Landfall in Africa

A big pirogue sets out from Hann beach

Landfalls never cease to make our adrenaline flow. Whether it’s the anticipation of a new country, or in this case, continent, there’s a delicious sense of reward, of simple achievement in having made our own way there. There’s also a frisson of nerves, as you move from the vast and largely empty ocean back into the inshore minefield of fishing vessels and nets, and the busy maritime comings and goings of a major port. I’m always more nervous at this stage than at any other time on a passage, eyes scanning the horizon for the human dangers that could trip us up at the last hurdle. And that’s in daylight—night entries are far, far worse.

So as we made our final approach to Dakar, Senegal, we slowed Pèlerin down during the night to see us arrive off Cap Vert at dawn, so that we could make our entrance in daylight. And as the sun came up, the skyline took shape in the early morning haze. Dakar is one of the oldest and most important ports in west Africa, but the face it presents at first acquaintance from seaward is one of vast statues and high rise buildings—it could be any modern city anywhere in the world.

Busy Waters

But we weren’t just looking at the view. We’d been warned of the difficulty of spotting the local fishing vessels, pirogues, long slender craft with little freeboard, and in the swell that was running that wasn’t easy. According to friends who have sailed down this coast at night, it’s not a surprise to meet one of these craft miles out to sea, equipped only with a torch (if you’re lucky) to warn you of their presence. Many have been reported lost in recent years, run down by trawlers fishing illegally inshore, often with their navigation lights off.

And suddenly our first pirogue appeared, less than half a mile away, cresting a swell. As it passed astern of us, the single occupant gave us a cheery wave and continued heading resolutely out to sea. For the next few hours we threaded our way through a small flotilla of these craft, before hardening up for the approach to the port, passing the ancient slaving centre of Ile de Gorée, and up into the anchorage at Hann.

It’s So Nice When It Stops

The CVD has its own pontoon and club launch.

Where we gratefully dropped anchor off the splendid Cercle de la Voile de Dakar (CVD), the very welcoming (and very French) yacht club that acts as the main port of call for all visiting yachts. After an eight day passage we were obviously pretty shattered, even though it hadn’t been a really tough one—by keeping over 100 nm offshore from Cap Blanc in Mauretania, we avoided the strongest of the winds, seeing nothing more than a steady Force 6, and that from over the stern—great sailing. But we had enough to keep us occupied, threading our way through the steady stream of shipping making its way up and down the African coast, and tidying up the usual wear and tear.

Next morning revealed another more ancient side to Dakar, and not just visually either. The beach at Hann is a busy centre and fish market for the piroguiers, who land and clean their catch here. The beach is a hive of activity, what with the launching, recovery and repair of pirogues big and small; and the smell of rotting fish ashore in the heat of the African day reminds you that this is very much a working port, not some yachtie conception of paradise.

Life for the pirioguiers is far from easy, though. As one told me, ‘if we are in good health, out we go’—there are few days off around here. And there is an almost universal complaint about the huge foreign factory trawlers that are massed just offshore, strip mining the coastal waters of these small African nations, some of the last really productive waters of the world. The piroguiers claim that their catches are falling dramatically as a result of the big trawlers taking everything in the ocean, even the smallest fish, leaving them with hungry families and nothing to sell. In a poor nation where fish forms 75% of the protein consumed by the local population, the longer term consequences of this over-exploitation are potentially far more serious. Hard times here have already led many young people to take the desperate measure of setting off in these self-same pirogues for the Canary Islands, many tragically never to reach that promised land.

Great People

Not that any of this hardship seems to be reflected in their general good nature. People are almost always polite and friendly to us, and have been incredibly helpful in every way. There’s no doubt that the presence of the visiting yachts is welcomed financially, where everything (food, fuel, water, etc.) has to be ferried out by the CVD ferry and staff. On site at the CVD, there’s a sailmaking shop and two mechanics specializing in inboard and outboard motor repair, as well as welding and basic engineering. Yachts up to around 45-ft can be hauled out on trailers for antifouling and repair on the beach, and prices are all very reasonable indeed. It’s all simple, functional and very African, and generates much needed local income.

But where are the visiting yachts? The boatman at the CVD tells us that at this time of year there should be as many as 50 visiting yachts at anchor here, waiting to head for the great rivers to the south, the Siné Saloum, Gambia and Casamance. This year there are only 30, and some of them have obviously been left here to die. Ours is the only British flag, plus one from Brazil and one from Belgium—all the others are French. The extra 20 yachts that should be here have left a big hole in the local balance sheet, and they’re sadly missed. So the global financial crisis affects all levels of humanity.

We’re always intensely aware how lucky we are to be able to travel the globe in this way, and in a way our affluence often embarrasses us. But when I try to explain this to the boatman who takes us out to Pèlerin, he says no, no we’re his lifeline, and our presence means his kids won’t go hungry tonight, he’s very glad indeed that we’re here—and please, tell your friends to come too.

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Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

36 comments… add one
  • Phyllis Dec 9, 2012, 2:34 pm

    What a beautiful introduction to Dakar and its people. You presented the issues they face so compassionately. I am enraged by the overfishing of the foreign trawlers and the hardship this is causing the locals. The ramifications of overfishing have adversely affected the outports of southern Newfoundland as well, as I wrote about this past summer, but the consequences are not as severe for the Newfoundlanders as for the Senegalese (i.e. starvation or death in a bid to get to the Canaries). When will we as a species learn to live at least somewhat sustainably?

  • Gerald Dec 9, 2012, 9:45 pm

    Greed seems to be a basic human instinct unfortunately.

    • Colin Speedie Dec 13, 2012, 10:29 am

      Hi Phyllis and Gerald

      Greed is certainly at the root of this problem. And the end losers will be the coastal people of these poor African nations, as usual.

      The looting of their fisheries has further implications, too, in that it fuels the bush meat trade (devastating local wildlife stocks) and also desertification through increased grazing by livestock, as people who have relied on fish as their major source of protein seek an alternative.

      And it’s not only foreign vessels from the other side of the world that are culpable – major EU nations are involved, too. It’s a shameful business that reflects badly on us all.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Denis Bone Dec 10, 2012, 8:38 am

    I suspect the recent rash of piracy might have something to do with the lack of visiting yachts. Denis (Nigeria)

    • Gerald Dec 10, 2012, 2:57 pm

      Which is self defeating behavior as piracy increases yachts will decrease which (perhaps) increases piracy even more. And eventually major shipping will be allowed to protect itself better (read deadly force). At that point the only targets left will be the yacht set. The governments of the pirating countries are the only real answer but it appears at this point piracy is bringing in too much revenue to the countries for them to take other than lip service action to control it.

      • Colin Speedie Dec 13, 2012, 10:24 am

        Hi Denis, Gerald,

        Nobody mentioned piracy when we were there, and as far as I’m aware there have been no cases involving yachts in the Senegal/Gambia area. That’s not to say that there isn’t a need for sensible precautions – which we, of course, took ourselves – but that it’s often the case that people conflate the problems in the Indian Ocean or of tankers off Nigeria and transpose them geographically.

        We spent several months travelling in Morocco last year, and travelled independently into the mountains and desert. Everywhere we went we were very well received, and enjoyed nothing but kindness and goodwill. But prior to our going there we had people tell us that we were mad to go.

        Personally, I’d be more scared of going to the worst parts of some of my homelands major cities!

        Best wishes

        Colin

  • Stephen Sheppard Dec 10, 2012, 11:00 am

    Great post Colin! One day…

    • Colin Speedie Dec 13, 2012, 10:29 am

      Hi Stephen

      It’ll come – just keep the dream alive…

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Nicolas Dec 10, 2012, 12:21 pm

    Think the fisheries of Mauretania & West Sahara suffered severely due to unrestricted fishing fleets, giving coastal villagers the choice of starvation or emigration. Some made it their open boats to the Canaries.

    Colin, did you stop in Mauretania, and if yes did you see Islamic fundamentalism? Mali is struggling with this now.

    • Colin Speedie Dec 13, 2012, 10:34 am

      Hi Nicolas

      We didn’t go to Mauretania, partly because of the bureaucracy, but also because Senegal won’t let you enter with a Mauretanian stamp in your passport.

      We stayed well offshore, but friends who were fifty miles off Cap Blanc said they saw dozens of big trawlers, and apparently Guinea-Bissau to the South is inundated with them.

      The problems in Mali are a major concern, and if activities such as the destruction of coastal fisheries are allowed to continue, then they could migrate into other peaceful Islamic countries like Senegal, which would be a tragedy.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Andres Espino Dec 10, 2012, 4:48 pm

    A friend sent me this link and I enjoyed your posting about Dakar.. as it is on my list of stops. I am preparing a small boat to cross the pond and sail the West Africa coast for medical mission work in Lome Togo. I missed that the post contains no details about fees or formalities at the Dakar port. Noonsite.com does not say much either. Is that Yacht club where all visiting boats must anchor? Ny contact friends in Ghana and Nigeria also complain about the commercial fishing fleets, Thanks again for a great post.

    • Colin Speedie Dec 13, 2012, 10:40 am

      Hi Andres

      Formalities in Dakar were surprisingly painless. The CVD will advise you on how to go about it, via taxi to the Port. Total cost for us was 5000 CFA for the Customs, 250 CFA for photocopying plus 8000 CFA for the taxi (round trip). Some of the taxi drivers in the rank outside the CVD know everything you need (photocopies etc), and will look after you well. Don’t look too closely at the state of the taxis, though. They’d be refused entry into a demolition derby in the US!

      Anchoring off the CVD is the best option by far, the safest place and with a basic support network to help you into and out of the country. Plus it’s a great place in its own right, and you’ll learn a lot from the local sailors – don’t miss it.

      And watch out for future post on social missions – and good luck with your own.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Mike Dec 10, 2012, 8:24 pm

    World population has increased on average by about 1 billion every 12 years for the last 50 years. Do we really need 7 billion or more on this planet of ours? When is enough enough? I guess Gaia will provide the answer to that question soon enough.

    • Gerald Dec 10, 2012, 9:06 pm

      If we want to talk “need” for our planet, a truely sustainable population (at our current level of technology) for the Earth is approximately 150 million. NOT for just one country but for the Earth. We have OUT-technologied the increases so far BUT we are probably at the limit already where we can NOT continue to do this and nature always solves overpopulation one way or another.

      • Colin Speedie Dec 13, 2012, 10:44 am

        Hi Mike and Gerald

        I’d have to agree that overpopulation is one of the major concerns the planet faces. The earth as an ecosystem can only support so many people, and at the rate we’re going future generations will face an increasingly bleak outlook.

        Kind regards

        Colin

  • Richard Dec 11, 2012, 1:06 pm

    I do hope you realize your “Living the Dream”, that I for one, live to read about.. Thank you for the “5 minute African Vacation” to the ancient city of Dakar.. Man, what I wouldn’t give to be in your shoes..

  • John Dec 11, 2012, 2:29 pm

    Hi All,

    Colin is either at sea, or somewhere remote without internet, which is why there have not been any answers to comments to this post. I’m sure he will respond when he can, but I’m not sure when that will be.

    • Colin Speedie Dec 13, 2012, 10:45 am

      Hi Richard

      I’m delighted that enjoyed it, and I hope you’ll walk with us as we visit other new places – thanks.

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Richard Dec 14, 2012, 11:40 pm

    Hi Mr. Speedie,
    Thank you for your reply.. It would be tough to walk with all of you at this time, as I’m currently treading water, waiting for your next installment of your adventure travels.. Keep them coming, I’m all ears.. Really, really enjoy them..

    Richard William Lord

  • Nadire and Selim on Keyif Dec 20, 2012, 6:27 pm

    Dear Colin, Dear Louise,
    Enjoy Dakar, we are sorry now that we did not have the time and also the courage to sail there. Reading about the place from you is almost like visiting!Go to Sal if you can, it is also a breath of fresh air, but both Selim and I always feel somewhat ashamed at what the ‘civilised whites’ have done to the ‘inferior!!’ Races…and we felt that way as we sailed the slave trade route from the Cape Verde westward…
    Good sailing, and looking forward to reading more
    Nadire and Selim

  • Paul Mills Dec 23, 2012, 7:42 am

    Hi all,

    I think what we need to do is learn from the wrongs that have been committed by our ancestors and try, just a bit, each day,to become the change that we want. As for population …. That’s one that I struggle with; for example my head said one child only, but my heart said only child brings its own issues….

    I love the parts of Africa that I have visited and like Colin and Lou felt safe and welcomed. I also know that the mass media helps us to be afraid of what is in essence just a bit different from our own culture.

    All power to you both on this adventure.

    Paul

  • Denis Bone Dec 23, 2012, 10:41 pm

    This is not really the forum for this sort of comment which has nothing to do with sailing or boats. I am not sure that my comment will be welcomed, if not then please ignore it and, if it is irrelevant or too heavy for this site, please remove it.
    I make my comment because some contributors have expressed a sense of guilt and responsibility for some of the sad, and desperately sad, things that happen here. I feel that I must say, in response to that sense of guilt expressed by some non African commentators in this chain, that most of the current sins being committed against Africans and Africa in the part of Africa that I have lived in and been deeply involved in for the past thirteen years, are not committed by foreigners but by indigenous members of the community. This will continue unless there is a massive cultural change. This sort of change will not come from outside Africa, it must be driven from within and will take time. Until this change occurs any efforts by the outside world to relieve the effects of poverty will be largely wasted. I am not saying that outside nations should stop trying to improve things but I am saying that things that happened in the past, a much nastier place than today in the ‘Western World’, were done in collaboration with leading members of the local cultures. Those leading members remain in place in Africa and continue to see it as their right to exploit those less elevated than themselves. Until this aspect of the culture is changed there will always be poverty here for the ‘lower orders’. I do have friends at various levels of local society.

  • Gerald Dec 23, 2012, 11:07 pm

    Well said Denis—some of the highest level officials in Africa have said the aid received over the past half century has been at least as harmful as helpful as it helps perpetuate the corruption rampant in many parts of that continent. That part of the culture (not limited to Africa by the way) must improve before the living conditions of the majority of citizens there can improve.

  • Paul Mills Dec 24, 2012, 4:46 am

    Ooh ouch…… I thought ‘flaming’ was also not part of this forum….

    Personally I feel there are wider aspects of the cruising life that we need to recognise and discuss. Our sailing does not detach us from the rest of the world, hopefully tho it does help us to appreciate the wider picture.

    John and/or Phyllis, please could you come back with your perspective on this.

    Merry Xmas to all

    Paul

  • John Dec 24, 2012, 9:05 am

    Hi All,

    Unfortunately, Colin and Louise are at sea. If they were not, I would leave this to them since they know far more about Africa than we do.

    I guess the first question is does this kind of debate belong at AAC? I think the answer is yes, as long as it remains civilized, because how we interact with different cultures is a big part of cruising. And in turn, the history of interaction between the culture of the cruiser and the land visited will have an effect on the present relationship.

    Moving on to my thoughts on the present state of Africa: First off, I have never been there and so I’m really not qualified to say much at all.

    What I think I can safely say, based on my Arctic experience where some of the same history applies, is that those of us who are ethnically European need to remembered that we interfered with the basic culture of Africa through colonialism and slavery. Would Africa have the same problems today without European interference? I don’t know, but I suspect not.

    I say that we need to remember for two reasons. First that memory may help us understand things we see today and most importantly because “those who forget history are condemned to repeat it”.

  • John Dec 24, 2012, 9:11 am

    Hi All,

    I have deleted two comments from this thread, not because the opinion expressed was that these issues had no place at AAC, but because the tone of the comment was aggressive and personal.

    By all means express your thoughts, but please keep it civil.

  • Denis Bone Dec 24, 2012, 2:28 pm

    I apologise for abusing your hospitality and causing dissent in this forum. I thought some comments on the situation in parts of West Africa might be relevant to recent postings, possibly interesting and, perhaps a little illuminating to people planning to visit there or just interested in a general way.
    In response to John’s comment I would like to point out that slavery and colonialism were happening in Africa before ‘whites’ arrived and exploited the local culture and expanded it, slavery in particular, to new levels through export to new markets. Slavery and various other appalling forms of human on human brutality and abuse are still commonplace, in most cases without any non-African involvement. The countries in which these abuses occur are sovereign states with many internal and external problems, most significantly corruption but also tribal and religious differences, making the rectification of these problems extremely difficult and frequently personally dangerous for the well intentioned minority in a position to make a difference. The upshot will be that countries with massive potential in many areas will not be allowed to invest in developing that potential to make them competitive in many fields of the world market but will focus on the exploitation of limited natural resources which will ultimately expire and leave those countries without any alternative manufacturing and exporting businesses
    I think I have intruded enough on this cruising website and apologise to those who obviously found my contribution either boring, irrelevant or offensive.
    There is a considerable amount of documentation available should people be interested.
    John, if you think this is too far away from the core interest please delete it.

    Regards,

    Denis

  • Richard Dec 24, 2012, 9:01 pm

    Denis—– I didn’t find your contribution “boring, irrelevant or offensive..” Your stating facts with factual historical documentation to back it up (as well as “first hand, real life experience”.. You’ve lived there 13 years..)

    Thank you for “setting the record straight”..

    Back to sailing and exploring new lands, anyone..??!!

  • Coen Dec 25, 2012, 3:38 pm

    May I, as a native African, of mostly european ancestry (with a few probably african and indian ancestors as well) comment? I have spent most of my life in various parts of this continent, except for a short stint in Europe, where I did not feel at all at home.

    I would suggest that people should visit this wonderful, diverse and dynamic continent, and learn to see it as guests. Do leave guilt feelings, feelings of superiority and such behind. Yes, we must acknowledge what evil has been done in the name of colonising, missionaary work etc, and is still being done. Do learn to see what damage has been done by donating food, thus ruining local economies. Learn how American subsidies to American cotton farmers had destroyed the cotton production in most of West Africa, directly leading to the present political unrest. This not to cause guilt feelings, for these actions often result from laudable motives. But one has to understand what the consequences of your actions are.

    On our African overland trip we had dozens of people begging for gifts, money, and so on. And many people do hand out gifts, money, sweets, and so on. So we decided not to, instead we would ask: Why should we give a gift? Should you not give gifts to people coming to visit you? And then we learnt that, in most cases, the people did not really want gifts of food, money or pens, they wanted contact with us, they wanted to touch us and see us as real people, and have us see them as real people too. By giving we often demean those upon whom we bestow gifts.

    And to agree with a previous poster, most of the atrocities that had been conducted, and are still being conducted, were done and are being done with the active connivance of African leaders. So let us not judge, but let us seek to understand.

    Africa can provide wonderful insights into a world unlike, and yet like that you may be used to.

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 24, 2013, 2:58 pm

    John, A friend just arrived in the Cape Verdes with his family on their way to Senegal and I went to the AAC site to get the url on Colin’s reports on his experiences in that area. I could not find same and every avenue lead to a request to log in and become a member. I am a member and could do so, but am I correct in seeing that all the previous reports, such as Colin’s, which was open access when it was put out, are now only accessible if you are a member? And if they are not available, does this include the contributions I have made as well as others? Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Oct 24, 2013, 7:06 pm

      Hi Dick,

      We compiled all of Colin’s posts on his voyage from Europe to Brazil into an online book, so all of those chapters (posts) are now only available to members. This applies to any post that becomes part of one of the online books. All comments that are attached to these chapters are part of them and therefore after the parent chapter becomes part of an Online Book the comments to that chapter are only available to members too.

      At the moment, all new posts, whether or not they are part of a book are available to all. After about a week we make it so posts that form part of a book are only available to members. I’m not sure if we will be able to maintain this or not. Right now sign ups are only just staying at a level that will make AAC viable, if they drop off, we will need to get more aggressive about locking content down earlier.

      The bottom line is that membership fails then AAC will close. Phyllis and I are all done with paying out of own pockets to make this work and all four of us need to get at least a stipend for our hours. I alone have over 1000 unpaid hours in AAC so far in 2013! And Phyllis and I are about US$50,000 in the hole on this. (Low ball estimate, it may in fact be a great deal more, depending on how you do the accounting.)

      As to comments. We have agonized over the issue of in effect charging for access to comments from regular contributors like yourself. There is no easy answer, but perhaps if you keep in mind that I alone put some 15 hours a week in answering and moderating comments it will feel a bit better. The point being that if we the writers didn’t expend the time we do and in so doing gently, and sometimes not so gently, guide the conversation, this would just be another forum where the loudest and most ignorant win.

      So perhaps a way to look at it is that we are running a nice club full of civilized people by policing the door, and like the manager and the doorman, we deserve to make a small salary for doing that. And perhaps you, a senior member, can recognize that the wisdom you share in the rooms of that club make it a more desirable club for new members, which, in turn, keeps the club alive.

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 25, 2013, 4:04 am

    John, I guess I never knew how it worked. I am a little taken aback that my posts are transformed into a private domain. Dick

    • John Oct 25, 2013, 9:29 am

      Hi Dick,

      That’s a good point: I need to write a comment policy that makes these issues and others clear that is linked to the comment area, so everyone knows where they stand. I will add that to my to-do list.

      Just a couple of clarifications though:

      • AAC is not a private domain, its a membership site with an extremely reasonable annual fee. Also less than 20% of our content is member only, the rest is available to all—pretty generous, don’t you think?
      • Your contributions, that we very much appreciate, are not posts, they are comments to a post that an AAC author has written. I’m not just being pedantic here. This difference is the major reason that the debate here remains civil and useful instead of degenerating into the flame wars and general silliness of the forums. Think of contributing at AAC as attending a well run meeting with a strong chairman that sets an agenda and guides the debate, rather that a mob all shouting at the top of their voices. This is why the comments to a post that becomes a chapter must stay within the member area. If the comments alone were left public, while the underling post that set the agenda was not available, the debate would soon go off the rails.

      Bottom line, there is no perfect answer to any of this—a bit like boats! But one thing is sure, providers of quality content on the Internet, from AAC to the New York Times, must solve this revenue problem or die. We at AAC are doing the best we can and are still putting in countless unpaid hours to try and make it work.

  • Dick Stevenson Oct 25, 2013, 3:19 pm

    John,
    Apologies for adding to your “to do” list. I shudder to imagine its dimensions. All your arguments are very well taken and I challenge none of them. I need to wrap my head around the reality of this new area and see how it fits and feels. And I appreciate your monitoring of the discussions and concur with the lines I have seen you draw.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Oct 25, 2013, 5:12 pm

      Thanks, Dick, I really appreciate the understanding. Also the very fact that you raised the point, and it’s intrinsic importance, get it out in the open and give me the opportunity to try and come up with the best possible transparent solution for all. Way better than if such things staying in the dark. And way better than Phyllis and I trying to sort this stuff in a vacuum.

  • Danny Blake Oct 25, 2013, 5:20 pm

    Hi John
    I was more than happy to pay the little AAC asked for in return for getting my daily fix of all things boating, half the info goes right over my head as I have not sailed a mile in my life! the artnautica article was perfect for me. Just keep up the great work.

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