It has happened again, the wind has gone. We made about 130 miles in the first 24 hours but now we are stationary, so unless we stop off again before The Gambia it is now certainly Christmas at sea. A large liner came about a mile out of his way just to look at us this morning. My night watch tonight started at 9pm when I took over from Anthony. Andy and Mike were asleep as I had been a few minutes before. All was quiet on deck. There was a lot of phosphorescence in the water which really glows when disturbed, more than usual tonight. After about fifteen minutes on watch, out of the corner of my eye I saw two streaks of light about 15 feet long hurtling through the water towards the stern of the boat. Surprised and a little scared I turned to look as other streaks of light joined in converging on Maya at a startling speed. As the first light streak caught up with us it slowed to match our speed. I looked down through the water and saw a beautiful dolphin glowing in an ethereal light. It left a long luminous wake to mark its course. Every detail of its face was picked out in pure golden light, the eyes seeming to look back at me, the mouth appearing to smile through the water in greeting. As each dolphin in the school arrived in its own phosphorescent glow the sea became alive with light. Their wakes crossing each others and Maya’s. I called Anthony back on deck and for about half an hour we watched as the dolphins swam around, diving under Maya, swimming between the hulls, twisting and turning. Then, as suddenly as they came, the streaks of light broke away towards the distance and out of our sight. Anthony and I talked about what we had seen for a few minutes, then Anthony went down to his bunk and quiet descended.
The wind got up again during the night and stayed with us for the morning but it has gone again now. I have just come off my 3 hour day watch during which we did an incredible 2 miles. Since leaving Spanish Sahara we have only made 245 miles in 54 hours. Not good. We have decided to stop off at a place called St Louis which is on the border between Mauritania and Senegal. That is about 240 miles away so if this keeps up we might arrive about 1980. According to the pilot books It is the end of the Sahara which makes it sound interesting. They also say there is a sandbar across the entrance so it is not always possible to get in. We shall see.
The wind got up again during the night, this time with a vengeance, it was blowing a force 5 or thereabouts from the SE unfortunately. We had to change to our smallest headsail and reef down the main. The winds have dropped now, the reef is out of the main and the next size up headsail is on. We have come 327 miles in 72 hours. The entrance to St. Louis will probably be impassable in these seas so we may not be able to stop after all.
Well that was interesting! The sea calmed down so we decided to take a look at the entrance to St. Louis. It looked scary. There was water breaking everywhere, it looked more like rapids on a river than a harbour entrance. The pilot book says you should take on a local pilot to guide you through, but where would be the fun in that? With our centre-plate up we have quite a shallow draft, so we decided to find our own way through. Andy is the most experienced sailor on board, so he ‘volunteered’ to look for the best route through. To do that effectively you need to be able to look down on things, so we stuck him In a bosun’s chair and hoisted him to the top of mast. Hanging on for all he was worth he called out course changes using worrying language like ‘I think it looks like it might be a bit clearer over there’. Despite this we negotiated the white water to the clear calm water beyond. This is where we will spend Christmas.
Very warm here which makes it seem less like Christmas. As we are not where we expected to be we have no cards or presents to open. We didn’t think to buy for each other. Actually I did have one present, a book of horror stories from the Auntie we stayed with before we left England. There was a split on the best way to celebrate this evening. Andy and I decided to go ashore for a meal, Anthony and Mike decided to stay on the boat. What Andy and I had neglected to consider was that this is a predominately Muslim country, so there was nothing different today from any other day. Probably as a hang over from colonial days the government and civil service got the day off, but everything else was open as normal. The restaurants with their normal menus. Andy and I had a nice, non-Christmassy meal and then returned to the boat. Anthony’s girlfriend had provided a Christmas pudding for Anthony to take with him. Mike and Anthony had shared it, so they had a more Christmassy meal than us. Still, it was nice to be somewhere quiet and have no watches to stand.
St Louis is on the coast of Senegal. If I look across the river I see Mauritania. Once again they hardly ever have any tourists here. The population is about 30,000, of which only about 300 are white so we are fairly unusual. We are all suffering from shock at the prices, an example of which is about 12p for an egg, about the same for a postcard. It is possible to knock prices down by as much as half by bargaining but the language here is french which none of us are fluent in. As everything costs so much I doubt whether we will stay here long. When we leave we will stop at Dakar, the capital of Senegal, to get charts of the Gambia river where we expect to spend most of January. It is only about 250 miles to Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, so even with a stop a Dakar it shouldn’t take more than a week. There are not really any places to stop in between Dakar and Banjul, so we might even arrive there this time.
My Christmas present was a book called “A little night reading” consisting of twenty horror stories apparently selected by the Irish comedian Dave Allen. Not the most obvious choice. It is now being read and enjoyed by two people, I shall read it when they have finished. There is a shortage of reading material on the boat, and what there is is quite an odd mix. We have books by Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Mann, Thomas Hardy, Homer, and some Tibetan literature which Mike recommends. It does mean I am trying out some new authors. I have read and enjoyed Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and some of both Thomas Mann and Kurt Vonnegut. Currently I am reading The Illiad, translated into English obviously, and I am finding it surprisingly enjoyable. Apparently one of the Tibetan books is the source of the name ‘Maya’, so that will have to be explored at some point.
Mike came back from a trip ashore yesterday having met someone he was in Vietnam with. What are the chances of that? Mike stopping here on a random diversion, the friend working here with his family. A long stretch of the coast here is protected by the sandbar and today we have decided to move further south in the protected area to a district called Gandiol. We brought Mike’s friend along for the ride, towing his speedboat so that he could get home. Speedboats are not great things to tow. They have no keel so they tend to skim around on the surface of the water jerking at the towing rope in a worrying fashion, but we made it and are now at a much quieter anchorage with a couple of other yachts.
Happy Birthday Dad! Hope you have a good day. Today we met a German couple who have a house here. They used to live here but moved back to Germany so that their children would go to German schools. They kept their house here for holidays. We got chatting and they invited us around for dinner. The introduced us to a local dish called Tieb-udien. It consists of rice, fish, and many vegetables all placed in a large dish from which everyone eats with their fingers. You have to judge which is your portion and it is bad manners to intrude on other people’s sections. You must also only eat with your right hand. After we had eaten their Senegalese staff joined us for tea, which is quite a serious business. The tea is very very sweet, served in glasses and you are supposed to slurp it noisily as you drink. We all really enjoyed the evening.
Anne - What a conundrum! Wonder how they got the baby out of its nationality time warp!
We are now heading for Dakar. We were originally only going to spend a day there, but some people in St. Louis said that it was interesting so we may spend longer The tide times meant we had to leave St Louis early to ensure there was enough water to get over the sandbank. The journey is only about 100 miles, and we obviously want to arrive in daylight as we have never been there before. So for this bit of the voyage we are actually trying to go slowly, we need to take at least 24 hours. We will be spending New Year’s Eve and some of new year’s day at sea.
The new year went completely un-celebrated. I was asleep as I had to be on watch at 5am. We have arrived in Dakar and anchored. There are a number of other boats anchored here and what looks like a gorgeous and popular beach. We are mainly here to get charts, but knowing Mike we will end up spending a few days here.
I know we are in Dakar now, but there is one more thing about St. Louis I forgot to mention, the fishing. The boats in the fishing fleet are shaped like large canoes. The are made of wood and all are brightly painted, many with a large eye painted on the bows. Some are sailed, some paddled, all work from the beach on the Atlantic side of the St. Louis sandbar. The fishing boats have to negotiate the surf which pounds against the beach as they leave and as they return. To see them surfing onto the beach at the end of a day’s fishing is spectacular. The fish are unloaded on to the sand and the fish market starts. The fishing seems to be done by the men, the selling by the women. The asking price is always high and starts the bargaining, something I am rubbish at but which everyone seems to enjoy. The day I was sent off to buy fish for dinner my shipmates made it very clear they all thought my negotiation skills needed work. The fresh caught fish was delicious though.
I have never been to the South of France but I think that is the image for which Dakar is aiming. Senegal, in one form or another, has been independent from France for about 15 years. In Dakar the French influence is still obvious. It looks and feels like a European city, with the beach being where the beautiful people come. The sea is clear and warm. From Maya’s anchorage it is easy to swim to the beach and relax for a while. With the boats anchored nearby there is a neighbourly feel, similar to the harbour at Santa Cruz. I suspect we may stop here for a while.
There is a often movement between the boats in the harbour. Dinghies row back and forth, sometimes stopping at another boat, other times just pausing on the way to somewhere else with a brief dinghy to boat exchange. Coffee, tea and alcohol are drunk. Books, magazines and stories swapped. Information is exchanged about places visited, rumours and third-hand tales about places yet to be seen. Plans are laid, voyages charted, dreams formed and reformed. Today one of our visitors had fallen asleep on the deck of her boat while sunbathing.
It was a hot day today, so I dived into the warm water to cool off. I had been in the water for a few minutes when I felt a sharp pain in my chest, like a small electric shock. Another on my back caused me to spin around. I looked into the water and discovered I was surrounded by jellyfish. More painful stings as I swam back to Maya through the jellyfish. Anthony and Andy helped me on board. Pink and blotchy is not a good look.
Tessa - Maybe this is where my fear of jelly fish comes from! x
Mike managed to get charts of The Gambia today. One problem. Senegal is an ex French colony and the French will insist on being very French about everything. So the only charts available of the English speaking Gambia, are in French. Still with the charts and Pilot books we will be fine. It is really exciting to see the river laid out before us for the first time.
I was having lunch today when I lost a filling from a tooth. It does not hurt at the moment but I should probably get it re-filled before we cross the Atlantic. I have not looked into the cost yet but I imagine it will be expensive and I don’t think it will be covered by my insurance. I will try to find somewhere to get it done in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia.
It is beginning to look as if we may never Dakar. Mike is seriously considering staying here and chartering the boat from here. I think it was mentioned by his old Vietnam friend as a possibility. If he does decide to stop then I, along with the rest of the crew, would have to leave the boat. I don’t really know what I would do. I suppose I could either find another boat or just travel around Africa, Asia and Europe for a bit, either of which would be quite enjoyable. It is not really that important that I stay with the boat, or that I go to the Caribbean.
Today three perfectly toned and tanned visitors arrived by speedboat from the beach. Two were men wearing trunks, the other a woman wearing only the briefest bottom half of a bikini. She asked if it would be ok to come aboard and look around the boat. We said it was fine so they tied up, came aboard, and had a quick look around. The two men then jumped back in the speedboat and started the engine, ready to go. The young lady decided to stop and chat for a while. Anthony, Andy and I were all sitting on the starboard side of the cockpit, Mike was on the port side. She stood on the starboard side cockpit locker as she chatted. She asked where we had come from, where we had stopped, and where we were heading. What was it like sailing around and what did we do to occupy ourselves. She generally made us all feel like seasoned adventurers. Mike was not really joining in, so I looked over to see if he was ok. The position of the boom meant that the young lady could not really see him, while he could see everything from her neck down without being observed. He seemed to be in a trance. He awoke when she said goodbye and left in the speedboat with her two impatient companions. I think Mike likes Dakar even more now.
We have not received any post for a few weeks, because we have been telling people to write to The Gambia . Mike is still unsure about what he wants to do, so Anthony and I have decided to go overland to Banjul. At the very least we can get the post. We leave tomorrow.