The African Experience - a Nightmare

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Tue 17 Nov 2009 17:06

Position: 14:39.93N 017:25.68W

Date: 16 November 2009


Anyone who thinks that swanning around the west coast of Africa in a yacht in tropical heat in mid-November is a stress-free and relaxing experience can think again. I am near the point of exhaustion, largely due to Colin. He is the sort of maniac who thinks that sleep is a waste of time and anything more than four hours a day is a sissy self-indulgence. He then insists that I join him on all his madcap adventures. With that and the nervous exhaustion of trying to fix the various problems on board and I am more tired and stressed now than I was when I was working a 70-hour week in the pressure cooker of the City six years ago.


First of all, let me update you on the saga of the water-maker motor. Arona, the electrician who has twice failed to fix the motor for more than 2 hours greeted my return to Dakar on Saturday with the excellent news that he had acquired a new big Jabsco water pump which he was going to try and adapt to work with my water maker. It would be done by Sunday. Sunday arrived and went, and I’ve now been told that if I call him this afternoon (Monday) he might be able to tell me whether and when it might be fixed. I’m not staking my life on whether this will be a long term solution so I have asked Oyster after-sales to get a new motor couriered from the US for Peter to bring out to Cape Verde (as usual the team at Oyster, Ally and John, have been providing a superb service – a real life-line in times of crisis).


Meanwhile a further problem materialised when I came ashore yesterday to find that my laptop would not communicate with the internet – either by wifi (used onshore) or by Iridium phone (used offshore). I tried everything including turning it off then back on again (normally sorts most problems) – but nothing. This meant that I could not send or receive emails, would not have access to weather data for the passages but worst of all I would not be able to update this blog. I now have a devoted fan club and I know that the lack of blogs would create a void in the lives of all five of you – something had to be done and done fast.


Colin had sweated himself to a shadow yesterday traipsing around Dakar in pursuit of a computer specialist, not helped by the fact that notwithstanding it is a Muslim country everything is shut on a Sunday, but he did manage to identify a number of potential computer shops.


Colin is desperate to get out to the Isle de Madeleine, a nature reserve off the coast of Dakar with all the bird life necessary to bring his tally from a monumental 72 species to a record-breaking round 100. But I insisted he join me this morning to quickly whip into town and get the computer fixed. We left at 0730 fully expecting to be up and running again by 0900. To cut a very long story short, we met someone who knew just the chap who could solve the problem  - at 1000. At 1030 he turned up but looked at the laptop like it was the first computer he had seen. But not to worry, he knew someone who knew all about these problems and we were carted by the “expert” and his introducer through the back streets to another centre of hi-tech excellence where we were met by yet another blank _expression_. Another phone call later and a further expert arrived. Over the next hour half a dozen more experts were called in. Once a Senegalese latches on to you he never lets go, so on our final trip through the less salubrious parts of Dakar we were surrounded by an entourage that Barack Obama would have been proud of – and all of them computer experts. Eventually we gave up exhausted and depressed. I went back to the hotel which is our land base in Dakar whilst Colin was at last released to see if he could get the necessary permit to visit the Isle de Madeleine. I ran some virus software, found that the computer had indeed been infected (by a Trojan?) and I seem to have acquired a degree of connectivity. How long it will last I don’t know so if I go off the air suddenly, please bear with me.


Having now spent eight full days anchored off the city centre, today was the first time I had actually found the time to venture into the capital city of Dakar in daylight. It is an extraordinary, bustling, colourful, dirty and, for naïve European visitors, slightly threatening city.  The streets are lined to bursting with street traders, beggars, and vulture-like opportunists all vying with each other to take money off the unsuspecting European visitor. The ADS who, back in London, has been reading the blogs of other fellow rallyists has reported back to me that several have found “guardian angels” – local Senegalese – who have acted as guides and protectors; who have neither demanded nor even expected any payment for their services. Sadly this was not our experience. They are highly skilled in their technique. At first they appear genuinely friendly and wishing to show you around for which we were ready and willing to give them “un cadeau” for their help but, at the end of the day, there has always been the sting. Naively we have trusted them to arrange things in what to us is an alien city and they, without exception in our experience, have abused that trust. You end up being ripped off and with a bitter taste in one’s mouth. The country people of Senegal that we met – those in the Sine-Saloum delta - are charming, genuinely friendly dignified and honest people. I would love to come back to the country but I would avoid Dakar like the plague. 


Talking of plagues, Amina on “Naomi 2” became ill more than a week ago. Confined to her bed with severe flu like symptoms she has been diagnosed as having contracted Denghi fever, a disease spread by mosquitoes but for which there is no prevention – unlike malaria. Worse still there is an epidemic of Denghi fever in the Cape Verde islands, our next port of call where we will be staying for two weeks before we make the big hop across the Atlantic. So we will all be going around in long trousers, long-sleeved shirts and covered in Deet to avoid the same debilitating infection.


There are more risks in ocean cruising than one suspects.