November 2017 - South Africa

1 November 2017  Pongola Game Reserve, South Africa
It was another early 06:00 start - this time to go on a guided hike.  The guide was armed with a huge rifle and started by telling us to keep quiet because he was trying to find Rhino in the hilly bush.  Unfortunately (or is it fortunately), he couldn’t find any Black Rhino, so we headed off for the grass lands and spotted the usual Impala, Zebra and Warthogs.  

The highlight was finding a Dung Beetle pushing his tightly rolled ball of dung (containing fertilised eggs), which he strives to bury in a safe place.  Sisyphus springs to mind.  It was a nice walk, but you see more wildlife in a Safari Truck.

After another huge breakfast, we jumped in the car and drove 1½ hours to Pongola Game Reserve and then to the Mvubu River Lodge.  Again we were given a lovely chalet, this time overlooking the meandering river.   

Dung Beetle

We went on an afternoon cruise on a nearby lake, which was on a small 5 metre boat with just four people plus the guide.  It was very good and we were shown Crocodiles, Hippopotamus and lots of birds.  Many animals come down to the water’s edge to drink, so we saw White Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Warthogs, Impala, Waterbuck to name a few.

The Hippopotamus are amusingly boring.  They spend all day hiding from the heat submerged in the water.  They huddle together in groups of about a dozen, sinking below the water and only appearing to breathe or when they hear a boat coming close.  All you see are their heads, but we’re told that they are very dangerous if you get too close or get between them and their young.

The dinner was included with our accommodation.  It was disappointing - too much like English pub food - two types of meat, cauliflower cheese, potatoes and cabbage. 

2 November 2017  Manyoni Private Game Reserve, South Africa
We had a bit of a lie-in because the morning game drive didn’t start until 06:30.  It was okay, but not as exciting as Ithala.  After only three days, we’ve become blasé about Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, Kudu, and Warthogs.  The highlight of this morning’s trip was seeing a group of White Rhino down by the river. Yawn, common as muck…

African Game Reserve

We drove to Manyoni Private Game Reserve to stay at the African Spirit Game Lodge.  There were good roads until we arrived at Mkuze town, after which the road turned to gravel.  Two kilometres later, we arrived at the entrance gate to the reserve.  From there it was 10 kilometres along a gravel road to the African Spirit Lodge - it took ages because we could only go at 20 kilometres per hour.

The lodge is an expensive, fully-inclusive resort, but they have a single self-catering chalet which Glenys managed to get for £52 per night.

We’d booked onto an evening game drive.  The guide wanted to go out to look for some Lions because they’d had reports of an injured male lion.  We drove along the main road for ten minutes and then pulled off the side towards a small tree and there was a young male Lion.  He was lying almost motionless and we stopped 20 metres away.  After a few minutes, he sat up and wandered 30 metres away from us - obviously limping on his left front leg.

Our guide moved the truck and the lion just stayed where he was, obviously used to people staring at him.  It was an incredible photo opportunity and we were in awe at being so close to such a predator.  After twenty minutes, we left him in peace. 

After a small diversion trying to locate the rest of the small pride of lions, we headed off to another part of the reserve.  The guides from the different lodges talks to each other on VHF radios and report sightings.  We turned into a small road where another truck was parked and I was thrilled to see a Cheetah lying on the ground about 10 metres away from us. 

Cheetahs Hunting

After watching this magnificent animal for a few minutes, he stood up; walked behind a bush and reappeared with another Cheetah - OMG.   Our guide thought that the Cheetahs were going to go to a nearby water hole, but a minute later, they raced past us hunting some prey.  We intercepted them five minutes later and they were still stalking about looking for dinner - they are magnificent.

We had another hour of driving around viewing animals, but nothing could top the Cheetahs.

3 November 2017  Mkuze Game Reserve, South Africa
We had another early start, checking out as soon as the office opened at 07:00.  As we were driving along the gravel road towards the exit, we were pleased to see a family of Ostriches strolling towards us.  Dad and Mum were looking very anxious (and scary), so we stopped 20 metres away and allowed them to lead their four little chicks into the bush. 

Carrying on back to Mkuze town, we continued through to the Mkuze Game Park.  It was a long 20 kilometre drive on gravel roads - not the easiest place to get to.  The entrance tickets only cost £8 for both of us and were driving inside the park by 08:15.  This was our first self-drive and the roads were a mixture of tarmac and gravel - both in much better condition that the normal roads outside the park.

Although the park has the “Big 5”, we weren’t very successful.  We saw Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, Wildebeest and Nyala, but nothing very exciting.  There’s a lake at the south-east corner, which has some Hippos, but by the time that we got there, it was blisteringly hot, so all the animals were sensibly hiding.  

We had lunch sat in the car with the air-conditioning running full blast and then went into a hide by a water hole, which was the most interesting part of the day, with two troops of Baboons howling at each other as one troop was at the water hole and the other troop wanted to come in.  I think that the next time we do a self-drive; we’ll concentrate on the water-holes.

Foolishly we left by the east gate.  The road quickly became a rutted dirt road and continued for miles and miles.  We managed to survive and made it to the tarmac on the R22, then onto the N2 fast road, so we were back at the boat by 17:00.  After a boozy dinner at the Yacht Club bar, we were in bed early.

Zululand Marina

4 November 2017  Richards Bay, South Africa
We had a leisurely day, getting straight after our little holiday - editing photographs, doing the laundry and a bit of shopping in the afternoon.  We booked some self-catering accommodation for when we are hauled out.  We don’t want to be living on the boat while on the hard and small apartments only cost £30 per day, which is pretty cheap - we’re getting soft in our old age. 

Glenys spent most of the day planning our next land trip, which will be 5 days in the Drakensburg Mountains - she’s planning hiking and horse riding.  Paul and Monique from “Full Circle” came around for sunset drinks.

5 November 2017  Richards Bay, South Africa
It was time to get on with some jobs before we haul out on the 7th.  I changed the oil in the engine and the generator - I don’t like leaving dirty oil in the engines when they won’t be running for a while.  It took me all morning to do the simple job, because I kept thinking of other things to do.

Glenys carried on booking accommodation and activities for our next land-trip.  In the afternoon, I removed the forestay, so that we can fit on the small 30 tonne travel lift.  We’re all ready to go, although I’m a bit worried that there’s going to be howling SW winds when we’re hauling out.

6 November 2017  Richards Bay, South Africa
We pottered about all day, waiting to haul-out.  Glenys finished off booking our land trips and I reviewed to-do lists and played guitar.  It’s great having a car - we popped out to the Boardwalk Shopping Mall to pay some bills and get a new SIM card for our phone.  We originally bought Telcom SIM cards, but the coverage in Richards Bay is poor and it’s non-existent away from the coast.  We bought an MTN card and it’s much, much better.

I went to see a Chiropractor because, after a year, my feet are still feeling numb and tingling, which had become slightly worse after all the driving and bouncing about in Safari Trucks.  It would appear that my symptoms may be a caused by several things - I have a bulging disk in my lower back; my hamstrings are too tight causing pressure on the Sciatic nerve; and I’m getting cramp in my calves and feet, which could be caused by a lack of minerals.

Labour Intensive

Basically, I’m a mess of knotted muscles and have poor posture.   Living on a boat is not helping.  Most of the time, I’m sitting down while being bounced about at sea;  it’s hard to stand tall on a small yacht; I don’t have a regular exercise regime; and I drink desalinated water, which doesn’t have any minerals at all.   

The Chiropractor gave me some massage; a slight adjustment to my lower back and sent me away with some Calcium and Magnesium tablets to adjust my body’s electrolytes.  I need to restart my core muscle exercises; sit up straight; and stretch my hamstrings.  It’s a bummer getting old.

In the evening, we invited Martin & Maggie from “Dream Catcher” over for a beer or two.

7 November 2017  Richards Bay, South Africa
It was haul-out day.  The skies were grey, but the strong wind that had been forecast hadn’t arrived -yet…  We pottered about all day, waiting for high tide, so that there would be enough depth of water on the haul-out ramp.  High tide wasn’t until 16:30 and the plan was to leave the marina berth at 15:30, so it was a long day, anxiously watching the weather.

By the time the yard was ready, there was a persistent light rain and it was cold enough to be wearing a jumper and socks, but at least the wind stayed below 15 knots.

Out of the water

The haul-out is done using a mechanical haul-out rig, which is pulled up and down a ramp using a large tractor and a cable pulley system.  The slings are raised using block and tackle chains, so it’s a very labour intensive process.  The rig constantly goes in and out of the sea water, so the steel is rusted and so are the chains that lift the boat.  It’s rated at 30 tonnes and Alba weighs 15 tonnes, but the whole system still doesn’t inspire confidence.   

I nudged Alba into the haul-out rig and stopped when our depth sounder read 1.9 metres - no doubt just sliding into soft mud.  Three guys then swarmed over the rig and the boat, tying ropes to hold the boat in position.  I had to remove the inner forestay as well as the forestay because the rig is so small - the mast is now held up by the genoa halyard.

It took ages for them to position the slings.  The foreman was diving under the boat to position the slings to make sure that they didn’t foul our propeller or anything else.  The three of them were in and out of the water wearing ill-fitting wetsuits, so they must have been freezing.  After 30 minutes of fussing about, they finally used the block & tackle to lift the boat and we slowly trundled out of the water.

It was late when they’d got us into position, so they lowered the boat to the ground on a couple chunks of wood and left us in the slings for the night.  We were wet through and cold, so we grabbed a few bags of things and drove to Fig Tree, our self-catering apartment.  The room is small, but very nice with a kitchenette, a big TV and an on-suite bathroom, so we’re happy here rather than roughing it on the boat.

Pressure Washing

8 November 2017  Richards Bay, South Africa
There was no point in rushing to the boat because I knew that the boat yard guys would take all morning to pressure wash and then shore up the boat.   We took our time and went to the supermarket first.  Sure enough, when we arrived at the boat at 10:30, they were still pressure washing the hull. 

We climbed onto the boat and chilled out as much as we could, with loud hammering resounding through the hull as they placed the supports.  Most boat yards have specially modified steel “Acrow” props, which have large screws to adjust the support, but here they use wooden poles that are placed into specially dug holes, and then hammer in wedges to adjust the support.  It’s very labour intensive, but I guess that labour is cheap.

Finally at 14:00, they removed the haul-out rig and I could start work.  I first looked at the rudder.  The bearing at the bottom of the skeg has had excessive play for a while and there are signs that the whole bearing assembly is slightly moving.  I decided to bit the bullet and have a bush made.  I removed the large Phosphor Bronze Fitting and cleaned up the fibreglass on the skeg.  I’ll ask someone to make the bush tomorrow.

The next job was to remove the propeller and the Stripper rope cutter, so that I could get at the worn Cutlass Bearing, which is the main reason that we’re hauling out.  It all went fairly well despite the yard guys who had already started to sand our hull ready for anti-fouling.  I’d printed some photos of them hauling us out yesterday and they were delighted when I gave them one each - in fact they were too helpful and getting in my way, but we were all smiling, which is half the battle.

To my amazement, everything came off with no problems, so I’ve done most of the hard work and now just need to get a few bit of engineering done before I can replace everything.  We ran away to our apartment at 17:30, stopping for a take-away pizza on the way - it’s great having a car.