We sail to Namibia and learn about the many benefits of Sea Forests. We switch from sea to sand to explore the vast Namibian desert.

Cape Town (ZAF) – Walvis Bay (NAM)

“Stay open” Ivar whispers to the bridge as we sail underneath it to leave Cape Town’s V&A Marina. Not long ago the bridge came down too early and damaged our friends’ boat, so we are a little bit nervous. We sigh in relief after we have passed it and wave at the tourists looking down on us from the waterfront. We leave with mixed feelings, as we don’t just say goodbye to the city but also South Africa and its hospitable inhabitants. They made our time here unforgettable. As we set course due north to Namibia, we can’t help but wonder: will our welcome there be just as warm?

Cold Beginning

“I’m putting on my thermal underwear!” Floris announces soon after leaving the bay. “Me too”, Ivar replies. The sea water and air around us is cold, courtesy of the Benguela Current, which comes straight from Antarctica. At the same time, we are grateful for the extra knot of speed it provides, especially since the wind is weak. The gennaker is up and gently pulls Luci forward. Still, our progress is slow until the third day, when the wind steadily increases. When we’re finally clocking 6 to 7 knots, our euphoria clouds our judgment and the inevitable happens. The gennaker blows out and lands in the water. While we pull the drenched and shredded fabric back on board, we are overcome by emotions: disappointment, frustration, and anger. We’re angry at our carelessness. We know that we should have taken the gennaker down as soon as the wind picked up. It is a lesson we thought we had learned a long time ago. Apparently not. In silence we hoist the mainsail. Exhausted, we return to the cockpit. Floris’ thoughts are still with the gennaker. Maybe it’s not as bad as it looks and we can repair our cherished light-weather sail?

Great African Seaforest

The next morning brings another challenge, however: thick fog. It, too, is related to the cold water of the Benguela Current, which cools the warm air coming from the land. Blindly relying on our plotter and radar, we continue our downwind course. “I’m ready for warm waters!” Floris sighs. “Me, too, but you have to appreciate the biodiversity that the Benguela Current supports”, Ivar counters. He reminds Floris of our conversation with Danielle Ehrlich in Cape Town. She is the communication strategist for Sea Change Project, the team behind the award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher. When she visited us on board, she explained that the film is about more than an octopus. “The film is set in a forest. An underwater sea forest of kelp, that is”, Danielle clarified. “Kelp thrives in cold sea water, which we have in abundance here thanks to the nutrient-rich Benguela Current”, she continued. “The sea forest forms the basis for all other life, just like forests on land. It’s a breeding ground and shelter for a plethora of animals, including predators. It bursts with biodiversity but also protects the coast against storms. You could say that sea forests have the same function as coral reefs in the tropics. That’s why it is our goal to protect the more than 1,000 kilometer stretch of sea forest along our coast, which we call the Great African Seaforest”. “True,” Floris admits. “This cold water has many benefits. But at the moment all I want is for this fog to disappear so we can see clearly again!”

Rewilding the Ocean

It takes until evening for Floris to get his wish. The fog only dissipates when we are almost at the anchorage in the Namibian port of Lüderitz. The next morning, we clear in and meet the team of Kelp Blue. The young company is in the process of planting forests of giant kelp in places around Lüderitz where there is no kelp now. They show us their office and lab, give us a tour of their processing plant, and take us to their kelp farm in the neighbouring bay. There, we witness the early successes of their efforts. A large, sandy area that was once poor in biodiversity now hosts a kelp forest. Kelp Blue will regularly harvest the top meter of the fast-growing kelp and turn it into biostimulants for use in agriculture. The biostimulants contain the kelp’s nutrients, which can replace synthetic fertilizers. Their use helps in the transition to organic agriculture.

In addition, marine creatures like fish, mussels, sharks, and crayfish have made the kelp forest their home. Who knows, once their kelp plants are more established, octopuses will find their way to these new sea forests, too! The increased biodiversity is good news for fish stocks, while the captured CO2 helps in the fight against climate breakdown. Kelp Blue is also helping local people find steady work, which is much needed because fishermen are struggling to make a living. You can read all about this exciting company that rewilds the ocean in our sustainable solution article about sea forests.

Pancakes on Biogas

Next, we meet Giel du Toit at the Lüderitz Yacht Club. He tells us that he has read all of our stories about sustainability. “I have something to add, if I may be so immodest,” he announces. Curious to know what that is, we follow him to his home, where he shows us his biogas installation. “My kitchen waste goes in, after which pure methane and compost tea for the vegetable garden come out. I use the methane gas for cooking and lighting”, he continues, “I’ll show you.” Inside his house he fires up the stove and turns on a light. “See these tubes, they come from the biogas installation outside”, he points out. Not much later, we are enjoying some delicious pancakes baked on biogas. “If you apply this on a large scale, you would have all the ingredients for circular agriculture and renewable energy,” Giel says. After this demonstration we couldn’t agree more.

Colonial Lüderitz

To make our way back to the kayak, we walk through bone-dry, sandy Lüderitz. Classic buildings from the early 20th century line the streets give the town a certain charm. Yet the colourful houses look somewhat out of place here on the edge of the desert. The architecture is unmistakably German, as it is they who founded the town. The settlers came here some hundred years ago to mine diamonds. Their arrival was not without consequence for the local tribes, the Namas and Ovaherero, as a recently revealed genocide monument commemorates. Thousands of them were killed, raped, forced to work, and dispossessed.

Sadly, these atrocities are largely ignored, while the diamond industry is still big business. At sea, we saw large ships that used something akin to vacuum cleaners to suck up the seabed and everything that comes in its path. There are also several diamond ships next to us in the harbor, with large centrifuges on board that separate sand from stones. In the adjacent desert, Restricted Area signs make it clear that it is strictly forbidden to look for the shiny gemstones yourself. It means that we have to forget about a potential source of income for ourselves and set our sights on what else Namibia has to offer.

Moored with Confidence

“Road trip?” Floris proposes. “I would like to see the country, but doubt whether it is safe to leave Luci here,” Ivar answers. “But she won’t be alone,” Floris counters. “Andy is here!”. Andy has a boat in the bay and is in charge of the mooring buoys. “Your mooring is certified for ships up to 75 tons!”, he says when we ask him about the risks of leaving Luci alone. “And it is autumn now. In the summer the wind regularly blows 50 knots here but now it is much calmer.” His explanation and promise to keep an eye on Luci reassure Ivar. We rent a car, borrow camping gear from our new Kelp Blue friend Okke, and soon depart for an inland trip. “To the desert!” Floris exclaims.

Switching Sea for Sand

It turns out the desert starts where Lüderitz ends. Within five minutes of our departure, we are surrounded by nothing but sand. Only the road is black asphalt, the rest is a mixture of yellow, brown, and red. We can’t take our eyes off the endless sand plains and dunes that engulf us, while we zoom along at 50 knots. The speed drastically drops after our first intersection, from where on the road, too, is made of sand. For hours, we drive through the vast landscape without seeing anyone else. We regularly stop to take pictures of fascinating vistas, before we set up camp.

The spectacular sand dunes of Sossusvlei prove to be particularly photogenic. A river once flowed here but when it became drier, the sand dunes took over the area. We can’t resist climbing one, which is easier said than done. With every step we sink into the loose sand and due to the heat, we out-sweat our water supply. Yet we persevere. Exhausted, we reach the top, where the reward awaits. As we pant, our fatigue quickly makes way for amazement at the gigantic dimensions and artistic shapes of the dune tops.

Desert Life

Besides sand, we also encounter wild animals. Long, straight horns make Namibia’s national symbol, the oryx, easy to discern. The agile springbok, with its characteristic jump, also regularly passes by. While picnicking along the road, a curious jackal comes to investigate. We are amazed at how well these animals are adapted to desert life. There hardly seems to be water. Even the Fish River, responsible for carving out a huge canyon, does not carry much of it. Yet there are oases, such as the Orange River on the border with South Africa and the Waterberg. This large rock massif retains moisture so well that water seeps out of it all year round. The immediate surroundings are bright green, which attracts countless birds, large grazers, and the illustrious leopard.

Where Does the Water Come From?

Namibia is almost 20 times larger than the Netherlands but has only 2.6 million inhabitants. Indigenous peoples, such as the nomadic San, lived here thousands of years before European settlers arrived. They made petroglyphs of their prey animals, which we can still admire today. During the rainy season they also filled empty ostrich eggs with water and hid them to get through the dry periods. At one of our campsites, a local guide explains that the San’s way of life is no longer possible today: climate breakdown has made it too dry.

Modern Namibians pump groundwater, but the use far exceeds the rate at which scarce rain can replenish it. Is the desert going to beat humans in the long run? In the abandoned mining village of Kolmannskuppe we see how sand can swiftly take over an entire town. “Still, I do see opportunities for a sustainable future in Namibia,” Ivar says. “There is so much sun and space. You can harvest solar energy here, which you can also use to turn seawater into fresh water. Just like our watermaker on board!”

Seal Bay

Once back in Lüderitz we don’t have to wait long for a good weather window. The next day we check out and set sail for Walvis Bay, about 200 miles further north. Despite its name, we don’t spot any whales when we round a long, low sandbar and enter the bay. Instead, we are playfully greeted by hundreds of seals. In groups they swim with us and frequently jump out of the water. We slalom around large ships at anchor and make our way to the jetty of the yacht club. After tying up, we meet the club’s secretary Antoinette. “As a temporary member, you can use all club facilities,” she reports. We make immediate use of the offer and take a refreshing shower, after which she even drives us to the authorities to check in. To top off her warm welcome, she hands us a package.

Sewing Challenge

Feitze, our friend and sailmaker, has sent us more than thirty meters of repair tape for the gennaker. He is also the reason why we have a sewing machine on board, on which he even taught us how to sew. Countless times the machine came in handy but this challenge is of a different order: our poor sail is torn over a total length of fifteen meters. “By sticking tape on both sides of the tears and then stitching the whole thing, you can hopefully repair the sail,” Feitze texted us. Overjoyed, we open the package and get to work. After a full day of taping and sewing, our gennaker seems ready to fly again.

Ticking Off

With the gennaker repaired, we can tick off an important item of our to-do list. Our second Atlantic crossing awaits and we expect to need our light weather sail regularly on our way to Brazil. We can tick off the other items in Walvis Bay too. Ivar finds a dentist who fixes his loose filling. Done. We do laundry and restock our provisions. Using the last of our mobile data we upload our latest blogs and vlogs before we check out with the authorities. When a southerly wind starts to blow Floris releases the lines while Ivar steers Luci from the jetty and into the bay. 3,000 miles of deep blue Atlantic Ocean lie ahead. As we sail out of Seal Bay we observe the sand dunes of the Namibian desert slowly shrinking until all we see is the sea. Thank you, hospitable and impressive land of sand!

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