Latitude: 7° 00.8041′ N
Longitude: 12° 40.7239′ W
I’ve decided to combine these two days at sea because there was little which differentiated them, and because we have just gotten past the meatiest part of the trip. From Sao Tome to Ghana, we had 6 stops in 7 days, with only 1 day at sea.
From here, we have 2 days at sea to reach Sierra Leone, another day at sea to reach Gambia/Senegal, and a few more after that before we arrive in Morocco.
I thought this would be a good time to talk about life abroad the ship and the ways that the West Africa Cruise differs from when the Expedition is in the polar regions.
Smooth Sailing and Sea Sickness
The ship is used to doing several crossing of the Drake Passage every year as it travels from Ushuaia, Argentina to Antarctica. That crossing can be placid or it can be horrid depending on conditions. Prior to the start of this trip, I was prepared for some rough seas. Perhaps not Antarctica rough, but maybe enough to require some sea sickness medication.
The truth is, you can barely tell the ship is moving. The coast of Africa is not Antarctica. There are few major storms in this region, although we do occasionally encounter a rain squall. We are usually 12-20 nautical miles from shore, so we seldom experience the rougher waters found in the open ocean. Moreover, the ship is equipped with stabilizers which prevents the ship from excessive rolling.
So far on the trip, the ship has been so stable that any movement is noticeable just because it is so rare. Things might change as we leave the Gulf of Guinea and start heading north, but I am not expecting anything too dramatic.
Food and Drinks
Several members of the staff have worked on other expedition class ships, and there seems to be almost universal agreement about the quality of the food on board the ship. The passengers are in agreement. The danger aboard the Expedition is that you’ll gain weight during the trip. Chef Tony and his crew are extremely talented.
There is one dining room shared by the passengers and staff which serves three meals a day. There is no assigned seating Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style and dinner is served by the wait staff. Some of the days we are on shore, the staff will drive out to meet us and deliver lunch. On the island of Principe, they brought everything required for a full BBQ over to the island from the ship.
Several of the hotel staff members are some of the most popular people on ship, because they have so much interaction among the passengers. Garnet and Randale the bartenders who know everyone’s name and are more popular than the bartender on the Love Boat.
There is an ample selection of wines and other beverages available and many of the passengers have a bottle of wine which they use over the course of several nights dining. Everyone on board has an account so any drinks you purchase can be settled up at the end of the trip on your credit card. Prices of everything on board are in American dollars.
The staff for the West Africa cruise is different from the staff you’ll see in the Arctic or Antarctic. They staff is specifically chosen for their expertise in Africa or African culture.
The expedition leader is an expert in African birds and birdwatching. We have an African historian on board who has written several books. One of the staff members is an academic who has been studying West African art and culture since the 1960’s. We have a zoologist who lives in South Africa and specializes in African wildlife. Even the resident musician is someone who specializes in African music and speaks several African languages. The wine tastings on board are run by a man who owns and operates a vineyard just outside of Cape Town. That doesn’t even include the geologist, artist, photographer and other staff which are on board and lecturing.
There is also a full time doctor on board who was also originally born in Uganda.
There is a great deal of knowledge on the ship about the history, culture and wildlife of all the places we visit.
Weather and Temperature
We have been sailing along the coast of Africa just a few degrees from the Equator, so as you can expect the temperatures have been hot. Air temperatures most days have been between 30-35°C. The water temperature has been around 30°C during this stretch of the trip. The change in water temperature has been much more dramatic than the change in air temperature due to the Benguela Current which runs up the coast of Namibia. When we started, the water temperature was around 14°C. I expect the water temperature to drop a bit once we begin to head north.
We’ve been very lucky in terms of weather. Other than a brief shower when we were on Principe, we haven’t been rained on. Our second day in Ghana was heavily overcast, but we had no rain. Most of the rain we’ve experienced has been when we are on board the ship. We had an exceptionally strong storm hit us when we were pulling out of the port in Lome, Togo, but by then we were all safely inside. The storm disappeared by time of the next morning’s excursion in Benin.
I will usually go outside at night and stand on the deck of the ship to watch the stars. Several nights you could see lightening from storms that were inland and it made a very eerily, cool effect.
Being cooped up on a small ship for several days can quickly lead to boredom if you don’t have anything to do. While we are at sea the staff will put on several lectures per day as well as doing a wine tasting before dinner. Twice so far on the trip, the ship’s band “The Money Eating Eagles” have performed along with other staff members. (The monkey eating eagle is an actual endangered bird which is found in the Philippines).
There is a substantial library with books about the polar regions and Africa.
There is internet available, although as I noted in an earlier post, it isn’t really designed for casual browsing. There is a ship email account which passengers can get for free.
There is also just a lot of talking amongst the passengers, who are a very well traveled lot of people. (I’ll be profiling some of the passengers in an upcoming day at sea post).
Next Stop: Freetown, Sierra Leone