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Saturday, April 28, 2012

April 28, 2012-Stories from Ilha Dos Lencois (Island of the Sheets)

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Dos Lencois

We’re anchored in the middle of the river, which is not a river but one of the many winding saltwater filled channels which separate the island of Dos Lencois from the other islands of this group, most of which are low, muddy mounds covered with mangrove swamps, behind the giant sand dune which dominates Dos Lencois. It is a maze getting into this spot in the delta of Rio Macuripana and, as usual for this part of the Amazon basin, the charts lack detail, however we had local knowledge, some of it wrong, but mostly right, which told us how to get here and here we are.

“A lovely spot,” we were told, and that is true. It is quiet, scenic, filled with bird life, and peaceful Portuguese fishermen from the village around the bend who seine the river from small wooden boats for Covina, eels, and prawns. We can see the surf in the distance, and hear it roaring on the miles of banks to seaward of this island but in this river, behind this dune, we are sheltered.

We’ve been here three days, and we are going to leave this morning with the tide. The only way out is back through the channels and we need 10.5 feet of tide, which happens today at 9:50 and not again until May 2, then into the main river, and a long beat out to open water, 17 miles. After that we can bear off and head towards Trinidad.
The village is between the dune and the ocean, and surrounded by smaller dunes and scrub brush. The people here are European, not Amazon Indians. Besides the family units which fish the river in small boats there are men who take bigger, motorized, fishing boats out the channels into Rio Macuripana each morning.

We watch their path and can see where the channel is so we are better prepared to follow deep water than when we came in here, when we were blind.

We’ve watched these villagers as they fish and otherwise go about their lives near this village. We saw a young man on a returning boat, one of four men aboard, wearing only a pair of blue briefs, who, as the boat got close to the village, reached into the cabin and withdrew clean clothes: a shining pair of long red shorts and a bright yellow soccer top with the number “10”. When the boat nosed up to the steep side of the dune this young man got off, well dressed, and carrying a large fish at his side, his day’s pay perhaps, and headed off towards home.

The fishing boat, having dropped off the crew member from the village, pulled back out and headed down another channel. As it grew dark other boats came in and anchored near the point, and left their lights on which we could see from Wings. That evening we could hear music from the boats or the town but we stayed aboard.

We also watch, every afternoon, several young adults appear on the top of the dune over our boat looking back into the delta, and holding cell phones! There is no cell system here but apparently, from the top of the dune, they can get a signal from somewhere. It is obviously a social event as well as a time for making a call to friends in the outside world, and they sit around in groups on the dune until dusk while the dogs and kids play nearby. Once a solitary caller sat in a bowl in the dune which directed her voice our way and we could hear her talking.

A man named Vas and his two boys came by and sold us a beautiful bowl of fresh prawns and the next day two more young men came by and sold us more. They were friendly and shy and Judy gave the second group some cold cokes as well as the 20 reals they asked.

Another afternoon a couple of men beached their boat on the shore and cleaned a fish, and it must have been a big fish, because they were quite proud of the fillets they held up as they sailed past Wings afterwards and a large group of vultures found the carcass and fought over it for a while, gorging until they could not fly. We watched several of big black birds hop up to the top of the dune with their wings outstretched where the winds helped them lift off. Others, not so lucky perhaps, simply flew away.

Now it is 7:00 AM and we are stirring on Wings, making a pot of coffee and listening to the fishing boats departing for the day’s work.

Soon we will follow them but unlike the boats of this village, we will go onward to the next port instead of returning afternoon to Ilha Dos Lencois.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Ilha Dos Lencois

Click here to see the photos

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Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23, 2012-Marina at Sao Luis

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Marina Aven at Sao Luis, Brazil

If it wasn’t for the bare-chested brown skinned man on the back of the beached catamaran emphatically waving us on with grand sweeps of the arm we wouldn’t have come here; we would have turned back like we did the night before when the water depth reached nine feet. That was low tide. This morning, at high tide, with 15 feet more water, we got half a mile further, and now it was less than nine feet again.

And why we let him persuade us I’m not sure; we were about to run aground, it was close to the absolute top of the highest tide for two weeks, and we had no idea where the channel was. A hard grounding would have been a disaster, but he persuaded us and we didn’t even know him. Some kind of Lorelie I guess.

Are we fools?

Maybe, but it had become an act of faith. Two other people, knowledgeable people, said we could go into the marina at Sao Luis. They said we would be in the mud and have to dig our way in with the keel, but we could do it. They said that at low tide we would be sitting in mud up to our keel. And they said it would be nice. I wouldn’t be kidding if I said we were totally skeptical. But we could see the marina just ahead. It it didn’t look like much, but Sao Luis was supposed to be a nice town and the alternative, to leave Sao Luis and head north wasn’t at all attractive either.

Then this guy urged us on. He really urged us on.

Yeah, we must be fools.

We went. We literally ploughed ahead.

And thirty minutes later we were tied along side another deep keel cruising yacht at what must be the funkiest little marina in the world: Marina Aven, Sao Luis, Brazil

And to top it off, for six hours out of every twelve, we are totally beached. This marina is subject to 15 foot tides and the water is only eight feet at high tide. So at low tide we are seven feet higher than sea level. And, because of these tides, we can only leave at 9:00 tomorrow, plus or minus one hour, or we stay here for two weeks.

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However, the town is nice, the people here are really friendly, we already got water, food, fixed the mainsail, equalized our batteries (again), had dinner out, and today we’ll get diesel and do a tour of the town, maybe have a long lunch in the historic central district. It will be a quick visit, due, again, to those tides, but worth it we think. We wouldn’t have missed this for anything.

And tomorrow we’ll be ready to head north; at 09:00, plus or minus about an hour.

And, here, other than getting these astonishing photos, is the best part: We have a tip about another interesting place that nobody goes, and which requires another act of faith, but will be really worth it.

Tomorrow we head to Dos Lincois.

Click here for more Marina Aven photos.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Sao Luis, Brazil

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 21, 2012-Sailing to Sao Luis-Updated

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Sailing to Luis Corriea

We left Fortaleza.

You always knew we would.

We’re not ready to stop.

And anyhow, even if we were, Fortaleza is not the place, the marina is poor.

So we headed up the coast.

First stop, Luis Correia.

We arrived after dark, no fault of our own. We tried to make it by sunset, but the winds let us down.

Then we made a discovery: the charts for Luis Correia lack detail and what there is…is wrong. So we went in after dark with bad charts. Never mind, we did it on visual, and some fishing boats left their lights on so we could find our way. Thanks Guys.

Luis Correia was nice. There is a breakwater and up the river, a town. We never made it to town, the breakwater was just fine: Calm, protected, and quiet. All we saw of the fishing boats were their cabin lights except for the one closest to where we anchored where, under the glare of his foredeck light, I saw one of the crew pouring buckets of water over his head. He looked lean and muscular and clean as the saltwater poured over his body. All the fishing boats were gone in the morning.

We stayed three nights.

Then we sailed to Sao Luis.

You know, Sao Luis is supposed to be a wonderful city. From what we could see, it looks like it. But there is no marina or harbor for sailboats and we couldn’t get into the channel where the yacht club is due to low tide; no water. Instead we anchored behind a nearby Island.

We’ll try again tomorrow.

San Luis is, however, a major port for Brazil and in the anchorage there are about 30 ore carriers waiting to export Brazil’s commodities; waiting for a load. Probably a load for China. Not right now. There is a lesson in the world economy for you: when China stops buying, the world waits.

But that all misses the point of the sailing: it was good, then bad, then good.

That’s what the doldrums brings, light variable winds, brief periods of nice breeze, and sudden storms. Not bad storms mind you, but enough to reduce sail and go slow while you get drenched.

Yeah, we were in the doldrums. Finally I decided to keep the sails up and steer through it and in that way the sudden storms gave us sudden bursts of speed. Wet but fast.

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Waiting to Load

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Sao Luis

We arrived in Sao Luis speeding in through one of those blinding rainstorms with the automatic transponders of 30 empty ore carriers shouting at us. I turned off the AIS.

Now, we don’t know if we’ll get into the yacht club basin tomorrow or be back here behind this island. Either way, we’ll be getting ready for the next leg, further up the coast, and surely onward to some other new adventures.

We’ll let you know.

Update: Wait until you get the next post, you won't believe it!

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Sao Luis, Brazil.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

April 14, 2012-Holiday in Fortaleza

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Fortaleza Yacht Club

We’ve had a nice holiday in Brazil luxuriating at one of Fortaleza’s finest hotels (aboard Wings in the hotel’s marina of course). We’re swimming each morning in the hotel pool, having wonderful meals in the great Brazilian restaurants on Fortaleza’s beautiful nearby beaches, taking endless walks around the old central district, and shopping everywhere. Yesterday we topped it all off with a beautiful lunch which turned into a whole afternoon, accompanied by a very nice bottle of Chilean white, at the Fortaleza Yacht Club.

A couple of years ago an old classmate of mine saw my photo of Judy having a drink at a beach hotel in Langkawi , and commented, maybe wistfully, “your whole life is like an unending vacation”.

Sometimes, like right now, it seems that way and we love it.

But there is no such thing as a free lunch. Mind you I’m not whining about it but to have this kind of life we have to work at it. We work at it by keeping this boat running, by sailing it through storms and high seas, from one third world country to another, and by dealing with about a million bureaucratic and cultural obstacles each and every day.

Still, we love it. It’s why we do this.

However, this holiday is now over and we have work to do. We have to leave the easy and enjoyable life we have in Fortaleza and get this boat up the coast and into the Caribbean, which means dealing with the routine of watch-standing, three on and three off, with officials and formalities in three new countries, with unknown boat problems (and there certainly will be some), with the doldrums, the shallow waters of the Amazon Delta, and god knows what else. It will be nerve wracking but we’ll get through it. And you know what? We love that part too; sailing is still great.

We leave tomorrow; it’ll take a month, more or less, and then we’ll have a Caribbean Holiday.

Click here for a few more photos from the day we checked out of Fortaleza.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Fortaleza, Brazil

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

April 8, 2012-The Amazon Dilemma

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Six hundred miles northwest of Fortaleza lies the Amazon River Delta. Sailing into the Amazon has a lot of appeal to us. We would not have to go far, just a couple of hundred miles, and we could stop at some Amazon river towns such as Belem on the south bank and Macapa and Vila Amazona on the north shore, stay a few days, then return to the ocean and head further north. How can we sail past the Amazon River and not experience it?

But there are significant security concerns.

First of all, books we’ve read report that the two most risky places for yachts in Brazil are Fortaleza, where we are now, and the mouth of the Amazon, where we want to go. We know full well the security issues in Fortaleza and we know how to avoid trouble: we keep the boat in the marina and out of the main anchorage. But there is no marina at the mouth of the Amazon, just endless river channels with little population and no police presence. Anchoring in remote places within the river is said to be dangerous.

We know that four or five boats have been robbed in that area in last four or five years, some in the towns, but at least one while anchored in a remote area. Anchoring in these remote places is virtually required to avoid travelling at night, when hitting debris is a big risk, or going against the strong currents which reverse direction every six hours. That small number of occurrences does not seem like very many, but the fact is that only few yachts go there at all and maybe the odds are not as good as we’d like.

We were worried about this and as of yesterday had not made a decision.

Then we met a couple of boats which have just come down the coast. The crew of Mila, a South African yacht, was chased at gun point while in the town of Belem. The other yacht, a Brazilian flagged vessel, has just passed through the same area and told us that the first hundred miles of the river was very dangerous. They know some local people there who do not go through that area without armed guards. They said the coast is OK, but not the river.

OK, that does it. We are not going into the Amazon.

This is sad for us because we’ve already bypassed the Red sea and Europe due to piracy risks in the Indian Ocean and now it seems that we need to skip some interesting parts of Brazil.

Plus, the Caribbean itself has some problems and that’s where we are going next so the whole cruising experience seems less fun and more dangerous now than it used to be.

It’s something we don’t like but we have to accept.

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Fortaleza Centro

But in the meantime we’re enjoying Fortaleza. For the last week or so we’ve been exploring the nearby central area of Fortaleza and some of the beaches.

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Beach Volley Ball

And for the last two days we’ve been watching a beach volleyball tournament which has been fun and which reminds us of the many beach volleyball games we’ve played in years past.

These things take our minds off the unpleasant realities of the next few legs.

We’ve got to face them soon enough.

Click here and here for more photos of Fortaleza

Click here for more volley ball shots

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Fortaleza Brazil

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Sunday, April 01, 2012

March 31, 2012- Uma Noite Caliente via the Back Door

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Uma Noite Caliente

We’ve gone to hear music in many places. Last night the music came to us.

A Brazilian rock concert, “Uma Noite Caliente” (One Hot Night), which we could clearly hear from our boat, occurred overnight in a specially built venue on the grounds of the hotel where our marina is located. Chiclete Banana and several other Brazilian pop bands pumped out the amps until dawn and about five thousand young Brazilians danced and partied all night.

We might have wanted join the young crowd ourselves but the tickets started at $110 so we passed on that but I realized the day before, as the construction workers were putting the finishing touches on the stages, barricades and temporary walls, that we were already inside the perimeter. I thought it might be possible to walk directly from Wings into the concert grounds without passing any gate. They left us a back door.

Judy didn’t want to chance it but I thought I would give it a try.

So at midnight, when the music was at its loudest, I grabbed my Nikon and headed out. I expected to be stopped by one of the hundreds of security guards. After all not only did I look a little out of place but I also did not have one of the colored wrist bands showing that I had paid for my admittance, but no one gave me a second glance. I walked right into the crowd and right up to the stage.

I put up my big gun camera and banged off a few dozen shots, then beat a hasty retreat; I did not want a confrontation with these guards and most of all I did not want my camera to be confiscated. Anyhow, it wasn’t my kind of music.

During the early morning hours as the beat went on and on and the aid cars came and went there was a huge fireworks display right over our boat and a number of helicopter passes which we could hear from our bed. This was quite the event. We had prime seats but we didn’t get up. Let the kids party on, we’re sleeping.

At 06:00 I did another patrol: The kids were still there, the music was still going, but there was wreckage everywhere from the long night.

By sun-up it was all over.

Click here for more shots from Uma Noite Caliente.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Fortaleza, Brazil

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