A brush with disaster

Almost everyone has had a brush with disaster. Some are really big events like being standby and not making an airplane flight that crashes, or missing a bus that ends up being in a serious accident. Some are more minor like a near-miss when driving. But, whatever the cause, nothing catches your attention like “almost” having a big problem.

We feel like we just had the marine verison of a near miss. Pictured above is the Tuzi Gazi marina in Richards Bay, South Africa where Dirona was docked a couple of days ago and was booked to be for the next two weeks. Our berth is partially visible at the bottom left of the photo. A major storm was expected today and three days ago the Tuzi Gazi marina staff said they were concerned that the docks might be damaged by the potential wind forces on Dirona if we stayed in the marina. I’m glad they told us, but really wish that it was at the start of our stay rather than a week into it after all other reasonable locations had filled up. Leaving the marina was a decision we made only reluctantly, eventually concluding that the risk was simply too high.


Clearly it was. This morning when we got up, the winds were blowing 30 to 40 kts with gusts to 52, and the dock where we were previously staying on collapsed like an accordian. The boats on the dock were broadside to the wind, each one effictively forming a boat-sized sail. The dock couldn’t take the compressive force. Right where Dirona was moored, it buckled up, damaging boats in the area.


We’re sure glad we elected to move the boat. Unfortunately, there is no anchorage in the Richards Bay area. The only other marina in the area, the Zululand Yacht Club, had filled up more since we arrived. They didn’t have an appropriate-sized spot opening available and their only mooring balls strong enough for our boat were in use. This left us light on options. What we eventually elected to do seems to be working fairly well. We anchored on one side of the channel, pulled back 200′ across the channel and Med-moored up against the Zululand Yacht Club wave break.

The combination of 10:1 anchor scope and the secure wave break worked fairly well, but the wind was on our side and the wind forces were incredible. This morning we decided to cast off the wave break and just hang at anchor. This allowed us to be bow directly to the wind rather than sideways to the wind. This substantially reduces the wind force on the boat and consequently reduces the loadings on our ground tackle. In the screenshot below, we’ve marked off on the chartplotter the locations of the wavebreak to our north and the other boats on moorings to our south. There isn’t sufficient space to swing if there is a large wind shift, but its fine for the direction the storm is blowing. We’ll wait until the winds settle down a bit before again Med-mooring to the wave break.

Port Control just radioed the coal carriers at the loading docks in the harbour to check all mooring lines as 65 to 75 kts (138 kph/ 86 mph) winds are expected (the weather reports we have seen are not predicting quite that high).

Earlier today we could hear radio traffic from the commercial bulk coal carriers in the large boat anchorage outside the harbour. They were radioing frantically to each other about dragging anchors and trying to avoid collisions. Most of them appear to be running to sea to get more space. The video footage below includes some of the radio discussions between the anchored ships, and a view to the Zululand Yacht Club and the channel off the marina where we now are anchored.


We’re in a great spot right now and really like having the room to hang at anchor and not be at risk of other boats drifting down onto us. We would prefer to be securely tucked away in a marina but, having seen what happened at Tuzi Gazi, we feel fortunate to have elected to leave.


Even though it’s not really blowing that hard in the grand scheme of things, marinas breaking up isn’t that common and many of the pictures show how powerful even moderate winds can be. However, according to Spitfire, it’s nothing to lose sleep over.


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15 comments on “A brush with disaster
  1. Etienne Grobler says:

    Ouch – those crunched up docks is a reminder of the BC Ferry that took out Kuredu II – not nice. Happy you got out and to anchor before the storm hit but it is frustrating when marina’s don’t have their act together and think ahead when they deal with incoming vessels, especially those crossing the Indian Ocean. One would think it would raise some sort of flag or question about size and requirements, eh?

    The unprofessional way in which (most, it seems) marina’s are run was one of the factors which kept us at anchor where ever we could.

    • Etienne, I do remember reading about the BC Ferry that plowed through the Horseshoe Bay terminal. Pretty scary especially since you could have been on your boat. But, the new boat BC Ferries bought you was very nice so it wasn’t a complete disaster.

      • Etienne Grobler says:

        We would actually have been on the boat since we were leaving North for 4 weeks and after we completed provisioning the night before we decided at the last minute to come home for the evening rather than stay over. But, had we slept on the boat we would probably have left earlier also and missed the accident.

        But you are right, they did buy me a very nice new boat… :)

        • Both situations are a reminder of how quickly things can unravel when boating if we aren’t careful and vigilant. I suppose in our case there was lots of evidence that the docks were not well constructed but that data is not available until you arrive and then the options are fewer. I would have appreciated it if the Marina had mentioned they had a problem and the docks have failed many times in the past. But saying that would be hard on business so we get to arrive to unsafe docks with few alternatives and make the decision on what to do.

  2. Thor says:

    Thanks for sharing the details around weathering this storm.

  3. Kim Knuttila says:

    James/Jen, glad to hear y’all are ok! Keep the faith, stay dry, trust Spitfire. ;-)


  4. Rod Sumner says:


    All worked out well.

    I thought you might gone ‘walkabout’* when you arrived in SA!

    Would you have left your boat ‘unattended’ in this marina if you were on ‘walkabout’?


    * i.e. visit USA

    • I’m not sure. I think that prior to people warning us that the docks are rickety and the maraina being concerned about our weight, we might have left the boat there unattended. But, in retrospect, seeing pieces of broken up dock pulled to shore is a pretty good clue that they have a problem. I’ll deffinitely use a much more critical eye going forward. What makes it a challenge is it’s hard to know when you book and then, once we arrive, their sometimes aren’t many options left.

  5. Duane says:

    Hi James, sounds like you are having good luck, and making good decisions. What size hook do you use, and with 200′ out what is the total weight you have extended to hold the 52′. (Rode and hook combined) Would you consider setting two hooks, and do you have a spare for that purpose

    • We use a 70kg (154lb) Rocna on 7/16″ high test chain that is roughly 2 lbs per foot. So, in aggregate we have around 554lbs deployed. We do have an alternative achor available forward. It’s a large Guardian (aluminum Danforth-type ancor). The alternative forward anchor is to be used if we loose the primary anchor so there is a seperate rode for it as well. We also have used it in a tandem anchor configuration where it is attached to the “nose” of the Rocna by a length of chain effectively increasing the aggregate anchor fluke area deployed.

      We aren’t currently deployed in a tandem configuration but, if we were expecting hurricane force winds in an exposed location, we probably would.

  6. Tim Kaine says:

    Nordy’s are built to ride the hook. :) I would have left the marina even if I had a spot as sometimes it is safer to be on the water versus tied to something. Glad your both safe and look forward to more photos and info. Have fun and stay cool. :)

    • I suspect your are right Tim. What made this decision perhaps a bit more complex is that there is no anchoring in the Richards Bay area. There are two Marinas and a small mooring feild. Only one of the moorings in the field is of sufficent strength for our boat and, predictably, that one is taken. Where we ended up is anchored to the prevailing wind fairly close to shore. It’s working fine but won’t work if the wind shifts substantially. Once the wind settles down we will return to med mooring on the wave break.

  7. Stewart Kelly says:

    Happy to learn you are both safe and sound. Wonderful this fortuitous move happened so soon after finding Plug n Play and avoiding another tremendous headache.

    • Well, it wasn’t completely fortunitous. The Tuzi Gazi Marina has had problems in the past and the Marina ownership was nervous about our boat in the Marina. It would been much better to have told us when we booked a month or so back when we had moorage options still available but better late than never.

      The dock design appears unable to withstand even moderate winds with only medium and small boats in the marina. When we arrived, we saw the twisted wreckage of past dock failures pulled to sure so we probably should have figure it out on our own.

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