Birthday In Brazil

Huge rocks in the Jungle with faces

Dear Squeak

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.

A mouth carved into the rock by wind and water.

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. 

Lump of Rock with face carved out that looks like a skull

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. 

The more you study these rocks the more faces you see

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.

Rocks with faces

Picture of our blue red and white spinnaker flying in a blue sky with fluffy clouds

Day four of our trip and the wind is finally starting to free up, swinging round to the eastward allowing us to finally put some westing into our course. We can now head away from Morocco towards the Canary Islands and escape those dreadful fishing floats.  This is what was forecast on the long range weather before we left and what we have been waiting for all the while. 

It started to turn north east in the early morning, a good sign, but there wasn’t much of it.  As the day progressed it continued to swing more east and build little by little.  As we had been dying to head west for several days we turned for our destination and let the wind follow us.  By mid- morning there was just enough to stop the motor, hoist the spinnaker and keep it flying.  Erik was a little in awe of the size of our ‘circus tent sail’; I think it looks a bit like a circus tent.

 Even though there was still only about 8 or 9 knots of wind it was dragging us along nicely at 4.5 or 5 knots in the little gusts.   I love the moment when the motor stops and all you hear is the slight flap of the sail as the top corner starts to turn and the sound of the water rushing past the hull.  That’s what real sailing is about!  As the day continued the wind kept coming eastwards little by little and was increasing in strength  too.  We were just finishing up lunch and were now horsing along. The wind was generally about 11or 12 knots with the odd burst of 15 though the 15’s were starting to be a little more frequent and Steve said “I think we should take in the Spinnaker it’s starting to get windy” I think, I said something like lets hang on a minute it’s only the odd 15 and it probably will die off in a minute. 

Next minute there was a small pop. I thought Steve had let the jammer go on the halyard to take it down as the sail was starting to gently lower into the water.  We dived onto the foredeck and started to pull the mountains of wet fabric onto the deck.   That pop was our favourite sail ripping all across the top and down both sides of the luff OOOOOOOOps!

If you are thinking about reefing, get reefing! Its probably already too late!!

We continued with just the main and foresail but it was much slower than with the spinnaker and instead of arriving that evening as planned, it took us till the early hours of the morning to arrive, almost exactly to the minute 5 days after we had departed from La Linea.

After checking in and a few hours well needed kip we headed into town with our granny trolley loaded with the spinnaker in search of the sailmaker.  We found him easy enough, but  it wasn’t good news.  With the height of Atlantic crossing season fast approaching he was absolutely snowed under. He said he couldn’t even look at it for 10 days and then he estimated it would cost about €1000 to fix.  That was much longer than we wanted to stay and a lot more money than we wanted to spend.  That sail is 11 years old and has had a hard life. It has done two Atlantic crossings already where it flew for much of the way and a lot of Med sailing as well.  It’s looking a bit worn and tired and a grand for a patch seems like a lot of money to spend with no guarantees the next thin bit won’t give way next time we fly it.  A grand is also a very good start towards a new one if it comes to it.  So we bought some rip stop fabric and a ton of sail repair tape off the fellow and trundled off back to the boat.

We’ve never fixed a spinnaker before beyond the odd small sticky patch, but we have a sewing machine on-board and we took some tips off the sailmaker and we’ll have to learn to be our own experts at this too.  Cruising life requires you to become “Jacksperts” jack of all trades, expert at everything.  In the middle of the ocean with no help around you have to read the books and the manuals and become experts at just about everything from fixing the heads to mending your sails and everything in between.   No time for the grey matter to dwindle here, too busy becoming “Jacksperts”.

 

silhouette of our Starboard winch set against a colourful sunset
Beautiful sunset day 3
Collage of a beautiful red Cactus, the bear Volcano tops and the boats Anchored infront of the town of Arrecife

 

We arrived in Lanzarote almost exactly 5 days and zero minutes after leaving the Bay of Gibraltar.

Setting off from La Linea in darkness at Sparrow fart, we  wove our way through all the anchored ships. We tried to avoid being run down by the fast Cats to Morocco,  that sneak up on you at 20 knots. It seems as though they would happily run you down if you were not paying attention.  We headed to the North African side of the Straits to get the best advantage of the currents, though Africa was still hiding in the early morning mist as we approached.

 As soon as we left the bay of Gibraltar and headed west, we had the wind behind us and we were cruising along at a lovely speed.  As we approached the North West corner of Africa the wind had picked up and the swell had kicked up a fair bit too. This was the first test of Erik’s sea legs.  Never having sailed before we had filled him full of Stugeron and breakfast,  and although he was looking a little bit pasty, he was doing fine.

 Erik is the young lad we took pity on in La Linea and gave him a lift to the Canaries as his ride had fallen through.  We only met  him on the pontoon the morning before.  We pondered on the merits of taking  him, but we figured this leg of the trip was  still a bit of a shakedown for our ‘Pearl’ and if anything did go wrong, an extra pair of hands wouldn’t go a miss. So on-board he came. 

Actually we were just heading out for fuel when he approached us so we told him to run round to the supermarket to get some provisions and we would pick him up in an hour.  When we returned he came staggering up the dock, laden down with 12kgs of water, two bags of shopping, a huge backpack on his back and a small one on his front.  Having run most of the way from the supermarket, he was a puddle of sweat.  We headed for the anchorage as it was much easier to slip away from there, early in the morning and Erik went in for a swim to cool off.

Back to the trip, We had good wind to start us off and we were powering through the swell nicely, then all of a sudden, mid- afternoon, as if we had gone over a trip wire the wind died.  It wasn’t the usual gradual petering out and fading to nothing, we crossed a line and suddenly it was gone.  In all our sailing careers I don’t think we’ve ever had it stop dead like that, from one second to the next.  All through the trip, the wind came and went. When it was there, we sailed and when it died out, we motored. Much more diesel was consumed than we’d have liked but hey- ho, that’s how it goes sometimes. The motoring was also giving our mysterious shortage of electricity a little boost from time to time. We had installed brand new batteries just before leaving and couldn’t really explain this little niggle.

When we set off the grib files showed  good wind for our trip, but Ophelia was obviously still messing with the weather men, as none of their predictions were correct.  Each time we were able to download new grib files  via the SSB (single Side Band Radio) they had changed their minds about what the weather was doing.

As night time approached on day one of the trip we were about 100 miles off the Moroccan coast.  With no moon it was really dark and the night sky without any light pollution was awesome. The Milkyway right above our heads and all the millions of stars were so bright and clear.  As if looking in a mirror the sea all around us was glittering too.  It was far too rough to reflect the night sky, but the phosphorescence in the water as we splashed along was like another set of little stars all around us.  The magic you feel when you are surrounded by stars never gets old. 

Then all of a sudden we were surrounded by loads of other little white lights flashing all around us. It was reminiscent of the boat scene in Phantom of the Opera where they sail their boat through a sea of tiny little lights. 

Boat Scene from Phantom of the Opera
Boat Scene from Phantom of the Opera

Play Video

Click to see the clip from Phantom of the Opera on our Just Bella Vista Facebook page

There were literally hundreds of them as far as the eye could see. Scary as we didn’t know what they were and they don’t appear on any of our charts.  We couldn’t work out whether they were little fishing boats or markers for nets that we shouldn’t run into, whether they were joined together, or not, or what?  Trying to navigate through them while sailing so close hauled without going through the wind was a complete nightmare and we took one or two of them, rather close.   The silver lining to those couple of close calls was that we were able to establish that they  are not linked together but simply lines of hooks with weights and lights on, not connected to anything, as we were in very deep water. We think they just float with the current catching fish as they go and the fishing boats come and collect the catches from them.

For three nights they plagued our passage but on the fourth day the wind freed up a bit and we were able to sail west away from the Moroccan coast.  To be continued… 

Next episode – disaster strikes! ….

 

 

Picture of Rock of Gibraltar at sunrise as seen from La Linea

Waiting in Gibraltar for the wind to play nice so that we can leave, we thought we would only have a few small tasks to complete and we’d be off. Having just spent 10 weeks in the boatyard giving almost every inch of this girl an overhaul and a load of long awaited TLC, we thought we would only have a few tweaks to make to our new rigging and maybe a few little glitches to iron out before heading south. Wrong again!

Murphy, Sod whoever it is in charge of these things, has been getting in the mix again.  The only things we didn’t touch while in the yard, because we thought they were fine, decided to ’shit the bed’  If you  think you want the cruising life, you better be someone that likes DIY because most of your trip you’ll be fixing your boat in exotic places. We thought there’d be time now to sit back and enjoy the ride. Boy were we wrong!

On the way here, we had a little baptism of fire. We had everything from no wind at all to 30 Knots on the nose with a decent swell running. Not what the weather man had predicted.  Just when we really needed the “iron horse” to help us out a bit, the engine stops and we find we have a serious fuel blockage.  We staggered into the bay at Barbate to get a little shelter, though it was still pretty lumpy. We stayed  just long enough to change the filters and see if we could get some joy out of the engine.  Success, progress again in the right direction until we reached the headland at Tarifa,“the windy city”. Here we always expect the wind and the waves to be at their liveliest and this trip was no exception.  Once you reach Tarifa it’s not that far  up the Straits to Gibraltar and we thought we’d be there in time for breakfast, or brunch at the latest.  No such luck filters clog again and we arrived at La Linea at tea time having spent the entire day tacking up the Strait against 30knots of  wind and the current.  We thought by 5pm it must surely be “Beer O’clock” only to find the fridge that has been keeping our drinks delightfully cold in the boatyard all summer  long, has also decided not to play nice.  I can drink most things, but not warm beer!  And when I said go south till the butter melts, that’s not quite what I had in mind!!

We Spent what should have been our down time in Gibraltar, chasing round after a sheet of Aluminium so we could make a big inspection hatch in the fuel tank and give it a really good clean and for some fridge gas so we can get the beers chillin’.  Before we knew it our sleeping cabin was filled with the pungent odour of diesel and metal shavings everywhere.   Don’t you just love boat living?

Then came all the jobs we had actually planned, tuning up the rigging, that had now had its first good stretch; making a few repairs to our Bimini; realigning the frame of our solar panels, which seemed to have suffered a bit of abuse and was looking a bit Squiffy; filling up with provisions and catching up on a bit of blogging and editing. 

Now It’s all up to Hurricane Ophelia to stop messing with the wind  and then we can make tracks.  Next stop Arrecife Lanzarote and I’m sure there will be more jobs on the list by then.