Tag Archives: Shearwater

From Dakhla to Dakar – arriving in West Africa

dakhlaDakhla, our last stop in Morocco/Western Sahara, turned out to be a far cry from the touristic hotspots of Essaouira or Agadir further north. First, we were greeted by no less than five different authorities boarding our small sailboat: the civil guard, the police, the customs, the military and the port authorities all wanted copies of our ships papers, passports and various other documents. Once these obstacles were surmounted we briefly explored the town, a short taxi ride away from the harbour. Walking through the long, dusty roads our little Jack Russel “Sparrow” sought shelter from the merciless sun wherever one of the artificially watered little shrubs would allow it, whilst Patrick and I longed for a cold beer – a rare refreshment in this Islamic town. Strolling amongst men in long dresses and women in long floating, colourful scarfs skilfully wrapped around the whole body, we felt like we once again entered a different world. However, the obvious presence of Moroccan military and UN soldiers, paired with one of the most hostile climates we’ve yet encountered, also made us feel slightly uneasy. Indeed we were almost a bit relieved when after a couple of days we set our sails once again to head further south.

pilot-whaleTo reach our next destination, Dakar in Senegal, we had to cover the distance of over 600 nm, more than 110km, which is the furthest non-stop passage of our trip yet! The most comparable journey took us from Svalbard to Jan Mayen across the North Atlantic. In comparison, the present crossing can only be described as benign, with the biggest challenge being posed by the burning midday sun. Low to moderate winds from the North gently pushed us further south, flocks of shearwaters and storm petrels accompanied us for much of the way, and occasionally a pod of dolphins jumped around our bow. One day we even spotted the big blow of a giant rorqual, possibly a fin whale, from a distance, the first big whale we’ve seen since leaving Iceland. Not much later a pod of large, black pilot whales briefly followed us, waking memories of cold Norwegian fjords, the last time we’ve come across this species.

sunset-mauretaniaDuring the third night Patrick suddenly cried out: “Léonie, come up, quick!” Sleep-drunkenly I stumbled on deck, to be told very enthusiastically: “Look, the Southern Cross! We’re on our way home!!”. Indeed, hovering just above the horizon were the five stars that make up the symbol of the southern hemisphere’s sky. We were definitely on the right track!

Two days later our chart told us that the “Cap Verde”, the green cape that Dakar is built upon, lay only a few miles ahead. It took some time to penetrate the haze that lies over the African continent but finally the ephemeral silhouette of the westernmost tip of continental Africa appeared through the shimmering air.

arriving-dakarShortly after we dodged around small, buzzing banana boats, uncharted ship wrecks and a handful of sailboats on anchor, until we finally dropped our own anchor in front of the “Cercle de la Voile Dakar” yacht club. Once we stepped on the rickety jetty leading ashore we received the warmest welcome of our journey yet: located between flowering bushes, acacia, papaya and palm trees lay the picturesque buildings of the yacht club, with a big terrace overlooking the bay crowded with a cheerful mix of yachties, European ex-pats and locals. We were quickly offered a cold beer, all arrival formalities were postponed to the next day, and after a cold shower we felt more home than we had anywhere for a long time.

But talking of home: back in Switzerland another very important event is taking place: my nephew turns five years old today! Dear Maxim, we wish you all the best and hope you have a fantastic birthday! This little video is just for you!

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Beslama Morocco, hola Lanzarote!

Leonie_and_Sparrow_sleepingWhen our propeller finally arrived with more than a month delay, it almost took us by surprise, having waited for so long. Even more astonishing was the quick installation: after having a good thought about it, it took Pat only half an hour under water to exchange our one bladed woe for a three bladed bliss. And suddenly nothing kept us from moving on! Well, except for roaring sea which had built up to five-meter waves outside our sheltered harbour. Then again, we had been locked down for so long, another few days really didn’t matter so much …

Soon the sea calmed down and we found ourselves on the road again! Our next destination lay 250 nautical miles to the south-west: Rubicon, a small town on Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. As usual, we divided the sailing between the two of us in four-hour shifts, one person on watch, the other cooking or sleeping. That is, if Sparrow allowed any rest! She was not happy at all to leave Agadir behind – after all, she’s never been at any other single place for longer. To sooth her sulky mood she was allowed to sleep on the berth with us – at the foot end, of course. Which worked fine, until one awoke from a paw poking into one’s neck. Apparently the little rascal could only sleep with her head on the pillow …

ShearwaterOtherwise it was all smooth sailing. The winds were moderate and from behind, the sea was calm, and the sun hot on our backs. What a difference to sailing in the Arctic! No more down jackets, big mittens, beanies and winter boots, just shorts and t-shirts and, best of all, no shoes! The sea warmed to
over 20°C, shearwaters and terns soared overhead, and the occasional loggerhead turtle told tales of the tropics. At night, no moon lit the clouded sky, and the only light came from below as the breaking waves on Widdershins’ hull stirred the plankton to emit their otherworldly fluorescent glows. To add to our own shimmering wake, the sea was suddenly illuminated by converging streams of light. As our eyes struggled to comprehend these sudden comets of light a pod of dolphins broke the surface, racing briefly along our boat only to disappear into the blackness of the sea again.

LanzaroteAs the second night came to an end, the horizon was finally illuminated by an additional glow: Lanzarote lay ahead! As we approached the island in the early morning, bleak volcanic hills devoid of any vegetation greeted us. A few hours later we pulled into the harbour of Rubicon, and here we are, back in Europe again! No more mosques, veils, men in long robes or donkeys pulling carts, instead the place is bustling with tourists, bars and bowling clubs – quite a change of scenery. Tomorrow we’ll hopefully head on to Gran Canaria, to sort out further African visas … and to finally leave Europe behind for good!

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