The Agulhas Current
30 October 2017
Less than two weeks before the start of the expedition
5 December 2017


The voyage from Madagascar to South Africa took us three weeks. Our yacht, the Katharsis II, arrived at the V&A Waterfront Marina in Cape Town on 3 November 2017 at 22:25 yacht’s time (UTC+2). Since we left Nosy Be in Madagascar on 11 October 2017, we covered 2,400 nautical miles, sailed through the Mozambique Channel and along the coast of Africa, visited Mozambique and sailed around Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope. For most of the way we sailed with the Agulhas current, which at times accelerated us by more than 4 knots. At that point the log showed racing speeds – 12 knots!

The main objective of the voyage was to take the yacht to Cape Town, the starting point for an excursion around Antarctica. It was also a test for me. Before setting out on the excursion, I wanted to see how I managed with ocean sailing again. It was important for me specifically to see how my body would manage while on watch, when you have to adhere to a specific daily timetable and challenging conditions. I don’t just want to be a passenger on a voyage around Antarctica. It turned out that I was able to manage really well, and I know that I can be a valuable member of the crew again, just as I was before I got sick.

We tried to sail safely, with full respect for the approaching storms shown by the weather map. The biggest challenge in this region is sailing south under strong winds, because that signifies the Agulhas Current heightening the waves, a phenomenon that’s extremely dangerous for any vessels sailing here. When we received the weather forecast which showed strong southerly winds, we decided to take shelter by the coast of Mozambique in Maputo Bay, dropping anchor and waiting out the storm. A few days later, making the most of the improved weather and favourable winds, we started the last part of our voyage along the coast of South Africa. Aided by the Agulhas Current, we approached Port Elizabeth. Once we left the current, apart from a reduction in speed, we also noticed a significant drop in the temperature of the water. In the space of a dozen or so nautical miles, the water temperature fell by 4 degrees. While sailing west in the direction of the southernmost tip of Africa – Cape Agulhas, the water got colder and colder. In Maputo Bay, our underwater thermometer read 23 degrees, while at Cape Agulhas it read 12, and on the west coast of South Africa – a mere 8 degrees Celsius.

During the night of 2 November 2017, at about 23:30 (UTC+2), we passed Cape Agulhas, the point at which two oceans meet. That night we returned from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. We were faced with our next challenge – sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. During my dawn watch on 3 November, the wind was still blowing from the stern, the sky was filled with heavy rain clouds, and low visibility meant that we couldn’t see land, despite the fact that the map and radar showed that we were merely a few miles from shore. I was afraid that the Cape of Good Hope was hiding from us. That morning, the weather changed in our favour. As we approached the Cape of Good Hope, the fog and clouds were dispersed by a north-westerly wind, which brought with it clear, crisp air. In true sailing style, under sail and at full speed, on 3 November at 13:30 yacht’s time (UTC+2) we passed the Cape of Good Hope.

Delighted and at the same time somewhat relieved, we left those treacherous waters behind us. Many a sailor has had their voyage cut short by waves and storms in the waters off that beautiful cape. Tacking under the wind, we revelled in the beautiful views and sailing weather for the last 70 miles to Cape Town. At the end of the day and the end of our voyage we were able to observe a wonderful lunar display as the full moon rose like a pink halo over the Cape Fold Belt.

Having arrived at Cape Town, we berthed in V&A Waterfront Marina in exactly the same place as we had more than a year ago. Arriving at the port means the start of final preparations for the Katharsis II’s voyage around Antarctica. It’s also a symbolic moment in my life. In a way, I have returned to where I was a year ago. I stood on this same quay. Faced with the same challenge that I set myself a year ago. But now I have been strengthened by the difficult experience I have lived through in relation to my illness – breast cancer. It was a difficult period for me: the shocking news, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy. I feel like everything that happened has made me stronger and more determined. Perhaps not physically stronger, because I still feel like I’m lacking in physical strength at times, but I am most definitely stronger on the inside. Sailing around the Cape of Good Hope was a symbolic and very important moment for me. My second name is Nadzieja – Hope. I bear that name in memory of my grandmother. And here I found my namesake at sea. Sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, I once again returned to the Atlantic – waters that hold special meaning for me. A few years ago, on 3 December 2009, on a dark, moonless night, I fell overboard from our yacht in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The brace of the spinnaker hit me in the back and catapulted me off the deck. In the dark, already in the water, I watched as the yacht’s silhouette moved further and further away from me. When it comes to falling overboard at sea and at night, the statistics leave you under no illusions. But I didn’t give up and I got lucky. The Atlantic didn’t take me. Hope didn’t abandon the crew.

I feel like I’m getting back to full strength. Antarctica awaits.

Hania Nadzieja.

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