The Harmattan

The Harmattan is dust laden air blown from the Sahara to Cape Verde by the strong winter Northeast Trade Winds. Sailing in the Harmattan feels otherworldly. Like fog the visibility is greatly reduced, at times less than half a mile. But the air is dry, a muted blue can still be detected in the sky overhead, and a horizon line can oddly still be perceived. The sun filtering through the reddish brown haze turns the sky sepia like in an old-timey photograph.

Menacing shores, speeding freighters, and the ocean’s vastness are all veiled by a dusty illusion of nothingness, a womblike world lulling us into feeling the hazards do not exist. But navigating near shore can quickly become unnerving as the false security is shattered by sounds of breakers and boiling water coming into view.

At anchor, the dust cloaks then cakes the idle mast, rigging and deck. Inside the cabin a gritty film is deposited, necessitating sweeping multiple times a day. Drying clean laundry is impossible because it would inevitably end up dirtier than before washing. Sneezing fits are common as breathing the fine particulate is unavoidable. The Harmattan even disrupts the Cape Verde economy with the closing of all airports.

This Harmattan lasts a week. As the wind shifts and moderates a world is painted around us by the clearing air. Mountains return to their stations on the horizon and the contours of the surrounding harbor take shape. Color returns. Laundry is hung again from the lifelines.


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