From the Gambia to Cape Verde

Our visit to West Africa was very special to us, and we would definitely suggest anybody sailing from the Canaries to Cape Verde to make a stop here (just make sure to check vaccination requirements and malaria risk) – it’s so different and will challenge your perception of the world in ways that the “normal” cruising destinations do not. None of us had ever visited Sub-Saharan Africa before this trip, and we have learned a lot. We have seen a little part of the incredible wild life this continent has to offer, heard about the history of these countries and talked to some very interesting people, offering views of the world so different to ours. But at the same time it was very clear to us that most people we had met had a completely warped image of Europe as a paradise of endless money. We, in Europe, are obviously privileged in so many ways, but the idea that we just sit back, and then the riches are coming to us is just not helpful at all. In most places in the Gambia, we experienced people coming to us as soon as we set foot on land and demanded that we give them money, phones, footballs, anything. In one village, the teenage boys were so unpleasant (“GIVE ME YOUR OUTBOARD!!!”) that we ended up leaving again. And yes, we have more money than they do, and yes, it’s unfair, and yes, they behave like this because they are used to tourists giving them things when they come to visit. But the way these people seem to have internalized that white people just give them whatever they want, and that Africans should now just sit back and wait for the riches to be handed to them is just so incredibly counterproductive for themselves. We don’t know much about colony history or what it does to a country, but in the end, we find that people have to take responsibility for making a life for themselves. It’s especially sad to be asked by young men time and time again, how they can move to Denmark. We know about the little boats in the Mediterranean, where many die, and we know how the life they get in Europe is awfully undignified in most cases. Seeing the relaxed life they lead here, and imagining these young men in fast paced northern Europe, it’s difficult to think that they would ever be more happy in our home country than here. Even if they were to get education, a place to live and a job with a decent salary. In the end happiness is about a lot more than money. But the idea of Europe as a paradise is powerful.

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Anchored in The Gambia

Oyster Creek was one of the places where we had really enjoyed talking to the local men. These men (and a few women – The Gambia is muslim after all) had jobs they enjoyed and an income to count on, so the relationship with them seemed more equal and we could have normal conversations with them, without them yelling at us angrily if we didn’t pay overprice for their services. But after a month in West Africa we were ready to move on to Cape Verde. We had been texting with the parents of Runa’s Dutch friend Mare, and knew they were already in Mindelo. They had had some problems with the boat on the sail down from the Canaries that they needed to take care of before moving on, so chances were good that Runa would have a chance to see Mare again.

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A ferry, crossing The Gambia River by Banjul

The trip from the Gambia to Cape Verde is somewhat against the prevailing wind and current, meaning that we would be heeled over quite a lot on the whole trip. So we prepared food for the next days, added a lee cloth to the side of the cockpit to prevent the worst waves from coming in, and then we were off. We kept a good eye out for the fishing boats and their nets. By now we knew that the boats throw out one end of the net with an anchor, let the boat drift downwind while laying out the rest of the net, and then they wait. The net is almost completely invisible in the water, and we have read about sailors who have had more than one of these nets in their propeller, so we knew we had to be careful. But understanding how the nets are laid out meant that we could sail past the many boats without issues. Later, Esben came up to take the first night shift, and remarked that I had turned on both the lanterns showing we were motoring, plus the anchor lantern. I told him that I was aware, but since nobody cares about colors and positions of lanterns in this place, and I could see many, many lights from fishing boats around us (blue, red, orange, white, green, non-flashing, flashing in different patterns, orange from the cooking fires etc., etc.), I figured that it was better to have a better chance of being seen than to be correct (as soon as we were clear of the coast and fishing boats, we of course made sure to use normal lanterns again).

Soon we were in the trade winds once again, and for the first time, the winds were so strong we had to use the third reef in the main. For the next few days we were flying towards Cape Verde in the strong winds. We passed between the two northeastern islands, Sal and Boavista, without even seeing them, as the dust in the air was covering them completely. A couple of days later, we could turn down in the channel between Sao Vicente and Santo Antao, which is known for very strong winds due to funneling between the two islands. We got the mainsail down, and soon sailed in to the bay where Mindelo is located. Here, the winds sweep down from the mountains, so the bay does not at all give the lee that one would hope for. Arriving in March, we were there in the low season, after most boats have left for the Caribbean, and the marina was almost empty. On the way in, we had waved hello to Mare’s dad, who was outside working on their wind vane, and as soon as we were moored, I saw some kids pop their heads out from a red boat just in front of us, and called Runa and Mattis up – kids, and they were even from Germany.

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Runa and her friends from “Salmón”

It didn’t take long before we were having coffee in the red boat, “Salmón”, while the kids were playing down below. “Salmón” had left Germany in 2016, but had then taken a job in the Channel Islands for a couple of years, and now they had started their trip again. I thought their story sounded familiar, and realized after a while that I had read a blog from a Danish family who had met “Salmon” in 2016, and had mentioned the job offer in the Channel Islands on their blog. It’s a small world.

We ended up spending almost two weeks in Mindelo. When we arrived there, we still were not sure where to go next. In Mindelo we met a surprising number of boats coming from South Africa or Saint Helena, preparing to go north to the Canaries or Azores. But do we want to go back north? No, not really, that wouldn’t be fun at all against the wind and current. The hurricane season starts in the May/June in the Caribbean, so we also knew that if we crossed the Atlantic, we would have to stay south of the hurricane belt until October/November. We could go to Brazil, but Brazil is known to be fairly dangerous, with a relatively high number of armed robberies on visiting yachts. We could also go directly to French Guiana or Suriname. Many options. We discussed back and forth during our time in Mindelo, especially reading up on the many blogs of people who had been to Brazil on their boats. In the end we agreed that we would like to go to Brazil. We would start out in marinas, and take the advice of the local sailors as to where to anchor, that way we ought to be able to keep it safe and still visit this big and different country.

As preparation for the Atlantic crossing, we went over the whole boat and fixed the many little things that were starting to need some love. We varnished the outside wood, expecting a lot more rain once we had crossed the Atlantic, we checked the rigging, prepared food and a lot more. Provisioning for the Atlantic crossing was easy in Mindelo – the only thing they didn’t have were the German canned sausages. In the mean time, “Salmon” left for the Caribbean and another kid boat had arrived from St. Helena, and both kids and adults enjoyed the life in the marina in Mindelo.

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To see our most recent position, click here and scroll down.

One thought on “From the Gambia to Cape Verde

  1. We encountered that rich attitude in Papua New Guinea. We were always explaining that we had to work hard and save to afford to go on a holiday and it was not just given to us.
    Great shot of your daughter and her friends.
    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

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