My departure was delayed another few days with extra jobs and goodbyes and whatnot. Some friends turned up in the anchorage, and Nick from Wylo II gave me a hand welding up my jumper spreaders (that’s a part of a boat – not for pullovers!) which had started to split. Finally I skulled out my berth and hoisted sail just before exiting the marina, just to make a point. Plenty of people to wave goodbye too – my knowledgable neighbour Nickoli, Luca and Deborah and the rest of the crew from the aluminium monstrosity, all the Swedes, and all of the many dock-walking hitch-hikers who I’d come to know. I did a quick loop round the anchorage, and as I approached Island Swift and luffed up, their youngest son jumped in the water and swam to Lorema one handed, his other hand holding a bag of chocolate cake high and dry for me – welcome provisions indeed!
A slow departure from the harbour with confused wind, and more than a dozen container ships anchored just outside the entrance, but finally into the wind proper, and away south.
The breeze was quite strong and I was suffering from a) the natural nervousness which comes when setting sail having spent too long landlocked, especially in a marina, and b) a rather nasty hangover. I nearly sailed into a little bay further south on the island to get a bit more sleep, but by the time I had worked out where it was and where I was, I would have had to beat into wind to get there – and now I was in the wind acceleration zone of Gran Canaria, I wasn’t beating anywhere without getting very wet indeed, so I continued south – no going back now!
Luckily there wasn’t too much shipping on that first night and I caught up on my sleep a little. The wind was strong, but right behind. 2 reefs, 3 reefs, 1 reef, 2 reefs, but never a full main. I went due south a long way to avoid the wind shadow of Gran Canaria, and then due west a long way to avoid Morocco and the high seas near its coast, and then finally set a course for the Cape Verde Islands. The wind and waves were relentless – not dangerous, but very strong and consistent. Waves broke over the boat continuously and I had to have the hatch firmly closed even when the the sun was out. Even so, the damned thing is not watertight when underwater, and every so often a slightly larger wave would wash over the boat causing a waterfall to cascade into the cabin, prompting a volley of swearwords from inside, especially if I happened to be in that exact place cooking or using the loo! The front of the coach house also leaked, and every time I went outside all my clothes got soaked, even through my waterproofs, and so the small dry area of the boat was full of trousers and charts, hanging up in a vain attempt to get dry. So, I thought, these are the trade winds, eh? Fast, but not as relaxing as I’d been lead to believe. I later found out that these winds had been stronger than forecast and were unusual for trade wind latitudes. Still, they were going in the right direction and I was certainly not complaining. I cooked a lot and ate well – in fact, rotating the mountain of vegetables every day and trying to use the right ones before they started to rot was probably the most challenging and stressful part of the trip!
After 6 days parts of the self steering started to give up- the screw in the tiller snapped, and so, later, did the line that controls it. Both were undersize, so I wasn’t suprised, but having replaced them I found the new line was chafing through very quickly too. The answer was to reef earlier and deeper, to balance the boat better and reduce weather helm, and also to use larger blocks for the line. Both sails suffered some chafe and I lost a badly secured boathook to a wave, but it wasn’t a very nice one anyway, and I made another with a bent copper nail lashed to a broom handle before I reached the Cape Verdes, 8 days and 950M after I left the canaries.
I luckily arrived at the perfect time – just before sunrise, and I saw the loom of Mindelo some 20M away. The main navigation lights on the Islands were not on, but I was half expecting that and followed the town lights until I identified a smaller navigation light on Isle dos Passeros. As I entered the channel between São Vincent and São Antao, the sun rose behind one of the Islands and dramatically lit up the whole prehistoric lunar scene, huge stone claws reaching into the sky in every direction. I reached into Porte Grande harbour, as it was once known, with full sail up for once, but having to seriously spill the wind when the 35kn gusts spilt down off the mountain sides.
I dropped the anchor near the town but soon realised that I needed to go alongside to wash all my damp and salty clothes and bedding. I sailed into a marina berth with 3 reefs in, and as soon as I had stumbled through the (un)necessary immigration bureaucracy I completely covered my boat in laundry, like some aboriginal floating shrine to the gods of fresh water. Lorema was on the main pontoon near the bar and so in 2 hours I had answered every conceivable question about my boat and had met every single person in the marina. Which wasn’t that many, but still… In fact, I was surprised to even find a marina in The Cape Verdes – it was obviously published since my pilot book was. For some reason the pontoons moved around a lot, and the force of snatching on the mooring lines was enormous. After a fitful nights sleep and much sympathy for my fairleads, I skulled (or skulked?) out and anchored amongst the moorings 50m from the beach. I used my CQR with 25m of chain (in 3m), and also dropped my enormous 45kg folding fishermans on a short warp to stop Lorema swinging into the moored boats. I’ve used this technique before and it works very well in confined spaces, as long as the wind will remain in roughly the same quadrant. Lorema and I were far more comfortable on the hook, and I even had a little privacy back.
Mindelo is a cool town – it has culture, colour, music, good markets and a relaxed atmosphere. I did some work on the steering gear, the sails, standing rigging, gooped up some leaks and, most importantly, made a cover for the main hatch. Various friends were made – notably the crew of the Sea Shepard boat stationed there, who I shocked by talking of my plans to decimate acres of ancient rainforest to build a boat in South America, a young Spanish/Italian couple who I showered with carrots (I bought enough for an army in Las Palmas and they were going off) until they could take no more, and a very kind boat of Turks who fed me and fed me and thought I was completely bonkers.
Jobs done, I skidaddled, but not before a night of music in a local bar – inspired by a completely irrelevant book I had just finished, I took my guitar to the nearest bar and started playing sheepishly in the corner – and soon remembered what good fun this can be. The drinks come for free, other instruments turn up, we all sing terrible songs tunelessly, proclaim each other best friends for ever, and think we have made something magical. Which we have, in a way.
And so against all my previous resolutions I set sail with a hangover, once again. Ashamed at having visited only one island in the archipelago, I blasted through the channel de São Vincent and into the lee of São Antao, where a marked line in the water seems to separate the churning maelstrom of funnelled wind and tide from the complete calm of the area behind the mountains of the bigger island. I went from 3 reefs to almost completely becalmed in a matter of feet. Eventually, though, I reached a tiny village called Tarrafal, which is nestled into a little valley underneath great huge mountainous cliffs on either side. The general climate here is dry and sparse volcanic land, but a small spring above Tarrafal means that the village can survive and even bloom, growing a wide variety of fruit and vegetables and sugar cane which is distilled into the strong spirit Arak. All the plantations are on steep terraces, and are watered with a system of small channels that fork many times and whose course is determined by rocks that are wedged into certain places to divert the flow of the water.
When I had anchored amongst the small open fishing boats and surfed my inflatable dinghy into the beach, getting soaked on the way, I was surprised to find tourists in the village. I had read that there was no road and only the hardiest ramblers or sailors reach this place, but my information was once more outdated, and a small road has now been built, although the long journey in the back of a pickup truck down a dodgy track still puts most people off. I wandered around, happy to be in a new and alien place, and after a drink in a local bar where I was hounded for nonexistent tobacco, I found myself in the guesthouse of Frank and Susi, a wonderful couple who were exceedingly generous to me and who, having originally arrived by yacht 15 years ago, have set up an awe-inspiring little place for tourists and travellers (MarTranquilidade.com)
Having scrambled to the top of the cliffs overlooking the village for the view, I spent and afternoon and evening with Susi and Frank and their interesting guests, eating and drinking and playing music. I was sorely tempted to stay longer, and was terrified to head into the Atlantic, but was also eager to get started and wanted to avoid indefinite procrastination, so after breakfast the next day, the 1st of February, I sailed out of Tarrafal and into the seemingly infinite expanse of water that is the Atlantic Ocean.