Shimoni to Tanga - Leg 7
Leg 7. The EPIC. Shimoni - Tanga. Straightline Distance 67km. Distance kited 117km. Hours on water 5 (nonstop). Highest windspeed gusting to over 40 plus!
There is no way to keep this blog post short, too much happened today. The day seemed to have bad juju right from the start. From the minute we woke up we were out of synch with our planning, our timings and the weather, Having all slept on land for the night it was a mad rush to get down to the beach for 7am to catch our boat to the Catamaran for breakfast. The cat would have to leave at 8am to make it through the shallow tidal waters of the creek. Within that time we had to eat breakfast, prepare our day packs and radios, apply our bandages and plasters and choose the surf kit we would need that day. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most relaxing of breakfasts.
We were then dropped off back on shore to await our rescue skiff which had been sent to escort us by our host in Zanzibar Chris Goodwin. The skiff left Tanga at 5am that morning and should have been with us by 9am. At 11 we were still waiting, conscious that that wind was already up and we were sitting there twiddling our thumbs. With a 70km day ahead, the 2nd longest of the expedition, we were getting anxious. We had no choice but to brief our generous host Harm to in turn brief the skiff when it finally arrived at Pili Pipa (where the famous day trips on it’s dhow are run from), and to get in the car to go back to the kite school in Mwazaro to set off. This was far from ideal as there would be no way of explaining the intricacies of water rescues to the skiff captain, who would have never done anything like this before.
We arrived at Mwazaro at 11:30 and inexplicably the wind dropped. Once again, we sat on the beach and waited, constantly staring at the sea for signs of a steady wind. George was the only one happy with the delay, as this gave him time to patch up his badly stubbed toe before getting in the water. At 12pm we finally grabbed our kit and walked out towards the sea, across the muddy beach which the day before had been submerged by the high tide. One by one we launched our kites but with the gusty winds, which had yet to settle, it was chaos. Al crashed his immediately as his kite fell out of the sky through no fault of his own, and couldn’t relaunch for 20 mins as he frantically tugged his lines. Justin got himself into trouble as well , struggling for control in the uneven gusts. By 12:30 we all finally managed to sail beyond the Mwazaro bay and into the open seas and it’s stronger, more even winds. We were finally off.
The plan for the day was to enter the Kisite marine park and cut straight across the sea to the southern tip of land. A 50km run far from land. The coastline of North Tanzania was an uninviting, and frankly, intimidating blend of cliffs and mangroves. There would be no rest breaks today, no lunch stops, no pretty group pictures on the beach. It was do or….
After 30mins we finally saw the skiff which had arrived at Pili Pipa shortly before, and was making it’s way to meet us on the route. Normally Nic would be on board the rescue boat, and in full radio contact with the team. Today however, due to the chaotic start, no-one had briefed the boat captain how to use the radio. Following many attempts to contact them we resorted to shouting and hand signals to communicate the plan for the day and the route.
After 2 hours of long tack zig zagging our way down the coastline the chop started to get bigger and bigger, and soon, we were in the middle of a 3m swell with angry chop on it. The constant chatter on our radios was replaced by a deadly silence as everyone got into their zone. The name of the game was laser focussed concentration. Boris led the way, and we all lined up behind him. He would announce each tack on the radio to eliminate the risk of us crashing into him, or crossing our lines. A theme of the expedition has been the disparity in speed and directions of the windsurfers versus the kiters. Not for the first time, but through no fault of his own, Craig started to fall behind. Our well laid plans of moving in a tight group went out of the window. Far too frequently Craig fell 600-700m behind and the kiters would have to enter a holding pattern for him. Radio comms was proving difficult, with the huge waves disrupting our VHF radio waves.
This came to a head when we lost site of Craig and he wasn’t answering his radio. All of us took it in in turns to try and reach him. When Craig’s radio did finally crackle, he couldn’t respond as he needed both hands on his boom in the horrible conditions to ensure he wouldn’t wipeout. He was also sailing without a footstrap which came undone - in these conditions, a near impossible task. He finally found and reached the rescue boat and by the time he’d boarded the kiters had been trying to reach him for 20minutes hovering in between 3m waves. “Craig please please please answer your radio’ ‘Craig come in’ ‘Craig answer your FXXXXXXXG radio!!!!’ Agonising.
Once we knew he was safely on board we set off again. Thank god. At this point the wind had picked up to over 30knots with gusts of over 40. This was the worst sea any of us had ever kited in by far. Vastly overpowered by our kites we cracked on. Then the next issue. When George reached the crest of a wave, a powerful gust hit his kite and he was yanked - superman style - out of his foostraps and 30m downwind of the board he left behind. To retrieve your board on a kite if it’s upwind (behing you), you stick your arm out in the water to create friction (like a centreboard) and you ‘body drag’ yourself until you reach it. However doing this in huge waves is almost impossible. Every time you get close to your board a rolling wave would take you away from it. One step forwards three steps back. Oh…and there were jellyfish. Jason came back to try and help, as he always does, but at this point George’s board had reached the cliffs and was irretrievable. Craig, at this point safely on the skiff, answered the emergency call and pulled up alongside George to drop off the spare. George later said that for the first time in his life, he was actually happy to see Craig.
On we went. Marc seems impervious to pain and issues and he soldiered on, no complaints, no irrational decisions, always in radio contact. Justin also, with his many years of experience, was always at the front, staying close to Boris his ‘buddy’ (we were all partnered up). He said later that he’d never felt pain like that in his legs, but he never complained, not once. Al had chosen his kite size carefully, and always seemed in control and riding comfortably. He had his is own personal demons to deal with - a punctured foot and severely sunburnt legs and lips - but deal with it he did. Boris did what Boris does and he led from the front all day, keeping true to the routes and the plans.
As we went around the lighthouse and into Tanga, were were all on our last legs. Even twenty minutes kiting in this weather is extreme, five hours of it is bordering the irrational and reckless. Never again. In our defence, you can’t predict the weather 100% and we had no idea this would be the windiest day Tanga had seen for years. Our last hurdle was to land on ‘shit beach’, the public beach south of the old Tanga pier. So nick-named because of the foul stench emanating from the nearest sewer. Stefano was on the beach waiting for us and he guided us in one by one. There were a ridiculous amount of obstacles to avoid, the worst of which were concrete pillars sticking out of the sea. As Marc waited for his turn to land he crashed into one which was submerged until a wave would be sucked back to expose it. Thankfully he got away unscathed, it could’ve been so so so much worse.
Five hours after we started we were all safely on the beach. Nic ran to each of us in turn to pour hydrogen peroxide on our cuts and grazes. It stung like hell, but hepatitis and cholera were an all too real threat. We then took a moment to look at each other in silence and reflect on what we’d just achieved. We didn’t need to say much, there was just a quiet acknowledgement that we were the first people to boardride the entire length of the Kenyan coastline. A proud moment for all of us.