01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Boating weekends in Dar 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Boating weekends in Dar


When we moved to Dar and had finally ingratiated ourselves into the local ‘yacht club’ our attentions turned away from the pretty sandy beach, which was fun for a swim at high tide (as long as it wasn’t sea urchin or jelly fish season) to the hundreds of boats parked both on shore and off and the smartly dressed boat boys milling around (often actually old men) in navy sailor shirts and shorts. The beach is fun for a few hours, but owning a boat could give us much more entertainment during the sweltering weekends. What a great excuse to get out onto the water and, more importantly, tiresome maintenance could be delegated to the full time boat staff at a relatively low cost. Just off the Msasani Peninsular where we lived and where the yacht club is located are two pretty islands, ideal for day trips and picnics; and further out is a stunning sand bar that only reveals itself at low tide.

Our first foray into the boating delegation of yacht club members (as opposed to the fishing lot) came in the form of an aged Wayfarer aptly named ‘Far and Away’ (because we always ended up far & away from where we had intended when setting out). A perfect little sailing boat for two, easy to handle, or so we thought. What we hadn’t banked on was that two amateurs heading out to sea in a small boat was almost a sure fire recipe for divorce. Many an argument broke out as we both felt we knew more than the other, which unfortunately totalled not much. To add extra stress, we would often take our Alsatian along too because she loved the beach and was a strong swimmer. On the face of it, it should have been easy. We would ask our boat man, Rajabu, to make the little craft ready at a certain time and he would expertly hoist sails and sort out the confusing tangle of ropes, then, with his help we towed the boat down to the slipway and hey presto!

The reality was that we crashed the boat around against the concrete slipway for a while, if a gust of wind caught us we sped off out of control into the maze of rather smart motorised fishing yachts moored off shore or worse, became becalmed in an inlet just behind the slipway and where other members were thoroughly enjoying the free entertainment as they tucked into beers and pizza above. If we managed to start heading in the right direction with the wind behind us and finally reached the ‘little bit further away than we thought’ island, we usually were beset with problems coming home. The wind would not be right or we would have jammed the centre board up with coarse sand and be bobbing about, terrified, like a cork. After many an unplanned capsize, the rescue boat was often called out to tow us, sheepish but relieved, back to the club. On the bright side, at least this return to the slipway was calmer than the usual panic where, having timed our arrival around other sailing traffic, one of us had to leap trustingly onto where we thought might be solid ground, rope in hand and prevent the boat from smashing other vessels or hitting the concrete. Being out of control and in charge of a boat is not a good combination.

The Catamaran was by far the sportier and fashionable choice among the young. Racing took place every weekend followed by beers and bragging. Wayfarers were welcome to join in but from memory we only braved one race and after arriving back in second from last, that experience was enough for us (the last boat had technical difficulties). Mr W was invited to crew on a friend’s ‘cat’ one weekend but whilst swinging out on the trapeze the rope snap, causing him to fall ungraciously into the water and then later the entire mast fell in half (though, to be fair, that was just bad luck). The friend declared Mr W a ‘Jonah’ and invitations were no longer forth coming, however, I’m proud to stay that we managed to hold on to the friendship notwithstanding.

Conveniently I soon got pregnant, so we decided to cut our losses and sell the Wayfarer in favour of a more ‘family friendly’ motorized fishing boat called ‘Tramp’ (also aptly named because it was by far the scruffiest fishing boat on the water). Having a husband who is knowledgeable about motors was a plus, but we soon realised that owning a motor boat that sits bobbing on the water day in, day out is like throwing a bundle of cash to the four winds and never recovering a cent. Our heavy, hard wood ‘tramp’ was a financial black hole. We tried to smarten it up by repainting (I think it was the wrong kind of paint, as the blue colour thereafter always rubbed off onto our clothes), redesigning seating and constructing a shaded area, but we were always flummoxed by the under performing and temperamental twin engines. There were days where, heavy laden with picnic, life jackets, small children, dog and invited friends, we never got off the mooring as the engines inexplicably refused to start.

There were a few successful outings but most were marked by some adventure or other and we were usually chugging out into the bay on half power or less. We even managed to get to the sand bar once. However, one island day trip with our six month old baby and faithful dog is indelibly printed on my memory (and this child is now seven). We had an enjoyable day from what I can remember, though I was always a little nervous of leaping from the slipway, to the yacht club dingy, to our boat on its mooring and later, onto the beach, with a little baby strapped into a car seat or onto my chest (she was too small for a life jacket). After a relaxing afternoon on the island, we noticed that the weather was beginning to close in a little. The wind was getting up and storm clouds were gathering. By the time we had packed ourselves into the boat it was raining. I strapped the baby into her car seat below decks and sheltered with her as we set off for home. Our dog, Hannah, hunkered down too. Before long I was violently lurching around while simultaneously holding onto our screaming but nonetheless precious cargo and stopping her from flying about the cabin. I vaguely recall yelling up to our driver to slow down, be more careful and other helpful comments of this nature and receiving some inaudible (and unrepeatable) replies. Meanwhile, above us on the ‘poop deck’ Mr W, having miraculously managed to get the engines started, was trying to ride the high waves ‘crossways’ to minimize the battering and bouncing. with driving rain and sea spray stinging his eyes he was finding it impossible to see, so he came up with the temporary solution of wearing his diving mask as eye wear (which annoyingly kept misting up), topped off by a floppy sun hat.

To give a bit of background, on very rough days the smart 400 seater, air conditioned Zanzibar ferry would go back to port along the inside curve of these three islands, to give passengers a more comfortable ride (sea sickness was always a bit of a problem on that boat).

Deep in concentration, Mr W was heading for the yacht club which was just visible on the horizon, when the sound of the mother and father of all siren like horns filled the air; ‘HOOONK! HOOONK!’ Our driver looked up to see 100 feet of ship wall bearing down on our little boat and proceeded to swerve out of the way as best he could, blinking behind snorkelling goggles. Below decks, all I could see through my porthole was a wall of steel. As you can imagine, riding the wake of that beast after the ship had safely passed added to our misery.

Exhausted and soaked, we arrived back at our mooring in one piece, thankful for having our boat intact but overall thankful for having escaped with our lives!

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