Exploring Dakar

Africa smells like, well… Africa! Amazing how distinct the smell is, we noticed it miles away from land. Together with the colours and the music the smell is definitely one of the things that made a deep impression on all of us.

Except for Ric (who had spent a couple of his teenage years in Lagos, Nigeria), this was the first time that we set foot in an African country (Subsahara Africa, we have obviously been to Morocco). And we were so proud – we got there by sailboat!

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
When we first arrived in Dakar we were greeted by thousands and thousands of white butterflies – it was magic
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
So many butterflies, I had them in my hair and they were everywhere

Dakar is dirty, Dakar is noisy and Dakar has a serious traffic problem. Traffic here is madness, I have never seen anything like it. I heard friends tell me about Delhi and Cairo and I imagine Dakar to be similar but without any alternatives to taxi and bus (no tram, no underground transport) and in our 2 weeks there we must have spent hours in taxis, I’m not even exaggerating.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
One of many times we were stuck in one of Dakar’s adventurous taxis. Oh and still smiling, that was before we knew it would take us over an hour to get to Sophie’s place.
Senegalese traffic was madness
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
We were in love with the colors of Dakar

The anchorage lies to the South of Dakar and Sophie – my friend who took care of us during our stay – lives more in the North but really only a couple of km away, not that big of a deal, one would think. Except this is Dakar and Dakar’s rush hour seems to make up a big part of the day, basically from 7-11 and from 3-9. During that time it would easily take us way over an hour to get to her place. None of the taxis we took had a working taxameter, so you agree on a price beforehand after quite some discussion and negotiating and that can get exhausting after a while. And being white taxi drivers of course expect us to pay more which is fair enough. Only that we were on a very tight budget!

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Our favourite vendor in Marché Kermel
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Provisioning in Dakar was a bliss – especially with Sophie on our side who would bargain with the vendors in Wolof for the best price. The veggies and fruits were heaven!
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Many if not most streets in Dakar are sand roads which makes it oftentimes difficult for cars but we loved the feel and colours!
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Thousands of slaves have been shipped off from the Île de Gorée.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
On the ferry to Île de Gorée. We thought about taking our boat there but then it was just much easier to take the public ferry.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Île de Gorée has become a symbol of slavery, in particular this house with it’s door of no return. Here the captives were ’stored‘ until the ships came to take them away across the Atlantic so they were destined to work on overseas plantations.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
The Door of No Return. Ships were waiting on the other side and going through that door meant never seeing their home again for all the slaves that exited through it.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Except for the sad history of the place, the little island is a pleasant change from the noise and dirt of Dakar
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes

The overall impression at first was that it was difficult to really get in touch with the Senegalese people, we have felt unwelcome a couple of times but given the history of colonization and slavery, that’s quite understandable. But then there was Sophie who had been living in Senegal for more than 15 years and who speaks Wolof fluently, she was our door opener to the Senegalese culture and it’s wonderful people.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
We just loved taking long walks in Sophie’s neighborhood Ouakam – there was always something new to see and learn.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Water melons in Dakar are fantastic and super cheap. We got one and made the most delicious water melon juice out of it.

She showed us around, brought us to her favourite spots, introduced us to Senegalese music and food but she also filled us in about Senegalese politics and her and her Senegalese friends‘ frustration about local politicians. To give only one example: The Senegalese government has sold the countries fishing rights to other countries like China and Japan which led to Senegalese fishermen not finding anymore fish and hence fish prices have quadrupled over the last couple of years. Which again robbed many people of their perspective and took away their basis of existence. She also told us about the lack of opportunity for young people to get an education beyond primary school. All in all we were able to learn a lot about Senegal and its people. We took day trips to the former slave island of Gorée, we spend two days outside Dakar at the sea and driving quad amongst baobab trees, we visited the museum of African art and much more.

Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Sophie showed us Senegalese culture and food!
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
The Senegalese national dish Thieboudienne, a kind of fish risotto – delicious! A plate of this dish used to cost around 250 CFA (about €0,40) but now after there are hardly any fish left you have to pay four times as much.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Baobab trees are wonderful! They carry fruits that are an important staple for the Senegalese and they look amazing.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
The museum of African art in Dakar
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
On our trip to the South of the city we got to see this beautiful lake with hundreds of birds

Sophie also arranged for us to stay in her best friend’s house so we could have a little break from boat life. That was very welcome, the anchorage was really quite disgusting. Some years ago the Bay of Hann must have been a paradise with white sandy beach, crystal clear water and stunning vegetation. But now with the fish market and people just dumping everything in the water and on the beach, the whole bay stinks and the water is horrific. 

One time it was so bad we even woke up from the stink!

The water was so murky that we didn’t see the wreck in the anchorage (apparently no one can be bothered to mark it and we weren’t the first to hit it as we learned afterwards) and just before leaving for the Cape Verdes, we drove against it. One of the few moments of shock during our trip as we had no idea of what we had just hit and how bad it was: did we take on water? Did something happen to the keel? Jari even lost his glasses due to the impact, he had just pulled up the anchor and was still at the bow finishing up when it happened. He got thrown against the rail and his glasses slipped off his nose and landed in the murky soup – not a chance to recover them.

We were lucky, except for a huge scratch on our keel, all seemed fine.

Overall it was a fantastic experience and we just wished we had more time – as always – and a less deep keel! Senegambia is fantastic for river cruising, there are no less than 3 rivers that we would have loved to sail in (also easier with a less deep keel as there are quite a few moving sand banks) and there’s also Guinea-Bissau with the Bijagos archipelago (but too shallow for Ponyo). And then there’s the inland with so much to see and discover! We barely scratched the surface and vowed to come back.

Boatnotes Sailing with Kids Sailing to Africa Senegal
Hann Marina in Dakar used to be a paradise but not anymore: the beach is a dump and the water resembles a sewage more than anything else.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
One day we discovered this dolphin baby at the dirty beach, what a sad thing to see.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Our dingy kept loosing air so we got Robert of CVD (the sailing club Cercle de Voile Dakar) to help us fix it.
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Family sailing adventure sailing Ponyo Boatnotes
Provisioning for our next leg of our adventure – our 3 day passage to Cape Verde. Dakar doesn’t have a lot of supermarkets, most people shop in little so-called boutiques – corner shops – and of course at local markets. The few supermarkets are quite expensive and inconvenient to reach but we needed to stock up on canned veggies as we had heard it would only become more difficult in Cape Verde and in the Caribbean.
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Leaving Dakar for Cape Verde – way too soon!

Infos for fellow sailors

Beware of the wreck(s?) in the Bay of Hann! If you are deep-keeled as we are you might want to wait for high tide to sail into and around the anchorage. Eyeball navigation won’t help as there’s no way of spotting the wreck, the water is way too dirty.

Considering this and the state of the showers the fee that the CVD asks for is a little outrageous, we paid the equivalent of 110€ for 2 weeks (1 boat – already includes 1 person – , 1 extra adult and 2 kids – technically our kids didn’t count as kids anymore but they were generous when I complained about the showers) but there’s little to no alternative where to anchor your boat – at least not one we know of. You might be able to anchor next to the island of Ngor which would be so much nicer and cleaner and more attractive but we are not sure how calm and safe the anchorage is as it’s much more exposed to the open Atlantic. 

Ask for Momo, he’s your go-to-guy for everything you need, he’s reliable and can use the money. He helped us get water and sell stuff, we loved him!

Getting around the country: There are the 6-seater taxis („six-places“) that will take you anywhere in the country for little money, the only thing is they will wait until all seats are taken before they leave so bring some time. Dakar-St. Louis for example should take around 5-6 hours and cost less than €10 per person.

Rental cars are rather pricy and traffic can be nerv wecking so I’m not sure if I would recommend it. If you drive overland you’re also prone to police stopping you for ‚speeding’.

One word on insurance because we know of some sailors who refrained from sailing to Senegal because their insurance wouldn’t cover it. We are insured with Preuss Yachtversicherungen, a German insurance broker. We haven’t had a claim so far but as far as we had to deal with them, we were super happy and they insure Senegal and you don’t need to be German to buy insurance from them.

If you are drawn to West Africa don’t let negative hearsay stop you, we didn’t feel any less safe than in any other place, certainly not less than in the Caribbean islands – quite the opposite. We loved sailing to Senegal and we would definitely come back and spend much more time cruising the coast down to Casamance and Gambia, maybe even to Guinea-Bissau but with a less deep-keeled boat.

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