Sail it once, and you'll understand why so many ocean explorers keep returning to the South African coastline. Big, beautiful and vibrant, this cultural kaleidoscope makes for a unique and utterly unforgettable sailing experience.
With the cold Atlantic Ocean to the west and the warm Indian Ocean to the east, South Africa (or Mzansi, as it is affectionately referred to by locals) offers sailing enthusiasts 2 850 km of breathtaking coastline to explore.
From the bustling, subtropical port city of Durban on the east coast, to the Cape of Good Hope at the most southwestern tip of the African continent, from colourful Cape Town, to the West Coast with its unique character and charm – friendly South Africa is a sailing destination unlike any other.
For circumnavigating yachts, the Cape of Good Hope sailing route is an excellent alternative to the Red Sea route. On this route, the fun is in the getting there, as it offers several incredible Indian Ocean island destinations to explore while journeying towards the legendary Cape of Good Hope.
The route between Durban and Cape Town is known to be an exhilarating sailing passage. As with most things, the art of this journey lies in the planning. Armed with the right information and making good use of weather forecasting resources, this route will reward you with a completely unique sailing experience.
Many yachts from all corners of the globe sail this beautiful coastline with wonderful stories to share. All of the country's coastal cities have yacht clubs where you'll find no shortage of welcoming locals, ready to advise you on your journey. Just keep in mind that, for the longer passages on this route, both timing and weather are important considerations.
Eclectic South Africa offers yachting and sailing enthusiasts a host of stunning cruising destinations – and the most famous of them all is Cape Town, the country's breathtaking Mother City.
It's a simple fact. Cape Town is one of those bucket-list sailing destinations most sailing enthusiasts dream of visiting at least once in their lifetime. The city's stunning location against the backdrop of iconic Table Mountain makes for an awe-inspiring sight when sailing into Table Bay harbour – and that's just the beginning.
Drop anchor in the V&A Marina in the bustling V&A Waterfront, a world-class destination for shopping and fine dining in a stunningly beautiful setting. In the summer, the south-easterly breeze makes for a perfect cruise across Table Bay towards the Milnerton Lighthouse. In winter, the north-western wind will help you make a swift sail to historic Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, was held prisoner for 27 years.
Another Cape Town sailing destination worth exploring is Hout Bay (Wood Bay), famous for its beautiful beach and proximity to magnificent Chapman's Peak. "Chappies", as it is affectionately known, is a mountain on the western side of the Cape Peninsula. Chapman's Peak Drive, a winding oceanside pass offers what is probably the most scenic drive in the country.
On your cruise out to Cape Point, you'll see seals, penguins, dolphins, great white sharks (if you're lucky) and, at the right time of year, southern right, humpback and orca whales frolicking offshore.
No sailing trip to Cape Town is complete without dropping anchor in the aquamarine waters of glitzy Camps Bay. Here you can feast on fresh seafood at world-class restaurants and chat to friendly locals at one of the many laid-back beach bars, before taking in a glorious Camps Bay sunset with sundowners in hand.
Once you've ticked Cape Town and its must-see sailing destinations off your list, it's time to explore some of Mzansi's more hidden sailing gems.
First, set sail for a leisurely cruise up the West Coast towards Langebaan, the first of 3 amazing Hidden Sailing Destinations in South Africa.
A mere 65 nautical miles north, up the West Coast from Cape Town, lies the quaint town of Langebaan. When you first take in the azure saltwater lagoon and its pristine, white-sand beaches, you'd be forgiven for thinking you've been magically transported to the Mediterranean.
WATERSPORTS, WHALES AND WILDFLOWERS
Cruising to Langebaan from Cape Town you will sail past the picturesque coastal village of Churchhaven, tucked away in the West Coast National Park. If you are sailing the region between August and September, be sure to drop anchor and visit the Postberg Flower Reserve, also situated in the West Coast National Park, to admire the resplendent swathes of colourful wildflowers in bloom.
Langebaan's mild climate and protected lagoon make it a very popular kitesurfing, kayaking, sailing and fishing destination. If watersports are a passion, be sure to include Langebaan on your South African cruising itinerary.
During October and November, humpback whales can often be spotted frolicking offshore and there have even been sightings of orca whales at play in the Langebaan lagoon!
Another hidden sailing gem along the South African coastline is the historic harbour town of Mossel Bay (Bay of Mussels). Situated on the country's beautiful Garden Route, Mossel Bay is most famous for being where Europeans first set foot on South African soil, when Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias and his men came ashore on 3 February 1488.
TRANQUIL WATERS, SEAFOOD AND SUNSHINE
Boasting an impressive 320 sunny days a year, friendly Mossel Bay, has a rich history, aquamarine waters and small-town charm (and, did we mention, mouth-wateringly fresh seafood?). Mossel Bay should be an essential stop on your South African sailing adventure.
The charming town of Knysna (named "Place of Wood" by its indigenous Khoisan population) is undoubtedly the crown jewel among South Africa's hidden sailing gems.
Nestled between the Knysna estuary and an ancient, indigenous forest, the historic town (est. 1871) is not only one of South Africa's most breathtaking sailing destinations but widely considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the country.
FOREST MEANDERS, LAGOON CRUISES AND SEASIDE EXPLORING
Situated on South Africa's lush Garden Route, Knysna is a popular tourist destination, with beautiful and safe beaches, a bustling waterfront with world-class restaurants, a magical Afro Montane forest and many quaint surrounding towns and seaside locations to explore.
Think sunset lagoon cruises, romantic forest meanders, birdwatching expeditions and day trips exploring the many historic sites, wildlife sanctuaries and beaches in the region. Knysna also boasts three world-class golf courses, one of which is situated on the Knysna lagoon.
Being a town that is literally "on the water", Knysna has a yacht club and a lively sailing community. It is also home to the Knysna Yacht Company, makers of the world's finest boutique, semi-customised yachts and catamarans. Drop by and say hello when you're in town – the friendly folks there would love to meet you and show you around their boatyard.
WORLD-CLASS RESTAURANTS AND OYSTER FESTIVAL
Drop anchor in the picturesque Harbour Knysna Quays Marina or Knysna Yacht Club to explore the town and its pretty waterfront – you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to fresh seafood and fine dining in this world-class tourist destination. Whatever you do, be sure to sample some famous Knysna oysters. The town is renowned for the delicacy that inspired a yearly festival frequented by visitors from all over the world!
A CRUISE THROUGH THE KNYSNA HEADS
When sailing the region, a cruise through the famous and awe-inspiring Knysna Heads (two stunning cliffs forming a portal into the safe haven of the Knysna estuary) is absolutely essential. From Knysna, you can set out for several day-sail adventures to nearby Buffalo Bay, beautiful Noetzie or Plettenberg Bay.
The town of Plettenberg Bay, situated a mere 19 nautical miles from Knysna, is perfect for a day-sail adventure. Be sure to visit Plett's world-famous Robberg Nature Reserve – an unspoilt peninsula offering hiking trails, stone-age caves and a vast range of plant and animal species.
Plettenberg Bay is also famous for whale watching – if you sail this region between June and February, you are almost sure to spot whales cavorting offshore.
With so much to offer yachting and sailing enthusiasts, it's no mystery that South Africa ranks at the top of many ocean explorers' must-sail lists. Consider the Cape of Good Hope route for your next sailing adventure – once you've sailed the region we're sure you'll be back!