Sailing solo part 2- the adventures of Waggis, Michael and the Atlantic Ocean.

(If you missed Part 1 of Michaels solo sailing story and want to catch up, then please read it here.)

Apologies for the lack of photo’s with this post, between moving to a new blog host and the hard disc with the originals on being stolen off the boat, we seem to have “lost” them. For now!)

After an eventful sail out of Gibraltar, Waggis is safe and sound in the Canaries; first Lanzarote, then Fuerteventura for a day or 2.  Spent week 2 in Las Palmas. Very European, touristy and expensive. I did some cycling and sightseeing. Great chandlery at the main port, there are others in the smaller ports but I  (fortunately) didn’t need to visit them. Good, well stocked, engineering shops. Recovered and rested, provisioning done, time to sail off to the Cape Verdes after about 2 weeks, nice light breeze from behind.

Quite a big swell, butterflied the 2 Genoa sails on the double forestay and poled them out using segments of adapted windsurfing masts!

In order to dampen the rolling which was quite bad, I tried various sail combinations with the main and the mizzen and what worked best was a very tightly hauled double reefed main. The mizzen did not work well for this as it interfered with the stability of the autopilot. Autopilot generally does not handle downwind sailing well so I was not getting much sleep, having to helm a lot.

Thinking I had everything under control, with the sails, I disappeared downstairs to catch 40 winks. Rudely awakened by a big bang, the port side Genoa had collapsed and re-opened whereupon it split in half. Packed the tattered bits into a sail bag to be fixed later on. Another learning curve for skipper and boat, having never sailed in these conditions before.

Something that bothers me to this day is the flare incident. Sailing in the dark, thought I saw a flare shoot up on the horizon in to the sky. Changed course to head directly for where I thought it was and watched. Put radio onto channel 16 and tried calling. No response. Second flare appeared in the sky, really faint on the horizon. Headed in that direction, continued trying to call them, never made contact and eventually had to carry on my course. I feel I should have stopped my boat and just drifted and watched but the chances of finding a boat are really very small. Reported the incident to the police when clearing customs in the Cape Verdes. Logically there was not any more that I could have done…….. but I still have the feeling that maybe I could have done more somehow.

First impression sailing in to the Cape Verdes? Thought I “had arrived on Mars”.  Landscape barren and uninviting.

A little bit of Cape Verdes history here….these volcanic islands, 10 in total stretching across some 1557 miles, were discovered by the Portuguese in 1456 from whom they gained independence on 5 July 1975.

In the 16th century the islands were very popular with the pirates of the day, being situated on the mid-Atlantic shipping routes. Another interesting thing is that most of the Western Hemisphere bound hurricanes often have their early beginnings near the Cape Verdes, in fact they are known as Cape Verde – type hurricanes. They can become very intense as they hurtle across the warm Atlantic waters away from the islands. The 5 largest Atlantic tropical cyclones on record have been Cape Verde-type hurricanes.

I have a recollection of stopping off in the Cape Verdes on a flight from South Africa back to my native Switzerland when I was a young boy. In the1970’s and 1980’s South African Airways was prohibited from overflights by most African countries. The Cape Verdes allowed SAA access and became the centre of activity for SAA flights to the USA and Europe. So, this wasn’t my first visit!

I spent 2 – 3 months sailing around the 4 main islands, relaxing, I felt like the adventure had really started now. Got to know some of the locals (and the local bars) quite well. Like Daniel, a wizened old fisherman who came alongside Waggis on the island of Mayo in his little skiff for regular chats. Took me fishing for the day then invited me back to his home where I ate the fresh fish caught that day with the family. Something right out of a Hemingway novel!

I also helped the locals by transporting them and their (live) chickens, maize etc between Mayo and Praia. There is a ferry once a month between the islands or monopolised, expensive, air travel, once a week so it’s really hard for the locals to move around and get supplies. I became friendly with a German guy and an Italian guy, and between the 3 of us we decided that a bit of “chartering” to help the locals move around was a good idea. Bad idea.  Nasty looking men with uniforms and guns arrived on their second trip and wham! Trouble. Not too bad though, they didn’t throw me out but I had to unload the boat (chickens and all).  Did a quick basic provisioning,  bade Daniel goodbye (he had to fly back to Mayo) and felt that this might be a good time to move on! (Pic below is where my charter business ended its very short days!)

Would I go back there ?  Yes. Glorious sailing between the islands, friendly people (except for nasty men with guns and their boss), good fishing (well, maybe not that good but he caught fish there twice). On that fishy note, in all my adventures across the Atlantic, I caught one fish, 2 birds and had one little squid “land” on my boat that I ate with garlic and olive oil, one little morsel of fresh food!

At this stage the engine was leaking oil into the bilge at a rate of 1:10 of the diesel used,  so I took 10 l of oil with from the Cape Verdes in anticipation of perhaps needing to use the engine to cross the doldrums.  On topping up some oil the first time I realized that 5 l had leaked out of one of the containers.  Ended up putting in olive oil,  sunflower oil,  compressor oil and whatever other oils I could find in to the engine to cover the last stretch to Brazil,  the tough old engine complained bitterly but on tasting the large variety of oils didn’t seem to mind.

Next big decision….Cape Verdes behind Waggis but which way forward….. across to the Caribbean or south to Brazil. Once in the Caribbean it’s very hard to battle the currents down to Brazil so that ruled that out. Light wind from behind, warm weather, across the Equator, 200 miles of zero wind so put the motor on and 12 days later Waggis and captain arrived in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil.

Tropical island, 2000 inhabitants, crystal clear tidal pools on pristine white sandy beaches, coconut drinks, beach bars and restaurants where you disembark from your dinghy, whatever you imagine when you think of a tropical paradise this place is it. Playground for the rich Brazilians, scuba diving holidays. Relatively clean and unspoilt.

Spent 4 days there, rented a 250 scrambler from one of the locals otherwise it’s hard to get around, distances quite far to walk. Expensive, daily fee to use a shitty anchorage with no protection from the wind and waves. Anchorage is a bit precarious, another yachtsman’s (80 year old single handed sailor) anchor chain got wrapped around a rock and snapped, lost all his gear. Myself and 3 others did a grid search of the ocean floor and recovered his chain and anchor for which he was hugely grateful. Time to move on again.

2 -3 days smooth sailing in to Jacare.

Jacare is situated on a river connecting 2 cities, Cabedelo and Jaoa Pessoa. The river itself is dirty; the two cities look like they compete to see who can dump the most shit in the river. In spite of this Jacare is a pleasing little tourist village with lots of markets and stalls on weekends and Brazilians arriving there in droves. Regular music concerts rock the little village once a month, cacophony of ghetto blasting youngsters arriving.  Best just join in at the concerts because the music carries on all night at mind numbing volumes.

Quite a hairy journey from the approach to the actual marina which is up the river. Tidal and very strong currents (up to 4 knots ). You need really good anchor gear there in case things go wrong and detailed charts of the river as the canal is fairly narrow in places. Saw another yacht in the distance, assumed it was a day sailor, put on radio and then realised it was John (“Jonny Rotten”) who I had met in Noronha. He informed me he had no charts of the river and was at a loss as to how to get in to the anchorage 10 nautical miles away. I slapped on my chart plotter (CM93 charts) and John followed followed closely behind into the entrance and up the river. That was the start of a great friendship with daily caipirinhas (cane spirit, crushed ice and fresh limes) for breakfast! Sadly, after fighting cancer for 3 years, John lost the battle in 2017. Great sailor, great sense of humour and a great man .

Expensive marina in Jacare, stayed there for a month and then anchored in the river for around 2 months and eventually got my own concrete mooring sunk in the river for another 3 months – May to October, in the rainy season!

Had a few adventures whilst in Jacare, one that springs to mind is with Andreas and Christiaan, 2 German brothers who had bought a derelict Trimaran , called Survival, via the internet. On arrival in Brazil they were horrified at the condition of the vessel. The bilge pumps had been removed which caused her to sink in 1.5 meters of water! I met Andreas in a pub (where else) and offered to come and assist with trying to rescue the trimaran. What followed was a 3 month exercise to completely rewire the electrical systems and overhaul the engine. However, after the first test “sail ” on a  remote stretch of waters around Jacare, I noticed heavy vibrations in the 85 hp drive train.The tide was such that the boat was on dry land for some hours every day and with the help of some scuba dive inspections, we discovered that the attachments to the shaft were completely corroded and the underlying structure was weakened. Hired a local German who did some structural work but ultimately the whole project had to be ditched. However, I got paid for those 3 months, so all good. Pity, because Survival was used for charters and had some (semi) famous people on board, Arnold Schwarzenegger being one.

Survival was also used by the previous owner to collect artifacts in the Amazon jungle. These formed part of the purchase price of 15 000 Euro and of course, were missing too. So , when the brothers realised they had been conned, it seemed an obvious solution to raid the previous owners home late at night to recover gear and artifacts that had been taken off the boat (this was “planned” over copious amounts of foreign alcoholic beverages). What saved us from incarceration was that we, the 3 potential thieves, told the local police what we were planning to do so the cops arrived while they were breaking in……we had hired a skiff with a long pole to dash off with our loot….. found some loot, put in to skiff and buggered off, back to Jacare! Stored our loot in a private house , Indiana bloody Jones style. Artifacts were taken back to Germany by one of the brothers where he was promptly bust at the airport.

On a more mellow, and less criminal note, I ate out in glorious restaurants where you get served vast amounts of meat grilled on a rotisserie. The meat is carved at your table until you put up a little red flag (surrender!) and they stop bringing it on!  When you are ready to eat some more you put up the little green flag and they serve you once again! I, (also known as” Mike the mouth” for my ability to consume large quantities of food) was in my element. Fraternised with the locals, nearly married one or two of them, partied for the first team, then sadly the visa ran out (plus the visa extension) so once again it was time to move on………..probably time to face the Atlantic and the 6 weeks it would take to get to Cape Town, South Africa.

Here is a link to the final part of his voyage coming up shortly! Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa…..

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