It’s Downhill from Here – French Guyana to Salvador – June / July 2019
Captain’s Log: 25 July 2019
Location: Nautico Da Bahia Marina, Salvador, Brazil LAT 12 56.35 S LON 38 30.94 W
Weather: Sunny mid 70’s, Breezy
It’s early morning 8 June as Paws makes her approach across the shallow silt filled delta at the entrance to the Maroni. Fortunately, the rising Sun is off the stern making forward visibility good. The tidal river separates the Dutch Colony of Suriname and French inhabitants of French Guyana. Captain Brian fearlessly navigates through what he tells me are hundreds fishing nets strung up randomly with wooden poles. I’m thinking that this is not going to turn out good – one slip up and we will find ourselves stuck keel deep in the mud with a rope strangling my prop and a hole in my belly. The water is the color and consistency of chocolate milk swirling around in a blender as the flood tide fights the outgoing flow of the river. It’s like working thru a swamp filled with Cypress Knees. What makes things a little more surreal is that we are still more than 20 miles offshore and cannot see the low lying coast at this point. Turns out we survive and after sailing about 40 miles up the creek without a paddle, we arrive at an anchorage just W of an old wreck. The sunken ship is easily mistaken for a Tropical Island – it is totally covered by a mass of trees and vegetation. My long lost cousin, now reduced to a “Hazard to Navigation” according to the charts, once carried an assortment of French Political Prisoners and other misfits to these shores to live out a life of hard labor. We anchor out for a few days before sailing south stopping at the infamous Devils Island Penal Colony (those French sure like their jails). The current swirls around a bit making it a little challenging to secure Paws but once my hook is down and the chain snubber deployed, Sea Tigger takes the crew to the ferry dock. She drops them off just ahead of the boat load of tourists arriving for day from Cayenne located about 25 miles to the W on the mainland. This is the island featured in the 1973 movie “Papillon”. The ruins of the cell blocks (maybe 6 x 10 feet) and guard barracks are still there but the island could now just as easily be a hideout for The Rich and Famous with amazing views from the Hill tops and beautiful clear water around the three islands that form the anchorage. They spend the day wandering about, playing with the resident monkeys, peacocks, tropical birds and checking out the museum before coming back to Paws and continuing down the coast to Degrad Des Cannes.
My crew “launches” ashore to tour the nearby European Space Center (aka Guyana Space Center) which is utilized by several nations to send up unmanned communication and weather satellites as well as cargo to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). The Space Port is strategically located near the equator allowing the vehicles to achieve orbit using less fuel (which equals more Payload) making it more cost effective. Being along the coast also offers a measure of safety as the lower stages of the rockets fall into open water. There is an upcoming launch scheduled in a few days but “on site” viewing opportunities are sold out so my crew makes the best of it by watching the rocket soar into orbit from out on the open sea as we work southward towards Brazil and the mighty Amazon River Basin.
About 25 miles offshore from the mouth of the Amazon, we spot the outbound flow of boiling and churning brackish water as it pours out of the river where it tries to mix with the saltwater of the Atlantic Ocean. The flow rate is 209,000 cubic meters/second or 7,400,000 cubic feet/second (another way of looking at it is that’s about 56 million gallons every second). When we arrive at collision point between the flow from the river and the relatively calm ocean water, we get shoved around a bit by the eastward setting current which has to be accounted for by The Captain as we work to the SW under sail.
A few miles further on, we shed our Pollywog Status and King Neptune accepts my crew, anointing them Shellbacks when we cross the Equator on 21 June, 2343 GMT. It Was A Dark and Stormy Night as we enter the river en-route to Belem, Brazil and with only The Captain and TreeBeard on board, the decision is made to delay the formal ceremony until we cross the Equator again in the Pacific heading North. Yep – I know that’s sorta like cheating but as the Portuguese say “ e’ vida ” .
We enjoy the sail up river arriving at an anchorage just off a small island accessible only by water. We see a few fancy homes on the north shore but the Island is mainly a weekend retreat with hostel type accommodations and beachfront activities for the local city dwellers from Belem. Each of the small hotels has a small beach bar/restaurant set up with plastic chairs and tables that are just calling for my crew to venture ashore. Just as Sea Tigger volunteers to take them in several Boto’s (Pink Amazon River Dolphins) surrounded me playing and slashing around my hull welcoming and inviting us to take advantage of the beach and to try out a burger and the bar. The next morning we continue up stream, drifting by the Old City Wharf and pass a dozen or so River Cruise Barges – basically floating 3 story campsites. Some of the Barges seem pretty nice and others make me wonder if they will still be floating the next day. They feature as many hammocks as can stuffed on their open decks, a common area for mealtime and a viewing platform up top for taking in the sites. My Barge Brothers run tourists up and down the river on 7 to 10 day “Amazon Rainforest River Cruises” stopping at villages and small settlements along the way. The Captain was tempted but in the end decides he had enough jungle for the time being in Suriname and French Guyana. He takes me a little further upriver and we hook onto a mooring in front of the “Belem Yacht Club” which sports a small floating dock with a snack bar along with a dry storage facility a few boats. Located about 50 meters in front of the Club is a floating fuel pontoon which makes filling me up pretty convenient. Certainly much easier than multiple trips hauling jerry cans to a nearby fuel station in a pickup truck and then out to Paws on Sea Tigger as the Captain has done the last several refueling sessions. We spend several days in Belem with me swinging back and forth with the tide change while they enjoy the town and the sites. Sometimes life doesn’t seem quite fair; they go sightseeing, feast on Tambaqui filets and stroll thru “Mercardo Ver-o-Peso” – billed as the largest Open Air Market in the Southern Hemisphere – while I get to live in fear as beer infused locals speed by in their motor boats rocking me around with their wakes. The Captain remarked that while it’s not quite Cairo’s famous Khan el-Khalili, the market here was certainly worth the visit with its endless rows of tents packed with jewelry, pottery, sandals, clothes and “stuff”. He tells me the sights and smells of the seafood and produce areas were stimulating – maybe even to the point of being a little overwhelming.
The Island of Lencois and its spectacular sand dunes mark our next destination. The huge white dunes, strangely absent of any vegetation, can be seen from 15 miles away. We sail around to the S end of the island before turning in to find anchorage. Clearing the point, we come upon a couple of fishing trawlers working feverishly to salvage one of my brethren that has gotten herself in a bit of trouble and is laying on her side half under water. They pull and tug at her as well as try floating her with inflation bags but to my chagrin, their efforts are not successful. It appears Poseidon has claimed another Subject for His watery Kingdom. We continue on towards the protected anchorage on the back side of the island just off a small village but the approach is too shallow so we stand off in deeper water. Sea Tigger once again does what she does best – takes the crew for a nice ride to shore so they can explore and climb the dunes. They spend the afternoon hiking and enjoying Rum with the locals at the one and only bar) in town. Life in this small fishing village is pretty simple and basic. Power is supplied by three large wind generators and water is hand pumped out of a common well. The houses are constructed of wood planks, sheets of corrugated steel or whatever other materials are available. The streets are sand and the villagers get around by foot or boat – but with that simplicity seems to come contentment. The people are friendly, unrushed and generally seem happy. Maybe there’s something to this.
We depart for Tutoia a few days sail downhill. The approach to the harbour is not buoyed but there is a channel indicated on the charts. There are notes indicating “shifting sandbanks” and sure enough we find one of those on the way in and bump bottom in a following swell. From what Captain Brian can see from the swim platform, it appears I might have some damage to the lower section of my rudder. I tell him it doesn’t hurt too bad and the steering seems OK so we continue on with the intent to take a closer look when we reach the anchorage in town. Enlisting the assistance of a passing fishing boat to guide us in the rest of the way and relying on his local knowledge, we arrive without further trouble. The timing seems perfect as the town folks are busy setting up for a festival/carnival and to make it even better, we are able to tie up at the town dock right in the center of the activities. The Captain never quite figures out exactly what is being celebrated but best he make out using his “extremely limited” Spanglish and Google Translate on his I-Phone, it’s a local holiday honoring the culture of the original indigenous people. Costumed dancers, singers and performers entertain the crowd well into the evening. We end up staying several days to explore and top off my fuel tanks. The Captain also investigates my rudder issue a little more and determines that there is, in fact, a small section of my rudder that has broken off at the back bottom edge but decides it can wait until he is able to pull me out of the water.
We make several more quick stops as we work down the coast including Fortenzela where we take a berth at Marina Park Hotel and welcome aboard Paula and Art Mitchell. Despite being a Crimson Tide fan and calling California home, Art turns out to be a fellow Salty Sea Dog and they are a fun loving couple ready for some adventure and new challenges. Currently live in La Mesa but Paula is from Brazil and they spend several months a year here down this way.
The original thought was to sail about 250 miles E to Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil but the prevailing 18 – 20 knot ESE wind makes them reconsider and we decide instead to continue “round the point” at Natal to head SW towards Rio.
Paula is a great asset as galley slave, tour guide, interpreter, nurse, yoga instructor, logistics coordinator and quartermaster all wrapped up into one. That frees up Art and The Captain to enjoy naps, occasionally trim the sails and make sure the autopilot is doing its job – it’s a rough life. We enjoy stops at Natal, Olinda, Marau, Recife and Maceio. A couple of memorable excursions are:
Renting 4-wheelers and trying their best to get lost in the backcountry around Marau and visiting a “medieval” Castle in Recife which The Captain gives his coveted “5 Seashell” rating calling the place a “must see”. A real life “Game of Thrones” if there ever was one.
We arrive in Salavdor de Bahia in late July looking forward to spending a few days relaxing and exploring. Rounding the Lighthouse off the NE point of Bay of All Saints, we come bow to face with Fort Sao Marcelo still proudly defending the natural deep water port and a towering vertical granite rock wall ( reaching skyward some 1,186 meters – 3,891 feet above sea level ) with the “Old City” strategically situated on top overlooking the harbour. It’s an equally majestic view whether looking up from my deck or down from the top of the cliffs. The city, established in 1549 by the Portuguese, is a great place to experience the culture, distinctive foods, folkways and history of this part of Brazil. After securing a slip at the marina for safe keeping, the crew takes their time strolling the cobblestone roads, enjoying street performers, roving bands, cafes, outdoor restaurants, museums, churches and parks. Salvador has a large concentration of Mulatto’s – descendants of the Muslim/African slaves brought in during Colonial times and my crew is able to attended a Candomblé service which was described by The Captain as “an interesting” cultural learning experience. Fortunately they did not see any of the traditional animal sacrifice rituals being performed.
The Captain invites Paula to give a “crew view” of the trip and below are some of her thoughts.
My Sailing Adventure
I just returned from a Sailing Cruise Adventure along the NE coast of Brazil. I knew this was something Art wanted to do and that the older we got, the less we would enjoy such an adventure.
I’ve sailed a few times with Art and friends off the coast of San Diego and enjoy sailing but don’t know anything about how a sailing boat works. Maybe because of that I had no expectations at all. Many lessons were learned. When you face things without expectations, then you don’t compare, you don’t judge. You play along, decide, act, consider the options as things happen.
What a marvelous way of living. Why couldn’t l always live like that?
The first days were a bit hard on me. Bad weather, big waves, the captain hurt, microwave plate broken, fruits smashed against the wall, no bath, little sleep…tired. Twice I couldn’t walk because my arms were too tired to hold myself in balance.
The days went by. We visited the most important cities of the NE coast. I always wanted to show Art that part of the country. The rich food, happy and friendly people, beautiful beaches, contagious music, history, culture.
When I left the boat to pursue a job opportunity, I knew I was going to miss the part of the trip I would enjoy more. The empty beaches, little villages, places I have never been to in those areas….the whales swimming with the boat.
Brian, the captain, is a huge man. Not only in size but in wisdom and technical knowledge. Even when we couldn’t find the boat, going back under heavy rain at night, he taught me something. Never in my whole life anyone had accused me of liking to be micro managed! I laughed.
Art worked hard, learned a lot, helped everyone, supported me, kept us safe. So strong. Every time things got tough and I considered leaving the boat – next time we anchored – he made me change my mind, because I knew I could trust him. I am so proud of him.
People say your problems go with you wherever you go. So, traveling doesn’t change your life much. I agreed with that before this adventure. Now I know that if you throw yourself into new experiences without expectations, you change for the better.
Joyce and Brian Clark
S/V Pawsitive Latitude
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