Once upon a time the post-Antarctic reposition was a mad dash up the Atlantic with maybe a stop at Tristan de Cunha, Ascension or Cape Verde. Nowadays, with pressure on adventurous cruise companies to find new territories for their growing legions of "been-there-done-that" repeat clients, coupled with the slowly opening doors of West African nations, this journey is fast becoming a must-do in its own right.
In recent years we have seen various operators executing or planning itineraries along the West African coast from Cape Town as far as Morocco. Previously unheard-of ports and countries are now appearing on sailing schedules. Angola, Congo, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Senegal are just a few of those once forbidden lands now welcoming visitors. I was fortunate to secure a berth aboard G Adventures sturdy, 140-passenger vessel, MS Expedition, as it worked its way from stunning Cape Town, all the way to Dakar (Senegal) over three weeks.
"This is a true expedition," says Lyn Mair, leader of the team of highly experienced staff who have spent the last two years painstakingly assembling the itinerary, "even though we believe we've crossed every tee, Africa is certain to throw up some surprises." And Lyn should know. She's been leading tours around Africa and the islands for decades.
Around the midway point of our journey, we'd already moved north from the relative civilisation of Cape Town, through the desolate wastes of Namibia, the recovering nation of Angola and into the suspicious and brooding former French territory of Congo, where Africa did deal us a few wild cards.
Later, our route took us through the Gulf of Guinea, an area known for pirate activity. Exactly what countermeasures we had at our disposal remains undisclosed, but three ex-Royal Marines travelled with us thorough these waters on permanent vigil. Had their been any sightings of the seaborn rascals, I would be writing a much different story.
This robust, ice-strengthened, former Baltic ferry is certainly more at home in polar waters, but shows no reluctance operating in the warmer climes of equatorial Africa. Okay, the air conditioning is working overtime and the Zodiacs spend most of their time piled on deck, but the 40 year old girl hasn't missed a beat, cruising effortlessly up to her top speed of 14 knots.
I'm going to go on record and predict this route, with its myriad variations, will dominate the must-do lists of veteran expedition cruisers for the next few years. This sold out voyage follows the pattern of other operators like Hapag-Lloyd, Lindblad National Geographic and Zegrahm who all report strong demand from clients already bored with the 'ho-hum' Antarctic Peninsula and Svalbard.
Looking back, it was certainly a remarkable voyage with plenty to keep restless minds occupied both at sea and on land. The shore excursions included cultural experiences, historical sites and a taste of natural beauty or, in the case of the bizarre Welwitschia plant of Namibia, natural ugliness. It should be said this is not a voyage for all tastes. It's unpredictable, uses many untested land agents and operators, a bit expensive and chock full of surprises. If you are comfortable cruising with a dash of the unknown and can roll with whatever falls in your lap, then it might be just your cruise. A fan of midnight buffets, ballroom dancing and Las Vegas shows? Maybe not so much for you. That said, the likes of Cunard, Silversea and Azamara are not unfamiliar with these waters either.
Prices start at $18499 pp cruise only. For more detail on this itinerary, see www.gadventures.com > West Africa, or talk to your favourite cruise consultant about other options.
About the Expeditionist
Roderick Eime has spent his whole life getting lost and the last two decades doing it professionally. From 4WD journeys across Australia to icebreakers in the polar seas, Rod isn't happy unless he's wondering where he is. In his quest to find oblivion, he's sailed all five oceans and many of the great rivers reporting for magazines and newspapers but has yet to fall off the edge of the world.