January 23, 2020

Friday, 17 January – Thursday, 23 January 2020

Munich – Cape Town – S.A. Agulhas II

After a smooth flight from Munich to Cape Town I encountered sunny but, surprisingly, extremely windy weather at the foot of Table Mountain. An intensive cut-off low pressure system over the Cape region brought this strong wind, and on Sunday even rain, which makes it feel more like "the North Sea in autumn" than "South Africa in high summer". Unfortunately, these conditions interfered with the rapid loading of the ship, and even the harbour itself was for closed two days to incoming and outgoing ships. In the end, our departure was delayed by three days, which considerably increased our impatience on our last day in the harbour. In particular, no passenger was allowed to leave the ship after official permission to depart was given on the previous day. The captain informed us with a grin that we were now prisoners, but nobody understood it as a threat. On the contrary, most were curious and intensely anticipating what the coming days would bring.

The South African icebreaker S.A. Agulhas II in Cape Town harbour
The South African icebreaker S.A. Agulhas II fully loaded with freight for three Antarctic stations (SANAE IV, Neumayer Station III and Princes Elizabeth).

In the early morning hours of 23 January we were finally on our way. Unnoticed by most of the passengers, S.A. Agulhas II left Cape Town harbour after a fuel stop of about eight hours. Then around 06:30 the sun rose over Table Mountain and lured the first passengers and crew members on deck. Accompanied by a few seagulls the ship made its way south along the Cape of Good Hope through the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. For the first few hours the silhouette of the Cape could be seen before waves, light cloud cover and the sheer endless horizon then dominated the panorama.

First sunrise at sea in the morning of 23 January with a view of Table Mountain
Ideal water for the rest of the trip

An announced safety drill interrupted the first morning at sea. A sound that was not quite as shrill as for the regular fire drills in Building 122 signalled everyone to gather at the designated collection point. Brief instructions about what is to be done in an emergency were followed by some practice in sitting in the lifeboat, an orange coloured sardine tin that I hope will never be needed!

A look at the current wind data and wave heights reveals the forthcoming sea conditions (Source: Windy.com).The red arrow marks the first stage of the trip.



In the meantime the wave heights have increased and the tablets against sea sickness taken as a preventive measure ought to be having the expected effect now. So far, anyway, I have had no symptoms, despite working at my laptop. The first stretch with strong wind and waves about 2 m high was encountered shortly after we left the harbour. The latitudes of the "Roaring Forties", "Furious Fifties" and "Screaming Sixties" that are expected in the next few days will certainly contain one or the other low-pressure storm system. In any event, "next stop: Crown Bay, Antarctica!"