Friends who sailed into Knysna some months ago said that we just had to stop here to experience this pleasant estuary town. Easier said than done though. Sailors must have calm conditions to pass through “The Heads” into the Knysna Lagoon. This isn’t easy to plan along this coast. At one section, the gap between the two headlands is only 100m. Big swells rolling in from the south and roaring winds against outgoing tide causes huge breaking waves, making this narrow gap notoriously dangerous for any vessel.
Leaving Port Elizabeth in calm, sunny conditions, we motor-sailed the 145nm to the Knysna heads fully aware that once we enter, we must have the same calm conditions to leave the safety of the lagoon. A few days later it was apparent that we would be confined until these calmer conditions returned.
From the information in our South African Nautical Almanac (available at all good chandlers and fishing supply stores), Wayne followed the easily identifiable leads at the entrance. Swell was around 1.5m and wind was less than 10knots – perfect. Midway through aligning the leads, Wayne announced to my horror “I’ve lost the steering!”. He had to be kidding right? No! He jerked the wheel to port, and with a loud clunk managed to keep control of the wheel and stay on course. Why do these things always happen at inappropriate times?
With the steering still a little clunky but manageable, we crossed the shallow bar and near to the small lighthouse, steered to port following the red and white markers for another couple of miles to reach the anchorage, dropping the pick in around 5m on the outskirts of the mooring area.
After we anchored, Wayne took apart the pedestal to identify the problem. A small M6 nut on our steering wheel lock had fallen off loosening the two locking brackets. These were then jamming when the wheel was turned. A bit of head scratching and Wayne’s typical thoughtful approach to all things kaput (plus miraculously finding a replacement nut that fit perfectly), he had it sorted in no time. All good – phew!
As we arrived on a Sunday we stayed on the pick that night but moved into the small craft harbour at the Knysna Waterfront not far away the next day. It was good to wash the black dust that had quickly adhered to Blue Heeler in the couple of days we were at Port Elizabeth. Our friends aboard KasteHelme were also berthed nearby so once again it was good to see familiar faces too.
With huge southerly swells, strong winds over the week or so we’ve been here, and flood tides at the wrong time of day, we’ve been trapped at Knysna. But not a bad place to be trapped! It’s a safe harbour; plenty of shops to explore; scenic walking trails around the lagoon; nearby Brenton-on-Sea if you feel like a swim; and refuelling and provisioning is very easy here.
The Knysna Yacht Club, founded in 1910, welcomes all international yachties and offers seven days membership for free. The yacht club restaurant is busy on a Wednesday night for dinner and the place was packed as we enjoyed a night out. Berthing is at the small boat harbour at the Knysna Waterfront managed by Herbie, or you can contact the yacht club to grab a mooring, although at this time of year nothing was available.
Knysna is a whole lot different from Richards Bay – a tourist town with a demographic of well-funded retirees, golf courses and watercraft of all shapes and purposes. Supposedly ‘safer’ than some other towns we’ve visited, we were advised to still take care when out and about. The nearby estuary islands – Leisure Island and Thesen Island – have lovely homes with beautiful gardens overlooking the lagoon. These communities are not caged with razor wire and electric fences but still have an obvious security presence.
With a car we drove back around to look at the heads from the top of the eastern headland. The entrance was shrouded in heavy sea-fog; a common feature of this coast which we hadn’t yet experienced. A helpful website for monitoring the conditions of the heads is the webcam – http://www.theheads.co.za. We also took a drive to Mossel Bay about 100km west. It’s a lovely tourist town, although the marina doesn’t look as nice as Knysna. It looks okay to anchor out of a south-westerly blow too. There is a low level mountain range north of Knysna and we drove west to the outdoor market at Sedgefield, then onto the town of George. We then circled east along the dryer northern boundary of the mountains, before turning south driving 90kms along a narrow dirt track through the rocky valleys and forests. Beautiful views along this drive and the road, although narrow, was well-maintained.
In South Africa tipping is expected at restaurants, parking and fuel station attendants. When parking at shopping centres or any place where there’s a carpark, an attendant with a yellow or red safety bib usually pops out of the bushes and greets you to let you know that he’s “looking” after your car. As part of the service and to make us feel like we’re getting our money’s worth, he is there to direct our miniature Chevrolet Spark hire car out of the carpark. We give him a few Rand for his effort and everyone is happy. These guys earn very little so it doesn’t hurt to help them along.
I’m glad we stopped here. It’s a safe harbour and a nice change to the other towns of East London, Port Elizabeth and Richards Bay. Today with the high tide at 4pm, the wind around 15knots from the south-east and a 2.5m swell, we reckon it’s okay to sail out of the heads. Yesterday the seas were around 3.5m and there was no way we would exit as the waves were breaking at the entrance. In a couple of days we will be in Simonstown and into the Atlantic Ocean. Yay!