Ocean with grey sky, Robben Island (Cape Town, South Africa) in the background.

(Mind) Lost at sea

On the 22 December 2022 we left Hout Bay, South Africa for our first Atlantic Crossing to Saint Helena Island and then to Brazil.

For the first few days we had a good weather window – nature was being kind to us. We hardly ate as it didn’t seem to be a priority and we didn’t have the energy to put a proper meal together anyway. I hardly drank… anytime I tried to drink or eat something I would instantly throw up… I got used to this but was eventually super thirsty and dehydrated so I would just drink in the hope that something would stay in and eventually it did. On the 3rd day our kicker plate broke, now we were quite exhausted and needing repairs, we decided to redirect to Luderitz in Namibia for repairs and to recuperate. This was our first attempt at an ocean crossing.

Luderitz was an adventure in itself. A small coastal town with super friendly people. Very little to do there but we enjoyed walking through the town which had some beautiful architecture.

We met some really interesting locals – Andy and Eiitango Jetango – from completely different spectrums of the people in Namibia. One, of British decent, with quite an unusual underwater space suit on his boat which he used to participate in the retrieval of a WW2 bomber from Loch Ness.

Andy is 70 and he used to paddle everyday from the shore to his yacht and back – regardless of the howling winds in the afternoon – he was super fit. Andy even towed us a few times after the wind was pushing us in the wrong direction… can you imagine – a small dinghy being towed by another small dingy – the one in the back with 2 middle aged people.

The first time we attempted to leave our yacht we decided to head sideways to the closest land which had some boulders on it… it was quite an adventure with me holding onto the boulders, half in – half out, while Dimi tried to do something with the failing outboard engine… we had a good laugh – especially thinking if anyone had been watching they would have also enjoyed the laugh.

To see Andy and his special suit in action back in the day:

Eiitango Jetango, as he had recently renamed himself, was born and raised in Namibia, he moved from Windhoek to Luderitz a few years earlier. He is working as a tour guide however his true passion is in offering support and trying to get resources from the local government for the youth. He enjoys mentoring them and encouraging them to see a different perspective in terms of what is possible for them. He is a deep thinker and loves to engage in philosophical conversation. As we left he was going to move out of his apartment in 2 days and had not yet found a place to stay, this left us feeling quite worried about him. His perspective of Namibia is that the government could be doing more to support the youth.

Three people in a selfie: to the left caucasion man with beard , moustache and dark brown dreadlocks; centre: African man with bread and moustache and sunglasses on his head; right: caucasian woman with light brown hair
Left to right: Dimi, Eiitango Jetango & Kay

We enjoyed our time with these two so much and we were sad to say our goodbyes.

We didn’t get the repairs needed in Luderitz, but we did get the rest, supplies and a little feel of arriving in a new place on our boat.

After a week in Luderitz we were ready to continue and set sail for Saint Helena Island, deciding that maybe the kicker was not so essential on our course of downwind sailing. We left in the red… that is, on the Windy app, the wind was forecasted for +/-25-30 knots. We felt confident and started our process of shifts (4 hours on – 4 hours off). We started using our autopilot more and more and we discovered that the autopilot was draining the battery overnight so we would put the engine on for sometime in the evening / early morning to recharge the battery… this was problematic because our diesel engine is bloody noisy so this interrupted night time sleeping, and we were worried about our diesel consumption. Not using the autopilot at night was not an option as it saved us many hours of hand steering in the dark with very little sleep.

On the third day the backstay, an important part of our rigging snapped above out heads and Dimi jumped into action to take down the main sail and then the working jib. We reinforced our mast with the help of halyards (extra rope). We acted fast, then when we felt we had done everything we could, we allowed ourselves to feel and to think about the way forward. I wasn’t sure how to feel, and so I looked to Dimi to know if this was serious or not. On the surface he seemed cool and unstressed but later he said he was unsure about continuing on our trip with things breaking.

Again we were redirected, this time our friend and fellow sailor Holger, suggested that with the current conditions (strong south easter and the wind behind us) we should rather head to Walvis Bay to the North and so we did, with the help of Holger, emergency services MRCC and the support of our friends and family we arrived exhausted but safe in Walvis Bay 2 days later. We found a good place to anchor early in the morning, threw down our anchor, checked we were safely anchored and went to sleep.

Let me put things into perspective… I was quite reluctant to do this adventure and it was purely due to the crippling seasickness that I would get nearly everytime we went sailing. I knew that if that could be removed, then I would be ok.

Luckily our friends gave us a few special patches for seasickness called Scopoderm… this meant that although I was throwing up every now and then, it wasn’t accompanied with the other symptoms of sea sickness i.e. constant nausea, exhaustion, the shakes, headaches.

This meant that I could really experience the sailing itself.

What happened on my shifts was quite extraordinary… my mind cleared, I began to watch the clouds, to look up at the sky, at the water. I began to listen to the sound of the water and the wind and the whispers coming from it. I enjoyed the silence between Dimi and me. I felt connected to life.

At times I felt a loss of mind… or maybe it was an expansion of mind. Something happens when you are sitting alone on shift, your senses become heightened as your awareness hones in on the boat, the ocean, the wind, the sky. It is a kind of loss of mind and a peaceful coexistence with nature.

There was a lot of internal and outloud negotiating… I’d ask the wind to stop, to change direction, to slow down, I’d ask the ocean to be kinder, to stop rocking us, to stop breaking over us. I felt unsafe and afraid at times, and at points completely exhausted but I carried on. I am stronger than I knew myself to be. Dimi is stronger than I knew too.

In many ways sailing is a kind of active meditation… we are 100% devoted to the task ahead… to arrive safely… destination pre-planned but arrival point not guaranteed. We are completely immersed and at the mercy of the elements. We learn to be flexible, to be ok with change and we become more adaptable, more resilient, more self reliant and we surprise ourselves again and again.

Choosing to sail or to do anything difficult again and again is like a mother choosing to have another baby while she enjoys the joy of her child in her arms, forgetting the painful labour which was a pre-requisite to her joy… and so we plan to set sail again for Saint Helena, our feet are itching for it… we are committed to seeing it through and to becoming what we will be at the end of it.

And as many a South African mom has said, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.





3 responses to “(Mind) Lost at sea”

  1. Dimitri Dhuyvetter Avatar

    First post by my wife @Kayza about her/our experience trying to sail from Cape Town to St Helena. Nice to read her experience, even though we did it together, reflecting back and writing about it always gives a different perspective. Check out her other posts via @kay #cruisingLife #Luderitz #WalvisBay #Namibia #sailing

  2. Alison Gasparini Avatar
    Alison Gasparini

    This is so beautiful. Please write more as you continue your adventure.

  3. Danielle Piessen Avatar
    Danielle Piessen

    Oh Kay, the way you are telling your story and feelings is wonderful !

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