This article will be published over the next three days o be sure to join us to the end
South Africa has numerous catamaran manufacturers that have established a solid reputation in both the cruising and charter world. Right here in St Francis Bay we have Nexus yachts run by the Paarman brothers as well as St Francis Marine owned by the Lethbridge family. Both produce world class cruising catamarans. Many of us remember Duncan Lethbridge tragically passed away not so long ago. I still have many fond memories of my time spent working at St Francis Marine (almost a decade ago now) and would like to dedicate this previously penned article to Duncan, an old school sailing Legend, and one of the founders of St Francis Bay.
South African catamarans feature prominently at every major boat show worldwide. Now being located on the Southern tip of Africa has always presented its challenges to boat builders. Regardless of the time of year, getting their product to these shows on time and in pristine condition is crucially important. Enter the “Delivery Skipper”
It’s a crisp morning in late July as this particular delivery skipper watches the massive sliding doors of Bay 3 open at St Francis Marine. The latest “Phantom” 50 is wheeled into the elements for the first time. It’s impressive but there’s no time to admire her just yet. The brand new rig from Southern Spars has just been driven up from Cape Town on the yards customized trailer. The rigger is standing by and the clock is ticking. We get straight to work.
As we hoist the mast aloft on the yards crane my phone rings…..it’s one of my delivery crew wanting to confirm the trip. I answer the phone, “Ja Bru, get the U.S visa sorted for you your lady, we’ll be in Cape Town in a week or so.“
3 working days later we are sea trialing off Port St Francis enjoying an impressive turn of speed. Full main and the new screecher from Quantum have us doing 12 knots in a heartbeat. As we calibrate instrumentation it appears that all the systems are functioning well. I am happy for the 48-hour shakedown cruise to Cape Town that will follow, but my concerns lie in the Atlantic and beyond.
The Annapolis Boat show runs from the 7th to the 11th of October, some 8200 nautical miles from Cape Town. In order to get there we need to get going soon. It looks like the hurricane season is going to be a busy one and I’m feeling edgy.
We finally left Cape Town on evening of the 12th of August. Four of us, Deon and Kat are newlyweds and both recently qualified Yacht Masters who are doing the trip for the miles. Karl is an experienced Yacht Master and acquaintance from the “Stock”. I was confident with my crew even if we’d only just met. They are good people I told myself, and they all have tickets. Over the next 2 months we would definitely get to know each other, hopefully becoming friends. Carrying extra 600 litres of fuel on top of our standard 880 litres, I was confident of making Trinidad. My logic was head there first. It’s below the hurricane belt. We could re-victual then head up through the Caribbean Sea to the Bahamas where we were to rendezvous with the new owner. I was also carrying an old gennaker from one of the 44’s and was pleased that we had this sail. I intended to fly it as much as possible, should the conditions suite.
And they did………. After 24 hours we had a F5-6 southeasterly and we hoisted that Gennaker aloft. We were still getting to know each other so I took my time double checking the tack line and sheet leads. Then Deon hoisted the sock as I trimmed on the sheet from the helm station. The gennaker ballooned out in front of us and watching the smile broaden on Karl’s face, we took off ! I soon realized that this cruising catamaran is designed to perform. Downwind with just the gennaker we were regularly hitting 15 knots, surfing into the late teens. As I flipped a perfect “easy over” fried egg we hit a 20knot surf! Passing a sandwich of note to Karl at the helm I thought it impossible for his grin to get bigger……..but it did! Surfing down waves at 20 knots with ham, cheese and egg “sarmies”…….we were clearly having a good time! Thank you Angelo Lavranos !
But all good things have to come to an end. The delivery gennaker had been repaired more than once and as we flew along, chewing up the miles, we aptly named it “Patch”. I made a call to keep flying it through the night. The sea was quite big and fairly short with the wind gusting a bit, so in retrospect I should have got it down before nightfall. But we had a deadline to meet and I didn’t. A few hours later right in the middle of a quiet moment on the toilet, there is a hammering above me. “Patch” had blown…exploded actually! We’d punched into the back of a swell off a16knot surf. Boat speed dropped to 9 knots and simultaneously the wind had gusted to 30……….”Kaboom!”……….Patch had gone to sail heaven! All hands on deck we soon retrieved the tattered sail, furled out the genoa and continued on our way.
I suppose this marked the beginning of an amazing and memorable voyage. But I had no idea then, (doing some delayed paperwork), that what lay ahead would be far more serious than I would ever have imagined.