Closing the Loop

Hurrah!  We’ve done it!

Sunset at sea – what a fitting finale to a circumnavigation that has taken us almost six years to achieve, putting 35,000nm under Pipistrelle’s keel …

More to follow from Prickly Bay, but cheers for now.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a look again at the 2010 blogs St Kitts to Grenada, and the Venezuelan Islands

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Final Days to Grenada

After a passage of just under four days from French Guiana, we dropped anchor in Prickly Bay, Grenada at 08.15 on 5th April 2016, having sailed 688nm at an average speed of 7.2kn.

The rip-roaring ride of the first 48 hours was mainly due to the strong favourable current, but as ever it’s either feast or famine, and we had to resort to using the engine once for several hours while the wind dropped off and changed direction countless times.  Our subsequent progress was steady with no squalls, renewed current helping us along especially off the north coast of Tobago.  Here we changed course for Grenada having poled out the genoa to starboard enabling us to goose-wing towards our destination and putting our arrival a few hours ahead of schedule.

Having seen only a few tankers while underway – some at close quarters in such a big ocean – espying so many masts from a distance and yachts in the anchorage came as quite a shock.

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French Guiana to Grenada

On Easter Monday we dropped anchor off Ile Royale, Iles du Salut nearly 9 days at sea (8 days, 17 hours and 30 mins to be precise!) covering 1361 nm at an average speed of 6.5kn. With 3 reefs in the main and no headsail for the last 36 hours we were glad to have arrived safely. If the passage from the Seychelles was our liveliest ever, we agreed this comes a close second!

Eight miles off the coast of French Guyana, near Kourou, the three small islands of Iles du Salut played a significant part in French colonial history – more about their role in a separate blog called Stopover at Les Iles du Salut

Suffice it to say, we went exploring with the crews of the other two yachts at the anchorage – Mahimahi from Sweden and Apogee from the US.

Intending to leave again on 31st March we delayed our departure for 24 hours. Lashing rain and strong gusts were not conducive to weighing anchor if we didn’t have to, so we stayed put, putting us 36 hours behind the other two boats.

So, after a very welcome break, we’re on passage again – destination Grenada in the Caribbean.

24 hour run 07.40 1st April – 07.40 2nd April = 206 nm (nearly a record!)

Posted in Caribbean, French Guiana, Grenada and The Grenadines, South America | Tagged

Stopover at Les Iles du Salut

Called ‘The Salvation Islands’ this small group lies 8nm off the coast of French Guiana, and consists of 3 separate islands, Ile Royale, Ile St Joseph and Ile du Diable.  The port of Le Kourou is on the mainland, and the EU Space Station not far away.

Because this was only considered as a short stop off just before we left St Helena, and we were only interested in a safe anchorage to break our passage to Grenada, for once we had not done our homework about the location.  It turns out that it played a significant role in French colonial history, beginning in the late 15th century, when France sent an ill planned expedition to Kourou in an attempt to claim a large part of South America as its territory.  The islands were used as a staging post because of the relatively sheltered harbour and deep water access.

Once the infrastructure had been created, in 1852 a penal colony was established on Ile St Joseph.

The former Prison Commander’s residence on Ile Royale houses an informative museum where we learned in the 19th century the islands were used to house several famous French prisoners, Dreyfus among them.  The Dreyfus Affair was a famous political scandal at the end of the 19th century involving Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was wrongly convicted of treason.  None other than the writer Emile Zola came to his defence in an open letter which helped force the reopening of his trial.   Papillon, the autobiography written by another wrongly convicted prisoner, Henri Charrière, recounts the story of his long incarceration there before and during World War II and subsequent escape.  Thousands of prisoners were shipped here from France, convicted for anything from petty crime to murder.  Apparently their lot was considered better here than back home.  All prisoners were eventually shipped back to France in 1953, and the prison closed.  But not before 80,000 convicts had met their death there.

Magnus and Sara on Mahimahi had arrived 36 hours before we did and Lori and Robert on Apogee sailed in at the same time.  Once we had anchored, we four weary sailors were invited to lunch on Mahimahi so after a frantic boat clean-up, we enjoyed a very convivial and relaxing get together!

A dinghy trip to explore Ile St Joseph followed.  Getting ashore can be hazardous, and we had not even taken cameras.  These photographs were taken on a different day.  On the top of the island is the prison, where the cells are small, a few rocks in a corner of each cell served as a toilet, double bars across the window, and bars across the ‘ceiling’ so that patrolling guards on top could prevent prisoners smoking!  350 convicts were housed on this island.  On the north coast is a cemetery for adults who had died on the islands, but not for prisoners – their bodies were fed to the sharks!  Children were buried separately on Ile Royale.

Quite an introduction when we were least expecting it!  The next day was spent diving on the hull in the morning to remove heavy barnacle growth on the prop and shaft incurred at Jacare, and a brief visit to Ile Royale to book dinner at the Auberge des Iles for the six of us, and do a tiny bit of exploring.  Here we found the original cells dating back to the early 19th century, together with a hospital room, and solitary confinement cells.  Set apart are the warders’ bungalows.  The local gendarmerie and other buildings are located next to the church.  Peacocks, agoutis and monkeys roam around, and the former fresh water reservoir is now home to caiman lizards.

The Ile du Diable (Devils Island) was never developed to house prisoners, but some were sent there without any accommodation at all.  There is no landing stage, and the currents and waves in the area are fierce.

Today the only use that we could see for the islands is tourism and fishing.  Cruise ships visit, and catamarans bring visitors over from Kourou on a daily basis.  The Auberge has a number of rooms for visitors who want to stay overnight, and has substantial restaurant facilities.

It was an interesting and educational brief stop but depressing at the same time, not helped by the weather, and while Mahimahi and Apogee set sail again, we stayed an additional day to allow heavy rain and strong winds to pass by.

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The Northern Hemisphere

Oops!

In his haste to send off emails, the over-zealous Captain had not understood this piece was still a draft and, as such, not to be sent! We can in fact send an email to our blog while at sea, and the article magically appears soon afterwards. Photographs are always added later.

So, to complete the short offering:

At 00.35 on 24th March we crossed the Equator for the fourth time, at full moon. Neptune was slumbering, so homage will duly be paid on a calm day in sunshine! It’s not all sun and calm seas – far from it. Since then we have hardly seen the sun for threatening skies and cloud cover and have had up to 25 kn breeze with gusts of 27 kn ahead of some big squalls. The wind angle has been steady at +/-90 deg, giving us a broad reach. Typical of the ITCZ. We’re now running with 2 reefs in the main and no headsail, our SOG still 6 kn.

Fortunately, in a squall and with everything battened down, we retreat below from where we can navigate – one of the many advantages of a pilot saloon. Here we have all round visibility, can check the set of the sails and look out on the rain, in these temperatures with all fans running!

Distance run: 1,100 nm

Distance to run: 250 nm

Best 24 hour run so far: 171 nm

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Adeus Brazil

With repairs to the ageing stackpack (sail cover) to last another couple of months, a newly galvanised anchor chain (very good price in Jacare), and re-pressurised hydraulic boom vang with new seals, we slipped lines on Saturday 19th March and headed down river for our next passage.

Six days in and over 950 nm under the keel, this stage will take us the 1400 nm to Devil’s Island, one of the ‘Iles du Salut’ off the coast of French Guiana. There we will have a short break before moving on to the Caribbean.

After a couple of bright days to begin with we have had some squalls which are likely to increase the further we get into the ITCZ, or Doldrums; a moving feast where the weather is fickle.

Ocean TV continues on a small scale with schools of dolphins playing around Pipistrelle (always a joy), hundreds of shoals of flying fish skimming across the waves and a couple of feathered hitchhikers.

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Fun in Rio and The Iguazu Falls

Having decided just what we would like to focus on in Brazil, the two ‘must sees’ were Rio de Janeiro and the Iguazu Falls.

From Joao Passoa we flew to Rio, were met at the airport and transferred to our hotel at a good location between the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.  Security was not an issue, and we felt safe walking along the promenades in the late evening.  What a change after South Africa!

The next day we did the tourist thing and went on a guided city tour.  Our first stop was to Corcovado, the famous landmark of Christ the Redeemer, which stands at 704 mtrs above sea level.  Made of soapstone and completed in 1922 the statue of Christ stands 120 ft. high and has an arm span of 75 ft.  The views from here bring the topography around Rio into perspective, with the many mountain ridges dividing the city, the harbour, forests and beaches.  This all makes the city that much more attractive.  On a clear day, the Sugar Loaf Mountain is visible – we could just pick it out through the haze.

Work was taking place at the Maracanã football stadium that will be used for this summer’s Olympics, and we were surprised to see that the Rio Carnival has its own street with grandstands each side, used solely for the event, the rest of the year it is an empty space!  We did get a taste on a different stage …

Opened in 1976, Rio Cathedral or the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian is very different from any building we had seen before, with its conical shape and four huge vertical stained glass windows.

Our day was rounded off with a cable car trip in two stages to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, 392 m above sea level.  Interestingly from here the clouds had surrounded Corcovado, leaving the statue of Christ seemingly floating on air!

Hannes was in town at the same time, and we had the pleasure of meeting up with him over lunch at the Museo de Arte do Rio, which Elaine enjoyed afterwards.  This was not Bob’s scene, but he did enjoy the very new Museo do Amanha, or Museum of Tomorrow, which was close by, and is housed in a very futuristic building opened in December 2015.  This museum concentrates on what we are doing to our world today, the damage we are causing, and its likely effect.  Lots of electronic displays, striking music, and provoking thoughts.   Interesting bearing in mind the destruction of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil and exploitation of natural resources!  The whole area is a huge regeneration site with modern architecture attracting prosperity in place of the poor, crime ridden district it once was.

No visit to Rio would be complete without strolling along Ipanema Beach or enjoying a caipirinha cocktail at sundown on Copacabana Beach.  Even spending a day on the crowded Copacabana, or a half day in our case had to be done!  We hired two chairs and an umbrella, and watched the world and beach vendors go by, with many people surfing in water that could be cleaner.  The bikinis on the right bodies were very attractive, or maybe some of the bodies scantily clad by not much bikini were very attractive!  On both beaches, that ‘Girl from Ipanema’ was definitely out in force 55 years on.

Incidentally, the Copacabana stretch reminded us of the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.  That was even before we saw the Copacabana Palace Hotel for which the inspiration is in fact Nice’s Negresco.  From the riches of the promenades to the poverty of the ‘favelas’ or shanty towns that dominate large cities throughout Brazil, there could not be a starker contrast.  We stopped short of going on a tour of a favela, believing it to be voyeurism to walk openly through one of the poor districts with a guide.   Photos from a distance were enough for us.  Here too, a few shots of colonial buildings still found amongst modernity.

Iguazu Falls

See our video under Pipistrelle Crew at the Iguazu Falls

All good things have to come to an end, or in our case, the vibrant, colourful city life of Rio be replaced after three days by a breath-taking Wonder of the World.  We had an evening flight via Curitiba to Foz do Iguacu, and found a different use for Navionics, in that it will record our track in flight, whereas Maps with Me won’t, as yet!

We stayed at the Best Western Taroba Hotel which was good, and were taken the next day to the Iguazu Falls, which form the natural boundary between Argentina and Brazil, separated by the Iguazu River.  These cascades are on a par with the Victoria Falls, and are far larger than Niagara.  The falls’ horseshoe is approximately 2 miles long, and 1700 cu mtrs of water flow over the 200ft cliffs per second.

Visiting the Brazilian side first, we were impressed by the torrents and scenery just by walking alongside the river.  Venturing out on walkways towards the Falls necessitated donning the latest fashion in plastic macs to avoid getting soaked – but along with everyone else we still did anyway.  The spray from the cascades and the noise of the rush of water thundering down hundreds of feet is both deafening and exciting.

As a contrast we followed up our time at the Falls with a visit to the Parc dos Aves, a tropical bird sanctuary, where we were able to walk through vast aviaries with beautiful, well-looked after birds of endangered species flying around us.  The largest aviary of its kind in the world, about half of the birds have been rescued from mistreatment and trafficking.  Eventually it is hoped to reintroduce some species to the wild.

The next day we left Brazil temporarily, crossed the Tancredo Neves Bridge and checked in to Argentina, another two stamps in the passport, another language (Spanish) and currency (pesos)!  The bridge spans the Iguazu River that forms a natural boundary between the two countries, while just a few miles away on the Parana River lies Paraguay.

We were taken to the Visitor Centre where we duly paid in pesos, then walked to the narrow gauge railway station, boarded the open train to take us conveniently close to the Garganta del Diablo, or Devils Throat, the single most impressive cascade.   In all, 275 cascades make up the falls, the number rising to 350 in the rainy season.  The network of sturdy walkways covers most of the major falls, enabling us to take some great photos.  We didn’t even need to don the fashionable rain attire of the previous day.

The six day trip was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we were glad to have made the effort to get away.  Another high spot in our travels.

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Pipistrelle Crew at The Iguazu Falls

Yes – for two days last week we were here at these spectacular cascades, an awe inspiring Wonder of the World.  An absolutely astounding experience, both in Brazil and Argentina.

Just watch this, video’d on the Argentinian side at The Devil’s Throat …

More about our trip on Fun in Rio and the Iguazu Falls

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In the Brazilian Nordeste – Olinda

The poorest of all the regions, the Nordeste or Northeast Region of Brazil comprises Paraíba State and eight others, including Pernambuco with the beautiful old city of Olinda. Situated on a hill near Recifé, Olinda was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1982 because of its wealth of Baroque architecture and art dating back to the 16th century.

So having decided to travel a little, together with Tom and Barbara of Gosi, this was to be our first destination with an overnight stay.   For a very reasonable fare, ‘our’ taxi driver Bernardo offered to drive us the two hours south, and we travelled in comfort passing acres and acres of sugar cane and refineries, the huge manufacturing plants of Jeep and Fiat and arriving at our accommodation by 10.30.

The Pousada dos Quatro Cantos is an attractive and quirky historical mansion conveniently located in the centre of the old city, so we set off immediately on foot to explore.   Our attempts were thwarted by a torrential downpour which had us looking at the artefacts in the museum of sacred art for longer than expected, after which we ran for cover in one of the many churches (Sao Salvador do Mundo).  On a good day, the restaurant where we had a light lunch affords marvellous views of Brazil’s oldest Carmelite church (Nossa Senhora do Carmo) below, and Recifé beyond.

Most impressive for us was the convent of Sao Francisco and the Chapel to Nossa Senhora das Neves with its splendidly ornate tiling, cloisters and frescos dating back to 1580.  Let the photos tell the story.

By the time we emerged, the rain had stopped so we wandered through the narrow cobbled streets with their brightly coloured colonial buildings, housing coffee shops, art galleries, and restaurants, some with vestiges of the Carnival just past – a big and important celebration throughout Catholic Brazil, of course, to mark the beginning of Lent.

Street scenes …

Dinner that evening with Tom and Barbara was at the Oficina do Sabor which claims to be the best restaurant in the country – or was that region?  The meal was superb and we two chose the delicious fish dish which entitled us to a commemorative plate each.  Strange but true.

With most of the following day in Olinda, we explored other parts of town on foot again, this time in sunshine, and came across the Puppet Museum or Mumulengo.  A fascinating and more sophisticated version of the well-known British Punch and Judy Show, Mumulengo is an artform in the Northeast region.  Scenes of everyday life are played out by the puppeteer hidden behind a stage and assisted by the audience.

Lunch at the Patua restaurant with its unassuming frontage and extensive menu enabled us time to sum up our short trip as very interesting and worthwhile.

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Jacaré and Paraiba State

Just under 6nm up the Rio Paraiba from Cabedelo, the small Jacaré Village Marina offers good shelter and a haven of tranquillity as an escape from the sometimes overpowering bustle and noise that is Brazil.  Run by a Frenchman, Nicolas, a cruiser himself who created the ‘Rallye des Iles du Soleil’ some years ago, the marina attracts many French boats that have crossed from the Cape Verdes.  Nicolas has a great team working with him and excellent connections.  He is also an excellent chef and every other Sunday evening, lays on a fantastic menu of local dishes, eaten to the lilting tunes of a live duo.  Nicolas can be contacted at nicolas.tiphagne@gmail.com.

After 48 hours on the welcome pontoon, we moored Mediterranean style bows-to on the adjacent dock, climbing over the bow, onto the anchor and stepping down to get ashore.  No problem at all for Hannes or Bob, but for Elaine’s shorter stature, a step was produced for the final stage.  The currents in the river are strong, so to secure Pipistrelle we have two ropes forward and two attached aft to ‘slime lines’ embedded in the river.  Tap water is potable and shore power fairly reliable to run refrigeration and other systems.  Facilities ashore include wifi, showers, laundry, bar and restaurant with good food at reasonable prices.  Provisioning is a 20 minute walk away, though essentials are available in the village.  What more could we want having been at sea for so long?  In Brazil it has to be safety and security.  Jacaré Village Marina provides just that.

Having sailed about 4,000nm with us on Pipistrelle, and thus qualifying him for membership of the Ocean Cruising Club to which he aspires, it was reluctantly time to bid Hannes farewell as he set off on his overland travels through South America.  We tried to convince him to sail on with us to the Caribbean, and he countered with suggesting we sail south – a no-go on both sides.  First though, we all needed to clear in to Brazil and sign Hannes off the boat.  Not as straightforward as it sounds.  The whole procedure took two days, with Immigration on day one, followed by Customs and the Port Captain on day two, each involving a taxi ride to separate offices in Cabedelo and oodles of patience.    Each official was extremely fastidious, but at the same time polite and friendly and we have visas to stay in the country for 90 days.  Following the same protocol when clearing out could prove tedious.  Bernardo ‘our’ taxi driver, ferried us around, and seems to know everyone everywhere and how the system works.  He goes out of his way to be accommodating, is very kind so it’s such a shame we can’t communicate properly.  He speaks no English, and why should he; and we very few words of Portuguese.  But somehow we manage.

Within walking distance from the marina, pleasure craft take groups of tourists out daily to dance the samba on board, watch the sunset, and subsequently be serenaded by a saxophonist in a Brazilian type gondola playing Ravel’s Bolero.  With its craft shops, a few bars and restaurants along a short promenade, this is a far cry from the traditional fishing village.

Jacaré’s railway station is on the regional line running from Cabedelo in the east to beyond João Pessoa to the west, the capital of Paraíba State.  It is an extremely cheap way of getting around and as such is very popular with locals.  For us it provided an opportunity to go to the Saturday market in Cabedelo and stock up with a marvellous selection of fresh tropical fruit and vegetables, while just looking at the meat and fish on offer.

Situated at the eastern most point of the Americas, João Pessoa’s population is about 770,000.  Along with high-rise buildings and resorts, an interesting old town founded in 1585 lies its heart.  Just a 30 minute train ride away, we spent a pleasant afternoon there and were impressed by both architecture and ornate baroque interiors of some of its many churches.

Brazil so far has been an unexpected surprise.   Reports on Noonsite about security are enough to put most cruisers off coming here, so it’s still off the beaten track.  But Jacaré is a safe haven and having planned to stay just a week, decided to leave Pipistrelle to take advantage of the fairly cheap internal flight/accommodation costs and go travelling.

As always we have to ask ourselves what we want to see, and what we can fit in.  More of what we focussed on in the next blogs.

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