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Thread: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

  1. #1
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    Default South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    The notorious coastline of South Africa offers little opportunity for cruising in small open boats. In the heart of the arid interior, however, lies Lake Gariep, the largest freshwater reservoir in the country. Sweltering summer months offer strong midday North-Westerly winds. A natural harbour near the dam wall provides a well protected anchorage for the Free State Yacht Club. Aside from a Dragonfly and Farrier trimaran, the rest of the boats are exclusively keelboats. Dinghy sailing is non-existent.
    Summer squalls can be very violent and could be to blame for the lack of open boat sailing. The shoreline does however provide numerous protected bays as do the many islands.

    Our sailing culture seems to be compartmentalised into either racing around the cans and world cruising. At least that is what you would think if you read any number of editions of our singular Sailing Magazine. Day sailing belongs to mostly old keelboats in the 25' - 35' range with the odd speed junkie out on a beach cat.
    After years of enviously reading about the Everglades Challenge, Texas 200, Florida 120 and all the various Messabouts and Small Craft Festivals, I decided it is time to explore the lake as a venue for similar events in South Africa.

    So I roped in my brother who has only ever sailed once before, loaded a recently acquired rickety Miracle with all sorts of luxuries and set off to conquer a distant island:

    <a href="https://youtu.be/_TcuGrEFZkQ" target="_blank">
    Last edited by whiskeyfox; 04-13-2017 at 02:37 AM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    Looks fantastic!

  3. #3
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    Thanks Steven, yes it was.
    My home waters is the Swartkops River, seldom more than 70m wide, so one thing I enjoyed in particular was the vast open space. For a change I could tack on the wind shifts, rather than forced to do so by an ever approaching river shore!

    I will try and post some pics and charts once I manage to hack into my photobucket account again.

    The lake is roughly 75km long if you follow the old riverbed and up to 4.5km wide in places. According to Wikipedia the surface area is 374 sq km (144 sq mi) when full. The lake was at 95% capacity at the time of our visit, the water level about 1m below full.
    The highly irregular shape results in an extremely long and varied shoreline, all of which falls within a game reserve. Many of the larger islands dry out when the water level drops so game can move onto them. Even Xmas Island, where we camped and which never dries out, still supports some small antelope on its 0.5 sq km. The gene-pool must be in desperate need of some new blood, they have been in isolation for the last 45 years!
    At least we did not have to contend with the baboons that roam over most of the other large islands.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    Looks Ideal. Anything nasty in the lake?
    From a dinghy sailors point of view there could be some interesting wind directions and dead spots round som of those healands. I am surprised that dinghy sailing hasn't a following, economics? Those that can can afford a big boat, those that can't cannot afford a small one, or just not a sailing culture?

  5. #5
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    No crocs, hippos or even bilharzia.

    Interesting wind directions indeed. Noticed that large conical island about halfway through the video? We were beating into its lee on day two, still a mile or so downwind. As I luffed up into a gust, the gust veered wildly and increased even further, catching our jib a-back and capsizing us. I am certain that island's shape can throw off some significant alternating vorteces. Then again it might have been just a thermal - the area is afterall one of the world's gliding hotspots.

    The lack of dinghy sailing (non-racing) in the country at large is a combination of ignorance, lack of suitable designs and suitable venues. When I told someone at my club about the purchase of the Miracle, their first response was: "But yours is the only one, who are you going to race against?" Had the majority of other dinghys not been pure racers (lasers etc) but rather something with packing space for a picnic basket and fishing rods, then I believe one would have seen more people sailing just for fun.
    Personally I think the versatility of the little Mirror needs a bit of revival. Races should include a lap under oars alone and one with reefed sails. The focus on pure racing has eliminated the hardware and features that made it so versatile.
    The economics of starting out in a dinghy is about the same as that for kayaking, so I would rule that out as part of the problem.
    Much of what makes sailing an adventure is a destination of sorts - an island, a distant beach pub or gunk-hole. Langebaan Lagoon in the Western Cape is perhaps the only coastal venue that offers these. Not sure about camping out along the shore though. The Vaal Dam is another freshwater reservoir with similar options. Being close to Cape Town and Johannesburg respectively, I am sure local cruising is more common. More suitable boats are also common there, such as the Sentinels on Langebaan (a larger version of Dudley Dix's Argie 15).
    The problem with Lake Gariep is its isolation. The local population is very small and the closest metropoles are Bloemfontein (200km) and Port Elizabeth (450km).
    With the correct exposure and marketing I am sure one can draw participants even as far away as Cape Town to an organised event.

    Below are some charts and images that show the lay of the land:



    Day One was a very late start with only two hours of daylight left but we covered the 5nm from the Harbour to Xmas Island easily with a nice wind from behind.
    During the night a gentle wind had picked up again from the South-East. We left most of the camping gear on the island the next morning and beat up to Porcupine Passage in light wind. By late morning we were becalmed in Fluffy Bay and as the inversion broke, the wind picked up again from the North. We had a quick look around Pam's Bay and headed back to Xmas Island in a now fresh Northwesterly.
    The capsize was my first in the Miracle. All the halyard sheeves flooded the mast very quickly and the boat turned turtle. The centerboard had also dropped back but it was no hassle to right it again with two sizable blokes resting on the gunnel, fingers wedged in the CB slot. We were back on board in no time and the boat drifted sedately while we bailed. All that was lost overboard was a waterbottle and one shoe.
    Day Three was an early start to get back to the harbour, combining our efforts with a single paddle with a little help from a very light Southwerterly.



    This is the extended map and gives a better idea of the overall size -




    Xmas Island screenshot from Google Earth with the tiny South-facing cove where we camped only just starting to fill up (just right of bottom center).





    A view looking East across the harbour and yacht club.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    Thanks for the pix. My step dad, one of the finest men I have known was Sth African of Hugenot descent. Family name Serrurier. Best thing that happened to us when I was a kid.

    My local club has a fleet of about 40 dinghys of varying classes and age and a few cat's. My wooden Sabre is about 37 years old. I also have an Australian Sail Board that I built in 1963, a sailing canoe and a kayak. The club runs a Vintage Wooden Dinghy Regatta in January every year, you might like this link:
    https://vimeo.com/channels/sgyc/206353861
    More here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHBCZxgo_RE

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rReRULC3VN4

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2kD0a0wiXI

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq1RowFl0rU

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CalU2qMvx0M

    Many members also have older wooden boats, one has 6.
    Our sailing area is in an estuary close to the sea, shallow, shifting sandbanks, strong tides and currents and at times unpredictable winds. This gives you the idea;
    http://rodbendingsworld.com/blog/dro...-9th-june-2016


    Yacht Club middle left at the top of that loop of beach. Green roof, you can see our angled slip.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    Thanks skuthorp, that clip on vimeo is great. Nice to see such a variety of designs, all with their dedicated followers.

    I will keep the idea of a raffle in mind, it adds a nice element of anticipation to an event.

    Are there any long distance events such as the Texas 200 on the Australian coast? I would like to get an idea of what goes into organising such an event.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    Only for keel boats as far as I know. There may be some on the Hawsbury or the harbour in Sydney, it would be suitable. There are, or were several 4 and 5 day events for kayaks and canoes, and clubs may have their own. We have a 5/6 hour event up the river from the club but it's actual length is governed by the tide and sand/mud banks.

    Another link for you: https://australiansailfish.files.wor...highlights.pdf

    I can put you in contact with the bloke who is the main organiser of our regatta, and I warn you it is a big job.
    What boats do young children sail as trainers in SA? We have 10 year olds competing in Minnows ant Optimists at the club.
    There lies the basis for your regatta, start small though.
    How do you think the national sailing association would view a request for some publicity, or help?
    Last edited by skuthorp; 04-15-2017 at 07:09 AM.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    The two main training fleets seem to be Opti's and RS Terra's.
    In years gone by the Dabchick was also popular with the teens. It is a sit-on-top scow sailboard much like the Australian Sailfish, but with a sloop rig. The class celebrated its 60th anniversary last year with a lot of old boats being restored for the occasion.

    I am not much of an organiser and I only race if I really have to. So if it was up to me to arrange things it would be a simple arrangement of a date, venue and the prospect of camp-cruising in company. I think the Florida 120 operates the same way.
    The predominant NW winds at Lake Gariep offers nice downwind (and reaching) cruising conditions if one starts at the yacht club and arrange to get out at either Oviston or Bethulie with some sort of shuttle arrangement.

    A more racing oriented regatta might draw support from the sailing association, but as you have mentioned, it becomes a mammoth task best left to the pro organisers. I will try and plant the seed, get the ball rolling and what have you and just hope someone picks up on the idea and run with it.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: South Africa's Gariep Dam - a Raid venue?

    We have a 'race' but the event is primarily social. The racing members do not approve and stay away to show it.

    Racing this weekend was a mockery, big tides and currents up to 9 knots......and no wind.

    I reckon social is the way to go, try to find as many older class boats as possible nd any specials, like my sailing canoe.
    Doesn't matter if they are not restored or even lakeworthy that can come next year.

    I bet there's a few Dabchics in sheds and under houses around the state., that's what you need for a starter. Maybe a post or two on a SA sailing forum, or a letter to a publication would be a first step. Somewhere out there will be someone else saying "What if we...."
    There always is.

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