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Captain's Bio

1970, Senegambia, West Africa
John Martinkovitch, who worked on a special project in Senegal for the Agency for International Development, owned a 30-foot cabin cruiser that he named the "Sand Witch" in a fit of dark humor. I used to help him out a bit with the maintenance of his hole in the water, and he and his wife and I and my wife would sometimes go out in the Bay of Senegal when the engine was working. One evening, during which we must have been heavily celebrating the fact that the engine was working very well, someone got the fabulous idea that we all ought to take the boat on a joyride down the coast and up the river to Ziguinchor, the capital of the southern province of The Casamance, stopping off for a night at Bathurst, the former name of the capital of The Gambia. John owned the boat, so he was the captain, and I had a tiny bit of sailing experience, so I was the navigator. The wives were the crew. Unfortunately, all we could find to guide us was a road map that gave a very sketchy idea of the coastline. Undaunted and ignorant, we decided to go anyway. The ballad describes the trip down in accurate detail. The trip back was successful, but so horrific that I haven't yet had the heart to write about it. Obviously we must have been watched over by angels, aumakua, or very, very, friendly African spirits.


Oh there once was afloat
An uproarious boat.
It's name was the "Sand Witch"
From out of Dakar.
It sailed on the blue
With a landlubber crew
And an ice-coated, beer-loaded, glorious bar.

One day the brave Cap-
Tain got out his road map
And he headed his vessel
Down Ziguinchor way.
He relied on his mate
Who could not navigate
So they ended up lost right inside Bathurst Bay.

They arrived there at night
And discovered a light;
Then two, then three,
Then forty or more.
They were proud as could be
Of their accuracy,
But they still were some ten or twelve miles from shore.

Well, the sea became rougher
And seeing got tougher,
But they bravely kept going
Without any fear.
When they drew near the mark
It got darker than dark,
And the mate set his jaw and cried, "Break out more beer!"

Said the Cap', "Keep your nose
On the red compass rose,
Heading 151
And keep it right there!"
The mate tried to please ...
Within thirty degrees ...
And they passed by the bouy by the width of a hair.

Now the Captain said, "I'll
Take the wheel for awhile.
I'll show you exactly
What you need to know."
In his confident way
He arranged it so they
Ended up where they'd been fifteen minutes ago.

Then they both said "I think"
That it's time for a drink."
So they anchored the boat
And went down below.
They spent the whole night
Getting pleasantly tight
While the boat rocked up, down, back and forth, to and fro.

Next morning they reached
The dock by the beach
In that part of the town
Called by people "Half-Die."
They spent the whole day
Getting gas to the quay
And that night they worked hard again at getting high.

The following morning
The sky was a warning;
The sun was as red
As a cut open beet.
The Captain was game
And the mate was the same,
But the crew won the vote for a hasty retreat.

Now one day the brave Captain
Again got his map and
Decided to to try
The adventure once more.
His true, loyal mate
'Greed to share in the fate,
So the Sand Witch again headed for Ziguinchor.

If the last time were rough
And pretty darn tough,
Then this time was worse
And badder than bad.
The swells were so high
That they hid half the sky.
It was clear that for some reason Neptune was mad.

From morning on Sunday
Till afternoon Monday
On icy cold beer
And crackers and cheese
They fought their way down
To that Casamance town,
The two wildest sailors to e'er sail the seas.

It was dark when they sighted
The buouy that lighted
The way to the Cas-
Amance estuary.
With determination
They manned battle stations
And challenged the white-bearded god of the sea.

Quite soon they did learn
As a wave at the stern
Picked them with great ease
That the sea-god can play.
For he tossed them around
Like a red, gold, and brown
Little frail autumn leaf on a November day.

At last they got wise
(They'd been cut down to size),
So they anchored the boat
In the ocean right there.
Two anchors they tossed,
In the storm one was lost,
The Cap' prayed, the mate barfed, and both had a scare.

Next morning at dawn,
Their cheeks gaunt and drawn,
Our heroes weighed anchor
And forthrightly fled
Straight into the teeth
Of a surf-covered reef;
A few inches more draft and they'd both have been dead.

Thanks mostly to chance
By the seat of their pants
They managed to enter
The Casamance mouth.
The water was flat,
They were thankful for that,
'Twas the happiest moment since they'd headed south.

As they pushed up the river
They both felt a quiver.
They hadn't quit finished
With Fortune and Fate.
Six times they got stuck
In the banks of black muck;
Three times for the Captain and thrice for the mate.

Many long years from now
When the white's on our brow
And our grandkids are asking
'Bout when we were young
We will relive the feel
Of the sea 'neath our keel
And the Sand Witch adventure once more will be sung.

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Copyright 2004 by Serge King
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