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The First Yacht Built in The Gambia

My Magazine 2023/02
5 min
On the serene waters of the river Gambia, the splendid little Emma sits peacefully rocked by the steady tides. Emma’s inception is more than just a manufacturing process: she is a true work of art, thoughtfully created over a time span of 14 months, using locally sourced materials and a big portion of passion and love. The Emma also sets a national record as the first yacht of its kind built entirely from scratch right here in the Gambia.

The forces behind this inspiring project are William Arthur and Samir Salma. As an avid fishing enthusiast, William had always enjoyed days out on the peaceful river Gambia. When chance -- or destiny – crossed his path with that of Samir, a passionate boat builder, the mission was clear: create a fully customized 8-meter long luxury yacht including a cabin, double bed, toilet, kitchen, seating opportunities for 6 people, and more.

Samir Salma, born and raised in the Gambia for majority of his life, had always had a peculiar passion for boats. As a stealthy little 8-year old, he slowly dismantled the ceiling and décor of an abandoned storage unit in his family home and repurposed the materials to construct his first vessel: a little fishing boat held together by thin wooden planks, thumbnails, curtains and oil paint. This was the start of a life-long hobby of construction through improvisation and trial-and-error. With passing time and growing experience, Samir was able to successfully construct more and more complex yet unique watercrafts. From simple fishing pirogues to a one-of-its-kind yacht cruising down the bolongs (creeks) of the Gambia, Samir’s has an impressive portfolio of boats.

It was a challenging task. As with any work of art, a huge amount of thought, time and expertise was required to actualize the shared vision. From design to construction, each piece of wood was hand cut, every layer of fibreglass carefully applied, each inch of paint thoughtfully brushed. But, needless to say, after 1 year and 2 months of work and dedication, the final product was worth the effort. Samir spared no effort, even going as far as tearing down the wall of his compound to facilitate the Emmas smooth transition into the waters of the river. One of the biggest challenges in Samirs building process is access to machinery. Cutting each plank of wood by hand is incredibly time-consuming. Access to a multifunctional woodwork machine could enhance the speed of his work immensely.

All the materials used in building the body of the boat are locally and sustainably sourced right here in the Gambia. With this creation, a new world of possibilities for activities on the Gambian river and coastline has been revealed.

Another project Samir is actively working on revolves around innovating the vessels used by the so-called Oyster Women. Most of the oysters consumed in the Gambia are harvested by ladies gliding along the mangroves in little wooden dugout canoes, which are heavy and hard to manoeuvre in the salty waters of the river. In the future, Samir aims to improve the design of these boats to facilitate the daily movement of these hard-working women.

Today, the Emma graciously floats at the Denton Bridge Pier in Banjul. If you are interested in taking a look for yourself, contact William Arthur on +220 7802132.

Want to explore the possibility of customizing your own boat? Contact Samir Salma on +220 7886446.

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