Destination Reviews

Road to solar power: Part 3 – Gariep dam

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The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Joseph Campbell

We choose the  Gariep Dam (👈 Interesting info on Gariep Dam)  as it is the largest dam in South Africa. The surface area is more than 370 square kilometres (140 sq mi).

when full. The shoreline circumference is some 435km’s long. Another reason was that we had friends there with a sailing boat, Footloose. Their owners, Blokkies and Anne-Marie were familiar with the dam and would act as our backup. The Free State Yacht Club, FSYC  members welcomed us with open arms. The Yacht Club is situated next to the Forever Resort and in a perfectly sheltered bay.

There were only light winds present but it was 100% overcast with light rain.

With two occupants, food, drinks and camping gear the pontoons were sitting deep into the water, not the ideal situation, but because of  Footloose’s Blokkies and Anne-Marie watching over us we took on the challenge to explore some of the Gariep Dam’s waters!



Improvements on the boat were that it now carried 2 x 260W solar panels as a roof with a potential power of 500W and 32V converted to 13V through a MPPT charge controller. Speed was up to 3kts/6km/h. Two 100A/H deep cycle batteries were used for backup power. In perfect conditions we were able to run two 40lbs trolling motors together, enhancing our speed and penetration ability into strong wind.

Off in the Wilderness

From the FSYC, Free state Yacht Club we cruised into the Main Basin, clockwise keeping near to the shore and went into all  the large bays and curves that the dam forms. Although we hard  100 percent cloud cover and fine drizzle we managed to cruise at a reduced speed for 8 hours continuously. This was an eye opener and proved that direct sunlight was not a main requirement for solar power to be produced. We managed to explore the northern side of the Main Basin.

We encountered perfect weather conditions in the Main Basin. Crocodile reef,  which stretches from the northern shoreline into the Main Basin for about a kilometre and hidden just  beneath the murky water’s surface should be avoided. The route to take is to  cruise from the FSYC parallel with the dam wall and abeam the southern tower  turn easterly in line with Sonop Island.

At Rudi’s Bay Footloose took us on tow to Pam’s Bay where we anchored on a buoy. We spend the afternoon with our backup crew, had a delicious supper and gladly slept protected from the elements inside Footloose.

The next morning Footloose unhooked us at Rudi’s bay so we could continue our trip. The weather improved and we rejoiced when the first sun rays broke through the clouds! Soon thereafter we could use both motors for propulsion. We passed by Porcupine passage and started our return trip to the FSYC bay, keeping near the southerly shore. We passed Christmas and Sonop Islands.

We decided to go on shore at Apies Bay. Footloose was anchored and Blokkies and Anne-Marie boarded  their tiny dingy and by electric propulsion  joined us at the bay where we explored an abandoned hunters camp.

A sudden strong wind forced us to be towed back to the safety of the Yacht club.

Thrown into the deep side!

The next day we had the privilege to join Footloose as crew members, participating in a regatta to the Oviston Tower and back. All sailing boats lined up near the dam wall, but due to lack of wind it took hours before the boats started moving.(If only we were allowed to participate in our solar boat!😃)

We had a good learning experience on Footloose and endured a severe thunderstorm later that afternoon.


We realized that we did not need full sunshine to be able to  cruise successfully with our solar powered boat. We also realized that weather was something to respectWhen Windfinder predicts a 27kts. wind at 11pm, believe it! 

This expedition made us more confident and we already set a new goal, to explore the whole of the Gariep Dam, but improvements in buoyancy will have to be made to our boat.

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