Journey into a World of Sight and Sound.

These are seriously brave fishermen.

7th December 2021

Cercle de Voile, Anse De Hann, Dakar, Senegal

90’s rave music isn’t known for its insightfulness, however just before ‘Snap’ dropped repetitive beats mixed with slick sampling they made some philosophical statements that could sum up Dakar. They told their audience to “Prepare for a journey into a world of sight and sound” and then within moments progressed to “Pump up the volume. Pump up the volume.” We were not prepared for what we found in Dakar, but like ‘Snap’, we danced to its beat, embraced what it dropped and the further we went the higher the volume became.

As we took our first steps on Senegalese soil we were ill prepared for the sights we saw and the sounds we heard. Horses dragging carts mixed with rag tag motorbikes spewing smoke while taxis sped around everything showing a healthy disregard for anything that would impede their progress. Ladies dressed in the most flamboyant of clothes were circled by playing children without either shoes on their feet or a care in the world.

Making our way to the port police, immigration and customs, we waved goodbye to our common sense and stepped foot inside our first taxi. As it sped off into downtown Dakar, we realised that so many things inside were optional. Speedo, optional; indicators, optional; wing mirrors, optional; door catches, optional; maintenance, optional; but there was something essential, the horn.

The horn played it’s own form of music. A single beep allowed us to overtake, a double beep to cut someone up, a long beep told the oncoming traffic we really meant business. With every driver following this code it was like driving with a hive mind where everyone magically knew what everyone else was doing.

Processing our way through all the formalities we were in a blur of smart uniforms, piles of paper and smiles that brimmed from ear to ear. Each office gave us important looking stamps on important pieces of paper and finally we were legal, now it was time to get Ruffian ship shape again.

Ruffian is a sailing boat, so we really had to fix our sails. As the jib came down the seriousness of the task made itself known, an old repair had failed and the entire leach of the sail was in tatters, and the tear in the mainsail was around a high load car. These fixes would require the input of not just a sailmaker, but a great sailmaker, and we were in Senegal, a country not renowned for its sailing prowess.

Unwrapping the sails in Diego’s loft we knew instantly we were in safe hands. Casting our fears aside he took control, gave us a big smile and through our little community of cruisers, simply told us to come back later and all would be well. Diego wasn’t just a sailmaker, he was a great sailmaker.

With the sails out of our hands we now take on the autopilot. Even after a couple of days of rest it was still making horrible noises so out it came and its inner bowels explored. Instead of finding nice shiny gears inside with perfect involute teeth Iain discovered a mess and gears with no teeth. Days of sailing in 30 knots of wind and high seas had disintegrated them to a pulpy mess, clogging every pore and covering every surface.

In true Ruffian* style out came the spares box and perfect new gears were unwrapped, installed, oiled and the ram reassembled. Slotting the ram back into its position and giving it power the rudder turned effortlessly. Once again with the ram was able to steer Ruffian; Iain and Fiona could be relieved of the exhausting task of steering manually while at sea.

While we’d been working on Ruffian, Diego had been working all hours on our sails and pronounced them ready. Rolling the job out the fix was invisible and the sail better than it ever had been. Old repairs had been removed, old stitching unpicked and brand new shiny cloth tucked into all the right places. The mainsail was the same, another amazing job by an amazing sailmaker.

Ruffian was now ready to head out to sea, and with all the leaks fixed and mould removed, we could really experience a new world of sights and sounds. Those first sights and sounds were at the fish market, the likes of which we’d never seen before.

The whole shoreside was alive with life as we made our way through huge refrigerated trucks standing on the litter strewn beach waiting to receive the daily catch. Men waded up to their chests in water to deposit box after box of ice to the fishing boats and on their return trip, carried everything the sea had given up.

Those fish which hadn’t been deposited into the lorries were swallowed up into the market for processing. As flies flew about, and scrawny cats prowled, fish guts ran through crude gutters back to the sea and fish scales stuck to every surface; every shrimp, shellfish, and crustation was sized, sorted and put up for sale.

Braving this sanitised environment, we were drawn in by the smiling face and welcoming banter of a seller. The next thing we knew we were the proud purveyors of a bag of Gambas topped with crushed ice.  Carrying that little bag with its tell-tale drip of melting ice turned us from tourists interested in photos to locals interested in dinner, we now received stares of thanks rather than glares of intrusion.

Having survived the shellfish risotto, in company with Cerulean, we were about to up the volume in Dakar. We were heading for all the top sights, where hawkers preyed on the unwary, guards protected their buildings endlessly and where unwritten rules could easily be broken.

Approaching the Presidential Palace, we were heartened to see guards complete with AK47’s keeping everyone safe. Approaching, Larry in hand, suddenly guns were fingered, words were shouted and we were sent on our way: no stopping, no photographs and certainly no Llama’s.

Next up was the biggest most thriving market in Dakar, driving through hawkers surrounded the car, ushered us into a space and started clamouring for anything they could muster. With warnings of “un homme dangerous” from the driver, the accelerator was floored and we sped away leaving the threats far behind in a cloud of dust and smoke.

Finally, we happened upon an oasis of calm in the midst of the chaos, we were at the Grand Central Mosque. Every surface was pristine, every floor tile shone and not a single leaf was out of place. As we were awed by the grandeur of this spectacular place of worship we became aware of the unwritten rules, even outside covering the head and no shoes were the order of the day.

Day after day Dakar made us experience a whole new world of sight and sound, it opened our eyes to a welcoming new continent and a welcoming people who wear smiles as a default. Everywhere we went the volume has been pumped up to 11 and we’re now ready to head off into the quiet world of the River Gambia where no sounds of man disturb the peace and the loudest noises are made by hippos and crocs.

* We’d love to take credit for carrying these spares. This foresight was from the amazing Ken and Judith who thought of everything, stocked everything, catalogued everything and have taught (almost) everything.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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