When we are sailing, and we are not steering the boat, and the boat is still going where we want it to go (more or less), we say it is the Autopilot doing the job.  We hope so, at least, because the alternative is that a ghostly presence is turning the wheel this way and that, complete with groans and squeaks from the surroundings.  That is too eerie for our tastes.

So we attribute the movements to a greasy assortment of gears, bicycle chain and various electronic devices, including a brain (and sometimes we think Free Will as well), creatively referred to as the ‘Autopilot’. (It lurks in a dark space behind the helmsman’s seat)

On our first trip with this machine, the bicycle chain broke.  That must have affected its brain, because it refused to work for the rest of the trip.  So we called it “Dom Gert” – meaning “mentally disadvantaged Gert”.  A wonderful man in Luderitz managed to coach the chain back into place, making Gert a whole lot more co-operative on the way back.  We renamed him “Sterk Gert” – meaning “Strong Gert”



This is the cabin at the “pointy” end of the boat. In sailing terms, this is the “forward” end. The cabin is in the shape of a rounded triangle. Sophia and Karin share a double bed in the middle part of the triangle, which we’ve divided into two parts with a sail. This is the cabin which undergoes the most movement while sailing. Added to the rolling motion from side to side, there is a more pronounced up-and-down movement that in rough weather can even become a definite banging each time the boat hits a new wave. Sophia and Karin can be found in our cabin then.


Gert :

Years ago Frans worked in an office building in downtown Johannesburg. Late at night, with no-one else there, the lift would operate itself.  The lift did NOT have an Autopilot to blame the eeriness on, so we tried to make the ghost seem friendlier by giving him (her? it?) a name.  Gert.


Instrument used to raise and lower the anchor.

An Electronic Windlass really helps with a boat where the male:female ratio is 1:5.

Wind Vane :

This device is not ghostly, but it does seem like magic.  I’m not going to explain how it works, because I don’t want anyone to feel left behind when they don’t understand it.  And I don’t want anyone who actually understands it to read it and realize that I’m talking nonsense.

In summary: There is this contraption bolted onto the back of the boat.  You clamp something that looks like a little wooden oar, but which acts as a little sail, into position at the top of it.  It is connected via various gears and rods (and stuff) to a big oar down in the water, which is in turn connected to a rudder, a bit deeper down.  Then you twist madly on a knob which turns this little wooden sail, until the wind vane stops trying to head the boat in completely the wrong direction.  (Yes, it does feel a bit random). Then you let go of everything, and the boat just steers itself, without anything seeming to move at all!  (it only works when we’re under sail, not when the motor is switched on)

On our trip to Luderitz, our wind vane earned the name: “Slim Gert” – meaning “Clever Gert”



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