A Different Kind of Rally

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Fri 30 Oct 2009 10:33

Position: 23:41.18N 015:55.85

Date & Time: 30 October 2009 1000 UTC


A few nights ago Tom was sitting in the cockpit whilst we lay at anchor amongst the rally fleet in Dakhla when I heard him laughing. “Oh come and look at this Tim, I think “Tog Gwen’s” dinghy has escaped!” I nipped up on deck and there about 30 metres behind us was a dinghy drifting away with “MINA2” emblazoned down its side in large letters. “That’s not “Tog Gwen’s” dinghy, you berk, it’s ours!!” It was too far and travelling too fast to swim to, so we got on the VHF radio to David and Suzanne on “Suzie Too” which was just behind us. Thank God they were on board and had their VHF turned on. Within seconds they had leapt into their dinghy and returned our tender to us. Much embarrassment. It was Tom who had tied the dinghy to the boat and his hopeless knots had clearly come loose. I was furious, thinking of the consequences of not having a dinghy and outboard in the Sine Saloum delta. Whilst Tom has forgiven me for the turning off the shower water episode, now he was in disgrace and I was not talking to him. He had to sit on the naughty chair for a good long time.


The next night, Tom and I (now reconciled and the best of mates again) went to “Vita” where Steve was recovering from having his tooth abcess lanced in the military hospital here. After a couple of small whisky’s we went on deck to return to our boat. “Where’s the dinghy?” I asked. It had escaped yet again. This time I had seen James from “Vita” tie it very securely to a cleat. To cut a long story short, by an incredible coincidence in the dark of the night, a couple from another boat had seen it scudding away in the stiff breeze and had recovered it for us. Given it was pitch black and the water was very choppy, it was a chance in a million. I owe our rescuers several drinks. Had it not been seen it would by now be mid-Atlantic and heading for the Caribbean.


But what was becoming blindingly apparent was that the painter which had had a couple of soakings in petrolly and oily water was now extra slippery. So it wasn’t Tom’s hopeless knots at all. Tom felt relieved on the one hand, but indignant at the unjustified criticisms levelled against him, so now I am in disgrace and Tom is not talking to me again. One of these day’s we will coincide our sulks! Meanwhile Lawrence has got stomach cramps and the squits. A healthy ship is a happy ship. Mina2 is neither.


Yesterday morning the rally participants all assembled at our host hotel for a day’s excursion into the desert. A fleet of about 25 4x4’s were assembled in the road outside the hotel. In condition, they ranged from barely adequate to totally wrecked. Of the 100 tyres on the vehicles about two had some tread, and the rest were completely bald. Lawrence, Tom, James (from “Vita”) and I clambered into one of the vehicles. I slammed the door shut and the loud speaker in the door fell out onto my feet. The driver handed Lawrence a window handle – the only one in the car – which had to be passed around whenever anyone wanted to shut or open the windows. Our driver was a surly young man who spoke only Arabic and who raised not one smile during the entire day. He spent the day completely ignoring us, chain smoking and playing music through an MP3 player at maximum volume through the last remaining speaker. He had a particular fondness for a song the lyrics of which consist entirely of “Baby, please don’t hurt me”. The moment it finished he clicked the replay button. After 75 renditions we were screaming but were unable to convey our distress to our incommunicative driver.


The convoy moved off. All the drivers seemed determined to achieve the honour of heading the convoy. We were screaming along at about 60 miles an hour, with everyone trying to overtake everyone else, sometimes three abreast taking up the entire road. Mrs Barker, the Absent Downstairs Skipper (to be known as the ADS) would have been terrified. Our nerves were not helped by passing an ambulance by the roadside who were hauling someone gently out of a car which had overturned.


I had been telling everyone that I was looking forward to the visit to the oyster farm which was clearly detailed in the briefing notes. After about an hour driving down the desert road, the convoy swung off and screeched to a halt outside a large enclosure. The gates opened and we were confronted by hundreds of penned ostriches.  Oyster – ostrich – something had clearly got lost in the translation. Interesting anyway.


We had been laying bets as to how many of these wrecks would breakdown during the course of the day. Ours was the first. Tearing down the road in pursuit of a higher place in the pecking order, there was a loud bang and the smell of burning rubber; the car collapsed onto its right front axle and the driver very proficiently controlled the violent slewing of the car and brought it to a juddering halt by the side of the road.  The front nearside tyre had blown out in spectacular style. By now the ADS would have been screaming hysterically.The driver dragged his spare out of the back, which if anything was in worse condition than the one it was replacing, and within minutes we were careering down the road at breakneck speed before peeling off into the desert itself. No roads now, it was all off piste. The drivers all got out with spanners to lock their differentials. “At last” I thought “we’ll slow down now”. Not a bit of it. Now they weren’t constrained by the width of a road, the drivers all went completely beserk, and hurtled off in pursuit of one another, cars leaping into the air off the tops of dunes, slaloming round rocks and scrubby bushes and cutting each other up with millimetres to spare. By now the ADS would have been having a nervous breakdown. For those of us with dodgy backs it was all nightmare.


At last all the vehicles screeched to a halt in a flurry of blown sand at the base of a large round dune. We all walked to the top and, there before us was a lagoon stretching out to the sea. In the shallows were hundreds of wading birds and the foreshore was thick with red crabs some of which had one absolutely enormous claw, bigger than their own body. Walking back to the vehicles we were all attacked by millions of minute sand flies. So re-boarding the 4x4’s we had mixed feelings – relief to get away from the sand flies but mild terror at the prospect of the next stage.


Lawrence had said to us “When we find a herd of camels, we must all race towards them”. “Why’s that?” asked Tom. “You want a good-looking one don’t you?” We've clearly been at sea too long. After more re-enactments of the Paris-Dakar Rally, we did indeed come across a herd of camels together with a nomad chivvying them along whilst sitting on a minute donkey smaller than himself. At these stops one or two of the drivers would wander off a little way, kneel down facing east and offer a prayer to Allah. We needed all the help we could get.


Having been promised a midday break of a tented lunch consisting of fine Moroccan specialities we stopped mid-afternoon by a small oasis of scrubby trees which provided some shelter from the increasingly fierce sun. One of the trees was clearly in flower and was absolutely surrounded by hundreds of little orange butterflies. Eagerly anticipating our authentic Moroccan lunch, we were each handed half a cheese and tomato bap, half a chicken bap (most of which was cartilage) and three tangerines. At least the tangerines were authentic Moroccan fare.


After more rally driving we reached Porto Rico, a wide and beautiful sandy bay on the Atlantic coast situated exactly on the Tropic of Cancer. Bedouin type tents had been set up to accommodate a number of our people who had opted to stay the night, sleeping by candlelight under the stars in the desert. It looked very romantic but as sailors the rest of us had seen a lot of stars at night and were happy to head back for Dakhla and a stiff recuperative G&T in the tranquil comfort of our own cockpits. We all slept very well that night awoken only occasionally, terrified by flashback nightmares.


All in all a wild, exciting, interesting, brilliant day. An experience none of us will ever forget.


Last night – our final night in Dakhla – we all went ashore to the hosting hotel where a formal Gala Dinner had been prepared with local dignitaries being the guests of honour. Speeches made, we were then entertained by a Moroccan pop group of mixed ability. Today we head off south to Dakar in Senegal. At 600 miles it is a good long passage which will take about four days. To try and ensure that we all arrive on the same day at least the smaller, slower boats will be leaving at about 1000 and we will be leaving in the second group at about 1600.


Lawrence meanwhile has over the last few days grown a designer stubble as an experiment. I do not agree with Tom who says he looks like a smelly old down-and-out who’s just crawled out of a cardboard box from under the arches at Waterloo station.



P.S. Some of the anecdotes relating to skipper/crew relationships can be taken with a pinch of sea-salt. In the words of Colin Andrews who is joining the boat in Dakar, “Tim, sometimes it would help to embellish the truth a little to make your blog appear more interesting!”



Nice ostriches – shame about the oysters




The ParisDakar Rally on one of the smoother stretches


Lawrence’s camel was the pretty one in the middle





A reminder of how dangerous these roads can be unless you offer regular…




….prayers to Allah