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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Giant's Castle

Image : Diane Selkirk


While staying in Durban we made a visit to the stunning Drakensberg mountains, specifically to the area known as the Giants Castle.

In this region the mountains form the border with Lesotho, and reach up to 3000 meters high, capturing snowfall in the winters.

These are stunningly beautiful mountains, forming a natural barrier to the central African escarpment, trapping much of the rainfall generated by moist air from the Aghulas current.

With Diane, Maia and Evan from the catamaran Ceilydh we drove and then day-hiked to see the cave paintings of the San people, the original bushman of Southern Africa.

A Visitor At Our Picnic Lunch
Thousands of years old, the paintings we saw had survived remarkably well, except where they were fired upon by British troops during the Zulu wars, who believed them to be secret enemy communications (!).

There are thousands of cave painting sites in these mountains - the site we visited was linked to the beautiful Giant's Castle Resort, run by KZN Wildlife inside the 34,000 ha Giant's Castle Wildlife Reserve, originally proclaimed in 1903 and now a World Heritage Site.


Sunday, 20 December 2015

South Africa - Marine Services Guide

Our guide to service providers for the marine and cruising world in South Africa is now available online.

Admittedly it is still a work in progress, but has grown big enough to be useful to many folks.

You can download via the Cruising Service Guides tab above, or click here for a direct link.  We're keen to receive updates and additions for the guide, so please email suggestions through to us.

January 1st, 2016 :  Extensive updates, additional data now included.   

January 21st, 2016 :  Further updates to Cape Town listings.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Christmas Brings Rain For The Wildlife In Kwa Zulu Natal

Our first day inside the Hluhluwe / Imfolozi Reserve and we find a breeding herd of elephant, watering in the virtually dry river bed. The drought here had been very bad, and the Park Rangers were trucking water into the water holes to support the animals.  This actually made it easier for us to see the larger animals, as they were concentrated close to what little water remained.  However the pressure on the animals is enormous, with competing species and herds in close proximity and predators always close by.

Miraculously, that night, the rains arrived and we watched from our mountain-top camp as the spectacular purple and black thunderstorms rolled in from the south. This area, between the Black Imfolozi and White Imfolozi rivers, was the traditional hunting ground of the Zulu kings, where the King's sons hunted Lion to prove their manhood.  Both those rivers flowed briefly that night, and then more strongly some days later when further substantial rains arrived.


We returned four days later to find trees budding, water holes filling, grasses sprouting and the animals engaged in a celebration of life.  Seriously, even the Rhinoceros seemed happy to see us - with so much fresh water around, the environment seemed drunk on life.  Giraffe, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Impala, Wildebeest, Eland - they were all out celebrating, wallowing in mud holes, feeding on new growth and virtually ignoring our presence.  It was a special time, with Lions mating and other species getting the love message very clearly.

The new growth brought out exceptional behavior and we often found ourselves having to back down when the elephants claimed the road, stripping new green shoots from the trees as they (destructively) moved along the river valleys.  Easy to see when you are getting close to the elephants - the tree branches and fresh greenery thrown all over the track are a sure "tell".

The Hluhluwe / Imfolozi reserves are the oldest nature reserves in South Africa, the site of the White Rhinoceros research, capture and breeding program that effectively saved that species on the continent.  Kwa Zulu Natal province operates all it's reserves and parks through the KZN Wildlife organisation, which in our experience is a very professional and well managed operation.

We stayed at Hilltop Camp, a laid back and very comfortable resort in the middle of the park, with spectacular mountain views.  Hilltop is a government run enterprise, with skilled rangers employed to provide guides and tour experiences. However the level of staff motivation and "ownership" is exceptional, and we were thrilled to be part of the experience there.  Certainly Hilltop Camp is a special place, and the KZN Wildlife organisation is a world class operation.  We'd go back to Hilltop Camp in a heartbeat.

We did travel on the well organised early morning and evening game drives, in 4 wheel drive trucks operated by the resort.  However our most exciting experiences happened when we were exploring in our own rental car, in which we covered every track that could be reasonably driven.  We made it back to camp each evening in time for a relaxed gin and tonic on the balcony, and celebrated our own early Christmas.

Need more encouragement ?  Click the link below for more Christmas animal magic....

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Things That Work For Us # 7 - Northern Lights Genset

It's really hard to speak when you are on hands and knees, your face buried against the cabin sole, happily worshiping your genset  .... a  Northern Lights unit.

You think I'm going overboard here ?  Seriously, this is how grateful we feel !

Northern Lights M673L3 Installed On Crystal Blues
After way too many years of dealing with constant Onan genset failures, we got smart and sold the thing to someone else.  Sure it didn't run, and had done over 2700 hours. Then again we sold it for peanuts, which is more than it was worth, in our opinion.

To give you a short history, our first Onan generator was such a complete dud that the factory replaced it at 740 hours of service, no charge to us.

Unfortunately they replaced it with the same model, with the same old problems.  You can guess how much fun that was.

We had to replace the impeller every 100 hours to keep the thing reliable, replaced countless water pumps and drive couplings, and when the control board finally failed they wanted over Two Thousand US dollars for a new board. Get outa here.... !

Onan Coupling Failure - Not Happy
This was incentive enough to move us into the real world, and we purchased a compact Northern Lights M673L3 6kva 230vac generator very economically, direct from the distributor in Taiwan.  It was shipped into Langkawi Malaysia, and delivered duty and tax free, quite a saving for us.  We craned it aboard and completed the installation ourselves, and have not looked back since.

The three cylinder Japanese manufactured Shibaura diesel engine runs like a Swiss watch, smooth and silent, and now, at 1065 hours of service, I am pleased to say that not a single thing has failed since it was installed.  This is a seriously nice piece of engineering.  I actually enjoy working on it for services and oil changes ... everything is easy to access and it's done in a flash.

Onan Impeller Failure
We spend less than 1/4 of the hours maintaining the Northern Lights unit, compared to the old Onan MDK4 unit. By 1100 operating hours the last Onan had consumed five (5) impellers, two water pumps and one starter motor.

The Northern Lights at the same age has consumed just one (1) impeller, simply because I had the raw water supply valve closed when I started it.  Oops - that was my fault.


To be fair, Cummins purchased the Onan business worldwide shortly
after our initial Onan purchase, and I think they really purchased a bunch of problems.  The very many design issues that afflicted our Onan unit would probably not have existed under a Cummins design regime - certainly I don't think Cummins designers would have allowed a sea water pump with a 3/4" supply hose to be restricted to a 1/4" outlet on the heat exchanger.  The huge back pressure that tiny outlet created, apparently necessary to stop localised boiling in the heat exchanger, was the cause of the constant impeller failures.

In fact the superb support we received from the Cummins team, with our Onan problems, was influential in our decision to eventually re-power Crystal Blues with a Cummins engine - the 4BT-150.  Never the less, Genset control boards priced at over US$2,000.00 will not bring about repeat business.  In the past year I've worked on several other smaller capacity Onan units with mystery problems, on other boats, and sure enough one lucky owner also needed a control board.  He stumped up and laid down the cash - whereas my advice was to toss the whole unit and start fresh with Northern Lights.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Richards Bay To Durban - Music, Fish & Food

Planning to move south, hoping to spend Christmas in Cape Town, we wrapped up our final boat jobs in Richards Bay last week.

We found time for a little music and entertainment, playing blues and bluegrass at Tuzi Gazi marina with Chris Bright from the yacht Yindee Plus and Steve Poulson from the catamaran Emerald Sea.

A few days later we moved Crystal Blues to the very friendly Zululand Yacht Club, trying to avoid the ongoing disaster that afflicts the Tuzi Gazi Marina - I do commend Tuzi Gazi as a place to avoid if possible.

At Zululand YC, Chris and I found ourselves invited to play at the cruisers BBQ dinner, and subsequently at the yacht club bar after the Wednesday night races.

From that gig we received more requests to perform, but a weather window had opened for us and we needed to move south.

Eventually the mainsail was repaired and refitted and our new Tohatsu outboard motor delivered, tested and installed onboard.

Moving south is very difficult at the moment, with very short duration weather windows.  Smaller coastal lows are forming, collapsing and reforming quite frequently, and the weather prediction services are struggling to give reliable forecasts - in fact they often strangely contradict each other.  As a result many boats are lingering in port waiting for weather windows that sometimes appear and often disappear quite rapidly.

For the 80 nautical mile trip south to Durban we motored all the way, with little or no wind.

Ley set the high point for the day by hooking and landing a large Dorado (Mahi Mahi) that was silly enough to tackle her lure whilst she was asleep.  I can assure you that we were both very wide awake by the time that fish was on deck and concussed.  It did take half a liter of cheap rum to quieten it down.

That fish was a real fighter, refusing to be landed and eventually scattering blood and paint scratches all over the transom steps - a real mess.

Of course it also tasted very good, when Ley made up a batch of her fish sausages.  You can download the recipe for those right here.

Now in Durban Marina, we are hosted here by the Point Yacht Club and the Royal Natal Yacht Club.  Both clubs provide great support to visiting cruising boats.  Tonight we'll be at the bar at the Point Yacht Club, playing music again with Chris Bright.  I'd rather be sailing - but music and cold beer are a very welcome second choice.

With luck we'll move on to East London or Port Elizabeth sometime early next week.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Land Cruising In South Africa - Wildlife Is Everywhere


With Crystal Blues berthed at the (quite decrepit) Tuzi Gazi Marina at Richards Bay, in the province of Kwa Zulu Natal, we learned that a number of wildlife parks were close by and very easy to access.

So with Richard & Susan Kidd of SV Sea Bunny, we visited the St. Lucia estuary, part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.  This park is home to large wildlife populations, specially hippopotamus and crocodile.  Waterbuck, Impala, Flamingo and even Leopards are also there, along with many other bird species.

To our surprise, within 24 hours of arriving in South Africa we found ourselves sitting in a rented car on our way to St. Lucia, our first road trip since leaving Reunion. Then, a two hour boat ride through the wetlands provided an exciting and eye opening introduction to wild life viewing in South Africa.  I was surprised (and excited) to see so much wildlife just one hour from a major city.   At this point I realised just how special South Africa really is .... we had been in the country just over 24 hours, and were literally in love.

Being so close to so many wild animals was almost overwhelming - how was it that private enterprise tourism didn't ruin the obviously beautiful wetland tourist sites ?  An extended conversation with the guide and boat driver provided the answer - every single boat on that waterway is piloted and guided by a government employed wildlife ranger, a specialist in the local habitat and someone committed to managing this resource vary carefully.   So, private enterprise can invest and setup tourism operations (i.e. cruise boats) here, but they are very closely controlled by the Kwa Zulu Natal wildlife organisation. This is a great example of public / private partnership.

We returned to Crystal Blues that night determined to see more of the local  game parks and wildlife, and encouraged by the well managed, relaxed, respectful and generally happy society we had been exposed to.


The Stainless Thing That Went Bang In The NIght

Successive Stresses - Click To Enlarge The Image
Some weeks back I reported on a failure of our stainless steel boom bail, when a rain squall brought about a fairly gentle but inadvertent jibe - you can see that story here.

We're still working on the boom repairs, and on installing webbing slings as main sheet and preventer attachment points for the boom.

However the failure of that part is an intriguing lesson in the finite mortality of stainless steel on board the vessels we call home.

This image shows the failed part, and after consulting with experts I can see that this was not an instant total failure - in fact it clearly started to fail a long time back, and subsequent stresses have continued to weaken the bar until less than 50% was holding the thing together. Then came our latest jibe, and away it went.

Naval architect Evan Gatehouse, sailing on the catamaran Ceilydh, showed me how the "beach sand" tide marks on the right hand side are the record of successive stress events, and the final failure is visible with its granular structure at bottom left.  You can't trust old stainless steel it seems.


Things That Work For Us # 6 - Raymarine Autopilot

Way way back in 1990, when Crystal Blues was first launched, the new owners installed a 12 volt electric autopilot system, the Autohelm 4000.  It was made by Nautech in the UK, a company started in 1974 by mechanical engineer Derek Fawcett, a keen sailor and talented inventor.  For more history click here.

Taken over by Raytheon USA in 1990, it quickly became the Raymarine brand.  That business has since split off from Raytheon, gone through a management buy-out, failed financially and then was eventually acquired by FLIR Systems, who now have the business running fast again, with greatly improved innovation, product quality and service.  Fortunately, many of the truly experienced engineers are still with the company.

But this story is about the autopilot side of Raymarine, and the fantastic reliability and service these systems have delivered.  Lets face it - a good autopilot is worth about three crew - it never goes off watch, you don't have to feed it and it doesn't care if the beer is warm.

Most of the original gear on Crystal Blues had been upgraded over the years, but until just weeks ago the original Autohelm Rudder Position Indicator was still in active service, working just fine with the latest series autopilot electronics.  When it failed on the way to Mozambique, we swapped it out with the onboard spare, delighted to find that the physical mounting holes and even the wire color coding were the same, 25 years later !  That sort of consistency is rare, and it sure makes for ease of upgrade and happy customers.  I'm fairly certain that the failed unit had more than 50,000 nautical miles under its belt, over 25 years - a great effort.

Jamie Leads Me Through The Ram Service Procedure
How many marine electronic items last that long ?

Another important autopilot component is the linear ram - in our case a Raymarine electric Type 2 long arm version.  We installed a new ram before we departed Australia, that has now done over 30,000 nautical miles in 10 years.  Last week (with great guidance provided by Jamie Gifford from SV Totem) I stripped it down, checked, cleaned and serviced the unit.

Frankly, it looked like new inside, no powdery deposits from brushes of moving parts, no crusty debris, everything looked pristine.  I gratefully cleaned and lubricated all the gears and thrust races, and re-assembled it with a big internal thank you to the guys that designed and engineered that part.

So credit where credit is due - to Derek Fawcett, I say a very BIG thank you.