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Tag Archives: Short-beaked common dolphin
Dakhla, 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.
To 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.
During 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.
Shortly 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!
We have sailed many miles in the past ten months. We have surged blindly through fog-shrouded seas in the high arctic; dodged through ice-scattered water off Greenland; surfed upon white water off the coast of Iceland; wended our way through the dark secret waters off the Hebrides islands; and coasted through thick red seas off the Saharan coast of Africa. But the past few days of sailing has been the first time I really understood the term “blue water” sailing. As we left the coast of Africa behind and hit the deep clear waters of the Atlantic we have found that the sea is unlike any that has ever lain beneath our keel. The water here is a deep blue like no other colour I have ever seen. In me at least, it evokes a feeling of another world – as we glide over this silken sea with cyan skies above and the indigo Atlantic beneath I seem transported to a different time. Here it seems that the square top-sails of a clipper trader could poke above the horizon at any time, or a sighting of distant land could be an uncharted island. It is a timeless world where the bustle of modern life seems to fade into insignificance.
The sea also teems with a life that has long been lost from the crowded African shores behind us. Loggerhead turtles commonly poke their nose through the water as we pass by, and teams of dolphin seen to stay in relay to keep pace with us. First Atlantic spotted dolphins, then bottle nose dolphins, then striped dolphins and then short-beaked common dolphins. Amidst he playful mammals, an occasional flying fish clatters across the surface and bonito tuna team in shoals around the islands (occasionally providing a meal for passing sailors!). Above us ganets soar and plunge and shearwaters glide gracefully in our wake. In this vast ocean we rarely seem alone.
The past few days found us exploring the waters around Lanzarote and Fuerto Ventura and Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. Though this was never one of the places we dreamed of visiting we have discovered a marine life here that has seemed absent since we left the vibrant shores of the Arctic. Conversely, the land is barren and dry with a few hardy birds and lizards stirring torpidly in the sun. Scattered over the island are the ruins of the lost civilization that perished upon the arrival of the Spanish which clash violently with the condominiums and tourist orientated sprawl crowding the shoreline. It is a land of contrasts but definitely a land worth exploring.
When 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 …
Otherwise 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.
As 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!
We keep meaning to continue our headlong rush south … but the Portuguese weather has been basking us in sunlight that has proved irresistible after the long Arctic summer. While we are still moving a little further south each day (tomorrow we plan to cross the 40 degree mark which is the halfway point between our furthest North – 80 degrees – and the equator!) we have been adopting a more relaxed pace to fit in with the locals. Thus we have opted to spend at least a few of these beautiful days enjoying the endless beaches, tawny sunsets and sparkling waters of the Atlantic coast rather than rushing forward blindly.
Mind you, the relaxed pace of life on land does not seem to extend to the ocean itself… Lazy days on the beach are a little too much to hope for when you are a fisherman struggling to feed your family, and with less fish in the ocean the Portuguese solution seems to be to simply lay as many nets as possible to ensure a better catch. Sailing from these Atlantic ports is quite a challenge simply due to the constant dodging and duckling and weaving required to avoid the hundreds of buoys and other fishing paraphernalia which are often hard to see during the day and invisible at night. Running the gauntlet as we head for deep water I start to feel a little like a fish myself as we struggle to move more than a few minutes without a close call with yet another net. For us a close shave would be a nuisance at worse, but the fish seem to be facing a maze of invisible nets that can only spell doom. Even the dolphins which occasionally keep us company are not immune to these death-traps and the sight of a drowned short-beaked common dolphin bobbing just below the surface was one of the most horrific sights of our journey thus far.
We love our seafood – but surely we need a little more restraint if we hope to be able to feed our children from the bounty of the ocean?