That wasn’t planned for this year: to sail further than to another island of the Azores (from Santa Maria, where I live). And now I’m already back on Madeira. It’s mid-September and I’m moored in Machico, a small harbour in the east of the island. In a little more than a week, I’m supposed to be on my way. After a stopovers on Tenerife and the Cape Verde Islands, to Africa.
Africa. Of all places! To be precise, to Guinea-Bissau, which has the reputation of not having the most stable political conditions.
That’s how it happened: Shortly after returning from the aborted Atlantic crossing (I wrote about it), I met Miguel Teixeira. Miguel, friends told me, was planning an expedition to the Bijagos. Where to? Wikipedia had to enlighten me.
The Bijagos are an archipelago consisting of 88 islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau (and for those who don’t know exactly where Guinea-Bissau is: in Western Arfica between Senegal in the north and Guinea in the south). On the islands, the people are said to lead a more or less primitive life and not have much to do with the mainland – that is, with political machinations. In addition, the Bijagos are considered a natural paradise and one of the most important breeding grounds for leatherback turtles, the largest sea turtles of all. But the Bijagos are also plagued by plastic waste, and this is what Miguel’s expedition is supposed to be about.
The plan is to sail to the islands with a maximum of ten yachts, collect plastic and other rubbish and determine its origin. Scientists from the Azores will come along, because the same rubbish also ends up there, disfiguring the beaches and harming the animals. At the end, we want to write a report and hand it over to the UN and the EU.
Away from mass tourism
Miguel, who lives on Madeira, claims to be a descendant of Val Tristão Teixeira, the discoverer of Madeira, and the first mountain guide on the island, is a very convincing personality. After having coffee with him at the Clube Naval in Vila do Porto on Santa Maria, I was hooked.
Miguel had already been to the Bijagos and his stories created in my imagination a landscape of flat, densely forested islands, a labyrinth of waterways inhabited by hippos and crocodiles. Not that I particularly like crocodiles. But to visit a world that is not plastered with beach bars and souvenir shops, in other words, a world off the beaten track of mass tourism, immediately appealed to me.
However, this may also be due to the fact that I am easily inspired and usually only consider the consequences of my hasty decisions in retrospect. But without such a disposition, I would probably never have given up my secure existence in Switzerland, never have set sail and never have settled in the Azores. It’s hard to escape yourself.
Travelling with pijamas and children’s clothes
As it turned out later, the expedition was also meant to serve a humanitarian purpose, which is why there are now three huge sacks of clothes on board Blue Alligator, destined for the people of the Bijagos: 12 kilograms of children’s clothes, as many bathing suits and pijamas (although I’m not sure if pijamas are really needed there. But since they are on board…). Sacks of flour, huge amounts of pasta and rice are also to be distributed to the yachts.
And then I will probably host a fellow sailor from Cape Verde, whom I am looking forward to: Paulo Ramalho is an anthropologist and writer. Like me, he lives on Santa Maria. I got to know him thanks to the expedition. A nice side effect. In the meantime, we have become friends and get along very well. Paulo lived in Guinea-Bissau as a child. He probably still has relatives living in the former Portuguese colony. So, I am lucky to be travelling with someone who is at least somewhat familiar with the area.
So far, nine boats and their crews are on Miguel’s expedition list. They come from Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland (besides Blue Alligator, there is supposed to be a second Swiss boat, but I don’t know it yet).
Miguel has organised a lot in the meantime so that our arrival and stay on the Bijagos are uncomplicated. However, the official programme is also growing: a meeting with the governor, various folklore events, guided tours. I hope there will be enough time for the turtles and the plastic waste. But that’s probably the price we have to pay for a little security, water, diesel and food on site. Where otherwise there are basically no supplies.
And since we are travelling with sailboats, one or two things are bound to get broken. Good contacts to the local population can be useful, even if repairs are rather provisional.
However, I expect that any damage on Blue Alligator will make itself felt before Africa. I have already replaced the fridge; the old one gave up on the trip to Madeira. Also, a bracket for the hydrogenerator brake. The generator supplies me with electricity while sailing, therefore it’s essential (as is the fridge, actually). A carpenter in Funchal rebuilt the broken piece of plastic from solid wood. It should hold.
In Santa Cruz de Tenerife I will also check the rig. And the radar also needs to be checked, because it doesn’t work. That means climbing into the mast, which is not my favourite task. But it’s better to check than to risk the mast coming down. Finally, spare parts for the engine and electrics have to be put on board.
Despite the assurance of being supplied with water, I will procure additional jerry cans. Blue Alligator’s tanks hold around 200 litres. For me alone, that would be enough for a long time. But for two? Another 100 litres wouldn’t be bad. Meanwhile, there are already two twenty-litre jerry cans for diesel at the railing (in addition to the three ten-litre canisters in one of the lazarettes). All this is quite a lot for a ten-metre yacht. But somehow it will be all right.
But will I really sail? Last time, on the threshold of crossing the Atlantic, I chickened out. But this time I am not alone. Other boats have the same goal, and I, even if not at sea, but in the harbours and at the anchorages, will always meet people I know. And finally, I have to deliver the pijamas, children’s clothes and swimwear that are stored in the pilot berth of Blue Alligator.
More about the expedition here. If anyone would like to support the expedition, here is the website.