Thursday required an early start to beat the infamous N1-traffic and have breakfast at the Rcafe in Long Street (go here to find out more) before starting our day. We left Brackenfell at 05:17, which was actually later than our original ITD of 05:00. ITD? My shorthand for Intended Time of Departure. We were parked in front of Rcafe by 05:45 which meant that the trip had taken us a mere 28 minutes. As soon as the doors opened at 06:00 Lynnette and I went inside to order two much needed Americano’s to start the day properly. What really amazed us was that the owner and staff recognized us the moment we walked in the door and it was a few days more than a year since we’d last been there! Auke arrived shortly after us and ordered his cappuccino. After breakfast, we headed for the Iziko South African Museum (click here for more information) where Benjamin was waiting to unlock the gates for us and set out the traffic cones to prevent vehicles entering our display and observing space in the amphitheatre. The weather was clear but blustery. The wind was, in fact, such a nuisance that I eventually took down and put away the posters, as the frames were being badly scratched every time they toppled over onto the brick paving. Anyway, by 08:00 we were ready to roll and all we needed was a visitor or two, which we soon got.
Thursday’s are popular school days at Iziko and we had three groups that we managed to convince that they should take a peek at the Sun. There were several other school groups whose teachers waved us away when we invited them to view the Sun. Being a weekday many of our visitors were from outside the country’s borders as most South Africans were hard at work earning an income. Many of the tour guides with the groups declined to let their tourists take a look at the Sun. Their reason was mostly that they had a schedule to keep to and did not have the time. Nevertheless, we had groups from Gabon, Thailand, Hong Kong, France, Netherlands, Israel, and Germany.
It was also nice to have the research staff from the backrooms of Iziko pay us a visit. I was especially pleased to make the acquaintance of Jay van den Berg a palaeontologist on Dr Roger Smith’s staff and Clair Browning the newly appointed Curator of the Karoo Collection.
The problem of getting people to sign our visitor’s book was highlighted for the umpteenth time. Many people who viewed the Sun through our telescopes flatly refused to sign the list and some actually became quite agitated when asked to do so. This problem is exasperated when one is busy and you simply do not have time to chase after people and ask them to sign. So, once again, our signature total (288) and counter tally (597) do not agree. I am more convinced than ever that the answer lies in devising a means to automatically count the number of people who look into each telescope’s eyepiece.
Because the Sun appears as a very bland and uninteresting white ball as a result of of the solar filter fitted to Lorenzo, many viewers say it looks like the Moon. So I decided to do some experimenting with filters to make the image more “exciting”. The images were all taken with my mobile and I am afraid that I do not have the world’s steadiest hand, so the photos are not of the best quality.
Sunday was an almost perfect day for an outreach event in the amphitheater of the Iziko South African Museum (click here for more information) in Cape Town. Lynnette and I, unfortunately, got there a bit later than we had intended. Auke had almost finished setting up by the time we arrived and we just managed to get Lorenzo setup before the first visitors put in an appearance.
While we were setting up, Benjamin, the museum security guard, came round to say hello and put out the traffic cones thereby preventing people from attempting to park among the telescopes. Throughout the rest of the day, he appeared every now and again, keeping a watchful eye on the ever present idlers and strollers who often have less than honest intentions.
We had a steady stream of visitors throughout the day. However, every time a tour group passed through the activity around the telescopes peaked and required all hands on deck. It was really a pity that, other than one lone sunspot (2670) which was about to disappear over the rim of the sun, there was no activity to be seen. I found the overseas visitors far more aware of astronomical matters than the South Africans. Having said that though, Lynnette had one local three-year old who knew the names of all the planets and, when quizzed, also knew which planet was the smallest and which was the largest!
All in all, it was a very pleasant day with the wind dying down by mid-morning and the few clouds that there were never really posing a serious threat to our solar observing. One of the problems, that occurs every year, with this kind of event is the effort to get people to sign our visitor’s register. Some people just refuse point blank and others again refuse to give contact details. During periods of high activity, when everyone is manning a telescope, we also lose signatures because there is nobody available to monitor if visitors sign the register or not. Our counters, as is usual, gave far higher figures than the number of signatures but, because one is busy with visitors, one probably also misses visitors with the counters. Maybe we should get some inventive person to install a counter at the eyepiece that counts when people look into it.
Thursday was a very different kettle of fish at the Brackenfell Public Library compared to Tuesday. No sun, lots of low gray clouds and a cold, blustery north-westerly wind. We implemented plan-B and moved inside, as discussed previously with the library staff. Amanda helped us get organized in the library hall and pointed out the spots in the foyer we could use for posters and A-frames.
Despite putting up notices inviting people to come and flummox us with their astronomy queries we had the grand total of two visitors the entire morning. Those two were actually old friends, Billy and Halcyone Brits who had heard that we would be there and come specially to see us.
The afternoon wasn’t much better as the cold weather seemed to have thinned out the number of learners quite drastically too. Following Lynnette’s suggestion, we gave a talk to the small group that was there. This talk was one we had previously compiled with input from the staff at Boesmansrivier Primary School for use with their learners. The talk was quite enthusiastically received by the learners present. Their enthusiasm was, in fact, at times more than just a bit rowdy!
Murphy saved his final trick for the end of the day. When we tried to start the Vito and leave for home it refused point blank. Not too much of a problem as I had a spare battery at home. We phoned a friend who nipped round, picked me up and dropped me at home. I picked up the spare battery, popped it into the boot of the Polo, and headed back to the Library where Lynnette was waiting.
Murphy now played his next trick. The new battery was about one millimeter too large to fit into the battery compartment of the Vito and the battery leads were too short to reach the battery in any other place outside the battery compartment, where we would be able to shut the door. Lynnette and I quickly ran through plans C to Y before I hit on plan-Z. I connected the spare battery and, while I was holding it, Lynnette started the Vito. Lynnette then kept the engine running quite fast and I disconnected the spare battery, connected the old battery, and slid that into the battery compartment. It all worked perfectly without any shocks, sparks or short-circuits. I was very careful not to throw a clearly crestfallen Murphy the middle finger as he has a very long memory.
Lynnette drove the Polo home and I followed in the Vito, finally bringing the day to a close.
We set up just outside the entrance to the Brackenfell Public Library. The forecast said it would be a sunny day so we also put up our gazebo and decorated that with some of our banners. The banners look nice, provide added wind protection, make the gazebo sturdier and also help prevent uncontrolled access. Sunelle, Lötter and her staff used the material we gave them, predominantly from our own stocks, to put up displays in the entrance foyer and several other parts of the library
As we have experienced in the past it takes a lot of effort to get the public to come and take a look, despite the fact that the telescope was very visible, as were our A-frames and pull-up banners. One has to resort to accosting people, as they approach the entrance and begging them to come and take a peek at the Sun and its lonely sunspot.
This all changed dramatically during the afternoon when the schools closed; we were almost inundated! The Library serves as a focal point for learners whose parents are at work as they also use the library hall to do their homework. The youngsters from the apartments across the road from the library simply use the library and environs as an entertainment area. For the latter group, our presence was a welcome added attraction to their normal routine.
Thanks to the sunny weather and the eager learners it was eventually quite a pleasant and productive outing.
Lynnette and I set up Lorenzo in the rooftop parking area of the Family Pick & Pay on the corner of Old Paarl Road and H.O. De Villiers Street in Brackenfell. The event had been advertised via local social media sites and announcements were also made by the store manager during the course of the evening.
The turnout was disappointingly low but the few people that did turn up were very enthusiastic, which compensated for the poor attendance.
On the 16th of July 2017 Leeuwenboschfontein had a light sprinkling of snow and the staff there were kind enough to send us some photos.
Leeuwenboschfontein is situated in the Western Cape on the very western edge of the Little Karoo at an altitude of just over 1 000m. It is a fantastic place for stargazing and observing and was the venue for the thirteenth Southern Star Party held in February 2017 (more about that event can be found here). We are already planning the 14th Southern Southern Star Party scheduled for October 2017.
Auke got the request and, although it followed hard on the heels of the Helderberg expedition on Saturday we agreed to do the outing, mainly because it was only to be a small group of learners but also because we were curious about the Daniel Academy. Anyway, on Monday evening we set off nice and early from Auke’s place to find the Academy which is situated on Sir Lowry Road between Gordon’s Bay and the N2, but closer to the N2.
We arrived well ahead of the organisers but once they arrived we were directed to a nice open area with no serious obstructions and we set up. Auke did the what’s up and then we set about doing some astronomy by showing the moon and a variety of celestial objects. The site is actually darker than expected so we had more on offer than one normally has in the urbanised Hottentots’ Holland basin.
I had some interesting discussions with a few of the teachers and especially with the “Headmaster”. I won’t go into those discussions here but recommend you the website given earlier in this post to find out more. We left fairly early as the wind turned chilly and not everyone was prepared for the downturn in the temperature.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The day after Christmas we (Lynnette, Snorre and I) arrived at Leeuwenboschfontein just before lunch. We were followed later in the week by Iain Finlay – Willem stayed at home keeping their cats, Tiger and Aimé, company. Rob Bark with his wife Michelle and daughter Victoria were next in, followed, eventually, by Paul Kruger, with his famous breakfast. Dave, Spiro and Sharon were due to fly in from up north but eventually drove down due to thundery weather over the central parts of the country. Martin Lyons had plans to fly in as well but gave up on that idea as the altitude, heat and short runway made it unsafe for the plane he was going to use. Auke could not make it either because of last minute complications.
Monday evening was fine, Tuesday evening was completely clouded over and Wednesday evening was very windy in the early evening with a fair amount of cloud that cleared after midnight. Thursday night was a repeat of Wednesday and Friday was more of the same. Saturday was a near-perfect night to round off the weekend.
One thing that is a problem at Leeuwenbosch is the lighting along the entrance road and in the garden between the guest houses. They are all these horrible round white things that distribute light in all directions. Some sort of a cover that prevents light from escaping upward and horizontally, would solve the problem and the use of cooler bulbs would also help. I temporarily solved the problem by taking the bulbs out as soon as it looked as if all the folks in the houses had gone to bed and then replaced them when I was done observing. Johan Roux, however, has shown me where the light switches for these lights are and it is now a case of flicking two switches and seeing conditions around the guest houses and new chalets will improve by at least 200%.
The camp, however, was a bigger problem this time around. Because it was the holiday season and specifically the New Year’s weekend, the camp was full of revellers who switched on all possible lights including that infernal spotlight on the mast in the middle of the camp. Why get tipsy in the dark, after all? The light spill from this lot even affected the seeing down in the telescope area next to the runway, almost a kilometre away.
At least these light pollution problems will not be a problem during the SSP because we have Johan’s permission to switch everything off for that weekend.
On the subject of light pollution, I recorded a set of dark sky readings for those of the readers who might be interested.
I also recorded some weather data, using Hans van der Merwe’s clever data logger. Here are some results that might interest amateur astronomers.
I do not know which of the following is applicable to our case “You cannot have your cake and eat it” or “What you gain on the swings you loose on the roundabouts”. On the one hand we had bright sunshine and a six day old waxing moon that was situated very nicely but, on the other hand, we had a brisk and fairly chilly South-Easter that pushed clumps of fluffy clouds across our field of view all afternoon and, to top it all, there were only two minuscule sunspots visible.
Auke was already there and Eddy and Jannie arrived shortly after us with Dirk about 30 minutes after them. Alan and Rose weren’t there because Alan had to work and Wendy could also not make it as her husband was ill and had been hospitalized.
The brisk South-Easter was quite cold and, as we had suspected the wind drove a never ending series of fluffy clouds across the face of the Moon limiting viewing to the intervening gaps between them. I decided not to even try the Sun as the two diminutive sunspots were really not worth the effort and concentrated on the Moon.
There were fewer people around and this seems to be the pattern when there is a bit of wind. I also think that in the wind people tend to bunch up more at the Swing Bridge and are less inclined to look around. There seems to be a greater sense of urgency to get across. Also for the people coming from the other side they seem to move straight on and not fan out as they do on days when there is less wind.
There were fewer clouds as the afternoon wore on and by sunset we had almost uninterrupted views of the moon. I decided to give viewers a special treat and added a 3x Barlow to my 25 mm eyepiece. That never fails to draw Wows, OMG’s, Awesome’s. Nooo’s and even a You Lie or two from the viewers. It takes a bit more nudging and shoving, but the effect on viewers is more than worth the trouble. In addition Lorenzo has the advantage of being more stable and less prone to wind induced vibrations than the smaller telescopes.
Once the Sun was down it became really chilly and one once again had to marvel at the fact that one could actually show people celestial objects from such a heavily light polluted site as the Pierhead. Unfortunately Venus and Saturn were not well placed for viewing from our position and the best position would have been under the coloured fairy lights on the quayside.