By Jude Mulhuijsen
Due to tides, as well as the full moon, the Stanbic Zanzibar Challenge wasn’t until the end of quarter 2 this year. Some people missed out because of this late date, others relished the additional time to get some much-needed training in.
One Friday afternoon all surf skis were deposited on the far end of the Dar Yacht Club beach, close to the main ramp. The Stanbic Zanzibar Challenge stickers were added, some more reflective tape appeared and paddle- and boat leashes were tied to the skis.
A final addition was a small transparent pelican case from Afritrack. Inside the waterproof case was a gps-unit, which would send out a signal from each boat during the crossing. The exact location of each boat, both surf skis and safety boats, could then be followed online by using a specific link for the event.
This tracking system adds another layer of safety, but is also a game-changer for family and friends at home who want to follow progress of their loved-one. It’s called dot-watching and it can be quite addictive and super exciting to see who is where at any given time during the event. It also allows for quite accurate time-keeping, which makes it easier to see how long each paddler took to reach the finish line.
The fantastic Stanbic rashies were handed out and a team photo was taken. Almost immediately after the photo and final briefing everybody quickly said their lala salama’s and soon the beach was quiet again. The only evidence that something was happening were the 10 surf skis left on the beach. It was great to see the majority of the skis used were the Stanbic Epic skis.
The next morning around 4.30am people emerged sleepy-eyed from the darkness, and soon the beach was swarming with paddlers. All crew members, including the paramedic from Knight Support and the spotters from Tanzania Sea Rescue, were already on board the safety boats, or heading that way with the help of the dinghies.
Paddlers were adding glowsticks to their pfd’s, and bottles of water to their craft, some were munching on a muesli bar. Paddles were put together, headlights turned on, and soon the first surf skis were carried to the water’s edge. The tide was high and breakers were hitting the sand as the long white skis were launched. Maxan, our beacon in the darkness, appeared and so did the other safety boats Tsavo, Big Foot and Kutandara. Everybody was where they were supposed to be and 9 minutes after 5am the convoy started to glide out.
Despite the fact we had a full moon, we also had quite significant cloud cover, so it was pretty dark as we approached Bongoyo. The chop was nasty and most had trouble getting into a nice rhythm, but soon the first glimpses of a lighter sky appeared and we could better anticipate any waves approaching.
A different route had been selected this year, with Maxan leading the way west of the islands. It was a longer route (4km longer), but offered more shelter. At the tip of Mbudya the sun popped up from the horizon to our east, normally it would get pretty hot soon afterwards, but this year the clouds kept the temperature much more comfortable.
Past Fungi, a sandbank north of Mbudya, we turned the corner and headed directly towards our destination, Zanzibar. Now there was nothing but the open ocean between the paddlers and Pungume, our sandbank just south of Zanzibar.
By then the paddlers had broken up into smaller batches. Three of them, Ryan, Simon and Matt, were at the front near Maxan, being chased down by Fin and Christian. Not far behind were Jon and Jude, who were followed by Martin. Rebecca and Karen, our amazing chief organiser, were last in the little convoy, but never far behind. And that was also the order in which we arrived on Pungume. According to the tracking devices the fastest paddler took 5 hours and 16 minutes and the slowest 6 hours.
Apart from a small shower, which increased wind speeds, and whipped up the ocean’s one and a half meter swell into a white-capped line of breaking waves, the crossing was remarkably uneventful. And although Karen was severely sea sick again, and was seen feeding the fish a few times, she managed to dig deep and finish.
Safari Blue was already on the beach preparing lunch as paddlers arrived at the sandbank, all very happy to have made it. Crew trickled in from the safety boats and soon the usually quiet and deserted sandbank was full of people. We had a few hours before the tide would swallow it up again and we enjoyed every minute.
After thanking the crew for their assistance with some cool aquatic-themed gifts, we continued with prize giving. Karen had managed to source some amazing paddle-related trophies, which were hugely appreciated by all winners.
After a leisurely and delicious lunch it was already time to pack up. The incoming tide doesn’t wait for anything and the surf skis had already been moved to higher ground twice to save them from the advancing water. It is quite tricky to load 10 surf skis onto a few safety boats, but luckily Bigfoot lives up to her name and is large enough to take nearly all.
Everybody climbed on board and soon all vessels were leaving the sandbank. Some were motoring back, others hoisted sails to enjoy the slow safari back to Dar and a few had opted to transfer by dhow to Karamba, a beautiful rustic lodge on Zanzibar, to spend the night and enjoy a well-earned massage.
If you missed out on this year’s Stanbic Zanzibar Challenge, not to worry. Talks have already started on the crossing in 2019, which will be its 5th anniversary. Make sure you check with the kayak section at the Dar Yacht Club for any announcements and hopefully we will see you on the crossing next year in a kayak, a surf ski or on a SUP!