African Rainbow Expedition delayed by dhow

Jul 9, 2005
Author: P&S

The departure of the African Rainbow ‘One Net One Life’ expedition by dhow and Land Rover from Pemba has experienced a temporary delay due to last minute technical hitches with the dhow.


Kingsley Holgate at Pemba

Led by explorer and adventurer Kingsley Holgate of book and National Geographic fame, the original plan was to sail on Thursday, 30 June, until a simple item like a pulley, used to raise the sail and boom, proved inadequate to the task.

But pulleys aren’t a dime a dozen in Pemba, a small coastal town and harbour in northern Mozambique, even in an area where dhows are still built using traditional methods and where they are plentiful on the water.

However, a local workshop has undertaken to manufacture a new pulley of the right size and in the meantime the team consisting of eight adventurers including Kingsley Holgate, his wife Gill and son Ross have been distributing anti-malaria nets and materials to villages in the region.

Once the dhow is ready it is expected that half the team, accompanied by several experienced Swahili sailors will set forth by sea along the beautiful East African coast, while the three Land Rovers of the expedition will parallel them on land, seeking out suitable places to distribute life-saving anti malaria equipment.

The dhow, named ‘Spirit of Adventure,’ was built in Tanzania especially for this expedition and is constructed using local timber and other materials using the same methods as have been in use for hundreds of years,.

Yet it remains strange for eyes accustomed to modern factory built boats to witness a sea-going vessel constructed with rough timber spars hewn by adze and other traditional tools from mangrove and other local trees. However, the dhow has been sailing and trading in these waters for hundreds of years – in fact Arab accounts claim their use in the Indian Ocean waters to as far back as the 8th century – certainly long before the caravels and later ships of the European explorers. The Portuguese in fact were later to copy the use of the lateen sail because of its superior sailing performance.


The Spirit of Adventure – the dhow on which the Kingsley Holgate expedition is to travel along the beautiful yet wild East African coast, seen here in Pemba Bay

This particular dhow, like most of the others relies entirely on the vagaries of the wind, having no engine, although the lateen sail enables it to sail closer to the wind than most sail-driven boats and to make use of even the slightest of winds.

The expedition’s base camp at Pemba was built on the eastern banks of the enormous and impressive natural bay and not far from the small town and harbour of Pemba – one of Africa’s smallest ports situated within Africa’s largest natural bay!

Here a small group of invited guests were treated to a short time with the team, which included a demonstration in a typical village; on this occasion at a local Macua village where the message that malaria could be prevented was broadcast and nets and other anti-mosquito measures distributed.


A Macau boy entertains the audience of visitors and local people during the handing out of anti-malaria nets in Pemba

Those that receive nets at the villages visited are usually mothers with small children – the population most susceptible to malaria. This expedition will never have sufficient nets to go round, but it is hoped this will lead to a greater awareness among the people and the governments concerned that malaria can be defeated

The success of the expedition, which will take up to a year during which the party will travel along the coast from southern Mozambique as far as the Kenya-Somali border, became possible only because of the generous sponsorship of donor companies – among them Durban-based shipping and logistics group Grindrod, which is one of the major sponsors. Others include Land Rover, Captain Morgan Rum and the USAID organisation.


Viewed from a light aircraft the Mozambique coastline along which the expedition will sail is one of a magnificently unfolding vista of bays, inlets and mangroves, with translucent seas and unspoilt coral reefs clearly visible. From the sea or from an island forming an archipelago along hundreds of kilometres of northern Mozambique coast – the Kerimbas (alternate spelling Quirimbas) - the beauty of nature unfolds in a different, much more personal way. Yet one thing remains constant everywhere you go – the threat posed by malaria – Africa’s biggest killer.

Holgate acknowledges that what the African Rainbow Expedition is doing is just a drop in the ocean, except that it is building awareness, not only among the local communities visited, but also among local government officials and world aid organisations. While at Pemba news came through that USAID, already a major sponsor had received additional funding worth US.2Bn for the fight against malaria in Africa, of which a considerable proportion will be spent in Mozambique.

Unfortunately the beauty of the coastline is spoilt by another manmade curse. Drug smugglers are reputed to use the mangroves and islands as hiding places while moving modern drugs both into and from neighbouring countries, including South Africa. In recent months several large drug hauls have been confiscated in Durban that were intended for delivery by ship to places like Pemba. The lack of adequate policing and patrols make this a smugglers paradise, every bit as attractive and lucrative to the smugglers as it was to pirates of the 18th and 19th centuries.

all pictures are by Terry Hutson


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