The Coral Reefs of Kilifi.
Ha-ha, when Faith and I approached the Kenyan coast from seaward, we discovered we didn’t have a chart to navigate Senta through the
narrow passage in the off-lying reefs.
‘We’re in trouble now,’ I suggested. ‘All I can see is reef, and with the
sun in my eyes, I have no idea where the pass is. We are going to
have to stay at sea all night and take another look tomorrow morning
with the sun behind us.’
You should know that the East African coast is not like South Africa’s. Coral abounds, attached to the beach, in lagoons, and a mile or so offshore, a solid reef just beneath the surface. There are one or two passes, but you have to know where they are. We didn’t.
‘We’re going in,’ Faith asserted.
This put the fear of God into me. It was bad enough sailing into the
Mombasa channel with breakers either side of the boat, but there were marker buoys there. Here there was nothing. We were tired, having spent the whole day working our way up the coast from Mombasa and really, we needed to sleep.
How will we find our way?’ I queried.
She got the pilot book out. ‘The chart can’t help us, but the pilot gives
the latitude of the pass.’
‘Sail Senta up to that latitude. Aim her at the coral and sail toward the reef while I perch on the foredeck with the binoculars and see
whether I can find the markers on the shore. If we get too close, put
the boat about and get out of there fast.’
What it is to have a tough wife.
This exercise terrified me. With the coral a few hundred metres in front of us, we were over a mile offshore and the leading marks too small to be seen with the naked eye.
‘Got them,’ Faith called from the foredeck.
‘You sure? I can see nothing.’
‘Keep going. I have the binoculars on them and the markers in line. But you’re slipping to starboard. Bring the boat up on course.’
‘The current,’ I called. ‘The East African Current is washing us North.’
‘Get the boat back in line with the markers. The pass is narrow.’
I put the tiller down and headed our bow up toward the wind so we
approached the coral sideways, twenty degrees off course, but lined
up with the markers I couldn’t see.
‘Bottom’s coming up fast,’ I warned. ‘Couldn’t read the depth before. Now it’s getting shallow like lightning, twenty metres, fifteen, ten …
better turn back …’
‘Keep coming. We’ve got the markers exactly in line …’
‘Seven metres … We’re gonna touch.’
And we were through into the lagoon. Probably about twenty metres deep now. We were a mile from the beach, although lots of coral there too.
I still could not see any markers although Faith said she could make
them out clearly through our binoculars.
‘They’re small, the size of fencing posts. No longer painted white but a drab grey. And uncut veld-grass blanketing them.’
We sailed toward the shore, picked up a second set of markers, turned to starboard to line them up on a course toward Kilifi Creek. The lagoon was strewn with coral and we kept the new markers in line. We’d heard about one boat which didn’t turn into the creek quickly enough and landed up on a reef.
In the creek, we came across power lines hanging in catenary across the water and we couldn’t work out whether Senta’s mast would fit
‘We anchor here for the night,’ Faith insisted. ‘Just to be safe. We
leave the power-lines for tomorrow.’