Gambia Sunset River Entry and Bustle in Banjul 13:23.56N 16:37.38W

Andy Gibb
Mon 20 Dec 2010 15:55
After a tough fast 4 day sail from Cap Verdes, we had 2 options as we
approached Gambia: 1. Anchor in the dark off Banjul dockyard at Half Die (so
called because half the population died in a cholera epidemic). The Half Die
anchorage is uncomfortable with wind against tide, littered with wrecks, and
'the worst possible introduction to Gambia, notorious for its crime level,
boats have been robbed with crews asleep on board'. 2. Sail a bit faster,
arrive before sunset, by-pass Half Die and the authorities for now,
(technically illegal but it is Saturday and they aren't open until Monday)
and motor along 5 miles of Gambia River creeks to Lamin Lodge where the
anchorage is reported safer.

We chose Option 2, so Deby coaxed 6 plus knots from Intrepid in a fitful
wind, Nicky worked out short cuts round the shifting sandbanks at the
entrance to the Gambia River, we took in sail as we neared Banjul to avoid
alerting the authorities to our presence more than necessary, passed the
ferries crossing the Gambia River (which is 2 miles wide at this point),
crept past 2 container ships unloading, skirted the Half Die anchorage which
was every bit as bad as described, almost went aground on mud flats which
weren't on the chart, and as the wind died and the sun lowered to the
horizon, motored with only the barest of instructions past meandering
mangrove banks on either side with often 0.1 metre beneath our keel. Birds
called out as the sun set, or dived from high into the still water to catch
fish which scattered in shoals as we approached, 2 small canoes appeared as
if by magic from the low mangrove trees, we slowed to almost nothing as we
worked out where the mud banks were, past a bird hide, and finally 10
minutes after sunset, dropped anchor off Lamin Lodge as a golden glow lit
the tranquil river. The only sounds were bird calls.

We set up the mosquito netting Nicky had sewed to fit over our cockpit and
bimini, celebrated in an almost dreamlike atmosphere and, sleep deprived
after 4 difficult nights at sea went to sleep.

We woke to a perfect dawn, dinghied into Lamin Lodge and Andy chatted to
Peter, the owner. Peter is German, sailed to Gambia in 1989 with his wife,
recognised that the few tourists were bored by just seeing mangroves and
birds, so started adapting pirogues to have an upper storey, (miraculously
none have turned over - yet) then built the Lodge for lunches. Peter and his
wife split up, both remarried Gambians, but Peter's wife died 5 years ago,
so I think he is glad of sailing company. Intrepid was the 8th yacht this
year, (and 4 came together at one time) so this is somewhat off the beaten

We walked into Lamin Village which is on the main road, found the internet
café, then next day Mahmoud from Lamin Lodge assured us that his brother was
in Immigration and he would get our formalities sorted. (Only later did we find our that
his brother had been posted 100 miles up river, and Mahmoud had no idea
where any of the offices were. Not really a surprise, but probably
illustrative of Gambia)

We caught a 'sept place' (7 passenger van) to Serekunda, caught another into
Banjul, gained our visas impressively quickly (Dalasi 200 each), failed
completely to find anyone who could register us with the Port Authority,
then braved Royal Albert Market, a reputed den of pickpockets. Which it wasn't,
for us at this time anyway, a 'guide' attached himself to us but he was
worth his Dalasi 100 (3 Euro) and we bought everything from vegetables to
steak, fishing line to material (for lures), then caught a down market 12
seater which on the way back ran into the back of the eco taxi ahead. The
ensuing argument gave me just enough time to dash out, bargain for 2 papaya
and bananas we had forgotten before the 2 drivers drove off still shouting
at each other. Our van then got stuck in the sand, I helped push it out, and
we walked the rest of the way back to find our two 20 litre water cans had
been filled from the village drinking stand-pipe as we requested, and
delivered back via donkey cart.

Gambia seems a very typical African community, happy, strong generous family
links, entrepreneurial attitude which unfortunately often hampers rather
than encourages efficient enterprises, awful maintenance (if it works today
why worry about tomorrow?). Salaries when people can get them are about
Dalasi 1000/month (Euro 30) which since a 25Kg sack of rice costs about
Dalasi 600 doesn't leave a lot for 'discretionary spending'. Which makes
jobs which come into contact with tourists attractive.