The forecast looked pretty good, so the plan for the day was to nail the 106 km back to Durban in one go. This meant that we needed an early start and couldn’t waste any time at all.
The mouth of the Amatikhulu river is currently closed and beach access is either over the dune or across the river. As Rossco’s last swim at Amatikhulu would have rivalled one of Chad Le Close’s training sessions, I was surprised when he opted for the latter. You never can tell with him. After swimming our kites and gear across the lagoon, we managed to get going just as the wind picked up around 10.
Armed with a recent photo and update on the whereabouts of one Luis Antonio (the resident Great White) and knowing that the Amatikhulu, Tugela River mouth and Zinkwazi are notorious for White activity, we were glad that we had some decent wind.
As we approached Zinkwazi, the wind backed right off and we had to hit the beach. Not great as we were short on time and it looked as if it would compromise our finish. We had only been on the beach a few minutes when it came back through and we got going, a finish now looking possible again. Whew!
We had a brilliant run all the way down to Ballito. There were plenty of dolphin about and the conditions where optimal. I have a beautiful memory of Rossco with a huge grin on his face shouting, “I f****** love this!”. This was made even better when we got word that a few friends of ours – Sean, Dean, Sin and Calvin – were going to kite the last 30kms from Umdloti to Durban with us.
Just before Umdloti, the wind started backing off again. We decided against changing kites and pressed on as we had to play the advantage of a bigger kite off against the time we would lose in getting set up. In hindsight it was a bad call and we ended up back on the beach with too light winds in Umhlanga. A real pity, especially as the other guys had made such an effort to get out and join us.
At that point, time was running out and it really didn’t look like we were going to make to it. It was super frustrating as we were so close, but couldn’t do anything.
Just as we were starting to pack up, the wind picked up a few knots and everyone got stuck in to help us get our 14’s (big ass kites) pumped up. We snuck into Durban as the sun was going down and were thrilled by the welcome home party that was waiting for us outside Durban Ski Boat club (the last of the sponsored Hansa made outstanding bait).
It’s been an incredible adventure. Many people had a hand in making it so great. Rossco was a truly outstanding partner, my dad’s support was world class, Ross’s dad – Peter – guaranteed the laughs and ensured that we ate well, crazy Alec kept things interesting, Ian helped out with the backup and got things done. The team at The Unlimited were as jacked up, supportive and professional as always. They planned and organised everything to a ridiculously high standard. GI took some insane shots and he and his crew – Donnee, Lightie, Rich – went well beyond the call of duty, Sin organised our fantastic Ozone Reo kites and all our spares, Dean gave us brilliant advice and help, Rob sorted our 14s for the last stretch. We also had such incredible support from our friends and family. To all of you, thank you. You rocked my world.
Luis doing the rounds, near Mtunzini
Rossco with the whiff of home
The final stretch into Durban. At this point, we knew we had made it. We would have swam or run from here if we needed to.
We started out the day with a great breakfast in Mtunzini, where we met an excited and somewhat hungover ski boat fisherman. He fondly referred to the area as “shark territory” and regaled us with his finest shark stories of the last 30 years. Unperturbed (but very armed with our shark pods) we headed down to the beach.
The forecast looked pretty good so we made sure that we were early enough to get in a good day. We pumped up our kites with enthusiasm, expecting it to come through. It never really did. The problem with that is that your enthusiasm takes precedence over reality and you end up making bad decisions. Today was no exception. After waiting around for about 4 hours we decided to go for it. The gusts had picked up a bit and we convinced ourselves that it would be better once we got out deep.
We just managed to sneak behind the breakers on a good gust and headed deep quickly. It didn’t look too bad, light but manageable. In my mind, we were on our way to Zinkwazi. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Within minutes the wind backed off like an Italian from the front line. We were deep, with virtually no wind. Not great by anyones standards. Then the wind died completely. Rest in peace dead. My kite dropped into the sea and there was nowhere near enough wind to relaunch. Memories of the breakfast conversation came flooding back. Nothing to do about it but snuggle up to the shark pod and take the zaps. (There was no way I was turning it off!)
After a few minutes of swimming around after the kite, a gust came thru and miraculously I managed to get the kite back up. We made our way inshore, despite the gusty conditions, and “tea bagged” our way down to Amatikhulu, complete with 2 kite drops from Rossco. It was so light that he literally swam his dropped kite the last 500m to get in.
Any longer in Mtunzini and we would’ve had to pay rates, so despite the poor day’s kiting, we were high fiving to finally be out of there. The prospect of spending the afternoon at the Amatikhulu Prawn Shak also didn’t hurt, so the spirits were high.
When I put a call though to the backup up crew (headed up by my dad, they have been absolutely incredible) they told us that the vehicle had broken down. Fortunately, they were able to makea plan to come and get us, but we all to wait for a replacement vehicle.
While we were stuck on the side of the road, my good friend – Dione – who had been partying at the Prawn Shak, spotted us as she drove past. She had the good grace to take us to a local shebeen (unauthorized purveyor of fine beer. 750ml only.) where we stocked up and waited patiently for the backup vehicle for the backup vehicle. It might not have been a first class result for the day, but it was certainly interesting.
All in, it was a fine day’s adventuring. 110 kays to go.
Dione to the rescue
Waiting around for wind these last few days has been pretty frustrating. We are dead keen to complete The Unlimited Kitesurfing Expedition and get through to Durban, but this a reality of this kind of adventure. There is plenty that we have been able to positively affect – attitude, endurance, logistics, gear, training – unfortunately, no matter how hard we have tried to change it, the weather remains beyond our control.
The good news is that it looks like we’ve got a gusty North Westerly tomorrow. This is not ideal by anyone’s standards and is considered to be unkiteable close inshore, but we have an expedition to complete, so it will have to do. We’re going to have to get out far as quickly as possible and pray like hell that we make it past the breakers.
I’m really looking forward to getting back out there. If we can get out deep in one piece and the wind holds up, we should get down to Tinley Manor. This would leave a relatively easy one day’s kite through to Durban.
Hopefully a positive update from Tinley tomorrow night, until then, here are some more excellent pics of our adventure so far by GI (Andrew King):
Scratching our way down the beautiful coastline in too light winds
Probably the shot of the trip so far. Rossco nailing some air.
Keen to rest the knees and lunch at the Jolly Rubino (it’s a famous wreck and not the name of a salty seadog pub in Point Rd)
Rossco, chipper as always (except when tore his kite and got repeatedly nailed by the shark pod)
A typical lunch break scene…a far cry from lunch on the Polar ice
Rossco coming in at the end of the day (still chipper)
We took off this morning in a strong and gusty north wester. It was definitely the hairiest launch I’ve done to date. There was a big and heavy spring low tide swell running and the offshore wind was blowing over the sand dunes and gusting anything from about 5 to 25 knots making it very tricky. If we could get a few hundred meters behind backline safely we would probably be fine but a lull in the mid break would guarantee a serious crunching and possibly another ripped kite.
Rossco took off first and just snuck through after a few lulls and close encounters on the way out. After watching his launch, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. Anyway, my partner was out safely, so nothing to do but hit it with gusto. A beast of a wave popped up in front of me just as I was getting out. Fortunately I just had enough power to pull through the lip as it was breaking. Out in one piece. Shew!
The wind a few ks out was pretty good and we had a great run through to Richards bay, where it literally turned off as we were about to cross the shipping lane into the harbour. It was too late to try and make the beach, so we had no choice but to scratch our way across the harbour mouth. The wind was so light that we struggled to get up and planing, and we kept sinking back in. I could literally see the whites of Rosscos eyes from 300 meters away. Thank God we managed to keep the kites in the sky while we hacked our way across the shipping lane to the other side.
The wind picked up a bit just past the harbour mouth, just enough to allow us to continue, but never really got going properly for the rest of the day. It pretty much blew offshore the whole day so we stayed a few ks out. This is normally not a problem if the wind is strong, but not ideal in the light wind, especially if its threatening to drop off.
The highlight of the day was kiting past a mother and calf whale which were rolling around on the surface. They were totally unfazed by us and we were able to get in nice and close for a good look.
As we were approaching Mtunzini, just off the river mouth, the wind dropped right off again. We were still pretty far out and it got quite hairy when Ross dropped his kite three times in a row.Despite having the shark pods, I can confidently say that it does not feel awesome to be splashing around, all on your own, 3 ks out to sea. There are some serious sets of gums along the Southern African coastline and Mtunzini river mouth is no exception.
After lunch at Mtunzini we tried to get going again but the wind had dropped right off. Again Rossco went first and just snuck out. I wasn’t so fortunate (feels better to say that than skillful) when I hit a lull on the way out and was unable to keep my kite in the air. It was too light to relaunch and I wound up getting rolled in the surf and spat out like a pork chop in a synagogue. I was super relieved when Rossco called it off due to lack of wind, and was very agreeable when he suggested that we spend the rest of the day chilling out and throwing back a few Hansas.
After 2 days relaxing at Vidal, we were dead keen to get going this morning. The forecast for the day was good so we were hoping to get an early start.
We waited around on the beach until it picked up enough to get going and set out South for Richards bay.
The wind was blowing north west so it was more gusty than the men’s in an old folks home. It was also a bit light, so we hacked our way south and kept quite far out. I was hoping to get in nice and close at the St. Lucia estuary and maybe spot a croc or hippo, but the offshore wind made is too risky so we cut across the bay and headed for the Jolly Rubino, which was wrecked about ten years ago, for our lunch break. It was heavy going and my knee is absolutely knackered, but we had a great experience when a flying fish took off between us. He must have flown for 200 meters.
We pulled in for lunch with an epic view of the famous wreck, where I ate myrodol like smarties. It helped a bit. Our camera crew were with us today, so we had some company for lunch. This turned out to be very lucky as after lunch the wind picked up and we decided to put up our 8s (8meter kites for stronger wind) which they were able to take for us. Putting up the 8s turned out to be the wrong call as the wind dropped off shortly after and we had to go pretty far out to get wind. When it started really dropping off, I was far out and headed inshore as fast as possible. I just got to the beach in time but Rossco got stuck in the mid break when his kite literally fell out of the air from lack of wind. He got badly rolled and the kite got shredded when his board when straight through it. Luckily it was the 8. I ran in to help and kept getting zapped by his shark pod while pulling his board out the water. By the time Rossco got to the beach the swearing and blaspheming would have made a sailor blush.
Luckily our vehicle could get to us quite easily. We killed time while we waited by playing beer bottle boulle on the beach. We agreed that the loser would drink a pint of stout which had been warmed up in the microwave.
We’re really disappointed to have not made Richards bay, but we’ve had a great run to date and this is the nature of the game. It means we’re unlikely to make Zinkwazi tomorrow, so we’ll just take it as it comes.
Now, for a night out in Richards Bay where I will begin my evening with an unnaturally warm milk stout.
Lunch at The Jolly Rubino with GI and Lightie, lekker
Its been great kicking back at Vidal for the last few days, but we’re really looking forward to getting on with the adventure tomorrow.
Here are a few pics, mostly from day 1 and 2.
Rossco working on his professional smile. Pic courtesy of GI.
Scratching for waves on day 1. Pic courtesy of GI.
The spectacular iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the background, parts of which have been untouched for the past decade. The park management and care are world class. Pic courtesy of GI.
2 tired but happy guys, looking forward to a cold one! Pic courtesy of GI.
Sundowners at Lake Bhangazi.
Of all the days on the expedition, this is the one that I was looking forward to the most. It’s the most untouched and inaccessible part of the coastline that we are traversing. I drove it once, with my best mate and his old man, before the ban on beach driving. It was a fantastic day back then, what better than to do it again with another close mate and a pair of kites. Epic.
After waking up to the spectacular scenery of Sodwana Bay and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, we headed down to the beach full of expectation and as excited as yesterday. The first 2 hours were insane. With big flat inside sections, crystal clear water and some really good waves, it was definitely one of the best kiting experiences of my life. Totally world class.
It was also a great day for sitings. 5 minutes out of Sodwana, I saw the biggest leather back turtle of my life. He was absolutely enormous. Just after that, I spotted what was either a small shark or a Cobia (Prodigal Son) basking in the sun, then later a whale. This stretch is well known for its high shark concentration, mainly Zambezis, but recently there have been rumours of some Great Whites being spotted. Needless to say, we were grateful for our shark pods, despite being nailed by them every time we fell.
We stopped in a Leven Point for lunch. It’s a favourite spot amongst South African spearfisherman and for good reason. I have some of my best diving memories here, ranging from my first couta to all of us being totally overcome with sea-sickness and laughing at each other after a bull’s party.
During our break, the wind really came through hard. We spent the 22km home run getting absolutely hauled. By the time we got back to the beach, it was gusting to 39 knots and we were on 10 metre kites which are optimally suited to about 18 knots. Happy to arrive in one piece, we debated pumping up our 8s (8 metre kites) and pushing on to St Lucia, but good sense and the call of a cold beverage prevailed.
Lunch at Leven Point. Just before we got absolutely hauled back to Vidal.
Rossco getting sand blasted at lunch time. Still smiling and talking sh!t
After a very enthusiastic and excited afternoon in Ponta yesterday, we woke up with great expections for the day ahead. We were on the beach by 9am, charged and ready to set off on the adventure of our lifetimes.
We should’ve waited for the North Westerly wind to swing North easterly, but we were impatient to get going and hoping to make Sodwana for the night. This meant that the wind was blowing slightly offshore, which made it too light and gusty inshore. We had to go a few km’s out in order to get decent wind. Not great, if anything went wrong as this could mean a long swim, but better than fighting bad conditions and dropping kites all over the place. Rossco spotted a big shark basking on the surface, which took off as soon as it saw him….a gentle reminder of some of the dangers of the expedition.
The wind swung round at lunch time which allowed us to come closer in shore. We rode just behind the backline all the way through to Sodwana and came across some good waves in the last 10 km’s.
All in all, a fantastic day out. We loved the pristine African coastline. Untouched. Beautiful. Nobody for miles. What a treat.
Hoping to make Cape Vidal tomorrow.
Now for a cold one!
Rossco grabbing some air, about 10k’s short of Sodwana. Note the shark pod trailing behind the board. Pic courtesy of GI.
The reality of the adventure is starting to dawn on me. I remember this feeling from before we went to the South Pole. Six months before you go (particularly if you’ve had a few toots) it’s pure excitement, but as you get closer (and minus the cabernet), some of the realities start hitting home.
No doubt, this will be exponentially more comfortable than the expedition in Antarctica, but there’s still quite a bit of concern. Topping this list is not being able to complete due to lack of wind or serious injury. I have such high expectations of the expedition and am so looking forward to it, that this would be a huge blow. I guess I need to let go. Chin up!
Most of the logistics and preparations have been sorted, thanks in particular to the fantastic team back at The Unlimited, my personal backup Taryn, Rossco and my old man. There’s actually a surprising amount to organise from tracking devices to immigration permissions to gear.
The tracking devices have been modified from the ones that are used to track raptors (this is quite appropriate as Ross’s chest hairs have gone grey, giving him the appearance of a fish eagle). Using these raptor trackers, you’ll be able to follow us in real time online. Very cool. Details to follow.
On immigration, we’ve been given special permission to check into Mozambique and then only check back into SA when we get to Richard’s bay. The most bizarre thing is that the officials seem more concerned about the safety and seaworthiness of our “vessels” than anything else (not sure what this has to do with immigration??). Go figure. Anyway, the whole thing is somewhat disappointing, as the thought of jumping the border carries a certain allure.
We undoubtedly have some of the best gear in the world. Having flown many different kites, we’ve settled on the Ozone Reo. They’re incredibly versatile, responsive and fun to fly. Sin, from Kitesports, who brings them in has been hugely supportive and has gotten right behind us on this adventure. Thanks Sin, Hansa is on me! (Thanks Hansa for the beer sponsorship!)
We’ve been blessed with a huge amount of interest and support for our adventure. We’ve also been asked a lot of questions about how it’s all going to actually work, where we are going to stay, what if the wind stops, what if Ross goes on a binge. Here is the essence of it:
The distance along the coastline from Ponta Do Oura to Durban is about 430 k’s. Our plan is to catch the seasonal North-Easterly wind whenever it blows. The biggest challenge with this is that low pressure systems accompanied by strong Westerly winds are also quite common, as are days when the North-Easter is just too light. Both will mean downing kites and waiting it out.
That said, we’ll have to make the most of the North-Easterlies whenever they blow and take them as far as we can get. Provided the flesh holds up, if we can do a hundred kilometres in a day, we will. If we are extremely lucky, we could possibly complete the trip in as little as 5 days. Far more likely, however, is that we will end up doing shorter distances and staying wherever we can, whilst holding out for wind. You won’t catch me complaining, as long as we are stranded somewhere with a good pub and a nice point to surf!
There are quite a lot of guest houses, cabins and fishing shacks along the way for us to stay in. The challenge is that there are often big distances between them. We’ll try and make these distances in one go, but that’s not always going to be possible. We’re taking a backup vehicle, but a lot of places are totally inaccessible by road and driving on the beach is not allowed in South Africa.
As the chance of being stuck somewhere remote and inaccessible is quite high, we’re carrying extra water and supplies in case we have to wait it out or pack up for a very long hike. In a sadistic kind of way, I’ve been secretly hoping it happens. All part of the adventure I guess.
And, what if Ross does go on a binge? Well, I might just join him!
Thanks for all the support and comments on the blog. I’ll update again in a few days.
This is the only pic that I could find which gives an impression of the untouched 67km stretch between Sodwana and Cape Vidal, which is totally inaccessable by vehicle. We wont be taking the boat…just the skipper!
Its January 2012, its minus 40°C, I’ve been hauling a pulk for the last 10 hours and we’re heading south in the most brutal environment on earth. I’m extremely privileged to be part of an 8 man expedition to the South Pole…and I’m getting a taste for it. I realise that I’ve opened a door that I’ll never be able to go back through.
When we get back to our base at Union Glacier, 2 guys come in. They’ve, just kited across Antarctica via the Pole. As an ex-kiter with a newly discovered thirst for adventure, I’m getting interested. An idea ignites and by the time we get back to Durban, it’s just a case of organizing.
One of my oldest and closest mates, Ross Badcock-Walters (changed from just Badcock for obvious reasons) is an outdoorsman rivalled by few. He’s a make-a-plan kind of guy whose done it all from hang-gliding cross country, to river guiding, to farming alone in remotest Zim. He’s also a passionate kiter.
It took just shy of 10 seconds and a sip of beer to get Ross on board.
The plan is for the two of us to kitesurf from Ponta do Oura in Mozambique back to our home town in Durban, South Africa. We’re currently finalising gear tests, taking care of the last of the logistics and getting our chassis honed for 430k’s of knee buckling adventure.
Weather permitting, we hope to leave in 3 weeks on 13th Aug.
I will be updating this blog regularly between now and then and will blog daily once we kick off.
You can also follow me on twitter @zack_buchan for the PG18 edits!
Ross has spent years perfecting this smile. We’re both as excited as he looks.