Captivating Cape Town

A favorite landfall of sailors everywhere, there’s something about Cape Town that deserves a long, deep look.

South Africa
The cloudbank hovers in the hills above Cape Town.Onne van der Wal

What is it about Cape Town?

One of the world’s great landfalls under any circumstance, it’s all the more so when the Tablecloth — that seasonally permanent cloud that continuously spills over the side of Table Mountain — is set.

Generations of westabout circumnavigators have faced a consequential choice when they reach the Indian Ocean: keep Africa to port and transit the Red Sea to Europe, or turn left and eventually tangle with the treacherous Agulhas Current until rounding the Cape of Good Hope, also known as the Cape of Storms.

Readers of Dove will recall that Robin Lee Graham originally chose the Red Sea route. But the 1967 Six-Day War, between Israel and Egypt, sent him south instead, spurring nine months of South African travel with his new bride that constitute some of his classic book’s most idyllic passages. By the early 1990s, most voyagers, including participants in the early World ARC round-the-world rallies, bypassed South Africa in favor of the northern route through Europe. The balance tipped again in 2009, when pirate attacks off Somalia compelled Lloyd’s of London and other marine insurers to declare a war zone and withdraw yacht-insurance coverage for large stretches of the northwestern Indian Ocean. Since then, round-the-world rallies and greater numbers of individual voyagers have chosen the southern route.

The payoff here is undeniable. Sure, the weather can get big off South Africa’s Wild Coast, but seasoned sailors learn to pick their windows, hopping southward down the coast between blows. The South African Weather Service (weathersa.co.za/home/marine) provides excellent forecasting, and Durban-based Cruising Connections (cruisingconnec tions.co.za/index.php/weather) compiles daily synoptic charts.

In Cape Town, the highlights span from the mundane to the magical. World-class marine services are available here, and provisioning is relatively inexpensive and abundant. At press time, U.S. dollars go further than ever before, with an exchange rate near 15 rand to the dollar. Cape Town is a cosmopolitan city, with restaurants and shopping that hold their own with Paris and New York.

And you don’t need to go far outside of town to find the magic. It’s there at the top of Table Mountain, and throughout the whole Table Mountain National Park (sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain), stretching over 100 square miles down to the Cape of Good Hope, a destination that deserves a place on every sailor’s bucket list. Home to 8,200 distinct plant species, the park includes the Cape Floral Region, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Penguin colonies, chacma baboon families, great white sharks and orcas — all these inhabit the cape.

Yes, there’s something about Cape Town, something that deserves a long, deep look.

— Tim Murphy