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Paddling for Africa

paddling-for-africa-2Pollock’s Mozambique Expedition by Kayak.

Des Pollock has embarked on a journey few would dare to attempt – to kayak the full length of the Mozambican coast covering some 2500km over water – all in the name of research. One can’t help wondering why anyone would want to spend five months swallowing salt water, living off the land with nowhere to sleep? Desmond Pollack smiles as he explains his driving force and where it all began...

The swell was big, messy and meaty. The peaks towered above my little floating device. I felt like a cork tossed about here and there. The power of the ocean in these conditions is to be seriously respected and feared. I’m a surfer and yacht-master and I love waves but today was a message from the deep saying:

‘understand my anger and never for one second think in arrogance you have a chance against me!’ Yes Sir! I

submitted any notion and feeling of superiority instantly. ”The above entry is one of many in Desmond Pollack’s journal of his encounters with rough seas and sunsets, on his journey on kayak from Ponta D’Ouro to Pemba.

Over his 2500km journey from the south to northern Mozambican coast this plucky South African will be collecting Dugong research data along the way. He will be stopping to visit all major tourist resorts along route from Ponta to Cabo Delgado. A five-month duration has been allocated for the journey allowing but not limited to a 15km paddle slot per day.

paddling-for-africa-1From an early age Desmond has been exploring Africa’s East Coast. As he fell more and more in love with this magical continent, he became involved in various projects along the coast from building and running dive lodges in Tofo to marine conservation in Kenya. He explains, “Whilst I was there I started to understand the need to give back. I got involved with the local orphanages and community projects like building boreholes, which would then supply the communities with access to clean water. My love for aquatic life lead me to arrange and partake in many a beach clean-up. My main driving force in my life and hence my project, Paddling for Africa, is based on my desire to contribute towards conserving our oceans, the endangered marine mammals that call it home, as well as the under privileged local communities of eastern Africa.”“En route from Ponta do Ouro to Cabo Delgado, I will be doing marine rapid and reef assessments of all major locations. This data plus tales of my adventure along the way will be sent back to my team in Johannesburg. This will all be gathered and collaborated, together with findings from very prominent local marine biologists. It will then be submitted and published by our media partners. It is the first step in leading to major conservation efforts around the rapidly diminishing dugong population and other endangered marine life, whilst still assisting the poverty stricken human communities through education and sustainable living projects.”Desmond hopes the initiative will not only raise awareness but also significant funding for Africa’s emergency needs – poverty problems and endangered species protection. Along the way, he has already enjoyed much unanticipated community support including a number of lodges that have allowed him accommodation and meals at times when he was most in need. According to Desmond the warmth and encouragement of these folk have enabled him to continue with his challenging journey.Des’ goal is to adapt the paddle distance and arrival locations to fit in with cooperating or hosting lodges, marine NGO’s and other partners. He will also be conducting a rapid assessment (marine ergonomic) of all major tourist locations for scientific, tourist and travel publications.

MOZambique Magazine is one such lucky travel publication. Des has sent through some of his diary entries kept on the journey giving us an exclusive inside look into his adventure.

Leg 1:

Ponta Do Ouro

Day1 – Monday 17 June

After that it’s time for the first real time test of the V-sail. It works well and can reach speeds of up to 7km per hour or up to 5 knots on a 20 -25 knot wind. The guys gave me hearty send off on the main beach in Ponta. It was a calm and easy start, there was no swell or breaking waves to contend with. Within a few minutes I had left the comforts of land behind and realized that this was it – the start of an epic voyage. Herman, thanks for the water bon voyage, a boat full of divers looking down on me curiously not really getting the enormity of the voyage I’m embarking on. Angie – thanks too for also saying cheers to me on the water. Angie from Dolphin encounters has worked on a marine code of conduct in conjunction with Dr. Vic Cocroft and Almeida Gussimaulo. It is so impressive to speak to a local who has dedicated her heart and life to working in harmony with nature, leading by example, and living according to the co-existence of humans and tourism with utmost respect to our marine animals. Being sensitive to the behavioral patterns of the dolphins of Ponta is the right way forward for longevity and co-habitation. Angie – your conservation style and attitude is a reassuring breath of fresh air.

The kind Ponta folk made my send-off feel substantial and meaningful. Respect to you all and I say thanks again for making all feel so welcome. An excitement, exhilaration and victory sensation kicked in and gave power to my paddle. I felt amazing, like a character in a Wilbur Smith novel, on a real adventure! Small wind gusts do alter the balance of the kayak so I paddle with my paddle in ready mode in case I capsize.The seat is comfy and the backrest works great. The official name of my 5 month companion is “2 stroke” – my faithful baby one stroke to the left and a one stroke to the right gets me there. Apt for outboard engines. “Dam I wish I had a real one,” I was saying to myself only 10Kms down (just joking).

Gradually the wind stiffened up to 25 knots which sent me flying, assisted by a favorable current. This was too good to be true and the comfort made me miss my intended camp spot for the night. I overshot it by miles – 15kms in fact – I just had to capitalize on the wind and my good fortunes. In the late afternoon I had to make a decision to beach somewhere and things began looking dodgy – scary actually – with big swells and big outside breakers! I had no choice but to make a go for it. “2 stroke” was not designed for surf ski and we took a bashing and got rolled a few times, the careful planning of securing all gear and lashing down correctly saved the day. I did end up looking like a drowned shipwrecked rat though! Not a soul was in sight and this beautiful deserted beach without a single footprint on it told me I was very alone. I must admit my Wilbur Smith Character image was quickly drowned and reality hit. Wet, cold, alone, hungry, stiff and sore with no help to pull a heavy, heavy kayak above the high tide mark. “Get on with it boy,” I shouted at myself and in no time nt pitched and a fire going, warming my hands and reflecting on how one day can make such a huge change in my life. Blissfully laughing to myself and talking out loud to the heavens, I striped down naked and walked along the uninhabited beach. What a release! “Liberdade da Cabeca” is a Moz saying I learnt ages ago. It means “Liberty in the head” and I embraced it – freedom with no city shackles on me!

A warm cupa-soup sent me to dream land even though my mattress and sleeping blankie were a little wet. I did not have a fear in the world and was dead tired and so I slept with the ocean almost touching my extended hand. I didn’t want to let go. I don’t want to ever let go.

Today I kayaked 30.09 kilometers thanks to the good running SW wind on my stern.

A cold chill woke me with the reality of a ‘toss n turn’ night’s sleep. I began the day cranky and stiff with everything wet and dripping with condensation – even inside my tent too. And how did half a ton of sand get inside here? However, after rising out of my wind protection to make a warm cup of tea, I was back on track loving my new life. On a deep sunrise, I see Hump Back Whales full body breeching in front of my tent – wow! What a good morning in Mozambique. I have a feeling that something big is going to happen today! I scan the surf for a quick assessment of whether I will make this launch ok. Although the wind had died off leaving the surface like a mirror, it looked scary, the SW wind had picked the swell up it was barreling up some epic surf breaks – not too epic for a kayak to try punch through. Oh boy, here we go!

I try to avoid seeing those big monsters bashing the reef, which I now need to break through but the sound was a reminder that it had to be done - poor “2 stroke” was about to get pounded again. He is not happy with me. “Cheer up bud, I’m in this with you,” I say somewhat sheepishly. As if optimistically finding the less evil route I drag 2 stroke along the shoreline trying to find a better launch spot, wishful thinking Des. Time was ticking on and I’m tired even before getting in the water. I make the final decision and say, “Ok here , this is it.” Timing is of the essence, too early and I get broken – too late and I get even more broken. I gauge as best as possible the calm between the sets and get my timing sorted. Off I go, pushing through the shore break, which is still quite a battle, water everywhere and finding its way mysteriously into the hull through the hatches. Mid break is pitching and foaming onto my nose. I make it through but I’m dragged back and delayed with a heavily waterlogged kayak as I gather momentum paddling frantically at what looks death like on my near horizon. It is clear I will not make it, what to do? Stall? Turn around? Go for it? I have no choice actually and BAM! It whacks me, the kayak nose shooting skyward and a pounding mass of angry water punches my chest so hard I'm flung backwards out of my seating.

Rolling over and over, I imagine the reef centimeters from my head but the thud doesn't come. I surface in bewilderment, reach out to hang on to “2 stroke” lying upside down. It takes an effort to right her and then my instincts tell me to head back – that I need the beach to recover that blow.

Slowly I manage to raise myself onto the kayak and sit in the huge pool of water in my seat. Coughing and spluttering with deep salt water caught in my sinuses I notice “2 stroke’s” nose pointing straight out to the deep ocean.

I still can’t figure out how I did this but I instinctively collected reserve energy and the adrenaline powered me straight back out again. “What a dumb ass!” I thought but I don't think I have ever paddled that powerfully in my entire life. Deep strokes of primal power while all I can hear is my determination and grunting – and then – dead calm. Not a wave in sight, just smooth, quiet and peaceful waters. Ah what! I made it! Unbelievable, and to think I considered for five seconds abandoning the entire expedition all because of that wave! I must have missed judged my timing by one wave and that one wave had to be the daddy of the day. MAN! The exhilaration of making it and not giving up and getting off out there and the fact that 6ft big boy breakers didn't stop me was a great feeling. I felt invincible after that.

The Hump Backs were in two pods approximately 200m apart. I was following the blow from their flutes and pushing on ahead I see peculiar fins popping up here and there – huh? What is that? Oh boy sharks, white tips, baby ones following me for a few minutes. Curious little buggers. Be off kids – I’m in no mood to meet your mama – shoo shoo!

PHEW! Wish I had the go pro right now! A great big old daddy Honey Combed Ray just flew half a meter under me and “2 stroke” – they are so graceful. Everybody is out to play today, the scene is filled with life. A few

Albatross hover effortlessly skimming the surface making it look like a water bird ballet show, “hello you guys!” I shout out loud. The sea is clean, spotlessly clean, I have not seen any junk at all. This is a good sign. Images evolve in the dunes and play merrily with my creative imagination as I make sightings of unusual coastal formations and target these landmarks as milestones.

The NE picks up which slows me down considerably, the persistent wind on my chest feels like it wants to push me backwards. Head down, I push on realizing I can’t fight it too much longer. It’s a pity because the going has been pretty good so far. I round the next point with huge effort and decide after a good 2,5 hour paddle that I am slightly bushed and make a B-line for the beach, exactly where I see a water tank which means life and people. The waves are smallish but run long paths towards the beach.

I get on one and it whips me away at fun speed only to wipe out close to the beach and again I’m rolled , tossed and turned every which way. Poor “2 stroke” is under water upside down again – and ah – wet gear again. After gathering myself and “2 stroke” onto the beach, while catching our breath we were abruptly ordered to open EVERYTHING by the two Maritime police who miraculously appear out of nowhere. My back yard mechanic Portuguese kicks in to say; “Hey dude give me a break! I almost drowned out there and why do u need to check every tiny little pocket of all the possessions I have on me and in my kayak?”

“No comment , just open up!” is the reply and then my survival mode kicks in and I realize whom I am dealing with and sit down and offer up everything in respect for them to inspect, after all, I have nothing to hide.

“Be my guest,” I prompt with a cynical grin. Let them do all the work and get wet with no prize or satisfaction. It boiled down to a fishing license and whatever excuse they needed to justify their hungry eyes. But I was 100% free of any crime. In the end they helped me to the campsite and 10 minutes later we were joking merrily and had become friends. I guess they don’t see too much traffic in this neck of the woods. Issufo and Eusebio actually became great lads, we all made an effort to get along and in no time food was exchanged with tales of bush adventures. The tiny Ipod shuffle was a hit – they could not believe crystal clear quality sound could come out of such a tiny machine. The mood changed permanently for the better and they actually took kindly to me on hearing I am paddling 2500 clicks over 5 months.“Poor man - lets feed him.” I ate like an African - rice and beans around the smoky fire till my belly almost burst. I asked if I could buy some bread at a close-by shop. “No shop here Mulungu.”

Today I kayaked 15kms in dead calm conditions, total to MIllibangalala 45kms. I am staying at the camp site, in the elephant reserve.

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Desmond is due to complete his mission sometime in October. Follow him on Facebook under “Paddling for Africa”. Should you wish to support this initiative, please contact the Mozambique magazine for further information.

To date Desmond would like to thank the following people and institutions, Mozambique Magazine, The Whaler, Scuba Licious, Praie Do Sol – Bilene, Praie De Chidenguele Beach Lodge, Eco Lodge, Zongoene Lodge and Grant and Ally.

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