Kayak the length of The River Gambia from the Senegalese border in the east, 320 miles to the Atlantic Ocean to the west, whilst attempting to avoid dozens of hippos, hundreds of crocodiles and millions of mosquitoes!
Grant and Kamil aim to raise £20,000 for The Shadie Farage Charity, a charity set up in 2008 with the aim of providing sporting and educational support to the children of rural Gambia. For more information please visit www.ShadieFarage.com
and together we can help support the children of The Gambia.


After the paddle from James Island to Dog Island in the early hours of this morning, which I found to be the hardest stretch so far (to the extent that I almost cried during it!), we got to go back to bed for a bit of a lie in before our final day. By lie in, I mean that we went to bed at 5:30am and woke up at 8am when the sun had started to cook us in our sleep. Still, we are actually used to capitalising on a couple of hours sleep at a time as that has been the reality of our schedule for the last few days!

Open Water Hell

So we knew that high tide in Banjul was at 11am ish, and wanted to catch the slack tide to make the crossing over to Mandina as soon as possible as the later we left it the stronger the winds would get and therefore the more effort it would take, so we left Sitanunku Lodge at 11:25am. Initially we thought we wouldn’t need the spray decks, but after about 3minutes we realised we were wrong! An hour later, after struggling against some strange currents and only paddling at about half our usual speed, we made it 3/4 of the way over to the south bank and had to take a break. Despite the terribly slow progress our spirits were high as we were so keen to get back to Banjul! After a 50min break we got back to it, hoping the tide was now gonna help us out. Our speed did increase but so did the strength of the wind and waves and the following 2hours was way harder than we had hoped for and it seemed that Banjul was just never getting closer! At times it just seemed that we weren’t making any progress and we’d never make it home.

Kamil "The Wave-Breaker" Farage

Finally we reached the mouth of the mangrove creeks and had a local drumming band waiting there on a pirogue, it was a great motivator to keep paddling. Just a few curves away through the creek we opened up to the main channel which Denton Bridge crosses and where our friends and family would be waiting for us. We knew and handful of them would definitely be there… But when we saw the wooden pier in the distance we could make out a sea of white Kayak River Gambia t-shirts waiting for us… There was at least 30people there cheering us home and it was an amazing sight! As soon as we reached the pier we paddled for the shallows got out of the kayak and found dry land for the last time. After the hugs and pictures settled down, Grant and I were able to enjoy our first sip of Julbrew Beer for way too long.

HOME SWEET HOME

It is so great to be home in one piece and ahead of schedule, it was an unforgettable experience! Now on to the small tasks of collecting outstanding donations/pledges, working out our totals and getting on to how best to spend it on the kids here in The Gambia (not to mention getting over our ‘sea-legs’)!

 

9.5 days

56hrs 55minutes paddling

Over 400,000 strokes of those damn paddles

481.3km (300miles) covered from Koina to Banjul (it would seem that Grant’s hippo-antagonising racing-line managed to shorten our final distance!)

 

Thanks to our support crew: Mark & Grant, Joe, Jamil, Nassif, Hassan, my mum, Dudu, Lamin, Musa and Ebrama! Without you all this wouldn’t have been possible. And thanks to all of our generous sponsors, without you this wouldn’t have been worth the pain!

Team Kayak River Gambia

We finished last night’s late night session with our alarms set for 4am, giving us enough time to wake up and take some food in ready for the tide at 5am. Unfortunately our limited sleep was cut short when we were woken by the engines being started on the boat at 2:30am. We were slightly confused but soon realised we had drifted far from our anchor point as we could see lights ahead of us on the south bank for Tendaba Tourist Camp, which we knew we had passed. A massive fishing net had engulfed our boat, the force of the net and the tide caused us to drift 3km backwards before our anchor caught onto a massive cluster of old nets and huge tree trunk on the riverbed forming a massive weight. The crew managed to get the anchor up to the side of the boat, it took 8 people to haul it up. They then began to cut the anchor free- that took 3 hours! We retraced our track back to our original anchor point using our GPS and prepared for our day. We had lost an hour due to the anchor fiasco but we got on our way just before 6am.

The net and tree debris stuck on our anchor

The net and tree debris stuck on our anchor

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The river is now wide making it hard to find the channel with the fastest flowing water. Getting our line wrong means we lose speed and add extra mileage trying to get onto the best line- it can be extremely frustrating to know that there could be faster water to our left or right, but it could be over a kilometre away!

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Although our morning session was cut short by the anchor problem we still managed 28km.

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We managed to catch up on some much needed sleep after our early morning session and got back out on the water again at 3pm. This was our most punishing stretch of water yet. We were faced with never ending corners that were disappearing under 1.5m waves and swells, most of which caused the kayak to nose dive severely before effectively breaking on Kamil! The constant wave bombardment really took it out of us physically and there were times we did not think we were going to cover the distance we knew we had to.

Our Kayak & Support boat anchored by James Island

Our Kayak & Support boat anchored by James Island

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The only respite was some dolphins that decided to come and play near the support boat, their playfulness worried us at times as they could easily tip our kayak. Thankfully they were more interested in the engines of the support boats and kept a safe distance. A crazy jumping kobo fish jumped into my spray deck which startled me but at least I can say I have caught a fish on this trip! We managed to cover 27km in the afternoon stint leaving a mere 22km to cover in our late night stint in order to get to our target stop point at Dog Island.

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We decided to do a reconnaissance trip in Mark’s boat to assess the conditions that we might face on our final night session. It was probably not the brightest idea as psychologically it was demoralising as it took nearly 30mins even in Mark’s boat with a 75 horsepower engine. it Was nice to get of the boat for a bit and speak to Marcel from Sitanunku Lodge www.sitanunkulodge.com about the weather and tide conditions as we are in the mouth of the river. Armed with new information about the best way to cross the mouth of the river we headed back to the boat to get some sleep in before our night session which was planned for 12:30.

Our Final Sunset on the way to Sitanunku

Our Final Sunset on the way to Sitanunku

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Alarms went off at 12:30 but we had to keep hitting the snooze button until 2:30am as the tide had not changed. We got back on the water for our final night session, our mission was to get to Dog Island, next to Sitanunku. We encountered some fairly strong winds and waves but nothing like our earlier session. We were attempting to do about 35km more than a usual day and it was taking its toll on us physically and mentally. The lights of Sitanunku jetty came as a welcome surprise just before what we thought was another never ending corner.

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Location Day 9

Location Day 9

Total distance travelled 458.5km in just over 53 hours.

Tomorrow we head for Banjul and our finish line!

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So last night, after our relaxation period in the sun, we hopped back in the kayak for a dusk paddle to ensure that we reached Elephant Island and brought our day total up to 55.6km. As with the last couple of days, we could feel our speed increasing, but more importantly for me, I knew that we were now almost completely past the danger of encountering large numbers of hippos and that will certainly make evening/night paddles more enjoyable from here onwards (there have been sightings of one or two further down-river).

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The view from our toilet - its not bad at all!

The view from our toilet - its not bad at all!

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Now that we are in the lower half of the river, it’s very clear to see the vegetation changing around us. Just a week ago, around Fatoto, we were surrounded by steep cliffs and dry banks, days ago we were passing countless rice fields and now it seems we are immersed totally in mangroves! As we set off this morning around the south side of Elephant Island (to make the most of the stronger current rather than the shorter northern route) we could really see for the first time how huge the mangroves grew here, approx 20-25m tall!

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Grant getting a massage from Jamil and our Kayak Safely onboard!

Grant getting a massage from Jamil and our Kayak Safely onboard!

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Last night at least four of our crew were woken in the middle of the night by the sound of big bubbles circling the boat- we are still in croc territory but it was most likely a manatee, but nothing was sighted. I found it scarier waking up to one of our crew, Joe, shouting in his sleep. He’s also been sleep walking previous nights!

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Kayak raring to go at sunset

Kayak raring to go at sunset

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The morning had blessed us with glass-like waters and high speeds for our first stint, but our second was much less enjoyable. On the final couple of bends before the ferry crossing between Farafenni and Soma we were met by what seemed to us to be some sort of mini-tsunami… We had to put on our spray-decks (to make the kayak water tight from waves) for the first time… Waves were reaching my chest and flushing right over the kayak and really giving us a tough time. Depressingly, when we had a chance to glimpse to the side at our support boat, the large pirogue was simply floating over these waves as if they weren’t even there… and even more annoyingly they were towing a small dug-out canoe to rescue some local fishermen from the onslaught of the waves! We had heard a lot of stories of the waves getting much much bigger than these further down stream of the ferry crossing, so doubts have entered my mind as to whether our kayak could actually make it to Banjul. The width of our final crossing from Dog Island to the safety of the creeks around Banjul is over 10km, the width of our troublesome spot today was a mere 2km!

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So as we passed the ferry crossing, Mark’s smaller boat went to dock and buy us some more ice and water to last us the remaining days. My mum had also kindly sent up some local peanut stew, Domoda, to keep us going, as well 10 large containers for us to fill with fresh water from a nearby village as the river water was now completely salty.

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Another afternoon waiting in the heat for the tide to turn lay in front of us, mixed with thoughts of what conditions are waiting for us around the next bend, helpfully named Devil Point, where the river starts to widen to the ocean.

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We had our fill of domoda and got on our way. To our delight the water was as calm as we’ve ever seen it, the moon was full and torches unnecessary. The water was full of activity though… Hundreds of small Kobo fish were clearly being chased by something more sinister under the water, possibly barracuda, and their only method of escape was to become airborne. For us, sat only a few inches above the water, this meant we were getting peppered by miniature missiles: I for one took at least four direct hits to the body.

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When we reached the large channel, out by Tendaba Tourist Camp, the tide was beginning to turn and the waves beginning to grow again. We donned the spray decks once again and bore the brunt of the waves for as long as possible, but our speed began to drop significantly so we called it a night just before 10pm. We have brought the kayak onboard for the night, rather than leaving it tied to the side of the boat, as the last thing we need is to wake up to a half capsized kayak!

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We’ve clocked up a massive 66.1km today, bringing our new total to 380.8km paddled in over 45 painful hours!

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Location Day 8

Location Day 8

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Tomorrow we aim to get up at approx 4am to catch the early tide and see if we can reach Dog Island before the end of the day, a whole 80km, but this would mean that we could reach Banjul on Sunday, Day 10! Fingers crossed!

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We did an evening stint last night and did a further 13km taking our total yesterday to 51.5km. There was a strong wind and the waves were up but the tide was flowing strong. We hit our fastest speeds yet.

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We woke up today and hit the water by 8am. We did two stints with only a small gap in between so we managed to do 38.3km by 12:05 with an average speed of 10kmph, our fastest average yet. As we get closer to the coast the tide is getting stronger, which is good news!

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Sun over the river Gambia

Sun over the river Gambia

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Today we had the best conditions yet with calm waters and no wind. It was a welcome change from recent days.

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Location Day 7

Location Day 7

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By last night we had run out of ice and food was starting to go off. We managed to get some brought to Kaur so we dispatched Mark’s small boat to pick it up. It’s nice to have cold water again. We have started to move into salt water now so water on the boat for washing is going to be in short supply as we will no longer be able to fill up the tanks from the river.

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We are going to do another stint this evening and hope to go over 50km in a single day for the first time. The tide times are starting to work well for us now, allowing us to do one early stint and an evening session avoiding the hottest part of the day. It allows us to have some much needed downtime and enjoy the weather and water. We had a good laugh on the boat this afternoon, jumping off the boat and enjoying each others company. We have a good group of guys on the boat so the banter was good keeping spirits high. All that was missing was a nice cold beer, but we will look forward to that at the finish line!

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Good times this afternoon

Good times this afternoon

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Tonight’s dinner. 2.5kg captain fish.

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This morning started as most have so far, wake up with the sunrise and wait for slack tide to get going. That came at around 9am and in our first paddle we managed just over 20km in 2hr15mins! We could straight away tell that the strength of the tide is increasing the closer we get to the Atlantic as our average speed is at an all time high.

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Off we go again :0)

Off we go again :0)

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After a short break, in which we wolfed down some carbs and an energy drink we were off again for another couple of hours. Passing the River Gambia National Park (around Baboon Islands) was much better than expected- we had been told about how many hippos we would encounter there, but we only saw one far in the distance. Perhaps it was the wind and choppy waters that kept them invisible, but it certainly made me feel better!

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Unfortunately, the faster and further we get down river the sooner we hit the next high tide making its way up the river. This means that we don’t get the typical 6hrs (ish) window of low tide, as a result we decided to take a short break before Deer and Pasri Islands (near Kudang) once our speed dropped significantly against the incoming tide. We have been relaxing and recuperating here for the last 6hrs and are now waiting for the tide to turn again to add some nighttime kilometres to the 38.4km we managed earlier.

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Dusk at Deer Island

Dusk at Deer Island

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Let’s pray that we do not have another late night hippo encounter because the last one was a bit close for comfort. Good news is that we have passed the main hippo areas already so hopefully we won’t see too many from here onwards!

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Location Day 6

Location Day 6

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Currently total: 246km paddled in 31hrs20mins (my arms, shoulders and back hurt!!)

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We decided to do a night stint last might to make up some ground as the conditions were perfect. There was no wind and the water was like glass, a welcome change from recent choppy water. We got dangerously close to a few hippos though and nearly went straight over them! The support crew were surprised by our turn of pace! We finished our session at midnight and went straight to bed knowing we would need to be up and kayaking in about 6 hours!

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We woke up this morning slightly later than anticipated as we overslept slightly (only until 8am) due to our late night. The tide had already turned so we had to get straight out on the water but were delayed further by having to pick up more supplies from Bansang. Supplies onbalrd we headed out into a sever headwind which also created more dreaded waves. Once again Kamil was my wave breaker, but this time we started to take on water and we nearly had to use our spray decks.

Kamil the wave breaker...

Kamil the wave breaker...

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After our morning stint we knew we had a long afternoon ahead of us to make up time while we still had the tide, our next session was our longest yet. We managed to do 3 hours but we had more wind and the tide turned so we did not cover as much distance as we wanted. We passed more hippos but managed to keep at a safe distance this time, it’s a lot easier in daylight!

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We are starting to fatigue a bit now, we have now completed 26 hours and 45 minutes in the kayak covering 207.6km.

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Location Day 5

Location Day 5

As I am writing this I have just been told that we actually passed 9 hippos today not just the two that we actually saw! we will run the gauntlet once again tomorrow as we are still deep in hippo land.

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This morning we were up by 7am rested and ready to leave as soon as the tide started to turn in our favour.

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7am Sunrise

7am Sunrise

After a Tiger Fish dinner and an omelette breakfast we were sure that it would be a good day… We were wrong… It would seem that the wind gods, who ensured that the wind was always against us on the way up-river are now ensuring that it is also against us on the way back down-river, only now we aren’t in the big pirogue anymore but in a very low kayak… And not only does the wind make progress slower and harder, but it creates waves!

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So today we paddled through our biggest waves yet and as I sit in the front that means that I broke them all for Grant, and the water hit me whilst he remained comfy and dry!

Grilled Rabbit for lunch

Grilled Rabbit for lunch

Despite an initial average speed of 8.1kmph, the wind soon reduced that and we only managed 35.2km in three stints (total: 4hrs35mins) and are currently approx 15km from Bansang which we hope to cover this evening once the tide is running in our favour again, but it all still depends on the wind.

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On a brighter note, although we covered over 35km of hippo territory, we didn’t see one… But we did get followed along the banks by a lot of angry baboons and also passed a turtle!

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Location Day 4

Location Day 4

Above is our current location – Total Distance covered to date 156.2km


We hit the water at 9am and completed 45km in just under 6 hours. First stop was Basse to get fuel and supplies. Due to the tide we are still kayaking through the hottest part of the day but it has to done, we are not finding it too bad.

Day 3

(Left) Grant and Kamil with support boat (Right) Stop over for supplier

The monotony of rowing was broken up today by some interesting wildlife. We passed 4 crocs on the bank but they quickly Slipped into the water, thankfully we were not that close to the bank. We also passed our first hippo pod, 5 massive hippos! Their heads are far bigger than the biggest part of our kayak. It was nice to finally see them and also amazing being at the same level on the water as them, eye to eye! We also passed a few cows stuck in the mud on the bank, crocodile food! Mark caught a good sized tiger fish which all the boys have been trying to catch for the last few days. It was over a foot long and has awesome sharp teeth, similar to a piranha.

Tiger Fish Caught today!

Tiger Fish Caught today on board the support boat

We felt pretty good today, still finding it hard but we could have done on after the final stint. We are considering doing a few more hours this evening at about 12 when the tide turns again. Passing hippos in the dark might be interesting! Overall our bodies are aching but it is still manageable!

Location Day 3
Location Day 3

Above is our current location – Total Distance covered to date 121km

Day 2: Woke up to the sound of birds at 6am but we had to wait until 10:10 for the tide. We did 2 stints, we did the first 2 hours and had a 40 minute break and then completed a further 3.5 hours completing 44km’s. Due to the tide we had to kayak through the hottest part of the day. During the first stint the support crew spotted a small crocodile but unfortunately Kamil and I did not see it. We were quite disappointed as we have been waiting to see one.

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We have stopped about 1 hour from Basse where we are going to stop for more supplies and re-fuel. Helle (Kamil’s mum) has brought some much needed food supplies and more water.

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The heat and lack of tide has taken its toll today. We are starting to feel the pain in our neck, shoulders and lower back. A lot of lactic acid builds up in the lower back causing a pretty sharp and continuous pain. We are really hoping the tide gets stronger the further down we get as there is very little assistance when we are going with the tide but we can feel it a lot when we are against it.

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Tomorrow we will pass Basse and start to get into hippo territory so we will need to be on our guard. The tide is going to work in our favour tomorrow and allow us to start at 6:30am which is first light. Hopefully we can make good progress in the cooler weather. Saying that it was well over 30 degrees by 8am this morning.  Tomorrow is another day, more pain to come. I hope our muscles don’t ache too much.

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LocationDay2

Location Day 2 1 hour from Basse

Above is our current location – Total Distance covered to date 76km

We finally made it to Koina safe and sound, although on the final leg up to the start point our smaller support boat hit rocks just below the surface of the water! Luckily none of us on the boat (nor the kayak) were hurt and we managed to continue to Koina, our start point. Unfortunately the boat suffered some pretty bad damage and my mum is bringing a replacement propeller up to us tomorrow. We started our first kayaking session in the blazing 2pm sun and managed 13.2miles (21.3km) in 2.5hrs before having to stop for some food and a swim.


Luckily there weren’t any hippos or crocs nearby! In the evening we squeezed in another 1hr45min paddle and brought the Day1 total distance to 20miles (32km).

We are on target for completing in roughly ten days… The variables of hippos, tides and rough water are the only things that might affect that – only time will tell.