Senegal – A Culture Shock

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Thu 5 Nov 2009 12:34

Position: 14:39.93N 017:25.68W

Date: 5 November 2009


The forecasts were right, On Tuesday afternoon the wind died. We were trickling along. But we were still keen to maintain our record of sailing all the passages without the “benefit” of the motor so we persisted, constantly trimming the slatting sails to maintain some headway. During the evening VHF radio net all the boats were reporting that they had resorted to being “en moteur”. When it came to our turn I announced “vitesse: deux neud : a la voile” (“speed: two knots: under sail”). “Ah” said Jean the net controller and hardy veteran of two MiniTransats “un puriste!”


We had a crew discussion. It appeared that there were only two boats ahead of us: “Tog Gwen” a 54 ft Super Marimu which had started five hours before us and had motored most of the way in order to meet up early with some technicians in Dakar, and “Flying Kefi”, Dieter’s super-fast trimaran which we were never going to be able to beat (at one point he was surfing down the waves at 15 knots!). All the boats were motoring. The “race”, to the extent that there was one, was over, and we were the leading monohull. Meanwhile the constant slatting of my sails was not doing them any good, so after more than a thousand miles of sailing we too turned on the motor. After 2 ½ hours the wind came round to the south rather stronger than forecast and we were able to beat into Dakar through Tuesday night (which the rest of the fleet, much further east, were unable to do, so the strategy of going a long way west had paid off after all).


Sailing along the coast on the approach to Dakar we had to dodge numerous pirogues, long narrow highly coloured Senegalese fishing boats which were bucketing around in the choppy seas. Cheery waves all round. At 0915 on Wednesday morning we  rounded the point and joined “TogGwen” and “ Flying Kefi” in the anchorage.


I had been in contact with Nicolas by email en route (there I go again) about the spinnaker and he had a (the only?) sailmaker standing by to receive our blown out spinnaker. We pulled an assortment of torn rags of sailcloth and luff tapes out of the sail locker and stuffed them into a sail bag. Later in the day the sailmaker reported back that it would be three days work to repair the sail (I’m surprised it wasn’t more) but he could complete it before we left for Sine Saloum. We agreed a price and off he went to start the work.


I spent the whole afternoon with my head in the murderously hot engine room trying to sort out the problems with the water maker and the generator. I identified that it was the electric motor of the water maker that was not working, so Nicolas helped again by sending over to the boat an absolute mountain of a Senegalese electrician (“He used to be karati champion of Senegal” said Nicolas. “Well, I won’t be quibbling about his bill then!” I replied). He took the motor ashore and later came back to show me that the work carried out in Portugal had been bad: half the brushes had become detached and one had fallen into the middle of the motor. There was no replacement motor available in Senegal so he would have to dismantle the whole thing, manufacture various of the parts and springs and then reassemble it. It would be ready in two days. One doesn’t need the water maker but it would be great inconvenience without it so I am considering ordering a replacement and having it brought out to Cape Verde as a spare for the Atlantic crossing.


As for the generator, I had been in email contact with the manufacturers in New Zealand and we had identified that the problem was one of fuel starvation. I dismantled and tested all the piping, pumps and filters from the fuel tank through to the generator and eventually discovered that the blockage was in the evaporator at the top of the generator. Replace the evaporator and bingo, the Whispergen has been purring away ever since.


So, subject to the water maker motor working properly after its repair, all the significant  problems have been resolved. Hallelujah! It is in the nature of sailing boats for all the component parts to break down, at best in sequence but sometimes in batches and I am by no means alone in having to sort problems out here. For example, on “Flying Kefi” the autopilot packed up half way here and they had to hand steer solidly for two days.


After the maintenance work we all went ashore in the evening in the water taxi which had been laid on by the rally organisers to ferry us to and from the luxury hotel which was hosting our stay here. On our way in the little open ferry stopped off at “Minnie B” to collect Phil and Norma. We were surprised when Phil boarded the ferry wearing only a pair of boxer shorts and clutching a bag. “Remarkably informal wear for an evening out on the town” I commented. “Ah” said Phil, “so you haven’t heard then”. The wind had been coming from the south with waves coming into the anchorage. The surge at the hotel pontoon made it unsafe to disembark there so the ferry was backing into a beach, timing the swell, surfing down a breaker and whilst the two crew leapt out and held the boat, the passengers stormed off the back and rushed up the beach before the next breaking wave came crashing in, surging waist high up the beach in wet pursuit of the spruced up sailors. Sometimes they made it but often they didn’t. Apparently David from “Suzie Too”, dressed in all his finery for the evening found himself literally up to his neck in a foaming wave. As we approached the beach, the truth of Phil’s description became blindingly obvious. Lawrence, Tom and I got our trousers and shoes off in about five seconds flat as the ferry hurtled backwards down a crashing wave onto the beach.


We went out to dinner to a typical Senegalese restaurant recommended by Nicolas. Senegal is renowned for its unique and delicious cuisine. Enormous plates of fish, sea food and chicken arrived at the table, accompanied by cous cous and rice, all washed down with local beer and a very drinkable carafe of red wine. The bill came to about £6 per head. Senegal is a country with a stable government and a peaceful and, by African standards, prosperous population. But nevertheless, walking back to the hotel, we had not been prepared to find the pavements at night littered with people sleeping rough, many of them missing a limb or four. I am sure it is something one would get used to but having come from our cosy sanitised western culture, it came as a shock.


 The locals, tall, elegant, good-looking, ebony black and brightly dressed are all very friendly to the point of persistent annoyance. They wait like vultures at the hotel entrance and then latch themselves on to you trying to persuade you to buy some shoddy souvenir or whatever and, when that fails, they offer to show you round the town. And by the time you have walked the length of the main square there are a gaggle of them surrounding you like a swarm of mosquitos.


When Lawrence and Tom went ashore yesterday afternoon, they befriended Mamabu, a young musician who showed Tom & Lawrence round, taking them to a clothes factory and a friendly bar. He then sold Lawrence a number of priceless Senegalese artefacts, probably the only examples left in the whole of Africa (apart from those identical examples subsequently seen on all the other stalls of course). Mamabu did have one great advantage being that he kept away all the other persistent vultures.


Tom arranged for Mamabu to come out with us yesterday evening and take us to a restaurant and to somewhere where we could hear some Senegalese music which is world-renowned. Things didn’t pan out quite as planned. We ended up in an extremely basic restaurant and had one plate of extremely basic chicken in an (admittedly very tasty) onion sauce with rice. No alcohol so we drank Coca-Cola and bottled water. We had asked what the cost would be in advance and had been told by Mamabu that for the eight of us it would be about 45,000 Senegalese Francs (about £8 per head) Compared with the evening before this seemed distinctly pricey, but we were there and we were running out of time before the last ferry to get back to the boat. Having finished our meal we were then presented with a one line bill for 85,000 – more expensive than your average London restaurant! No way! We sent Mamabu off to renegotiate and he came back with a revised bill for 55,000. Not good enough. We eventually paid the 45,000 that had first been indicated. But Mamabu had sadly shown his true colours, not as a reliable trustworthy guide who we would have been happy to use in the future but as an opportunistic rascal trying to fleece us for as much as he thought he get away with. Shame.


Tomorrow we are planning to take a ferry over to the island about a mile away which was used as a holding camp for the tens of thousands of slaves who were shipped from here over to the Caribbean and America. Still with the old colonial buildings it is retained as a sobering reminder of a shameful past. A day for reflection perhaps.


But meanwhile there remains a long list of routine maintenance work and re-provisioning to be done. The blog is likely to resume on Sunday when we will have arrived in the Sine Saloum delta 60 miles south of Dakar. Until then, here are some photos - and Happy Guy Fawkes Day!!!:



Big Seas



Kamikaze flying fish….



… gets its come uppance – yummy!



Tom keeps a tidy cockpit – but we weren’t allowed to sit anywhere or adjust any of the sails!



Thar she blows!



Humpback whale as long as Mina2



Cheery welcome from the local fishermen on an overcast morning




Shredded cruising chute goes off for repair



The fleet at anchor at dawn in Dakar