Cruising Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

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It’s only a couple of hundred miles from Lüderitz to Walvis Bay, but we broke the trip up to soak in some of the remote landscape.

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What started out cool and gray warmed up to… cool and sunny. At least it was warm enough to take off foulies, which Jamie and I wore even on sunny days coming out of Cape Town. We had some truly spectacular sailing along the way.

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There’s a shocking contrast along this coastline from the apparently barren desert, and abundance of creatures thriving alongside in the cold, nutrient-rich waters. A  lot of “did you see that?” and “HERE THEY COME!” on Totem.

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One of the most striking were the groups of fur seals that approached us. They swam like they were hell bent on reaching Totem, but we were sailing along at a good clip and they never managed to catch up…only one group (herd?) ever got alongside. They’d almost levitate trying to hop up for a look, like whales spyhopping. The numbers defied belief- easily a hundred at a time, and we encountered at least a half dozen.

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We were pretty sure we saw albatross a few times, and then one stopped by to pay a visit.

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Also alongside were the most social dolphins we’ve ever experienced. It wasn’t the endemic Heaviside’s that visited us after Cape Town, but the wider-ranging Dusky dolphins – found across much of the southern hemisphere. They have a reputation for being more social and we were given a treat, extended visits from very engaged pods.

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It is an incredible feeling to see dolphins in the distance, leaping out of the water towards the boat—and to know, absolutely know, that it’s YOU they are charging forward to see.

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They played in Totem’s bow wake, rolling to look at us, then leaping away and coming back. Jamie hung a leg over the edge and copped a quick rub on his foot when one of them jumped.

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Twice we anchored to soak it all in.  Had we gone coastwise nonstop, the route means being too far offshore to see much  most of the time. It’s a desolate place and there’s a beauty in the barren panorama of sand that stretches alongside an anchorage; to sit in the cockpit was magic. Impossibly large flocks of birds (cormorants?) flew by- they just kept coming, and coming, and coming. I can’t imagine how big that colony is, wherever it is!

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Fishermen stopped by one morning before we raised the anchor; the boat is out of Luderitz, we’d seen it nearby. “We have a gift for you!” they cried out. A bag full of crayfish came across, later weighed in at over five pounds. What a feast we had that night! I wish we’d thought to be ready for something like this, and had a gift to return–but they were quickly off to sea with smiles and waves to get back to work.

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It is incredible how the dunes change color as the light shifts. This is the exact same dune, snapped in the afternoon, evening, at sunrise, and in the gray foggy light of early morning.

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It’s so hard to convey the scale of the dunes, which our charts indicated would be around 1,000 feet. But here’s a picture that gives a suggestion: see whose whitish specs at the water’s edge? That’s a flock of flamingos. FLAMINGOS.

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I had my eye on one particular bay since seeing it in a video from the boat Bubbles, which came through in 2012. We found the same spot where an old shipwreck lies between two careless rocky arms. All around it are fur seals: there must be a couple of thousand. Through the binoculars we spied a rock face full of seal pups, lying like fluffy brown balls in wait for their mothers to return.

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Looking away from the shipwreck, there’s a severe island of jagged rocks and steep cliffs.

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Get closer, and it’s FULL of birds. Cape gannets, cormorants, and literally thousands of penguins (we’ve read estimates of 11,000 to 16,000 African penguins at this location).

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I wanted so badly to go ashore, but there was not a chance. Surf landings only, and you’d never get off the beach again – it would take flat calm conditions to get ashore here. Maybe it’s better that way: we still carry priceless memories. Even if we can’t quite reach them directly just yet, the dunes have a mesmerizing quality and memories that stick long after we depart.

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This post is syndicated on Sailfeed.

 

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14 Responses to Cruising Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

  1. Paul Oriente February 27, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    Really enjoyed seeing all the marine life. So cool!

    • Behan February 27, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

      Thanks Paul! It’s pretty amazing.

  2. Keith & Nicki - s/v Sionna February 27, 2016 at 11:29 pm #

    Some stunning photos! Love following along your adventures, while here it’s below freezing and my refit list doesn’t seem to be shrinking!

  3. Castle February 28, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    Love following your journey. Beautiful. Thank you for all your interesting posts!

  4. Michael McFadyen February 28, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    BrilliantQ I doubt we will ever get there but would love to see this first hand.

  5. Cindy Smith February 28, 2016 at 1:18 pm #

    How special that you and the family were able to experience such awesomeness!

  6. Ian Dinsdale February 28, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

    I’m so glad you’re taking this route and sticking close to shore so we can get a glimpse of this usually overlooked coast of Africa. These photos are wonderful and as always, the story is very interesting.

    Thanks so much for this,
    Ian.

  7. Tiffany February 28, 2016 at 7:33 pm #

    This really makes me want to get out there! What an amazing ride, and I’m so glad for you that you’re able to share it all as a family.

  8. Judith February 28, 2016 at 9:30 pm #

    I can’t believe the kids didn’t sand surf on the dunes. All they need is a piece of cardboard box.

    • Behan March 10, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

      Judith- we got to sandboard, and it was amazing! Now that we’re in St Helena and have a bit of internet access I’ll try to get a few pics posted. SO MUCH FUN

  9. Richard Tucker March 2, 2016 at 4:40 am #

    Hi. I am Richard Tucker. Nita’s step-brother. I enjoy reading your posts and seeing the photos. Just started following your travels. Thank you for letting us do so. I sailed across the Pacific three times…courtesy of the US Navy. I am enjoying cyber-sailing with you. Bon Voyage! Nita said I should say, “keep the keel down”.

    • Behan March 10, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

      Thanks for raising your hand Richard, we’re having a great time with Ty!

  10. Dini December 4, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

    You make me wanna go to Namibia Behan! Thanks for another beautiful post which I enjoy reading over and over again;) oxox

    • Behan December 5, 2016 at 9:14 am #

      We loved it. Barely scratched the surface! and thank YOU Dini! xx

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