The Vagabond Sails Kenya

Riding the Dhow
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We set off on schedule, hoisting the triangular, patched cloth sail with wooden pulleys and riding out of town on a gentle breeze. Captain Kelly steered us through a narrow mangrove channel and into open water, where the winds picked up and we had to employ a wooden counterbalance to keep from tipping. This was handled by our two crew members: Mohammed, a 26-year-old ultra-skinny first mate who spent most of his time on "Planet Mohammed," a self-declared state of hash-induced euphoria, and second-mate Mohammed, a 15-year-old gnat-weight lad who never uttered a word and wore a hat made from the leg of a cut-off pair of jeans.

Mohammed and Mohammed (with a little help from me) lodged the thick, precarously narrow counterbalance beam into place, then climbed out onto it, leveling the dhow with their weight and providing a bit of speed—as much as you might hope for with a boat shaped like Dutch clog.

At just about this moment, I needed to use the toilet in a seriously urgent way. And the way the toilet works on this 20-foot-long open-hull boat is not entirely obvious.

So "going" goes something like this: Put on a swimsuit, secure one end of a rope to the deck, hold on the other end and jump overboard. Then it gets a little tricky because the boat is towing you along at a pretty good clip. While trying not to think about the sharks in the area, you need to hold onto the rope with one hand, maneuver your swimsuit down (being careful not to lose it entirely) with the other, keep you head above the rushing water, do your business and hope the wind doesn't suddenly die, leaving you in the middle of your business, if you catch my drift . . . or, perhaps, lack of it.

The sailing itself, however, was utterly enchanting. Part of the attraction of dhow sailing here is the relatively calm waters—waves under three feet and wind that rarely overpowers the boat. And after a full day of it, we arrived at a secluded beach cove on Kiwayu Island.

Although it only felt secluded for about an hour. Another dhow arrived with two German travelers, followed by a crowded dhow with a family of Israelis and two Italians who complained they had been traveling by motor all day. Their dhow had a sail, but their captain didn't care for it. I felt sorry for them, especially watching them steam off the next morning, their engine rumbling like a fleet of Harleys in need of servicing.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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