Our first passage: Mindelo (Cabo Verde) – Salvator de Bahia (Brazil)

As I said in a previous post, Mindelo was a very pelasant surprise. Originally, based on too many negative feedback collected from many sailing forums (mugging, burglary and corruption) we were not intending to stop in Cabo Verde . But after talking with some friends who stayed there recently, we decided to give it a try and we do not regret it. We definitely recommend Mindello as a nice stopover enroute to the other side of the Atlantic. The people are very friendly and the city is nice and very well sorted for fruits, vegetable, an fishes. Fruits (bananas, papayas and mangoes) are of good quality. We did lost any and we still had good fresh fruits on our last breakfast of the crossing.

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At the marina, we were only 3 visiting boats: a South African going back to Cape Town non stop and an Ukrainian also on the way back home. This one had a fantastic history. They were two 70+ retired engineers from Kiev. They build the boat themselves from space rockets exotic aluminium scraps. They started their journey from Kiev on September 2017, went al the way down to Chile, rounded Cabo de Horno and where on their way back home via Azores when we met them. Such a trip in less than a year this is quite a performance!

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We left lunch time on August 11 (exactly a month after we started from Les Sables d’Olonne). The 2 other boats had already left earlier the same morning. Most of the preparation was done the day before: fresh food for 3 weeks, preventive maintenance of crtical items onboard etc. Such as on the morning we had only to run the last errand to be sure to leave with the freshest fruits. I also spent a good hours fine tuning the routeing for the entire crossing taking benefit from the marina wifi to download very large grib files. I used NOAA gribs and their Huricane discussion bulletin (which I asked a friend in France to email me twice a day during the crossing). This bulletin is very interresting because it reports the movement of the tropical wave as they form on the cost of West Africa and develop over the Atlantic, it also follow the development of the monsoon through in the same area. These are very important phenomenas which are not easily (if at all) identifiable on a grib. Tropical wave exhibiting high convection may develop rapidly into tropical storm and eventually cyclone and in this season one has to be extra carefull. On this basis our routeing parameters were basically to try to find an optimal route where we would get the least time without wind while avoiding these tropical waves as well as the areas of highest potential thunder storm. And I must say, it worked quite well.

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The 2 fist days we hade very good wind and we could go fast with a lot of west in our south which allowed us to turn and go due south on the third day, to pass in between the 2 active tropical waves. What we are really happy about is that we didn’t have to go through any thunder storm or strong squall while in the doldrums. We had very heavy rain a couple of times but no lighting or thunder directly around the boat. We saw some lightning in the night sky once but it was far far away.
The surprise came from the very long period of calm: no wind at all for some days and nearly a week with less than 6 knots and even when this 6 knots wind was blowwing it was always dead down wind I.e not enough to keep the sails from flapping endlessly regradless how tight we set the preventer . We had to be patient, we could not motor through it all the time because I didn’t re-fuel in Mindelo and we left with less than 200 litres onboard which means about 60 hours or 300 miles if we used it all, but we wanted to keep at least 80 litres as emergency reserve and for the “landing”. Finally, we motored about 40 hours in total but only 12 at full regime the rest was at 1000 RPM just to support the sails and make sure that the pilot could still steer resulting in a consumption of about 100 litres.

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These long calms could have been frustrating from a navigation point of view especially as the gribs kept forecasting light (6 knots) southerly wind i.e. we would have ben going upwind (and 6 knots up wind would have been enough to get out boat moving nicely) but we got indeed about 6 knots but only northerly i.e. down wind. We suspect the guys at NOAA used south arrows because they had no graphical representation for “we think you gonna have some light wind now and then but we have no clue as to where the f… it is going to come from”.

But actually it was a great time. The sea was never totally flat it was always some moderate swell (growing as we were gaining toward the south) which was no good for the sails but it was not too bad for the crew. We could do a lot of reading and sleeping, good fishing (Coryphene, Wahoo and Amber jacks, plus of course the morning harvest of flying fishes on the deck – once I even found one in my shoes on the cabin floor), proper cooking and fantastic meals (Coryphen sushis, flying fishes paté :)) and moreover we could bath and swim at least once a day. Swimming in this deep blue ocean cristal clear warm water (28°C) is a fantastic experience. Of course we always did it only one of us at a time and on a tether: safety first. We expected these calms to be so boring but in fact it was very enjoyable and even relaxing.
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On the 6th day, after a couple of terrible rain showers with no wind, we finally catched the southerly forecasted for so many days. It was a gentle breeze of 7 to 9 knots allowing us to sail very comfortably at 5 to 6 knots at 45-50° TWD.

After about 2 days due south, we crossed the commercial route Brasil – Africa – Europe. Lots of ships on the AIS going in both direction. This is the time when the wind shifted SE allowing us to tack and get on a direct route to Salvador passing some 100 miles east of rocky islets of San Pietro and San Paolo as well as Fernandho de Noronha. For a couple of days the wind stayed moderate and stable in force in spite of frequent shifts in direction. On August 21, we passed the equator with the traditional celebration including the glass of rhum to Neptune.

By then, the sea was bulding up to 3 m perpendicular to our route with a secondary wave at 30°, not the most confortable. Then the squalls started. It goes like this: the wind is 10 knots we are sailing confortably at 6 knots 95° TWD, very dark huge clouds move toward us, the wind shift and is now only 45° from the route, from 10 knots the wind speed gets up to 12, 15, 18, then shift back 95° TWD and up again 20, 22 up to 28 or 30 knots for 20′ and settles at 20 -22 knots for an hour or 2 then suddenly goes down to 11. Obviously a lot of reefing and sails trimming is required to keep the boat under control. The first squalls we found actually quite fun, keeping as much sails on as we could dare to. The boat was accelerating: 8, 9, 10, 11 knots. But after a while we told ourselves that we were not in a race and that it was our home that we were using as a surfing toy. So we anticipated a lot more the sails reduction and delayed the unreefing longer. But it didn’t help much we still had to trim and adjust in every gust. Going in this cross sea perpendicular to our route was also quite wet: we were very happy to be dry and confortable without foul weather gear under our dog house form where we can do all the triming, reefing and furling.

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And during all this we were on the cargo ships route so we had to watch the AIS and the radar all the time. Fortunately we saw only one ship without AIS transponder and it was in full day light. Most ship adjusted their course to pass a couple of miles away (according to international rules they have to), we only had to deviate twice from our route.

No need to say that this part of the trip was less relaxing than the first one. It was very sailing intensive (which we like) but after few days it was a bit exhausting. We could still keep more or less normal meals (just we had to serve them in deep bowls or mugs rather than plates and obviously we had to hold them tight). No time for reading, we remembered ourselves the original significance of the expression “being on watch”.

On the last night the weather was the same and so was the traffic and as we were obviously getting closer to shore, we expected to see many fishing boats (Brasilian fishermen are famous for using long nets at night) but fortunately we didn’t see a single one.

On Tuesday 28 at 5:30 localtime as the daylight was coming we passed the south buoy indicating the sand bank at the entrance of All Saints Bay (Bahia de todos los Santos) and we saw Salvador sky scrappers emerging from the clouds. Two hours later we berthed at Terminal Nautico right in the city centre… We did it! 2300 miles on the log in 16 days and 23 hours.

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Passage

 

During this nearly 17 days we were like on another planet, only the 2 of us in our little bubble with the waves and wind. This arrival was kind of a choc. The city looks really grand from a but getting closer, it’s likes it has been trough better times long ago. Ithe lower city and commercial district is basically in ruins with many buildings like empty shells whithout roof or windows. Then the very heavy traffic, the noise and the loud music. But the people are so nice and friendly (at least during day time) and always smiling and laughing that immediately you forget about the rest.

But let’s leave our discovery of Brasil for a next article.

Stay tuned 🙂

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