We are so glad to have come to The Gambia, it is an amazing experience for us to be here. So much has happened since we got here in late November. We have seen so many new and beautiful places and things: flora and fauna, landscapes and waterways, sunrises and sets and met lots of friendly and kind people. So much to write about here but I will try to give an impression of our time in the next few blog posts. We have internet intermittently with a local SIM card we bought, so I can post text just now, and maybe manage the odd photo with that too? ( more when ever I get a good connection).
When we arrived we didn’t know how far we would get up river with our time, the tides, daily distances etc but we were keen to head in- land up country as far as we could. I am so glad we were able to do this as the changing landscapes, vegetation and animal life of the river has been fascinating, coming from salt water into brackish to fresh. It has been strange being in the fresh water. Hestur visibly sat lower in the water without the buoyancy of the salt, also the weed which had been developing under the waterline has gone! It has died off in the fresh water because it is a marine growth. The water has changed from various shades of green and brown. The muddiest part of the river was the brackish bit between salt and fresh, where it looks muddy in a small volume, like a bucket of the stuff. Up river in the fresh it was clearer. The muddier the water the crisper the shadow of Hestur’s mast and sails are against it.
The furthest east point we managed to get was 250 NM up stream, to the Mungo Park Memorial. This is the point that Mungo Park left the river Gambia from in 1795 and 1805 to head inland north east in search of the source of the Niger. We have a copy of the 1997 RCC ‘Cruising Guide to West Africa’ by Steve Jones and the two charts: Admiralty 608 ‘River Gambia Entrance’ and Admiralty 609 ‘River Gambia Albreda to Kuntar’. This chart has insert sections of the river on as far as we went, past Bansang. It was updated in 1891, 1911 , 1922, 1941 but the original material is from 1826 and the section north of Kuntar ( for 60 NM ) has not been updated since 1826. It is a beautiful black and white chart with the topography and indication of vegetation, villages and ferry crossings. However if we were to plot our position from the GPS on it, it puts us 4 miles inland away from the river!
Dans parents, Ruth and Martin came out and joined us for 10 days when we first arrived. We had a fabulous time with them, it was so nice to have them aboard. We made our way up river from Banjul as far as Janjanbureh (Georgetown) on Mac Carthy Island with them. We had a couple of nights first at Lamin Lodge and then we set off up stream. We made good passages, moving on each day but also sometimes stopping for walks and explorations while we were waiting for the tide. As the country is so flat, the river is tidal all the way up to where we turned round, and on beyond that. At Bansang (the town near where we turned) the tidal difference is 12 hours from Banjul. The rise and fall is not is great not, but the flow is considerable. It took us a while to get into the swing of the tides. As you move up river you can ‘chase’ the tide you are on so can ride it for up to 12 hours. As you come down again, you start to catch up with the next incoming tide, which reduces the amount of time you can run with it, so you might only get 5 hours of useful tide. This tidal delay change as you go up stream. We think though that the out-flowing stream is slightly faster as it combines river flow and tide. The prevailing wind is easterly as well so that helps you down stream. The breeze, when it is there, seems to faithfully follow the twisting river course.
Each night we have been anchoring in the river, sometimes near villages or jetties but mostly just beside the lush riverbank. The early mornings and sunsets are just beautiful on anchor. The place comes alive with sounds of birds and insects and monkeys, beautiful birds soaring over head, swooping for flies, flying in skeins or roosting in the trees. The river is fairly deep generally right up to the edge , but it does have shallower patches ( down to 1.5 m in some places, but usually 3-5 and at its deepest 18m). There are two areas with stones, but these are well written about in the pilot book. This is where a bridge was going to be built. This would have stopped navigation of the river for all but the small plank fishing boats and dug out canoes.
At Janjanbureh there is another obstacle: overhead power lines. Most bigger yachts would not be able to get under these, but luckily the squatter junk masts fitted, just. Dan shimmied up to watch the approaching cable, me on the helm ready to swerve if needed. It is a very difficult thing to judge the height of power lines in the sky, just a black line with nothing for context. Its always the same when judging if the mast(s) will clear, but usually you know the heights so the visuals are not so frightening. Now on our way back down river we have just met one of the only 3 yachts we have seen since Banjul (16 days ago) its looks like a 35 foot (ish) bermudan sloop, we were speaking to them tonight and they said they couldn’t get under, they actually hit the cable and blew a few fuses.
Apart from Hippos, the other thing to look out for in the water are fishing nets. The fishermen set drift nets which float down stream, sometimes with tiny little floats so they can be hard to spot, but often with a yellow 20 l plastic fuel cans as a floats at each end of the net, which helps to spot them.