Fixing up the boat and sailing to Senegal

Finally, after 1,5 years between the Canaries and Munich (for jobs and family) our family sailing adventure continues. Ponyo was waiting for us in Fuerteventura since beginning of September after we had sailed her over from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – escaping the frenziness of the ARC – the Atlantic Rallye for Cruiser, the biggest sailing rallye in the world.

Ric had joined Ponyo middle of October to fix her up and get her ready, he had fantastic support by Giorgos, our Greek sailing and engineering friend and one of Ponyo’s biggest admirers. We had invited him to sail with us to Dakar and he offered to help Ric with the handy work – what a fantastic deal! He’s not only a savvy boat engineer but also an experienced sailor and we were super glad to have him with us on our longest passage to date.

But first they worked day and night on Ponyo, had her sails mended, installed a fuel tank sensor (so we’d finally know rather than guess how full or empty our diesel tanks are, very helpful), a new toilet lid for our aft head (the old lid was broken and since it’s supposed to be a vacuum toilet that did cause some problems), a new coat of paint and some preventative osmosis treatment of the hull, lee sails so we wouldn’t fall out of our beds during passage, new shelves so our clothes wouldn’t fall out of their beds during passage, LED lights, more LED lights a new solar panel so we could produce more energy on passage and at anchor, a new set of batteries so we could store enough energy for the autopilot, fridge, lights and the occasional use of the rice cooker during passage and at anchor (the latter minus the autopilot obviously), finally a wind meter (so we’d know rather than guess how strong or weak the wind is blowing, very helpful on a sailboat they say) and so many more things that I don’t recall right now (sorry Ric and Giorgos for the ignorance).

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Ponyo got a new coat of anti-fouling

After a crazy busy month in Munich, myself and the boys flew to Fuerteventura about a month later to join Ric and Giorgos. The plan was for the boat to be ready and waiting for us so we could move aboard, provision and store the content of our too many suitcases but plans are for beginners, ha!

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

To get the 6:50am flight we had to get up at 4. We were so worried about our luggage, we had so much stuff but it was all fine, the lady at the check-in counter only scowled a little bit.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Our lucky stars were with us even after touch down: All of our suitcases were there and in tact and the friendly guy at the car rental desk gave us a free upgrade after seeing our mountain of luggage.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

When me and the boys finally arrived in Gran Tarajal, Ponyo wasn’t even back in the water. Things were not so easy to organize mostly due to communication issues. But we improvised and book a cheap hotel for two nights.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

And the boys were helping, too! We got Ponyo painted in less than a day.

Because of communication difficulties and the tendency in the Canaries to make things more complicated than well, efficient, Ponyo wasn’t even back in the water when we landed in Fuerteventura. And moving on a boat on the dry without running water or a toilet isn’t exactly good for keeping up morals (plus there’s the issue of space) so we improvised and I booked a cheap hotel for two nights for me and the boys.

So after the crazy busy month packing, subletting, tidying out the flat and more packing (not to forget: school, job and organizing boat stuff from afar) we now had a crazy busy week in Gran Tarajal in Fuerteventura unpacking, provisioning, storing, organizing to get the boat back into the water, answering about a million questions for the lovely journalist Georg for a feature in his magazine about us and our project (SZ Familiefor our German readers), going for an afternoon sail for some photo footage of aforementioned magazine, doing tons of laundry and filling up on water and diesel.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Our lovely tenants, Uygar and his wife Hande! They are moving from Istanbul to Munich together with their 2 kids and will be looking for a permanent flat while staying at our apartment. Welcome to Munich guys!!

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

The weeks before our flight back to the boat parcels kept coming (like this storm jib) and my despair about how to get all this stuff to Ponyo grew exponentially.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Two days before we left we had our Goodbye thing, lots of wonderful people came to wave us off, thank you guys!!

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Provisioning for the first leg of our passage and in fact as much as possible for all of our trip – the Caribbean is expensive `tis said

Setting sail for Dakar

And even though we didn’t get to finish all projects (haha!) we were pressed to leave for Dakar because our guest had a flight to catch. So we untied the lines on Monday, 19th of November, direction South-West – we wanted to stay well clear of the West-Sahara and Mauretanian coast, first because of unlit fishing boats and their unmarked nets and second to avoid being a target of possible piracy.

So we headed South-West first until we brought about 100nm between us and the coast of Africa.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Staying clear of the African coast

On the first two days we were almost becalmed, we had so little wind that we decided to use the motor for some hours to get some miles behind us plus charge our batteries. I was quite happy though since this little wind also meant no seasickness for me, I could even bake bread two mornings in a row!

Until when on day 3 the wind picked up, significantly. We raced downwind to Dakar with an average of 7-8 knots! The speed was fantastic but at the same time the waves were quite high and coming from the side – not a good combination for my over-sensitive vestibular organ and I didn’t touch any food for the next couple of days.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Racing down to Dakar with an average of 7-8 knots

The boys were doing altright, experiencing the occasional soupçon of seasickness, otherwise fine but quite bored. But since I believe that boredom is one of the best fuels for creativity, I didn’t deem that too bad.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Our board games became increasingly popular with every day at sea!

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

Books, movies and audiobooks became essential.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

…and more games. Whenever there’s luck involved, Yannick wins, it’s frustrating!

Landfall in West-Africa

After 7 days and 7 nights at sea with lots of dolphins we spotted land (or to put it in sailing language: we made landfall) on Monday 26th of November. Dakar has a visible air pollution problem, from the sea you could first see the yellowish haze dome and the atrocious monument of the African Renaissance, a monstrosity bigger than the Statue of Liberty, a gift from North Korea (!) for the 60th anniversary of Senegal’s independence in 2010.

We sailed all the way to the South of the Cape Vert on which a big part of Dakar sits on top in order to go into the Bay of Hann where the only two sailing clubs are located and where all boats normally go.

Anchoring in the completely protected bay was straight forward and soon after the sailing club’s own water taxi pulled up to give us some information and ask if we needed anything.

Now, sailing club, water taxi, that all sounds quite fancy but be assured nothing of it was, the water taxi was a converted fishing boat and the sailing club’s facilities were more than basic so that’s that. Completely fine with us but just to put things in perspective. Senegal is the most stable country in West Africa with relative prosperity but this is still Africa, people are poor (hardly any middle class, the rich make up about 0,01 percent and the rest counts as moreless poor according to international standards of living) and facilities in general are all pretty basic.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

We made it to Senegal by sail boat! Dakar greeted us with sunshine, a flimsy pontoon and very smelly water.

Infos for fellow sailors

Gran Tarajal

If you are looking for a place in the Canaries to escape the ARC and fix up your boat, even lift it out for little money, Gran Tarajal is for you. It’s very relaxed but had almost everything we needed. Almost because no launderette, the next launderette is 40km away in Puerto Rosario.  One thing though: people here rarely speak any English so some proficiency in Spanish helps tons and opens hearts and minds.

I have the phone numbers of about every key person (shipyard boss, aluminium welder, sailmaker etc. and I’m happy to pass them on!

Things to know: The marina office is only open on weekdays but there’s security 24/7.

Berthing fees: It’ not as cheap as Las Palmas but still amongst the cheapest in the Canaries (together with La Graciosa – no electricity though – , La Estace in El Hierro and Tazacorte in La Palma), we paid about 22€ for our 13,80m boat.

Lifting out: This is the most inefficient procedure I have ever experienced anywhere, admittedly. First you need to contact Carlos who is the manager of the shipyard and in charge of the supports where your boat will be resting. They are notoriously short in supports so make this your number one to-do-thing. Go to the shipyard in person, ask around for Carlos and have a nice chat with him. Gran Tarajal is deep Canaries and totally relationship-oriented. Only after talking to Carlos in person he found supports for us. After that everything was easy, Carlos was super helpful and knew a contact or a solution to every problem. We kept communicating via WhatsApp and each day he felt more like a friend of the family. So relationship is key 🙂

After organizing the supports everything else is quite easy, yet still inefficient. You need to go to the harbour master to do the paperwork, then look for boss of the Fishing Cofradía (Guild?) who is in charge of the crane. Be careful if you have a deep keel, the place where the crane lifts out the boat is quite shallow with rocks, we had to wait for high tide both times, Ponyo’s draft is 2,20m.

Before putting the boat back into the water, you pay Carlos for the supports (very cheap), the Cofradía for the lift out and back in (we paid about 230€ for both including taxes) and the harbour master for the use of water and electricity.

Gran Tarajal is one of the places in the Canaries where you pay much less to leave your boat on land than in the water. Probably the reason why all the supports are constantly in use, not even half of the boats have someone working on them, most seem to be parked. Also – as far as we understood – the first week on the dry is basically free anyway, except for the use of water and electricity.

There are hardware stores in town and a little outside in the industrial zone (our favourite was called Cofemax. There’s also a woodworker in the industrial zone.

For Camping Gaz there’s only one place in Gran Tarajal where they exchange it, Carlos knows where (next to the Cofemax in town, also a hardware shop).

The town’s only chandler can help with some parts, paints, lights etc. but is more specialized in fishing (motor) boats than sailboats. But he ordered Vetus batteries for us and they were much cheaper than we had thought because: special tax zone!

Provisioning: Do as much provisioning as possible while still in the Canaries, I had gotten the same advice but not taken it quite as seriously (we were just too busy and eager to get away to give it more thought) and now we are in constant search for things. There’s one Lidl in Fuerteventura that’s near Puerto Rosario, it’s worth going there at least once and stocking up on basics, they even have drinkable wine.

Supermarkets in Dakar are few, more difficult to reach and definitely not cheaper than in Europe. The ‚normal’ population buys at markets and boutiques, the supermarkets are for the richer crowd and foreigners as you can tell by the prices.


Dakar, Senegal

The Bay of Hann is a safe spot to anchor but also one of the dirtiest and most disgusting bodies of water I have ever seen. On days with no wind the smell was so intense that it woke us at night. Also important to know: There are two unmarked wrecks somewhere inside the anchorage. Really annoying that the sailing club (who is charging a substantial fee for their services ) hasn’t as much as put buoys to mark their position. It’s impossible to see them in the murky water and in fact we hit one on our way out of the Bay. We were lucky, not much damage because we were going so slow. But a shock and annoying nonetheless and it had cost Jari his glasses that fell of his nose into the water and disappeared in the filthy soup forever.

Best, I guess, is to move around the anchorage during high tide.

Immigration and Clearance: You first take a taxt to Port Police (Mole 2 or Mole Deux). Taking taxis is a bit of a hassle in Dakar, there are hardly any taxameters and you usually agree on a price beforehand. If you are a paleface like us taxi drivers are likely to tell you a more expensive fare, of course.

A ride to the Police du Port shouldn’t cost you more than 2000 CFA (a little more than 3€) and that’s already generous.

After going to the Police du Port you will be send to Costums (Douane) at Mole 10 (Mole Dix), you will need another taxi for that (no more than 1000 CFA).

Take your own photo copies of all ship papers, insurance and passports to save time and money, otherwise they’ll send you to a make-shift copy shop around the corner.

For check-out you’ll only need to come back to the Police du Port for stamps, that’s it. Immigration fee was 5000 CFA for us (not sure if for the boat or 1000 CFA for each person x 5), so really cheap, no visa, no nothing, we were happy!

Internet: The WiFi at the sailing club is not reliable and sometimes very slooooow. For your own internet look for an Orange shop and take your passport. You’ll get a local SIM card there and then you’ll buy credit at any ‚boutique’. With that credit you then decide for a package (phone minutes, amount of GB, etc.). Best to let someone (at the shop for example) help you with installing and charging. We paid 15000CFA (a bit more than 20€ for 25 GB) and that lasted us for two weeks including downloading of updates, maps, weather and even watching some Youtube.

Whatever you do in Dakar that involves going through the city, don’t do it during rush hour. People who have been to Cairo or Delhi have told me similar things but Dakar’s traffic is a nightmare. Hardly any traffic lights, cars don’t seem to follow any rules and during rush hour you can easily spend 1-2 hours inside a taxi for no more than 7km.

On my last day of running around and provisioning I spent no less than 4 hours in taxis, I’m not exaggerating.

Provisioning: There are a few supermarkets and supermarket chains like Auchan and Hypermarché but they are a little trickier to reach from Hann (you basically need a taxi or rental car). Casino was the most expensive so we didn’t shop there. Auchan is politically very incorrect so we also avoided that and ended up in Hypermarché that – even though the chain is French (or used to be?) is in the hands of Indians. It has two floors and presents a decent variety of things. We mainly stocked up on cans of beans and chickpeas since those only come in glasses in the Canaries for some reason. The taxi from there back to Hann shouldn’t be more than 2500 CFA and leads you via an adventurous deviation across the construction site of the new train station.

For fresh produce it’s best to go to one of the markets, they are everywhere. I liked Marché Kermel, it’s a bit more expensive than other markets but the building itself is worth a visit and you get almost everything, even chicken breast (the normally sell the whole animal which makes much more sense ecologically but on a boat you can’t always make use of a whole chicken) and passion fruit (one of my favourites!). There are even some Chinese shops nearby in case you like to cook Asian dishes. For a little Korean supermarket try Rue de l’Aeroport near Ngor.

The Senegal is good to stock up on peanuts, they are locally grown, very tasty and inexpensive. Great night shift snack! I’ll write more about the local cuisine in the next blog post.

Money: CFA, 655 CFA = 1€

Credit cards are hardly anywhere accepted, even notes of 2000 CFA (3€) can present a problem because people often can’t give out change. Best to always carry coins and small bills.

Please feel free to contact us for more infos or if you have a comment 🙂