One Month Later: from Brazil to Falkland via Uruguay

We are now in Stanley, 1200 inhabitants, capital city of the Falklands. I suppose you’re all eager to learn what has happen since October 1st even if you have probably got most of it through the French articles posted by Anne.

Tuesday October 2

After our bus trip to Rio we left first thing the next morning to Ilha Grande to explored one more tropical paradise moorings and took the opportunity to do some trekking on the paths going around and through the island. These paths are quite steep at some places, the island summit is culminating at over 1000 m, and as the coast sport few vertical cliffs, it is necessary to pass inland to move forward round the island We met sporty guys who said they done the complete round the island trip in 4 to 5 days but admitted it was tough. The entire island is a nature reserve protecting the original Atlantic rain forest and its fauna. There are no roads or motor vehicles and very few constructions limited mostly to some fishermen villages and simple pousadas and restaurant.

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Wednesday October 4

We sailed over to Paraty on the south end of the Bay. Paraty is an old Portuguese town that was allegedly build on sea level so the spring tide can flood the streets and clean them. The old town is now only restaurants and souvenir shops surrounded by an nondescript 20th century city. There are 3 or 4 (very expensive) marinas but none is at a walking distance to the town. We stayed at Engenho which is the farthest but the most recent one and is very efficiently managed.

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The coast in the area is a maize of small islands and coves. After one night in Paraty we moved few miles away to Saco the Mamangua. This is a kind of narrow long fjord with mountains (or high steep hills) on both side, looking a bit like a Scottish loch with palm trees. The weather helped to make the similarity with Scotland even better : 18°C and misty. There is a very secluded fisherman village, probably one of the quietest place on earth, no road, no telephone or Internet (even no mobile coverage) and electricity only came a year ago.

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A taxi-boat bring Children to school in Paraty every morning and back in the afternoon. The next morning we moored close to the mangroves at the end of the fjord and went kayaking to explore the mangrove and try to find a waterfall that was indicated on our guide, we went through 3 or 4 different canals snaking through the mangrove, got bitten by thousands of mosquitoes and other exotic bugs but we couldn’t find it. Back at the boat, looking at the sketchy map on the guide, we realized that it was actually the first small channel on the left hand side when getting close to the mangrove, the one we neglected because it was looking to small and to close…(hopefully we are better at open sea navigation).

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Saturday October 7

Early departure from our loch in another Scottish weather day.

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We get out of Ilha Grande Bay through a narrow inlet between a small islet and the main land. After more than 2 weeks mostly motoring on the flat waters of the bay its good to be sailing on open sea again. We have good wind till mid afternoon but then it dies on us and we have to put the engine on again. We stop for the night at Ilha Ancieta, an old jail turned into a nature reserve. The island look beautiful, with dense rain forest and rocky peaks, the guide write about waterfall and wild life. But no exploration for us this time, the powerful ocean swell is going around the island, get reflected by the mainland and penetrate into the bay making the landing on the little beach impossible. It is also making the mooring a bit rolly but not sufficiently to disturb our sleep.

Sunday October 8 – Tuesday October 10

Weather is no better, almost no wind and drizzle. We decide to stop at Ilha Bella to wait more favorable sailing conditions. Ilha Bella is the weekend/holiday resort for Sao Paulo rich people and you can see it at the magnificent villas build on the coast. It is again a very steep island with high rocky summits. From the boat we can see number of cascades. We drop our anchor between to marinas as it is not clear is they accept visitors or not and we are not keen paying again a high price. Ashore, it is the typical tourist town with souvenir, beachwear and ladies fashion shops not unpleasant except for the busy main road going right along the coast.

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We even find a very well sorted Crocs’ shop where we buy a new pair each (Crocs are a very convenient footwear on a boat). There is also a schipchandler with a good choice of equipment where I found the VHF radio I was looking for at a reasonable price (ICOM DSC with integrated GPS). The old one didn’t work anymore, we needed to find a replacement before reaching Argentina and Chile where the “Armada” (Navy) is enforcing a very strict radio reporting policy. We didn’t try to visit the island further inland as in the mean time we heard that break-in and theft on board the moored boats was very frequent. After 2 days the wind forecast was good enough to try and go further south.

Wednesday October 11 – Friday October 13.

We even thought we had a weather window good enough to sail down to Rio Grande del Sur in one go (Rio Grande is the southernmost port where it is possible to do the exit formalities from Brasil). So we set sails and went off but in the middle of the night the wind was blowing 90° from our course as foretasted but a lot stronger than anticipated (30 knots instead of 20). Moreover the sea was also worse than expected with the main waves about 3 meters high right in our nose and secondary ones about 2 meters at 90° from the main ones, the whole thing with a very short period (about 6 seconds) making our progress reasonably fast but extremely uncomfortable with the boat slamming violently and the waves breaking over all the time. Through this we still had the fishing line behind and when the sea and the wind were at their worst, we saw a big fish jumping at the end of it. It was a 5 kg tuna and getting it on board was a bit messy.

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After 36 hours the weather remained the same and the latest forecast was suggesting no improvement for the next few days; according to the nautical guides, this type of weather combined with the rain from the few past days could make Rio Grande entrance tricky for a boat like ours. We decided to stop in Itajai. This is already 250 miles in the right direction and the same guides describe it as an easy place for doing exit formalities.

We arrived at Itajai on around 15:00 on Thursday 12/10, the entrance is easy in all weather but is fairly narrow, therefore you need to watch out if there are no container ship coming or going as they need the entire channel for themselves and their tugs.

Immediately after we were tied up at the marina, we learned that offices were already closed for the day and tomorrow was a day off meaning that we were stuck there till Monday… Never mind, we will try to make the best out of it: being on the go for a while there is a lot of cleaning and washing to do on top of the regular chores and preventive maintenance

Itajai is by no means a touristy place, it’s a fairly new city and a container port. But it is a very convenient technical stop. The marina is brand new and very well equipped with all the necessary facilities and services (travlift, dry storage, mechanics, washing and drying machines etc). The city has been founded (like most cities and towns in Santa Catarina state) by German and Dutch immigrants. They apparently brought with them their passion for order and efficiency. The city has the reputation of being one of the safest place in Brazil, to the extend that you can go out at night (to e.g. have dinner at a restaurant) and walk back home safely! They also brought their cultural traditions such as October fest, which was going on next to the marina. We spent a good relaxing time there; it had a nice family type of atmosphere, good live music from the 70’s and 80’s (like Pink Floyd or Dire Straits, the right stuff for our age :)). The beer was good but served in 33 cl reusable plastic glasses (albeit nicely decorated ). The sausages were replaced by fried seafood and the whole thing was combined with some kind of small Xmas market.

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We replenished our larder at a very well sorted hypermarket with a larger choice of foods than we had found so far even in Niteroy. We had to go to the local hospital for a minor issue, it was also of excellent standard (but we have no comparison with other Brasilian hospitals). The major drawback of the place if the quality of the water in the marina basin. Over the weekend, the river was flooding because of heavy rain. The water was chocolate color and carrying all kind of debris, branches and even full trees, all these was inevitably ending up in the marina basin making it very dirty to the extend that it was even worrying for the boats propellers and cooling water intake. The constant dredging to fight the silting at the harbor entrance was contributing further to turn the water even muddier.

At the marina we met Cat, an Australian lady. She owns and operate Ice Bird a superb Trintella 61 (Aluminium sailing yacht of about 20m) and organize exploration trips to South Georgia and Antartica from Ushuaia. We spent a nice evening with her on both her boat and ours. She made us dreaming about going there too… We were very tempted to join her December expedition from Ushuaia to Antarctica as there was still 2 places available but it was clearly over our budget right now. (maybe another time…)

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On Monday morning we did our exit formalities went very smoothly, the staff we had to deal with in all 3 administration were the most efficient we met in Brasil. Policia Federal and Capitania do Porto are short walking distance from the marina; Receita Federal (Customs) is a bit further away at the container terminal on the other side of the river. By Lunch time, our exit formalities completed, we were officially out of the country. Now we had to go to Uruguay non stop.

We left Itajai in the late afternoon with a gentle wind, it stopped raining 🙂 and the sky cleared. The wind had also shifted to the north making our going much easier. It increased all night to reach 27 knots in the morning. There was many fishing boats trawling right on our route forcing us to do be very alert during our watch and do frequent course adjustments and few jibes to avoid getting in their way (in open sea, sailing boats have the priority over other vessels except for fishing boats when they fish and of course tugs towing, dredges in operation and the like). In one of these jibes we damaged the main sail, the third reef was not properly set and the pad eye was torn away. The damage was not too bad and Anne will be able to fix it (thanks to her old sail maker experience) once we are in a quite mooring. But in the mean time, the tear could propagate further forcing us to take it down and continue under jib alone which was not an issue given the wind. But on the 4th day, the wind went down to less than 10 knots still from the back forcing us to seek some support from our engine. By then it was quite foggy and still many fishing boats, fortunately the larger ocean going type made of good steel and thus well visible on the radar (unlike the coastal wooden ones which you can’t detect farther than 0,5 miles). The other good thing about these big offshore trawlers is that they normally have AIS on or rather they switch it on when they see there is commercial traffic around presumably to hide from their colleague the rest of the time.

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On Friday we were sailing along the Uruguayan coast in fairly heavy commercial traffic. The VHF radio bought in Ilha Bella worked nicely and was very use full to communicate with the cargo ships and clarify their intentions. Interestingly, it seems that most ships regardless of their flag employ Indian radio operators which is a very good thing because they speak perfect English.

By 11:00 AM, the next morning we reached Isla Lobos, a small rocky island just offshore punta Del Este. Lobos is famous for its light house: the highest in south America and for its colony of sea lions, the largest of the region.

And indeed the whole island shores are crowded with sea lions of all size, we tried to get as close as we could but the sea was too rough to drop anchor even for a short while so we just enjoy the scenery for an hour. The presence of these animals (and the temperature of the water: 17°C) confirms that the 30° parallel (AKA Tropic of Capricorn) that we left behind us 2 days ago is not just a line on the map: we are not under the tropics anymore, no more warm waters and coconuts. The presence of such a large number of seals (or sea lions I can’t tell the difference) suggests also a great abundance of fish. And indeed, as soon as we left the island, Anne put a line in the water and immediately caught 4 fishes good portion size. Enough for lunch and dinner. By then we had reached Piriapolis and as usual, it’s Saturday so all administrations are closed for the weekend except for the Prefectura (the Coast Guards whose main role here is monitoring and recording the ship movements). Which is not an issue because the main reason we stop here is to wait for our hydro generator that should now be repaired by the manufacturer in France (remember: the one we sent from Rio’s post office)

Piriapolis is a rather pleasant, small sea side resort. It’s a place where nothing can happen and there is nothing to see either (except from the beach and the ramblas). Everybody , adults, young, old teenagers or pensioners, is drinking Maté everywhere. It’s a kind of local tea (hierba maté) that people drink very concentrated in a special insulated glass with a silver filtrating straw. The maté drinker always has a thermos flask under his arm to refill the glass with hot water. People congregate along the ramblas in small groups and spend the evening chatting while the glass of maté and the silver straw going around.

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On Sunday we repaired the main sail and I changed the reefing lines and modified the padeyes they go through on the boom because it was too much chaffing which was damaging the lines.

On Monday we called the hydro generator manufacturer to check the repair status. It was ready and should be shipped later during the week. We took the opportunity to be stuck in port to do the engine oil and filter change and I dived under the boat to check the hull cleanliness. Some short brown algae were growing making like a greasy film on most of the surface but no shells or green stuff that can alter the boat speed. So far we are very satisfied by our Copper Coat (epoxy loaded with copper metal powder), we sailed over 6000 miles in 4 months mostly in warm tropical waters, a traditional anti-fouling would have been already in quite a bad shape.

On Tuesday, we got confirmation from FEDEX that our hydro generator was shipped from La Rochelle and should be delivered on Friday. We didn’t believe much in the delivery date, but at least we could plan for the rest of the week. So, we rented a small car and went for 2 days in land to see the country side and the gauchos. We enjoyed it very much! We had no clue as to what expect. We had seen TV broadcast about the Argentinian Pampa but Uruguay looks quite different. First it is very green and it’s not flat at all. It is a blend of grassland valleys where the cows and horses graze apparently freely, rocky hills and eucalyptus forests. Some of the hills are quite steep and small rivers are cascading in deep gorges between the rocks.

Villages looks like from 2 centuries ago, the horses are still there, there are few cars and many are from the 60’s. And yes the gauchos are there with horses and hats:). People everywhere are extremely nice and kind

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On Friday, we are back in Piriapolis, to learn from FEDEX web tracking that our parcel will not arrive today, it is still in transit somewhere between Memphis (Tenesee) and Campina (Brasil). Never mind there is still quite a lot of work to do on board to get ready for the “deep south”, the weekend will not be wasted.

On Monday, the Fedex delivery guy call in right after lunch and hand us the shipping documents of the generator explaining that this is all for them, our generator is at Montevideo airport in a bonded warehouse, we have to arrange by ourselves for the clearance and delivery. We call a custom broker who can help us with the formalities. We rent a car and first thing next morning we are at the airport. Because this is an item that was send to the manufacturer for warranty repairs, the documents indicate only the value of the repair and the broker (very supportive and helpful) is not sure about hos the Customs will want to handle it. She ask us to come back in the late afternoon.

We take the opportunity to visit Montevideo which is a large city but with a quite small (yet very pleasant) centre.

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Back at the broker by 17:00 we learn that our parcel don’t qualify for the simplified release. It will have to go through a full clearance procedure which will cost us 350 USD… we will most likely get it tomorrow by mid day.

Tuesday 14:00 we are back at the airport (80 km from Piriapolis) and after 90′ wait we finally get our parcel. Well actually not quite, we get a custom sealed bag with our parcel inside. We are to drive back immediately to Piriapolis, without stopping anywhere, bring the parcel on board where a custom agent (coming especially from Montevideo) will come and remove the electronic seal. When we get there the lady from the customs is already waiting for us and we can at last get our generator and fit it back. South American countries administrations and civil service is really a nightmare!

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Unfortunately in the mean time the weather forecast are not good, fairly strong wind from S-SW for a few days. Next opportunity to go will be Friday. In the mean time we had met Guy an other French sailor completing a very long round the world trip. His last stop was the Falklands and he enjoyed it very much (we also heard the same from Cat whom we met in Itajai and from Robert and Armelle earlier on at Ilha Grande). He even let us have his guide of the island. We are convinced! Our way to Tierra de Fuego will pass by the Falklands, it’s like we have always wanted to go there. But it’s not that simple. Argentina is imposing strict restrictions on travel to the Falkland (even though they lost the 1982 war, they still claim it’s theirs) and if later on we want to go to Ushuaia we might be in great trouble. No problem Arnaud, another Frenchman who operate Paradize, another charter boat from Ushuaia to Antartica recommend us to his agent who will arrange the permit for us. We will get there while we will be already in the Falkland but that should work.

On Friday November 2.

The wind has shifted as foretasted and we can finally leave. We have done all the clearance formalities the day before so we can have and early 9:00 start :). A good NW wind push us fast across the Rio de la Plata and along the Argentinian coast until offshore Mar Del Plata. The forecast are indicating an area of very strong wind (up to 55 knots) for the next few days in the south. We will try to avoid it by going around staying close (20 to 30 miles) to the Argentinian coast at least until Valdes peninsula. We will have to sail 1200 miles instead of 1000 but it will be much safer.

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For time being the wind is rather light and the days are still warm and sunny which we enjoy a lot because we know that warm weather will be over very soon as we continue to make progress south toward the 40th and 50th degrees of latitude and it will be several month to wait before we can enjoy it again.

On Sunday evening offshore Quequen we got caught by a mega thunder storm. We saw the high potential area on the grib but it was well on shore so we though that 50 miles from the shore we were clear. But now, we can’t avoid it, there are lightning all over the horizon, fortunately not too close to us. The wind dies almost completely to suddenly rise violently from the opposite direction and increase to 30 knots. Quick sails reduction and we glide at up to 14 knots in the night surrounded by incredible fireworks, even the sea is fluorescent (probably due to high plancton concentration). Fortunately it last only few hours and the early morning offers us again light wind and perfect blue sky.

By Tuesday 6/11

we are offshore Valdes Peninsula, wind is still moderate but we know that, before the night, we shall meet some small part of the big storm we are trying to avoid therefore we take the opportunity to get ready for it. We check that everything on deck and below is properly tighed up, the main sail is taken down and secured on the boom. We will continue with the jib only. It will be replaced later on, as the wind, increases by the stay sail. This way we are not reaching record speeds but still making good progress in reasonable comfort and good safety. We are not anymore racing few miles from the coast in Brittany, we are traveling with our home in the roaring forties. The day and the night will go very smoothly, we could even continue to cook proper meals and sleep peacefully by slot of 3 hours each. The wind eventually picked up but not exceed 35 knots in the gusts for an average of 27 knots proving the the chosen route was right.

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Next morning it was over and we could alter our course to go straight line to Falkland. By night as we were negotiating our way around a small through with stronger SW wind, we saw a large fishing fleet appearing on the AIS some 40 miles ahead. Our course was getting us to pass well clear of them by their north. But as we got closer, they started to move from everywhere at over 8 knots with seemingly the single aim of interfering with our course. Nobody slept that night, we spent our night tacking and trimming to try and avoid them in a shifty wind blowing stronger and stronger. By the first morning light it was over (and the wind calmed down). By then it looked like they re-assembled again in the same spot as we saw them first. Did they do that deliberately to scare us out of their fishing ground. In the process we lost some 20 miles on the route and moreover, we missed the wind train that should have got us fast across the high pressure area that was now extending between us and our target. This made us expect a long and slow crossing of the high but after motoring few hours we caught some gentle wind that got us across. The weather was getting much colder (14°C during the day 7°C at night) than the previous days, but thanks the the high pressure we could enjoy very clear sky with plenty of stars at night and during the day, the sun was warming us up nicely in our protected dog house. We were really enjoying ourselves alone in the middle of the southern ocean.

For the last 36 hours of the journey, we had stronger winds (20 to 30 knots) from the back. We sailed under our famous retiree rig (no main, jib and stay sail in butterfly). 100 miles from Stanley (Falklands capital and sole port of entry) the weather became colder and foggy .

At 2:00 AM on Tuesday 13/11

We crossed the so called reporting line and called Stanley Port Control on the VHF. By 4:00 AM as the fist daylight was trying to wash away the darkness of the night, we were finally in our bed, safely anchored in Stanley harbour. 10 days and 19 hours for 1000 miles straight line (1300 miles actually sailed) is by all mean rather slow, but we made it safely and very enjoyable.

To be continued….

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