22-Oct-2005 -- After successfully visiting two confluences in 2004, my sister Marieta, my friend Gys and myself were looking out for further interesting confluences to visit. 26S 33E is located off Inhaca island on the Mozambique coast, approximately 40 km from Maputo, the capital. Being keen on scuba diving, we thought of recording the cConfluence in the prescribed way and then to dive on the spot, taking a couple of under water photographs for interest sake.
While discussing the possibility, it became apparent that such a visit would require careful planning and logistical support. I spoke to Mike Ilsley, the chairman of the Land Rover Owners Club of Southern Africa. He was keen and invited Andre Hanekom who is the owner of "a Day in Africa", a diving opperation to join us. After our first formal meeting we were in agreement, this could work. The 26S 33E Expedition was on track! More meetings followed, more people were drawn in and planning was refined.
All living in the Gauteng province in South Africa, we left home on Wednesday, 19 October to rendezvous at Ponta de Ora border post in the South of Mozambique on Thursday. At 10:00 a.m. we were ready to proceed. The team consisted of:
Mike Ilsley, convoy leader/asst skipper
Hannes van Vuuren, photographer (see pictures 8 and 9)
Andre Gous, camera man
Gys Vermeulen, in charge of camp and cooking
Gys jnr., asst cook
Pierre v d Horst, asst cook
Craig Robertson, diver
Andre Hanekom, skipper/divemaster
Johan Boshoff, under water photographer
Jas Kruger, paramedic
Francois Dekker, paramedic
Marieta van Biljon, diver
Paul Andrews, journalist (see picture 10)
Sean Steyn, logistics
Sarah-Ann Steyn, Sean's daughter
Ernst van Biljon, "expedition instigator"
Karin Vermeulen, my partner.
Travelling in six Land Rovers with a seven meter inflatable boat and an off road trailer, progress was slow. We had to stop to deflate tyres further as the sandy tracks proved challenging. Our first stop was at Zitundo where we enjoyed our first ice cold "Deuce M", the local beer. At 1:00 p.m. we entered the Maputo Elephant reserve. The tracks became narrower, the sand thicker, the coastal forest more dense. This slowed us down further. We saw two elephants, fortunately in the distance, as the animals were traumatized during the years of civil war and are quite aggressive. At 6:00 p.m. we arrived at our destination in Santa Maria. Covering the 100 km from the border took us eight hours!
The camp called Ponta Torres surprised us. The tents were well maintained with en suite bath rooms situated in dense bush overlooking the bay. This was great! While Gys and his team were preparing supper, Andre called the party who were to visit the Confluence together for a briefing. We were to launch at 06:00 a.m. the next morning. Dive gear, cameras, GPS and the boat were checked before we sat down for supper. Gys prepared "snoek en patats" (a traditional fish and sweet potato meal) that went down well. Tired after a hard day, we went to our tents. Not even a ferocious thunder storm prevented us from sleeping well.
At 5:00 a.m. we got up, loaded the equipment, had coffee and rusks and launched the boat at 6:00 as planned. The sea in the channel between the Santa Maria peninsula and Inhaca Island was flat. We were all excited and joking. As we approached the exit to the channel, we noticed that the sea was rough. All being used to surf launches we were not concerned. Conditions worsened, with swells running in all directions. We pushed on deeper, noticing that the sea seemed calmer towards the North where we were heading.
The next moment a wall of water stood up ahead of us. The boat crashed into it and all of us fell over. The two 90 hp Mercury motors cut out as they were submerged and for the first time I was worried. Andre managed to restart the motors and turn back. I had blood rushing from my forehead. Looking around, all had recovered but for Andre, the cameraman. While filming, he was also flung forward. His foot was secure in the foot strap and the impact caused his leg to break above the ankle. Andre was lying on his back with his tibia protruding, his foot dangling at an awkward angle. We rushed back to our base with Francois, the paramedic keeping Andre comfortable.
Back on shore, Andre's leg was tended to while we tried to get hold of a helicopter to get Andre to hospital. No helicopter was available but we managed to charter a fixed wing aircraft to fly to Inhaca. This meant transporting Andre back across the channel by boat, fortunately in calm water. Andre was evacuated to Maputo and from there taken to Nelspruit in South Africa where he was operated on. Once we had confirmation that he was safe and in hospital the spirit in camp lifted. We spent the afternoon at leisure, walking along the beach, fishing and just chilling out.
Diving the confluence was no longer an option. I had a suspected fractured nose, Johan, the under water photographer, had returned to SA with Andre, and we simply did not have time to regroup before our return journey on Saturday. Speaking to Andre, the skipper, I suggested another attempt to visit the Confluence early on Saturday morning, simply recording the visit on the surface. We agreed that we would, weather and sea conditions permitting, have another attempt. Andre insisted on keeping the boat light, with only Gys, Andre and myself on board.
During the night the weather remained calm and at 06:00 a.m. we again launched the boat. Approaching "Hell Gate" we were nervous. The sea still seamed rough but less so than the previous day. We managed without much trouble to enter the open water and headed north towards the Confluence. Once at the CP we took the photographs and with the evidence returned. We were welcomed by the expecting group and celebrated. Our primary objective has been met. Another great day in Africa! We packed and took on the journey back home.
Reflecting on the expedition, I am greatful for the experience. The planning was done well and we had an excellent team. Hopefully we can do something similar again. Andre, we wish you a speedy and full recovery.