SS Edith Cavell Wrecked Boat or Island in the Maroni River
The Maroni River forms the border between French Guyana and Suriname. About 30Km up river from the mouth is the small colonial town of St Laurent du Maroni, formerly known as “ little Paris” it’s a lovely place with many of its old buildings beautifully preserved or currently being restored. Even the old wooden buildings, made of amazon hardwoods are being coaxed back to life, revealing their former glory.
You’ll be pleased to learn it’s all paid for by European funding, as all French colonies are still considered to be France. That aside the town has a lovely feeling to it. It has a certain “Frenchness” and an air of being cared for that we had not witnessed in South America so far.
Edith Cavell the Ship
In front of the town lies the Wreck of the old Steam Cargo ship “Edith Cavell”. The ship was built in 1898 by Bartram and Sons for HE Moss and Co. She was on a voyage from Marseille to Fort de France, with stops in Cayenne and St Laurent du Maroni. Despite having a Pilot on board, she ran aground on a shallow patch. She broke her back and promptly sank, right in front of the town.
It was a bit of a sorry incident. As French Guyana was chiefly a penal colony back then, the Captain, First-mate and Engineer were held in custody over the incident. The Local judiciary refused to release them and the whole affair went on for several years. Finally the UK House of Commons and the French government intervened and the matter was resolved. The Engineer and First -Mate were finally released and returned to England, but the Captain was too sick to travel and sadly died before he could return home.
It is said, that the ship among other cargoes, was carrying seed when it was holed and sank and that the water went into the seed bags and they began to sprout. Today you have to look twice before you can recognize that it is actually a ship as there are giant trees growing out of its deck and it would be easy to mistake it as an island.
Edith Cavell The Heroine
Almost as sad as the fate of the ship is the fate of her names sake Edith Cavell 1865 – 1924. Edith Cavell was a famous nurse during World War 1. Originally from a very religious English family, she spent most of her short life living and working in Belgium. She is recognised as a pioneer of modern nursing.
Because of her religious beliefs she saved lives indiscriminately helping soldiers from both sides of the fight. She was ordered to stop many times but said that she could not while there were lives to be saved. As well as nursing she helped 200 Allied soldiers too escape from German occupied Belgium. For helping these escapes she was court marshaled and convicted of treason. She was executed by German firing squad. She was only 49 years old. Her death received worldwide condemnation and lots of coverage by the press.
On the night before her death she famously said “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” This quote is now inscribed on a memorial to her near Trafalgar Square. A sad tale for both nurse and ship.
Many more Wrecks
There are plenty more sad ships wrecked on the banks of the Maroni river but one a big Turkish Style Gullet lies aground just a couple of miles upstream of where we were anchored. Fortunately it has received a new lease of life and has been turned into the most enchanting restaurant with some of the best food we have eaten since leaving home.
Although the Goelette has been adapted into a nice restaurant, they have tried to keep much of the ship’s old paraphernalia. The Ships old wheel is still at one end of the bar and at the other end is the Ships library with a ton of old books and various specimens in jars. On the top shelf are all the local snakes preserved in formaldehyde.
I’m not sure the snakes really helped our dinner go down, but maybe its better to meet them in jars rather than in person. I thought it was a nice touch though as theme bars go. A nod to Darwin who traveled the world as a ships doctor/surgeon collecting samples of all the new species he encountered. He sent them home to England for cataloging and scientific study. They now form a substancial part of the Natural History Archive.
After a bit of a trying trip, we have arrived in the Island paradise of the Salut Islands just off the Coast of French Guiana. There was a big nasty swell again as we left the coast of Brazil. We also had lots of torrential rain squalls with quite a lot of wind in them. Sails up, sails down, canopy open, canopy closed, it was a busy trip for us both. We are so pleased to arrive in this little paradise to relax for a bit.
The islands were first called the Salut/Salvation islands by the missionaries who came there from mainland French Guyana to escape the plague. Later during the time when the islands like much of mainland, were used as a penal colony, the Islands were referred to as the Devil’s islands. In those days the place may not have seemed like the paradise they are to us today.
The Salut Islands gained notoriety because of the Dreyfus affair. Lieutenant Dreyfus was sent there in 1894, convicted of treason for leaking weapons information to the Germans. He was of Jewish origin. Due to a fair bit of anti-antisemitism among the ranks at the time the finger was pointed at him. He continually maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration and wrote hundreds of letters to protest this during his time thee. These letters are the essence of the memoir his son Pierre wrote about him in 1937. The book was called “Souvenirs Et Correspondance” and has been translated into several languages. The true spy was eventually convicted, but the army was reluctant to admit its mistake, so Dreyfus was pardoned rather than acquitted.
Joseph Conrad also wrote about the Salut islands in his story “An Anarchist” but the islands became truly famous due to Henri Charriere’s book “Papillon” and later the film that was made of that book starring famous names Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.
In the book it is claimed he was called “Papillon” because of a big butterfly tattoo he had on his chest. Others say he was not much liked during his time in Iles du Salut and papillon in French as mariposa in Spanish refers rather to the fact that he was gay. Perhaps both are true.
The French authorities are very upset about Charriere’s portrayal of the place and the treatment the book says he received there. They claim that many of the incidents that he describes are untrue or did not happen to him, but happened far earlier. They say that conditions had been much improved on the Iles du Salut by the time he was brought there in 1933.
Reading the potted history of all the high profile prisoners that served time there, it seems that Henri Charrier cherry picked all the juicy bits from all of the stories and goings on that he could. He wanted to make his novel into a “best seller” so he may have embellished a few details here and there. What he did was write a good story that would keep him in royalties for the remainder of his life.
I don’t think so
The part that we, as sailors, find most difficult to believe, is that he escaped from the Islands on a raft made of Coconuts. Apparently he managed to drift to the shores of Guyana. We have sailed those choppy waters and the tides and the currents take you nowhere near the coast of mainland South America. He would have been lucky to pitch up in Barbados with only the current and the wind to help him. Without food or water he would have been dead on arrival. We think he must have been picked up by a boat somewhere, but that doesn’t make for such a good story.
The waters around the Salut islands have very strong currents and are full of sharks so not ideal for swimming or trying to escape. I did swim just a little, to clean off the bottom of the boat and didn’t have any encounters with any sharks. I got in trouble from the Gendarme for being in the water though. He came all the way out in a little rowing boat to chastise me but let me off as long as no-one else could see me. steve also got in trouble from the Gendarme for flying the drone. That was two bad strikes against us in one day.
It seems the big hungry fish only come out to play in the evenings. The first night, just as we were settling down to dinner, there was a loud bang against the hull and then another one. When we went up on deck with a torch to take a look what was making the noise. We looked into the water and there were big fish chasing each other and slapping against the side of the hull. I don’t think that has ever happened to us before. Obviously something even bigger that we couldn’t see was chasing them.
So much Wildlife
Ashore there is still lots of evidence of the island’s history as a prison camp. The old buildings and the isolation cells are still there. Some have been sensitively restored to leave you the impression of what it must have been like in former times; others are being rapidly reclaimed by nature and the voracious jungle. We saw photos of the early days when people first started to settle on the island and it was pretty bare, with only a few trees. In that part of the world though, you only need to spit the seed from a fruit you are eating and in a few short weeks a tree will start to grow.
It was a truly beautiful place unspoiled and I’d like to say peacefull but the jungle there is chock full of wild life. There are many kinds of birds singing away. There are crickets and other insects singing at full volume too, and howler monkeys shouting to be heard above all the other cacophony of nature sounds. It was actually really noisy and difficult to sleep at night. Fortunately no mosquitoes, What a blessing!
As we wondered ashore within the first half hour we saw a ton of wild life. Lizards, interesting spiders, agoutis like the small cousins of Capybara from the Guinea pig family, tiny blue swallow tailed humming birds , ring tail monkeys, and lots of beautiful butterflies. Over the week we spent there we saw so many different species of animals. Critters just kept popping out from behind every bush. The amazing thing was that many of them didn’t seem to be afraid of humans and you could get right up close to them. For us it was interesting to visit a place with so much history. I’d have loved to bring my nieces and nephews here. Not for the history though, but to see all the wildlife up close and personal. All those animals in their natural habitat not in cages or behind glass.
Out of Food
We’d have loved to stay a lot longer, but after a week in that paradise plus the 9 and a bit days it took us to get there, our supplies of fresh fruit and veggies were almost completely gone. We were even down to our last onion. A change in the wind direction and a bit of lumpy and exciting night with anchors dragging made us decide to brave the shallow channel and head into Kourou. We were also looking forward to a tour of the space station that launches our GPS satellites into the sky. We had to dredge most of the channel for them on the way in but we managed to bump our way over the sand bar without any incident. It wasn’t very far but we needed the tide to help us in so we had to wait for a while.
Once Loved Boats
We anchored again in a spot just above the pontoons which have no space for visitors, barely even for your dinghy. Sadly the pontoons are chock full of French relic sailboats that are mostly half sunk or sadly neglected and barely afloat. It looks like a boat grave yard. Such a shame!
We managed to find a place to squeeze in and headed into town on a quest for ice-cream. As my new year’s resolution was to give up booze for the year, it’s the first ice-cream parlour we are always in search of when we go ashore, not the first bar.
Well dear Squeak I hope you are enjoying the Campo in spring. We have to go now as the place wants to shut. We have to take our internet where we can get it these days. I’ll write to you soon and tell you all about our trip to the space station.
Lots of love Ally and Steve
Miss you lots! x
To see a little of the place and the wildlife we saw in the Salut Islands why not check out our Youtube Video”Devil Monkeys Jail Break”
I want to tell you about my Birthday because it just so happens, it was the best day of the trip so far. We decided to hire a car for a few days and head into the countryside for a bit of exploring. We had decided to visit Boca da Pedra (Mouth of Rock) a small area of national Park where the giant rocks all have faces. And one of them has a very large gob. It’s about 300km from the Paraiba River where the boat was anchored and we wanted to have maximum time to look around and take lots of lovely photos so we had to make an early start.
On the day in question we set off at sparrow fart and took the highway north out of town. At first we were surrounded by mile after mile of sugar cane fields. All the ones we could see burning as we approached the coast when we first arrived in Brazil. Then we entered the grass plains full of cows and lots of horses to round them all up with. It’s Cowboy country here for sure. a
We thought Brazil had reputation for good meat and plenty of it. Second, perhaps, only to Argentina. Not so, almost every piece of beef we ate while we were there was tough as old boots. From what we could see the cows in that area were not being bread for their meat, but rather for their leather. We passed more tanneries within a few miles of each other than I have ever seen in my life..
As we progressed towards our intended destination the roads got smaller and smaller and lumpier and lumpier. Finally it was just a severely rutted dirt track that was barely passable in places. Thank god the rainy season was only just beginning or it would have been a total mud bath.
We thought we were lost a bunch of times because when researching the place on the internet it said that 2000 people a week visit there in summer. To see the place now, I think, that hasn’t happened, for a very long time. So much the better for us! We had the whole place entirely to ourselves!! And the silence aside from the wind and the birds and the insects was absolutely mesmerizing.
All the rocks did indeed have faces etched into them. Not man made though. Created by wind, water and erosion over millions of years I suppose. Not just one face either, but as you walked around them, and viewed them from different angles, more and more faces seemed to appear. The place had a real atmosphere: mystical and timeless. You just had to take time to soak it all in. It seemed like the rocks would have liked to whisper their stories to you. To pass on the deep wisdom of all the spirits fossilised inside them, represented by all those faces. Sounds a bit far-fetched I know. Im not really sure I go with that kind of mumbo jumbo, but it did feel like they had a story to tell.
At one end of the park under a huge overhanging rock a shrine to Our Lady Fatima has been built and people go there on pilgrimages on her saints’ day. To accommodate all her followers a huge ugly auditorium has been built where they hold mass in her honour. That concrete monstrosity was so out of place in the midst of such wild beauty.
We had a fantastic day soaking it all in, taking lots of photos, flying the drone, picnicing and hiking around. We had to cut our way through the jungle, as so few people have been there for so long. Nature is fast reclaiming the place for herself. It seems that in that part of the world, nature has an agenda all of its own. What we experienced that day was one of her finest displays.
We would have liked to stay longer. Golden hour with that backdrop would have been a photographers’ wet dream, but we hadn’t planned for an overnight stop. It was still a long way back and the boat is best not left overnight with no-one on board and no-one keeping an eye out. Even though the holding in our spot was pretty good, you never know.
Well, all good things must come to an end sooner or later. That was a “super, smashing , great” day though; and a birthday I’ll always remember. I wonder where I’ll be when the next birthday comes around.
Well dear Squeak, must dash. We are heading off from here soon. As soon as we can get the boat fit and ready for another Atlantic adventure. French Guyana here we come! So I’ll tell you all about that, really soon.
Lots of love Al and of course a big squeeze from Stevie too.
So what can I tell you about Brazil? Actually I don’t know, despite all the time we spent there we just don’t quite get the place. It’s a land of contradictions, on the one hand you have beautiful scenery, fantastic, lush countryside with fields of sugarcane or dense green jungle filled with wildlife. Or you have the coastline with mile after mile of gorgeous white sandy beaches with palm trees and turquoise water.
On the other hand you have cities full of crumbling colonial buildings interspersed with ugly skyscrapers to cram more people into a small space. Or favelas for the disenfranchised. Adorning it all is the ubiquitous third world problem of litter strewn along every street, railway-line and watercourse. In fairness we only managed to explore one tiny corner of this vast country, but I think we saw a good enough cross section of people and places to form an opinion.
The problem is: none of it quite adds up. We saw our fair share of poverty and squalor but what we personally met were the friendliest open people. They were all inquisitive and interested in who we are, where we come from and what we are about. They will stop and chat to you, as if you have known them, all your lives. They are polite in a very “old fashioned” kind of a way; people go out of their way to help you. They stop their cars and offer you a lift. They give up their seat to you on a bus or train. They wait nicely in queues and don’t barge.
Everywhere we went we were greeted with friendliness but also concern for our safety. We were warned to stay away from lots of places, especially at night and not to carry bags or cameras. This is a bit tricky when you are trying to share your trip on You-tube. We went to all kinds places and we personally never felt we were in danger though the underlying threat was always there. We were constantly being reminded by locals to keep our wits about us.
After a while, having only encountered helpfulness and friendship we started to wonder. Is the crime and violence in Brazil just an urban myth spread far and wide to keep people in fear? Then we met some sailors for whom it was no myth, but a very real and grim reality.
Soon after arriving and talking to a few sailors we made the decision not to travel along the north coast of Brazil. Cruising from town to town as first planned, was reputed to be too dangerous. Only a few days after we arrived, the newspapers were full of stories of a nightclub in Fortaleza which had been raided. 18 people, many of them tourists, had been killed.
Bad things happen to good people
Then the news reached us of a very sweet couple Paul and Liliane SV Luna Blu whom we met when we first arrived in Jacare. They left heading for French Guyana but had engine trouble on the way. They put into Fortaleza to try and fix it. Their boat was boarded that night. They were tied up, forced to hand over all their valuables and their boat was ransacked. The armed robbers even messed up their radio so they couldn’t communicate with the shore for assistance. You can read all about their misadventure on Noonsite. http://www.noonsite.com/Countries/Brazil/brazil-fortaleza-armed-night-robbery-february-2018.
We still had plans to make the four day trip to Salvador. We wanted to see the city and some of the beauty spots in the surrounding area until we met Peter on SV Andromeda.
Having met all the lovely people we did it seems unfathomable that such awful things can happen there, but they do, and the threat of them, was enough to deter us from the bigger adventure we had first dreamed of.
Paraiba and Pernambuco
Joao Pessoa – shame about the wires
We contented ourselves with exploring the small corner of Brazil we had arrived in. We looked round Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa. We visited Olinda for Carnival. Olinda is a beautiful town, designated world heritage site, full of brightly painted old colonial houses and buildings. We took part in their humongous street party with samba bands playing and so many celebrating people. The streets were packed to bursting.
Our favourite spot of all was the national Park at Boca da Pedra “mouth of rock” which we visited on my birthday. It was a stunning place with huge outcrops of rock rising up out of the landscape. At every turn as we walked round them you could see faces eroded by time wind and water. They looked down .at you like they had all the wisdom of millennia in them. If only they could speak. It was a magical place and the countryside around it was pristine and gorgeous such a change from all the trash everywhere in the cities. We both said we could live there, if only it weren’t so isolated.
We learned that Brazil is perhaps not best visited by boat. We would have loved to go to Rio and see Carnival there, so it is still on our bucket list. The distances are so huge though. With only a three month visa, a 15 day trek south, where you see nothing but ocean, and 15 days back is too long. When subtracted from only 90 days, that is just too much. If you fly you can get such a thing as the South America pass which offers really affordable flights for a given time period but you need to give your ticket number from Europe to south America to qualify for the pass. And if you arrived by boat you haven’t got one!
Well there is always next time. With such friendly people, I’m sure there will be another time before too long. In spite of the underlying threat to your property a trip to Brazil is easily worth it just for the people.
If you fly and you are attacked in the street you might lose a camera, a phone or a bit of money, it’s not pleasant, but not the end of the world. In a boat however you are carrying with you, your whole home and possibly everything you own. In reality on a boat there is nowhere to hide your stuff. An ocean going boat, to a poor man reduced to life in the favelas seems like a rich man’s paradise and you look like you could afford to lose a chunk of it with no real harm done. In reality it may be your entire savings, all that you own and a lifetime’s worth of dreams that you stand to lose
This Photo was originally posted on Flickr as “Magnificent Frigate Bird” by putneymark. We tried to get some snaps of our “Sanity Bird” but because it was so lumpy a lot of the time none of them came out that well.
Brava to Brazil
with a Frigate Bird and a Lucky Ship
It was a bit of an unpleasant crossing this time around. At least the first 5 days were just plain nasty. We are so glad we left you cuddled up by the fire with some lovely people; you’d have hated this trip.
It was proper lumpy! A big swell was running and on top of it were short choppy waves that seemed to have no direction in particular. The boat handled most of it admirably.
Once in a while, like every 20 mins or so, a huge wave would ride over the swell and hit us from completely the wrong direction.It would slam against the hull with a loud slap. this caused the boat to shimmy at the top of the swells and send a shower of spray into the cockpit. It drenched everything so no cushions allowed and foulies a must. I thought, heading for the tropics, we would not have to dig them out of the wardrobe again. No such luck, wet and sticky, deep joy!
After our hike with John John our legs were still feeling the pain and the continual bracing against the motion, even when trying to sleep, wasn’t helping. The mounting number of bruised we were acquiring just from going below to the loo or to make food weren’t adding to our comfort either, especially as we had to sit on bare boards with no cushions. We got through it; but was it fun? No!
It reminded me of my sailing days, long ago in Scotland. Back then, I’d be standing out in the fog and pouring rain, steering the boat, wondering why I was using up my holiday entitlement for this. I try to remind myself that we are paying ahead for all the fantastic sailing days that we’re expecting on this adventure.
The biggest trial of all on this trip was the boredom. It was too lumpy to read without throwing up. It was too rough to tackle any little jobs, or tidying up. There was the trial of preparing meals which took an inordinate amount of time and effort. Preparing food without it flying all over the boat is a definite challenge in those conditions. That was the total distraction to break up the boredom. I had a stack of “homemade ready meals” waiting in the fridge as we knew the forecast was a bit suspect. They still took a monumental effort to get them to the table. Actually no table just nice wooden bowls filled not too full, held in your hand with a tight grip to avoid accidents and eaten up on deck with a drizzle of salt spray for extra seasoning.
Why leave in those conditions? I hear you say. There was never any sign of anything else in the forecasts, so sooner or later you just say to yourself in for a penny in for a pound. Off we go. So off we went.
The start of the Trip was pretty lonesome for us both. First off we pass each other like ships in the night. One heading to bed as the other gets up. But outside the boat there was no other sign of life either, except for the wind and the raging sea. No wildlife, no ships, no planes overhead.
There was just one little visitor that came along with us on the trip and he was the highlight of our days. Especially those first five boring days until the weather calmed down a bit and I could pass some of the time with my head in a book.
On the second or third day long after all the other seabirds had given up on us, a Frigate bird came and circled round our boat a few times. He landed on the deck and flew off again. He gave the place a good once over and decided that we would do as a pit stop for his trip.
Our Frigate bird stayed with us for almost the entire trip. Finally leaving us, when he could pass responsibility for us over to the care of the local Brazilian sea-birds that came out from the coast to greet us.
He didn’t stay with us the entire time. He came and went as he saw fit. As the sun came up on a couple of mornings, I could see that he’d had himself a few hours of shut-eye up on the spreaders. But he didn’t stay all the time. We wondered how he knew where to find us. With the boat averaging about 150 miles a day we were obviously not in the same place he left us. But he kept coming back to check we were alright.
He would fly round the boat a couple of times, give us a little air-show of acrobatics and disappear again. He kept us entertained with his daily performance. Sometimes even two shows a day. Im fairly sure he was a Frigate bird I still have to check google to make sure, but for now, let’s just call him the “Sanity bird”. He certainly broke up the monotony.
Frigate birds can fly for weeks and weeks without stopping and nobody quite knows how they do it. They are super agile flyers, but are unable to swim or rest on water. They just keep going for weeks on end. They use the air currents, especially the updrafts to soar and conserve their energy that way.
As Frigate birds can’t swim, they live off flying fish, or food which they steal from other birds. I wondered why we had no flying fish on the deck this trip, but clearly our Frigate bird was making a happy meal of them all. The only flying fish we did find was one that flew all the way into the boat and landed at the bottom of the companionway behind the freezer box. We weren’t aware it had come in until a few days later, when a rather pungent aroma started to emanate from behind the freezer. Horror panic, I first thought it had defrosted without me noticing. It took us 11 days to cross to Brazil from Brava and he stayed with us almost all that time.
Nature’s Beauty never gets old
I love the Sunsets and Sunrises that you witness at sea. I love the feeling of wide open space and I love gazing up at the stars at night. These things never get old and at sea with no light pollution the night skies are spectacular. We often say how nice it would be if we could set up a time-lapse to show people on land what it’s like, but on a moving boat that’s simply not possible.
I love the fact that I have plenty of time to just sit and think though I must confess that over thinking things is a dangerous pastime. I Try to put the time to the most productive use possible. I now have our garden back home and our website all totally redesigned in my head. So lots to get stuck into when we get back.
The downside of our brand of sailing is that although it is a team effort each of us is essentially solo sailing when we are on passage. Mostly, Steve is asleep when I am on watch and vice- versa. After a few days I start to miss him
Finally on day 6 our first ship came into view and ships kept coming steadily after that. Not many of them were kind enough to respond to the radio but one ship in particular was super sweet to us. The” Saga Monal” popped up behind us just as we were approaching the equator, chatted to us and slowed down so we had witnesses and company to cross the line. What are the chances of being nearly a thousand miles from anywhere and having another ship arrive at just the perfect moment? And slowing down? Big ships are usually on a tight schedule. They don’t do that. Well this one did, so how lucky were we?
After the Equator the weather calmed down, we were treated to big rain squalls instead of big wind and big waves. We didn’t mind the rain as the boat desperately needed washing after the dust storms in Cape Verde. The temperature warmed right up and we were flying along with the spinnaker wearing only a bikini. Well I was wearing the bikini Steve’s not really into that sort of thing, not even on Sundays.
A few days later we finally arrived in Brazil having taken 11 days to travel about 1500 miles. Finally we could relax in the sunshine for a bit before going out to explore our surroundings.
Well dear Squeak I’m going to press send on this one now, and tell you all about what we’ve been up to over here in Brazil in my next letter.
Catch up soon, lots of love A&S x
If you haven’t yet seen the Video of our 2018 Atlantic crossing that accompanies this post why not check it out now
How are you? It’s been a long time since we caught you up on our progress. We have actually arrived in Brazil now and are really enjoying the laid back life in the tropics but let me tell you about our time in Cape Verde first.
We were really sad to leave the sweet and friendly town of La Restinga. With hindsight maybe we should have stayed there to get through our pre crossing jobs list. It would have been cleaner, less rolly and provisioning for the trip would have been far easier. Gluten free is not really a concept that Cape Verde understands. We wanted to be in the next spot for Christmas though, so we had to get a move on.
We arrived with just a couple days to spare and some friends we had made in Arrecife were there to greet us. It was nice to see some friendly faces to share Christmas with.
Our first move was a reccy around town. We checked out the local market where the fruit and veg was a little suspect to be honest. Most of it looked little better than what we still had stored in our bilge, from our last provisioning in the Canaries.
We found an interesting little project of local artists in the old Police compound. They have set up a bunch of workshops, where they make all the paraphernalia that is needed for their festivals, particularly carnival. They make everything out of recycled materials. There is some fantastic work going on there!
There is one guy there, who is in charge and is paid by the local council. He is said by the rest of the team to have to do the thinking for everyone. I think that was something slightly confused in the translation, but is probably closer to the truth than they would like to admit. A communal meal is provided for all the artists each day paid for by donations from visitors such as us, so they are not quite the “Starving artists” they might be if they were sole operators.
A curious thing happened. There is another project that we encountered In Mindelo called “The Ship of Fools” www.azart.org which is a ship full of entertainers on a pilgrimage around the world in praise of folly. They landed in Mindelo and came ashore on the fishing quay with crazy costumes and instruments playing. Almost immediately, they happened upon the same project of artists that we found on our first foray into town.. What followed was a collaboration of the two projects and a show using the fool’s ship as a stage to keep all the visitors entertained over Christmas.
We had quite a low key Christmas. It was just a gathering of a bunch people from our neighbouring boats, who all piled into the floating bar at midday bringing lots of food and festive cheer. We rounded up the day on a boat called Ambition 2 being treated to drinks and Christmas Cake.
We Didn’t stay in the Marina long, it was a lot of money for what you got and it was still very rolly. After only a few days in there the line we had tied to their buoy which hadn’t been maintained or cleaned and was full of barnacles had completely worn through. We were leaving whether we wanted to or not, as the boat was one thread away from breaking loose.
We preferred to be at anchor. Thankfully the holding there was pretty good as it blew almost the entire time we were there so much so that our brand new Cape Verde curtesy flag gave up in disgust and made a break for freedom.
We worked hard from Christmas until New Year trying to get the boat ready, but some of the big jobs were changing the sails and re-tuning the rigging which needed a calm day with little wind. There weren’t too many of those while we were there. The wind howled and the harmattan dust storm which meant we could hardly see the bow of our own boat for 2 weeks spread a thick layer of dust over everything inside and out.
All that cleaning we did when we left the yard in Portugal, went to hell in a handbasket after the first day. We were not looking forward to that clean up but there was nothing to do but put up with it until we had left it far behind us.
There was a town party laid on for New Year with fireworks on the beach and bands playing in the main square and a really convivial atmosphere. It seemed like every single person from the whole of the Island of Sao Vicente and maybe some other islands besides were there. Who knew there were so many people living there?
It was a great atmosphere and everyone was in a party mood. Just as well because there was not a single security person or policeman to be seen anywhere and there was a crowd of over 2000 people in a very small space. We saw the New Year in and stayed for a couple of the bands but the party raged on until 6 the next morning. We headed back to the boat long before that. I think we must be getting old!
We would have liked to take a trip to San Antao the neighbouring island which is supposed to be very beautiful. With such poor visibility though, any film or photos we might have taken would have been pointless. So we kept our heads down and got on with the”to-do-list” so we could clear out of there a.s.a.p.
Finally we headed off to Brava the most southerly of the Cape Verde Islands. We had such a lovely welcome when we arrived, the locals were so friendly. A few local fishermen helped us tie our lines ashore to keep us pointing out into the bay. It’s only a small anchorage and there were another couple of visiting boats but we squeezed in easily with a little help from the locals.
We were recommended to eat dinner at Isabelle’s place. As we didn’t want to dig into our supplies for the long trip too much, we took up the invitation. It seems to be the custom in Brava as it happened again the following day, to treat your guests to a mountain of food. We couldn’t possibly get through all of it. Plates kept coming with meat, fish, all the local vegetables and a salad, which we really didn’t need. It all came to only a few escudos.
The following day we went on a hike with John John our guide, no, it’s not a mistake, he calls himself John John. He was super friendly and informative and showed us all the local fauna and flora as well as explaining all the history, progress and politics of his tiny island. We had a super day and the views were spectacular.
It was a long steep climb down from Lomba Lomba at the top of the island to Faja de Agua and the next day, with our out of shape leg muscles screaming we though he might have secretly been trying to kill us. We had wanted to do a second hike with John John to another part of the island the following day, but our poor little legs just couldn’t face the pain.
We gave ourselves a day off before setting out into the waves on the long leg of the trip to Brazil. . It was really lumpy the first 5 days of the passage and every time we had to brace ourselves against the motion or climb up and down the companionway our muscles kept reminding us of the hike.
All the People we met on Brava were super friendly and made us feel so at home there. We wished we had left Mindelo weeks ago or not even gone there, but headed straight for Brava. It was such a lovely place. It’s like the forgotten island, the poor relation or runt of the litter as far as the Cape Verde islands are concerned. They get the dregs of the kitty when it comes to any funding that Cape Verde receives and there is a lot of poverty and generally poor conditions there.
Many people there, have relations in America, Cape Verdeans who have emigrated. They send funds and supplies to their families back in the Cape Verde’s from time to time. For those people life is a little better, but for many it’s a very hard existence.
Lots of things still have to be done by hand there, as there is no machinery available. Even the island’s petrol stations are supplied with barrels that arrive by ship and have to be hand-balled onto trucks to be taken up the hill to the main town of Sintra Nova. There the fuel is filled into a big tank at the gas station, which keeps the island ‘s vehicles supplied with fuel.
Water is also a huge problem on the island. It too is often supplied in barrels to keep the population alive. They have had a draught for the past couple of years and many of the reservoirs are empty or nearly empty and the mountain streams have run dry. The Island could really use a desalination plant but that needs funds that they simply don’t have.
We left the Cape Verde’s feeling that the misery we had felt in the thick of the dust storm had been washed clean by the friendliness and rugged beauty of Brava. Our spirits were well and truly lifted. Now it just remained for our boat to be washed clean too. We were praying for some tropical rain on the way, to give our mast, rigging, decks and sails a good swill. As luck would have it, the universe provided!
Well, I guess I’m going to leave you for now. I’ll tell you all about the crossing and arriving in Brazil in my next letter.
We still miss you lots
Lots of love A&S x
To see our latest Youtube Video about our “Cape Verde Capers” hit the link bellow
How are you? We are feeling a little windswept to say the least. As we left the lee of la Palma we got blasted by the wind rushing down the mountains. It was pretty full on for an hour or so until we were out of reach of the acceleration zone. We had quite a nice sail to La Gomera after that with the company of our newly made friends Sue and Phil on their catamaran Mephisto. We anchored just inside the port entrance of Vale Gran Rei under a huge cliff. There was a bit of a drama getting settled in as Mephisto’s anchor chain jumped off the gypsy and they had to let it go and use their spare one to stay put for the night. After all the hullabaloo, we had a little sun-downer and were treated to a gorgeous sunset to end the day.
Next morning it was their turn to go diving for their anchor. Being old pro’s, from our own little anchor drama in Playa Blanca, (we have already starred in that video), we gave them a hand to retrieve it.
We thought we had already endured swelly anchorages and harbours ad nauseum but that night took the biscuit! We hardly got a wink of sleep and with hindsight 20/20 vision, I wondered why we didn’t just pick up the hook, head out to see and go hove-to for a few hours to get some sleep. Needless to say we headed off to El Hierro as soon as their anchor was recovered. We couldn’t face another night like that!
It was a shame because it looked like a beautiful place and it would have been nice to explore it further. We had a little wonder around the village and dinner in a nice restaurant, but the swell did not permit anymore exploring than that. We arrived in La Restinga in darkness, again! At 1.30 am we tied up alongside the wall and finally got a restful sleep.
Next morning we went to see the Harbour Master to check in and be assigned a berth. Starting with the Harbour Master all the people we met on El Hierro were so friendly. It’s got to be the most welcoming place we’ve visited yet. I challenge anyone to find a rotten apple among them.
We found a lovely little bar to enjoy a few sundowners and the tapas kept coming unrequested and on the house. We liked it so much we went back there several times to eat as they had the best Mojo (local sauce you eat on everything in the canaries) we’ve tasted anywhere.
Again we hired a car for a couple of days and went exploring with Sue and Phil. We all enjoyed the rock pools that are dotted around the island best of all. The lava flowing from the many volcanos into the sea has formed lovely rock pools. There are over 1000 craters on the island, so no shortage interesting rock formations where the hot lava has flowed into the cool sea. These pools, with minimal intervention, have been made into natural swimming pools. It was too rough and the air temperature was pretty chilly for swimming while we were there, but we enjoyed a little paddle and watching the thundering waves.
We spent little more time in El Hierro than planned, as the weather turned a bit wild and we were really treated to some spectacular thundering waves. We were nicely tucked up inside the marina but out beyond the harbour wall nature was raging. It wasn’t difficult to appreciate its power. From a safe distance on top of the harbour wall, it was beautiful and mesmerising to watch. We returned to the boat covered in salt spray and had to clean off all the camera’s before the salt eats them.
We had our first helping of Christmas cheer while there. As I was only allowed to bring one small Tupperware box of decorations with us, we went to Val Verde to watch the switching on of the Christmas lights. It wasn’t quite Oxford Street but for a tiny island out in the Atlantic it wasn’t bad. The most underwhelming thing was the actual ceremony. The Mayor just flicked the switch and didn’t even say a word to the assembled crowd, or a thank you to the boys who put up all the lights. As we were walking round Val Verde the main town on El Hierro earlier in the day, there was some frantic fixing going on as not all the lights that had been strung were actually working.
Finally the weather calmed down enough for us to make our move. There was still quite a big swell running most of the week it took us to get to Mindelo. There was plenty of wind too, but nothing we or the boat couldn’t handle. It just meant the trip wasn’t much fun. The high spot was a family of four pilot whales that paid us a little visit along the way and we were accompanied by dolphins for several stretches of the trip. Sadly their visit was too short lived for us to get any footage or photos of them. There was too much wind to put our newly repaired spinnaker to the test so we still have that to look forward to. The upside was we got here in pretty good time, with a couple of days to spare before Christmas.
When we arrived some friends we met in the marina in Arrecife were here so we had friendly faces to share Christmas with and we now have many more fiends we made over the festive period to add to our growing list. It’s one of the hardest parts of the cruising life, that you meet so many nice people and make friends and before you know it, you are having to wish them fair winds and say good bye. I hope we’ll catch up with some of them again someday.
Saying goodbye to you Squeak was one of the hardest things we’ve had to do for a long time. It’s been like leaving a piece of us behind. We can’t tell you how much we miss you but we know it’s for the best , especially since we know how much you like ocean motion. Before you know it we will be back for the summer. One thing I will say about this trip, the time is rushing by really quickly. You know what they say – “time flies when you are having fun”.
We hope you are having lots of fun at the finca with all those trees and new places to explore. Don’t go getting lost again, we heard about that.
Take care and give everyone there a big hug from us A&S x
Hope you had a lovely Christmas and didn’t steal too many baubles off the Christmas tree. We know how much you like shiny rolly things. You’re just not that keen on rolly boats, and who can blame you.
La Palma was a really lovely place reputed to be the “Isla Bonita”, the beauty of the canary Islands and it certainly lived up to its name. There was a lot to see and do but the marina was the rolliest we’ve been to yet. They are supposed to be fitting a lock gate to keep out the swell which they told us would arrive any day. We have since heard that it is still not in place.
It was so nice to spend a few days in Santa Cruz. There are so many interesting buildings and artworks and things to see only a short walk from the Marina. The town hall, the oldest shipping Company, Salazar’s Palace and many other grand buildings all had enormous carved wooden staircases; beautiful, intricately carved, wooden ceilings and carved huge doorways and doors all from a time when the island was a very wealthy place. In colonial times it was a strategic trading post for ships going from Europe to the Americas. In the 1600’s it was the third largest port in Europe.
On the outside many of the buildings in the town had lovely carved wooden balconies all filled with brightly blooming flower pots to give the place a splash of colour. It was such a contrast to the bleak and dusty hillsides of Lanzarote.
We hired a car for a few days and did a tour of the Island. It’s a pretty steep island and anywhere you want to go, the roads go straight up into and above the clouds. Some of the roads are practically vertical with lots of hairpin bends. A couple of times we had to take a turning down a hill but it was so steep you couldn’t see the road. It was like driving over the edge of a cliff. I had white knuckles and brown trousers!
We went to the Banana museum to see if we could get a few tips about how to grow our bananas back home a little better. None of ours seem to be doing as well as the Bananas here. Some of them are planted on such steep terraces on practically vertical hillsides and every scrap of land is used, obviously the pickers don’t suffer from vertigo.
The first day we took the mountain road over the top of the island to where all the observatories are. La Palma is famous for its stargazing. It was such a winding road it took us nearly all day to cross over. Fortunately they have carved a huge tunnel that seems to go on forever that took us right through the centre of the island to get back again.
The Next day we went to Villa de Mazo where they celebrate the Corpus Christy Festival in style with ornaments and banners made out of Grasses and natural materials such as moss and lichen and they make carpets on the cobbled streets with leaves, seeds, stones and moss all laid out in pretty designs. We saw all the memorabilia from that festival in the Red House Museum but it would be really nice to come back in June one year and see it all happening.
We really enjoyed the days out but back on the boat there was still work to do. The engine and the generator got a service. We fixed the electric lead that burned out in the last marina. The Spinnaker is back on its furler and ready to go.The Spray hood got new windows so we can finally see where we are going. Steve had to fix the loo, not his favourite job and the Christmas cake finally got made. Not a moment too soon.
I’ve still got to catch you up on a lot more of our adventures but that’s for another letter which I’ll send you when we reach the next new place. We are heading for La Gomera and El Hierro next . I hope the weather will be a bit kinder to us this leg of the trip.
Catch up soon, take care
P.S. when I went to the Hardware Store, to see if they had any Cinta de dos caras, double sided tape. this little guy was waiting for his owner outside. I thought I know someone who would like to travel in style like that. Oh Squeak it was such a lovely hardware store too, one of the really old-fashioned type with shelves up to the ceiling and loads of little drawers full of all sorts of bits and bobs. And there was a little old man who knows where everything is.
How is finca life treating you? We both miss you so much but we think we made the best choice for you. As we were coming down the south east tip of the island of Lanzarote, we entered the WAZ wind acceleration zone and it was so lumpy you wouldn’t have liked it. We were only going around the next corner to a beautiful beach to anchor. We tucked in behind the headland as tight as we could but it was still rolly.
Playa Blanca is a beautiful place with bleak bare hillsides and a really wild look about it and it has one of the few white sandy beaches on the island. It was such a lumpy night next morning we moved to the opposite end of the beach. It seemed a bit better there but the forecast was for the wind to get up. We spent a couple of days trying to get some jobs done but as the wind got wilder we just couldn’t hack it any longer. It was definitely not your kind of weather. We gave up and called the marina on the radio to reserve a place. Next thing we know we can’t leave the bay because the anchor is stuck under a ledge. High drama! In the end, we had to leave the anchor behind and high tail it into the marina before the storm really kicked in.
It took two days once the weather had calmed down, trawling up and down with the dinghy heads in the water, arses in the air looking for it. We did eventually find it and get it back on board. So much for a holiday, we were knackered!
Then we had a pretty lumpy sail to La Palma. It calmed down a bit by the middle of the second day but you wouldn’t have liked that trip either. In fact nearly all the sailing we have done this whole trip has been lumpy. Bella Bear has been winging about it like mad. She reckons you got the best deal. She wants to know why she couldn’t have stayed home too. Hugo Bear has been feeling rather poorly most of the trip. Bella keeps running off with his sea legs cos she doesn’t know where she left her own. She refuses to give them back so Hugo has been suffering.
Where we stayed at Marina Rubicon there is a lovely Passeo that runs all along the seafront for a couple of miles or so to the small town of Playa Blanca. All along the passeo someone has put little cat houses with cats names painted on them and food and water dishes inside and a little bed. There was Freddie’s house and Joeys house a whole array of them. We saw lots of pussy cats there, you’d have made tons of mates and all of them were big and fat and rather well fed, like yourself. Actually we have seen loads of cats everywhere we’ve been and all of them look healthy and fat. I thought the Canine Canary Islands would be full of dogs but no it’s all pussy cats round here.
As we approached the Island of La Palma it was dark again. The last day the sea had calmed down a lot and we had great wind so we picked up a bit of speed. Whatever we do we don’t seem to get the timing right to arrive in daylight. This time arriving in the dark was a really beautiful thing. As we closed the island you could see the tungsten yellow street lights dotted along all the lanes all around Santa Cruz and it was like someone had spread a lace table cloth over the island. I tried to take a couple of snaps but they didn’t work out. Like so many of the beautiful things we experience travelling on a boat, you have to be there to see them, blink and they are gone.
La Palma is famous for its clear skies and has been made a world heritage site for star-gazing. They have minimal street lighting to avoid light pollution etc. but as much as it’s beautiful there, nothing compares to the beautiful night skies we sailors see in the middle of the ocean. They are just another thing, impossible to photograph, on a constantly moving boat. I reckon for most of the best things in life you’ve simply got to be there.
We arrived in La Palma at silly o’clock in the morning. It’s a tiny little marina with lots of three point turns required to get yourself on and off the waiting pontoon and into a berth. Well we managed it, no scrapes, but it was a bit exciting in the middle of the night. I’m absolutely knackered and done in from the trip so I’ll sign off for now and get some shut eye for a few hours. We will be off exploring in the morning so I’ll tell you all about it in the next letter.
We all miss you like crazy, especially Bella because she says now she has to get the blame for everything.
Its golden hour and we are sitting in the cockpit enjoying the tranquillity. We sip a little sun-downer and wait for the sun to do its magic as it dips below the horizon. I will never tire of the beautiful colours at dawn and dusk. We have come out to anchor to escape the stress of the battery drama which despite our best efforts to avoid, was spoiling our trip.
To cut a long story short, the new batteries we had bought before leaving, transpired to have been sitting on a shelf for over two years before they were sent out to us. By the time we arrived in the Canaries the “new” batteries were not holding any charge. Getting the mess sorted out, replacement batteries organised, freight forwarders and customs agents to clear in the replacements with lots of added costs and complications then became our problem to deal with.
Knowing that batteries cost two or three times more in the places we are heading to, we replaced the whole bank of house batteries on the boat. They were still working perfectly. In fact they are doing a sterling job keeping things running at the house in Portugal while we are away. They are as old as the boat though, and could have caused us a problem further down the line. So we changed them out. The new batteries arrived just before we were leaving, when our to-do list was as long as our arms. So we stuck our meter on them, they seemed fine and we put them in. Good to go!
I’m kicking myself now. It so happens that they have a serial number on them and unusually a manufacture date printed on the top. Had I checked we’d have sent them back straight away. Normally I am the t crosser, I dotter and small print reader in our house. Chris used to always accuse me of being a pedant, back in the day, though the words pot calling the kettle black, spring to mind when coming from him.
Because we had so much to do before leaving, I didn’t check everybody else’s work. So we found ourselves, going through the dramas of replacing the batteries, in a far flung place. The very situation we were so keen to avoid.
Getting out of the harbour and escaping to a calm anchorage the stress just fell away. We had stillness and freedom of the open sea around us. We took our first swim of the trip, in lovely clear water that didn’t feel cold, and started to feel right with the world again.
As we sat sipping G&T’s in the cockpit we were treated to a great spectacle by the Arrecife Club Nautico as well. A procession of little boats all manned by young kids came out past our boat. They sailed out beyond the sea wall into the bay to practice. It was glorious to watch the next generation of sailors learning the art of mastering the wind and taking charge of their own piece of the planet for an hour or two. What freedom, to make their little craft go where they choose. It made me think that parents make so many decisions in their kids’ lives for them. How nice for kids to be in control of their own self-contained world, that is a sailing dinghy, even for just a few hours each week.
I do some of my best thinking when I have hours to spend messing about in boats. I Hope they’ll all turn out to be great thinkers one day. Not too much dreaming though, as there is nowhere more punitive than a small sailing dinghy for making a bad decision. The next thing you know, you are swimming out from under a capsized boat.
Still, it’s not whether bad things happen to us or not, it’s how we recover that counts and sailing does teach you resilience at times. Resilience is such an important attribute for life. In the words of Winston Churchill “it’s how we go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” It’s how we manage to enjoy this trip despite of all the things which keep going wrong. Never mind, we were able to go back and collect the replacement batteries with renewed enthusiasm after our couple of days at anchor.
I wish I’d have learned to sail at a young age. It’s my one regret that we live so far away from our nieces, nephews and grandchildren and we aren’t able to teach them to sail. At a young age children have no fear and they learn so quickly. Maybe one day they’ll spend the holidays with us and we can get them messing about in boats
I remember back in the days in Plymouth with my ratbag ex-husband we often spent the weekends on our boat surrounded by his grand-children. I remember the first time we got in a bit of a blow with all of them on-board. We were so worried about their safety and the fact that the experience might be scarring them for life but not so.
The boat healed over dramatically and the younger ones fell into a heap, in the bottom of the cockpit (best place for them) as their legs weren’t long enough to brace against the opposite side. The older ones couldn’t wait to tell their friends at school how cool it all was. After that day the lovely calm sunny days that we adults enjoy were considered slow and “boring” by them with constant calls of “make it go faster grandad, make it tip”
There is nothing like a stiff breeze and a quick sail, whats not to love? But I’m hoping for a lot more calm boring sunny days, with no dramas from now on in.