Sunday, September 27, 2015

Nomad Across The Atlantic, The Gambia to Suriname

Nomad set full sail as soon as she was clear of the  docks at Banjul with an ebb tide helping here along. By sunset the tide had slacked off and the wind became light, out of the west. Not wanting to drift through the local fishing fleet barely making way, I started motoring west to get away from the coast and it's fishing boats. The forecast called for light west winds veering to the northwest by the time we crossed the longitude of the Cape Verde Islands. This was Nomad's first ever tradewind passage, and it was to be the easiest passage she has yet made.  Once solidly into the tradewind zone, it was 21 days of 15 to 25 knots of wind on the starboard quarter with no sail handling other than dropping a few panels on the main as the wind picked up every afternoon and putting it back up late in the evening.

 Kris was catching a number of  smaller fish that were good to eat and several remora fish (not so tasty, we started throwing them back in the ocean) that would suction themselves to the deck when
brought aboard The best fish of the trip was a mahi mahi that measured 150 cm from nose to tail.
The biggest mahi mahi yet on Nomad
The best bait for mahi mahi

Sailing north of the South American continent and closing the coast brought us into huge fields of sargassum seaweed that would foul the fishing lines and taffrail log. The seaweed would also accumulated in great bunches on the windvane's water paddle and cause the safety tube to break. This was becoming a big problem because I had broken the last spare belt for the autopilot and after breaking three safety tubes for the windvane there was only one of those left. Fortunately the schooner balances very well and we steered by hand for a few days with only occasion input from the person on the helm.

Large mats of sargassum overloaded the windvane
Heading into the Suriname river from the sea bouy, we encountered a large squall while working through the entrance channel. This was the first rain we had since leaving Morocco many months before.  It was rainy season here when we arrived and the heavy rains became a daily part of life for us here for the next two months until the dry season began.   Nomad was salt free in a very short time and the many months accumulation of  red dust from West Africa on the sails and lines soon washed away.

Clearing into Suriname was a painless process after we got the boat settled in and a good nights rest. Formalities need to be done here within three or four days of arrival, a pleasant change from be met on the dock freshly in from the sea.  Now it is time to enjoy watching hurricane season pass by to the north with no possibility of being hit by one and catch up on some much needed maintenance  and boat projects.
Anchored in Domburg Suriname watching the sunset over Paramaribo

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Gambia

It was an uneventful overnight sail from Dakar, Senegal to Banjul, The Gambia.The best laid plans were again changed by the winds that grew light as Nomad approached the coast and it became another 0130 arrival at the anchorage.  Entering the mouth of the Gambia river well after sunset Nomad was brought to an abrupt halt under full sail by an unseen fishing net. It caught on the bobstay shackle and could not be pushed off until all the sail was taken down. After clearing the net and waiting for the wind to blow us away from the net, we resumed sailing towards Half Die at the port of Banjul. With the radar not working again, it was a bit of a challenge working around the fishing gear and numerous wrecks in the harbor. The next afternoon formalities were completed and the diesel was topped off in anticipation of the long trip upriver.  Three days was enough time to check out the town of Banjul and pick up some fresh produce  at the Prince Albert market. When it was time to go, the anchor came up with old fishing gear and steel cables wrapped around it. Once that mess was cleared off, we sailed an unmarked channel to the more tranquil anchorage in Lamin Bolon. It was a surprise to make the last turn and see quite a number of sailboat masts sticking up above the mangroves. The area near Peter's Lamin Lodge was not only a quiet anchorage but is also a good place to leave the boat with easy access to the airport. The water here was warm enough for swimming and night swims with the phosphorescence became a favorite pastime.
We were only here a few days, eager to begin the journey up the Gambia river. The tidal currents in the river are very strong so all travel is done only with a favorable current. The first day's anchorage was near Lamin Pt., so we could sail by James island the next day. This is a very small island with a fort on it across from the village of Juffere, made famous in Alex Haley's novel "Roots". A few miles beyond James island is Sami Bolon, where we made our next anchorage early enough for some swimming and walking about on shore

Colorful Gambian clothes being made at the Prince Albert Market


Inside the Prince Albert Market

Exploring an old wreck in Banjul
 Mandori Creek is a special place, the type of anchorage that cruisers dream about: a deepwater creek navigable for miles inland with no weather concerns, interesting scenery, easy shore access and completely uninhabited except for the occasional fishermen. This is the kind of place one can swim ashore ,climb through the mud and walk around the savanna imagining that you are the first human to crawl out of the sea. The mangroves are covered with oysters below the high tide line, best eaten roasted over a fire onshore at sunset. As we moved further inland, it became noticeably warmer the further we went upriver. Thirty six at Mandori creek and over forty degrees by the time we reached Jan Jan Bureh. This was quite a contrast the the chill of the north Atlantic just offshore. Nomad would return here again for nearly a week on the downriver part of the trip.
Mangroves on Mandori creek

Anchored on Mandori creek

James Island

Sami Bolon

Mandori creek

Sailing from Mandori creek withe the tide made for an easy days run to an anchorage on the main river at Madina creek. The next morning we picked up the anchor to move across the river closer to the ferry landing for a shorter dinghy ride ashore. The dinghy was beached among the fishing boats and the fishermen showed us where to tie the line so it would not be underwater when we came back. We took a taxi into Farafenni to the immigration office to renew our Gambian visa. While awaiting the person with the appropriate stamp to arrive we chatted with the immigration officer who invited us to visit his farm on the coast. The hospitality of the Gambian people is amazing everywhere we stopped.  They call The Gambia "the smiling coast of Africa". Official business done, it was time to find a cold beer before walking back to the ferry landing. We found the cold refreshments with the help of DJ Scotel, a well known local dj at thelocal  radio station. By chance we met him again on the downbound trip and he invited us to his home for lunch.

Kris, DJ Scotel and Lyza

 With our visas renewed for another twenty eight days, Nomad continued working upriver with the tides. Seahorse island looked interesting on the chart, so it became the next anchorage that we would explore. The island is covered with mangroves as tall as a four story building and so dense that  you could not get into the island. Since exploring the island proved impossible, we decided to row up Dankunko creek where the occasional local boats were coming and going from. This was to lead to the most interesting experience we had in The Gambia. Some distance inland we came to a bridge with a boat tied up to it and a footpath leading away in both directions. We walked several kilometers through the countryside thinking we may find a village. Away from the impenetrable mangrove wall that lined the banks of the saltwater portion of the Gambia river, one can see the actual landscape: ridges, hills, red rocks and dust and the iconic baobob trees. We stopped to check out a particularly large baobob tree and decided to push on a little further before turning back.Soon we came upon a small village far from any road. Not knowing what to expect, we walked towards the village and saw a large group of people resting in the shade of a large mango tree. We greeted them and were promptly invited to join them for attaya, the sweet green tea that is enjoyed everywhere in west Africa. The attaya is brewed three times in a ritual that is part tea drinking and part time to enjoy conversation while it is being brewed. We talked with them for some time and were invited to the Ceesay family compound for dinner, where we were introduced to their father. As the sun went down, we were invited to stay the night at their compound. I expressed concern about the boat being anchored with no light on it and the dinghy tied to a bridge many kilometers away. Everyone assured me that it would be safe there, so we accepted their invitation. We were treated with the typical Gambian hospitality and fed to the point of bursting. Benachin was served in the traditional way by the women who then retired to their own area with the children to eat. As a guest , Lyza sat with Kris and I with the men on mats and we ate with our hands in the traditional style out of a huge bowl of food, and finished up with more baobob juice, sorel and one more round of attaya. There is no electicity service here, so everyone uses flashlights and the light from their cell phones to light the way and to avoid scorpions walking about town at night. We were invited to the local mosque which was having a special holiday where the Koran is read all night and was attended by people from all the nearby villages. The next day we were taken for a walk around town and fed again.I was shown a place by a small creek of the main river where we could anchor much closer to the village if we would stop by again. Not having any visible landmarks and only a general idea of where I was, I memorized what it looked like and the boat that was there and did manage to locate it on our return visit. Asking about the new room being built in their compound, I was told that they always keep a room ready in case anyone who stopped by needed a place to stay the night. The girls in the compound made us bead bracelets before we departed, us promising that we would return to Sambang Nyugh Kunda on our way down river.
Hiking inland

Baobob tree

Sambang Nyugh Kunda

Lyza dancing with the children in Sambang

Lyza with the women's group in Sambang

 Leaving Sea Horse island, continued working our way upriver with stops at Balingar Hill where we found the reported abandoned village on to of the hill being rebuilt, Kau Ur, Bantanta creek and Kudang. Coming into Kudang, we passed a line to a fisherman and towed him to the village, saving him a few kilometer of paddling upstream. The next day we were shown around Kudang and visited their school. We walked the path inland to Kudang Tenda on the main road in search of fresh vegetable and were surprised to hear someone call us by name. It was a Peace corp worker that we had met at Lamin Lodge.  Seeking some quiet nature time, the anchor was brought in and we sailed upriver to Bird Island, where we saw our first hippos resting in the shallows at the ends of the island.They could be heard swimming nearby at night, unseen.
The Gambia river from one of the few hills along the riverbank

Balingar hill

We were invited to eat everywhere we stopped

Kudang, all the children want to hold hands with the tubop (white person)

Escorted back to the dinghy by nearly all the children in town

One of the rare days the wind was not against us on the river
 Nomad was anchored near the ground nut warehouse and dock in Kuntaur, the last village before going through the Baboon Islands which are a national park with special
sailing rules to protect the wildlife. In Kuntaur we made friends with people who worked at the local hospital. The nurse who worked there lived on the hospital
grounds and showed us around the facility explaining that the doctor only came by a few times a month to perform operations.The people here accomplish amazing things
with very little staff and minimal supplies. A short walk brought us to the next village, Wassu, where we visited the pre-historic stone circles there which were
explained to us by the Stoneman, caretaker of the stones for many years and a good storyteller.

The Stoneman telling the story of the stone circles of Wassu

We are always a big attraction with the children in every town.

Nomad anchored in Kuntaur
Carefully following the prescribed route, we went through the Baboon islands the next day enjoying the scenery but were disappointed that we did not see any baboons there, although we did see some further upriver outside the park. Now in fresh water the waterside environment changed, most notably the mangroves were gone allowing us a view inland from the river. The river became narrower and the daytime temperatures were over 40C. We anchored downstream of the ferry landing in Jan Jan Bureh after checking out the overhead power line that sagged to near masthead height in mid river. I checked the depth at low tide on the north bank and it appears that by staying with two meters of the shore there should be safe clearance for my 14 meter mast height.This power line provides electricity to Jan Jan Bureh and several other towns. There is not enough capacity, so each town only gets electricity for a few hours each day. Trying to find an ice cold beer could be challenging at times here. We stayed here several days, making friends with one of the water taxi drivers.We were invited to dinner at his compound where we asked them to show us how to make domoda, a tasty ground nut soup served over rice, and baobob juice. I also got hands on instruction on pouring attaya, which takes some practice to do without spilling it.

From Jan Jan Bureh, we decided to head back downriver instead of pushing further inland. Downbound we stopped and visited the many friends that we made on the journey upriver. Riding the tide downbound, the ebb current lasts a few hours less than the flood making for short travelling days.  We eventually found our way back to our favorite anchorage in Mandori creek, where we spent nearly a week before anchoring again in Lamin Bolon. Lamin is a great place to stay for awhile. It is a short walk from the lodge to the village on the main road, where the markets have most things needed.The local cashew wine here is especially good and not very expensive. From Lamin, it is a bus ride to the markets and supermarkets in Westfield and Seerekunda which are much nicer than those in Banjul. Most anything can be found there. In Kanifing, cooking gas(butane) is available and it is no problem to carry your gas bottles in the bus. We renewed our visas in Banjul one more time and stayed nearly a month in Lamin Bolon before deciding it was time to head across the Atlantic while the summer weather was still quiet. On the first day of June, we pulled the anchor up from Lamin Bolon and anchored at Banjul to refuel and clear out. The formalities were completed easily as we now knew where to go. Good clean fuel is available at the end of the fishing dock. We had become friends with the senior bunkering officer from Total fuels, who patiently filled our fuel jugs with his fishing boat sized fuel pump and nozzle with almost no spillage. With all the pre-departure chores done we returned to the boat to make final preparations for the upcoming voyage and get a good nights rest before leaving on the morning's ebb tide for Suriname. 
There's a lot of boats in Lamin Bolon

Lamin Lodge

Markets on the highway in Lamin

The savanna near Lamin

Monkeys hanging around Lamin Lodge


Alex and the ground nut shop in Lamin

Monday, September 7, 2015

Dakar Senegal

The sun was setting as the last port of call in Morocco disappeared behind us in the dust laden wind. Nomad carefully picked her way through the fishing fleet of trawlers and large canoes found off nearly every African port, many of them with out regular navigation lights. The initial course was set to get us offshore into deep water away from the fishing boats before changing course for Cap Vert. On the first night out, there were some squalls with lightning and shifting winds which caused an unplanned jibe that tore the mainsail and bent the boom gallows. This was to be the last rain Nomad would be in until reaching South America several months later as we sailed into the dry season south of the Sahara desert. With the excitement of the first night finished, the rest of the eight day sail into Dakar was uneventful. Cap Vert was passed at a respectful distance and we sailed by Gore Island and past the busy commercial port in Dakar to anchor near the CVD (Cercle de la Voile Dakar) in Plage de Hann. A boat from the navy stopped by to inspect us as we were getting ready to go ashore. When they departed we went ashore and located the club manager who gave us detailed instructions about where to clear in and set us up with a taxi driver to take us to each of the offices we needed to visit. Despite getting a late start, with the taxi drivers knowledge of where to go we managed get the multitude of forms filled out and stamped  and visas put in our passports before closing time. The usual assortment of repairs required after a voyage were completed and some time was spent exploring the local area. A trip was made to the Pasteur Institute in Dakar to get yellow fever vaccine. This cost about $12 USD, considerably less than the $110 to $200 I had been quoted in USA and Canada! This was the only trip we made into Dakar other than for clearing in and out as the local markets in Plage de Hann had everything we needed without the crowds and traffic of the big city.This was our introduction to sub-Saharan Africa which was very different from Morocco. The anchorage here was reasonably quiet, but the brisk wind that came up every afternoon made rowing to and from the boat a wet workout. CVD chaged us  a daily rate for the boat and per person for the use of their facilities which included internet and use of their water taxi, if you could catch it. The location was good with produce vendors just outside the gate and the big market area with fresh caught fish and a fuel pump on the beach just a short walk away. After nine days here we were ready for the overnite sail to The Gambia. We had made two trips into Dakar already so to save a few dollars we decided to walk into the city to visit the officials to clear out. The Port of Dakar is a big place and we ended up at the wrong end of it. Seeing that we were unsure of where to go , two policemen who were directing traffic  motioned for us to get in their car and gave us a ride through the port to the police office that we needed  to find for outward clearance. Once there, we found our way to the other offices with no problems and walked back to CVD for a late afternoon departure. 
Sunrise near Cap Vert

Fresh produce for sale everywhere

Fish market, Plage de Hann

Another load of fresh fish

Local bus; if they are full,you can ride standing on the back bumper

Dakar railway station, now an art gallery. the chairs are made from beer bottle lids

Locally made sculpture for sale

Inside the old railway station

The anchorage at Plage de Hann

Chilling out at the CVD yacht club

Boatyard at Plage de Hann

Dinghy landing at the yacht club
More market area near the beach

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Dakhla Morocco

Nomad arrived in Dakhla Morocco after an uneventful four day sail from Los Cristianos Tenerife at night, as usual. The sun had set while sailing south around the extensive shoals off the peninsula that Dakhla was located on. Motoring about the bay in a twenty knot breeze looking for a place to anchor or land at night can be challenging as there is no details of the inner harbors on the charts. After checking out the whole length of the wharf and seeing no protection from the one meter waves rolling down its face I was turning around to seek an anchorage and saw a car flashing it's headlights. Manuevering carefully between two ships and their mooring cables to get withing shouting distance of the dock, we were told to follow them around the wharf and they would show us the way into the small craft harbor. Cautiously hugging the wharf and steering directly towards the shallow areas, we were directed into a basin that was much larger and deeper than indicated on the chart and tied to a tugboat where we were met by all the officials. Having been to a number of Moroccan ports before, I knew what to expect and had everything ready. Formalities were completed and the passports stamped by 2200. The wharf in Dakhla is some distance out in the bay connected to the shore by a long causeway making every trip into town a long hike although we got the occasional ride. As the sun rose we were greeted by another fishing harbor with a dusty,windswept desert landscape very different from the other Moroccan ports we had visited. Over the next six days we visited the town taking in the sights and sounds of a desert town in the western Sahara that gets few visitors. Nomad's galley was well stocked with the culinary delights of Moroccan cuisine that we knew would not be available again as we made our way down the African coast.The port charges were the same here as in other ports, it is a standard rate, "lets see what they charged in the last harbor...", paid in Dirhams. We  had to shift the boat three times to allow the tug to get out, but this allowed us easy access to the wharf without having to adjust out docklines for the two meter tides. Nomad made a late afternoon departure with the tide and had cleared the Dakhla sea bouy as the sun was setting, sailing for Dakar Senegal.

Riding into town

One of many Mosques

Veggie market

Walking into town under clear, dusty skies

Dakhla truck stop

Nomad on the wall awaiting the tugboat's return 
Young fishermen

Street market

Retired fishing boat

Nomad's berth in Dakhla