. Lovely times have been enjoyed being entertained by grandchildren and we have of course done our share of babysitting.

Two days before we leave to rejoin Ostrica at the end of September Yasmin is being Christened, (another party), so there is now a focus on this event. Then we have learned that Brain and Kay are expecting a third child in February so our little tribe flourishes.

Once we have Ostrica back in commission we plan to set off on a tricky 900 miles to CapeTown. After Christmas we hope to cross our ‘last’ ocean towards Brazil via St Helena and Ascension islands. Maybe we will complete our circumnavigation in Trinidad before the end of the year.

So many of you keep us up-to-date with your lives and adventures that we can only apologise for the infrequency of our replies. Please know we treasure news of all our many friends from near and far, do keep in touch.

As always our very best wishes to you all, Cheers J & J

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