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Across the Westward Ocean We Will Wander

The Barque Picton Castle is under sail and outward bound once again across a great ocean – this time from Luderitz, Namibia north west towards the West Indies sailing the South Atlantic on what is, apart from a small pit stop at St Helena, our longest sea passage of this voyage. Even with the short break at St Helena this is still our longest passage of the voyage. 1,350 miles from Namibia to St Helena and about 3,700 miles from St Helena to the West Indies. The crew will get a kick out of St Helena what with Napoleon’s house, the stark landscape, the English food and beer, the remnants of empire and the story of global European expansion in the 1600s – 1800s in microcosm. But that is almost a week and half away, we have much seafaring to do on the way.

After a good sail up the coast from Cape Town we put into Luderitz, Namibia and had an interesting and a worthwhile stop. We had tried to put in to Luderitz on our last voyage in these parts five years ago but a strong local gale just blew us right out of there just as we were coming into the approaches. Later reports of ships breaking anchor chains during this gale confirmed that trying to head in to port against the gale would have been to no avail and possibly quite hazardous. Luderitz has a good harbour, pretty well protected once you are in and lashed to the wharf. The town is built on rocks and surrounded by rocks, sand and sand dunes. This time after taking in sail we motored in slowly in a calm thick o’fog (the standard alternative hereabouts to a screaming gale it seems, count ourselves lucky we did) which opened right up into a bright sunny clear day as we got close to land with the radiant land heat burning the cold fog off. We were struck with how completely dry the landscape was all around the town of Luderitz. Only five miles away offshore we were in a thick cold damp fog to make Nova Scotians feel right at home, yet once in the harbour, dry and dry as far as one could see. Absolute desert in and just right out of town. Looks just like those NASA photos of the the surface of Mars – I mean dry as a bone desert. The place is pretty desolate to say the least.

Once alongside we saw lots of nice North Sea looking wooden fishing boats built right there in south western Africa – fishing for hake and crayfish and working oyster farms for export to Cape Town and beyond. A large bulk carrier at the big commercial wharf was loading zinc ore we were told. Luderitz is a dry dusty wild west sort a town in stucco – no wood hereabouts, just rocks, plenty rocks and sand. Bartholomew Diaz put in here, maybe as far south as he got in the 1480s, left a cross on a point nearby they found 400 years later…

You have heard of a ‘company town’? Well, I think Luderitz might be a company town with Big Diamonds being the company. The diamond concerns seem to own or own the rights to just about everything hereabouts. We were told that you get 7 years for murder but 20 years for taking a pebble off the beach you happen to be strolling along if the pebble happens to be a diamond… and that is all a diamond is when you pick it up off the ground; a dusty non-descript looking pebble. Even if it is just lying there beside the road – and by the way, diamonds aren’t ‘forever’, being carbon they burn up just like coal… I guess you could make a pretty hot fire from them too, if you had enough of them. As we made the approaches to the harbour there were two very large diamond dredging ships at anchor – we were told that they were not working just now, waiting for the price of diamonds to head back up.

There is a picture of the place and bay in 1904; nothing there at all , two sheds maybe, nothing else. The next shot in 1911 from the same hill shows the town as big as it is now (5,000-10,000 population) with a dozen ships at anchor and wharves built. All about diamonds, and what is a diamond anyway? Luderitz is a working town; with jobs fishing, in diamonds or support services.

But good times had by our gang; we were soundly welcomed by the delightful Luderitz “Yacht Klub” who made us feel at home with showers and admiration; a visit to the German built diamond ghost town – Kolmannskope; all folks we met plenty friendly; Michael and Katelinn playing a Bob Dylan songbook on guitar and violin at a fine local pub called Barrels one night to much applause from the locals as well as our own team cheering section. The local oyster farming operation runs an oyster bar which was nice, you had to look for it though. Some of the gang made friends with Namibian locals and crew off the many fish boats. Our Russian pilot Alex took some crew off on a tour around the hinterlands and including some exciting off-roading in his 4×4. Verrrry exciting…

It came time to sail. All hands aboard, ship stowed and lashed for sea. We backed the ship away from the pier, turned around, motored out of the harbour against light head winds and past the two huge diamond mining vessels awaiting orders to get back to sucking diamonds off the sea floor and we got under sail once again. Chief Cook Donald cooked ostrich (REALLY BIG chicken) and peas and rice tonight – soon set stunsls.

Adry town set in the desert
Early 20th century shots of Luderitz showing boom town growth
Kolmannskope diamond mining ghost town
Picton Castle at fishermans wharf
Two of the Gypsy Band jamming at Barrel s Pub in Luderitz
Wooden fishing boats in Luderitz

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