Africa has been on my bucket list since long before bucket lists were a thing.
When I was about 12 years old, my Dad went to Africa for a safari and sent me a postcard that I still have. My imagination exploded with colorful images of an open savannah, a sandy terrain, wild animals running free, and rich wetlands.
This is when I first began dreaming of Africa—a place that seemed as far away from me as anywhere on the planet, or even further. At that time, to travel to Africa seemed about as unlikely as traveling to the moon or to Mars.
My Dad never took me to Africa, but he shared with me his favorite book, “Something of Value,” by Robert Ruark, which is about a big-game hunter from the American South experiencing the Mau Mau revolution in Kenya in the early 1950s. It was a heavy book for a kid, but my fascination with Africa continued to increase. Soon after, I fell in love with the movie, “Casablanca,” which takes place in Morocco and to this day is my all-time favorite film.
The draw continued to strengthen, but the opportunity to visit refused to present itself.
My daughter, Shelby, got the chance to explore Africa long before me. She spent two summers in Kenya and one in Uganda. It was a different Africa than the one my father described as she went into remote villages to work with orphans and children with disabilities. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with this beautiful continent and its people. Through her experiences, my desire to see it for myself was once again awakened.
I always believed I would one day make it here, but I honestly never could have imagined that I would enter Morocco under sail on a 43-foot, steel, bright orange magic carpet by way of Portugal—gliding in on the magnificent waves of the deep blue Atlantic.
As Maik and I entered African waters and raised the Moroccan courtesy flag, things felt different. It didn’t look different—we could still only see the sky kissing the sea on the distant horizon. It was just a feeling. And I knew my Africa would be different than the one my father and my daughter experienced.
The Africa I would meet is the western coastal Africa—where only a narrow strip of sea separates the southern Spain/Portugal coast from the Moroccan shoreline. Where we came from and where we are now are only separated by 75 hours and 370 nautical miles, but these countries are utterly, completely, and uniquely different in culture and landscape. A part of Africa that was once part of France, 99 percent of Morocco is Islamic. Here, the Arabic and French languages are merged into a dialect as unique as the vibrant colors and delicious cuisine.
But first, we had the adventure of getting here . . .
Monday, 12 November 2018 – Departure from Lisbon, Portugal 08:20
With the weather and wind conditions, Maik calculated our voyage from Lisbon, Portugal to Rabat, Morocco to take about 90 hours. I’ve gotten accustomed to these multiple-day, overnight passages but I don’t always love them. After three weeks in port, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to get back my sea legs. I prepared myself mentally for this. I also needed to begin preparing physically and mentally for the long passages that are in our near future—especially the passage across the Atlantic, which will take us anywhere from 20 to 40 days with no stops to complete.
As we left the Parque dos Naçeōs marina, it was chilly and Seefalke’s orange hull was hidden behind a curtain of fog. We couldn’t see a thing. We forged our way out of the port and blasted the foghorn signals as we cruised our way slowly and blindly along the Tagus River.
There were some light and no-wind periods expected during our passage, which meant we would need to motor sail some of the way. The fuel station in our marina was out of order, so we motored over to one of the other Lisbon marinas next to the Monument to the Discoveries to top off the fuel tanks. This is a cool memorial, and we were proud for the opportunity to see it again.
With full tanks, we ventured onto our course where we were immediately greeted by an amazing sight—the USS Harry S. Truman, which is an enormous United States air craft carrier. Its call sign is “Lone Warrior,” and its home port is the Naval Station Norvolk, Virginia. We couldn’t believe we were seeing it in Lisbon, Portugal of all places. The carrier dropped anchor in Portugal after a month of operations in the North Atlantic and became the first US carrier to operate in the Arctic Circle in 27 years. A pilot ship was making a delivery, and we could see several air craft on board. It was especially cool to see this on Veteran’s Day. We made a post on social media about how thrilled we were to see it, and someone responded saying they get just as excited to look out and see cruising sailboats. This was just all the way COOL!
For the first few hours on board, I was already feeling nauseous. I know it was part excitement, part nerves, and part anticipation. But the 3-meter swells rolling in from the Atlantic rocking Seefalke from all sides had something to do with it. I expected the seasickness would not spare me after such a long break from the sea. I ate some crackers and drank some strong ginger tea, both of which helped.
Soon, the wind and waves began to increase and so did the uncomfortable motion.
Maik and I were both battling nausea, but I started to feel a little better just as Maik was beginning to feel worse. We worked together to get all the sails up, and because I was feeling a bit more steady than Maik, I took the first shift around 12:30.
I was so excited about getting to Africa, but I was feeling nervous about being at sea again. My emotions are always a battle for me. Somehow I must learn to fight these battles within myself. When the excitement and the nerves meet the rocking waves at sea, it’s never a good recipe.
Maik relieved me around 16:00, but then I struggled to rest. The boat was rocking significantly, and all the items in the lockers were being tousled. The familiar clanking and rattling sounds inside the lockers were bothering me and hindering my ability to relax. I kept getting up and trying to shift the items in the lockers around and stuffing them with towels and clothes. This was helping to buffer the annoying sounds, but I wasn’t resting. I was trying to sleep on the main bunk, but at one point I ended up in the floor between the two bunks. This time, it wasn’t by choice. The boat tipped and turned heavily and unexpectedly, and before I could grab hold of anything, I slid right out of the bed onto the floor. I stayed there and tried to nest myself into a still position, but I was unable to get comfortable.
I took the helm again at 20:00 and things began to get especially rough for me. I’ve realized through experience that when you don’t get sleep or rest when you are off watch, it greatly affects you when you are on watch.
By the end of my shift at midnight, I had fed the fish three times and felt horrible. This seasickness has become so familiar to me now. It’s not something that I even consider might not happen anymore. I just accept the fact that I will probably get seasick at some point on every voyage. It’s going to happen. The difference now is that I’m building a tolerance for coping with it.
I see how this works with Maik. He gets queasy and nauseous and seasick, too. But after more than 20 years at sea, he has developed ways to manage the uneasiness and battle through the nausea. This is something that I’m learning to do, too. A few months ago, the seasickness would literally wipe me out to the point that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t do anything productive. I could only lie still, wailing in pain and discomfort.
Now, I’m learning to fight my way through it. I get sick. I eat something. I drink something. I get busy. I try not to think about it. I move on. This isn’t easy. But I’ve learned that if you work your way through it rather than let it knock you out, you can at least tolerate it and keep going.
On this occasion, I was struggling a bit with diarrhea, too. I was making frequent trips to the head. I know this is gross, but I was struggling to make sure that the sickness only came out of one end at a time. I actually think that on a boat, throwing up is the preferred method because at least you can stay outside in the fresh air and not risk the additional queasiness that can happen when you stumble your way through the cabin to the head. The puking from the seasickness is so violent that sometimes you just lose control of the other end. This, of course, adds greatly to the struggle. I battled through the shift and was incredibly grateful to see Maik pop up into the cockpit at midnight to relieve me.
I threw one of the cushions from the bunk onto the floor between the two bunks and wondered why I hadn’t thought of this before. I crashed onto my comfy floor mattress and willed myself to sleep.
Tuesday, 13 November 2018
I had only eaten a couple crackers in last two shifts. When I took over at 04:00, I decided to nibble a few bites of a pear, but my tummy quickly rejected it. I badly wanted and needed some fuel and energy. I hate this feeling of weakness. I was able to hold down a few sips of water and a few sips of ginger ale, which helped a little. But the shift was long and difficult.
Four hours alone in the dark of the cold night can feel like an eternity when your insides are upside down.
The boat was still rocking, but I was gaining control of the nausea. I continued to try and refuel my system with sips of liquid and small bites of cracker. My tummy continued to take shifts with which end to reject its contents. My head was pounding from lack of hydration.
After this shift, I was finally able to get some sleep as the conditions began to calm a little. I woke up and was comforted by the smooth, steady motion as Seefalke was working hard to soften the blow of the large, breaking swells. We were not fully tilted anymore and only rocking slightly. I decided to take advantage of this. I jumped up and began boiling some pasta. I had no idea the time of day.
When you are at sea, it’s important to cook when you can and not necessarily on a schedule. A regular routine of breakfast, lunch, and dinner are nonexistent when you are on a long ocean passage. You cook when the conditions allow you to cook. I saw the opportunity to get some warm food in our bellies, and I took advantage.
It wasn’t perfectly calm, but with the help of our gimbaled stove I managed to cook some pasta with grilled vegetables and eggs. But I probably overdid it. By the time the food was cooked, I was queasy again and didn’t feel like eating it. I forced myself to slowly eat one bite at a time. I knew I needed something solid on my tummy. I was able to swallow a fair portion and hold it down. I was grateful for the small victory.
By the time we finished eating, I asked Maik if he was ok and if could I lie down again. This time I went to the stern cabin as we were back on a heavy tilt to the starboard side, and I wanted to be in a regular bunk as opposed to the main cabin floor. The stern cabin is shaped like a “V” with a twin bunk on each side of the V. If two people are sleeping in the cabin, their feet are both ideally at the point of the V. You can sleep on whichever side is the low side of the tilt. This helps you stay put, as long as the wind doesn’t shift and toss you to the other side.
This time, I got settled in with my full belly and was able to manage a few hours of restful sleep. When I awoke for my 16:00 afternoon shift, I was feeling much better. The sun was shining. Seefalke was gliding along the waves and cushioning the bigger blows for us. I enjoyed a glorious sunset and continued to battle my way back to some measure of normalcy. When Maik relieved me at 20:00 I went back to the stern cabin and completely crashed.
Wednesday, 14 November 2018
The midnight to 04:00 shift was rough. Wind had significantly picked up and the waves were crashing from all sides again. Even though I tried to fight it, I began to get queasy again. This time, it was worse than before. Maik came up at 02:00 to help me make an adjustment to the sails, and I just couldn’t go on. Maik took over for me as I shamefully went back to the stern with my tail between my legs, feeling guilty that I couldn’t finish my shift but thankful to be lying flat.
I awakened around 07:00 and still felt icky. I came up to join Maik out of guilt but just couldn’t keep going. I was queasy and still struggling with diarrhea. I took some more medicine and crashed again until 10:00. When I awoke this time, I felt better, but I was as ornery as a hornet. I was making frequent trips to the head and started cussing and fussing every time a wave would hit us from the side unexpectedly and throw me across the cabin. I became verbal with my complaints and got more and more irritated with the situation. But I soon realized this was not doing anyone any good—especially me.
I decided I needed to focus on all the things I love about these long passages rather than all the things I hate about them. I sat down in the cockpit with Maik and began listing them out loud.
I looked out onto the horizon and then stared directly into the sun, feeling the full burn of the rays combined with the crisp chill of the wind on my face.
I told Maik that I was sorry that I didn’t love being out here all the time. He admitted that there are things he doesn’t love all the time, too—a statement that surprised me. I needed to verbalize the things I do love about it. I told him how much I love the sound of the waves and the cool wind on my skin. I talked about how exciting it is to travel by sea to all these amazing places. I told him how grateful I am for the opportunity to see the world this way and how proud I am of myself every time we make it to a new port. The challenges enhance the thrill of the adventure.
We talked about what to do when the night watch hours get long and lonely—the times when there is no traffic and the wind is steady so there is nothing to do but watch the time tick away. Maik said he thinks a lot. I told him I do a lot of thinking too, but sometimes I’m just all thought out. Sometimes we listen to audible books. I wish I could read one of the 20 or so books I brought on board, but so far, the nausea will not allow me to do this. Maik said sometimes he sings. I chuckled and admitted that I do this, too.
Then our conversation got deep.
I talked about the challenge of living this way and how even though it’s uncomfortable and difficult at times, this just makes it so much more rewarding to make it to the other side of a passage like this. We talked about how most people look at sailing as a rich man’s hobby that’s all about bikinis and martinis and relaxing on the calm water. But in fact, the ocean is a very hostile environment for people to live in. Without this steel construction we are floating on to protect us we would most certainly be dead in a couple hours.
And yet, we continue to battle against the elements to make our way through an environment that is not meant for humans. The wind and the weather and the water don’t care that we are living things trying to survive.
Maik said that sometimes in the middle of the night when he walks out onto the wobbly deck he feels like he is an astronaut in outer space. He said he often wonders if this is what walking without gravity on the moon feels like. Just like the astronauts in space, we are battling conditions that weren’t meant for human life.
I was feeling better and realized that in about 24 hours we would be in Africa . . . a place I’ve dreamed about for almost 40 years. I felt guilty for complaining and fussing so much. This opportunity is so rare, and we must endure the bad things to better appreciate the challenging things that make it such a grand experience. A journey like this is not meant to be easy. If it was easy, anyone could do it. If it was easy, it would be boring.
We talked about how at least we have instrumentation and modern technology to give us some guidance and an indication of when we will arrive at our next destination so that we can anticipate it and plan for it.
There was a time not so long ago when sailors were out at sea for days on end without GPS or nautical charts and had absolutely no idea if they were halfway to their destination or almost there or still many months away. They just drifted along knowing that one day they might get there.
We continued to ramble on philosophically.
We looked around and noticed that there was nothing but the sea and the horizon in our 360-degree view. We could see no land, no life, and no other ships.
We talked about how there are so many sailboats in every port, but we never see any of them when we are at sea. When you travel by car, you see so many other vehicles. When you travel by airplane or train, you see hundreds of other people scattering in multiple directions with hundreds of various destinations. There are probably hundreds, maybe even thousands of sailboats out here on these same waters with us. But the sea is so massive, we hardly ever see any of them. We are all going in different directions with different routes and different destinations. But we are sailing on the same sea. Another sailboat may be on only a slightly different heading going in basically the same direction toward the same destination, but because the sea is so huge, we might never see it until we get to the port.
We are all out here together. But at the same time, we feel completely alone in this world.
As the day turned to night, we settled back into our 4-hour watch routine. We were both feeling much better, and we were embracing and enjoying the passage after a very rough 24-hour period of discomfort that we now could barely even remember.
And just as we were settling into some measure of peace and contentment, the adventure continued…
Maik was heading down to sleep around 18:00 when all of a sudden, the outhaul line on the main sail snapped apart from the boom. The large sail was flapping uncontrollably. I was able to grab the corner of the sail and secure it with a D-ring strap while Maik created a temporary rig to tie it back to the boom. A couple hours later, the jib boom traveler snapped and the steel bar was flapping in the wind with only one end secured. Maik immediately went onto the foredeck and tried to repair it, but he couldn’t get it secure enough so he decided to take down the jib completely. Later in the evening, the temporary rig on the main sail outhaul line snapped again and once again, we had to creatively rig it to keep it secure.
To add to the excitement, the port side navigation light was blinking. I felt like we were falling apart with only 70 nautical miles and 12 or 14 hours to go to make it to Rabat. As I said earlier, if this was easy, anyone could do it.
Thursday 15 November 2018
On my late-night shift, around 02:00, we got a bit too close to a fishing boat that was dragging a net that was about a mile long, so we had to take Seefalke on a large detour loop to avoid getting tangled in it.
A few hours later we crossed over into African waters and raised the Moroccan courtesy flag. It was a foggy morning, but the gorgeous Moroccan coastline began to slowly come into focus through the blur.
As we approached Bouregreg Marina, we called the harbor master by radio. He came out to greet us in a small motor-powered boat and guided us into the marina, along with a gigantic catamaran that sort of appeared from nowhere. The approach into the marina was gorgeous. The Arabic and French architecture along the banks of the city of Rabat are unique and spectacular. There were swarms of birds hovering among swarms of wooden fishing boats. Many locals were taking our picture as we came into the marina. This is not a very busy port, so they don’t get to see many ships coming in—especially a bright orange one with two enthusiastic Beagles on the bow!
We moored at the customs dock and were greeted by very friendly police and a sweet lady in traditional Muslim dress and head covering who offered us Moroccan mint tea. It was so delicious. It had fresh mint leaves in it and tasted like hot honey. It took about 90 minutes to complete all the customs paperwork. They confiscated our drones, for now. It is illegal to fly them in Morocco. We will get them back when we depart.
The harbor master then guided us into our spot in the marina. There was one pier that was reserved for the King of Morocco’s yacht fleet of six gorgeous luxury ships. It is carefully guarded by armed soldiers, so we feel that we are getting protection in the marina by default.
The passage covered 369 nautical miles in 75 hours, 32 minutes. It was 11:00 by the time we secured Seefalke in the marina, and I couldn’t believe I was finally in AFRICA. We were ready to settle in and explore this amazing place.