Namibia to the Canaries
Namibia is a very safe African country, but in Cape Town old cruising hands did not recommend cruising the West African coast. We soon found out they had a point. A small green peaked island loomed on the port bow as Whale Song powered northward. Annobón belongs to Equatorial Guinea and was described in our reference books as a tiny fishing village nesting under a forested extinct caldera topped by a lake, so the military visit was a surprise and soon turned into an episode of drawn machine guns and extortion. Wilson and Parks ended up ashore confined in the only hotel, while the yacht and her crewmen swung at anchor and armed guards aboard pocketed any loose stuff. Nancy and I were sent on a four-hour flight to Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, for interrogation by the Ministry of the Interior. Oliver Moss, attaché in the U.S. Embassy at the time, helped to free us.
Cutting straight through the Gulf of Guinea brought Whale Song to Tema in Ghana. Fishing dugouts, some 60 feet long, passed under sail by Tema’s new harbor, which was filled with modern ships. In Gambia, we found a slice of a less changed Africa. Hippos, protected now, wallowed in the muddy waters of the Gambia River. In Kudang, village people mixed crushed baobab fruit with peanut water to alleviate malarial fevers. The juice from incisions in palms bubbled into wine. Water buffalo grazed on rice stubble. In a school hut, boys diligently copied the Koran while their sisters took care of the infants.
Through all of February and March, as we motored up the west coast of Africa, offshore harmattan winds from the Sahara sent powdery air over the sea. The dust played havoc with our air compressor-powered engine controls. We shed no tears after leaving dirty Senegal’s Dakar and its port captain, who showed up aboard, demanding free meals and gifts. After the messy West African countries, the Canary Islands promised Europe. Sure enough, the European vacation business had usurped every island coast flat enough to support hotels. A run inland always uncovers revelations: snow swirling through lava sculptures on Pico del Teide, some 12,000 feet high; ancient villages scattered like gems in the desert interior of Fuerteventura; a genuine Spanish plaza alive with evening strollers on La Palma.