THE MAIDEN FLIGHT OF THE VIRGIN BUTTERFLY
The “Virgin Butterfly” picked up speed at the mouth of Dar es Salaam harbour and rose magnificently onto her hydrofoils. Onlookers along the shoreline gaped in astonishment and the crew of a nearby dhow leapt to their feet in panic. Inside the cabin, stewardesses began to sell soft drinks, and the Captain appeared on the video screen to welcome us aboard. The mainland coast rapidly shrank to a thin ribbon along the horizon.
I could not believe my own good fortune. On a short stop-over in Dar es Salaam, I had reluctantly ruled out the possibility of visiting friends in Zanzibar – so close yet so far ! Air Tanzania’s service to the island is notorious for being cancelled at the last minute. The old ferry “Mpundusi” sails only twice a week and takes six hours or more. By contrast, the 35 metre long hydrofoil, which can cruise at up to 95 kilometres an hour took just seventy five minutes. At the cost of US$ 20 each way (Shs 1500 for locals) my weekend visit was not just possible but completely effortless.
The combination of lush tropical vegetation, fine beaches and an old Arab town – full of haunting reminders of past trading wealth – must give Zanzibar tremendous tourist potential. Linked by plane to Nairobi and by hydrofoil to Mombasa as well as to Dar es Salaam, it could become an extra link in the tourist circuit that takes in the Kenyan coast, the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro. Tourist facilities on the island are limited but the Aga Khan has recently promised to finance a new luxury hotel.
First however, the Norwegian operating company and the shareholders in the new service (who include the Tanzania Tourist Corporation and a number of Zanzibar businessmen) must make the new service pay. To do so, they will have to stick to the timetable and operate close to the hydrofoil’s 330 seat capacity. If they succeed, and it is a tall order, then there is little doubt they will transform Zanzibar.
As for me, I had a marvellous and unexpected week-end break which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone.
James G. Copestake