Saturday, November 25, 2006

Escape from Accra!

It has been over a month since we ventured out of Accra by car (another blog entry will expand on this some day). The bike club jaunts, although interesting and physical at times, never really satisfy the need to leave everything behind and see something new.

Last night our friends Dan and Giselle phoned to ask if SJD and I would be interested in checking out the Accra-Tema Yacht Club. I didn't really have any plans, but SJD was tied up with work and reluctantly had to decline the offer. Accra has some pretty swanky parts of town, with enormous opulent gated residences with pricey Mercedes, BMWs and Land Rovers parked in front. On the other hand, it also has it's fair share of people living in very substandard and unfortunate conditions. Could Accra really have a yacht club? Well, we must find out for ourselves. I always kinda cringed walking past the white yachts anchored in Georgetown on a Saturday evening while those on board ostentatiously sipped champagne. Well, the answer is yes - there is a yacht club in Accra.

Dan, Giselle and I headed east an hour or so beyond the suburban sprawl and into the scrub, before heading south a bit down rutted dirt roads through the fishing villages that line the Volta River where it dumps into the Gulf of Guinea at Ada Foah. After a few minutes of searching, we located the ATYC - the first patrons of the day. In the case of the ATYC, the term "yacht" may be a bit of an overstatement. I'm not exactly a sailor, but these yachts available for hourly rent did not exactly conjure up thoughts of caviar, huge wakes.
No, they were something you might expect to see tied down in the back of a pick-up truck barreling down the highway. Starfish. Laser. Ok, we really did know that we were going sail boating - not yachting. We were a bit surprised to be stuffed - the three of us - into the little yellow boat pictured behind Dan and Giselle. No signed and notarized waivers. No collateral driver's license. No map. Just life preservers and a shove away from shore. This is not the US afterall.

Dan grew up sailing he assured me. Giselle, his wife, seemed at ease so I sat still and let Dan pull rope, steer and instruct us when to lean or duck our heads under the boom. The Volta water was quite smooth and the winds were light. We headed down river passing several beachside mud walled, thatch roofed villages nestled under coconut trees. There were several docks, but not a single white yacht. Instead, lengthy wood canoes with motors lumbered from shore to shore loaded to the max with people and goods. The boat in the background is empty, but you can kinda get the picture. The blue and white boat in the foreground is for hire from a restaurant presumably for tourists.

Anyway, back to our little seafaring adventure. Dan is navigating quite well. We haven't capsized or rammed any boats. Eventually we pass a few sand bars and can see the ocean tide breaking at the mouth of the Volta - maybe a 1/2 mile ahead. As the gentle water begins to churn a bit, we decide it is best to swing 'er 'round and head back up wind and up river. Dan instructs us to duck as he whips the little boat 180 degrees with ease. The sail fills with air, and by looking at our wake behind the rudder it appears that we're really cruising. Looking at the trees on the shore it appears that we're standing still or perhaps moving backwards with the current. The constant river tide is matching our forward progress and soon enough is beating it. For about 15 minutes we monitor our lack of progress up stream as we drift closer to the shore. The ocean tide seems to be coming in behind us which it seems, logically, should give us that little push we need to get moving again. Instead it just seems to make us roll up and down in place. What would Shackleton do? What would Gilligan do? What would Dennis Conner do? Dan pointed the boat directly into shore. I'm happy to report that we're safe and sound, enjoying the sand and plentiful coconuts on a deserted beach opposite the ATYC. Come visit! Well, okay not quite.

We dragged the little boat around the horn of a sandbar and strategized for a moment before setting sail again. Our location would allow us to sail into the wind but perpendicular to the current briefly. Even if we drifted a bit we would be spit out into the calmer waters very shortly. Well, all worked just fine. The water was nice and warm - shallow enough at times to require a gentle shove.

Back on course we pulled into the ATYC a half hour later and headed to the local hotel/restaurant for some (what else?) pizza.

For those following along at home, the Bradt Guide page 214-218 has some good info on Ada Foah.

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