News: 16 Sep 2010, Pemba














They wanted me to do another flight around the dhows before we left for Pemba. I wasn't keen as it would be burning fuel we might need, so I took off in the strange opposite wind you get at Nungwe and did one climbing circuit before setting a heading for the open sea and Pemba. After a while we got to 500 ft and I throttled back into a cruise. Normally I'd like several thousand feet between me and the sea, five is good, but this thing gives you a strange sense of confidence because you can land anywhere.

Well that's the theory anyway, whether you really can land successfully in the open sea I haven't tried yet, and I'm not all that keen to try...

As Zanzibar disappeared behind us there was no sign of Pemba. What did become increasingly apparent was we were heading towards a big black cloud. As we got nearer, it became clear there was a significant squall line between us and Pemba reaching from horizon to horizon, and under it was heavy rain. My course was across the shortest point, which introduced a significant dog leg into the route, I re-set my GPS for a course directly to our destination which now appeared to be just this side of the line of the storm. Problem was, would it get there before us? I wasn't sure, and considered turning back. Then I saw a hole through the storm with the hint of land beyond, so I decided to give it a try, it was still quite early and shouldn't have developed too much, but if things got nasty we'd still plenty of fuel to turn back. Matthias was fretting a little bit about how he was going to keep his camera dry. I headed into the hole.

As we got near the temperature dropped about five degrees and we slowed from about 45 kts groundspeed to 30, but it wasn't rough. Matteius was fussing about his camera getting wet, I was thinking that at least it is fresh water. There were obviously very strong gusts of wind on the water either side of us, I was rather expecting some big ups and downs but we never got much at all. After a slight splattering of rain we were through, it warmed up, our groundspeed picked up again and we had 7 or 8 miles to run to the southern tip of Pemba.

The rest of the flight up the west coast of Pemba was very pleasant. Compared to Zanzibar this place is completely untouched, just mangroves interspersed with little beaches with occasional dhows and fishing boats anchored offshore and typical African subsistence agriculture on the land, and even the occasional patch of real forest with old tall trees. Best of all, no hotel developments at all. Offshore there were lots of little islands and of course a brilliantly coloured reef. We crossed three deep channels leading out of the reef, dark blue in the azure sea, I'm told these offer some of the best diving in the World. The first hotel we encountered was our destination just short of the extreme northern tip of the island. This looks like a lovely place.

The tailwind which had brought us here was blowing straight up the beach and the tide was still quite high so it was a relatively simple landing 20 or thirty metres off a small beach, and then a slow left turn up to it. I still haven't cracked the technique of stopping the wave which comes up behind you as the FIB settles into the water from dumping a few gallons of water into the bottom of the boat, but I'm getting better at it.

I didn't really know anything about the place we were going to other than its coordinates, and the place was owned by a Turk. Waiting on shore was Cisca, wife of Farhat Jah, Raff to his friends. My first question was to ask if we had landed in the right place. We had, Kervan Saray beach. Raff was out running a diving course. We pulled the FIB up onto the beach and some people helped to get the wing off and we put it safely on the ground just next to the lodge office, lifted the boat onto its wheels and parked it comfortably next to the wing.

Kervan Saray Lodge, home of Swahili Divers is just the sort of place I like, comfortable, but slightly frayed at the edges. There's the office and dive headquarters, a bar and restaurant and ten or so bungalows all in the classical concrete and Makuti style. On the edge of the beach is a large hut with comfy chairs where you can watch the sun go down with a Tusker baridi in hand (cold beer to those that don't know these things). Perfect.

Some time later Raff appeared. He might like to tell everyone he's a Turk and certainly has the heritage, but really he's completely English, and a bit of a character; product of the same smart school my brother John went to (though at a different time). Raff first came here more than ten years ago whilst driving a Landrover from London to Cape Town and thought it such a nice place he came back and stayed (though citizens of Chepstow beware, if you didn't know it, he's there sometimes too).

Mattheius really prefers film to digital, and not 35mm either, his favourite is big format stuff, 15 shots to the roll of film, he's a real perfectionist. Must be really difficult stuff to manage on his travels over the World as a photo journalist, and he's travelled a lot. Mattheius and Raff got talking and it quickly became evident Raff is also a bit of a camera freak and has one of everything Matthias either has, or would like to have. Raff went off to his house and came back with a fistful of rolls of film and some kind of big camera which looks like a sort of giant instamatic until you open it and it becomes a rather high tech large format bellows camera. "Excellent lens" said Matthias, "same as mine, they only made 1000 of them". Yes, there are people out there who are just as nerdy as I am about microlights. I left them to it and wandered off to the beach to watch the sun go down, Tusker baridi in hand.

In the middle of the afternoon there was a terrific crashing and a large dugout canoe appeared through the bushes pushed by ten or fifteen people. A strange sight, it was a new addition to the lodge, rotten at the bottom and no longer of any use at sea it would make a nice bar.

Raff is still a prodigious traveller, he showed me some really nice self-published photo-books he's made, one of a journey they made along the Silk road and another of some parts of Turkey. Mostly shot in film of course.

Next day conditions for the FIB were perfect, medium breeze blowing slightly on-shore but not so much as to make a landing difficult, tide just going out. The crew were still somewhere between Stonetown and Pemba on a ferry but it seemed a nice idea to take our host for a ride around. He's not that small a chap so I did warn him that with two fat blokes the FIB might simply fail to take off. "What happens then?" he asked. I said I'd decide when it happens, but in a nice short chop which quite quickly got some air under the boat we were airborne fairly easily.

Raff had sent the big RIB they dive from up to the reef at the northern tip of the island. "Not too close to the lighthouse" he said as we flew up the coast, "government property and they might get upset". Our plan was for him to get some shots of his place, his boat in action, and a couple of divers over the reef. Before takeoff he debated long and hard with himself whether to have a polarizing filter, and did in the end, some of his shots were great, small dhows floating over the reef as if suspended in mid-air. The shots of the divers weren't bad either.

After a two and a half hour drive across the island Thomas and the crew arrived, rather hot and bothered. "How was the ferry?" I asked, "Ghastly, people vomiting all over the place" was the answer. Matthias looked pleased he'd come with me.

Tomorrow we are doing some flying stuff and the next day we're going to a bullfight. Yes, they do bullfighting on Pemba, apparently a leftover from when the Portuguese were here.

Micro Avionics - Suppliers of pilot intercom and radio equipment to the expedition
Joint Aviation Services, suppliers of insurances to the expedition
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
Cam-ARA - Suppliers of video equipment to the expedition
Polaris - manufacturer of the FIB