Maputo lies on the East African coast and I last visited there during my ‘general cargo ship’ days of the 1970’s; then it was called Lourenco Marques and was under Portuguese administration. As a cadet, one could use bars of soap as currency, this came in handy because I only earned $15 or £10 per month. I advised the guests not to try it this call though!
Access to the port is complicated, for it lies 30 some miles from the open ocean and the navigable channel twists and turns between sandbanks. The channel has buoys, or at least it is meant to, however we found that some were out of position and others were unlit, as it was dark on arrival at 0430, it was matter of resorting to ‘electronic’ navigation, our charts and GPS. It is also shallow, so I had timed our arrival at the sea-buoy so that we could reduce speed, thus avoiding ‘squat’; I have mentioned this before, it is a hydraulic effect which results in a ship lower in the water because the water it is displacing cannot be replaced fast enough.
It was a hot and humid day as we berthed and I chose to hitch a ride (for my photos) to the market. On the way we passed buildings of its colonial past, not least of which was the Railway station …
… and others which are now obviously seats of various departments of the government. The market was a colourful affair, the vendors polite and friendly. The wares were local, material, paintings, batik, wood carvings, handbags and all reasonably priced, like any market in the world, bartering was essential and it was obvious, as I walked around, that the guests were in full ‘haggling’ mood, they should be, after so much practice……..
Time to depart and we retraced our steps of the morning, literally following the recorded tracks of the arrival, knowing that where we had been was ‘safe’ water and could therefore trust our judgement. By the time we had reached the sea-buoy again, because of the slow speed of the 30-mile transit, our speed required to Richard’s Bay was almost unobtainable. I had one ‘ace in the hole’ though, having sailed these waters for 15 years, I knew that if we could find the Mozambique current, (which changes to the Agulhas current further south), we could get a ‘sling-shot’ with it, for it runs at 4 knots at times. I had been watching the weather forecast too, for there was a nasty ‘south-wester’ coming up the coast of South Africa and I would like to be in Richards Bay before it hit. More later…………….
Jonathan Mercer is Amsterdam’s captain.