Outreach & Guiding for a National Science and Technology Forum group (NSTF Brilliants) to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT): Friday 23rd to Monday 26th June 2017.

Anja Bruton, the Science Promotions Coordinator at SKA Africa, approached StarPeople to accompany the NSTF Brilliants group (http://www.nstf.org.za/youth/brilliants-programme/) on the tour to the SKA and SALT and we jumped at the opportunity. Anja and Dimpho would fly to Kimberly to meet up with Jansie Niehaus and Wilna Eksteen from the NSTF (http://www.nstf.org.za/) and a group of students, chosen for their exceptional performance in the 2016 Matriculation exams; specifically in the Science paper. This group would fly down from Gauteng and, after a day’s sightseeing in Kimberley, they would tackle the long journey to Carnarvon in two Quantums on Saturday the 24th. They would also be accompanied by two photographers who were tasked with documenting the trip.

Lynnette, Auke, Snorre and I would leave Cape Town for Carnarvon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnarvon,_Northern_Cape) early on Thursday the 23rd and book in at the Lord Carnarvon Guest House. Anja and the rest of the group were scheduled to arrive shortly after lunch on Saturday and on Saturday evening StarPeople were to present a stargazing session at Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base about 15 km outside Carnarvon. On Sunday morning the group would visit the SKA site itself and after that, e would depart for Sutherland. On Sunday evening there was to be stargazing session at the SAAO’s Visitor’s Centre and on Monday morning we would tour the SAAO facilities on the hill before heading for Cape Town.

However, as Robert Burns once said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” First of all, Auke had to pull out because of domestic complications. Then the car hire company notified us that the vehicle we required could only be delivered on Friday morning and not on Thursday afternoon as requested. This, of course, scuppered our 05:00 departure plan, but Lynnette and I made sure that we had everything packed and ready to load by 08:00 when the vehicle was scheduled to arrive. However, it only arrived at about 08:30 and, when it did arrive, it was petrol and not diesel driven as had been requested. Disaster! Petrol-driven vehicles are not allowed access to the SKA site because their spark plugs generate interference for the radio telescope. It is more than 600 km to Carnarvon and we had to be there before dark. We also still had to load the vehicle so, if we sent it back and insisted on a diesel driven one, there was no chance of reaching Carnarvon before dark. We signed for the vehicle, finished loading in record time and at 09:40 we set off for Carnarvon.

TOP: The hired Hyundai H1 with the StarPeople door magnets.  CENTRE: Entering Malmesbury.  BOTTOM: Passing Moorreesburg on the N7.

The journey was long but uneventful. We stopped for petrol and Lynnette’s packed lunch in Vanrhynsdorp (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanrhynsdorp) after 290 km. We then stopped halfway up the spectacular Vanrhyns Pass to take pictures. The original pass was constructed in 1880 by Thomas Bain and climbs almost 600 m from the Knersvlakte to its summit, situated at just over 800 m, which is about the same as the top of Du Toitskloof pass. The pass has an average gradient of 1:15 with the steepest section being 1:12.

TOP: Looking West from Piekenierskloof Pass toward the northern end of the Piketberg.  CENTRE: Citrusdal in the distance against the backdrop of the Cederberg with Cederberg Sneeukop just left of centre.  BOTTOM: The turn-off to Clanwilliam and this rebuilt section of the N7 is a pleasure to drive.
TOP: Stop and Go delay due to the reconstruction of the bridge across the Olifants River.  CENTRE: The light coloured patches on the hill in the background are called Heuweltjies and their origin is a much-debated topic. Go to any one of the following links to read up on them. (1. https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Heuweltjie) (2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuweltjie#cite_note-7) (3. http://www.sajs.co.za/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/SAJS%20112_1-2_Cramer_Research%20Article.pdf) (4. https://www.infona.pl/resource/bwmeta1.element.elsevier-ab969e23-2c87-36b0-a144-1c5ed9ebd6af) BOTTOM: Vanrhynsdorp and the cliffs of the Matzikamma mountain range. Maskam lies at the eastern end while Gifberg is on the western edge. These mountains form the western boundary of the Great Escarpment.
TOP: Approaching the Knersvlakte on the R27 and in the distance the edge of the Great Escarpment.  2nd FROM TOP: Vanrhyns Pass which takes the R27 up to the top of the Great Escarpment is visible in the distance.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: The R27 begins the ascent of the pass.  BOTTOM: Up we go around one of the many fairly sharp bends in the road up the pass.

Shortly after Vanrhyns Pass, we passed the turnoff to the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve (here is a Wikipedia link http://www.footprint.co.za/oorlogskloof.htm ) with its spectacular glacial floor, but there was no time to visit that on this trip. The reserve is situated just west of Nieuwoudtville (http://www.nieuwoudtville.com/the-treasure/). Next was Calvinia the main town of the Hantam region (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvinia) with its extra outsize red post-box and, 230 km after Vanrhynsdorp, we reached Williston (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williston,_Northern_Cape), where we made a brief stop for another light snack and to answer a call of nature, before tackling the last 125 km to Carnarvon. Time constraints had prevented us from visiting the Langbaken cheese farm (http://karoospace.co.za/cheesemakers-upper-karoo/) south of Williston, but we will save that for another day.

TOP: View back over the Knersvlakte toward the West Coast and the distant South Atlantic Ocean.  2nd FROM TOP: View southeast past a mass of protruding sandstone in the direction of the Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Steep cliffs of Table Mountain sandstone group rise above the road.  BOTTOM: A very large red flower post-box in Calvinia.
TOP: The R63 stretches out ahead of us as we approach Williston.  2nd FROM TOP: The shadow of the Earth and the pink layer of the Venus Girdle over Carnarvon as we approach on the R63.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Entering the outskirts of Carnarvon.  BOTTOM: Our destination the Lord Carnarvon Guest House in Carnarvon.

On the last stretch, we had to push it a bit and reached Carnarvon in the gathering dusk at 17:45, where we reported to Pieter Hoffman at the Lord Carnarvon guest house in Daniel Street (https://www.carnarvon.co.za/lcindex.htm). This building was the Officer’s Mess during the Anglo-South African War and he has done a magnificent job of restoring it. We unloaded, got Snorre settled in, and walked round to Lord’s Kitchen in Victoria Street (https://www.tripadvisor.co.za/Restaurant_Review-g4226745-d8743616-Reviews-Lord_s-Carnarvon_Northern_Cape.html), also run by Pieter, for supper. After supper, we walked back to the Lord Carnarvon and had the amusing experience of being escorted by a police vehicle because “nobody walks around Carnarvon in the dark”.  This remark struck us a rather odd considering the fact that there were quite a few other local people in the streets.

TOP: Our very well appointed accommodation in the Lord Carnarvon Guest House.  2nd FROM TOP: Snorre making himself at home on his red blanket which we always put over the bed wherever we stay. Although he never, or hardly ever, sleeps on our bed at home, he doesn’t miss the opportunity to do so when we are away from home.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Interior of the front section in Lord’s Kitchen.  BOTTOM: Outside view of our room in the guest house.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast at the Lord Carnarvon, Lynnette, Snorre and I took to the streets to do some house hunting in case we should decide to move to Carnarvon. The results of this expedition were rather disappointing as we soon discovered that, like many small country towns in South Africa, the homeowners wanted lots of cash for the property that was, in our opinion, worth a lot less. The other aspect which surprised us, even though Anja had warned us about it, was the negative sentiment toward the SKA project and the amount of disinformation circulating in the town. This varied from stories that farmers were being chased off their farms without compensation or that farms were being confiscated in order to distribute the land to previously disadvantaged persons, and even that townsfolk were to be evicted so that four blocks of houses could be knocked down to build a college. We also came across an openly hostile sign in a back yard in Kidd Street. Most obvious was the fact that almost everyone we spoke to had no bloody clue what the SKA was, or what it was about.

TOP: Snorre enjoying our slow exploration of Carnarvon.  2nd FROM TOP: Some locals on the outskirts of Carnarvon.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: Victoria Street and Lord’s Kitchen with the Adjacent Lord Carnarvon Hotel.  BOTTOM: Sign in the back yard of a house in Kidd Street which we found to be indicative of the attitude of many Carnarvon residents we spoke to.

Shortly before 16:00 Anja let us know they had arrived and were having a late lunch at Lord’s Kitchen. We popped around and Anja introduced us to the group. After the meal the group dispersed to their various rooms and Anja, Dimpho, Lynnette and I set off for Klerefontein, the SKA’s operational base, to set up Lorenzo for the stargazing later that evening. Mission accomplished we headed back to town to collect all our warm gear and have supper. After supper, the five vehicle cavalcade made its way back to Klerefontein. On a hill southeast of where we were situated was the large 7,6 m dish of the C-BASS radio telescope (https://www.ska.ac.za/science-engineering/c-bass/) catching the last rays of the setting sun as it patiently toiled away sweeping back and forth to map the radio sky in the 4,5-5,5 MHz frequency range. The C-BASS dish, recently moved from Hartebeeshoek (http://www.hartrao.ac.za/) to Klerefontein, is the southern component (the other telescope is in California) of a project to produce a microwave (short-wavelength radio) radiation map similar to the one produced by the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_(spacecraft)), but at longer wavelengths than Planck. C-BASS will also measure the polarization of the radiation.

Anja split the students into two groups for the planned activities. One group stayed with Lynnette, Lorenzo and I to do some stargazing. The other group went inside to participate in Skype Q&A session with Jim Adams, Deputy Chief Technologist at NASA (https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/people/adamsj).The Milky Way was magnificent and drew many Ooh’s and Aah’s from the group. I did a basic what’s-up-tonight and then kept talking while Lynnette operated Lorenzo. There was no Moon but fortunately, Jupiter and Saturn were nicely placed and we could also show them a selection of the other well-known objects. After about an hour the groups changed around and Lynnette, Lorenzo and I repeated our earlier performance. Once we had done with the second group, it was packing up time and then back to town for a hot shower and some much-needed sleep.

Sunday morning at 06:15 it was breakfast time at Lord’s Kitchen and, after collecting our packed lunches, it was all aboard for the trip out to Klerefontein where Anja gave us a Health and Safety briefing and had us all fill in indemnity forms. During the briefing, the emphasis was placed on the mayhem electronic devices caused for the radio telescopes. Mobile phones, which all had to be switched off, were a prime source and even my hearing aid’s hands-free device, that uses Blue Tooth, had to be switched off. After all, this had been sorted out, our motorcade tackled the more than 70 or so kilometers out to the actual SKA site. Large sections have already been tarred, but there are still fairly long sections that are very rough and dusty. Lynnette and I had to leave our petrol driven vehicle with Snorre in it just inside the checkpoint at what used to be the Meysdam farmhouse and continue with Anja and Dimpho in their vehicle. Snorre was quite safe, with enough fresh air, water and food to keep him busy till we get back. We made sure that the vehicle would be in the deep shade while we were away too.

TOP LEFT: Coffee was clearly a priority for most of the group.  TOP RIGHT: They came in by drips and drabs.  BOTTOM LEFT: André, one of the drivers, looking most inquisitive.  BOTTOM RIGHT: Leftovers tell the tale of what was popular and what wasn’t.
TOP: A quiet Victoria Street at 07:20.  CENTRE: Entering Klerefontein with the C-BASS dish on the hill in the distance.  BOTTOM: A dusty section of the road out to the SKA site.

Our first stop was the very impressive, half underground, Karoo Array Processor Building. Placing the centre below ground level was essential to minimize the amount of interference from the computers. In addition to being below ground level, the whole installation is housed inside a huge Faraday cage (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage). It is ironic that a radio telescope, which cannot function without massive computer support, also experiences its most annoying interference from computers. It was while touring the Processor Building point that I realized that, if I had simply put my phone on Airplane Mode, I could have brought it with me and taken photographs. Some mothers are just unfortunate to have very dense children! Our next stop was the huge, hanger-sized building where the MeerKAT dishes are assembled. It is only when one stands next to one of these huge constructions lying flat on the floor that one really gets an idea of their overwhelming size. Needless to say, at this point, I mentally administered several more resounding kicks to my posterior for not having anything to take pictures with. After completing this part of the tour it was back into the vehicles for the drive out to the telescopes.

The first stop was the KAT-7 dishes (http://www.ska.ac.za/) where all but one pointed south, collecting data on some unseen object light years away in a distant part of the Universe. KAT-7 was a precursor engineering test bed for the larger MeerKAT array and also served as a demonstration of South Africa’s technological ability when the bid for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was submitted. However, KAT-7, the first radio telescope ever to be built with a dish consisting of composite material, is also a science instrument in its own right. Each 12-meter dish is fitted with a prime focus receiver and a Stirling pump cooling unit that supplies the cryogenic cooling to keep the electronics at 75 K. The total collecting area of the seven dishes is about 2000 m2 and they function in the 3 to 30 cm wavelength range at frequencies between 1 200 and 1 950 MHz. KAT-7’s minimum baseline (shortest distance between two dishes) is 26 m and the maximum baseline (longest distance between two dishes) is 185 m. These seven dishes will eventually be decommissioned as science instruments when their successors, the MeerKat Array, comes online and be made available for serious amateurs.

Then we were off to find a MeerKAT dish (http://www.ska.ac.za/) that was positioned in such a way that it would be easy to photograph, which wasn’t easy because, despite the fact that they were lots of them, they were all facing in different directions. It really is an impressive sight, seeing these dishes scattered across the Karoo veldt against the backdrop of the low, dolerite topped hills that surround the area, with the dolerite providing a natural radio screen for the telescopes. Considering that only half of the MeerKAT dishes have been erected so far, one can only imagine what a spectacle it will be when all 64 MeerKAT dishes have been completed. The final Karoo Array Telescope or KAT will definitely be a must-see destination and a breathtaking spectacle for all who visit it. MeerKAT will eventually form the core of the KAT radio telescope array. These 13,5m dishes differ from those of KAT-7 in that they use an offset Gregorian configuration for the placing of the secondary dish and the receivers. Each dish is equipped with three receivers; 0,58 – 1,015 GHz, 1 – 1,75 GHz and 8 – 14,5 GHz. The MeerKAT minimum baseline is 29 m and the maximum baseline is 8 km.

Both KAT-7 and MeerKAT are entirely South African conceived, funded and built enterprises and, even after the construction of the KAT, which has multiple international partners, these two installations will remain entirely South African.

Our next stop was the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA) (http://www.ska.ac.za/) which is the simplest construction imaginable and is the successor to the Precision Array for Probing the Epoch of Reionization (PAPER). PAPER has 128 antennae situated at the SKA site and 32 antennae situated in West Virginia in the USA. HERA is an American, British and South African collaboration that will eventually have 331 antennae of 14 m each at the SKA site. The existing PAPER installation will be moved to a location slightly west of the HERA installation and eventually decommissioned when HERA is fully operational. Whereas KAT-7, MeerKAT, and KAT are multipurpose installations HERA has only one fixed goal; it is going to probe back into time to try and find that moment when the very first stars switched on to light up in the Universe. In the process, it will produce a three-dimensional map of the universe during that specific period using radio waves in the 100-200 MHz frequency range. This project is the radio astronomy equivalent of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and when they succeed, this project could very well be in line for a Nobel Prize. The antennae are fixed in one position, pointing straight up at the sky and have no moving parts, which greatly reduces the cost of the installation. What makes this project remarkable is that it is constructed with materials bought off the shelf in a local hardware store by people from the local community of Carnarvon who have been trained by SKA scientists. The big dishes of KAT-7 and the even bigger dishes of MeerKAT look like science instruments. HERA, however, looks like an inverted chicken coop or perhaps some sort of landscape art and not very scientific at all.

We went back to the Processor Building to enjoy our packed lunches and, while there Lynnette noticed that one of the Quantums had a flat tyre, necessitating a wheel change. After lunch, Anja and Dimpho dropped Lynnette and I off at Meysdam to pick up our vehicle and then we all traipsed back to Klerefontein where Anja and Dimpho changed vehicles before we all drove back to Carnarvon to refuel. Lynnette and I had done that the previous evening so we just hung around until the whole convoy was ready to start the long journey to Sutherland, which Anja had elected to do via Loxton (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loxton,_Northern_Cape). The just under 70 km from Carnarvon to Loxton was a breeze on a nice tarred road but then came the long 100 km grind on the R356 gravel road to Fraserburg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraserburg). We had been contemplating a visit to the palaeosurface at Gansefontein, just outside Fraserburg, but time was against as; seriously against us. We had hardly left Fraserburg when the sun set and, as it got darker, driving became more and more difficult. The 110 km stretch to Sutherland (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutherland,_Northern_Cape) was going to take much, much longer than planned and our stargazing appointment at the SAAO site (http://www.saao.ac.za/about/visting/sutherland/) outside Sutherland had to be canceled. Because Lynnette and I were the last car in the convoy, we collected all the dust from the four vehicles ahead of us. This forced us to fall back more than a kilometer behind the fourth vehicle before we had a clear view of the road ahead.

We all made it safely to Sutherland and, while the majority of the group was booking into the Sutherland Hotel (http://www.sutherlandhotel.co.za/accommodation.php), Lynnette, Snorre, Anja and I as well as the two drivers of the Quantums, booked into Kambro Kind Guest House, where we were welcomed by Juanita Hutchings. Once booked in we went back to the Hotel where we had a typical Karoo supper consisting of meat, meat and more meat with a few vegetables right at the end of the buffet table.  It is just a pity that the hotel did not think of having a nice fire going in the dining area on such a cold evening.

After supper Lynnette and I, Lorenzo, Anja, the photographers and several students drove out to Middelfontein to do some stargazing (http://www.roomsforafrica.com/establishment.do?id=13879&gclid=Cj0KCQjws-LKBRDCARIsAAOTNd6cUH9fdKlh5bbYksnV0F5D-BQPK4kMRrO8IdxP7D_a6uSOZX_UQX8aAoUUEALw_wcB). The photographers were spending the night on Middelfontein, but the rest of us would have to drive back to town to get some sleep. The right side sliding door on our vehicle, which had been playing up since the previous day went on strike when we started unloading. It first refused to open and then, when we forced it to open, it refused to shut without the use of considerable force and, once shut, it refused to open again so we left it shut. Then the courtesy light inside the door which was supposed to only go on when the door was open, decided it wanted to be on even when the door was shut. A resounding thump on the outside of the door convinced the light to go off and stay off. Once that was sorted out we could get round to the stargazing which was a presented in the same format as on Saturday evening at Klerefontein and, once again, worked very well. So well, in fact, that Anja had to chase us all off to bed around midnight.

On Monday morning Lynnette and I packed up before breakfast and, true to Sutherland’s reputation of being very cold, the windscreen of our vehicle was thickly frosted over and the fishpond had a layer of ice over it, thick enough to walk on. After breakfast at Kambro Kind, everyone gathered at the Hotel before departing for the SAAO site where the group spent some time examining the displays in the Visitor’s Centre before Anthony Mitas took us under his very capable wing and shepherded us up the hill to start our tour at the Southern African Large Telescope or SALT (http://www.saao.ac.za/science/facilities/telescopes/salt/). SALT is an international collaboration between South Africa and several overseas partners and is operated as a separate research entity on the SAO site.

TOP LEFT: In Sutherland, you can stand on your fishpond – sometimes.  CENTRE LEFT: The group gets kinky necks as Anthony points up.  BOTTOM LEFT: The SALT mirror.  RIGHT: A section of the beautiful quilt in the foyer of the Visitor’s Centre.
LEFT: SALT all the way to the dome.  RIGHT: SALT against the backdrop of the blue Karoo sky and some wispy clouds.

Anthony presented a most comprehensive and informative talk to the group and, to everyone’s delight, arranged to have the 32-ton behemoth raised on its air cushions and rotated for us. After SALT we went to the 1,9-meter telescope. This is the second largest optical telescope in South Africa and, as the Radcliffe Telescope, it used to be housed in Pretoria but uncontrolled light pollution chased it south in the mid-1970’s (http://assa.saao.ac.za/sections/history/observatories/radcliffe_obs/). It has since acquired new instrumentation designed and built by SAAO-staff and still has many years of valuable scientific life ahead of it. At the telescope, we were met by Dr. Potter, a senior astronomer on the SAAO staff. Dr. Potter talked most informatively about the telescope and his own work as well as the other projects being conducted on the telescope. He also demonstrated how easy it was to operate the telescope, especially after the installation of modern electronic control systems, and showed the group around the control room as well.

After saying goodbye to Dr. Potter and Anthony, we stopped off in Sutherland to refuel and then made a beeline for Cape Town where the group had an 18:00 appointment at the SAAO headquarters in Observatory. We made one stop at the Veldskoen Farm Stall and said our final goodbyes before splitting up.

TOP: Salpeterkop the extinct 65 million-year-old volcano. The container on the left is the Property of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and was recently opened along with the German Aerospace Centre’s dome (DLR) (http://www.sansa.org.za/spacescience/resource-centre/news/1622-another-eye-towards-the-sky-unveiling-south-africa-s-optical-space-research-laboratory?platform=hootsuite). The white pillar on the right used to carry a German site testing telescope – I think! CENTRE: A very bored traveling cat called Snorre.  BOTTOM: Descending the Hex Pass.

My only regret is that with the group split over several vehicles it was impossible to do any guiding while en route. Although we considered stopping the vehicles at points of interest, it would not have been practical from a safety point of view. Time constraints, which played an important role during the trip, virtually canceled the possibility of additional stops even if safety had not been an important consideration.

TOP: A scene north of the R27 as one approaches Calvinia.  2nd FROM TOP: Those five crumbed mushrooms were quite good, but they cost R9 each at Lord’s Kitchen!.  2nd FROM BOTTOM: The two crumbed pork chops served by Lord’s kitchen were probably the largest I have ever been served in a restaurant and they were also probably the most tender and juicy ones too..  BOTTOM: It’s a good thing we didn’t stay too much longer in SALT or there would have been some very stiff necks the next day.

I will post more photos at a later stage as they become available from other people who were on the trip as well as the two official photographers.

Norwegian Tour: Tuesday 03rd of January to Sunday 15th January 2017.

Lynnette, Snorre and I had just returned from Leeuwenboschfontein so everything was a bit rushed but finally the big day had arrived; Anton, Camilla, Viljé, Birk and Anton’s in-laws were finally due to arrive. We had been looking forward to this visit for a long time and it felt as if they took ages to eventually appear in the arrival hall at Cape Town International. When they eventually did arrive there was so much excitement that nobody took any photographs!  Anyway, we got them to the Kolping Guest House in Durbanville safely after making a detour to our place first because the visitors wanted to see where we lived. We let them take it easy for the rest of the day and on Wednesday we went over the tour itinerary for the rest of their stay.

Thursday the 05th of January we set off bright and early for our 08:30 appointment at Sadie Family Wines in the Aprilskloof on the north-western slopes of the Paardeberg. The winery is situated in the Swartland region and the closest town is Malmesbury. Access to the venue is via unsurfaced roads, which the Vito does not like. We were met by Christine who handed us over to Paul for a most instructive tour of the cellar followed by a well-presented wine tasting. Eden Sadie, the driving force behind Sadie Wines is considered by many to be the enfant terrible of the new generation of Swartland wine architects. He was previously the winemaker during the development of the Spice Route wines at Fairview. His return to grass roots winemaking and the extensive, almost exclusive use of decades old, previously neglected bush vine vineyards to make exceptional wines has caused quite a stir. Most of these vineyards are a long way from the winery too and some are also ungrafted vines which is very unusual considering the fact that grafting pulled the South African wine industry back from the brink of total collapse during the Phylloxera in the late 19th century.

TOP LEFT: The start of the tour and we are all gathered in the shade of a convenient tree to listen to Paul. TOP CENTRE: The oldest building on the property, where it all started. TOP RIGHT: Huge earthenware vats, reminiscent of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. CENTRE: The Sadie company logo. BOTTOM LEFT: The delightfully cool maturation cellar. BOTTOM CENTRE: We invade the maturation cellar in search of knowledge and lower temperatures. BOTTOM RIGHT: The group enjoys the lower temperature in the cellar because outside it would hit the low 40’s later in the day.
TOP LEFT: The start of the tour and we are all gathered in the shade of a convenient tree to listen to Paul. TOP CENTRE: The oldest building on the property, where it all started. TOP RIGHT: Huge earthenware vats, reminiscent of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. CENTRE: The Sadie company logo. BOTTOM LEFT: The delightfully cool maturation cellar. BOTTOM CENTRE: We invade the maturation cellar in search of knowledge and lower temperatures. BOTTOM RIGHT: The group enjoys the lower temperature in the cellar because outside it would hit the low 40’s later in the day.
TOP LEFT: Tasting in progress. TOP RIGHT: Tasting requires concentration especially for wines of this high quality. CENTRE: The range of Old Vineyard wines; really something very special. BOTTOM LEFT: The Columella is in a class of its own. BOTTOM RIGHT: Mev Kirsten might be from octogenarian bush vines but she outdoes the younger competitors
TOP LEFT: Tasting in progress. TOP RIGHT: Tasting requires concentration especially for wines of this high quality. CENTRE: The range of Old Vineyard wines; really something very special. BOTTOM LEFT: The Columella is in a class of its own. BOTTOM RIGHT: Mev Kirsten might be from octogenarian bush vines but she outdoes the younger competition with consummate ease.

Next up was Lammershoek, which is quite literally just around the corner from Sadie. In fact, the Sadie setup is on a small piece of property originally purchased from Lammershoek. At Lammershoek Zaine was waiting for us. He first conducted a comprehensive and informative tasting, which included a brief history of Lammershoek and an explanation of the objectives of the new management. After the tasting, he took us on a tour of the cellar. Lammershoek has undergone considerable changes since the introduction of overseas capital in a project spearheaded by German football legend Franz Beckenbauer. Despite all the new innovations and increased capital flow their wines are good but not yet in the same class as those of their much smaller next door neighbour.

TOP LEFT: Lammershoek under the guidance of Franz Beckenbauer is on a new track. TOP RIGHT: The tasting commences in a nice new, modern tasting room. CENTRE: Part of the revamped cellar at Lammershoek. BOTTOM LEFT: The fermentation cellar with its epoxy lined open concrete fermentation vats. BOTTOM RIGHT: Viljé and Lynnette busy with an open air language instruction class.
TOP LEFT: Lammershoek under the guidance of Franz Beckenbauer is on a new track. TOP RIGHT: The tasting commences in a nice new, modern tasting room. CENTRE: Part of the revamped cellar at Lammershoek. BOTTOM LEFT: The fermentation cellar with its epoxy lined open concrete fermentation vats. BOTTOM RIGHT: Viljé and Lynnette busy with an open air language instruction class.

After Lammershoek we were off to Porseleinberg and Callie Louw and that proved to be quite an expedition, over roads that I would normally not have taken the Vito on. The setting of this small winery on top of the Porseleinberg, amid vineyards belonging to Boekenhoutskloof in Franschhoek, is spectacular with 360-degree panoramic views over the Swartland. The wines were as spectacular as the view, if not more so, and Callie’s laid-back style of presentation belies his deep appreciation of wine and knowledge of wine crafting.

TOP LEFT: A very nice piece of polished schist inscribed with the Porseleinberg name but displayed in the Boekenhoutskloof cellars in Franschhoek. CENTRE LEFT: In the cellar which just seems far too small for such a big wine. BOTTOM LEFT: A vertical tasting of several vintages of this exceptional wine led by Callie Louw in person. TOP RIGHT: The Young Guns who have upended winemaking in the Swartland – Callie Louw, Eben Sadie, Addie Badenhorst and Chris & Andrea Mullineux, depicted in 2012. BOTTOM RIGHT: The same crew on display in 2013.
TOP LEFT: A very nice piece of polished schist inscribed with the Porseleinberg name but displayed in the Boekenhoutskloof cellars in Franschhoek. CENTRE LEFT: In the cellar which just seems far too small for such a big wine. BOTTOM LEFT: A vertical tasting of several vintages of this exceptional wine led by Callie Louw in person. TOP RIGHT: The Young Guns who have upended winemaking in the Swartland – Callie Louw, Eben Sadie, Addie Badenhorst and Chris & Andrea Mullineux, depicted in 2012. BOTTOM RIGHT: The same crew on display in 2013.

An interesting fact and one which is suitable for deep discussions over a bottle of one these excellent wines is the fact that Eben Sadie, Callie Louw and Addie Badenhorst of Badenhorst Family Wines on Kalmoesfontein, where we regrettably did not visit, were all keen surfers in their younger days. I believe Eben at one stage actually considered making it a career choice.

Our next stop, after negotiating the daunting gravel road back to the tarred road near Hermon, was at the established and well known Allesverloren wine estate in Riebeeck West.  We first had a late lunch as everyone was more than just a bit peckish at this stage. Lunch was good but the red wines and presentation of the tasting were both a bit of a letdown. The dessert wines, however, were excellent. After the tasting, we returned to the guest house with everyone feeling that Thursday had been a long day.

Friday the 5th saw us make an early start for Hartenberg in the Bottelary area west of Stellenbosch.  There we had a most enjoyable cheese board and light snacks followed by an informative and well-presented tasting of their excellent wines. Hartenberg is probably one of the nicest wineries to visit and the grounds are so well maintained too. Their wines are excellent as well, which makes every visit doubly rewarding. We enjoyed the visit so much that we completely forgot to take any pictures! It is just such a pity they uprooted that Pontac bush vine vineyard of theirs some years ago, such a pity.

Our next stop was for a Fairview Master Tasting, which is always a winner. Good wines, some actually excellent and all very well presented in the tasting by properly trained staff; jolly good show Fairview. From Fairview, we nipped next door to do the Spice Route Lunch and tasting.  The wines were definitely a disappointment after Fairview and they were also presented in a very slap-dash manner which did nothing to enhance the quality of either the wine or the general experience. After the Spice Route, back to the guest house, we all went.

TOP LEFT: Anton, Birk and Viljé. TOP RIGHT: In the tasting room for the Master Tasting at Fairview. CENTRE: The view from the restaurant at Allesverloren across the wheat fields and vineyards toward Gouda, Saron and Nieuwekloof Pass. BOTTOM LEFT: A Mad max type vehicle at Fairview. BOTTOM RIGHT: Gathered for lunch at the Spice Route.
TOP LEFT: Anton, Birk and Viljé. TOP RIGHT: In the tasting room for the Master Tasting at Fairview. CENTRE: The view from the restaurant at Allesverloren across the wheat fields and vineyards toward Gouda, Saron and Nieuwekloof Pass. BOTTOM LEFT: A Mad max type vehicle at Fairview. BOTTOM RIGHT: Gathered for lunch at the Spice Route.

On Saturday the 7th we tackled the V&A Waterfront and the Two Oceans Aquarium followed by supper at Den Anker serviced as usual by the impeccable Patrick.

TOP LEFT: Meal at Colcachio in the Willowbridge Centre with Anne-Kirsten, Erland, Linda and Harald. TOP RIGHT: Anton and Birk. CENTRE RIGHT: Viljé and Birk in the V&A shopping centre. BOTTOM RIGHT: Viljé and Birk get all the attention from Harald, Anton and Lynnette. BOTTOM CENTRE: At Den Anker in the V&A waterfront with Harald, Anne-Kirsten, Erland, Linda, Edward and Anton. BOTTOM LEFT: A deep-sea salvage vessel in the Robinson Dry Dock in the Alfred Basin. It was built in 1882 and is the oldest functional dry dock of this type in use anywhere in the world.
TOP LEFT: Meal at Colcachio in the Willowbridge Centre with Anne-Kirsten, Erland, Linda and Harald. TOP RIGHT: Anton and Birk. CENTRE RIGHT: Viljé and Birk in the V&A shopping centre. BOTTOM RIGHT: Viljé and Birk get all the attention from Harald, Anton and Lynnette. BOTTOM CENTRE: At Den Anker in the V&A waterfront with Harald, Anne-Kirsten, Erland, Linda, Edward and Anton. BOTTOM LEFT: A deep-sea salvage vessel in the Robinson Dry Dock in the Alfred Basin. It was built in 1882 and is the oldest functional dry dock of this type in use anywhere in the world.

Sunday the 8th Lynnette and I prepared a meal which we took to the guest house and enjoyed there. We were joined for the occasion by Lenelle and Susan.

TOP LEFT: Lynnette and Lynda arrange the spread Lynnette and I prepared for Sunday lunch at Kolping. CENTRE LEFT: Camilla, Anton, Harald, Lenelle, Susan and Lynnette with her back to the camera. BOTTOM LEFT: Yummy! TOP RIGHT: Anton, Lenelle, Susan, and Viljé. BOTTOM RIGHT: At Orca we have Camilla, Linda hidden behind her, Erland, Harald, Anton, and Viljé with her back to the Camera and Birk’s head just showing at the bottom of the photograph.
TOP LEFT: Lynnette and Lynda arrange the spread Lynnette and I prepared for Sunday lunch at Kolping. CENTRE LEFT: Camilla, Anton, Harald, Lenelle, Susan and Lynnette with her back to the camera. BOTTOM LEFT: Yummy! TOP RIGHT: Anton, Lenelle, Susan, and Viljé. BOTTOM RIGHT: At Orca we have Camilla, Linda hidden behind her, Erland, Harald, Anton, and Viljé with her back to the Camera and Birk’s head just showing at the bottom of the photograph.

On Monday the 09th we were off to Stellenbosch where we started the day at Reynecke Wines. Their organic policy always creates an interesting discussion with visitors and our visit was no exception. Their wines were interesting, some very good in fact and the presentation by Nuschka was one of the best and most professional we encountered on our various visits.

From Reynecke we nipped around the corner to De Toren.  Here the wine crafter, Charles Williams was personally on hand to take us on the tour.  He started in the vineyard explaining their vineyard policy and them we toured the cellar before ending up in the very cosy little tasting room. The tasting was well presented and the tour was very informative and professionally conducted but, although the wines were good they were not really outstanding. After De Toren, we went to Skilpadvlei, which is just down the road, for lunch.

After lunch, we visited Raats Family Wines with great expectations. Unfortunately, the tasting was a bit of a disappointment.  The wines were not well presented and some of them seemed to have been open quite a while. It is really a pity that a presenter, who seems otherwise to be a very informed person, does not take the trouble to ensure that a tasting is properly presented. A sloppy tasting definitely detracts from the quality of the wines even if they are good or even excellent ones.  After Raats we made a beeline for home to rest up for the next day’s wine tasting.

TOP LEFT: Very well presented tasting with Nuschka at Reynecke Wines. TOP CENTRE: A short talk outside with Charles Williams before going into the cellar at De Toren. TOP RIGHT: Inside the lovely cool cellar with its delicious wine aromas at De Toren. CENTRE: Lunch at Skilpadvlei. BOTTOM LEFT: Maturation cellar at de Toren. BOTTOM CENTRE: Tasting at De Toren. BOTTOM RIGHT: Tasting at Raats Family winery.
TOP LEFT: Very well presented tasting with Nuschka at Reynecke Wines. TOP CENTRE: A short talk outside with Charles Williams before going into the cellar at De Toren. TOP RIGHT: Inside the lovely cool cellar with its delicious wine aromas at De Toren. CENTRE: Lunch at Skilpadvlei. BOTTOM LEFT: Maturation cellar at de Toren. BOTTOM CENTRE: Tasting at De Toren. BOTTOM RIGHT: Tasting at Raats Family winery.

Tuesday the 10th saw us back in the Stellenbosch area and our trip started at the well respected Kanonkop estate. Lynnette and I, being the designated drivers, stayed outside while the rest of the crew went inside to do the tasting. The tasting was apparently a bit of a disappointment because it is very commercialized.  One apparently has to have at least ten people for a proper tasting but we were not informed about this when we phoned to make our reservation and that is simply slipshod administration. Nevertheless, their wines are good, in fact very good but the overall impression would have been better with a more personalized tasting for our overseas visitors.

TOP LEFT: Standing tasting at Kanonkop. TOP RIGHT: Lynnette with Viljé and Birk under the oaks at Kanonkop. BOTTOM: Serious concentration for the tasters.
TOP LEFT: Standing tasting at Kanonkop. TOP RIGHT: Lynnette with Viljé and Birk under the oaks at Kanonkop. BOTTOM: Serious concentration for the tasters.

After Kanonkop we drove to Beyerskloof, who regard themselves as the Pinotage Kings, for a tasting and lunch. The tasting had the same problem as the one at Kanonkop and here to we had not been told of any other arrangements that we could have made when we phoned to inquire about the tastings. Their wines are good and some are excellent but our guests would really like to have done the tasting blind in a separate tasting area.

TOP: Beyerskloof restaurant from the parking area. BOTTOM LEFT: For those with surplus cash here is one way to spend it, buy a Mendelazar of Beyerskloof Pinotage. BOTTOM RIGHT: The tasters and Lynnette with Birk in the stroller. Here one can see that, like at Kanonkop, one tastes in an open public area.
TOP: Beyerskloof restaurant from the parking area. BOTTOM LEFT: For those with surplus cash here is one way to spend it, buy a Mendelazar of Beyerskloof Pinotage. BOTTOM RIGHT: The tasters and Lynnette with Birk in the stroller. Here one can see that, like at Kanonkop, one tastes in an open public area.

After lunch, the party split up and one group, driven by Lynnette, went looking for diamonds in Stellenbosch while the second group headed for Tokara to taste more wines.  Tokara is a very impressive venue but, as I have experienced before, their tasting presentation is really not up to standard. A tasting where someone slops the wine into your glass then races through a memorized bit of information, spins around and marches off before you have had time to even taste the wine is not a tasting, it is a farce. Add to this the fact that their wines are not as good as they would like to believe they are and Tokara was a disappointment.  After Tokara, we picked up the rest of the party in Stellenbosch and headed for home.

Wednesday the 11th the group did a township tour with Imvuyo Township Tours & Chippa Mbuyiseli Mngangwa.  The group were ecstatic about his punctuality and service delivery. Good work Chippa, I will certainly use you again. Later that afternoon we went to Orca in Melkbos for supper and that was, as always, a worthwhile experience.

Franschhoek was the destination for Anton Erland and I on Thursday the 12th while Lynnette took the ladies to Cape Town where they wanted to do some serious shopping. The first stop in Franschhoek was Boekenhoutskloof, the umbrella company for Porseleinberg.  What a difference though! The place is all glitz, glass and glamour and makes Porseleinberg look like a pauper’s digs. However, their wine quality does not come close to that of Porseleinberg. Some of it is good but the guests did not think there was anything outstanding.

TOP LEFT: The impressive tasting room at Boekenhoutskloof. TOP CENTRE: The serious business of actually deciding which wine to buy. TOP RIGHT: The old mud and stone walls of the cellar. Note the holes drilled by the wasps to hide the caterpillars and spiders they catch as food for the still to be hatched young. BOTTOM: This door leaves no doubt as to where you are.
TOP LEFT: The impressive tasting room at Boekenhoutskloof. TOP CENTRE: The serious business of actually deciding which wine to buy. TOP RIGHT: The old mud and stone walls of the cellar. Note the holes drilled by the wasps to hide the caterpillars and spiders they catch as food for the still to be hatched young. BOTTOM: This door leaves no doubt as to where you are.

Next stop was Haute Cabriére at the foot of the Franschhoek Pass. The tasting was presented in very much the same fashion as the one at Tokara, perhaps a little better, and the wines were good but lackluster with nothing to write home about. After this disappointment, we headed for Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines with high hopes. On arrival, it was clear that this place has money and spends it. The tasting emporium is impressive and the attention very personal. Lizzie, the presenter, was informative and knowledgeable about a wide range of topics related to the wines we tasted. It might seem like nit-picking, but the amount given to taste was really minuscule compared to all the other tasting we had attended and the speed with which the bottles were whisked away, clearly indicated that there was no chance of tasting anything a second time. Considering that this was one of the more expensive tastings this skimpiness is inexplicable.

TOP LEFT: Anton, Erland and Harald, tasting at Tokara, probably the least professionally presented tasting we had. TOP RIGHT: The tasting and wine purchase area at Tokara. BOTTOM LEFT: Anton and Erland outside Haut Cabriére with which they were also unimpressed. BOTTOM RIGHT: Erland and Anton outside the imposing entrance to the Mullineux Leeu wine emporium in Franschhoek.
TOP LEFT: Anton, Erland and Harald, tasting at Tokara, probably the least professionally presented tasting we had. TOP RIGHT: The tasting and wine purchase area at Tokara. BOTTOM LEFT: Anton and Erland outside Haut Cabriére with which they were also unimpressed. BOTTOM RIGHT: Erland and Anton outside the imposing entrance to the Mullineux Leeu wine emporium in Franschhoek.

After Mullineux and Leeu we were off to La Motte, making it just before closing time. Unfortunately, the proximity to closing time seemed to also have affected the tasting session. It was rushed to the point of being rude and the wines were a disappointment too. If you take somebody’s money for a tasting then, irrespective of how close it is to closing time, the person is entitled to the same quality tasting experience as somebody who rocked up two hours earlier. The highlight of the visit was the bright yellow Ferrari in the parking area; what a machine! We drove home with mixed feelings about Franschhoek and its wines.

Friday the 13th was Anton’s birthday and we started that off with a surprise birthday breakfast at Kolping Guest House and ended the day with a dinner at the Cattle Baron in the Tygervalley Waterfront.

TOP LEFT: The dining hall at Kolping set up for Anton’s 40th birthday. TOP CENTRE: The menu for the birthday breakfast. TOP RIGHT: Charmain’s cupcakes. BOTTOM: Cupcakes on display.
TOP LEFT: The dining hall at Kolping set up for Anton’s 40th birthday. TOP CENTRE: The menu for the birthday breakfast. TOP RIGHT: Charmain’s cupcakes. BOTTOM: Cupcakes on display.
TOP LEFT: Lynnette, Erland, Lynda, Petro, Deon, Ansie and Ma Peggy. TOP RIGHT: Harald and Anne-Kirsten. BOTTOM LEFT: Deon, Ansie and Ma Peggy. BOTTOM RIGHT: Harald, Lynnette, Erland and Linda.
TOP LEFT: Lynnette, Erland, Lynda, Petro, Deon, Ansie and Ma Peggy. TOP RIGHT: Harald and Anne-Kirsten. BOTTOM LEFT: Deon, Ansie and Ma Peggy. BOTTOM RIGHT: Harald, Lynnette, Erland and Linda.
TOP LEFT: Harald, Birk and Anton Viljé (only her head) and Camilla. TOP RIGHT: Peter, Freda, Nadine, Susan, Lenelle, Erland, Harald, Anne-Kirsten and Lynnette (back to the camera). CENTRE: Group photo taken by Susan, Front from left to right: Ansie, Viljé, Ma Peggy, Petro, Nadine, 2nd Row from left to right: Linda, Anne-Kirsten, Birk, Camilla, Lynnette, Edward, Lenelle, Back from left to right: Erland, Harald, Anton, Deon, Peter. BOTTOM LEFT: Anton, Birk, Viljé, Camilla, Linda, Petro, Deon, Ansie, Ma Peggy (hidden) and Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Peter, Freda, Nadine, Susan, Lynnette, Erland, Harald, Anne-Kirsten, Anton, Viljé, Camilla, Linda, Deon, Ansie, Ma Peggy, Edward, Birk.
TOP LEFT: Harald, Birk and Anton Viljé (only her head) and Camilla. TOP RIGHT: Peter, Freda, Nadine, Susan, Lenelle, Erland, Harald, Anne-Kirsten and Lynnette (back to the camera). CENTRE: Group photo taken by Susan, Front from left to right: Ansie, Viljé, Ma Peggy, Petro, Nadine, 2nd Row from left to right: Linda, Anne-Kirsten, Birk, Camilla, Lynnette, Edward, Lenelle, Back from left to right: Erland, Harald, Anton, Deon, Peter. BOTTOM LEFT: Anton, Birk, Viljé, Camilla, Linda, Petro, Deon, Ansie, Ma Peggy (hidden) and Lynnette. BOTTOM RIGHT: Peter, Freda, Nadine, Susan, Lynnette, Erland, Harald, Anne-Kirsten, Anton, Viljé, Camilla, Linda, Deon, Ansie, Ma Peggy, Edward, Birk.

On Saturday the 14th we went on a short tour of the Peninsula which included only Boulders and Cape Point. At Cape Point, some members of the party walked up to the lighthouse and after that, we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope before going home. Judging by the subdued appearance of the group it looked as if the pace was starting to take its toll

TOP: Anne-Kirsten and Harald make their way down the boardwalk toward the entrance of the Boulders penguin area. 2nd FROM TOP: Waiting for the tickets are Anton, Lynnette, Harald, Anne-Kirsten and over on the far right are Erland and Linda. 2ND FROM BOTTOM: Looking over Simons Bay and False Bay toward Muizenberg. BOTTOM: Penguins, penguins and yet more penguins spread across the beach at Boulders.
TOP: Anne-Kirsten and Harald make their way down the boardwalk toward the entrance of the Boulders penguin area. 2nd FROM TOP: Waiting for the tickets are Anton, Lynnette, Harald, Anne-Kirsten and over on the far right are Erland and Linda. 2ND FROM BOTTOM: Looking over Simons Bay and False Bay toward Muizenberg. BOTTOM: Penguins, penguins and yet more penguins spread across the beach at Boulders.
LEFT: Erland and Linda, TOP RIGHT: Anton and Viljé at the southernmost tip of the Cape Peninsula. CENTRE RIGHT: Viljé investigating the marine fauna. BOTTOM RIGHT: Harald, Anne-Kirsten and a uncooperative Birk at the southernmost tip of the Cape Peninsula.
LEFT: Erland and Linda, TOP RIGHT: Anton and Viljé at the southernmost tip of the Cape Peninsula. CENTRE RIGHT: Viljé investigating the marine fauna. BOTTOM RIGHT: Harald, Anne-Kirsten and an uncooperative Birk at the southernmost tip of the Cape Peninsula.

On Sunday the 15th Harald, Anne-Kirsten, Erland and Linda departed for Gauteng from where they would head for the Kruger National Park and spend three days there before flying home to Norway.

TOP: Erland, Linda, Anne-Kirsten and Harald at the Cape Town International Airport prior to departure for Oliver Tambo in Gauteng on their way to the Kruger National Park BOTTOM Last minute selfies and messages before embarking with Harald partially decapitated.
TOP: Erland, Linda, Anne-Kirsten and Harald at the Cape Town International Airport prior to departure for Oliver Tambo in Gauteng on their way to the Kruger National Park BOTTOM: Last minute selfies and messages before embarking with Harald partially decapitated.

 

The spring 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 26 to 30 October 2016.

The spring Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) was a success despite the fact that the weather did not really play along. All in all, 60 people registered, but due to unforeseen circumstances there were cancellations and the final total was 55.

Since the previous SSP in February we have had enough to keep us busy. We were involved in or presented the following events between the previous SSP and this one.

  • An outreach event at the Kogelberg Farm Hostel for Elkanah House Private School.
  • A Deep Sky event at Leeuwenboschfontein where we had Klaas and Wilma van Ditzhuyzen from the Netherlands as guests.
  • The Museum Night at the Iziko Museum in the Company Gardens.
  • The Friends of the Helderberg Nature Reserve in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
  • The Eco Rangers in the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
  • The Old Age Home in Porterville.
  • A public event at the Golf course in Porterville.
  • Four talks at the Durbanville Public Library.
  • Five public events at the Pierhead in the V&A Waterfront.
  • Eight days for National Science Week at the Iziko Museum in the Company Gardens.
  • An outreach event at the !Khwa ttu San Cultural and Educational Centre.
  • An outreach event at Labiance Primary School.
TOP: Loading done – the Vito from the back. MIDDLE: Loading done – the Vito from the side. BOTTOM: Loading done – the trailer.
TOP: Loading done – the Vito from the back. MIDDLE: Loading done – the Vito from the side. BOTTOM: Loading done – the trailer.

On Monday the 24th of October shortly after 07:00 Lynnette, Snorre and I left Brackenfell. This time we did not have to work right through the night to finish everything as I had the able assistance of my son, John-Henry. It was not only his physical assistance that made a difference, but his far better eye for what fits in where was a great help. We started unloading as soon as we arrived and during the course of Monday afternoon Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent.

Alan and Rose Cassells arrived on Tuesday and immediately started setting up their camp site. On Wednesday Eddy Nijeboer arrived with Auke hard on his heels and Barry and Miemie Dumas not far behind him.

TOP: Sunset from the “Post Office” at the turn-off from the R317 looking toward Mcgregor. Lynnette and I had such poor mobile reception at Night Sky that we had to drive from the camp to this spot to receive mail and make calls. BOTTOM: Sunset from the camp looking toward Swellendam. The darker blue layer on the horizon is the Earth’s shadow and the pale pink layer above it, known as the Girdle of Venus, is caused by scattering of sunlight by the upper layers of the atmosphere.
TOP: Sunset from the “Post Office” at the turn-off from the R317 looking toward Mcgregor. Lynnette and I had such poor mobile reception at Night Sky that we had to drive from the camp to this spot to receive mail and make calls. BOTTOM: Sunset from the camp looking toward Swellendam. The darker blue layer on the horizon is the Earth’s shadow and the pale pink layer above it, known as the Girdle of Venus, is caused by scattering of sunlight by the upper layers of the atmosphere.

This time round the mobile reception was worse than it had ever been at Night Sky and Lynnette and I had no signal whatsoever. This meant that we had to drive back to the R317, where we had a good signal, to receive and read mail. Everyone seemed to have the same problem to a greater or lesser degree except Rose and Alan.

During the course of Wednesday Pamela Cooper, Marius Reitz, John Richards, Wendy Vermeulen, Louis Fourie, Pierre de Villiers, Bennie Kotze and Peter Harvey arrived. By then Night Sky was starting to look populated and discussions were taking place all over the place as people wandered around renewing old acquaintances and making new friends.

TOP & SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two views of the front (reception) portion of the tent. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM & BOTTOM: Two views of the back part of the tent where the talks took place.
TOP & SECOND FROM THE TOP: Two views of the front (reception) portion of the tent. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM & BOTTOM: Two views of the back part of the tent where the talks took place.
TOP: StarPeople’s two merit awards from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA). One was for our general outreach efforts and the other was specifically for organizing and presenting the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. BOTTOM: Two posters advertising the Sky Guide. This is an ASSA publication printed and distributed by Struik and is a must have for all amateur astronomers and interested members of the public.
TOP: StarPeople’s two merit awards from the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA). One was for our general outreach efforts and the other was specifically for organizing and presenting the Southern Star Party twice a year since 2011. BOTTOM: Two posters advertising the Sky Guide. This is an ASSA publication printed and distributed by Struik and is a must have for all amateur astronomers and interested members of the public.

On Friday everyone else pitched. Just before the SSP our speaker from Bangalore in India, Amar Sharma had let us know that he was not going to make it due to visa problems. These problems revolved around the slap-dash attitude of the South African diplomatic staff in Mumbai. Amar runs an astronomy tourism operation in Bangalore, (see here). Our other disappointment was that a second speaker, Dr. Wanda Diaz Merced the blind astrophysicist from Puerto Rico, had fallen ill and was hospitalized just a day or two prior to the SSP. We had especially brought along our material used in astronomy outreach for the visually impaired, so that Wanda could demonstrate it. We settled for an exhibition of this material in the tent and it drew quite a lot of attention.

TOP: Chris (back to the camera) Marius (in blue) and Louis sorting out telescope matters. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and Leslie plotting something. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Beginners Area with Paul, Alan and Rose in the very distant background BOTTOM: Auke’s ConEx (Constellation Exploration) Area with the “You are here” banner on the right.
TOP: Chris (back to the camera) Marius (in blue) and Louis sorting out telescope matters. SECOND FROM THE TOP: Auke and Leslie plotting something. SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM: The Beginners Area with Paul, Alan and Rose in the very distant background BOTTOM: Auke’s ConEx (Constellation Exploration) Area with the “You are here” banner on the right.
TOP: From the left, Louis, Marius, Chris and Deon finding out where they are. BOTTOM: Barry, hidden behind Alan and Rose relaxing on Sunday evening as the sun sets.
TOP: From the left, Louis, Marius, Chris and Deon finding out where they are. BOTTOM: Barry, hidden behind Alan and Rose relaxing on Sunday evening as the sun sets.

The weather on Friday evening cancelled any possible viewing efforts. Barry Dumas kindly presented a very complete and quite technical talk on optical equipment and what to do and not to do when cleaning it. His talk gave lots of information on the construction of various eyepieces and how special protective materials were applied to both protect and also to improve their optical functionality. After the talk we dispersed and in general spent the rest of the evening watching the clouds and socializing.

TOP: Harpactira species (Baboon Spider). BOTTOM: Closer view of the spider’s eyes. The downward curved chelisera, typical of four lunged spiders, are clearly visible.
TOP: Harpactira species (Baboon Spider). BOTTOM: Closer view of the spider’s eyes. The downward curved chelisera, typical of four lunged spiders, are clearly visible.

Chris Forder was kind enough to lend a hand with some of the younger aspirant astronomer’s telescopes during the course of the weekend. The youthful telescope owners and their parents were all left much the wiser after Chris had finished his explanation.

TOP: Paul’s pickup and our banner at the entrance to Night Sky. The banner has seen better days and is becoming a bit tattered. It has seen many outreach events and 12 Southern Star Parties so i suppose it ought to look a bit battle scarred by now. BOTTOM: Auke in a pensive mood.
TOP: Paul’s pickup and our banner at the entrance to Night Sky. The banner has seen better days and is becoming a bit tattered. It has seen many outreach events and 12 Southern Star Parties so i suppose it ought to look a bit battle scarred by now. BOTTOM: Auke in a pensive mood.

On Saturday morning I kicked off with the beginners. I handed out all the required paperwork and printed information and talked them through the basics of using star charts. After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Prof. Herman Steyn’s talk on satellites and his work with the University of Stellenbosch’s satellite research section. He was intimately involved with the Rosetta mission and shared many of his experiences with us.

TOP LEFT: Alan and Rose at breakfast. TOP MIDDLE: Kiona looking very laid back. TOP RIGHT: John taking it very, very easy. MIDDLE: The general braai area on Saturday at lunch time. BOTTOM LEFT: Wonder what Lynne is concentrating on? BOTTOM MIDDLE: Martin, all set up to clean some unsuspecting volunteer’s telescope mirror. BOTTOM RIGHT: This is one man’s breakfast – no names no pack-drill. Actually there was also a pan of sausage and bacon to go with this lot.
TOP LEFT: Alan and Rose at breakfast. TOP MIDDLE: Kiona looking very laid back. TOP RIGHT: John taking it very, very easy. MIDDLE: The general braai area on Saturday at lunch time. BOTTOM LEFT: Wonder what Lynne is concentrating on? BOTTOM MIDDLE: Martin, all set up to clean some unsuspecting volunteer’s telescope mirror. BOTTOM RIGHT: This is one man’s breakfast – no names no pack-drill. Actually there was also a pan of sausage and bacon to go with this lot.

Pierre de Villiers presented a very interesting coverage of the Solar System Model designed and constructed by the Hermanus Centre. This project aims to increase the astronomy awareness of the general public and serve as a permanent outreach installation. The model now forms part of the well known scenic cliff pathway in Hermanus. After Pierre’s talk we had the usual lunchtime braai. Lynnette organized the braai drums as well as the laying and lighting of the fires with the very able assistance of Marius Reitz and Barry Dumas as well as other able bodied assistants.

After lunch we handed out the prizes for the Lucky Draws. This year, instead of depending on the traditional drawing of numbers out of a hat, we did something different. The first person to register, the first person to pay, the first couple to register and the first family to register all received prizes. Auke also decided it was Evan’s birthday and that he should also receive a prize. The fact that it was his birthday was as much a surprise for Evan as it was for the rest of us.

Then it was Auke’s turn to talk about the Centre for Astronomical Heritage. He was followed by Martin Lyons who presented a talk on how to look after your telescope optics. Martin could quite easily take his presentation on tour. With the appropriate musical background and some fancy dance steps it would be an instant comedy hit. However, please do not let the fact that it was funny detract from the value of its very sound practical advice on how to care for telescope optics. It was interesting to compare the differences in cleaning regimes between Martin and Barry.

TOP LEFT: Herman Steyn, Head of Satellite Research at Stellenbosch University, was our main speaker. TOP MIDDLE: Herman gets his speaker’s gift. TOP RIGHT: Pierre de Villiers the MMWC at the Hermanus Centre and current president of ASSA. MIDDLE: Chris Forder the very worthy winner of this year’s Pub Quiz, wearing his Pub Quiz Floating Rosette, receives his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM LEFT: Pierre receives his speaker’s gift. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Rose and Alan toasting a very convivial braai. BOTTOM RIGHT: Martin receives his speaker’s prize.
TOP LEFT: Herman Steyn, Head of Satellite Research at Stellenbosch University, was our main speaker. TOP MIDDLE: Herman gets his speaker’s gift. TOP RIGHT: Pierre de Villiers the MMWC at the Hermanus Centre and current president of ASSA. MIDDLE: Chris Forder the very worthy winner of this year’s Pub Quiz, wearing his Pub Quiz Floating Rosette, receives his prize from Lynnette. BOTTOM LEFT: Pierre receives his speaker’s gift. BOTTOM MIDDLE: Rose and Alan toasting a very convivial braai. BOTTOM RIGHT: Martin receives his speaker’s prize.

In Wanda’s absence we watched a recording of her presentation “Listen to the Stars”, recorded at the TEDx Westerford in Cape Town in April 2014. If you go here you can listen to the talk too. If, after you have watched this, you are impressed go here where you can listen to the talk she gave in February 2016.

After Martin’s talk we took the group photo. It is a great pity that not everyone pitched up for the group photograph as one likes to have everyone that attended on the photograph. Thanks to Auke’s efforts we also have a You Tube video of the behind the scenes efforts to get everyone setup for the photo. Go here to view the video.

0-dsc_5074ab_groepfoto

FRONT – SEATED: Auke Slotegraaf, Lynne Court, Kiona van der Merwe, Juanita van Rensburg, Chris Vermeulen, Paul Kruger, Edward & Snorre Foster, Lynnette Foster, Rose Cassells, Alan Cassells, Caycee Cupido, Abigail Cupido, Caitlin Cupido. MIDDLE – STANDING: Deon Begeman, Ronelle Begeman, Pierre de Villiers, Bennie Kotze, Lea Labuschagne, Chris Forder, Lena Smith, Miemie Dumas, Johan Brink, Laura Norris, Pamela Cooper, Wendy Vermeulen, Rachel Norton, Peter Norton.  BACK – STANDING: Peter Harvey, Jannie Nijeboer, Eddy Nijeboer, Robert Ketteringham, Ruth Kuys, Arné Esterhuizen, Evan Knox-Davies, Leslie Rose, John Richards, James Smith, Annatjie Kunz, Marius Reitz, Barry Dumas, Corné van Dyk, Louis Fourie, Gavin Cupido, Rogan Roth, Chris de Coning. INSET: Roelof van der Merwe.

ABSENT: André de Villiers, Martin Lyons, Rene Auras, Tyron Auras, Nicholas Kröner, Thomas Kröner, Nellie Brink, Dominique Brink.

The group photo was followed by the infamous Pub Quiz. Lynnette and I divided the attendees into six teams. This is quite a tricky operation. For starters, we know from past experience that separating parents from children or splitting couples are both big no-no’s. Then there is the really difficult task of trying to balance astronomy knowledge in the teams as well. Although the teams might have looked unbalanced numerically they were quite even as far as the knowledge levels were concerned. This is borne out by the fact that the final scores were quite close; team one (16), team two (20), team three (28), team four (22), team five (26) and team six (17). Each team had to choose a leader and Evan, in team two, was by far the most efficient team leader of the evening. After six rounds team three, consisting of Lynne, Juanita, Kiona, James, Lena, Leslie, Martin and Laura, was a clear winner. They had, in fact, maintained their lead since the end of round four.

After the team section we asked each team to nominate one representative to take part in the individual section. A further four rounds of questions followed and then we had a clear and very worthy individual winner in the person of Chris Forder. Congratulations Chris.

Strange how some people, even in a fun exercise like this, cannot resist resorting to looking up answers electronically or in a book. Some even erased answers and corrected them after the correct answer had been given thereby gaining an unfair advantage.

After the Pub Quiz there were still clouds around, but we decided to give it a go and Auke got the Constellation Exploration group (ConEx) together while I set up a telescope for the beginners. As luck would have it, just as we started, the clouds covered Venus, Saturn and eventually Mars too. We managed to discuss a few constellations and some objects of interests, but eventually people drifted off, as the clouds alternately advanced and retreated. For the most tenacious beginners there was eventually a fairly clear view of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) before we all went to bed.

TOP: This is a 30 second exposure at ISO 400 in the general direction of Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale with lots of reflected light on the extensive cloud cover. This is something which has increased steadily over the past six years and seems to have accelerated over the last two years. MIDDLE: Taken with the same camera settings, when there was a lot less cloud and the camera pointing slightly more north than in the previous photo. Note here the few clouds present all show the typical white colouring associated with light pollution. BOTTOM: This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 400 taken to the east-southeast. Swellendam to the left and Riviersonderend to the right are both out of the photo. Note the clarity of the Coal Sack and also that the small clouds on the horizon are all black or dark grey, typical of a low light pollution situation.
TOP: This is a 30 second exposure at ISO 400 in the general direction of Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale with lots of reflected light on the extensive cloud cover. This is something which has increased steadily over the past six years and seems to have accelerated over the last two years. MIDDLE: Taken with the same camera settings, when there was a lot less cloud and the camera pointing slightly more north than in the previous photo. Note here the few clouds present all show the typical white colouring associated with light pollution. BOTTOM: This is a 20 second exposure at ISO 400 taken to the east-southeast. Swellendam to the left and Riviersonderend to the right are both out of the photo. Note the clarity of the Coal Sack and also that the small clouds on the horizon are all black or dark grey, typical of a low light pollution situation.

Nobody had done the observing challenge, so there were no certificates to hand out on Sunday morning. Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to say goodbye to the early leavers and share a cup of coffee with them. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd and, as usual, we had a nice braai before setting op the telescopes to do some observing. Yes, you guessed correctly the weather cleared as soon as the SSP was over! On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre, myself, Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday morning we departed leaving the entire camp to Alan and Rose. Tersius and his team took down the tent on Tuesday afternoon and loaded up the tables and chairs, bringing down the final curtain on the 2016 Spring Southern Star Party.

TOP: Camera set at 30 seconds and ISO 400 with the Carina area and the LMC visible. BOTTOM: Camera set at 15 seconds and ISO 1600. Hercules is in the left part of the photograph and M31 in the bottom centre. Note how light the lower portion of the photograph is over the Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale area, which was identified as a high light pollution area in previous photographs.
TOP: Camera set at 30 seconds and ISO 400 with the Carina area and the LMC visible. BOTTOM: Camera set at 15 seconds and ISO 1600. Hercules is in the left part of the photograph and M31 in the bottom centre. Note how light the lower portion of the photograph is over the Robertson/Ashton/Bonnievale area, which was identified as a high light pollution area in previous photographs.
TOP LEFT: Light pollution from Robertson. MIDDLE LEFT: Looking in a southerly direction. BOTTOM LEFT: John MIDDLE: The Pleiades, the Hyades and Aldebaran. TOP RIGHT: Johan MIDDLE RIGHT: Martin, BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris Vermeulen.
TOP LEFT: Light pollution from Robertson. MIDDLE LEFT: Looking in a southerly direction. BOTTOM LEFT: John MIDDLE: The Pleiades, the Hyades and Aldebaran. TOP RIGHT: Johan MIDDLE RIGHT: Martin, BOTTOM RIGHT: Chris Vermeulen.
TOP: Back view of the Vito. MIDDLE: Side view of the Vito. BOTTOM: The trailer also loaded to capacity.
TOP: Back view of the Vito. MIDDLE: Side view of the Vito. BOTTOM: The trailer also loaded to capacity.
TOP: Snorre on his leash waiting for us to finish packing. If one lets him go at this stage he goes walkabout, attending to all sorts of urgent things, like birds, lizards, insects and anything that moves in the grass. BOTTOM: That expression clearly indicates that this whole loading exercise is taking far, far too long to his liking.
TOP: Snorre on his leash waiting for us to finish packing. If one lets him go at this stage he goes walkabout, attending to all sorts of urgent things, like birds, lizards, insects and anything that moves in the grass. BOTTOM: That expression clearly indicates that this whole loading exercise is taking far, far too long to his liking.

Page17_Immobile Snorre

Back home Snorre went into the relax-mode, but like in completely out for the count relaxed.
Back home Snorre went into the relax-mode, but like in completely out for the count relaxed.

A special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Martin Coetzee
Bennie Kotze
Chris de Coning
Kechil Kirkham

Visit to !Khwa ttu, the San Cultural and Education Centre on Monday the 05th of September 2016.

!Khwa ttu is situated on the R27, about 70 km north of Cape Town. This farm is called Grootwater in Afrikaans probably with reference to the view across the sea. The San name !Khwa ttu means an open expanse of water, like a pan, most likely referring to some of the many pans that collect in winter in the hollows created by the granite outcrops. . Go here to brush up your background on !Khwa ttu.

When Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and I left Brackenfell on Monday morning, the weather did not look promising for the stargazing we had planned to present in the evening. I was going to give a talk after lunch, in which I intended to stress the value of indigenous astronomy and in particular the San-related astronomy. My talk would also include tips and guidelines about presenting astronomy sessions to tourists or visitors in general. To get to !Khwa ttu though, we first had to contend with some serious traffic congestion on the N7. The first was caused by an accident just before the Bosmansdam turn-off and then, for some or other unknown reason, we were rerouted by traffic officials through Parklands down to the R27.

We arrived just before 12:00 and, after reporting to Ri, Magdalena and Shaun, we went over to the restaurant to have lunch. I should add here that Shaun Dunn is a direct descendant of the famous John Robert Dunn. If the name does not ring a bell you can brush up on your history by going here . You can also read more about the interesting modern day legal implications of John Dunn’s activities in this article.

In the foyer of the restaurant we met up with Michael, the MMWC at !Khwa ttu (MMWC = Main Man What Counts ☺) and just managed a few words before he had to shoot off elsewhere. Auke spent some time in the museum before lunch while Lynnette and I had coffee with Snorre relaxing in his favourite window sill next to our table.

TOP: The lecture room with Lynnette at the left front, Shaun Dunn standing on the left and Auke’s hat just visible in the far right background. MIDDLE: Me up front with the trainees listening and hopefully remembering some of the things I said. BOTTOM: View from the front stoep and this is clearly not stargazing weather.
TOP: The lecture room with Lynnette at the left front, Shaun Dunn standing on the left and Auke’s hat just visible in the far right background. MIDDLE: Me up front with the trainees listening and hopefully remembering some of the things I said. BOTTOM: View from the front stoep and this is clearly not stargazing weather.

After lunch we were introduced to the trainees and we also later introduced Snorre to the group, much to their amusement. I discussed the value of indigenous knowledge and specifically indigenous astronomy knowledge. I drove the point home that this knowledge had great value as a cultural possession and that it should never be seen as inferior to modern scientific astronomy interpretations. The ancient astronomy knowledge worldwide is the basis on which later knowledge was able to develop. It is imperative that they remember that overseas guests come to Southern Africa for an African Experience. Their unique cultural astronomy narratives are an intrinsic part of such an experience.

The African knowledge tradition is an oral tradition. However, the social fabric, within which it had efficiently functioned for millennia, has all but disappeared in modern times. This means that the oral histories are disappearing too, as the last bearers of that knowledge pass away. The trainees are in the unique position that they still have access, probably only for short while, to sources of these histories; the ageing storytellers. They have an individual and collective responsibility to collect and record as many of these stories as is possible, before they all became lost.

!Khwa ttu was hosting a large conference so all their accommodation was taken up by the delegates. Michael and Ri had booked us into Elly’s Place, a Bed and Breakfast with a Dutch touch in Darling. Go here to find out more about this interesting and hospitable place to stay. With Ri leading the way we headed for Darling to book in and to have supper. Ri and our host Elly, joined us for supper and after supper we went back to !Khwa ttu where Auke handled the evening session with the trainees.

The clouds had effectively cancelled any stargazing or moon watching so we had to fall back on Auke and Stellarium. Despite the disappointment of not being able to do any stargazing the session was a huge success. Auke and I had our pronunciation of San names neatly torpedoed by the polite giggles of the trainees so we have now submitted a list to Ri and asked her to have the trainees record the correct pronunciation and give us the proper translation at the same time.

TOP: Auke imparting words of astronomical wisdom and, judging by the turned heads, he has the group’s attention. MIDDLE: The group of trainees saying goodbye. BOTTOM: The group without Lynnette who insisted on operating the camera.
TOP: Auke imparting words of astronomical wisdom and, judging by the turned heads, he has the group’s attention. MIDDLE: The group of trainees saying goodbye. BOTTOM: The group without Lynnette who insisted on operating the camera.

After Auke’s session the trainees said thank you and goodbye with a traditional San song, which the three of us appreciated immensely. I say the three of us, because Snorre absolutely hates clapping hands and stamping feet so I had my work cut out to prevent him from heading for the hills during their tribute.

After the evening and the lovely musical send-off Auke, Lynnette, Snorre and I left for Darling. A good night’s rest followed by a hearty breakfast at Elly’s and we set off home via the R27, having been warned by the petrol attendant that the road to Mamre and Atlantis was not in a good condition.

The trip home was uneventful, unlike last year’s one which left us with a broken side-window on the Vito and a repair bill of over R8 000-00.

The autumn 2016 Southern Star Party Night Sky Caravan Farm: 05 to 07 February 2016.

The autumn Southern Star Party at Night Sky Caravan Farm (you can visit their Facebook Page here) followed so hard on the heels of the Southern Star Party in November (read all about it here) that we felt there was hardly any break. We were booked out two weeks before the event, which was a record, and it was a huge success judging from the verbal comments and the written feedback we received. We are obviously elated at the success but also a tad tired, so the long gap till the next Star Party at the end of October is most welcome. However, that gap is already filling up with all sorts of other things so we won’t be exactly idle. We are in fact going flat-out at present to get our grant application for the National Science Week ready to send off to SAASTA by the end of February.

This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
This is what our house looked like a day or two before our departure to Night Sky for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. All of this had to go into the Vito and our Venter trailer.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program fir the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There was lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember all recipients of the passport – it has to accompany you to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP LEFT: the opening page of the new SSP Passport. Auke’s brilliant idea. Once you have your passport you have, like all passports, to bring it to all subsequent SSP’s that you attend. RIGHT: A closer look at the actual passport. BOTTOM LEFT: The program for the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. There is lots of other cool stuff in the book as well. Just remember, all recipients of the passport have to bring it to the next event. Only newcomers will be issued with a passport next time round.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. Bottom: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP: Yippee! Only three books to go. BOTTOM: This is what you feel like at 3 am as you contemplate the last bits and pieces that have to be fitted into either the Vito or the trailer.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.
TOP LEFT: Just space left for Lynnette, Snorre and I. TOP RIGHT: There really wasn’t space anywhere, except on the front two seats. BOTTOM LEFT: The trailer couldn’t have taken much more either. BOTTOM RIGHT: The Vito and trailer all packed up and ready to depart for the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

On Tuesday the 02nd of February at 07:00, without any sleep the previous night, Lynnette, Snorre and I left and arrived at Night Sky to find the lawn mowing in full swing. Shortly after they finished, Tersius and his crew from Bonnievale Verhurings (go here to see more about their activities) arrived to put up the tent. As soon as that was done I got the projection screen set up and then it started raining lightly. The three of us went to bed early and the next morning we started organizing the tent. Alan and Rose arrived in the course of the morning and after they had set up camp they pitched in to help setting up as well. During the course of Wednesday Auke also arrived. Volker and Aka Kuehne from Pforzheim in Germany were also at Night Sky as they are every summer from early January to mid-March. This was their second SSP and as on the previous occasion they were always ready to lend a hand with just about everything.

This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.
This light rain cooled things down a bit on Tuesday evening, but I would have preferred it on Thursday evening closer to the actual SSP. For Juri de Wet and the other farmers who were ready to start harvesting grapes this was not good news as the moist conditions could lead to serious losses due to mildew.

Lynnette and I drove to Bonnievale to meet Rudolf who had found a fossil deposit and after viewing and photographing the Zoophytes trace-fossils in the Witteberg sediments, we drove back to Night Sky after some essential shopping. Before going to Night Sky we stopped off at Oppiekoppie Guesthouse (go here to see more about Oppiekoppie) to label the rooms, so everybody would know where to go when they arrived the next day. We then drove back to Night Sky for supper, putting up all the banners at the entrance on the way, to make sure nobody got lost. Shortly after supper we turned in. On Thursday Jonathan Balladon, Louis Fourie, Eddy & Jannie Nijeboer and Barry & Miemie Dumas arrived, followed by Pierre de Villiers, Karin de Bruin and Susan Joubert from the Hermanus Centre.

TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Wittenberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP LEFT: The Vito and Rudolf against the backdrop of the fossil bearing Witteberg sediments on the R317 outside Bonnievale. TOP RIGHT, MIDDLE LEFT, MIDDLE RIGHT and BOTTOM RIGHT are all examples of Zoophycos trace fossils. This animal apparently transported organic material down from the seabed into spiral burrows buried deeper in the bottom sediments. The sediments containing these fossils were probably laid down in cool, shallow seas on the continental margins with the sediments arising mainly from powerful storms. The course grained rocks and other sedimentary features as well as symmetrical wave ripples, wavy cross-bedding and mud-flake conglomerates are used to support this interpretation. BOTTOM LEFT: A sloping bed of densely packed Zoophycos trace fossils.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: View from the stoep of Oppiekoppie across the Boesman’s River valley. BOTTOM LEFT: The lovely, north facing stoep at Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The very spacious living area with an inside braai and a table that seats 24 people. In the background are the owner Koos Wentzel and Lynnette.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP: The view from the back of Oppiekoppie with the Langeberg and Twaalfuurkop, which is just north of Swellendam, in the distance. BOTTOM LEFT: The back of Oppiekoppie. BOTTOM RIGHT: The entrance to Oppiekoppie.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. Middle: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.
TOP LEFT: NGC 2023 welcomes Star Party attendees at the turnoff to the farm. TOP RIGHT: This banner indicated the turnoff to the Caravan Farm. MIDDLE: The new signpost on the left signifies where our interests lie. BOTTOM LEFT: A solar system (unfortunately with Pluto attached points the way. BOTTOM RIGHT: Our Southern Star Party banner as one entered the camping area tells you that you have arrived.

Alan once again set up his model table in the tent where he displayed the Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle, the yet to be completed model of SALT and some very nifty models of the Mars habitat with the surface vehicle and fuel generation unit. During the course of the SSP, and especially on Sunday morning this attracted a lot of attention and many favourable comments.  I personally can’t wait for the completion of the SALT model.

This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.
This is the ever growing and ever more impressive array of models Alan is constructing.

Just as we were preparing for the evening braai on Thursday, I was laid low by a kidney stone. Juri de Wet went to a great deal of trouble to track down Dr Esterhuisen in Bonnievale who agreed to meet us at his consulting rooms. Auke drove Lynnette and I there in his car in a record time and I was given a shot of morphine to reduce the pain. The doctor liaised with an urologist; Dr Deon Marais in Worcester and off the three of us went again to the Worcester Medi Clinic. I was put on a drip and had to stay in hospital for a scan before having an operation to remove the kidney stone, the next day. Lynnette and Auke had to leave me contemplating my kidney stone, while they drove back to attend to the running of the SSP. On the Friday Alan and Rose were roped in to help organize things and keep the administration running smoothly while Lynnette came back to Worcester in Auke’s car. She stayed with me until late in the afternoon before driving back to help at Night Sky, where everyone had by now arrived. I was eventually operated on at around 18:00 on Friday and at 06:00 on Saturday, Lynnette was there again in Auke’s car, to pick me up and back to Bonnievale we went.

TOP LEFT: I herby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for the budget overruns.
TOP LEFT: I hereby name thee Rosetta. A close up of the little bugger that caused me so much grief on Thursday and Friday. TOP RIGHT: A different angle of Rosetta. Bottom Left. Rosetta viewed from the smaller end. This little pest has so far cost almost R30 000 and the bills are still rolling in. My sympathies are with ESA for their budget overruns.

Shortly after 08:30, on Saturday morning, I had a session with the beginner group and was rather amazed to find Pierre de Villiers, current ASSA president there. I am quite certain he is well out of the beginner category, but perhaps he just wanted to make sure I did not spout too much drivel.

Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.
Two photographs of the beginner group taken on Saturday morning. Pierre de Villiers on the right in the bottom photograph keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings.

After the beginners, we started the main program and kicked off with Magda Streicher’s talk “Deep-Sky Delights” which took us on a genteel journey through the process of observing deep-sky objects and sketching them. Her talk was lavishly illustrated with personal anecdotes and examples of her own sketches. We are all looking forward to the book you intend publishing with all those sketches, Magda!

Next up was Bani van der Merwe who unfortunately couldn’t make it, so Pierre de Villiers, present ASSA president, came out to bat and he more than welcomed the extra time at the wicket. Pierre’s topic “How to foster an interest in, and enjoyment of, astronomy” was actually a workshop rather than an ordinary talk. He illustrated the various initiatives of the Hermanus Centre intended to achieve these objectives and engaged with the audience to get their ideas on the matter.

While Pierre was talking Marius, Kim, Lynnette and I packed and lit the fires for the lunch-time braai. During the course of the lunch-break it was decided that it was just too hot to go back into the tent for the remainder of the talks at 15:00, so everything was postponed until 17:00. We hoped that it would have cooled by then. The lucky draw also shifted and the Pub Quiz looked as if might have to take a back seat till October.

Ray Brederode’s presentation “The discoveries of Rosette and Philae” was very well received and generated quite a number of questions from the audience. He was followed by Charl Cater, who presented a short, but very interesting talk entitled “Green Pea Galaxies”. Auke Slotegraaf rounded of the programme with a presentation titled “To Forever Remain a Child: Astronomy and cultural heritage in South Africa.” The talk covered a number of important issues pertaining to astronomical heritage in South Africa and hopefully some members of the audience will heed Auke’s call to become involved in efforts to preserve that heritage.

On Friday night Dwayne apparently only had eyes for the stars in the love of his life’s eyes. How do I know? Because he took Claire out under the stars and proposed to her. Congratulations, this is the first engagement for the Southern Star Party and we hope that by the next SSP he will have taken the logical step and be able to bring his starry eyed wife along. We took the opportunity after the last talk to congratulate them and hope they enjoyed the bottle of wine and slab of chocolate we presented them with.

A series of images depicting the telescope are which was a focal point by day but especially at night.
A series of images depicting the telescope area which was a focal point by day, but especially at night.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.
The Earth’s shadow and the Venus girdle looking east from the camp site. Twaalfuurkop in the Langeberg can just be made out in the centre of the photograph.

By this time the light was just right for the group photo and after that Pierre de Villiers drew the three winners of our raffle. The first prize, a Skywatcher  Newtonian telescope was won by Chris Vermeulen (D=130, F=650, 25mm & 10mm eyepieces, Red Dot Finder, tripod and manual equatorial mount). The second and third prizes were two bottles of good red wine which went to Barry Dumas and Martin Coetzee respectively.

it was clear that time had overtaken us so we cancelled everything else and got ready for the evenings observing and related activities. It was a good evening for observing even though there were signs of clouds encroaching by about 23:00 and it actually rained around 03:00 or shortly thereafter. Martin Lyons and several other stalwarts were quick to rescue the telescopes that had been left in the telescope area by owners that had ignored the impending change in the weather.

TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
TOP LEFT: Snorre planning his evening patrol. TOP RIGHT: Snorre setting of at a leisurely pace on the first leg of his patrol. BOTTOM LEFT: Snorre disappears in the gathering dusk. BOTTOM RIGHT: The red dots on the left of the photo indicate Snorre is on his way back at a much faster pace than when he departed.
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours. Camera - Nikon D5100. Lens - AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G ISO 800 & f/1.8 Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals) & combined with StarStax 0.71
Taken at Night Sky Bonnievale on 10/02/2016 starting at 22:44:44,00. I removed the colours to try and make the various satellite tracks and one meteor trace more visible. In retrospect I should perhaps have left the colours.
Camera – Nikon D5100.
Lens – AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
ISO 800 & f/1.8
Total exposure 34,6 minutes (1038 2s shots at 3 sec intervals)
& combined with StarStax 0.71
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph also taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party by Leslie Rose.
TOP: Now this is what a proper star trail photograph should look like. Taken by Chris Vermeulen at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party. BOTTOM: A magnificent photograph, taken at Night Sky during the 2016 autumn Southern Star Party, by Leslie Rose.

On Sunday Lynnette and I were up at 08:00 to lay out the material for presenting astronomy to the visually impaired so that people coming to the tent to say goodbye could look at it. Part of the display was Dr Wanda Diaze-Merced’s 20 mHz Jove radio telescope. By Sunday evening Lynnette and I, Auke, Barry and Miemie, John, Alan and Rose and Snorre were all that was left of the crowd. On Monday afternoon, only Lynnette, Snorre and I and Alan and Rose were left. On Tuesday Tersius and his team took down the tent and loaded up the tables and chairs and on Wednesday the rest of us packed up and left. This brought down the final curtain on the 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party.

Alan tending his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
Alan tending to his evening braai fire on Monday when the weather made it clear that there would be no observing.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.
All loaded and on the way home after a very successful and eventful 2016 Autumn Southern Star Party. The saying is that it is not over till the fat lady sings. As far as the Southern Star Party is concerned it is not over till the Vito and the Venter are loaded and leave.

Last but not least, a special word of thanks to our generous sponsors, because, without their help and support there is no way we could present a Southern Star Party.

Bonnievale Verhurings
ELF Astronomy
Night Sky Caravan Farm
Promotional Printing and Signage
SAASTA
StarPeople
Waltons.

Leeuwenboschfontein, only a pleasure to visit. – 20 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein, health only a pleasure to visit. – 20 October 2015.

Leeuwenboschfontein Guest Farm is situated in the far eastern section of the Little Karoo and their website, which can be visited here, gives a comprehensive overview of all the activities on offer. A visit to their Facebook page, which can be found here, gives more information and a host of informative pictures.

Most non-4×4 enthusiasts will probably be left wandering what they would do there.  There is of course, fishing, hiking, cycling or just plain relaxing, reading a book or chatting around the braai fire and to that you can add taking a snooze in the shade of the magnificent willow trees in the camp site.  If you stay in the guest house there is the pool and another one is under construction next to the camp site. Sports enthusiasts will undoubtedly enjoy the big screen in the converted barn, so there is something for everyone.

However, I thought it would be good thing to highlight some of the things that do not show up on either the website or the Facebook page, in brief photo-essay. You can also read about our recent trip to Leeuwenboschfontein if you go here. It is important not to go to Leeuwenboschfontein without you camera or your binoculars; you will be regret it if you do. So just browse through the photos that follow and read the captions as I have tried to put more information in there.

Top Left: As kids we used to lie on our backs watching the clouds and trying to see patterns and shapes Top right: The Earth’s shadow in the east as the sun sets. At sunrise this shadow will be in the west. Bottom Left: Sunset and the shadows lengthen down the Nougaskloof valley. Bottom Right: The setting sun colours the clouds various shades of pink and orange and all of this is reflected in the dam.
Top Left: As kids we used to lie on our backs watching the clouds and trying to see patterns and shapes. Top right: The Earth’s shadow in the east as the sun sets. At sunrise this shadow will be in the west. Bottom Left: Sunset and the shadows lengthen down the Nougaskloof valley. Bottom Right: The setting sun colours the clouds various shades of pink and orange and all of this is reflected in the dam.
Top Left: This Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) shuttles between the various dams on the farm and is the Grim Reaper personified for the frogs. Here there is a preening session in progress after the flight from another dam. Top Middle: The preening stops suddenly when something draws his attention. Top right: Neck outstretched to get a closer look and just before pouncing. Bottom Left: Got it! And when the frog kept on wriggling the heron simply pounded it against the side of the bout until it succumbed. Bottom Middle: Now the patient wait for the next careless frog. Bottom Right: The same Heron the next day and I wondered how many frogs had gone down that slender neck since I last saw him.
Top Left: This Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) shuttles between the various dams on the farm and is the Grim Reaper personified for the frogs. Here there is a preening session in progress after the flight from another dam. Top Middle: The preening stops suddenly when something draws his attention. Top right: Neck outstretched to get a closer look just before pouncing. Bottom Left: Got it! And when the frog kept on wriggling the heron simply pounded it against the side of the bout until it succumbed. Bottom Middle: Now the patient wait for the next careless frog. Bottom Right: The same Heron the next day and I wondered how many frogs had gone down that slender neck since I last saw him.
Top Left: A male Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) with a piece of bread that I thought was way too large to swallow but he managed it. Top Middle: A female Masked Weaver much less striking than the male. Top right: The male in a pose that can only be described as cocky! Middle: The weaver birds are very industrious and also quite entertaining. This male Masked Weaver and three females are polishing some crumbs we put out. Bottom Left: When viewed from a little closer the female does have some colour variation and patterning but it is the males that stand out. Bottom Middle: This Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis) was much more sedate but did not let himself be put off in the least by the slightly larger and more numerous weavers. Bottom Right: A rear view of the bunting and he really is a very dapper little bird.
Top Left: A male Masked Weaver (Ploceus velatus) with a piece of bread that I thought was way too large to swallow but he managed it. Top Middle: A female Masked Weaver much less striking than the male. Top right: The male in a pose that can only be described as cocky! Middle: The weaver birds are very industrious and also quite entertaining. This male Masked Weaver and three females are polishing some crumbs we put out. Bottom Left: When viewed from a little closer the female does have some colour variation and patterning but it is the males that stand out. Bottom Middle: This Cape Bunting (Emberiza capensis) was much more sedate but did not let himself be put off in the least by the slightly larger and more numerous weavers. Bottom Right: A rear view of the bunting and he really is a very dapper little bird.
Top Left to Top Right: A male Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis) in various poses and he did not seem in the least put out by the presence of the masked weaver. Middle: The male Cape Weaver and three females but I cannot accurately distinguish between the females of the Cape and the masked weavers. Bottom Left and Bottom Middle: I couldn’t resist two more shots of this very confident an alert little fellow. Bottom Right: More female weavers, but once again I am at a loss to accurately distinguish between the two species.
Top Left to Top Right: A male Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis) in various poses and he did not seem in the least put out by the presence of the masked weaver. Middle: The male Cape Weaver and three females but I cannot accurately distinguish between the females of the Cape and the masked weavers. Bottom Left and Bottom Middle: I couldn’t resist two more shots of this very confident an alert little fellow. Bottom Right: More female weavers, but once again I am at a loss to accurately distinguish between the two species.
Top Left: This chap visited us at breakfast time and is a member of the Gnaphosidae family of arachnids, commonly known as spiders. I think it belongs in the genus Zelotes and is Zelotes fuligineus. They are non-venomous ground dwelling spiders that do not spin webs as such but at best silk sack. Top Middle: This was a bit of a surprise, the track of a Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) I found one set of tracks in soft mud and another in older hardened mud. Top Right: Although spring, the traditional flower time for the Karoo, is over and summer is advancing at a pace the fairly good late rains have extended the flowering period of many of the plants. Unlike Namaqualand and most of the Northern Cape, you have to get out and walk to appreciate the flowers. Especially the geophytes (bulbous plants) are well hidden until you almost fall over them but the effort is really well worth your while. This is Felicia filifolia commonly known as Draaibossie still making a nice show. Middle: This is the sort of tranquil setting one finds at Leeuwenbosch. This one is taken across the dam in the centre of the camp site looking westward at sunset. Bottom Left: A section of the geological map covering the Leeuwenboschfontein area. The age of the rocks spans a period of just over 100 million years and is all marine sediment laid down in a body of water known as the Agulhas Sea. There should be marine fossils if one looks carefully and possibly fish and plant remains in the higher slopes toward the tops of the peaks. Bottom Middle: The rock here is about 400 million years old but the white veins of quartz intruding into it are much younger and could be around 180 million years old or even slightly younger. Bottom Right: Young geology and one can clearly see the different composition of the semi-horizontal layers. The pebble laden sections indicate high volume flow and the sections in between slower, sediment laden flow. This material is thousands and not millions of years old.
Top Left: This chap visited us at breakfast time and is a member of the Gnaphosidae family of arachnids, commonly known as spiders. I think it belongs in the genus Zelotes and is Zelotes fuligineus. They are non-venomous ground dwelling spiders that do not spin webs as such but at best silk sack. Top Middle: This was a bit of a surprise, the track of a Cape Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) I found one set of tracks in soft mud and another in older hardened mud. Top Right: Although spring, the traditional flower time for the Karoo, is over and summer is advancing at a pace the fairly good late rains have extended the flowering period of many of the plants. Unlike Namaqualand and most of the Northern Cape, you have to get out and walk to appreciate the flowers. Especially the geophytes (bulbous plants) are well hidden until you almost fall over them but the effort is really well worth your while. This is Felicia filifolia commonly known as Draaibossie still making a nice show. Middle: This is the sort of tranquil setting one finds at Leeuwenbosch. This one is taken across the dam in the centre of the camp site looking westward at sunset. Bottom Left: A section of the geological map covering the Leeuwenboschfontein area. The age of the rocks spans a period of just over 100 million years and is all marine sediment laid down in a body of water known as the Agulhas Sea. There should be marine fossils if one looks carefully and possibly fish and plant remains in the higher slopes toward the tops of the peaks. Bottom Middle: The rock here is about 400 million years old but the white veins of quartz intruding into it are much younger and could be around 180 million years old or even slightly younger. Bottom Right: Young geology and one can clearly see the different composition of the semi-horizontal layers. The pebble laden sections indicate high volume flow and the sections in between slower, sediment laden flow. This material is thousands and not millions of years old.
Top: This is a photograph of the sky in the vicinity of the Large Magellanic cloud. The lighter misty patch at rust left of centre to the left is the Large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: This is time lapse taken of the area just to the left of the South Celestial pole. The apparent tracks the stars make which seem to indicate movement are actually tracks caused by the Earth rotating and, of course, us with it.
Top: This is a photograph of the sky in the vicinity of the Large Magellanic cloud. The lighter misty patch at rust left of centre to the left is the Large Magellanic Cloud. Bottom: This is time lapse taken of the area just to the left of the South Celestial pole. The apparent tracks the stars make which seem to indicate movement are actually tracks caused by the Earth rotating and, of course, us with it.

 

I trust you enjoyed this brief photographic visit to Leeuwenboschfontein and hope to see you there at some time and to have the opportunity to introduce you to the wonders of the night sky.

The Gouda Wind Farm: April 2015

A new wind farm has been taking shape at Gouda in the Drakenstein Municipality of the Western Cape.

When Lynnette and I recently went to Porterville for the stargazing event at the Porterville Golfclub, organized by Nathalie Wagenstroom from the Porterville Tourism Office, I hadn’t been out that way for quite some time. I was therefore surprised to find that a new wind farm had sprouted up to the right of the R44 just past where it crosses the railway line.

This wind farm will consist of forty-six 100 m towers each carrying a 3 MW Acciona wind-power turbine so that the site can produce 138 MW at full capacity. The construction started in 2013 and was scheduled for completion in 2014 with the power being delivered to a 132 kV distribution network at the Windmeul substation near Wellington. Go here to read more about the project in the August edition of Engineering News. You will find a comprehensive overview of the project as summarized in the August 2013 NERSA public hearings. There is more information here on the webpage of Energy4Africa. Driving past there it was clear that they are way behind schedule.

Top left: View of the wind-farm from the R44 before reaching the turnoff to Gouda and Porterville. Top right: View of the wind-farm from the R44 just after turning off to Gouda and Porterville. Bottom left: The R44 passes right next to these enormous. structures. Bottom right: The wind-farm from the top of the bridge that takes the R44 over the railway line.
Top left: View of the wind-farm from the R44 before reaching the turnoff to Gouda and Porterville.
Top right: View of the wind-farm from the R44 just after turning off to Gouda and Porterville.
Bottom left: The R44 passes right next to these enormous. structures.
Bottom right: The wind-farm from the top of the bridge that takes the R44 over the railway line.

The Gouda Wind Facility is the first wind farm in South Africa to use concrete towers. Steel towers are imported while concrete towers can be manufactured locally. Another advantage is that one can build taller towers, up to 120 m, at a reduced energy cost. The wind farm at Hopefield consists of thirty-seven, 95 m steel towers each carrying a 1.78 MW turbine from the Danish firm Vestas. The installation will produce 66 MW at full capacity. Go here to read about the installation in the May 2014 edition of Engineering News.

Hopefield wind powered generators on our way home
Hopefield wind powered generators.

The Gouda installation was erected by Acciona Energy and Aveng while Sarens supplied the equipment to transport and lift the various sections of the towers as well as the turbine blades and the turbines. At full capacity Gouda will supply enough power for 146 000 low income homes or 60 000 medium income homes.

Top left: Acciona's 3 MW turbines are as large as a medium sized caravan and perch on top of a 100 m concrete column. Top right: The parked vehicles give one an idea of the size of these structures. Bottom left: Another attempt at giving you an idea of the size of those columns. Bottom right: The previous photo enlarged and, in case you missed him there is a person wearing a yellow construction vest in the structure next to the tower.
Top left: Acciona’s 3 MW turbines are as large as a medium sized caravan and perch on top of a 100 m concrete column.
Top right: The parked vehicles give one an idea of the size of these structures.
Bottom left: Another attempt at giving you an idea of the size of those columns.
Bottom right: The previous photo enlarged and, in case you missed him there is a person wearing a yellow construction vest in the structure next to the tower.

Each blade of the three-blade turbine is 50 m long and the pitch of the blades is increased as wind speed drops to increase the torque and maintain the rotation speed. If the wind speed increases the pitch will be decreased to reduce the torque. At wind speeds of around 20 m/s at the hub height (that is around 70 km/h) the turbines are shut down. In rural areas the turbine blades are required to generate no more than 35 decibels of sound which is classified as less noise than a normal conversation.

When one sees these turbine blades rotating they always look as if they are in slow motion. A bit of mathematics reveals that if the rotor is turning at 10 revolutions per minute the tips of those 50 m long blades are travelling at over 180 km/h. Low flying birds cannot judge the speed of those rotor tips correctly and, because the rotors taper, the tips are far less visible than the sections closer to the hub, so they fly into them, with fatal results. This is especially the case for large, slow birds like geese, pelicans, cranes and storks. Raptors tend to be watching for prey on the ground so they also often fall foul of the blades. From an environmental perspective, it is important that wind farms should not be built on the migration routes of these birds, or in areas where they congregate to feed or breed.

Orion, an appropriately named potential stargazing destination: March 2015

A farm north of Sutherland with potential for affordable stargazing.

Sutherland is a problem for amateur astronomers because, although it is quite correctly considered to be the astronomy capital of South Africa, there are no facilities in the town for amateur astronomers to indulge in their passion. All the farms around Sutherland are potential observing sites and some farmers, like Nicol van der Merwe on Blesfontein, have already capitalized on this potential.

A panoramic view from the top of the small hill immediately behind the house which offers the best site for setting up telescopes
A panoramic view from the top of the small hill immediately behind the house which offers the best site for setting up telescopes. One can drive up from the house (about 300 m) to here.
This site is right next to the first one and both are situated in low walled, disused sheep kraals. The walls are just high enough to afford protection from the wind,
This site is right next to the first one and both are situated in low walled, disused sheep kraals. The walls are just high enough to offer some protection from the wind but not high enough to hamper viewing.

Albertus Jordaan farms on Matjesfontein about 35 km from Sutherland on the road to Calvinia and Albertus and his wife Ester have also recognized the astronomy potential of their farm. Those of you who visit Sutherland regularly will no doubt have seen Die Trommel also known, tongue in the cheek, as the Sutherland Mall. Go here to see more information about Die Trommel. Ester is the owner of that interesting establishment. Anyway, under the appropriate name of Orion, Ester and Albertus have established a self-catering facility on their farm. It is a large house with three bedrooms and a fully equipped kitchen and all the necessary bathroom and toilet facilities, as well as electricity. It will sleep eight comfortably and 10 with a bit of effort. I think going there is well worth the effort if you want to do some serious and undisturbed observing over an extended period.

This panoramic view shows the farmyard which could also be used if one did not want to drive up the hill to the sheep kraals
This panoramic view shows the farmyard which could also be used if one did not want to drive up the hill to the sheep kraals
Top left: The signpost at the entrance to the farm.  From here it is about 300 m to the farmstead. Top right. A view of the house from the northwest. Bottom left. View of the house from roughly due west.  Bottom right. A view from the house to the north and the sheep kraals can just be seen to the far right more or less in the middle of the photograph
Top left: The signpost at the entrance to the farm. From here it is about 300 m to the farmstead.
Top right. A view of the house from the northwest.
Bottom left. View of the house from roughly due west.
Bottom right. A view from the house to the north and the stone wall of the sheep kraals can just be seen against the skyline to the far right more or less in the middle of the photograph against that small strip of cloud.

The property is situated at -33°13’03”, 20°30’46”E & 1317m and interested parties or persons can contact Lynnette at foster.lynnette@gmail.com or on 084 512 9866. I would be unfair not to point out that fairly long sections of the road to the farm are very corrugated or as the locals say – sinkplaat!  Lynnette and I made it there and back in the Vito and the key to survival is to drive slowly, very slowly, over these sections. Slow means less than 20 km per hour. At that speed, you will also have time to admire the magnificent dolerite hills and boulders you pass through. Pack your telescope carefully and it will be fine, proof of which is the fact that we had the 12” Dobby in the Vito on that trip and it survived. On the way back to Sutherland there is a nice, if somewhat distant, view to the east of the SAAO site and SALT’s iconic shape.

Geology talk at Brackenfell Library: March 2015

Once upon a time, in the  distant past when the Western Cape was young ….

A tale of why everything isn’t just flat everywhere

The talk, which lasted for just under an hour, was attended by a small group of people and afterward, there was coffee, courtesy of the Brackenfell library and some discussion on the topic.

A view from the listeners angle
A view from the listeners angle
The audience: John Skinner, David Skinner, James du Toit, Marlene van Niekerk, <arlene le Roux, Susie Thorburn, Marie Eygelaar, Maida Ackerman, Rentia Rabe, Billy Brits, Errol Swanepoel
The smallish audience: John Skinner, David Skinner, James du Toit, Marlene van Niekerk, Marlene le Roux, Susie Thorburn, Marie Eygelaar, Maida Ackerman, Rentia Rabe, Billy Brits, Errol Swanepoel
Coffee and talk afterwards. The Moon? I just added that for the fun of it.
Coffee and talk afterwards. The Moon? I just added that for the fun of it.

Talk at the Hermanus Astronomy Centre – 02 October 2014

Once upon a time when the Western Cape was young …

A tale about why everything isn’t just flat everywhere.

On Thursday 02nd of October Lynnette, Snorre and I set out for Hermanus.  The first port of call was Lee’s new place in Sandbaai where Snorre was confined to his carry box, because we were uncertain what the reception from Lee’s three resident felines would be. All went very well but, just to be on the safe side, we confined Snorre to Lee’s spare bedroom when the three of us left to have supper with Pierre de Villiers, the chairman of the Hermanus Centre.

The three resident "Moon Cats"at Lee's place
The three resident “Moon Cats” at Lee’s place

After a pleasant meal at Lemon Butta and some impromptu whale watching we headed out to the SANSA (South African National Space Agency).  They are housed in the buildings of the erstwhile Hermanus Magnetic Observatory.

The whale festival was in full swing at Hermanus and the whales  were there doing their thing
The Hermanus Whale Festival was in full swing at Hermanus and the whales were there doing their thing
Just a puff of vapour and a section of  its back hints at the presence of the whale
Just a puff of vapour and a section of its back hints at the presence of the whale
A big splash of its giant tail
A big splash of its giant tail
A last glimpse of the tail as the whale dives
A last glimpse of the tail as the whale dives

Pierre introduced me and I then presented my talk. This covered the geological origins of the Western Cape and I took the audience in a time journey from the deposition of the sediments forming the Malmesbury shales in the Adamastor Ocean through to the present. Along the way we stopped of briefly to look at the formation of the Agulhas Sea, sedimentation of the material that forms the Cape Fold Belt Mountains, the folding and uplifting of those sediments and eventually the breakup of Gondwana and subsequent erosion down to its present day appearance.

Pierre de Villiers introducing me
Pierre de Villiers introducing me
The title slide of my talk
The title slide of my talk
Members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
Some of the members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
More members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk
More members of the Hermanus Centre attending my talk

After the talk we stopped off at Lee’s place for coffee and to collect Snorre.  Then we headed home to Brackenfell and packed for the weekend’s activities at the Makadas Country Festival in Touw’s River.

Snorre in his "I am taking over" pose at Lee's place.
Snorre in his “I am taking over” pose at Lee’s place.