Dakar via Ascension Island
Saga Pearl II blog - Captains' blogs
3rd April, 2019
We had 5 days at sea steaming north through the central Atlantic Ocean region, towards Senegal. I was pondering over the chart a few days prior and noticed that not too far from our intended route lay yet another remote island of interest, around 270 nautical miles from our intended track.
With a smidgeon of time in hand, we set off at a tangent to our original course with intention of performing a sail-by of this seldom visited island. I left this as a surprise for our passengers, although the more eager-eyed “Saganauts” had already spotted that we weren’t heading directly towards Senegal, come our first day at sea.
We approached the island from the south on Saturday at lunchtime, a small dark volcanic mass on the bow. As we neared the coast, unforgiving jagged rocks sprawled the majority of the southern edge of this island, making for dramatic viewing with the Atlantic swells crashing against them. Scanning the chart, it appeared that many an unsuspecting mariner had come a cropper here in the past judging by the shipwreck icons littered along the coast.
We cruised along the western coast of the island at slow speed over lunchtime, whilst our destination lecturer provided an informative running commentary over the PA system. Whales, turtles and dolphin were all visible in the crystal clear blue seas around the ship, whilst seabirds circled around the ship with a keen eye for the flying fish dashing from our wake. Ascension’s airport and aircraft hangars, important to the British & her allies during WW2 and the Falkland conflict, could be seen clearly on the starboard side at less than half a mile away.
We passed Georgetown, the island’s unassuming looking capital, and noted a few of the island’s population of 800 watching on in intrigue. Naturally, I blasted the whistle to excite them all. Several stunning golden sandy beaches lay on the island’s western coast – but bathers beware: only 2 of Ascension’s beaches are deemed safe for swimming with all the others experiencing lethal undercurrents perfectly capable of whisking the innocent swimmer off out to sea. Finally we rounded the north coast, where the topography became rugged & cliffy again, veering back onto course again having passed Bosun’s Island, so named after the bird responsible for this island’s distinctive colour (and likewise quite possibly, odour).
A further 3 days at sea brought us back into the Northern Hemisphere and to Africa’s western-most point, Cap Vert. Upon this peninsula lies the city of Dakar in Senegal, the surrounding waters of which we encroached upon on the morning of the 3rd of April. After a mandatory 30 minute wait which we have become accustomed to recently, a local pilot bobbed out on his little boat to board us. We entered the harbour and back down to our berth, conveniently hidden between two ships already on their berths.
In its current form, Dakar was founded rather late on in 1857, which still makes it western Africa’s oldest city although it can certainly be considered one of the most westernised. Its prominent position as a French naval base in the early 20th Century reinforced its importance, and as such there are plenty of legacies here bearing reminders to French Colonialism.
Ship’s tours went near and far today, with the usual cultural & city sightseeing tours complemented by one further afield – for example to visit the ‘Pink Lake’ at Retba. This relatively famous oasis, otherwise known as ‘Lac Rose’ in local lingo, gains its pinkness from high salt content combined with some sort of biological organism, making it look mauve or violet. Especially at sunset time. One can watch the salt harvesters at work on the lake, where they wade waist deep in water for hours on end seemingly without any need for a toilet break…
In the city centre side-streets and suburbs there is the usual hubbub of activity, vendors lining the pavements selling everything from old mobile telephones to those traditional wooden carvings. Back at the ship, some tradesmen had also set up rugs on the quayside and were doing their best to flog their wares to Saga passengers returning to the ship.
I ventured down onto the quay with a few dollar notes and an old pair of Silver Shadow trainers in a plastic bag about 15 minutes before we sailed, and happened to stumble across Jemma the Cruise Composer, who joined me browsing the carvings for sale. My eyes fell upon a large giraffe for sale, and I duly enquired with the nearest vendor as to the going price. I was told 150 dollars, and immediately started walking away disinterested. 10 minutes later, I had successfully negotiated the transfer of 15 US dollars, an old pair of Silver Shadow trainers plus a Saga Cruise Composer, in exchange for the giraffe.
I later heard that the vendors returned Jemma only minutes after our transaction, just before the gangway was lifted, because she “talked too much”…
Captain Kim Tanner
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