Archive for 'Brazil to Barbados'

Lat: 00 09.640′ S
Lon: 36 26.213′ W

I heard on the radio the other morning that the moon is closer to the earth than it’s been for a long time (20 years?) and that it’s called a super-moon. It’s also almost full, and the two effects combined have made it so big and bright that last night the sky was blue even in the middle of the night — dark blue overhead and light blue at the horizon. The days have been warm, but the beautiful moonlit nights have reminded me of sailing on Galveston Bay back in the 90’s when Wes and I were working by day and learning to sail at night. Ever since learning to sail that way, I’ve always loved night sailing on pleasant nights. The moonlight makes a glittering white path from the horizon just beneath the moon directly to you while you’re sitting on deck enjoying the cool breeze and gentle motion. Lots of things can be more alarming or dangerous at night, but beautiful starry or moonlit nights make up for it.

With the light winds, sailing close-hauled or close-reaching has actually been nice since the calm seas and our relatively low speeds mean that we’re not pounding. The increased apparent wind make things more pleasant on board and helps our speed as well. We’re motor-sailing about 1/4-1/3 of each day when the wind gets really light and are still managing to make 95-100 nm/day. So far we haven’t see the typical ITCZ in terms of no wind and squalls. We’ve been able to sail virtually all of the time, although our speed has really benefitted from using the engines. Luckily, the days have been so nice since we parted with the coast of Brazil that we haven’t really minded the slow speeds.

Today we sailed under the sun (across the latitude at which it is directly overhead). It crosses the equator at midnight tonight making the vernal equinox, and we’re due to cross just ahead of it, sometime this afternoon. With the sun now south of us as we head north, our solar panels, on the aft end of the boat, should start producing more energy as they won’t be shaded by sails part of the day.

On an offbeat note, when we got hit by the strong squall our first night out from Recife, I didn’t close the small hatch above our berth before running on deck to help. It’s only about 16″x8″, but the rain was so intense that even that small hatch partially opened resulted in our entire queen-sized bunk being soaked. We slept in the other (starboard) forward berth instead and found that we both considered it more comfortable due to firmer padding. In all this time, we’ve never slept there but thanks to that squall we’re now sleeping on the starboard side when we’re off watch at night.

Dolphin Days

Lat: 2 59.429′ S
Lon: 35 12.278′ W

After three days of sailing more or less northward, trying to dodge fishing boats and sail close-hauled to maximize light winds, we finally sailed past the eastern tip of the South American continent and back into the deep blue water of the Atlantic. Since then we’ve had a little more wind (though it comes and goes), but the seas are so calm and night the skies so clear and cool that it feels like we are back in the Mozambique Channel.

Also serving as a reminder of that passage is the marine life that has accompanied us over the last few days. When I arose from the berth this morning, Dallas greeted me with a big smile and said that conditions were “absolutely beautiful” with tuna frequently jumping out of the water. Shortly thereafter, we both were greeted by 20 or so large dolphins swimming around the bow — the third consecutive morning that Dallas has seen them. I watched them from our usual vantage point on the bowsprit and then donned a mask and snorkel to view them underwater while hanging onto the swim ladder behind the boat. I have been using that swim ladder frequently to cool off on this and other passages, but actually snorkeling while sailing was a new experience.

It’s good that we are finding ways to stay cool and entertain ourselves, as we are having one of slowest passages ever. We had our first 100 mile day yesterday (well, 97 but rounding up), which is usually the minimum expectation, and Dallas tells me that we still haven’t hit the doldrums yet. At this rate, we are going to grow old out here (or at least grow very tired of playing gin rummy)! But at the moment we have resorted to motoring for a little while, which helps a lot.

Yesterday morning we didn’t have the option of motoring, which was a little foreboding. As Dallas mentioned, we left port without use of the port engine, and when I tried to put the starboard engine into gear on my watch the previous night, it made a loud noise that sounded as though something was caught on the propeller. But Dallas spent a couple of sweaty hours in the engine rooms yesterday, and now we are good to go. It turned out that the port engine’s ground wire had corroded through and needed to be repaired and reconnected. As for the starboard, whatever (if anything) was on the prop seemed to have freed itself.

That’s about all I’ve got for now. Since we’re running the engine, we have the freezer running, so it’s time to enjoy the unusual luxury of drinking a cold beer.

50 mile days

Lat: 05 58.268′ S
Lon: 34 59.672′ W

Bus drivers in Recife are madmen. They sit stone-faced behind the wheel while you board, giving no indication at all of what’s about to happen. The driver works with a second person who collects fares, and on the smaller busses, also hangs out the open bus door, calling to people gathered on the street where the bus is going, trying to fill the bus until it’s overflowing. Once the new passengers are far enough up the bus steps that the door can be shut, the driver hammers the accelerator like he’s attempting to establish the new 0-60 record time for a bus loaded with 30 people. Being small boat blue-water sailors, we’re quite accustomed to motion, but several of us nearly lost our footing on more than one occasion. We quickly learned that just like sailing through a storm at sea, holding on securely was the only way to stay on your feet. Stopping was so sudden that it made me suspect the drivers are taking bribes from brake-pad salesmen. One bus we were on actually squealed its tires while braking for a car that it had attempted to beat for the lead spot as the road ahead narrowed to one less lane. Busses that begin braking at the point someone is standing on the sidewalk and trying to flag them down aren’t uncommon, and you usually don’t have far to walk once they’re stopped.

Thibaut from RDJ and I climbed aboard one of these busses Monday morning. We each had 3 jerry cans for diesel and managed to somehow squeeze them and ourselves aboard the packed bus and stay upright while the bus roared off and we found a place to stand. The port captain’s office opened at 8am and we were hoping to be there around then as our check-in had taken over 30 minutes, most of it waiting for a photocopy to be made. The port captain’s office in Recife is essentially a small Navy base, and copies are only e copies and then don, who are summoned to make the copies and then don’t reappear for 20-30 minutes.

During Carnival the complex had been virtually empty, but it was bustling when we arrived and after explaining why we were there, we were shown to a waiting room. After 15 minutes or so, one of the junior seamen (there was a mysterious absence of officers) walked over to explain that we would be waiting another 30 minutes or so as the person we needed to see was currently playing soccer and the game wouldn’t be over for a while. We stuck our heads into the courtyard, and sure enough, there were a good number of guys playing a rousing soccer game during Monday morning business hours. That’s Brazil. So much for coming early. It took an hour for our guy to finish the game, shower, and get ready to see us. I finally went up to the main desk when an officer showed up and he waived Thibaut and I over. I explained our business and he said OK, no problem, just go to the waiting room and sit down. Our second hour at the port captain’s office was spent occasionally handing over a paper or passport or answering a question while we waited. Finally, we received our clearances and headed out. Very friendly, but more than 2 hours to have someone write something about our next port on our entry document and give it a stamp. The formalities are different in every country and each one takes their papers and processes very seriously, so it’s best just to have a sense of humor, a smile, and bring a book to read.

Our next errand seemed pretty basic as well: buy some diesel on the way back to the yacht club. We flagged down a taxi, but the first gas station didn’t sell diesel. The second station did, and we unloaded our jugs and showed the attendant our credit cards, explaining in basic Portuguese that we wanted to buy diesel and pay with “Visa”. It seemed like a pretty straightforward concept, but the head attendant was yelling at us like we’d made a major mistake. We tried offering to pre-pay, but that didn’t seem to satisfy him. There was evidently some mysterious complexity to buying diesel that our rudimentary Portuguese couldn’t unlock and he wasn’t at all happy about it. Finally, he took my card, ran it for the cost of filling one jug, and after it was approved, he turned into Mr. Happy. They filled the rest of our jugs, we paid, and had no more problems. The head attendant even had several questions about our trip, which he thought was crazy enough to be funny.

Cabanga Yacht Club can only be reached at high tide, and we finally managed to pull away a couple hours after high-water. With the half-moon and our shallow draft, we figured we’d be fine and we were. The only drama was that our port engine wouldn’t start. It seems to be an electrical or starter problem, so we elected to take off anyway and work on it at sea. Not having the second engine required maneuvering with an extra line, but it went off without any major dramas.

This is one of the first times we’ve left without a favorable weather forecast. Our pilot charts indicateecast this week was for north and NNE and most of it less than 10 kfor north and NNE and most of it less than 10 knots. rth and NNE and most of it less than 10 knots. With no weather improvement in sight, we decided it was better to get moving toward the Caribbean and make the best of the wind we got. While we’d hoped that the GRIB files were wrong enough that we could make our planned stop at the beautiful offshore marine paradise of Fernando de Noronha, it hasn’t worked out that way.

We’ve been close-hauled the whole time since leaving, averaging 2-3 knots, with speeds as low as 0.6 knots and as high as 8 knots in squalls. We’ve had to motor a bit when the wind completely died and tack in the opposite direction of Barbados at times, but we’re slowly working our way toward the open water north of Brazil. We have had a couple of incidents. Our first night we were hit by what was one of the worst squalls we’ve ever had. It was after the moon had set, so it was too dark to see it coming and it came on very quickly. The wind picked up to 30-40 knots and we had the full main and genoa out. Lauren was on watch, and right after she called me on deck it started raining so hard that it was difficult to keep my eyes open. We were lucky to get the sails down without any damage, especially since the roller furling line jammed for the first time that I can recall. We hadn’t made it very far offshore at the time, and with the wind pushing us toward the reefs that line the coast, it was a pretty intense 5 or 10 minutes.

The next morning I was on watch, about 12 miles offshore making about 2 knots in a hot, light breeze, when the insects of the the rain forest attacked us en masse. Hundreds and hundreds of gnat-like bugs led the charge, but flies, grasshoppers, butterflies, and other bugs joined in as well. There were so many bugs in some places that if you slapped down on them with your hand and turned it over you c but I was afraid thss te’d be a floag at a time, but I was afraid that we’d be a floating gnat colony f was afraid that w’t do sometoating gnat colony for weeks if I didn’t do something, so I closed the doors and hatches to keep them out of the boats interior, started an engine to create some apparent wind, and turned the boat offshore to get away from land. I then started using a flip-flop as a fly-swatter and the deck soon began to look like a bloody, medieval gnat battlefield. Flies and gnats both seemed to be attracted to the corpses, so several spots became especially dense with small black and red smudges. Eventually the tide of the battle started to turn in favor of Pura Vida and within a couple of hours I was able to open the boat back up with only the occasional wily straggler to hunt down.

The AIS seems to have taken a permanent vacation, so we kept busy last night tacking in light winds, dodging ships and fishing boats, staying far enough offshore to be safe from the reefs, and still managing to make a little northward progress. We’ve had a couple of visits from very large, gray dolphins, but we’re a little too slow at the moment to keep them interested, so they’ve left after a quick look. The good news is that we’ve been able to sail since yesterday afternoon and are on a course that will let us clear the eastern point of Brazil by tomorrow night with only one more tack if the wind holds.