DISCOVER Magazine #7

Kommer Damen world sailing trip

Published in category: People

From Brisbane to Cape Town

It’s his second world tour, and he has spent every single mile at the helm. Chairman of the board Kommer Damen is sailing round the world again, in his “very own kingdom”: the ‘Bellatrix’. He embarked on his adventure in 2005 and in 2012 completed the next leg of the voyage. Here is his captain’s log.

September 10, 2012

Position: 22:13 S; 151:15 E Capricorn Channel, in the Great Barrier Reef.

On route to our first stop as we sail from Brisbane to Cape Town: the Whitsunday Islands, making speeds upwards of nine knots and with a stiff backstay wind. I left the port of Manly, Brisbane, with my four-man crew, after taking leave of our many friends in the harbor and in Brunswick Heads. We departed two days later than planned owing to a fierce northerly, but we used the time wisely by stocking up on extra supplies.


The weather was fine and our store of Calvados replenished when we finally shoved off. On day two we set up the fishing rod for the first time with a highly successful pink lure. It took only a few minutes before we had caught a splendid Spanish mackerel. Our cook knew just how to prepare it.

September 16, 2012

Position: 10:24 E; 139:54.5 S Gulf Of Carpentaria, North Australia.
We passed the Torres Strait last night, one of the most notorious passages in the world. In earlier times, dozens of ships went aground here between the northernmost tip of Australia (Cape York) and Papua New Guinea. The unbelievably strong current, narrow passages between the reefs and lack of good navigational aids made navigation extremely tricky. We chose a narrow shipping lane as our route but found ourselves heading straight for two oncoming ships. The momentary alarm proved unnecessary, fortunately. We continued along the East Coast of Australia. Navigation and manoeuvring were generally difficult, but the sailing was fantastic. The traffic was quite heavy, with bulk carriers full of coal, iron ore and bauxite, container vessels and auto carriers. We took advantage of a favourable wind and passed up the Whitsundays, but we did stop to snorkel above the Great Barrier Reef, which was pure enjoyment.


September 23, 2012

Position: 12.27 S, 130.49 E Cullen Bay Marina, Darwin.

We’re in Darwin, in a marina separated from Beagle Gulf by a lock. There’s a seven-metre difference in water level inside and outside the marina. In the end, smooth sailing between Brisbane and Darwin – thanks to good strong winds and our enormous spinnaker – brought us to Darwin sooner than we’d planned. We spent the time giving the ship a thorough cleaning, stocking up on supplies, making repairs and touring the Northern Territory. We saw imposing saltwater crocodiles in the Adelaide River – a spectacular sight. The penetrating heat and silence are also impressive. The land is desolate and wild, with hardly a living soul to be seen – only a passing road train.


October 6, 2012

Position: 12.10 S; 100.07 E, 190 miles E of Cocos (Keeling).

We’ve almost reached Cocos – have 3850 miles under our belts by now, with 5000 to go. We started out with the engine running, but we have clearly caught a trade wind and are making good time. We have passed the Indonesian archipelago, which we had to learn the row of islands by heart in primary school: Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Sumba, Flores, and Timor. At Java, we had to remain alert. There were countless fishing vessels active there at night, moving helter-skelter with fully lit decks and no recognisable navigation lighting. We tried to reach them on the VHF to ask them whether they had cast their nets. I tried again saying “Primakassie, Slamat matang oedang oedang”, but got no response. We narrowly missed a lighted end-marker buoy that popped up suddenly, but otherwise managed to get through without incident.

October 14, 2012

Position: 13.46 S; 88.41 E, 600 miles WSW of Cocos Keeling.

Nature sometimes acts in ways that defy statistics. A tropical storm along our route developed into a hurricane – the earliest one on record for this season of the year. Hurricane Anais is moving East of Mauritius to the South, but fortunately it’s still a long way from the Bellatrix. But I am keeping a sharp eye on the weather and wind forecasts. Our visit to the Cocos Keeling atoll was a special experience. Coral reefs, white beaches and a turquoise sea – incredibly lovely. The island has a remarkable history. It was owned by the Scottish Clunies-Ross family for 150 years, who ran coconut plantations there and paid their Malaysian contract labourers with their own coinage. This serf-master system came to an end in 1978, because of accusations of slavery, and the Australian government bought out the family. And the islanders? They are free now.


October 21, 2012

Position: 18.47 S; 63.61 E, about 350 miles from Mauritius.

We are just a few miles away from Mauritius. The weather is a mixture of sun and rain, moderate seas and rough winds – we’ve had wash on the deck and in the cockpit. Both conditions make for wonderful sailing.

I had quite an adventure in the lazarette aft, where I heard loud banging. Waves kept crashing over the hatches, but I found the noise so alarming that I scuttled between two waves and locked myself into the lazarette to find out what the commotion was. One of the crew kept watch and made sure I had enough air in there to keep breathing. The problem turned out to be the starboard steering mechanism. We’ll deal with that on Mauritius.


October 28, 2012

Position: Port Louis, Mauritius.

Anchored at a lovely spot on the waterfront at Port Louis. Mauritius is a true melting pot of races and nationalities, and impresses us as very friendly and bustling. We arrived sooner than expected, with 200 mile days and smooth sailing on the spinnaker, despite the calm. When I reported to Mauritius’ Port Control, they got quite nervous and shouted “Please stay where you are, we send a tugboat”. That wasn’t at all necessary, but it turned out that they wanted to send us a tug out of courtesy to guide us into port. The tug was a recently acquired DAMEN ASD 2411 “Da Pattan”, and it gave us a warm welcome.


November 12, 2012

Position: Port of Durban, SA.

We decided to give La Reunion a miss so that we would have more time along the South African coast to seek shelter against passing fronts. The weather is unpredictable; we are being hammered by waves and enduring heavy downpours and constant SW gales. I am full of admiration for our cook who has managed to conjure up one excellent meal after the next despite the crashing waves fore and aft. Hats off to him! We have spent a few days here in Kwazulu Natal and visited the splendid colonial capital of Pietermaritzburg.

This is a wonderful country, full of nice people of all races and groups; yet, there is police everywhere and there are extreme contrasts between rich and poor – I can only hope for the best. But there’s fun to be had here too. We went to a bar to watch a rugby match between Ireland and South Africa, everyone decked out in Springbok shirts, caps and flags. The Springboks won the match, and we were thanked because we “so goed had geskreeu vir die Bokkies” (had cheered on the Boks so well). We left in pitch darkness for Mossel Bay.


November 18, 2012

Position: 34.12 S; 25.52 E, South of Port Elizabeth.

We visited the MTS Vantage, a recently built Damen Shoalbuster, which was lying in East London for repair because, while en route to Mozambique towing a huge 120-metre barge, it lost its train in the giant waves of the Agulhas Current. That current is hugely important to us too, and it’s quite tricky to locate it. Once we had tracked it down by testing the temperature of the sea water, we reached spectacular speeds: 14.5 knots on one of my watches. After sheltering in Mossel Bay, we may also stop in False Bay and Hout Bay and then go on to Cape Town.


November 26, 2012

Position: port of Hout Bay, South of Cape Town.

Our trip is almost at an end, but that doesn’t mean that we’re slowing down. An unpleasant head wind and huge waves have forced us to alter our course slightly: we were unable to visit friends in Humansdorp unfortunately and instead set course for Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of the continent. The weather improved, but when we resumed our voyage a technical problem arose. We were unable to furl or unfurl the mainsail. We got help in Simonstown in False Bay and it turned out that the furler’s swivel had jammed and taken the halyard with it. After furling the sail, we moored at the False Bay Yacht Club, where we stayed another day owing to a storm. We then left for Hout Bay in fine weather, sailing right past the Cape Point lighthouse. We received a warm welcome when we arrived in the marina, with a huge group of friends and family awaiting us there. Tomorrow we’ll depart for our final destination, the Water-front in Cape Town. That brings our holiday to an end, after 9,000 miles at sea, and each of us will go his own way.

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