Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Cape Doctor

I have been holding onto my hat since last Friday. And my shirt. And my glasses. And the patio furniture. And everything else nearby that wasn’t bolted to the ground. The reason was that the Cape Doctor came to visit.

‘Cape Doctor’ is the affectionate (?) name Capetownians give to the vicious southeasterly wind that blows periodically across the Cape peninsula during the summer months. Most of the time, it is just the ‘southeaster’, but when the wind really picks up, people say the Doctor has arrived. It is the reason that the cape of Good Hope is also called the Cape of Storms.

I’m not entirely sure why the wind is called the Doctor, but the internet tells me that the likely reason is that it clears out the smoke and haze and usually any trash lying on the ground. So the Doctor is good for the city. Certainly, the air is spectacularly clear after the Doctor has left, with bright sunshine. Like today.

One other effect of the southeaster in all its form is that it puts a tablecloth on Table Mountain. Moist air is blown from False Bay up the mountain where it forms a cloud. When it reaches the other side of the mountain it descends, and the cloud disappears.

The tablecloth during a mild southeaster

The tablecloth when the Doctor has come to visit.
My first memory of the Doctor was when my family visited Cape Town in 1960. We were totally unprepared for what happened when the Doctor arrived. We had never been in a situation where it wasn’t possible to walk into the wind and couldn’t stop running when with the wind. Of course, in a city the venturi effect plays a big role, increasing the wind speed as it rushes between buildings. I remember that on a number of city corners, people were stationed to catch pedestrians who walked from behind a building into the gale. Without the catchers, the poor pedestrian would be propelled into the traffic.

Last year, Mette and I were downtown when the wind picked up. We could only laugh as we clung to lampposts waiting for a break to run to the next one. And a few years ago, when I started the Argus cycle race, I had to get off my bike to push it through a tunnel under a building. A couple of years later, the wind was even worse and the race was called off.

I don’t have the words to do justice to a Doctor experience, so here are some photos and video clips.

What happened to the truck?

The trees have adapted.

I wouldn't park where that white car is.


  1. I thought it was called the Cape Doctor because it killed or cured!

    1. Cures are few and far between - maybe curing the insanity to want to go out and ride in that weather.

  2. Knysna has just been wet. Very wet. But the wind is not spectacular.

  3. Wow, and I thought the winds on Mykonos (called "the island of the winds") were fierce. No wonder so many South African Greeks now living on Mykonos hardly seem to notice its winds.

  4. You have to love the lady in green in the first video.