Namibia's Skeleton Coast

We had originally planned to head north to Walvis Bay before leaving Namibia, but as you know, plans change. We dawdled just a bit too long in lovely Lüderitz and now it's time to get out of Dodge and head across the pond. The coast between Lüderitz north up to Angola is referred to as the Skeleton Coast and though we're only traveling a short distance along it, I thought you might be interested in learning more about this infamous stretch of water. map of skeleton coast namibia

The San people (aka the Bushmen) called the interior desert area "The land the gods made in anger”. The Portuguese explorers sometimes referred to it as "The Gates of Hell". The actual reference to  Skeleton Coast was popularized by the title of a 1944 chronicle by John Henry Marsh which described the wreck of Dunedin Star. The name stuck and most maps use this name today and, in fact, Skeleton Coast National Park runs along the Namibian coast nearly up to the Angolan border.

When the cold Benguela current air mixes with the hot, dry desert air, dense fog frequently occurs. We've seen this in Lüderitz a number of times. You can barely seen the bow of the boat sometimes.  Further north, the climate becomes more and more inhospitable. There's heavy surf and surge and few places to land. Before engine-power, if a boat did manage to get ashore, it would be near impossible to launch it again. Shipwrecks were frequent and when we visited the coast by land back in 2007, we saw several of them. There are reputedly thousands of shipwrecks along this coast. Probably the most famous is the Edward Bohlen, a German freighter that sank in 1907. It's not accessible by car. The desert has slowly merged with the sea and now the ship appears to have foundered  in the desert sands.

edward bohlen skeleton coast namibia

The Skeleton Coast derives its name not only from shipwrecks, however. In the whaling days, the coast was littered with whale and seal bones.

whale bones on the skeleton coast namibia

Inland, desert lions and elephants and other animals that have adapted to this dry, hot environment still roam wild. The Safari shop in Luderitz has an extensive book collection on offer and one in particular was amazing... Skeleton Coast by Thorsten Milse. The photography was out of this world.

skeleton coast np namibia

If you were aboard a shipwrecked vessel and were fortunate enough to make it ashore, your ordeal was just beginning. You would have to get through hundreds of miles of lion infested desert to get to the nearest town -  not a pleasant prospect. Perhaps this was another reason it was called the Skeleton Coast.

There's a 1965 National Geographic documentary "Survivors Of The Skeleton Coast" that might be worth a watch if you're interested.

I know we can't go everywhere, every time … but I can wish, can't I?

Goodbye, Lüderitz...St. Helena Beckons

The day before leaving is always a mad scramble ... as if we didn't know we were planning to depart. So many things have to wait till the very last minute … official check-out , final freshies provisioning, scrubbing down the dinghy bottom and stowing it on the foredeck, engine checks, propane top-up, final showers and laundry … the list goes on. We were up early and tried to be as efficient as possible and set up an orderly progress of chores for the day. David had the engine checks done and I had the laundry on the line before 0800. We had to revive ourselves with a cuppa … too much energy expended, too early in the morning. It was blowing 30 knots, but the forecast insisted it would be calming soon. We headed into shore by 0900. David wanted to scrub the dinghy bottom on the beach and I had last minute shopping to do … bread, chicken and freshies.

cleaning the dinghy
cleaning the dinghy

I had the last of our Namibian cash and was intent on spending it all before we left. I did well … only N$6 left ... about US 48¢. The only problem? There were no fresh carrots to be had in either of the supermarkets in town. Freshies only arrive once a week and evidently there'd been a run on carrots. Who would have guessed it?  I phoned Liz with my tale of woe. “Any carrots?”, I asked.  “I've got a fresh, unopened package in the fridge and you're welcome to them.” Gotta love, Liz!

six namibian bucks left
six namibian bucks left

We made the rounds of the officials in the afternoon. They were closed between 1-2pm. We returned to each office … Immigration, Customs and Port Authority. Immigration would not check us out until the next morning. Really? We wanted to leave extra early. “Sorry, but you need to check out on the day you depart.” She was firm. We stopped in Customs … same response. Port Authority issued our clearance papers, but we'd have to do the rest the next day which would delay our departure. Does it really matter? Nah! Go with the flow. We'd head back in the morning. The wind still hadn't calmed in the least. Maybe this checkout delay was for the good.

We headed to Pupkewitz's Hardware for a propane fill … a bargain here at about US$10! We gave the guy who filled the tank our last N$6 and he was pleased. Then to Ian's for a final hot shower and a farewell hug. We showered, had coffee with him and said our goodbyes. And then to the Safari shop to say goodbye to Liz.. She had our carrots waiting, plus a small remembrance gift of Luderitz. We hugged and promised to stay in touch and then we headed back to Nine of Cups.

The wind was still howling, though the sun shone brightly. There was a definite chop in the bay … whitecaps all around. The birds were all hunkered down, their heads tucked under their wings. It was a wet, cold ride back to Nine of Cups. We reviewed the weather forecast once more. It still insisted the winds had calmed down. We're sure they had calmed somewhere … just not here! We spent a quiet evening aboard … except for the howling winds.

hunkered down birds in namibia
hunkered down birds in namibia

During the night we woke … no wind! We rose early to check the weather. It was a go! The wind had calmed to a manageable 20-25 knots and the seas were subsiding. Now the mad rush began once again. I began preparing the passage soup and made a coffee cake and some sandwiches for the first days of the trip. David prepped and stowed and lashed. We headed into shore at 0800, checked out with Immigration and Customs without a hitch (or any fees … hooray!). We were back aboard by 0830 and hoisted the dinghy for stowing on the foredeck.

filling our immigration forms in namibia
filling our immigration forms in namibia

While David did the dinghy stowing, removed the sail cover and washed down the deck one final time, I finished up down below. We were on a roll. We had a final cuppa, threw off the mooring lines and we sailed off into the sunny, cold day. St. Helena Island beckons.

leaving luderitz
leaving luderitz

Saying goodbye to our friends in Lüderitz has been especially difficult. It's amazing how quickly friends bond and though we've said goodbye many, many times before, it's never easy. So … to sweet Liz, Doris and Ian, JC and Carol, Evaldine and all the many other wonderful people we've met and with whom we've interacted … thanks … you'll be remembered most fondly.

Come along on this passage with us ... Days 1-2

Best of Namibia

As we're getting ready to depart a port, we always like to give some thought to what we enjoyed the most about our visit. In Lüderitz, the answer is definitely the people … as a group, perhaps, the friendliest, most helpful and hospitable folks we've met. It's the reason we've been dragging our feet  and lingered so long here. Usually, it's boat chores and repairs that keep us. Here it was definitely the people. That aside, however, and remembering that this is our second visit to Namibia, here's our list of the best things that Namibia has to offer.

Etosha National Park

Though we didn't visit Etosha on this trip, we spent several days there during our previous visit and, in our humble opinions, it's nothing short of spectacular. The wide open expanses, the diversity and sheer number of animals roaming free, the uncrowded backroads. It's a gem of a park. We stayed inside the gates for early access to the animals and viewing at the waterholes 24x7.

etosha national park namibia

Sesriem & Sossusvlei

The Namib Desert is an awesome place. It's the oldest desert in the world with the world's tallest sand dunes. Driving midst the red dunes; climbing in the hot sand, struggling one step forward and two steps back; observing the myriad of desert colors and the geologic formations; enjoying the animals and trying to figure out how they survive in such a hostile environment. It's all here and it's fantastic. A must-see.

a big dune at sossusvlei namibia

Petting a leopard and a cheetah

No doubt that the memory of petting these big cats will remain indelibly etched in our memories for a long, long time (at our age … that's all relative). The soft feel of their fur, the smell of the cats, listening to their purr, walking next to the cheetahs in their enclosure. This was an unexpected delight and high on our “wow” list.

up close and personal

Coastal towns, especially Lüderitz

We visited Swakopmund and Walvis Bay on our last trip and enjoyed both. Arriving in the boat, however, and spending time in Lüderitz was special. Again, the people had much to do with it, but despite the fact that it's isolated and off the beaten track, it's worth the trip, we think. There's Diaz Point and Shark Island and Agate Beach to explore, not to mention the colonial town itself. And, of course, you're surrounded by the Sperregebiet. The lure and legends of diamonds in the area is part of the mystique.

luderitzbucht namibia

Kolmanskop Ghost Town

Though technically it should probably be included with  Lüderitz, we were impressed enough with our visit there that it warrants its own place on our list. It was interesting, fun and a bit eerie trudging though the sand dunes to inspect the old diamond-mining ghost town.

kolmanskop ghost town luderitz namibia

Diversity of wild animals and birdlife

Beyond the game parks, we love the wild animals here, especially the “boks” … springboks, steenboks … and our favorite, the gemsboks (oryx). What a delight to drive the gravel roads and see them grazing. With their contrasting coloration and stately manner, they appear almost majestic. And then, of course, there are the birds … pink flamingos and storks and raptors and industrious weavers. There was something to see at every turn.

boks and birds collage namibia

There's so much we still haven't seen. We didn't venture up to the Caprivi Strip or down to the Fish River Canyon. There are other parks to visit and we had no time to explore Windhoek, the capital city. All reasons for returning.

From a cruiser's perspective, Lüderitz was an excellent stop. It's a quick hop from Cape Town and  “on the way” to St. Helena, with a good point of sail, prevailing winds and current to help a sailor along.

Lüderitz, in particular, was great. There were no check-in/check-out fees (unless you arrive on a weekend) and no mooring fees. The town seems safe and secure and we had no worries whatsoever. All amenities were close. There's a floating dock for dinghy tie-up. Water, diesel, petrol and propane are within easy walking distance. There are two reasonably well-stocked grocery stores, a hardware store, several ATMs. Though there is no chandlery per se, there are myriad of services and parts available for the fishing fleet. All in all … a great stop.

And once again … it's time to go.

the end

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