Teetering on a slippery slope

Stephen's Scribble

As I was driving back from the inevitably over crowded Point today I noticed two Xhosa women laughing. They held the hands of two white toddlers as they were jumping in puddles on the side of the road. I smiled in the hope that perhaps that image could soften some of the many assumptions that surround our beautiful country.

In the landscape of South African politics we find ourselves in a very interesting time. Last week the Nation was on tenterhooks following Jacob Zuma’s sentencing. At the 11th hour he turned himself in and many breathed a collective sigh of relief. But not for long …. soon after many parts of KwaZulu-Natal descended into chaos.

South Africa (Azania) has had a chequered history. Colonial rule followed by apartheid and more recently a democracy. All have been marked by inequality and corruption. One thing has remained consistent. The wealth has been steadfastly held by a select minority. Currently South Africa has surpassed Brazil in becoming the number one country in the world with the greatest disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. On one side of the fence luxury five bedroom homes with servants, swimming pools and triple garages. On the other, ramshackle make shift shacks without running water, electrification or proper sanitation.

The brazen looting and lawlessness over the last few days may have come as a shock to many but perhaps we’ve been sitting a proverbial tinderbox for decades. What is most scary is the speed with which things have unravelled. Many questions are currently being asked whether law enforcement in this country is capable of bringing the situation under control. If ever there was a time to show the strong arm of the law, surely it is now? What has been unfolding in certain areas of KwaZulu Natal is nothing short of anarchy. And it appears to be spreading. This is probably the most serious socio political unrest since the xenophobic violence of 2008. People are afraid …. and rightly so. Are we facing a revolution? One which many feel they were denied in the early 1990’s perhaps.

With governments sluggish response to the unrest it comes at no surprise that community security groups have become more active than ever. It is understandable that that if law enforcement can’t protect people’s families, businesses and property, community members will take action. It’s undoubtedly a dangerous playing field in more ways than one. Clearly there is quite a large contingency of civilians with weapons out there. Pretty scary stuff.

As a somewhat liberal “Soutie” I’m horrified by the rhetoric of certain “Grens Vegters”. Provocative talk such as “If they’re taking the law into their own hands, then so will we”. Irresponsible, illegal, aggressive action from this sector of our population may well have catastrophic outcomes. The path towards racial warfare is a slippery one. Protecting one’s family is one thing, poking a black mamba with a stick is an entirely different matter. It only takes a few incidents and sadly, it appears they’ve been happening already. Just yesterday in K.Z.N, an innocent black family of four caught in a hail of bullets while driving passed some white militia on a koppie who assumed they were a “threat”. It’s miracle nobody was killed. Gee, thanks guys for all the help.

To make sense of it all is nigh impossible. Who am I to judge? I was one of those kids who grew up with a pool. I’ve seen what life is like on the other side of that fence but I’ve never felt it. Perhaps a revolution in South Africa is destined to be …. who knows? Until a few days ago I’d never really entertained the thought. It certainly isn’t out of the question. One things for sure, I’m not ready to fight it though. With all that we’ve been through as a Nation it just doesn’t feel like something like this could happen. Have I been naive in thinking that there’s just too much to lose and we’d all see it that way? Cry the beloved country …..

Stephen Praetorious

Article by Stephen Praetorious

Oh to be a lighthouse keeper for a night …. !

Stephen's Scribble

Cape St Francis Lighthouse restaurant about to openThere’s something very special about living close to a lighthouse. A symbol of safety and security, protecting mariners from harm…. a reminder of how precious life is. The beams are like an ever steady heartbeat. They bred life into this place nearly one hundred and fifty years ago. To this day they still flash across the sky, ever consisitent …. never missing a beat …. It’s almost mystical.

Sadly for decades the lighthouse precinct here in Cape St Francis has slowly been rotting away. Many of the buildings had been abandoned and fallen into complete disrepair. The area surrounding the iconic tower had been neglected for decades. As one walked passed it looked almost like a minature ghost town ….. but not for much longer …..

I’m sure many of you are aware of the hive of activity that’s been happening recently in the lighthouse precinct. I had a wander around with Paul who passionately shared his vision. I also met Wesley who’s going to be skippering the ship. It seems they are just weeks away from opening and both were super amped!

A major draw card for the locals is going to be the restaurant. “Nevermind” stands on the footprint of the old penguin sanctuary. Seeing the pictures of that dilapidated cesspit it was, it is hard believe the transformation. It looks truly amazing.

The idea behind the restaurant is that it will offer quality as well as value, primarily serving the greater St Francis community. Most of the produce is going to be sourced locally. Fresh organic greens, free range grass fed beef, locally caught fish and bread baked right there are going to be the order of the day.

The design of the restaurant is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Open fire cooking with high tables, sweeping wind protected decks with utterly spectacular views. There’s going to be a barista banging out coffee all day with fresh pastries from the bakery. Inside a wine bar and plentiful informal yet contemporary seating. At first glance it’s really impressive.

But wait, there’s more …. Adjacent buildings too are being renovated, as accommodation. The crème de la crème of which are the two cottages at the foot of the tower itself. Basically people are going to be able to stay in the same house that all the lighthouse keepers stayed in throughout the years gone by. As I understand, it’s the only lighthouse in the country where one will be able to have this experience.

On weekends, there will also be opportunity to make a donation towards a local worthy cause and climb the tower itself. Spiralling up numerous flights of stairs then finally scaling a near vertical ladder may lead to a few sweaty palms, but it’s worth it. Standing up there on the viewing deck in a busting westerly one can really sense the danger. I felt something unfathomable. It was almost as if the souls of lost mariners were whipping around in the gusts trying to blow me off! And the views … 360 degrees of epic!

The lighthouse precinct is indeed a very special place, soon to be entering a different era. People are again going to be welcomed into the fold. The scene has been set. The beam keeps on turning. I for one am looking forward to hanging out there. After a dawnie for a coffee in the sun or an evening meal perhaps. And maybe one day, an overnight stay …. just to be a lighthouse keeper for a night

Stephen Praetorious

Article by Stephen Praetorious

Local surfers up in arms over Webcams

Stephen's Scribble

Local surfers were up in arms last week following news of a webcam having been erected on a private property overlooking Seal Point. I took the opportunity to contact the owner of the webcam, Graham Brand of Ocean Eye as well as several surfers and ocean minded people within our community to find out what is going on.

Ocean Eye, a very popular website that has several webcams installed overlooking various beaches and surf spots around the country. It’s a very clever concept that allows online views of the sea conditions at these locations, in real time, for free! Naturally with ever increasing viewership there is plenty of cash to be made on advertising. It seems a good business.

I caught up with the owner via telephone to discuss the latest installation here in Seals. He appeared to be a nice enough person but was clearly very disappointed at the chilly reception he’d received from several Seal Point locals. According to Brand, the person on whose property the webcam has been installed at has been harassed by the locals to take it down. This also appears to be the case at the establishment hosting a similar installation at the Hulett’s break that has also come under fire from a very irate St Francis Bay local. Brand claims that there have been a number of emails from infuriated board riders and his wife even received a threatening telephone call.

I thus decided to approach a number of long standing residents over the matter and received some interesting feedback. Covid has turned our area into a proverbial ‘boom town’. The influx of people has been phenomenal over the last year and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. For the most part of it, the locals have embraced the extra numbers and welcomed new comers into the village. It is changing so fast with positive spin off’s and some negative ones. A big and bitter pill for surfers, is the crowd factor.

The local board riders here are generally quite mellow and open hearted. Part of why they are here is to experience that soulful solitude of the place and those days of being in the line up with just a few friends were part of that. Nowadays with 30 people in the water of a weekday morning, 20 of which nobody seems to know, is changing all of that. So when a webcam is installed advertising live surf conditions to the entire planet 24/7, I can understand that it is going to be met with vehement resistance.

There are already a host of very effective websites to view regarding sea and weather conditions. It’s actually pretty cool interpreting what effect the wind, swell and tides are going to have on the surf.

So is this webcam really necessary? And if so how does offering an ‘extra service’ help serve the local community?

There is no doubt in my mind that Ocean Eye has experienced negative responses from local surfers before. That there was zero prior consultation on the matter is reason enough to believe that the interests of the local surfing community have been completely overlooked. Bad move! Localism is part of surfing culture, it always has been, always will be. It serves a purpose that isn’t always pretty and last week it reared its head …. BIG TIME!

To many surfers the sneaky way the webcam suddenly appeared feels a bit like a royal “fuck you ou’s”. Senior members of the Seal Point Board Riders association have been in communication on the matter. Solidarity in the resistance to a webcam overlooking the point is unquestionable.

Considering this inevitable reaction from the local surfers, karmic-ally speaking, surely making enemies of a large number of local board riders must be quite a heavy self-imposed tax? Personally, when it comes to small villages, I just don’t see how it could possibly be worth it. Earning an income in hard times can be tough, with some interesting lessons. In this case learning the difference between a hurdle and boundary perhaps? The locals have put a stake in the ground and I don’t see them budging any time soon. A webcam feels a like a slap in the face …. the straw that broke the camels back ….

Brand claims that what Ocean Eye is doing is 100% legal. If there is consent from the host that has the camera installed there his company is well within its rights. “Nobody owns the ocean. The locals have no place to be making demands to have the camera permanently removed.” In saying that, he has begrudgingly agreed to not go live with the feed …. FOR NOW. He is currently consulting lawyers over the matter. According to him, its an inevitability ….. according to many of the board riders ….. It will never happen. What do you think?

Stephen Praetorious

Article by Stephen Praetorious

Hati Hati – Slowly Slowly and look out for the bumps

Stephen's Scribble

I was at an early Pilates class the other day and somebody observed that three or four cars drove passed one after the other. “Jeepers, the traffic has got quite hectic these days” said somebody “Ja, agreed the rest of us, it’s getting busy!” Remembering several busy cities I’d lived in previously I smiled inwardly at how lucky we are.

Traffic is like a snake and that ‘reptilian energy’ is made up by all those who find themselves on that road getting to where they need to go …. like riding on the back of a long, winding reptile encapsulated in the ‘safety’ of our cars. Sometimes fast sometimes slow, always a little dangerous … yet different from place to place.

Let’s take Bali for example. The best way to get around there is on a scooter and it seems EVERYBODY has one! I’ve seen families of 4 on scooters, children no older than 10 on scooters, scooters carrying chickens and dogs, scooters carrying building materials …..even scooters carrying kegs of beer along with a mobile bar! Lets not forget the gazillion tourists on scooters too. Surfers and yoga bunnies all dashing off towards that perfect wave or next conscious class. Plus of course the usual cars and trucks that one would expect. My point is ….. its busy!

In South African cities, the traffic is also pretty ridiculous…… its mostly cars and taxis though and its different……a different kind of snake. People wake up at ridiculous o’clock in order to try and avoid the South African traffic snake and I am beginning to understand why. The South African traffic snake is like a viscous spitting cobra that ‘owns the road’. It’s toxic its nasty, its fast and doesn’t particularly like obeying any rules. All too often when people are stuck in a traffic jam, they step on their hooters in outrage! Try and push in at the last minute and the car to your left will nudge as far fwd as possible to prevent you from doing so. If you do push in expect an angry hooting with hands thrown up in the air. I’ve been zap signed machine gun style for ‘misbehaving’ in traffic. I’ve heard of people pulling knives and even pointing guns as a result of ‘road rage’ in S.A. The sense of road entitlement in South African cities is nothing short of toxic!

In Bali however, its more like driving on an amicable Anaconda. It’s thick and smelly but chilled out. People don’t push in, they just “join the flow” while happily make space for each other. Cutting inside and driving on the wrong side of the road is commonplace. Nobody seems to bother …. ‘hati hati’ as the Balinese say ….’slowly slowly’. The only hooting is when somebody is greeting or overtaking you and its a “beep beep” ….as in ‘hey there …. just gently coming passed you’ …….. not stepping on the hooter and swearing blind as happens all too often in Cape Town.

So what is the traffic snake in Seals like? I guess it would have to be a sun bathing puff adder. But one without any fangs …. Regularly people going in the opposite direction will actually stop to have a little chat. If somebody pulls up behind …. they’ll wait …. it’s chilled. People DO drive slowly and even wave … that’s cool. Road rage here doesn’t really happen. Another small yet quite significant thing that we can be grateful for.

In fact, it appears that our community is becoming more and more “road conscious”. It’s cool to see some speed limit signs have been erected approaching sea Vista. Also some (reasonably gentle) speed bumps. Of course there’ll always be times when we are in a rush. Thinking about it though, it’s very unlikely that the person who’s expecting us will be freaked out if we’re a few minutes late. That’s how village life should be … and generally is … cool huh?!

Newly tarred Da Gama Road in Cape ST Francis

“Hati hati” on the newly tarred Da Gama Road in Cape St Francis and the speed limit is still 40Kph so drive slowly and enjoy the ride.


Running the gauntlet in a St Francis 50 #3

Stephen's Scribble

If you haven’t yet read Part One Click Here
and Part Two Click Here

Part Three

Continuing on from Part Three…..  . If we didn’t go now, we’d probably miss the Boat Show. So we left in a hurry trying to duck in underneath the advancing Nicole.

The first few days out of the Bahamas we tried to go as quickly as possible. We had a short 2.5m beam sea and the wind was gusting between 13 and 25 knots. The gennaker wasn’t really an option so we motor sailed averaging just under 10 knots for 48 hours. But the remnants of Nicole were travelling quicker and 300 miles south of Cape Hatteras things started getting interesting. Please note that I use the word remnants because that is what it was. The storm was dissipating when it came over the top of us but it still wasn’t pretty. We had furled the jib away to about 4 square meters. The wind now on the starboard quarter was regularly hitting 40 knots. The sea was big, (about 6m I would guess) and confused. Every now and then a nasty one would feather then smash into the starboard hull causing the boat to twitch a bit. We’d received our last forecast and I knew that the next 24 hours were going to be tough.

The following morning, the wind rose above 40 knots and stayed there. I felt a little knot of fear start building inside. I let it come, recognized it for what it was, but remained calm. Calling on logic I started ticking mental boxes. The boat was handling beautifully. We’d taken a few waves but not a leak anywhere. Nothing was broken. All systems were functioning. We were doing 9-10 knots and surfs were under control. The rig was rock solid and the boat didn’t feel over powered. The crew was much quieter than usual, but calm and ready. Our course was okay and it looked like we’d be able to round Cape Hatteras by nightfall. Feeling better I glance behind at the approaching squall. We register 53.7 knots of wind. (100km/hr) The familiar knot returns just as Kat appears with a ham cheese and tomato sandwich. The “Kazakhstan speed Queen” is a cool customer, if there was any fear there, it didn’t show. I tuck into the sandwich and the knot is gone………….it must have just been a hunger pang!

We had wisely stayed quite far offshore after leaving the Bahamas, so were able to head north and keep the wind on the starboard quarter during the entire storm. The decision to stay offshore, made rounding Cape Hatteras a lot less difficult than it might have been. We approached late that afternoon, Karl at the helm and myself navigating, I understood that when we rounded and started heading towards the Chesapeake, we would be in very shallow water and had concerns of breaking waves.

Looking at the graveyard of wrecks on the chart I decided to keep “pinching” until we were about 15miles past the point. (By “pinching”, I mean trying to come up a bit higher but not too high as to take the massive sea directly on the beam.) We could then turn in about 35m of water as against 20. I’ll never forget that look on Karls’ face as he kept pinching higher helping us to get to that deeper water. Completely focused and absolutely resolute in doing what needed to be done he was operating on a different level…………a level that only comes with experience. He’d been rock solid as a 1st Mate the whole trip and never missed a beat. That wasn’t about to change, we were nearly home and dry.

The Gulf Stream also helped and just before nightfall I was happy that we’d gone far enough passed and made the call to come to port. Now the wind was directly astern and the seas still large. It was still blowing 40 knots plus and very dark. You would hear the big waves before you saw their frothing crests loom high above the stern light. Next thing we’d be screaming down the face, watching our boat speed rocket. Each time Penelope came out beautifully. Our top surf with Deon on the helm was 25.7 knots!

Rapidly approaching the Chesapeake with the storm showing little sign of abating, we furled away The “G string” and continued to hit 17knot surfs under bare poles. In the small hours of the morning the wind suddenly dropped. The storm had passed and within an hour we had 20 knots on the nose.

We arrived in at Norfolk Virginia in the early hours of the morning. U.S customs were friendly and efficient arriving onboard within half an hour of my phone call.

All checked in we were too amped to sleep and after a clean-up, we headed down town. Back in South Africa, Duncan having not slept much either was relieved that all was well. He generously suggested that I take the crew out for a well-deserved meal on him. Kat and Deon enjoying some husband and wife time arranged to meet Karl and myself for dinner a bit later. It felt surreal walking around town. At sunset Karl and I stumbled across a reggae band playing music in a park adjacent to the Marina. Their name…………..”Destination” We had a good chuckle, kicked off our shoes and got into it. The unfamiliar feeling of grass between my toes felt very good indeed.

A few days later we arrived in Annapolis where we set to work detailing the boat before the show. Soon all the stainless on deck had been polished and after a detailed wash down, the exterior was looking like a brand new boat again. The interior had been extremely well protected for the trip. We removed floor runners exposing gleaming teak floorboards, took the protection off the corian tops and settee covers off the leather. Windows were windexed, stainless steel sinks buffed and all the paraphernalia from the crossing stowed.

I had got to know the St Francis 50 intimately on the way across and had been very impressed with how little had gone wrong and how magnificently it had handled.

Looking over the vessel one last time as the show as about to open, I fully appreciated was a fantastic, proudly South African product this was.

And today, over a decade later, the spirit lives on. Of course there have been many upgrades since my tenure at St Francis Marine …. all for the better! I have no doubt Duncan will be very happy that the flag is still flying strong and that his legacy lives on in every boat that rolls off the production line.



Running the gauntlet in a St Francis 50 #2

Stephen's Scribble

This article will be published over the hree days o be sure to join us to the end

If you haven’t yet read Part One Click Here

Part Two

Continuing on from Part One ….. 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..

The “blue on blue” carries a unique energy.  Day in and day out you progress on your relatively tiny vessel across the vastness of the ocean. Somehow the sky above you feels massive. There is no cell phone signal. Your daily diary becomes appointment free. What you could have or should have done before you left is irrelevant. It’s you, the boat, the crew and the elements. The days of the week are registered in the logbook, but Saturday means as little or as much as Monday. In our case we travelled in style.

All cabins were en-suite. We had a huge chest freezer, two fridges, four plate gas stove, full size oven, microwave, TV, DVD, surround sound (including exterior speakers) etc etc. I divided the day into 3 four hour watches and the night into 4 three hour watches. This works well as the watches roll evenly between sunrise/sunset and the inevitable “dog watch”. The person on the 08h00 – 12h00 prepared lunch as well as did the dishes etc. Similarly the person on the 12h00 -16h00 did dinner. Breakfast was always a help yourself affair.

Steve at the helm on Penelope

Stephen at the helm on the Dog Watch

Aboard “Penelope” everybody (Skipper incl) made a real effort to prepare a meal when it was their turn. Food is always a highlight of the day at sea so; when it’s not your turn (which is 3 meals out of 4) you can kick back and enjoy the other person’s effort. We ate extremely well, baking bread every other day. We caught fish too, but not as many as we would have liked. (Maybe 6 in total) We landed only one good size Dorado but it the hook pulled out of its mouth as we were getting it up the transom steps. Instead of the fish being gutted, I was ! Doradao is my absolute favourite fish to eat.

We sailed practically all the way across the equator, which was amazing. I had received permission from Duncan Lethbridge (Owner of St Francis Marine) via satellite phone that we could use the new gennaker. We did, but took it down every night without fail! We dressed Deon and Kat in their foul weather gear on the day we crossed the equator. They sang to Neptune while wrapped in the remnants of “Patch”. As they sweltered, we toasted Mother Ocean with a bottle of Pongraz. Looking up at the gennaker I pinched myself at how smooth the trip had been so far.

For the Atlantic leg, we’re being weather routed via satellite phone by Duncan himself, and my brother Pete. Pete is an avid surfer and I couldn’t have wished for anybody better. Duncan too, was always spot on. As we approached the bulge of Brazil, the hurricane forecasts started coming in. It’s early September. At this time of year the hurricanes develop west of the Cape Verde Islands and come screaming across the Atlantic towards the West Indies. Generally they bend north from there, but as we all know, many don’t……….. Often slamming into the Caribbean Islands, the Bahamas or South Florida. “Igor” was the first one that we got wind of. Way north of us it wouldn’t pose any direct problems but it was scary. As Pete put it…………”Igor looks like a hung-over Viking who just caught someone in bed with his wife. If that thing gets anywhere near you, best you find some underground parking!” We all had a nervous giggle but the reality was that we were entering “the zone”.

With Igor to the north of us, I decided to tuck in behind it and head straight for St Lucia. After 32 days at sea, the Pitons familiar silhouette greeted us at dawn. Land holds an unusual smell after being at sea for a month. I breathed in its earthy sweetness with satisfaction. It had been a long haul but leg one was over.

Ideally I would have only liked to stay for 2 days but swells from Igor were smashing into the Bahamas and I knew it would be a very uncomfortable ride. As it turned out, we stayed for 4, long enough to enjoy some wonderful St Lucian hospitality and experience the famous Gros Ilet street party. The boat was in great shape and after taking on some fresh produce and diesel we set off towards the Bahamas.

Conditions were favourable and we made good time with the screecher, logging several 200nm plus days. Nighttime was always a little unsettled though with squalls forming quickly. Under clouds we were getting 35+ knots of wind. Lots of lightning as well but luckily never too close. The water temperature was 35 degrees centigrade……. ideal hurricane conditions.

After 6 days we arrived at St Francis Resort on Stocking Island where we were welcomed by George Godfrey and his family. Leg two was over. The few days there were chilled enjoying crystal clear waters and evening games of poker with the locals.

We were constantly keeping an eye on the weather as there was lots of activity south of Cuba. Tropical storm “Nicole” was developing and starting to head north. Our time was running short with winds forecast to go north off Cape Hatteras in a few days. Risking stiff breeze on the nose against the Gulf Stream was not really an option. If we didn’t go now, we’d probably miss the Boat Show. So we left in a hurry trying to duck in underneath the advancing Nicole.