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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Atlantic Ocean and four-wheeled catamaran

In St. Louis, I was asked four times if I had seen breakers where the river meets the ocean. I replied unfeelingly with confidence that of course I had. I had, about a kilometre away from the top of the peninsula. There are small fishing boats in Senegal, some 12 metres long, most of them 20 metres. Amphibear is considered a midget even among the local fishermen. Those 20-metre-long boats were rocking really hard in a scary way on those breakers. We took an exploratory boat trip, but to my chagrin, the boatmen did not realise they had to sail out to the ocean, instead, they turned back at the estuary.

According to GPS I was sailing with the pontoons lowered on dry land at the Senegal River delta.

I drove out in the morning, at 8am, as promised. At the peak of the tide, as it is the most favourable and peaceful time. At the same time, all the fishing boats, who have been catching fish with nets all night long, return. That is very important, because the naval map shows nothing here. For example, the map says that the place where bigger boats turned out to the sea is actually dry land. The Pilot Book warns you about this, of course. Nothing replaces the local’s experience, so I kept my focus on the trail of the boats coming into dock. After some zigzagging, Amphibear was out at sea, taking on the first breakers. It seemed scary, but it was really nothing to be worried about. As I previously mentioned, the weight centre is in the middle and Amphibear responds very well to waves. None of them rammed its body. Just about twenty kilometres from the coast it seemed like a dream - is it even possible for the Atlantic ocean to be this serene?

I could only dream of the ocean this flat. Small fishing boat from Saint-Louis returning from the ocean.

Since I anchored so far out on the Senegal river and the current became very strong as low tide set in, I had to spend the night watching the anchor. Therefore, I was exhausted after just half a day and I took a nap on the bunk. It was unusual for the fishing boats behind me to see ships, and napping during the day seemed more safe than doing it at night time. In daylight, you get an overview of the situation with a quick look. The water seems like a giants’ field. There was no wave pattern. Amphibear’s quick reaction to waves, turning, and the automatic corrections when the pontoon's nose hit something, brought out its downside. Sleeping in my amphibious catamaran is quite an acrobatic act in any weather. Eventually one becomes tired and sleeps, but it is not comfortable at all and you cannot handle it for very long.
Since the first night out on the ocean was dark and misty (just like all those following), the night time seemed quite scary. Waves are small, but you cannot see when and how they are coming in, therefore, getting seasick is only a matter of time. Luckily, mine passed easily. And even the night passed eventually.

I encountered an unexpected problem during the day. The ventilator cools the motor very well. Its working temperature is an even 90 degrees. Since the car moves very slowly in the water, and because of the tropical sun, the temperature under the hood remains 90 degrees; if the wind is slightly weaker or blowing from a wrong direction. It is okay for the car’s systems, the manufacturer has taken it into account. However, you cannot touch anything. But it is too much for the oil control of the Scottoiler. And so I discovered at the end of the day that even opening the hood will not help. Since the wind kept blowing the warm air precisely at the controller during the night, it did not work.  And getting up in the dark, it’s pitch black on the rocking pontoon, with a flashlight to oil the chain every two hours took some significant inner dialogue each time.

I did not want to drift for long storm anchored, just to make my sleeping more comfortable. The longer you are out on the sea, the more likely you are to meet bad weather. Therefore, I drove as fast as I could. Since I knew the controller is not working inside the car (it responds to vibration), I figured out the solution on the fourth day. So I made the hard decision and got the work done by lying on the car floor with my legs out on the pontoon during a fueling break. I ran the wires, which I uninstalled under the Scottoiler's hood, through the salon, and reinstalled the controller on the shaky button of the transfer box in the car.  Before that I managed to exhaust one chain that I started using at home, so I put another on. Having been oiled with Scottoiler for about 30 hours, it needed no additional oiling, it did not wear off or drag and the joints did not get stuck either. Therefore, one thing less to worry about, especially at nights, and I have plenty of chains.

The most I found four fly-fish on pontoons

I experienced more seasickness, but the pills my team member doctor Hamor Kaha had added to my gear reduced the symptoms immediately, so I did not have to worry about that anymore. As soon as I fixed the oil problem, I found a new one. Some of the oil leaked into the hydro system. The leak was big enough so I would not get far without fixing it (although, if necessary, I could add some diesel, but considering the ongoing journey, it would not be recommended). And I could not find it. I swam in the ocean, under the car, holding pliers and going over different shells in the hydraulics. All are tight. Sometimes a wave comes over me. The vehicle is slightly drifting. There is 3000 metres below and the evening is coming in.  I got fed up. I anchored it and went to sleep.
In the morning, after swimming under the car again, I found the leak. Right behind the hydropump. I did not even need to swim under the car, I could approach it from the front wheel pit.  I did not manage to turn off the biggest pipe in the hydro system, although I did close somehow. To eliminate a small afterleak, I put some EPO glue around the cracks in the shell and what do you know - the leaking stopped.

Atlantic Ocean as expected. Amphibear in crosswind of 8 m/s and waves of 2 m approaching Santiago Island in Cabo Verde.

Although the last 24 hours passed with driving just 8-9 kilometres per hour to keep the oil pressure low, there were no more technical issues with the vehicle. As promised, the wind and waves started rising. At that point I also spotted land on the horizon. A sailor's joy is great when he sees land (a strange paradox), luckily, for me as a hobby sailor it is quite forgivable. My joy became greater as I found shelter from the wind at Mayo island, and saw the island of Santiago straight ahead. However, it turned out I was yet to experience the biggest waves. A sidewind of 8 metres per second and two-metre waves and some breakers (right under the car) made me feel much more like being out on the ocean. However, with the exception of some slight discomfort, the waves did not bother the vehicle. Stability was great, it stayed on course, the waves did not hit the car. Then I turned towards the harbour of Praya and Amphibear’s little ocean trip was over.

Every sailor's dream – a harbour after an exhausting sea journey.

In conclusion, the weather was as expected, ocean was hospitable according to its latitude, and the technology delivered. I dare to take on the next stage, although it is the comfort issue that is just over the top of my head. Whenever you are in the bunk, somebody is trying to kick you out of it with force.  It is very uncomfortable to walk on the pontoons because the waves splatter everything when they hit the car wheels. Besides, it is mandatory to stay in a safety harness when you are alone (and I did, both while driving and swimming) and you need to rearrange them for every step you take. So, the ocean is not exactly inviting to spend a long time out on it. I could cook well if I caught any fish but because of lousy sleep every free moment is needed for rest.

This time I experienced mostly sidewind and sidewaves. We will see if I manage to at least begin the next stage with clear tail wind and waves. Of course, I need to reserve some time to get the appropriate weather, but I am planning to do some work on the Amphibear anyway, and as it turns out, it is not that easy to buy the necessary equipment in Praya. But more of that later.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you Mait and Kristjan, a great article! Looking forward to hear more and best of luck with next stage of your adventure!