Making an east to west rounding of the southern tip of Africa, you can better understand why the Cape of Good Hope, situated around fifty kilometres to the south of Cape Town, has become legendary. This is in contrast to the Agulhas Cape which, 150 kilometres further away, marks the real southern tip of the continent, such as Cape Horn does for South America.
This ‘anomaly' in the scale of notoriety has a meteorological explanation.
The Antarctic lows which freely circulate in the deep south climb, especially in winter, until they rub up against the African mountain. The Cape of Good Hope, a sentry standing out from the landform turned towards the south west, acts like a real wedge dividing the flow into two very distinctive air currents. The largest section is forced to slip along under Africa, channelling the NW'ly wind as far as the Agulhas Cape. The W to SW'ly winds from the lows, take over along the south coast and render the navigation difficult for over 800 kilometres, offering no shelter prior to Port Elizabeth. A real ‘Way of the Cross' for those who approach from the Indian Ocean.
Meantime the most N'ly part of the disturbances, scalped by the famous cape, is diverted towards the left, generating S'ly winds which run along the coast as far as Namibia. Indeed this didn't facilitate the lot of Portuguese explorers who took tens of years to cover the little ground prior to reaching Cape Town.
The Cape of Good Hope and not the Agulhas Cape thus marks the real barrier between the NW'ly winds and those of the south. The border between the two flows is very tight and the rounding takes place within the space of just a few miles. The transition can be sudden.
That's exactly what happened to us yesterday morning. At daybreak, whilst we were beginning to discover the magnificent contours of the whole peninsula, the wind suddenly shifted, transforming our laborious beat into a joyful session of slipping along. It was such a coveted present; the gateway to the Atlantic was finally wide open. Blue skies, loads of birds, seals, dolphins, a long, gentle swell, Table Mountain which overhangs Cape Town in the morning mist… We quickly took off our foulies to make the most of the spectacle. An orgy of delight!
Since leaving Hong Kong three weeks ago, we have always been heading southwards, the air getting colder day by day. We're now beginning the climb towards summer and towards home, hoping that we'll be able to take long strides.
Be gentle with us please Atlantic…