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Around the World with Catherine Nurrsaw

November 24, 2005

Well, we've finally made it to Durban - not in quite the blaze of glory that had been hoped for, but in a rather lacklustre and exhausted 8th place. Very disappointing, especially for our skipper Craig, since this is his home town and he was really hoping that we would do well on this leg in particular. Some of the blame no doubt has to go to our very amateur crewing, but I think in all honesty that we were extraordinarily unlucky with the wind. For a large part of the leg we were followed about by our own personal wind hole (Craig remarked that he was getting so good at going from hole to hole fast that he planned to take up golf), so we could barely move at all, while the rest of the time we had strong winds in entirely the wrong direction. The last stretch, from Cape Town to Durban, took about 5 or 6 days (should have taken about 3) as we had to tack in and out in order to make any forward progress at all. Very tiring, and very frustrating - for the last few days, all anyone could really think or talk about was how much we wanted to be there already, especially the locals who were coming home and had family waiting to meet them. On the Friday night, within miles of Durban, we were hit by squalls with winds gusting to over 35mph and an incredible lightning storm - the whole sky was lit up. Quite spectacular! but also frustrating as the wind drove us back still further - we could make some progress when tacking in towards shore, but when we had to tack back out we were in a current that was actually taking us further from our destination at a rate of knots. I realised that the closer we got to Durban, the later our ETA became - when we were a thousand miles away it was Thursday, when we were just off Cape Town it was Friday, and now we were just along the coast from Durban it was Saturday morning. It occurred to me, in my sleep-deprived state, that we were caught in a logical paradox that meant that if we ever actually reached Durban harbour it would take us an eternity to reach our moorings.

Nevertheless, we did finally arrive, to a magnificent welcome. The press boat and camera crew came out to meet us, along with a whole flotilla of little sailing boats, the Durban sea-rescue boats, even the local canoeing club - and as we passed the finishing line we were accompanied by a school of dolphins and a whale jumped right out of the water just off to one side of us. Incredible timing! When we reached the harbour, we were greeted by cheering crowds and a traditional Zulu welcoming committee, complete with dancing, drumming, singing and Zulu beer drunk from a large gourd (or in my case, not so much drunk as mimed being drunk). Since then, the welcome has continued - we've had media swarming over the boat most of the time (mainly focussing on the local crew-members, luckily for the state of my ever-expanding ego), visits by hundreds of school-children, corporate sailing days and so on. It's actually been very hard to get anything done in terms of repairs and maintenance to the boat because of all our visitors, but it's lovely to be made to feel so special. We've even been congratulated on the timing of our arrival, since Saturday morning is clearly far better for PR purposes and for getting a big crowd out to welcome us in than arriving late during a weekday. We're trying to persuade people that was out intention all along, with limited success.

Since we had expected to arrive on about Thursday, we had made various plans for the Saturday evening, which could not easily be changed. Thus, after an exhausting day of boat-cleaning, we all went out for a team dinner on the Saturday evening, followed by a night of clubbing. As I staggered back to bed at 4am I realised that I had had precisely 1 hour's sleep in the last 42 hours.... Luckily, I have been able to catch up on sleep a little bit since then, though it remains a possibility that I will just do a face-plant on the keyboard and snooozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

People at the club seemed to think that I had been rather inefficient in applying make-up, since I appeared to have some rather lovely purple eye-shadow on one eye and nothing on the other. This was my first-ever real black eye - so proud, so very proud. I have been attempting to ruin Craig's reputation in his home town by spreading the rumour that this is what happens when his crew doesn't move fast enough for him (and indeed, at one point he was heard to mutter that he'd seen sloths in rain forests move faster than us), but the truth is much less interesting. I was helping with a headsail change in the middle of the night in rather bumpy seas, and with my usual cat-like ("Cat"-like - geddit, geddit??) agility I fell over and bumped my forehead on the deck. It hardly hurt at all but came up instantly in a golf-ball sized bump. Our doctor, CJ, sent me below and told me to put pressure on it, which I did, and the bump promptly reduced in size by at least half. "You're going to get a black eye" says CJ, knowledgeably. "Oh no I'm not!" I reply confidently. "I've had plenty of bumps on the head and I've never had a black eye." Next day I have a real shiner. Never argue with your doctor. Other than that - or indeed including that, since it didn't hurt or cause me any problems - I am in fine health. I was able to watch unmoved as others suffered from sugar-withdrawal (the sugar was ordered but unfortunately not collected in Salvador) since I don't take sugar in my drinks anyway, and although the food was not exactly delicious sometimes I was always able to eat plenty of it, unlike one of my crew-members, a committed carnivore, who must have lost over a stone since he could hardly bring himself to eat the vegetarian food that was almost all we were able to get in Salvador. Fortunately now that we are in South Africa he is able to gorge himself on steak every night and will soon be back up to his fighting weight.

I had a lovely morning yesterday going scuba diving. A really beautiful drive along the coast (it reminds me a bit of New Zealand, with palm trees instead of ferns) and then a couple of dives on a little reef. Not the most spectacular diving I've ever done, but I did see a couple of spotted eagle rays, some moray eels, a huge turtle resting in a cave, and a frog fish - this is a fish that can change colour and is perfectly disguised as part of the reef - they are apparently very rare and it is unusual to see one so I was very pleased with this. This morning I've been showing school children over the boat. Some of them are among those that have been writing to our boat and sending in questions that I've been doing my best to answer, so it was nice to actually meet them in person. Very cute kids, and very excited about being on board the famous Durban clipper!

Tomorrow we'll be working on the boat in the morning and then going to a big party and reception at the nearby water-world. Should be great fun! Then on Saturday it's our last chance to finish off the hundred and one things we still have to do on the boat before we head off across the Southern Ocean on Sunday, on our way to spend Christmas in Fremantle. Wish us luck!

The local yacht club have very kindly provided us with 6 computer terminals and free Internet access, but unfortunately there is no lighting where the computers are - they're right by the windows, so that's fine during the day, but it's now dark outside and my touch typing is simply not up to the job. So I'll say goodbye for now and will report again when I finally get to Australia.

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