Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Safe in Sierra Leone!

After a lengthy (and rather tiring) journey from Cape Town, I arrived safely back on the Mercy Ship in Freetown, Sierra Leone, this past Sunday. It was interesting to land in Sierra Leone and then have to take the water taxi across the river to reach the ship in Freetown. It was a pretty fast, rough ride on the water taxi, but fun too!

The last two days I have spent reintegrating into ship life and today was my first full day back in the Assistant Purser role, and it went really well. Be sure to stay posted for more photos and stories from Sierra Leone this next few months!

The ship from the water taxi... Almost home!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Sierra Leone-bound...

My time in Cape Town has been lovely. I have spent time reconnecting with old friends and my family here, and have done a lot of reading, praying, seeking, hiking, cycling, walking the dog, being open, honest and accountable, and all-round relaxing here. It has been fantastic.

I have discovered many weaknesses in my time with Mercy Ships in South Africa, and have begun the process of transforming them into potential for growth. I have been far more intentional about my regular "quiet" time with God and spending much more time in prayer, and this has been by far the biggest blessing. I have been provided with many resources and books and am feeling ready to return to the mission field, renewed and restored for the path ahead. Of course, having to say goodbye again to my wonderful family (including our dog Flicka) and my friends will hurt, but I know I am headed where God wants me to be. Please pray that I remember the lessons learned during this time in South Africa, and apply them for my time in Sierra Leone and beyond.

And so, tomorrow (Saturday, 26th March), I start my 26 hour journey back to the M/V Africa Mercy. I fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a domestic flight in the evening and then catch a Kenya Airways late-night flight from Jo'burg to Nairobi and onwards to Freetown. I'm excited to head back, but I am nervous about all the travelling. I don't enjoy travelling on my own, so please lift me up in prayer with regard to this. May I rest well on my flights!

As to my ministry, I will continue in the role of Assistant Purser but am going to be far more intentional about truly making my work an act of worship to God. I will be in this position until at least the end of the year, and will then re-evaluate where God is leading me for 2012. I'm open to His call whether He calls me to stay longer with Mercy Ships, leads me back to South Africa, or calls me elsewhere.

There is also an important event happening tomorrow for Mercy Ships Field Service in Sierra Leone. We are having our second large screening tomorrow. Please pray for all those involved and also lift up those who come seeking help. May God use us to reach those who need His healing touch in their lives. Pray for calm and peace for this important day, too.

Thank you for taking the time to follow my adventure here. God bless you. Next stop, Sierra Leone!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Pray for Tristan...

In this world where there are so many other headline news stories vying for our time and attention, I want to tell you a story. This is a tale that happens far away from the world we know of - the world that revolves around money, war, poverty, and destruction. But that being said, it is a story that may have a disastrous ending.

In the South Atlantic Ocean, located approximately halfway between South Africa and South America, is the pristine natural wonder that is Tristan Da Cunha and her sister islands of Nightingale and Inaccessible. My family has been involved with these islands since before I can remember - hence my middle name of Tristan. In fact, the relationship dates back to 1937 when my grandfather, Allan Bryant Crawford, charted the first map of the island for the Admiralty. So accurate was his map that even in the world of satellites, his map is still in use by the British Admiralty today.

(Just some background: My grandfather, besides being an engineer and a meteorologist, was also a writer who wrote many books on these islands. He passed away before I joined Mercy Ships in 2007, but afterwards I discovered that the charity he supported throughout his lifetime was always Mercy Ships. His final book, his Memoirs, written in 2006, was even dedicated to his favourite charity. Hence, there is a special connection here. At left you will see the dedication he wrote for Mercy Ships.)

Tristan Da Cunha, a British Overseas Territory, is home to less than 300 islanders, who live off the island's resources. They harvest potatoes and other vegetables in the Potato Patches, a short drive from the settlement of Edinburgh (pictured at right). Their main livelihood is fishing and the export of Tristan Rock Lobster (also known as crawfish). The fishing industry is the lifeblood of the island. The Tristan archipelago is also home to many thousands of fur seals, penguins, albatrosses and various other wildlife endemic to this region of the globe. The island of Inaccessible is a declared World Heritage Site, such is the uniqueness of its ecosystem.

So isolated is this community that they are only reached by ship - usually a five-day voyage from Cape Town. There are no landing strips and the island is well beyond the endurance of helicopters. SA Agulhas, at left, makes a once-yearly trip to the island.

Now into this pristine, unspoiled environment picture a large bulk carrier, some 75,000 gross tonnes, crashing at full-speed into Nightingale Island. There are two other ships in the vicinity that come to the aid of the vessel and rescue her 22-man crew. A salvage tug is immediately sent from Cape Town to assist, but will take four days to reach the island chain. And then, just a few hours after the last crew are rescued, the unthinkable happens and the ship breaks apart in the relentless South Atlantic swells. Tristan is now facing an ecological disaster with crude oil plastering thousands of penguins and other sealife. The thousands of Northern Rockhopper Penguins, at right, are now threatened.

This is not a nightmare. This is the truth. The MS Oliva ran aground in the early hours of Wednesday, 16th March. The Smit Amandla salvage tug was dispatched from Cape Town to assist and reached the islands earlier this week. Unfortunately, when Smit Amandla left Cape Town the Oliva was still intact and thus the thought was of simply pulling her off the rocks. However, she broke apart and now authorities are busy chartering another ship to assist in the clean-up operation, and will bring with it an expert team from SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) to help clean the birds. The ship pictured here is the small Cape Town-based fishing vessel M/V Edinburgh, one of two ships in the area that went to the aid of the MS Oliva.

So what I'm asking is for you to take a few moments in your day to pray for the people of Tristan. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers. With so much oil being discharged from the wreck, the effect on the long-term livelihood of the islanders could be problematic. So in the midst of reading about wars and earthquakes elsewhere, remember the islanders today.

All photos here courtesy of my parents and myself. For more, visit the Tristan Da Cunha website here.

Traditional island cottages on Tristan.

The Potato Patches.

In the vicinity where MS Oliva ran aground. Nightingale Island is on the right.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins are now at threat...

... As are the Fur Seals.

Smit Amandla is currently down at Tristan to assess the situation.

South Africa's Environmental Affairs marine patrol ship Sarah Baartman may be used to assist in the clean-up operation.

SA Agulhas may also be an option as she carries two helicopters.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Silvermine Hike...

I went for a hike with my parents in Silvermine, an area of Table Mountain National Park, yesterday. It was lovely to walk in God's creation and enjoy the beauty of the indigenous vegetation and the spectacular views over various parts of the city. Here are some photos from this day. The photo at right is taken from the lookout point above Noordhoek.

We started from the dam at Silvermine.

Walking up the rough track above the dam.

An aggressive spider protects its web and nest in the Fynbos vegetation.

An erica, a plant in the Fynbos family.

The Silvermine radio mast visible here - this is from where much of Cape Town's radio and TV is transmitted.

Another plant in the Fynbos family.

A wild daisy.

Our dog Flicka sometimes thinks she's a mountain goat!

The King Protea - South Africa's national flower.

Looking towards Noordhoek and Long Beach.

A plant in the Protea family.

Looking down towards Hout Bay - Chapman's Peak Drive, on the route of the Cycle Tour, is visible here.

More indigenous plants.

I wish I was better at naming plants... This, I believe, is also a plant in the Fynbos family.

Heading back down to Silvermine Dam after a lovely hike.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Cycling my 21st Argus Cycle Tour...

The Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour is one of the world’s most scenic cycle races. Held on the second Sunday of March every year in Cape Town, it takes in a breathtaking trip around the Cape Peninsula. With over 35,000 participants from all walks of life, each individually timed, it holds the honour of being the world’s largest timed cycling event.

This year, the 34th Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour was held on the 13th of March and the 110 kilometre route was won in a time of 2 hours 32 minutes and 10 seconds by Tyler Day of Team Bonitas Medscheme. While the professionals may blitz the route, it is the social riders whose day it really is. The professionals leave at 06h15 while the last group leaves at around 10h00.

The sixty or so groups, containing roughly seven hundred cyclists each, leave at three minute intervals and, with each rider having seven hours to complete the event, there is ample time to enjoy the scenery. I used to be one of those cyclists who wouldn't look at the scenery, because it was simply too dangerous. This was when I would start up front in the faster groups; the groups that contain the ardent cycling enthusiasts. However, nowadays I have rediscovered the social side of cycling. I find the racing itself simply too dangerous. I take it easy, soak up the scenery and talk to people along the route. And, more importantly, for the fourth year running I cycled to create awareness for Mercy Ships – in Mercy Ships cycling kit and with a large flag mounted on my bike.

It is waiting for the 45 minutes in my start group that I realize that this is it. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about it that strikes something emotional deep down inside me. This is the Argus. It’s not as if my life revolves around the Argus, but the Argus is the pinnacle of the South African cycling season – and a Crawford family tradition. After the start, there is no time for nerves or emotions. Once the race has started, all your training and pre-race strategy is simply theory. It is now the time to put that theory into practice. It’s time to cycle the Argus.

All of us have our own personal goals – be it to beat one’s best, or simply to finish – and this year was a perfect one to set a good time and enjoy the ride as well. I have been cycling this race since I was seven and now, participating in my 21st tour, I can’t remember a day so perfect. The temperature didn't get much beyond the mid-20s (Celcius) and there was a light breeze blowing off the coast along much of the route. My Dad, Mom, brother and myself all started together this year – and my Dad, brother and I rode the whole route together from start to finish. Our strategy was simple. Cycle the flats together in the bunches, and then on the climbs go at our own speed and regroup at the top of each climb. It worked really well, since we are currently all evenly matched in terms of fitness.

The Cycle Tour swings out of Cape Town's CBD and heads along Eastern Boulevard towards the first climb of Edinburgh Drive – also known as Wynberg Hill. This is a climb that, despite its gradual gradient and rather short length, has the ability of separating the packs. Having come after around fifteen kilometres, it can be brutal. If you haven’t warmed up and aren’t in a comfortable gear yet, you can be left behind. The important thing is to position yourself near the front of the group just before the climb, so as to allow yourself to still be in touch when you go over the top.

The Tour then heads onto the long fast stretch of road called the Blue Route. The faster groups go at speeds of between 40 and 50km/h and the professionals touch 60km/h. One wrong move and the whole pack can be brought down. Concentration is, therefore, key.

After the Blue Route comes Boyes Drive, another testing climb added to the race in 2009 because of roadworks along the Main Road. This ascent climbs up above the beach at Muizenberg and then declines steeply to Kalk Bay, where the route joins Main Road. This narrow road winds along the eastern seaboard of the Cape Peninsula through the picturesque seaside villages of Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and Simon’s Town.

The next climb, Smitswinkel, comes several kilometres after Simon's Town. This is about five kilometres in length and starts out gradually and becomes steeper towards the top. It is here where the faster riders and good climbers can break. The top of this climb comes up to the main entrance to Cape Point Nature Reserve.

The road goes past the Cape Point Nature Reserve and down towards the halfway mark at 55 kilometres and then, from there on, through Scarborough and Misty Cliffs, on the western side of the Cape Peninsula. This part of the race is usually uneventful and the next twenty kilometres are easy cycling, with the wind making all the difference to one’s ability to stick with the pack.

The next major climb comes after 77 kilometres and is the scenic drive of Chapman’s Peak, a toll road that takes in breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Sentinel, a prominent mountain outcrop that watches over the entrance to Hout Bay, a popular tourist destination. Cycling up this climb is easy, as it is relatively gradual and the spectacular views numb the feelings of pain and cramp that tend to crop up at this late stage of the race, if you haven’t prepared properly.

After the climb of “Chappies”, cyclists sweep down into Hout Bay and, almost immediately, tackle “The Beast” of the Argus, Suikerbossie (Afrikaans: “Sugar bush”). Although only a couple of kilometres in length, it is the steepest climb and rises the highest of all the climbs in the Argus. It is here where either your training pays off or your lack of training comes back to haunt you.

From the top of Suikerbossie, the route winds through the upper-class suburbs of Camps Bay and Clifton, characterised by lovely white beaches, and to the finish in Green Point, under the shadow of the brand-new Cape Town Stadium. In the end my Dad (20th tour), brother (22nd tour) and I (21st tour) finished in 4 hours 16 minutes... And I'll definitely take that since I was aiming for a sub-five hour Argus! But ultimately, one’s time is not all that important. To finish is the main accomplishment and to be able to say that you have competed in the world’s largest timed cycling event is an achievement in itself. And yes, my mother did finish – somewhat slower than us, but she completed her 20th Argus within the cut-off time!

The Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour is truly a unique tour. Not only does it take in the beauty of the Cape Peninsula, but it also raises funds for Rotary projects and other worthy causes throughout Cape Town. The Cycle Tour is run by the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust in collaboration with the Cape Argus newspaper; Pick 'n Pay, the shopping chain; Pedal Power Association (PPA), the main cycling body in the Western Cape, and the Rotary Club of Claremont. The partnership between the Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town is also key to making this event so successful.

If you can get time off work, then book a flight and come over to Cape Town in early March 2012, and see what all the fuss is about! But, more importantly, be a part of an event that really makes a difference and will keep you coming back for more. You will not be disappointed! For more information on entering this prestigious event go to the official Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour website or the PPA website.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Tricycle Tour...

My two nephews cycled the 1,5 km Tricycle Tour earlier today - all part of the build-up to tomorrow's big event (seriously, so nervous right now!) in Cape Town. The photo here is of the start at Youngsfield Military Base in Cape Town. Here are some photos from this fun morning for the children...

Rhyenn ready in his start chute!

Jesse does not look happy about being overtaken!

But he is definitely happy to be running to the finish line!

Montassir and Shirley and my nephews.

Proud Uncle Murray!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Cape Argus Lifecycle Week...

In the week prior to the Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour, there are a number of events that lead up to the main event on the second Sunday of March. One of the main attractions is the Cape Argus Lifecycle Expo and Cycle Tour registration, held annually in the Good Hope Centre, from the Thursday to the Saturday before the tour. (Photo here of me at the Expo today.)

Here you collect your race pack and can browse through the many exhibits at one of the premier expos for recreation, health and fitness (and cycling, of course) in South Africa. There are always plenty of freebies to sample, although it is never wise trying out a new product just two days before a major event. (Photo here of the main exhibition hall.)

Another event that I am looking forward to is the Tricycle Tour on Saturday. This allows young children, aged two to four, the opportunity to tackle a 1,5 km course. Both my nephews are taking part and I'm sure I'll be an exhausted Uncle Murray trying to keep up with them on the course! And then the day after that is race-day Sunday - the Cycle Tour itself! The butterflies have begun... (Photo here of City of Cape Town marketing banners at the Expo.)