The Gambia is a river and a country. It has a short coastline at the mouth of the Gambia River and follows the river, along both banks, surrounded by Senegal to the North, South and East. The Gambia River was a major player in the African slave trade.
The sea approach to Banjul is difficult. It is shallow with the need to negotiate 20 miles of sandbars. At times there was only two meters under Amsterdam’s pod propellers, all of this while negotiating conflicting tidal and river currents. We could only enter and leave at high tide. We were scheduled to arrive early in the morning but the Seattle planners at Holland America did not take the tide into account. The Captain’s blog (www.captainjonathan.com) has an excellent description entering Banjul. I will quote extensively from the Captain.
“Our destination, Banjul is in the Gambia and to access it we had to transit some very shallow water for 20+ miles, charted depths being the same as our draft. As a consequence I had to wait for the tide to rise and, because of “squat”, cross the bank at a very slow speed. It was a very early morning for me…. Constantly monitoring the echo-sounder depths, it is not a comfortable feeling watching depths of less than 2 meters constantly repeating on the red glow of the instrument. Having started the bank crossing at 0500, we reached the deeper water of the river at 7:30. We had a screaming flood tide up our back, 2-3 kts, and were being set over 10 by it. A plodding pilot boat came out to us and although we kept the conn, his advice on this particular docking was vital; he knew the idiosyncrasies of the river. With the strong flood tide, we had to dock with the bow facing it, which meant swinging through 180° and then docking port side alongside. I started the turn a long way north of the pier, the current was going to take me south quite rapidly and I wanted to be able to judge the effect of it before I got too close to the concrete. Having swung I now let the current help me, dropping me south and slowly pushing me in towards the dock, it was just a matter of controlling the drop on the joystick control and at 9 a.m. we were alongside.”
While the Captain was occupied docking the ship we watched may small, and colorfully painted fishing boats going to and from their fishing grounds. We sailed past a Turkish development project for The Gambia. The Power ship has generators that tie into The Gambian grid and provide electricity for the town and growing tourism infrastructure. The project is to last two years until The Gambia can generate enough electricity to meet its own needs. Puerto Rico is our last stop and I wondered if FIMA could use that idea for emergencies in the States.
The Gambia is pinning a lot of its development hopes on tourism. Two of the development projects I visited (see other blog posts) were tied to tourism. The country has a short but sandy coastline and British package holiday makers come down along with Spanish and Dutch. I suspect most of those tourists land at the airport west of Banjul and never see the capital. Most of the holiday developments are at the mouth of the river, on the sandy beach
But The Gambia is also trying to get more American tourists to visit and is trying to get them a little further inland than the beaches. Fort James on what used to be James Island is six miles upriver from Banjul. It was a slave trading fort and, at times, was controlled by the British, French or Dutch. After the British banned the slave trade in 1807 it was used as a base to intercept and stop slave trade on the Gambia River. It is now part of something called “The Roots Experience.” James Island has been renamed Kunte Kinteh Island, in honor of the first generation protagonist in Alex Haley’s novel “Roots.”
I didn’t get to Fort James, with just one day I had to make choices. We decided to look to the future by visiting development projects rather revisit the past. But as we sailed in and out of Banjul we saw the ferryboat Kunte Kinteh that takes people up river to the island. Right now I happen to be re-reading “Roots.”