November 2017 - South Africa - Page 2

9 November 2017  Richards Bay, South Africa
We arrived at the boat at 09:00 – there’s no rush, so we’re treating it like a nine to five job.  Glenys worked on cleaning up the propeller and other bits and pieces that I’d removed.  Meanwhile, I checked the cutlass bearing fitting and the propeller shaft, which looks very good with hardly any wear or corrosion. The new cutlass bearing fits on the shaft perfectly, so I gave the assembly to the boat yard – they will press out the old bearing and fit the new one.

Steering Bearing Assembly

I had another look at the lower rudder bearing and confirmed that we need to make a bush for it.  I checked the rudder shaft and it also looks very good without any wear or corrosion.  I also confirmed the diameter of the shaft to be 50mm and gave the assembly and a drawing to the yard. They should have a bush made in a week’s time.

Our steering wheel has been squeaking when the wheel clamp is tightened and I was worried that the bearings were corroded, so I pulled the bearing assembly apart. The Lip Seal on the outer side of the assembly was badly corroded and worn, so I need to replace it.  The manufacturer’s manual has a simple exploded parts diagram, but there’s not enough detail to see how to disassemble the unit.   I removed the bearing assembly from the binnacle without any problem, but screwed up when I tried to pull it apart.

One of the engineers in the yard gave me a hand, but he was a little gung-ho.  We tried to press the shaft out one way, but when the pressure built up to 1 tonne with no movement, I told him to stop.  We then removed a circlip and hammered the shaft out the other way with a copper mallet.  It moved enough that the seal popped out, but a bearing inside was also moved and when pressing the shaft the other way, we’d bent a circlip.

After nipping into town to buy a new seal and circlip, I reassembled the bearing assembly and fitted it to the binnacle. Everything looks okay except the wheel lock doesn’t work anymore.  I’m not sure why and I worry that I have broken something else within the bearing assembly. It’s a job for tomorrow.

10 November 2017  Richards Bay, South Africa
I woke worrying about the problem with the steering.  My nightmare scenario is having the steering or rudder failing halfway across an Ocean.  I tried to find some better diagrams for the steering bearing assembly on the Internet, but had no success, so I sent off a number of emails to various companies.

Holding Tank Valve

I had a go at re-fitting the holding tank after the yard had re-welded it.  The bottom pipe fitting seems to be aligned okay now.  I struggled to get old fitting apart to change the valve and had to drive into town to get some gas for my propane torch. Have I said this before? I love having a car.  Anyway, I’ve cleaned up the fittings and everything is ready to refit, but I still have to re-route some pipework.

I ordered a water pump for our water-maker from Echotec in Trinidad. It’s coming in by TNT who is a pain in the neck.  They told me that I’d have to pay import duty, but I don’t think that we need to pay anything because we’re a “Yacht in Transit”.  I sent them a copy of my passport and ship registration papers and they have now set the status of the shipment to “Ready for Delivery”.

Karen and Graham came around in afternoon and gave us some good information about the Royal Natal National Park where we’re going tomorrow.  There was a big thunderstorm in the afternoon, so I replaced our two forestays – I don’t like the mast to be unsupported in strong winds.  Back at apartment, we packed for our holiday.

11 November 2017  Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa
We checked out of the apartment, dropped some things off at the boat and were on the road just after eight o’clock, heading for the Drakensburg Mountains for a few days of hiking and horse riding.  The 400 kilometre drive was mostly along very good toll roads, but was very tedious.  After a short stop to stock up on fresh food and beer at a Spar supermarket in Winterton, we arrived at the “Berghouse & Cottages” at 14:00. 

The self-catering cottage that we’ve rented is on an old cattle farm set on the hillside over-looking the Northern Drakensburg Mountains, which are about 20 kilometres away.  It’s a very peaceful place with nice rooms and, strangely, half a dozen Shetland Ponies wandering about, mowing the lawns.

Drakensburg Mountains

After unpacking the car and settling into our cottage, we went for a two hour bumble around the farm, which stretched our legs ready for a long day tomorrow.  In the evening, we cooked Boerewors on the Braai – very South African.

12 November 2017  Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa
We were up early and set off at 07:00 to the Royal Natal National Park.  It took us almost an hour to drive to the Tendele Car Park, where the Thukela Gorge Walk starts.  It was a very nice 6.5 kilometre walk, following the edge of Tugela River.  Being a Sunday and the most popular walk in the park, we expected the trail to be very busy, but we only saw six other couples all day.

The path is very easy on the legs, working its way gradually uphill, but most of the time, we were walking without any shade and it was hot even at 08:00.  At around the 5 kilometre mark, the trail went into indigenous forest, which was a relief. 

The path stops at the start of the impressive Gorge which is carved out of the rock, which is some kind of sand stone.  For the next kilometre, the route had us hopping from boulder to boulder on the river bed, which was great fun.  

At the end of the gorge, the river comes out of a very narrow channel called the “Tunnel”, which we were able to explore because the water levels are very low at the moment – it’s very atmospheric being 20 metres high and only 10 metres wide.

Glenys climbing a ladder

There are two ladders at the end of the gorge – the small one on the left goes up a steep track for 10 minutes and ends at a large cave, where there is a good view of Thukela Falls and the huge rock wall of the Amphitheatre. Thukela Falls is allegedly the second highest waterfall in the world, but there was so little water that we couldn’t even see where it was…

The longer ladder to the right at the end of the Gorge, leads up to a bit of a scramble up a slanting chimney, which is fun.  Higher up, a path leads to the upper river above the “Tunnel”, but we couldn’t be bothered to go any further.

It took us a couple of hours to get back to the car and half an hour back to our apartment where we collapsed and had an afternoon nap.  In the evening, we had another Braai, this time with two huge Porterhouse Steaks, which were 30mm thick.  They tasted fabulous – the South Africans know how to produce good meat.

13 November 2017  Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa
We had another 07:00 start, heading back to the Royal Natal National Park.  This time we wanted to do a walk up to the Cannibal Cave, via Sunday Falls and Surprise Ridge.  The signs for the walk yesterday were excellent, so I didn’t pay much attention to our small trail map and followed a sign out of the Mahai Car Park that said “All Walking Trails”.

After fifteen minutes, there was a sign that pointed to the Cascades, Tiger Falls and Lookout Rock, but no mention of Sunday Falls.  Out came the map and I found that we were going in the wrong direction – bummer!  We walked back towards the car park and found a park ranger on the road, who directed us through the Mahai Campsite and up a very small trail. Thankfully, after ten more minutes, we joined the main trail, which leads up from the road just before the Mahai Car Park.

Nice view, but blisteringly hot

The trail went around the side of a rounded ridge, very slowly gaining height with great views of the Amphitheatre behind us.  Unfortunately, there was no shade and it was blisteringly hot.  We came across a river, which we crossed and found that the only path led down to Sunday Falls – we’d missed another path!

After a bit of searching, we found the correct path about 500 metres back – there was a big stone sign next to the faint trail, but it was covered by ferns. By this time, we were a little despondent by our two, thirty minute delays and the blistering heat, but we carried on along the trail which climbed up and went around the edge of another ridge to a third valley.

At this point, we could see Secret Ridge another couple of kilometres away.  We knew that the Cannibal Cave was another 1½ kilometres after that, so with the blistering heat, we decided to cut our losses; found a nice rock, ate our sandwiches and headed back down.  Later, we found out that the temperature had topped out at 35 degrees Celsius.

The walk back down was better than coming up because there are great views of the Drakensburgs.  Huge thunder storms were building over the mountains with huge flashes of lightning and rolls of thunder, but we were still in sunshine.  At one point, we had blue skies to the east of us, but black skies to the west – very bizarre. 

Back at the apartment, we had an afternoon nap and Baccalau for dinner – Glenys found some salt cod when we were in Reunion, which we haven’t seen for a couple of years.

14 November 2017  Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa
Glenys discovered that the B&B offered horse rides, so she booked us onto an early morning ride. We’re doing a two hour ride at a proper horse farm tomorrow, but we haven’t ridden for over a year, so Glenys thought that a short one hour ride would ease us back into riding. Glenys is a good, experienced rider and I tag along.

Riding in the Drakensburg

The Basuto Ponies used to work herding cattle, but they aren’t ridden very much nowadays, so they had lots of energy.  Our guide was a local Zulu, who looked like he had ridden all his life, so he was keen to take out a couple of “experienced” riders.  It was okay for the first ten minutes while we walked, but we soon came to a long stretch uphill and the horses were ready for it.  

The guide took off up the hill and it took some effort to stop my horse racing after him.  I only held the horse back for 10 seconds, but I could feel the pent up energy. A slight lessening of the pressure on the reins and we were off – standstill to gallop in 0.1 seconds.  Yikes.  The saddles were very scanty English saddles with nothing much to hold onto, so it was traumatic, but I managed to hang on.

The guide was grinning from ear to ear, Glenys was looking tense and I was scared.  The rest of the ride was the same pattern – walk for five minutes and then a mad canter/gallop for 200 metres. We were absolutely knackered when we finished the short ride and I could feel muscles cramping as I limped back to the room.

After a hot shower, we loaded the car and drove to Spioenkop Nature Reserve.  It’s a small national park situated around a big lake.  We arrived at midday, which is the worst time to see animals, but the park was on our way to our next accommodation, so it was worth a couple of hours to look around - the entrance fee was only 50 rand (£2.50) each.  As expected, most of the wildlife was hiding, but we saw Giraffe, Blue Wildebeest, Kudu, Zebra and a few Blesbok which we haven’t seen before.

By 14:00, we were on our way to Glengarry where we checked into a small self-catering cottage owned by Berg Trails, a horse riding farm.  It’s in a lovely setting on the side of a hill in the Central Drakensburg Mountains. We settled in and had a couple of problems with the water supply, so after the owner Rick had sorted us out, we offered him a cold beer and he told us a few tales about the area.

Totally wet through

He bought the farm 35 years ago and has built it up to a profitable horse breeding and forestry farm. They grow mostly pine trees, which they then cut into planks in their own sawmill.  The farm is very close to the Lesotho border and he tells us that bands of Lesotho men come down the gullies of the Drakensberg Mountains, bringing in Marihuana and then stealing cattle, which they attempt to drive back up the steep gullies. 

15 November 2017  Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa
The weather changed overnight and we woke to overcast skies with light intermittent rain.  We’d arranged to go on a two hour horse ride and were concerned about the grotty weather, but after a bit of prevarication, we decided to go for it and donned our cagoules.  The horses were Appaloosa (colourful spotted coat pattern) and much more placid that the beasts we rode yesterday.  They were trained in American neck reining and had comfortable trail saddles, which suited us.

It was a “quality” ride – within ten minutes of leaving the farm house, we had torrential rain, bolts of lightning and huge rolls of thunder which unsettled the horses.  There was only Glenys, me and the lady guide, who were mad enough to go out in this weather and we were soon soaked through to the skin.  Despite the rain, it was a very nice ride up through pine forest with a few controlled canters, although the rain soon turned the trails into slippery mud, so we spent the second hour walking.

After a long, hot shower, we stayed in the apartment, dressed in very warm clothes until our core temperatures had been raised to acceptable levels.  Glenys rustled up Egg & Bacon for lunch to further help our energy levels.  The rain continued to hammer down all afternoon with the rolls of thunder rattling the windows.  It was also very cold, so we wore long trousers, socks and our down gilets.  

Finally at five o’clock, I decided that it wasn’t going to get any warmer and lit the log fire.  Luxury – we soon had a good fug up and a cold beer in hand.