South Africa: Cruise by the Cape

By P. K. Stowers

P.K. Stowers visits Cape Town's famous harbour and gets a view from the waves.

Crew man Byron, from the Waterfront Boat Company, loves his work. Photo / P. K. Stowers
Crew man Byron, from the Waterfront Boat Company, loves his work. Photo / P. K. Stowers

On a sunny day in Cape Town there are few better things to do than view the city's world-famous landmarks from the deck of a yacht that is sailing around the harbour.

Today we're on tidy gaff-wing schooner (essentially a schooner with an extra sail) crewed by Byron, Steven and Roger (the captain) from the Waterfront Boat Company - who really love their work, especially on days like today.

"It's perfect sailing conditions," explains Byron as he trims the sails on the bow of the yacht.

"I mean, I love my job, I love doing this for a living, but when the wind is up and the sky is clear it just makes everything that much more fun for us."

The day really is stunning, and the only cloud to be seen is a low, thin one spread atop the iconic Table Mountain - a cloud that is often referred to as "the tablecloth".

The modern harbour began to take shape in 1860, when Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's 16-year-old son, tipped the first load of stone into the sea to start construction of the breakwater for Cape Town's harbour.

Once completed, shipping volumes increased and a larger basin, the Victoria Basin, was built. It's from these two basins that the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront derives its name.

More than a century and a half later, the V&A Waterfront is now South Africa's most-visited destination. It combines the charm of a working harbour with the excitement of shopping and entertainment venues.

As well as yacht cruises, attractions include several craft markets, upmarket shopping areas, restaurants and a world-class aquarium.

On our schooner, crew mate Steven arrives on deck with two bottles of bubbles and some plastic glasses and begins to share it around the 12 guests on board for the ride. As we make good headway along the coast towards Cape Town Stadium, we are all amazed by the stunning, bright orange sunset off the starboard bow.

A comment is made by one of my travelling companions that too much champagne often makes her legs a little "rubbery", but standing upright is a challenge for everyone right now as the fresh wind tilts the yacht on what seems like a permanent 45-degree angle.

Earlier in the day we had been advised to "dress warmly" for the 90-minute cruise, and although many in our group had felt they put on too many layers before we got aboard, we are all glad as the wind picks up in open water.

Once it gets darker, we turn around and head for home, watching as massive container ships and small fishing vessels all cross our path in the distance.

It's a great experience - one that is made even better by visiting one of the many restaurants around the waterfront. As we leave the schooner and thank our crew, we make for the Belthazar Grill and Seafood Restaurant - which is apparently famous for having the biggest by-the-glass wine list in the world.

Is this true? Hard to know, but our group certainly tried out a few of them - only to discover that even though we were back on dry ground, our "sea legs" had made an unwelcome return when it was time to leave.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Qantas Airways offers regular flights from Sydney to Johannesburg. Cape Town is a two-hour flight from Johannesburg.

P.K. Stowers travelled to Cape Town with assistance from South African Tourism.

- NZ Herald

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