- Captain Albert's Blog -

Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

24 March 2011; At Sea.

The total distance between Mindalo and the Banjul Sea buoy is 540 Nautical miles, while the shortest distance between the most Eastern Cape Verde Island and the nearest African shore is just over 300 miles.  We had to travel this longer distance, firstly to get out of the Cape Verdes as Mindalo is located on the West side and then go further South as The Gambia has a lower latitude than Mindalo. As a matter of fact tomorrow we will come the nearest to the equator on this whole trip. This is one of these distances, that if you sail full speed, you end up at your destination in the middle of the night and that does not serve anybody, so we crossed this part of the North Atlantic at a sedate speed of 15 knots. The wind had decided to remain breezy and shifted during the day from the NNE to the NNW and create a short swell hitting us on the beam. As the wind was from Northerly directions it brought with it cooler temperatures, which was quite pleasant on the deck, but will make for a very “nippy” arrival tomorrow. At least for African standards.

 The sea area between the Cape Verdes and the African mainland is called the Cape Verde Plateau, denoting that it is higher up than the regular North Atlantic Ocean floor and also that it is relatively flat. Higher up is correct, we did have depths of 20,000 feet and more on the crossing, today it was “only” 8,000 feet. Flat is a relative word but the ridges on the plateau are more spread out and thus there are valleys that could be described as somewhat flat. 

The sea remains quite deep until fairly close to the African shore and then it rises steeply up to about 100 feet. Coming closer to the Gambia River this gets even less and by the time we sail over the bar of the river, we will be down to about 10 feet clearance under the keel. We will find out tomorrow exactly how shallow it will be. I know we will have some water under the keel as the depths in the charts (based on the very minimum water depths observed) are more than the ships draft. It is just not that much more. So it will be an “Amazon River” approach.

 In the course of the evening we saw more traffic appearing on the screen. The 2nd officer on watch even reported that he had to change course for a ship. That had not happened since departure Barbados on March the 18th.  On our electronic chart display, we get an AIS indication of all the ships within a radius of 100 miles or so. When they come closer those indications also appear on the radar screen.  AIS stands for Automatic Identification System and since several years required for all larger ships. However more and more sailing yachts have it as well, as it helps them to be seen by the big boys. A radar system might not always pick up a plastic boat but will display the AIS.  This transponder sends out information that includes ships name, speed heading, sort of ship and destination. That is a really helpful tool with collision avoidance as it already gives an idea about what a ship will do or not do, based on its destination. Also when you want to call a certain ship, you now know its name already. It stops these stupid conversations over the VHF with”Ship on my portside this is the ship on your starboard side etc.” 

 In this case the screen showed a steady stream of “AIS’s” moving up and down the coast. Several ships of the same company denoting that they are on a regular run, containers ships floating and waiting for a dock, and ships going down the African Coast all the way to South Africa.

Tomorrow morning we will be at the sea buoy of the Gambia River at 04.30 and for the next two hours we will trundle with a 10 knot speed over the shallows into the river proper. The town of Banjul is located about 25 miles up the river, where the river current ensures a deep water harbour. Around 06.30 we will pick up the pilot, most likely very close to the dock and then we should be docked around 07.00 hrs.  At least that is the plan. If it works out is another story but that is part of being captain of the “Elegant Explorer”.  So this captain is going to be in bed early as at 03.30 tomorrow morning the phone will ring to get me on the bridge in time.

 It is supposed to be breezy on arrival, so docking might be an interesting operation with wind and river current pushing under different angles. But there is a tugboat if needed and it is in good working order. The Gambia here we come.


  1. Captain if you a have a chance… Your ship draws approx.23 feet. So it soulds like the Gambia will be about 33 feet deep when you cross the bar. Your draft is quoted “in salt water”. So does the draft change dramatically in fresh water? Just wondering as that is something I don’t worry about to much with my little toy boat! Thank you

    • The ships draft is caused by the displacement of the ship, which depends on the “buoyancy of the water”. The draft is less in salt water which has a salinity of 1.025. Fresh water has a salinity of 1,000, so you have to multiply the draft of the ship in salt water, (7.3 meters) by 1.025 to get the deeper draft in fresh water.

      I hope this helps

      Best regards

      Capt. Albert

  2. Thank you !

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