02-Jan-2002 -- On our way from the Netherlands via Ilhas Selvagens and Hierro Island we arrived at Abidjan Anchorage on 02-Jan-2002 at 09:00 am.
The Confluence is too far offshore to make out the skyscrapers of Abidjan, but the rather featureless coastline, mostly beaches with lagoons and mangroves behind, is clearly discernible. Due to the very strong Guinea-Current setting towards East with a speed of almost 2 knots (2 naut. miles/h, 3.7 km/h, 2.3 statute mph) it was very difficult to proceed exactly to the point, as the ship was always drifting away, and quite a leeway had to be applied to the course. According to my GPS here we are 46m North and 57m West of the Confluence, which gives a total of 73.5 m off at 07:16 hrs.
As customs documents were not ready on arrival, we had to anchor at the Outer Roadsted and await further instructions. But we are in territorial waters now, the courtesy flag, the Ivorian orange-white-green Tricolore, is already hoisted on our signal mast.
A newly arrived ship at the Roads is always an event for an African port. And especially a refrigerated cargo ship, a "reefer", as my one, is a major attraction. A reefer means to everybody: it brings food. And food is the most valuable you can carry to Africa. Immediately after dropping anchor we are surrounded by small boats, coming even from the neighboring countries. The ones shown here are from Ghana. These small scale businessmen have experience. They see already from my ship's draft whether I am carrying rice, grain, poultry, or - the most welcome commodity: FISH!
"Change fruit for fish!" They are demanding, "20 pineapples and plenty bananas for a 20 kg (40 lbs) of herring or mackerel!" Money is not appreciated, ... but bartering is fun! Unfortunately the ship or her Captain is not the owner of the cargo, and therefore it must remain untouched, in order to avoid shortlandings and trouble with the receivers. But it is always possible to find another solution for a small deal with these "boat people". Soap is negotiable against pineapples, noodles against bananas are welcome as well. Cigarettes can be changed against mangoes or even shrimps.
Abidjan is the main port and former capital (now it is Yamoussoukro in the inland) of the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire (unofficially called Ivory Coast, but due to a presidential decree the name must not be translated). There are about 2 million inhabitants and the town consists of several suburbs on islands and peninsulas extending into the Lagune d'Ebrié. The administrative and economic quarter with its modern scyscrapers is called "Le Plateau".
The meridian 4W passes exactly through the quarter of Treichville (the most lively and "African" one, and the "red light district" as well). During the day it is fairly safe to stay at anchor off this port, but at night the scenery changes. The barter business is over then, and pirates' daily schedule begins. All West Africa is an extremely dangerous area for merchant ships. Piracy is very common, and I was informed by fax the same day about an incident that just at Abidjan has taken place a few days ago.
At sunset it is prudent to heave up anchor, leave the roadsted and steam towards the sea, in order to go adrift a 30 nautical miles (56 km / 35 st. miles) or so, off the coast. At least pirates with small boats are then no longer able to reach and board the ship. At sunrise all ships are then steaming back to the roadsted and awaiting their berthing instructions. Abidjan, however, is still comparably safe, no seamen have lost their lives yet, there. As long they are only pilfering cargo and ship's inventory, one can be happy. But that proves: offshore Confluences are not necessarily boring!
Two novels from Africa became part of World's literature: Joseph Conrad's "Out of Darkness", the story about the adventurer and ivory dealer Kurtz in the Congo, becoming obsessed by the demons of the jungle, fencing in his house with human skulls, and ruled the natives as a terrible "fetish", a cruel idol. The last words of dying Kurtz became famous: "the horror, the horror...".
Graham Greene, instead, in his "The Heart of the Matter", describes the life of the British Major Scobie in Freetown (Sierra Leone), betraying his unbearable wife and - as a good catholic - finally dispairing of that behavior and committing suicide.
No comparison between the madman Kurtz and poor Major Scobie, but there is one thing most men having frequently travelled or lived a certain period in Africa South of the Sahara, do have in common, as it described Graham Greene, again in his "The Heart of the Matter":
"In the evening the port shines for about five minutes in a pink beauty. It is the hour of contentment, and men, having left the town forever, sometimes on a grey, wet and cold evening in London remember this pink shining and the glowing splendour, which, as soon as noticed, already disappears again. Then they ask themselves, why they had hated this coast so much, and as long as there is still a drop in their glasses, they are longing to return..."