There she rows!

by Sam on January 4, 2010

And she’s off!

Around 10:45 GMT on January 3, 2010, Katie set off from Pier 2 at the Port of Dakar in Senegal. Just over a day into the voyage, Katie is doing better than anyone could have hoped, having safely rowed herself away from the coast and now making good progress into the heart of the Atlantic Ocean. Unsurprisingly, the first few days aboard “Liv” will be a bit of a traumatic learning curve, as Katie gets used to life on the ocean waves and, probably, vomiting over the edge of the boat!

Katie Spotz departs from the Port of Dakar, Senegal

So, in the meantime, I’ll do my best to fill you in on what went on in the final lead-up to Katie’s departure from Dakar. But don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll be along soon enough to give you the interesting stuff!

I arrived in Dakar on December 27 and, having forced my way through the hordes of people offering to help with me everything I could possibly have wanted, I spotted a smiling, relaxed Katie standing across the tarmac. I guess spending Christmas in 90-degree heat can do that to you! By this stage, she’d been out in Senegal for just over a week, enjoying the magnificent hospitality provided by the Rotary Club here.

However, despite the warm and pleasant surroundings, only one thing was really on her mind: when was the boat arriving?
Port of Dakar, Senegal
The last time Katie saw “Liv” was as she was loaded into a container before being shipped from Baltimore. It was originally hoped that the cargo ship would arrived in Dakar on December 18 but, as Katie will inevitably find out over the coming months, the Atlantic Ocean doesn’t care much for plans; in fact, it seems to revel in screwing them up as much as it possibly can!

From an ETA of December 18, the planned arrival was pushed back to around Christmas day. On December 21, there was further news: there had been a mid-Atlantic storm, and the boat was not expected to reach Dakar until December 30. Not exactly what Katie wanted to hear, but at least it gave her more time to relax and enjoy the sun before the real work started.

But the tension wasn’t yet over. Further storms kept on delaying the expected arrival of the container. First to 4AM on December 31, then 8AM, then 9AM… If customs wasn’t cleared by the end of December 31, we would have to wait until January 4 to free “Liv” from her box.

Fingernails were destroyed and corridors were paced but there was nothing we could do. Waiting was the order of the day.

The container holding "Liv" is unloaded

Eventually, the big moment arrived. Katie and I went down to the port to see the boat. Well, that’s not quite true. We went down to the port to see a load of big red containers, one of which we were led to believe contained “Liv”. There’s little more frustrating than standing a few feet away from the boat that you’re desperate to get your hands on, yet still separated by a box and a few signatures from the customs officers. It became abundantly clear that, in Senegal, things take time. A long time.

We’re now experts in hanging around!

As the day wore on, it was getting perilously close to 6PM, the time when everything would shut for the weekend. The shipping company, Grimaldi, were fantastic in making sure they were continuously pushing the authorities to get the boat cleared as quickly as possible. But would it be quick enough? Six o’clock came and went and we still had no idea if everything was going to be ok. Finally, the news came: everything was sorted and the paperwork was on its way down.

For a brief moment, Katie relaxed. Then she started worrying about the boat again.

Liv is unloaded from her container

Under the port floodlights and watched by a rabble of curious onlookers, the doors to the container were opened at 7.30PM and there she was, in all her glory; “Liv” had made it to Dakar in one piece. After checking things over and rolling the trailer out of the container, she was taken around to Pier 2 and lowered into the water.

“Lowered into the water” sounds so easy, don’t you think? Well, it turned out to be ludicrously terrifying, as we seemed to have selected the roughest night this port had ever seen to try to put the boat in. Normally, seeing a vulnerable 19-foot boat resting in mid-air, held up by a couple of nylon straps, is scary enough. But when “Liv” hit the water, it became immediately clear that we had to find a way of safely securing a little boat to a pier that is designed to hold a complete different kind of ship. With various people holding ropes front and back, a couple on the side of the pier ensuring that “Liv” wasn’t destroyed against the wall and several people shouting out various ideas here and there, there was a general sense of panic.Katie looks on as "Liv" is unloaded

Ropes were tied together to make them longer, additional tires and fenders were fetched from other areas of the port and, eventually, “Liv” was secure. At least we hoped she was.

Nobody got much sleep that night!

Luckily, we must have done something right because we turned up the next morning to find the boat happily in one piece, and on much quieter water than we’d had to deal with the night before. It was a huge relief. But there was no time to stand around congratulating ourselves; there was work to be done. Having received the weather forecast, it looked like January 3 would be a good day to leave, so we had just two days to make sure that everything on that boat was perfectly prepared to go and, most importantly, that Katie was ready.

"Liv" waits to depart across the Atlantic Ocean

The change in Katie, however, was really noticeable. The usual bouncy and talkative girl had been replaced by a very quiet and pretty serious one. What had started off as a distant dream many years ago was now just days away from becoming very real. As the day wore on, everything was checked, double-checked and triple-checked. Equipment was plugged in and we made sure that the AIS transponder was working correctly, which would allow other boats to see where she is and not run her over without even realising they’d done so. It was. Which was nice.

“Liv” was ready. The Atlantic was ready. Katie was ready. Well, as ready as she’d ever be."Liv" sits in the water ready to depart

We woke up early on January 3 and Katie was barely saying a word. After a bit of a wash and some breakfast, we made our way down to the port. This was it. Final checks and preparations were made, and the time had come to depart. Following some emotional goodbyes and last-minute words of wisdom, the ropes were untied, the oars put in place and the first strokes taken as Katie paddled away from the pier, knowing that she wouldn’t touch land again for several months. I can’t speak for Katie, but it’s safe to say that my sunglasses preserved a bit of dignity.

We all watched as she made her way out through the port entrance and into the Atlantic, interrupted briefly by a pilot boat and then the Guardia Civil, who were just making she sure she wasn’t trying to flee the country!

And, just like that, she was gone.

Katie Spotz and "Liv" disappear into the distance

Thankfully, that’s not the last we’ll hear from her until she reaches Cayenne. In due course, Katie will be writing blogs and tweeting from her satellite phone (she’s already sent a couple yesterday). She also has a tracking beacon on the boat, which is currently transmitting her position hourly – a map will be placed on this website very soon.

I think that’s probably about the right time for me to shut up for now. I’ll leave it to Katie to tell the story from here. Keep an eye on this site and on Twitter to see how she’s getting on.

Most importantly, I hope you enjoy following her journey as much as I will!

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