Saturday 17th March, 2001
Lamin Island, Gambia
Writer : 
Brady Gilchrist

We are in Gambia, we arrived around noon. The port was like most small ones we have encountered. Large ships were off loading containers and other goods. A harbour full of small boats in various stages of decay and something we have not seen before. Wrecks, many of them, a graveyard of ships left neglected for nature to consume molecule by molecule. Wrecks turned a nasty red by the relentless taking of the sea. Wrecks submerged, partially submerged and beached. Fishing boats now providing shelter for what they once sought. Military patrol boats, with battleship grey paint trying to hold against the creeping of rust and decay, guns long since removed for some other purpose.

The sea changed from rough to calm, the wind is brisk and on it is the sweet smokey smell that always tells of people living just beyond our sight. We fly our yellow “Q” flag, alerting the port officials that we are without disease and await clearance to enter the country. We set our anchor at a place in Banjul called Half Die. A place which was named for the effects of a Cholera outbreak in a time past. Half Die reminds us of the power of endemics that can appear at anytime.

We were greeted by a delegation from customs and immigration, both men and women. The women were dressed in elegant African attire. We move through the formalities. We are joined by Peter Losen, a partner in the Lamin Lodge and we raise the anchor. We must wait before heading far into river until we have permission of the harbour master, our destination was Peter’s lodge just five miles inland.

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STARSHIP anchored off Lamin Lodge.
[ photo - James Frankham ]

Martin uses all the technology at our disposal as we pass the wrecks. Our sonar paints images of the bottom before us. We entered the mouth of the river, our depth sounder ticking off dangerously until the bottom was only 1 metre below our keel. The pulses and tension levels went up as STARSHIP was navigated close to a river bank to avoid mud deposits which had accumulated out of our sight on the river bed. The depth sounder started to unwind and the pulse rates came down.

This is nothing like I had imagined. For some reason my mind had painted this picture of a river lined with people, commerce and activity. With 1.3 million people and such a high population density I was surpised that only moments after leaving harbour we found ourselves in a wilderness. Mangrove swamps on either of STARSHIP, a river that was twisting and turning around us. Herons lining the banks, their graceful flight cutting across our bow. We slowly meandered up river. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is vivid in my mind as we pass the rusted out remains of an old streamer that once moved up and down this river during colonial times. This steamer still shows the funnel which once belched black smoke, now a dark brown rust everywhere, a thick hull covered with huge rivets from before the days of arch-welding. We slowly pass the wreck and many others. They perished during a time before radar and sonar, when making a wrong move would spell disaster.

James sits on the bow looks at me and says only “insane” which simply means beyond expectation, way beyond. For the first time since being on STARSHIP I’m feeling like I’m truly seeing something unlike anything in my experience. We cautiously continued up river, past a local two decked boat with exchange students jumping into the river and enjoying life. We slowed down, yelled cheerful words at each other and felt a strange kinship.

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A Gambian sun setting over the palms.
[ photo - James Frankham ]

Just over the mangrove we can see our destination. A lodge, very rustic with a thatched roof, the masts of other yachts peeking above the mangroves. This place is real, there is not a hint of exploitive tourism anywhere. STARSHIP is huge by comparison to everything else. We now sit at anchor, the sun is setting. Michael will be onboard in an hour along with two journalists from stern. We are in Gambia, we have left the comfort of the deep sea to take STARSHIP into a place she belongs, a place that hints at discovery.

Fair winds, calm seas

Brady

RECENT LINKS :
Ascension Sea Turtle Project - http://www.seaturtle.org/mtrg/projects/ascension/