KALAHARI RENDEZVOUS

          But one event in 1992 followed the exact course across the Atlantic Ocean forged by Christopher Columbus 500 years earlier, and New Chance, my North American 40, sailed away from Miami on July 27 together with my trusty Manila crew member, Tyler Norton and son Joe Butler to join the flotilla of more than 120 boats that was to celebrate the event. We steered for the center of the Gulf Stream and headed for Bermuda where we arrived just in time for a sundowner at the Black Horse tavern.

After a couple days ashore we sailed of St. George harbor and headed for Horta in the Azores, about 2000 miles to the east. Fair winds from the west pushed us right along at six to seven knots. With the Fleming self steering gear doing all the tedious work, the crew settled down to its daily high seas routine which consists of accomplishing two tasks before noon happy hour. First, with no cheating allowed, is for each of the crew to come up with their estimate of the “days run”, noon to noon, with each guess noted in the log. The second item is to work on one item of boat maintenance. Only after the fixit chore is stowed and the ship’s clock strikes noon, does the skip call out the ‘DAYS RUN’ actual mileage and names the winner for the day, does the bar open. 

One day led to another as our unwavering high seas routine fell in place. Your truly, the skipper, did all the cooking for the simple reason that most of my crew have bigger and better boats than mine thus, as captain I have a tough time accruing their respect. But as cook, I have them right where I want them, subservient, obedient, and faithful. Of course, it pays to sail with chowhounds. Once, years back, when crossing the Atlantic they began to grouse when I sailed the boat into a 400-mile windless hole. We’d burned all of the diesel we dared and sat, sails on deck, bobbing on a vast lake, the crew continuously bitching about why hadn’t we sailed here or there where there was wind. I didn’t fix a meal for two days. And they got the message. From then on I could do no wrong.

August 11 became one of those spectacular days at sea with clear bright skies all night, a steady 17 knot breeze from the west, flat seas, a sustained speed over the water of 8 knots, the barometer steady at 1030, air temperature at 84f and a water temp of 80f. Orion with its faithful follower Sirius kept a watchful eye on us as we literally flew towards the old world. Late in the afternoon we deliberately sailed into a rain shower to wash off a hastily taken salt-water scrub down. A small mahi-mahi took our hook just as Joe finished frosting a just baked chocolate cake. Life could never get better.

Once the sun was high in the sky the sea erupted with ships. Joe enjoyed his VHF radio contacts and whenever a ship appeared he’d give them a call on channel 16. On August 12 he turned on the radio and placed a call to a large freighter about five miles off our bow with a: “Southbound freighter, this is eastbound sailing vessel New Chance off your starboard quarter”. Many radio operators had little command of English though Joe’s first contact was with a Filipino radio operator aboard the container ship “Moss Commander”. Joe, born in Manila in 1965, made an instant friend. But, the ship reported they saw no sailboat off their starboard quarter. What they did have in sight was a freighter to the port side and a sailboat to their stern. Holy cow, we’re now four of us out here!

Once finished chatting with the freighter Joe put a call out to the other sailboat. Its reply was instantaneous. “This is sailing vessel Kalahari sailing from Durban, South Africa to the Azores position 35º 31’ north 50º 05’ west”. A quick check proved Kalahari to be about 12 miles ahead of us. Joe became a radio buddy with Klaus Niemeyer and the two set up a VHF radio schedule while I changed course slightly to intersect Kalahari. At that moment the reel spun into action, Joe leaped to the stern and fought a-15 pound mahi-mahi into the cockpit. Minutes later, a second dorado was aboard.

With more fish than we could handle, I ordered Joe to call Klaus and invite him aboard for lunch. Joe as well as Ty looked at me as if the sun had truly over-cooked my brain. Not until I said, “Joe, that was an order. Call Klaus.” Joe shrugged, shook his head, frowned, and placed the call while I turned on the engine. Klaus’s first reaction, he told us later, was disbelief tempered with the feeling that perhaps Joe and his crew were intent on stealing his boat. Nevertheless, he accepted the invite and was standing by the gunwale of bright yellow Kalahari with a plastic bag in hand as I steered New Chance along side at about 6 knots. Klaus hopped aboard with a packet of 12 ice-cold Beck beers.

I put New Chance about 300 yards ahead of Kalahari which totally crew less, faithfully followed its master. We became instant friends. Klaus had worked at a mine in the Kalahari desert of South Africa during many years and had built and outfitted his steel boat over the past four years. He was on the way back to the continent to start a new life. What I really wanted to know is how he kept his beers cold after so many days at sea. Easy, he said. He had a 12-volt refrigerator directly connected to two large solar cells. He even made ice. Joe fried mahi-mahi sticks as we emptied the beer during a most enjoyable afternoon.

With night falling it was time to bid adieu. I circled around, approached Kalahari exactly as before, except this time slightly under the influence of señor Beck. While on the pickup I drove New Chance within an inch of Kalahari, the drop off was marked by a solid thud, Klaus’s signal to hop over to end an unforgettable mid ocean rendezvous with Kalahari.

 

©  WILLIAM BUTLER, 2004