41 – Christmas in Dakar
41 – Christmas in Dakar

41 – Christmas in Dakar

At close reach to Dakar

We promised the boys that we would be sailing neither on the 24-25th December or the 31st… So we left the Bijagos, heading back to have kind of a Christmas in Dakar where we needed to pick up an ordered part. At this point I won’t go into technical details, as we’re coming up with a separate article on our “technical turn of the year”!

After 3 days at close reach with a pox-covered hull (a reminder we had spent nearly 2 months in highly populated waters), facing the waves and wind, we reach Dakar… by night again! The cool air hits us by surprise. We’re talking about 22-25°C in the day, 18-22 in the night. Well, after over 30° on the Bijagos it feels like winter to us!

Festive greetings from Dakar

Christmas is approaching, and we find a great international book shop, which settles the question about Christmas presents. We come out of the shop after 25 min. and 2 heavy bags full of books. Luckily our boat is 15m long!

As Senegal is mostly Muslim (97 % officially), there is not so much of a Christmas atmosphere, but, here and there, there are palm trees nicely decorated or streets with some Christmas lights. And the best thing is, here, all religions happily join in, to each other’s celebrations. It IS possible to live together in peace!

Some restaurants also make it nice: so, we spend an evening in the Centre Culturel Français de Dakar. It’s in an amazing surrounding, in the middle of town, with an enclosed garden and reasonably good food! We indulge ourselves this treat as our personal Christmas dinner!

Christmas in Dakar – BBQ with a bitter aftertaste

We spend Christmas day with other sailors at the CVD (Cercle de Voile Dakar – the sailing club) where we organize a BBQ together, sharing the costs. All good and everybody helps preparing the food and tables for the 17 people who said they would join. The atmosphere is good, some music playing in the background, tables and chairs organised.

Open buffet?

We start the grill and it smells delicious of the various meats we found at a nice butcher. Nibbles, drinks, salads are dressed, bread on the table… But in our organisation, we don’t include the 15 other people who invite themselves and gladly savour our nicely prepared buffet… The problem is less the costs (well, anyway a bit!) but mainly the fact, that there is finally not enough food for the people who are paying for it! What to say? It was rather difficult NOT to serve friends and family of people working for the CVD, who ‘just happened to be there’.

At this point I’d like to add Alexander’s comment. Quote:

“CAUTION! NOTE FROM ALEXANDER: There was a herd of people who were not invited. REVOLTING! It also had a stupid lady who took a huge quantity of the best pieces of meat, rise, salad and other vegetables! THEEF! ROBBER! STEELER! GANGSTER! DEALER! SMUGGLER! OUTLAWR! LAWBRAKER! CONVICT! CROOK! OFFENDER! VILLAIN! LAG! DELINQUENT! CULPRIT! SINNER!” end quote (who says we don’t teach our children using English language?) In the meantime, we talked to the boys to see this funny experience with other eyes…

Luckily, we managed to secure the 2 bottles of champagne, watermelon, and ginger cake that we ate and drank after all the un-invited people had left… Looking back, we had to realise that we are in Africa, where sharing belongs to the culture. Something we have to learn?…

Stock management

After the weeks of sailing in the rivers and in the Bijagos Archipelago our food stock is getting low. Except in the Bijagos, we always manage to find fruit, vegetables, eggs and bread at many places. But what excitement to walk into a huge Carrefour where you can get everything you’ve been craving for!: Cheese (not Swiss though!), crème fraiche, fullcream fresh milk, seedy bread, mushrooms, ham and salami, risotto, sirop, wine, champagne for the 31st and the coming up equator crossing!… we fill our shopping bags and the whole trunk of a taxi. What: 50 – 60 kg of food?…

No taxi-boat tonight

Arriving at the marina with the taxi (or rather Heech, Senegal’s Uber solution), trouble starts: the 5 shopping bags and 2 backpacks need to get to the boat. We, like all the other sailors, rely on the club’s taxi-boat to bring us on shore and back during the day. Unfortunately, that day the taxi boat’s engine broke down and we find ourselves with all our bags on the wobbly wooden pier… in vain. So, we lug all our shopping back to the club, have a beer and hang around waiting for someone who happens to have their dinghy on shore, to bring us to our boat.

The reason most people prefer to take the taxi-boat instead of their own dinghy, is that after a few days in the mucky waters of Dakar the dinghy looks awful and starts having vegetation growing on it. Obviously, you also always need to lock it up safely to the pier, hoping to find it back well after a day away.

Some nice sailor takes us back later that evening and, with all the tidying up, it gets pretty late that night…

Water and fuel

On the last day, we have 500 litres of fuel (at a special smuggler’s rate, due to our pirate’s help!) in various containers of 10 , 20 and 40 litres brought to the boat. Oliver filters all bottles through cloth to avoid any dirt in the tanks. What a job! Messy, nauseating, heavy and long – a really unpleasant task. Well done Oliver! In the meantime, Jean-Luc assists Oliver and runs around doing other things to get the boat ready to sail. And Alexander and Cat fill 400 litres of drinking water into our water tanks.

We’re ready to go. Where? Back to Cape Verde! To join our friends from Touka and Orion in Mindelo to celebrate New Year’s Eve 😊.

But not so quickly!

Getting hooked…

We leave Dakar at 16h30 on the 27th December, hoping to pass the harbour and the passage out into the open sea in daylight. All fine, nice sunset, still soft wind though, so running on sail and engine. The daylight is getting low. I’m at the helm and suddenly, last second, see an unlit fishing line across our way. I tear the wheel full to starboard, take out the gear to stop the propeller turning, but it’s too late: the fishing line is tangled around our propeller! We’re seriously hooked!

Bloody dangerous!

Fishermen in pirogues come towards us, we try to communicate but nobody speaks French. We tell them that we have to cut the net showing our knife. It doesn’t seem to be their net and they make us understand that we can cut it. Jean-Luc puts himself with a very sharp diving knife on the back bridge and starts cutting what he finds, climbs down and grabs underneath at the rudder: net all over. He cuts everything he can – as well as himself! That done and Jean-Luc dripping blood all over the cockpit, we start moving slowly again. The propeller seems to be reacting as it should.

Lets get out of here

In the meantime, it’s gotten dark and before our eyes we see little coloured lights appearing all around us, for miles around us, like a minefield! Fishing nets all over have now been lit up. We didn’t see any of them just half an hour ago! And we’re getting beamed at with green laser pointers by fishermen in their pirogues, worrying about their nets. What a mess! Jean-Luc gets a bandage around his cut hand, and we try to focus on getting out of this labyrinth.

Finally, it takes us 5-6 hours to find our way out. First heading back to the shore, then parallel to the shore northwards, then slowly to the west, still avoiding fishing nets. Adrenaline keeps us well awake till we had the last lights behind us at 2 o’clock in the morning…

So in fact, we were very lucky to get stuck in a net at the very beginning, still with some daylight. We were able to get out of it without too much of a damage.

3-day crossing

We cross in reasonable conditions, but again at rather close reach, which means our boat is listing constantly. This makes moving around in the boat, doing school work and cooking difficult. We arrive in Mindelo, Cape Verde, …at night! Again quicker than expected, we arrive at the completely overcrowded anchorage area and zigzag between the boats. Two friend boats are still awake (it’s past midnight! Not a time sailors are normally awake…) and wave hello. Nice welcome 😊, thank you SV Margna and Orion!

It takes us 3 attempts to drop the anchor with enough space so that Illika can turn around her anchor with the wind…

Time to celebrate!

We’re happy to have two days to catch up on sleep, clean the boat and get organized for New Year’s Eve. On the 31st, our friends from Orion are hosting on their catamaran at anchor for 4 other boats, a total of 15 people! Bravo Cécile! Organized like a, in Switzerland we call it a Canadian dinner, the French call it an “auberge espagnole” : everybody brings a share of the buffet. We have an absolutely fabulous evening on Orion, followed by the fireworks of Mindelo we watch from the marina and then a lively street party with concerts and thousands of people.

The boys also manage to use our last reserves of fireworks from last year, as we never were able to use them, having arrived in Morocco before New Year’s Eve. In Morocco personal fireworks are forbidden…

Preparing the Transat

As Jean-Luc takes this last opportunity to get back to Switzerland at reasonable costs, we put ourselves in the marina. I don’t like being at anchor alone with the boys. This also allows us to prepare our Atlantic crossing more easily. While Jean-Luc is gone we get back into a school-cooking-to-do-list- and afternoon pleasure-rhythm. Sometimes we meet up with other boaters for a drink or snack, go to the beach, have chats on the pier and once we re-do the hike to the lighthouse Dona Amelia with our friends from Orion and Touka.

Two days before leaving, 2 other boats arrive with 4 boys more or less the age of Oliver and Alexander… They meet up and have fun going along the pontoons, from one boat to the next or playing games. The time was too short before they had to say goodbye.

Big step to come

We leave Mindelo on the 17th January to cross the Atlantic, aiming to team up with Touka after 24 hours at the hight of the most southern Island of Cape Verde, Brava. Our destination is the Island of Fernando de Noronha, 200 miles off the Brazilian coast, 1450 miles from Mindelo. The tradewinds are announced steady for the next days, the sea slightly uncomfortable with a big swell (it can’t all be perfect, can it?), weather good, the doldrums not very present. Estimated sailing time with the announced conditions: 10-12 days.

Piece of cake?

All sailors who have already crossed the Atlantic say “it’s a piece of cake” “it’s all from the back, the wind, the waves” “it’s so peaceful” – they only say that, so you’re not put off right from the start, I think! We shall see!

Anyway, we start our transat in, I find, quite a zen, relaxed way and well prepared.


  1. Mum

    Such a brilliant report, interesting and humourus, great photos as always.

    Love Alexander’s tirade!

    Illika really looked cosy at Xmas…., lovely

    So nice to know that the boys are doing their bit.

    Lots of love xxxx

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