Who Needs Electrons, Anyway?

“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind,
The answer is blowing in the wind. ”

- Bob Dylan

Like everybody else in Planet South Africa, Waterfront Charters are frustrated (let’s just call it that) by the sudden resurgence of ‘load shedding’, that euphemism for Eskom’s incompetence and lack of planning. What these shortages do show us – very definitively - is just how reliant human beings have become on that instantly accessible flow of electrons that keeps civilisation on the move. All forms of communication (postal services aside, for those who can wait six weeks for a letter to get from the V&A to the City Centre); all our tools and accessories, electricity powered public transport systems; you name it, they shut down and so we all shut down.

There are exceptions to the electron rule, of course. Moored to the jetties in the V&A Waterfront – and harbours around the world - are thousands of examples of how progress has not necessarily improved transport. We are talking, obviously, about the world of wind power; the elegant yachts that grace our oceans and lakes, using nothing but Nature’s breath to propel them across the swells. Silent, apart from the creaking of stays and crackling of sails and the soft sound of the bows breaking the swells, supremely efficient in that there is no pollution or exhaust from the power, and for those of us with stars in our eyes, sublimely romantic. Lying on the trampoline of our luxury catamaran Serenity One, or sitting on the bowsprit of Esperance with your partner, sun setting gloriously in the west…we challenge you to find more dreamy places to share your thoughts.

Of course, wind does come with certain drawbacks if you are utilising it to circumnavigate the globe. On occasion, it tends to emanate from the place you are aiming at, which from a physics point of view can be challenging. To quote George Herbert, a poet writing in 1651: “To a crazy ship all winds are contrary.” Fortunately, the brighter nautical sparks of the time worked out that if you angle your sails carefully, you can actually sail into the wind. Gone were the days of big lumpy wooden boats lying becalmed; tacking or zigzagging into the prevailing wind became commonplace, and yachts with anything up to six masts and acres of sail plied the oceans with great efficiency. Sailors knew where the constant wind streams lay and used these hidden pathways to perfection. It was quicker to sail from Portsmouth in the UK to Cape Town by first heading west across the Atlantic to South America using the trade winds, then diving into the westerlies and making a beeline eastwards for the Cape.

Clipper ships, probably the most efficient (and beautiful) wind powered cargo vessels ever built, made the trips from China to Europe and India to America in little less time than it takes cruise vessels in the 21st Century. These speedy boats were the pinnacle of wind efficiency; author and expert Alan Villiers description says it all:  “To sailors, three things made a ship a clipper. She must be sharp-lined, built for speed. She must be tall-sparred and carry the utmost spread of canvas. And she must use that sail, day and night, fair weather and foul.”

The clippers carried tea and general cargo (including opium, which in those days was rather popular – and legal), and here’s a little known fact: they took cargos of ice back from the USA on the return journey. The ice was carved in blocks from Canadian glaciers, then sent by train to Boston and New York, and it is testimony to the speed at which the clippers got back to India that only about 20% was lost to melting.

Waterfront Charters don’t own a clipper ship, sadly. If we did, we would probably be writing this blog from off the Marquesas or Hawaii. But in the aforementioned yachts Serenity One and Esperance we have two of the finest examples of sailing marques to be found in Cape Town. A luxurious sailing catamaran and an iconic twin-masted schooner; both supremely seaworthy and great fun to be aboard for scheduled trips and private charters alike. Don’t let load shedding bring you down – join us at the V&A for a sublime wind-powered cruise, and reflect on the fact that Nature still knows best.

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