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#1 Dec 18, 2019 11:35 am

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Another African tale: dhows

In 1999, I took my kids and nephews - SIX of them, on a camping trip, from Zimbabwe over to Vilanculos, on the Mozambican coast. One of many misadventures:

When it comes to sailing, Vilanculos, as is the whole of the East African coast, is famous for its dhows. These fantastic old wooden boats are thousands of years old (some of them literally!) and came originally from the Arabs. These boats are amazing. The sail is usually a patchwork quilt of whatever materials come to hand: canvas, crocus bags, plastic sheeting, denim jeans.  The long boom is hoisted up to the top of the mast which is stepped forward, and the front end of the boom is tied down to the bow, so the boom with sail rakes up and backwards like a shark's fin. The bigger ones have a proper hull made of planking, but the smaller ones are dugout canoes. These things are virtually prehistoric. Their only concession to modernity is that some of them have a bracket on the back for the outboard.

And, do these guys ever know how to sail!  Jules and I spent a fair bit of time watching them tack up and down the coast, and were impressed by their skills with the boat and knowledge of the waters. Which you'd expect, of course. The dhows are used as fishing boats, barges, buses, taxis and, in the modern era: tourist traps. The other thing Vilanculo is famous for is its offshore islands: Bazaruto, Margararuto and Benguera. So of course, the thing to do is sail out there on a dhow. The Mkumbas, nerdy Austin and his parents, had gone on an all-inclusive dhow trip at pretty much the same time we did, and I had sort-of said we would go along with them. But they weren't camping like we were, they were staying in lodges, and when I found out it was 40 bucks per person per night for a 3-night trip (total of $840) I said sod that, we'll go on a day trip. 

I had met a guy in a bar (as you do), who said he could get us a dhow, at a good price.  This guy, Arnaldo, and this bar, Kiosque Tropicana, were central features of the whole camping trip. Arnaldo was a refugee Portugese, seeking escape and fortune in the wild frontier of Mozambique; and Tropicana was a typical frontier beach bar. They served the biggest beers I have ever seen, called 2-M (or doish-emsh), and it was fun to watch the reaction of the foreign female guests to the cat-sized rats, crawling up and down the rafters. But it was ok, they were sure-footed rats. So anyway, after the first day, me, the girls and Arnaldo become fast friends, and he says don't worry, he and his partner Junior can take all of us over to Margaruto, island, including snorkeling, for 50,000 Mets each (about 4 bucks). I found out the going price was 100,000 Mets, so I thought, cool. 

But, when we saw the boat, it was a tiny little thing! More of a dhow-ette than a dhow. It was painted pink with an eye at the bow, and it certainly didn't inspire feelings of seaworthiness. It was a breezy day, and we had the Parsons' two girls with us, and nobody except the boys felt like getting aboard that thing, so that was the end of that day's dhow-ride. What the hell, we'll chill right here on the beach, which we did. Jules had trailered the Hobiecat down to the place we were to catch the dhow, with the intention of sailing with us across to the island. When we were launching the Hobie, the inevitable Mozambiquan official appeared out of nowhere, to demand we obtain "permission" (i.e. fork over some money). After some mollifying and promises to come down to the Port Captain's office the next day (which we never did), he left empty-handed, and we finished launching. As the island trip was off, Jules decided to sail the Hobie back to the campsite, and I drove his Rav with the trailer while T drove the Paj. 



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Last edited by New Historian (Dec 18, 2019 11:41 am)

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#2 Dec 19, 2019 7:42 am

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Re: Another African tale: dhows

What will be the name of your book?  What is the release date?

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#3 Dec 19, 2019 12:16 pm

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Re: Another African tale: dhows

You'll be sure to hear, when that day comes!!!

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