Rolling down to Rio

 Home Up Not Having A Boat  


We'd spent some time in the rivers and bays around Camamu.  Life here if very waterborne (sort of like Venice without the buildings) the first ferry boat arrives at 6am to take the kids to school and that kicks things off.  We arrange with two other cruising couples to take one of these ferry boats to explore the town of Camamu (too shallow to take the yachts).  We all met up on Samarang and waited for the ferry to arrive. We waited and we waited, it was late, this was Brasil, what's new.  Finally a ferry boat poked it's nose around the end of the island.  We waved like loonies (this being traditional), the skipper gently nudged up alongside us and we all piled aboard.  Just before we cast off I thought I'd just ask the stupid question - Camamu - Si?  Err actually Camamu, No!  They were actually going somewhere else we hadn't heard off.  No probs, we're all adventurous people. Just one more question though - You return tonight - Si?  Err actually that's another no, just twice a week.

Well adventurous we may all be but going somewhere unknown for an indeterminate number of days was maybe a step too far, so we all piled back off the boat and onto Samarang and off the ferry went with much laughter and waving.

What to do now. We decided to go to Camamu anyway, but use our dinghies.  It was a long way, but two of us had RIBs with big motors that could plane as long as we didn't overload them, so a bit of reorganisation, change of clothes etc and off we went. 

Across the bay, between the islands (Carefully noting which islands - we've done this before!) and up the river - avoiding large rocks strategically placed to prevent 19th century British invasion and never removed.  The tide was with us and in about half an hour or so we were there, trying to wedge ourselves between the ferries and other boats on the bustling town wharf.  Of course there were dozens of young guys happy to help us moor/guard the boat/be our guides/carry our shopping, for a small consideration, naturally - this is free market economics in the raw.  Actually these guys were worth employing, especially in these out of the way places well off the tourist route. They didn't want much, they would keep everyone else off your dinghy and move it around to allow other boats to come and go.  And really, in the tropical sun why not let someone else carry all your heavy shopping back to the dinghy - all for a lot less than you'd have paid to park the car in a town centre back home, whilst in a small way contributing to the local economy.

Going back to the anchorage was a bit less fun.  The wind had picked up and the tide was against us.  It was a very, very wet trip.  With the yachts in sight we discovered that the tide had fallen so far that we couldn't get the dinghies back through a channel between the islands (the right islands!) we'd taken on our way out.  Two choices, retrace our steps and motor round the north of the island - several miles and exposure to open sea, or we could tie to a small village jetty we had just passed where we had spotted a local bar, have a beer and wait for an hour for the tide to rise enough to get us home.  Hmm - tough decision.

The bar was quite busy as these things go, though as usual very few of the people could actually afford to buy a drink (gringos excepted of course).  This hadn't apparently prevented the owner from acquiring a Karaoke machine for the night though, god knows from where.  An interesting evening, much laughter, much bad music and much apologising from the proprietor to the gringos for the "molestacion" - we were after all just about the only people buying drinks.

Well this section is supposed to be about the trip down to Rio so we'd better get started. 

We planned to stop at Santo André (nr Cabrália) where Joachim, a sailor we'd met in Salvador and his wife Hanna, had a house on the river.  It was a sheltered anchorage in the river, behind the reef, but a difficult entrance.  However, Joachim had done it several times now and had detailed GPS positions for the route as well as some aerial photos taken by a friend in a microlite.  He'd given all of this info to Werner and Emmy on Afun Davu who were sailing with us. The only fly in this otherwise perfect ointment was that they had got tangled in a fishing net the day before and were now someway behind us and out of radio range.  We didn't expect this to be a problem though, the pilot gave good old fashioned sailing directions for the way in and also said that there was a decent fair weather anchorage outside the river mouth.  Our plan was simply to drop the anchor, wait for Werner and Emmy and follow them.

When we arrived at the bay it was blowing a hooli, there was quite a sea running and the anchorage really didn't look very pleasant.  Looked like we'd have to try and go in the old fashioned way following the sailing directions.  Hurrah!

We dropped the sails and slowly motored in, trying to identify the starting point in the pilot.  "Do you think they mean that 'little grey house at the bottom of the hill' or one of the other little grey houses at the bottom of hills we can see?"  Just then the VHF spluttered into life, faint but clear,  "Samarang, Samarang, here Werner".  You know there are times when hearing a German accent can be just perfect.  Barry explained our position and Werner read a long list of detailed waypoints, whilst Lindy helmed back the way we'd come to get us a bit more room to manoeuvre. Then armed with the waypoints we headed back in, Barry below - sitting at the navigation computer and Lindy in the real world on the helm. 

It was a little hairy - not much water and both the beach and the reef seemed awful close at times, but soon we were anchored in the river where a local fisherman had indicated, behind some permanent moorings and outside what looked like a decent restaurant.  The shore seemed a bit close to us, but the fisherman had been very definite, (maybe, we thought, if we were further out we'd block the channel) so we decided to let out a lot less chain (15 metres as instructed) than normal (like most cruisers, we generally prefer more rather than less) and watch how things went.

A couple of hours later Afun Davu arrived, circled around to find a spot and dropped behind us but a bit further out in the river and of course was therefore able to let out more chain.  We looked at his position a little enviously - the river bank and rocks still looked awful close to us. A quick VHF conversation and we arranged to meet at the restaurant for an early dinner - we were all quite tired.  Dinner turned out to be the best meal we had eaten since we'd been in Brasil, so we were all feeling pretty satisfied when we left to head back to the boats.  As we were leaving, the restaurant owner walked out to the dinghies with us and we had one of those odd partially-understood conversations that happen in a foreign language.  He seemed to be saying something about Werner's position in the channel.  It was late, dark and we were all tired and had drunk several caiparinhos so Werner took what seemed to be the best decision - which was to stay where he was and look at the situation in daylight tomorrow and move then if necessary.  

We'd only been back on the boat a few minutes when there was a tapping on the hull.  It was Werner "I'm aground"! A quick glance confirmed it.  Afun Davu was leaning over at an unnatural angle and a quick calculation showed that the tide still had about another metre to fall - we later discovered there was a very large sandbank near the middle of the river and Werner had swung over it - (so that was what the restaurant owner was trying to explain)!  We helped him to lay a second anchor to hold them in position when the tide lifted them and then went back to bed until 4am when they floated and we were able to pull the boat clear on the second anchor.  They would reanchor later that day - but not before we'd spent a few happy hours untangling the two anchors/chains.  A bit like crochet, but with chain and 30Kg anchors instead of thread and hooks and all performed in a small dinghy!

Well we spent a couple of enjoyable weeks at Santo André.  Joachim and Hanna have built a truly stunning home amongst the mangroves (mosquitoes not withstanding), and the nearby town of Cabrália is a nice place in a dusty sort of way.  As an aside, Santa Cruz de Cabrália (as it's more correctly known) is named for the Portuguese navigator Pedro Álveres Cabral who actually discovered Brasil without even realising it.  He was blown ashore here in 1500 on his way to Cape Horn, but thought it was just an island - nothing to do with the new continent that had just been discovered!  So he just celebrated a quick mass and set sail again.  As a result he now has a small town in Bahia (rather than one of the largest countries in the world) named after him.  And I'm sure that things like that happen to each of us nearly every day!

It was time for us to head off now as well.  Werner and Emmy would stay for a few more days with Hanna and we would visit Vitoria via the Abrolhos Islands.  We would see them again at Guarapari.

Leaving would be easy.  We had our exact GPS track on the computer and we just needed to follow the same track out, simple.  And then we ran aground!  It was only for a few minutes - we were on a rising tide, but it was an indication of how tight things had been on our way in.  We really wouldn't have enjoyed doing it by taking bearings on anonymous small grey houses!


The next step was quite a long hop.  Most of the limited possible stops were either difficult, unattractive or both. One decision was whether to stop at the Islas Abrolhos.  This is a national park and one isn't allowed ashore, but it is a famous whale watching location.  Whales come up from the Antarctic to breed and feed in the rich waters before heading south again when the calves have built up enough layers of fat.  The regulations state that you may not approach within 50 meters of a female and calf, but this rule is apparently impossible to comply with because there are so many.  The Abrolhos are one of the "Must See" sites of Brasil. 

However, as is often the case we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and this late in the year the whales would be long gone.  So since it was the middle of the night, we were not permitted to land, there weren't any whales and we had good wind the decision not to stop was an easy one to make.  We'd try and catch the whales on the way back (figuratively speaking of course).

It was just south of the Abrolhos that we had one of those little moments.  It was just after dawn, we had the wind behind us, we were making good progress with the sails poled out on both sides (ie we weren't very manoeuvrable) and Barry was on watch:-  "Everything happened in very rapid steps.  I spotted something in the water a few hundred metres ahead.  Almost immediately I realised it was a pair of whales, mother and baby, apparently stationary on the surface, probably sleeping.  We were going to be very close!  I ran below and added 20 degrees to auto pilot, the most I could manage with the sails as they were, and leapt back on deck. 
It was too little too late.  We were going to hit them!   Now Samarang is built of steel and strong, but a collision with something of this size would still do a lot of damage and probably wouldn't be much fun for the whale either.  But there was nothing I could do, I felt horribly powerless.  We were going to hit them!

Then at the very last moment, when I felt I could almost touch them, first the mother and then the baby - in what seemed like slow motion - very gracefully curved their backs and slid beneath the keel. Amazing!  A minute or so later they resurfaced behind the yacht and I just stood there with my mouth open, transfixed, as they slowly faded into the distance."

2 days of very good wind and we were in Vitoria a major harbour and noticeably wealthier and more European than further north and the population had shifted, equally noticeably, from black to white - a pattern that was to continue as we travelled south.  Hard to say exactly why, but we liked Vitoria very much.  Perhaps because at heart we are really European and that's what it felt like.  It was clean, had nice shops and restaurants and we could have been in a town on the Med - except for the beans of course.  We learned later that apparently Vitoria has an exceptionally high crime rate, even by Brasilian standards, but we saw no evidence of it.  An aside here for any sailors reading - the marina is a nice place, but horribly exposed to the prevailing wind, which generates a very nasty surge (mooring is stern-to a fixed jetty with a buoy/ + anchor).  Best to anchor behind the marina - shallow, but possible.

We'd been in Vitoria a few days when we spotted another cruiser making her way into the harbour.  We did a double take, because it seemed so unlikely, but at the same time we were certain.  We instantly recognised the boat.  It was Svenya - Rene & Viola who we had last seen in Gibraltar 4 years earlier and it's certain that at that time neither boat had any plans to sail to Brasil.  Small world once again.

On to Guarapari where we stayed for over two weeks in the company of Afun Davu and Svenya.  A pretty ordinary seaside town, but with lots of anchoring possibilities with shelter from any direction if the wind blew up and very long fine beaches.  We stayed so long as we were struggling to find a big enough window for the next longish hop south between what seemed like a constant flow of cold fronts.  We passed up a possible window just after we arrived because we weren't in any hurry, but now the pressure was beginning to build a bit.  We had a long way to go, the notorious Cabo San Tomé to round and we had flights booked!

Finally, we left,  the window was tighter and a bit less favourable than we would have wished, but at least we should have good weather at San Tomé, and of course we had those air tickets!  Sadly this was also to be a parting of the ways with Afun Davu, Werner & Emmy, who we'd been sailing in loose company with for a couple of months.  Their plan was to sail down to Buenos Aires, so we hoped to meet up with them again at some point.  At the time of writing this from our apartment in Buenos Aires, we still haven't, but as we keep proving, it's a small world.


Next stop was Buzios, allegedly the playground of the rich and famous of Rio, and worth the trip.  Maybe we're becoming cynical, but we have heard that just a few times before.......

Anyway, Buzios is a huge bay strategically located before the last cape between us and Rio, so sophisticated or not, it was a natural place to stop.  As it's a huge sandy bay we would have no problem anchoring there if we arrived at night even though there was next to no moon.  As soon as you read that sentence you know something's about to happen don't you.  And it did.

It was almost pitch black, and we were making good speed across Buzios bay.  Expected to anchor around 0200 which would be good.  Because it had been quite a short trip (36 hrs) we hadn't got into the rhythm of night watches which in turn meant we were both tired, and Barry was on night watch.

Then we stopped.  Nothing dramatic.  No bangs or crashes, nothing.  Just that we had been doing 7 knots and now we were, well, stopped.  The wind was still blowing, but we weren't going (sic).

Well as  explained we were tired and it took a while to rationalise what seemed to be completely irrational.  The log said we were stopped.  The GPS confirmed it.  The wind was blowing.  We hadn't hit anything.  Except of course we had.  We'd hit a very long fishing net (several miles long it later transpired).  After some torchlight investigation it was apparent that we had sailed over it, it had slid under the boat then popped up when it reached the end of the keel and was now caught on the skeg of the rudder.  A bit of a problem.  We couldn't risk starting the engine to try and manoeuvre off as we couldn't risk picking the thing up in our prop.  We had a cutter on the prop to stop this from happening, but it was unlikely to be able to cut something like this and anyway we didn't really want to cut someone's nets if we could avoid it. There seemed only one option -  into the wet suit, tie on and go over the side to try and manipulate the thing past the rudder.  Oh bliss!  Apart from all the practicalities (dropping the sails etc), well it was very dark and we've all seen Jaws right?  Now in the rational side of my brain I (almost) knew there weren't going to be any sharks or anything else just because it was dark, but the other half of my mind was completely full of floating body parts.

Then, a miracle, we were moving again and Lindy was helming us away from the net!  Had the rope parted?  Quick check whilst it was still visible - no it all looked intact.  We think one of the larger waves had lifted us just far enough and just quickly enough to let the rope pass below our rudder.  All other options seem to involve divine intervention!

Well after all that confidence was just about subterranean and any thoughts of anchoring in the dark were right out of the window (that should be porthole I suppose).  So we spent a very uncomfortable several hours sailing very slowly in the wrong directions so as not to arrive near the anchorage until dawn.  This was all for the best as it turned out.  The preferred anchorage listed in the pilot was chock full of schooners.  Anchorages #2 & #3 were now full of mooring buoys and we ended up anchoring well away from the area we would have headed for if we'd arrived earlier.  Makes you think doesn't it - perhaps that glass of champagne we poured to Poseidon as we crossed the equator was still paying dividends!  Svenya arrived the following night and managed to spot our mast, anchored and we awoke to friends nearby.

And Buzios?  Well yes, it was a pretty up-market place.  Once a traditional fishing village and now all smart bars, restaurants and hotels - though the fishing community (or at least those of them not now running tourist schooners) was still very much in evidence.  Not cheap by Brasilian standards, but you could actually eat food without beans!  We liked Buzios.

Much as liked Buzios we still had those air tickets (and a job list to complete before we mothballed the boat).  So as soon as a weather window opened we were off again.  Actually, getting out of the bay and round Cabo Frio was an extremely lumpy, cold and drizzly few hours, but then it all settled down and we bowled our way down to Rio, poled out with reefed sails.



And how was Rio de Janeiro, playground of Brasil and highlight of South America?  Err, well actually, we didn't stop.  Lindy was on watch before dawn when we actually passed the entrance to the bay and the famous Sugar Loaf.  She didn't wake me.

"So how was it?"  I asked later that morning.  "Like in the pictures",  she shrugged.

Well that's that then!

 Home Up Not Having A Boat
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Last updated 18th March 2018