The Pareto Passage

The Pareto principle[i], also known as the law of the vital few or 80/20 rule, was published in 1896 by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist and philosopher.  The 80/20 rule says 80% of effects or outputs are attributed to 20% of the causes or inputs and has been widely used as a tool for business management and efficiency.

So, what has the 80/20 rule got to do with sailing?  The passage from Reunion to Cape Town is 2,200 nm and it is the last 20% of the South African coastline that provides 80% of the risk.  Passing the Cape of Good Hope, previously named the Cape of Storms, is potentially the most dangerous leg of my circumnavigation, even though it was selected as a safer route than running the gauntlet of pirates in the Arabian Gulf.

The first 80% or 1,750 nm is a trade wind passage in a busy shipping lane, with ‘nothing to see here’ as far as extreme weather goes, at least before the risk of cyclones starts in November/December.   Two things happen near the South African coast; firstly, the Mozambique current and the Equatorial current converge to form the Agulhas Current that flows swiftly SW along the coastline until it meets the Atlantic and secondly SW gales sweep up from the South Atlantic.  When the two combine, the result, as described on the Admiralty Chart, is “abnormal waves, up to 20m high.”  I never want to meet a 20m wave in any circumstances.

Sometimes 3 reefs in the main and a reduced jib is still too much sail

The questions, that were mulled over from day one of the passage, with each satellite download of wind forecasts, was where to make landfall and how to navigate safely to Cape Town?

Option A and the conventional wisdom, is to head for Durban or Richards Bay and wait for a weather window to make way for Port Elizabeth down the Wild Coast.  However, there’s no protection on the Wild Coast and the SW fronts roll through every few days, so you either hug the coast or go offshore to get, as best you can, out of the current and abnormal waves.  Add to the mix, long line poachers from Asia have moved into the unpatrolled coast and operate without navigation lights or AIS.  Option A sounds like a bad idea on several fronts. Option B was Port Elizabeth which is also very exposed to strong currents and winds, so that was a pass as well.  After consulting with a friend in Cape Town, I took Option C which was to make way directly to Cape Town and if needed, shelter in one of several bays and harbours along the coast between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

I stayed 60nm offshore from Port Elizabeth as I prepared to face my first southwester – albeit a relatively mild one.

SW gale 60nm south of Port Elizabeth

Durban was hit by high winds and heavy storms, so I was feeling quite pleased to have avoided those.  Gale force winds with gusts up to 40kts lasted for a day and a half as the wind backed from E to NE to NW to W to SW and finally SE – sailing upwind in these conditions can be rough, with the boat falling off the back of waves and landing with a shuddering thud.  Taking the waves side on and over the deck while reaching was worse.

Helming on Friday 13th October

Galaxy held together, though the autohelm computer tapped out and I helmed the last 170nm to shelter at Mosell Bay, on Friday 13th October.

Downwind to Mossel Bay – reaching 11kts on some waves, it was too much for the jib, which has torn again!

Mossel Bay is best known as the place at which the first Europeans landed on South African soil in 1488[ii] on a Portuguese Caravel Bartolomeu Dias. The working harbour supports oil & gas as well as commercial fishing; not many foreign yachts arrive in Mossel Bay, so there were no clearing-in formalities and I just kept my passport on hand.  However, I was required to sign in and out of the gate as well as take random breath tests to enter – this latter requirement proved challenging after I celebrated making landfall at the local yacht club.

It would be a week before the westerly winds eased and there was a weather window to make way for Cape Town – so there was time for some socialising and site seeing that included coming face to face with a White Shark and an 800km inland road trip across the semi-desert of the Karoo[iii] to the historical town of Graaf-Reniet[iv].

Stephen’s bar
Peek a boo
Graaf-Reneit from the Camdeboo National Park

I motor sailed half the 250nm passage before the wind started to build as I approached the Cape of Good Hope –  it was a feeling of elation as I sailed around the Cape of Storms and achieved a key milestone for the trip.

Rounding the Cape of Good Hope

The 2,200 nm from Reunion to Cape Town took 15.5 days at sea to complete and now Galaxy gets to spend over a month on a berth at the Royal Cape Yacht Club before the next passage to St Helena. I spent my first-day in Cape Town clearing immigration, arranging trades for repairs and maintenance (sailmaker, rigger, electrician) and the highlight; clearing out a build-up of calcium scale that had blocked the toilet!






  1. Mike Marsh

    Holy schmoly, the old girl must be fair whizzing along at 11 knots!

  2. Murray Sebbes

    Well done,you must have felt a great sense of achievement sailing into Capetown.
    3 reefs in the main and unblocking the toilet,two of the most trying things facing a sailor !!!

  3. Bernard

    Another great read Chris.

  4. Roger Claus

    You dear boy are THE MAN!
    Love your work!

  5. Peter Heilman

    Bloody great reading Spot. Go you good thing !!!

  6. Peter Heilman

    My Geography and worldly knowledge improves greatly with each of your landfalls and near misses (so to speak)

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