Our voyage towards this beautiful city paralleled the South African coast and as we made our way south-west we passed some of the ports I used to call at during the days of my early career. I used to visit South Africa regularly, when I was a junior officer with the Union-Castle line and grew to love the country and its people. I knew the seas well and its idiosyncrasies, its currents and where not to go in the ‘south-westers’, gales which come roaring up the coast. Just off the 100 fathom line was not a place to be in these gales, for here, the Agulhas current, moving south down the coast, would collide with the gales and would result in enormous waves; ships had disappeared without trace in these conditions and many ships had limped in to harbour with decks smashed and, in one case, broken backs. Such was the case with a ‘Ben line’ ship that limped into Durban while I was an apprentice; she was fortunate to survive, for she, having encountered a rogue wave, had broken her back and looked more like a banana, both her bow and her stern low in the water, her amidships section higher.
I digress, for no such gales were in our vicinity and I concentrated on finding the Agulhas current, if I could we would get a ‘ride’ south and thus save fuel. We found it further to the east than I expected and sure enough, we were propelled along nicely and, at one point were making 20.5 knots with just 2 diesel-generators on line; a current of 6 knots in our favour. Such was the massive effect of the Agulhas, that we saved almost 200 metric tonnes of fuel by finding and riding it.
Dawn was breaking as rounded the Cape, the mountains silhouetted against the rising sun; we were rolling despite our stabilisers being out, this due to the ‘Cape rollers’, a large swell for which this area is renown. Turning into Table Bay, past Robben Island and in towards the pilot station, Table Mountain ahead of us and our decks packed with guests enjoying the breathtaking vista.
We were assigned ‘E’ berth, where I used to berth many years ago; it was a tight ‘squeeze’, a ship ahead of us and the turn of the quay astern, no room for error, so we took it gently, easing into the narrow gap. Cape Town had changed considerably since I was last here and the port agent gave me a photo of how it looked in the 70’s, complete with the “S.A. Vaal” docking; déjà vue, as this was the ship bought by a little known company called Carnival, she was at that time, part of the ’mail service’ from the U.K. of which my ships were part.
All fast and 3-days to enjoy the city and its hinterland, so much to do for our guests. Victoria basin, a fishing boat and tug-haven in the 70s had been transformed, a lovely area of restaurants, cafes, shops and ‘fun’ things to do.
The wine-growing hinterland of the Drakenstein was enjoyed by many guests and, of course, Table Mountain, although it was drizzling with rain on the first day, it cleared up during the latter part of our stay.
Off to Walvis Bay, Namibia and we wait for the Queen Mary 2 to berth on the eastern mole before we depart.
Jonathan Mercer is Amsterdam’s captain.