News: 17 Jul 2010, Just in time







Even if the ferry leaves on Monday, I'll be in Praia on Tuesday, then it's a full day's work to dissemble the FIB and get it into its crates, so I couldn't be in Sal for the flight home until Thursday, and there aren't flights every day back to Germany anyway. I'd always said I'm prepared to be flexible, but there is a limit to this, and this plan is beyond that limit.

So another way had to be found. The oil tanker idea seemed to have evaporated, so a 20ft container out of here was the only remaining option - unless we leave it at the airport and I come back sometime in August to move it, which will completely wreck the schedule for future episodes of Maritime Africa. If it is put in a container then at least it is movable and the decision where it should go can be made later, and I can go home now.

Unfortunately it 's not so simple. You have to decide where its going before you can get a container, then there's the question of customs; it came in at Praia, so it must go out from Praia they said. "Rotterdam", I advised Carolin to say, "and if it has to go via Praia first, then let it go there first."

And then the crew left for home. "The shippers will be in touch" Carolin said as I waved them goodbye at the airport, "and you'll be able to get the FIB into the container tomorrow." But she added, " Unfortunately it seems highly unlikely you'll be able to do this before the last flight for Sal, and the next flight to Germany is on Monday, so you'll have to stay in Mindelo for the weekend. But don't worry, I'm confident it will all happen."

I can't say I was. But there's no question I have to be present to move the FIB from the airport to the docks and to fix it down into the container. It will be wrecked any other way.

Friday morning, first thing, I ring people. "yes, yes, yes, we’ll ring you as soon as we're ready". Unfortunately Patrico, Ivo Barros ' man here in Mindelo whom I haven't met and doesn't speak a word of English or French is the key element in all this, so all communication has to be done through intermediaries like Antonio, who's with the others in Sal, or Ivo, our shipping agent in Praia. I was hoping my phone wouldn't run out of credit since I've no idea how to recharge it.

I sat in my hotel doing some preparation for scoring the European Microlight championships in two weeks time. Nobody rings. Just before lunch I rang Antonio to see if he can find out what's going on. He calls back: "Yes, yes, it will all be fine, but they've all gone to lunch now". It seems things are more or less in hand but the final problem is a paper to actually enter the port to load the container.

I carry on with my scoring stuff. Two fifteen, I ring again. The paper still hasn't arrived, I'd still no idea even where it would be arriving, nobody does. The FIB is still in the airport so it will take a bit of time to move it anywhere. I wondered what time they close on Friday afternoons.

Quarter to four, Antonio rings - "Get yourself to Portmar, in the Rua de Palacio, Mr Fabio, as soon as possible, a taxi will know where it is". What Portmar was I didn't know, and the taxi didn't either, so we cruised a couple of times up and down a street he said he was sure was Rua de Palacio - we both spotted a small sign 'Port Mar, Agência de Navigação Lda' simultaneously.

Mr Fabio was indeed waiting, he could speak a bit of English, and gave me the paper authorizing me to enter the port. And a bill. His masters in Lisbon say I must pay 1295 Euros for the entire shipping to Rotterdam, and local handling 14,600 Escudos (about 130 Euros), and I must pay all of it now.

"Of course I can't pay this", I said, "I don't have this kind of money, it will be paid from Germany on monday." "Pay now or no paper ", Fabio said, picking the paper off my small sheaf of documents and putting it back on one of his large piles. I rang Carolin, who was out shopping in Sal. Carolin rang Ivo in Praia, Carolin rang me. "Don't pay! She said. Ivo is our shipper, he will deal with this".

Already 4:10, and time was ticking by, I rang Jose, the minibus driver the crew has been using, and who was primed to arrange his friend the truck driver to move the FIB from the airport to the port when I called. I said I'd meet it at my hotel at 4.30.

I rang Ivo and gave my phone to Fabio. Some discussion ensued. Not positive, but not negative either. "We must just wait, the decision is made in Lisbon" said Fabio. I said I've got to find my truck, and I'll be back in 10 minutes.

Mercifully, Jose had kept his promise and my truck was double parked outside the Porto Grande hotel waiting for me. We loaded the blue barrels from under the stairs in the hotel, I leapt in.

4:40 back at Port Mar, no real developments. What time do you close? "At six" Fabio said. Still a bit of time, I thought. What time does the port close? "At four", he said, "it is closed".

I'm stuffed, I thought, because they'll be closed over the weekend and I'm leaving first thing Monday. But then he said, "but there are people there anyway". I'm not quite sure I understood this, so the port was closed but it was open. Nevertheless it seemed obvious it wasn't going to stay open for ever so I needed to get the FIB on the truck and back here before six, trusting the business of payment would have been sorted out by then, and I could immediately go to the port.

As much as the truck could dash, it dashed to the airport. We had to stop so a man standing at the side of the road with a pickaxe could climb in the back, and then somewhere else to let him off.

At 4:55 we were at the airport. A water tanker was blocking the entrance gate, driver nowhere to be seen. Managed not to look impatient, never works in Africa where time isn't really important. We were let in after what seemed like an interminable delay and drove behind the black and yellow checkered 'follow me' car at a snails pace to the old fire station, recruiting some Bombieros to help load the FIB on the way.

Overnight, someone had moved the FIB so a van could be parked in there. Even moving it 3 metres they'd managed to bend the rear undercarriage locking system and it was sitting on its hull on the floor. Imagine if I'd have had to leave it here to be moved to the port by someone else... No matter, time was of the essence now, so we bundled it onto the truck, barrels and wing on top, threw my two big blue straps over the lot, thanked the Bombieros and airport staff for all their great help and dashed back to Mindelo town.

Or at least at a pace the truck could dash, it's steering is a bit strange, the driver has about half a turn of the wheel of 'free play' so it wandered about the road quite a bit, and he has to really haul it round corners.

5:45, double parked the truck outside Port Mar offices and ran in. Somebody had worked some magic because Fabio confirmed it was all now OK, and handed me that vital paper off his pile and a green plastic seal for the container, but now I still had to pay something. It took the girl an astonishing amount of mouse clicking and enter - keying to prepare the invoice. While wondering how long "people will be at the port anyway" I reminded myself again that impatience never pays and to look calm, but I must admit it was difficult. The bill had somehow increased in the last couple of hours to 16,178 Escudos, I handed over nine two thousand Escudo notes. "Don't you have any smaller money?" Fabio said. Quite often I've got a 200 Escudo note or something in my pocket, but this time, nothing, I'd spent it all on taxis. He wandered out to find someone who could break one of my notes into something smaller.

Finally, with change, permission, invoice and green seal in hand I asked him to tell my driver exactly where in the port we should go, Fabio took pity and sent his spotty office junior with us. As they all departed the office for the weekend he gave me his mobile number in case of difficulty.

At the port entrance, Fabio's man spoke to the security man surprisingly briefly, and the barrier was lifted - we were in, apparently no need for them to actually see that vital paper after all. My driver was told to go a few hundred metres up the dock while Fabio's man visited offices.

Things were looking good, there were lots of containers. After a while, round the back, in a container converted into an office, we found a man wearing smart blue overalls who climbed into a huge machine, started it up with a roar and drove off at speed in a cloud of black smoke, we followed. After a while of following the huge machine up and down rows of hundreds of containers it dawned on me that they were actually looking for a particular one by its serial number. The huge machine completed a tour of the entire park, and stopped. The driver then started squeezing between piles of containers three deep to see if our one was hidden in the middle. Nothing.

He then started wandering around on foot in a slightly random way looking at container serial numbers, it seriously looked like he was about to give up, I couldn't believe they might have the wrong number on the paperwork and that amongst piles of hundreds of empty containers we should fall at the last hurdle, but too late to check, everyone was now closed.

Suddenly he smiled and pointed - that's it! A blue one, at the bottom of a stack he'd passed at least twice already. With a roar of the huge machine he lifted a red container off ours, extracted the blue one and then neatly put the red one back in the space. Ours was then carried off at speed to another part of the port where I could load it. It had a lot of old cardboard and paper in it, useful padding for the FIB.

Such are the advantages of having flown over the port in the FIB a few times that lots of people appeared out of the woodwork to have a look at it close up, and I recruited them all to help me get it off the truck and into the container, so was quite an easy job. Carolin rang from Sal to see how things were going, I'm busy, I said I'd call her back. I got it lashed down securely onto our three invaluable old tyres which have followed us everywhere since I extracted it from the crates in Praia ages ago. Our rather smart hotel thought they were a very strange piece of apparel.

Somebody told me we'd got to the port five minutes before it really did close. My truck driver laughed. We closed the container and locked it with the green seal.

Back at the hotel, hot and sweaty but with a 'big imperial' Strela beer in hand I rang Carolin who was just about to board the flight to Germany, to say all is well, the FIB is safe in a container in the port.

She sounded relieved.

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