Written by: Kate Addison
From Morocco we set sail for the Canary Islands and then on to Dakar in Senegal. For most of the crew on Picton Castle, adventurers from all around the world, the Canary Islands marked the half-way point in this voyage: after leaving Canada in October 2015 we’ve managed to sail across the North Atlantic Ocean in a square-rigged sailing ship and taken our first step on the African continent.
For some of the crew, this was end of their voyage, but for others who were signing on in the Canary Islands, it was just the beginning. From Senegal we’ll pick up the trade winds north of the equator to make our passage to the Caribbean before heading home to Canada to finish the loop.
It was an excellent sailing ship passage from the Canaries to Senegal. The northerly winds that typically blow down the west coast of Africa held fair and filled our sails nicely, making the blue-green water surge white as it creamed up past the bow.
It was also an excellent passage for sightings of marine wildlife. Almost every day we saw pods of dolphins, sometimes hundreds of them, swooping and diving under the surface or leaping over the waves. I’ve never seen anything as wonderful as a pod of spinning dolphins; leaping out of the water like competitive acrobats, they give the impression to be showing off out of sheer joy. We saw humpback whales and pilot whales too, and sea birds overhead stopped to rest in our rigging, while heaps of bioluminescence sparkled alien green in the water.
And then after ten days of fine sailing we arrived into Dakar harbour and a different world. The air here is full of a fine dust that makes the air hazy and seems to slow and soften the edges of this huge bustling city as it bakes in the Sahara sun.
The red dust that settles on every surface is sand from the Sahara Desert, which means that no matter where you turn in this busy, complicated city, you can’t ever forget that this is Africa.
The statuesque ladies in beautiful dresses and matching head wraps, impossibly crisp and colourful in the heat, carry baskets or buckets on their heads with perfect posture, others clutching a smart handbag or briefcase as they step from office to taxi. The colourful busses painted with crazy colours have so many people stuffed inside that the last few need to hang out of the open doors. We saw a horse and cart lined up next to a big truck at the door of an open warehouse – both being loaded with sacks of rice, and both equally as important modes of transport.
You can not forget that you’re a tourist here, at least not if you have red hair and freckles. In the central market I was soon surrounded by incredibly persistent vendors of everything from beautiful batik fabric to ugly plastic shoes, antique african masks, peanuts, shea butter, leather goods and an endless supply of bracelets, beads and trinkets. They made the merchants of Morocco look positively serene.
We were even engulfed by people selling things on Goree Island. A deep and terrible place, although pretty, where for 300 years slaves were collected from all over West Africa and held for days or months in impossible conditions before being sold. Then, shackled two by two they were marched out through the ‘door of no return’ along a wooden pier to the boats waiting to load them onto ships not so different from our own, to make the middle passage to Brazil or the Caribbean. Listening to the stories from our guide, Mica, was powerful indeed.
But we were lucky to also have a hide-away from the heat and noise, the hustlers and history in the form of the CVD yacht club at Hann Beach in the south-west of the city. A delightful oasis of crumbling colonial calm, you could sit on their patio with an excellent coffee and French bread and butter, and watch the ship swing at anchor between the palm fronds and pink bougainvillaea.
The staff at the CVD looked after us extremely well, and made it so easy for us to take care of formalities and to buy all of the fresh food and fuel that we needed.
They also helped us to find a local school happy to accept some French language school text books that had been donated to us in Canada for this purpose. We met some of the students and teachers at the school. They were just incredibly graceful and kind in accepting our small gift, and seemed genuinely happy that this was the ship’s second visit to Senegal. I am pretty sure it won’t be our last visit either.