Worse things happen at sea, they say, and the plants and trees in the communal garden, struggling under the frosty blanket of snow and ice, all but mock the notion.
However, I know it's true, especially in the mighty Southern Ocean, well sou'-south west of South Africa, where an icy current streams up from Antarctica, shoving its way through the never-ending current from the west, circling the globe.
|Tough going ... Fighting to gain ground at sea is demanding, especially for a sailing yacht. (Many thanks to Science Daily for the illustration.)|
In this part of the vast expanse of the ocean, should you be sailing there, you have to fight to keep your course against these mighty elements.
Very often a third great force joins the battle, which seems all part of the great, well, washing machine that keeps the world and its inhabitants healthy.
The Cape Doctor is a mighty wind which blows from the heights of Table Mountain, in Cape Town, down the foot of South Africa and thrusts far south into the Southern Ocean.
This tormented region lay on the path of the final oceanic voyage of my really satisfying years as a DoT Commercial Yachtsman. I tell of it in Sailing to Purgatory – chapter 41 …
Sal and I cross the icy current pushing up from Antarctica. It's freezing out here … and down in the cabin. A new urgency, a fresh challenge, enters the navigation. We need to tread carefully with the heading as there's a very real risk of being swept to the west of Cape Town, far offshore.
Find yourself out there, pushed away from the peninsula, and a sailor will need more than prayers to reach the Cape. Favourable breezes for that course are almost unknown. It is vital that we stick to this painful beat…
Discomfort and bruising and the intense cold have to be endured. This is the notorious south-easterly which we know of old. It's the long arm of the infamous Cape Doctor, a doctor who storms in uninvited bringing his own worrying conditions. He doesn't know when to go.
Vandalising the briny
Even with our slow progress, the present sou' easter gale will still be vandalising the briny long after we make a landfall.
The course has to be precise, pedantically so, because Cape Town has the only port worth reaching, and perhaps more importantly the harbour closest to the international airport for Sofie's likely arrival. Possible likely arrival, I should say, as unlikely and impossible as it is.
Of course, it's a dream, but dreaming keeps our species going. If I don't reach the Cape, I won't help the dream come true; nor will I know if it might have been no more than a dream.
Sal is doing well, doing her best, given the huge and confused sea and the angle of wave attack. I go below. I'm surrounded by swamped surfaces, awash bulkheads, saline stalactites dripping from the deckhead, saturated air, and a sopping berth. And it's freezing down here.
Cape Town is the vital landfall yet everything conspires to push us away: the weather fronts, the contradictory sea, waves disintegrating in illogical places, massive avalanches of roaring, foaming water cascading from several storeys high, that cold river thrusting up from Antarctica and elbowing its way through the Roaring Forties, and that disruption, the very cross crossroad is right here.
An irony - rather more than an irony - in the unjust in-camera trial I was put through, a 'yachtsman' called as an 'expert witness' insisted that getting to Cape Town would have been easy for me. Perhaps he honestly didn't know of the challenge, although the difficulties for sailing vessels have been well noted and documented since man first ventured into that exciting part of the world.
The bored, worn out jury in the 18-month, longest criminal trial in England, swallowed the prosecution's nonsense. I was sentenced to 19 years, three more than the Lockerbie bomber, with 240 or so deaths to his credit. Madness? It certainly feels like a sort of social madness.
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