The best sailing waters on the SA coast
There are not very many sailors in South Africa who realise that St Helena Bay has the best to offer in offshore sailing on the South African Coastline.
“What” you may ask “does it have that makes it so different and special compared to the other sailing venues along our coastline”?
It would be incorrect to describe in some order of importance what the different attractions are that contribute to making this area so suitable for sailing because it is the unique combination of all of these that make this bay so ideal and suitable for local sailing, be it casual day cruising, anchoring and overnighting in one of the many safe small bays, or else some serious round the buoys and medium-distance club racing.
Without taking into account the impact of the “man made” attractions, this area owes its uniqueness to its geography. If you look at a large scale map of the West Coast, you will notice that from Cape Town and going on past the Saldanha Heads up to the North West “tip” of St Helena Bay , just inside of which is Britannia Bay, that this complete coastline is almost a straight line, which is broken only by the large “cut back “expanse of St Helena Bay.
The prevailing ocean swells that come up from the southern ocean (known to many as the “Cape Rollers” ) run along the coastline, go straight on past the NW ‘tip” and do not swing into St Helena Bay, so it is very seldom that there is any swell in the bay at all, which makes for very comfortable sailing even for those who might be nervous of having a weak stomach!
There is nowhere else on the RSA Coastline where there is so consistently almost no swell.
That being said, the oceans of the world are never short of challenges and dangers, and St Helena can become a “no go place to be” when the strong “Cold Fronts” sweep into the bay from the North West. This is a winter phenomenon and a rare occurrence in the late spring, summer and early autumn periods. They can bring strong cold winds, rain and rough seas, but with today’s accurate weather forecasts, and for sailors with “an eye for the sky” there is plenty of warning to be had well in advance of the onset of these fronts, and even if one is caught out at sea with a front coming through, then it is a downwind dash back to the safety of the Port Owen Marina.
The big bonus for sailors is that the Cold Fronts are not that frequent, and even in winter there are very many days of light wind and pleasant sailing, even though it might be a bit chilly.
Summer Sailing, when the Cape is being whipped by the famous “South Easter”, that is when St Helena Bay is at her best. This lovely warm wind blows directly “off shore” across the bay, and even if it comes through strongly, the sea will remain flat with, at worst, an 80 cm chop capped with “white horses”.
This makes for excellent sailing even in a strong wind, and one can “fetch or reach” back and forth across the bay and seldom be forced to “beat” back to Port Owen.
“It is a time to blow the cobwebs out of your sails and your soul!”
Also unlike almost all the other sailing venues in RSA, the geography of St Helena Bay offers us “Destinations,” rather than just sailing up and down the coastline in large swells and rough seas, or else just going out to sea, and then back to harbour again.
There are a variety of anchorages available in the bay, and the lack of swell makes all of them suitable as a destination for a braai, a swim, or else an overnight aboard. Sailing time for the slowest of boats would be between 1 hour to 3 hours depending on destination, and less than half of that for most yachts.
It would be normal to depart Port Owen mid morning in light breeze, with the South Easter kicking in by early to mid afternoon for an exhilarating fetch back home to Port Owen.
Places to anchor? Slippers Bay @ about 4 nm, Sandy Point Harbour @ 6.5 nm ( Can go alongside and buy “fish and chips” from the local fisheries, and also a restaurant now under construction ) , Stompneus Bay @ about 8 nm ( beautiful and private), Britannia Bay @ about 14 nm ( best for an overnight, extremely sheltered with beautiful morning sunrises).
For the more adventuress, there are the Seal Island Reefs (beautiful and private ) and further on from that to Paternoster, where you will need a tender to go ashore for a meal at one of the many top class restaurants overlooking the bay, from which you will be able to admire your pride and joy lying at anchor in the bay below you!
Additional to these destinations is an all day sail to Lamberts Bay where you will usually need a tender to go ashore for a good meal, but in this case and in Summer— be warned, when the South Easter kicks in on the way back, it becomes a hard beat “ on the nose” without the protection of St Helena Bay!
In my 3rd paragraph, I made mention of “man made” attractions. Port Owen has plenty of them with very few that detract, and likewise for the whole of St Helena, but yes, being one of the largest hubs of West Coast Resource fishing, there some negative aspects to this with occasional water and air borne pollution.
In comparison to the other harbours and marinas that I have experienced and receive information about, we here on the West Coast have little to complain about.
One of the nicest aspects of sailing in our bay is the “peace” aspect —- wind, wave and boat motion. There is no “Roar of the city “ in the background, none of our national anthem of police sirens ( which can be heard from way off in Table Bay), and none of the masses of plastic bags, oil pollution and fallout from rigs being sandblasted etc, which end up in the marinas and do not find their way onto our boats up here.
There is also “no traffic” here on and off the water, and even no problems even getting here compared to rush hour almost every day in Capetown.
The Port Owen Marina is currently undergoing some major upgrades in terms of the walkways, jetties and the dredging. By August 2017, it is planned that all craft up to a maximum draft of 2.2mts will be able to access the marina at all tides.
Currently there is berthing space for both multihulls and monohulls.
Non-resident berth holders are required to take out full or temporary Yacht Club membership to make use of the very clean and upmarket ablution facilities.
This “blog” has been written by Yachtmaster Alan Biesheuvel. 082 8955593
Alan has been an active sailor in the Cape since 1980, has sailed his performance trimaran “Take Three” extensively on the West Coast for over 18 years, and is currently the Skipper of the 39 ft S’Cape Catamaran trading as “Sandpiper Yacht Charters”, who operate from the Port Owen Marina. Sandpiper Charters cater exclusively for “Day Sailing Trips” in St Helena Bay on this very comfortable and high performance Catamaran
( See www.sandpipercharters.co.za , or Facebook “Sandpiper Yacht Charters “)
Alan also has a portfolio of “Boats for Sale” here in Port Owen and is available to help and advice on all matters pertaining to local sailing.