Cape Town in Autumn / Fall

When The Winds are in the West

When, exactly, is autumn? And here we are referring to the Southern Hemisphere, of course. Our Cape weather is anything but predictable, and the onset of colder weather is not a marked event like it is in northern climes. One school of thought has it that autumn begins at the March equinox, but mid-March in Cape Town still has beach weather; in fact that temperate weather continues well into April – as an indication just try and find parking at Clifton Beach on a sunny April Sunday. Meteorologists, those erudite predictors of weather who should know better, use the Gregorian calendar to mark Autumn: March, April and May. I suppose we should fell blessed here on the Peninsula; we may cope with gale force winds on occasion throughout the year, but our autumn and winter months are temperate in comparison to the analogous Northern latitudes.

The word autumn has an intriguing history and stems from an Ancient Etruscan root autu-, which is difficult to translate precisely. It means in effect ‘the passing of the year’, so in its initial form was cognate with the passing of time. You could have said “It’s autumn!” to a passing Etrurian neighbour during any month and got a “ Yup, tempus fugit!” in return. But the Romans, who lived just up the road, borrowed the word and, being Romans, added a suffix. Autumnus it became, and then the French, lacking a suitable word for leaves falling off trees, stole it as autompne and promptly invaded England in 1066, taking their language with them. The English, being English, already had lots of words for autumn, including the utilitarian ‘harvest’ and Old English fallean, which became fall. Because of the leaves…you get it. But ‘autumn’ had a delicate ring to it, and as the new king (William I, aka William the Conqueror) could only speak French anyway, autumn it became.

As an aside, the Afrikaans word for autumn, ‘herfs’, stems from the Dutch equivalent of harvest, herfst. ‘Fall’, that apparent Americanism for autumn, is actually a linguistic remnant from the early English emigration to the North American colonies. (Some of the Appalachian hillbillies still speak an English dialect much closer to Shakespearian pronunciation than current posh English. It was George Bernard Shaw who said: “England and America – two countries divided by a common language.” He’d never been to the backwaters of Virginia.)

“Autumn is a second Spring when every leaf is a flower.”

Albert Camus

It’s at this point that we say: Waterfront Charters love autumn. (Then again, we love just about everything about Cape Town, the climate, the harbour and the V&A Waterfront, but today we are talking about autumn.) The weather is in that mid-season hiatus when winds swing from south to north (occasional sneaky gales notwithstanding) where calm seas and breezes are perfect for offshore adventures. It may be a bit cooler than a December scorcher, but an extra layer of cotton is plenty to keep out any soft chills. And the views…always spectacular, autumn brings the first seasonal rains, and these transform the dry summer vegetation into a range of soft greens and other heather-tainted hues, turning the slopes of our iconic mountain range into a sight that begs to be photographed, painted or just admired.

There is no better way to see them than from the deck of a luxury catamaran as it cruises along the coast. No static land based view this; we take you along the Atlantic coast past landmarks natural and manmade, and you get to see the Cape from a mariner’s viewpoint. Which, after all, is what first attracted the sailors to these shores in the first place. And here’s another odd fact: The Atlantic Ocean actually gets warmer this time of year, due to shifting of the offshore currents, so a Clifton Cruise can still be rounded off with a dip into the briny. Followed by a tot of grog (or whatever warms your body and soul), of course: yet another advantage of being aboard a Waterfront Charters vessel in delicious autumn.