Newsletter #4 Adventures in Brazil and meeting old friends

FILED FROM: Barbados, May 2003
On this leg the Fiona’s crew deals with bureacracy, completes the circumnavigation, and meets old friends.
Dear Friends,
I last visited Santos eleven years ago when I was sailing home on Fiona from Tahiti after Edith had passed away. I have two strong recollections of the place. First is the memory of the luxurious yacht club, at which, as a foreign yacht, we got to stay for eight days free. Second I still remember the bureaucratic nightmare I got involved in because my American crew did not have Brazilian visas. To sort out the mess I had to hire an agent. I was hauled up before an administrative judge and fined $30 for illegally bringing aliens into Brazil. I pleaded that failure of the ship’s transmitter had forced me into Santos for repairs. The judge asked to see a letter from a repair shop before I could leave. The agent connived with a technician to get the letter, which cost me $200 and he did not even bother to fix the radio. This time I was ready, Bob and David had got their visas from the consulate in New York before we left. After we had tied up at the yacht club, which seemed little changed, I took a bus into the center of Santos to start the dreary round of official approvals needed to enter the country by boat. At Customs, after a couple hours, I was told that the only man who knew the correct procedures was away that day and I should return in the morning. I still had time to make it to Immigration before dark. I took a taxi along the miles of decaying waterfront warehouses to the station of the Federal Police, which deal with matters of immigration. It was a dingy office. Three or four fellows in black uniforms with side arms were lounging about, mostly watching a very loud TV set. I gave my little pile of papers to a balding man with a mustache at a desk. He riffled through them and seized the passports. ‘Visas?’ he asked. I pointed to the large stamps in the passports.

He shook his head and scowled. He said something I didn’t catch over the noise of the TV and put a beefy finger on the date – May, 2002; just before we left. I finally got the message that they were only good for 90 days. I explained we had been in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica for the past few months, areas notably deficient in Brazilian Consulates and that we had got them when we could, we had paid the $45 fee, wasn’t that the important thing? By this time the other fellows had smelled some fun and gathered round the desk. There was a long conversation in incomprehensible Portuguese. Finally a woman was produced from a back room who spoke a little English. She told me the visas were no good and Bob and David would have to leave Brazil immediately. I put my case again that they had visas. But she was adamant, ‘Go to Argentina,’ she said. ‘Visas can only be issued outside the country.’ That didn’t seem like good idea, Argentina lay well to our south. I was shown the door and told to come back in the morning, in the meanwhile Bob and David must not leave the boat.

I returned to the Yacht Club feeling disgusted. A few weeks earlier I had been battling ‘bergs, now I was battling bureaucrats. I think I preferred the ‘bergs. When I got to the boat I found that Sue had flown in from New York and that she and Bob had booked themselves into a nice hotel on the beach. I didn’t seem like a good time to tell him to stay on the boat. I poured a stiff Mount Gay instead. Later one of the club security guards came by to say they had a fax from the Feds and I was to meet them at 8 am next morning. The next day I also discovered the fax instructed the club not to let Bob and David off of the premises, but fortunately nobody paid any attention. I guess the Brazilians are used to their overblown officialdom. Before Bob and Sue retired to the beach we discussed strategy. Just in case we were forced out we decided that the three of them would go to a supermarket in the morning and restock the boat while I was at Gestapo headquarters. I got up bright and early, as I had no idea how bad the morning rush would be. In fact it was light at that hour and I arrived back at the same dingy office by 7:20 am. The night shift was just getting ready to clock out. The captain spoke a little English, I explained that I had just arrived from Antarctica on a yacht and that yesterday I had been told to come back because the visas were dated. ‘Antarctica’, he mused, ‘Show me the papers.’ He looked at the clearance manifest from South Georgia to Santos. ‘It’s no problem’, he said and promptly made out and stamped the form I needed for the Port Captains office. I grabbed it, thanked him and scooted before my nemesis showed up at 8 am. But they got me in the end, as you will learn.

I completed the clearing in procedures, got my beard trimmed and returned to the club. David, Bob and Sue had done the shopping and loaded the food aboard Fiona. One of the uncooperative policemen from the dingy office was standing on the dock watching, but he said nothing. For the next couple of days we did boat maintenance in the mornings and explored the region in the afternoons. I was lucky enough to run into a Brazilian yachtsman who spoke good English called Dancini. He helped me get repairs done that required local experts. He took the jib furler to a rigger and came back a few days later with it rebuilt. David took the bus for a long weekend in Rio de Janeiro. One evening on the way back to the boat from supper I noticed a circus had pitched its tent in a large lot, the show was due to start in twenty minutes so I treated myself to a night at the Circus Stangowich , which had one ring, two clowns some dancing horses and a rather moth-eaten camel. The children loved it. On Sunday afternoon I walked over to the beautiful beach on the seaward side of Santos in a very upmarket area called Gonzaga. The seafront consisted of a park behind the beach and then a wide boulevard in front of tall apartment blocks. In the park local artists exhibited their pictures, one showed an Arabian scene with camels, I bought it as a reminder of my night at the circus. Soon it was time to go, David returned from Rio, suitably exhausted and Sue flew home. On our last evening Dancini took us to a small factory belonging to a friend of his that made surfboards. David knew a bargain when he saw one and bought a nine-foot plus board on the spot. I steeled myself and went into Santos to repeat the clearance procedure so that we could leave. Unfortunately my cooperative captain was not on duty at the Federal Police office and my documents were heavily annotated to state the crew must not leave the boat in Brazil, thus making sure I had problems in the future at other ports.

Our first stop was the beautiful cruising area near Ihla Grande, it took us a little over a day to get there under power. We anchored in a pretty bay with a bar on the beach and cooked some Brazilian sausages after a few beers at the bar. Dancini had given me a cruising guide to the Brazilian coast that mentioned another anchorage not far away with access to a beach on the seaward side with good surfing. Naturally David had to try his new toy and so the next day that is where we went. We took a jungle path over a hill and emerged on the beach that had huge waves rolling in. After a while Bob and I walked back to a small restaurant and had a few beers while we absorbed the local color. Rio was only about 60 miles away and several ferries had disgorged a bevy of Bikini-clad beauties who frolicked in the water. It was all quite a change from our ocean cruising regimen. During the night it poured, the first rain we had seen in a while. The next morning we powered over to a charming fishing village and anchored. There were no vehicles in the village, we tried to do e-mail without much success and after lunch left for the long haul north. Dancini’s guide mentioned that the coast in this region is notoriously windless, as we found out. After using the engine for two days I decided to refuel at a city a couple of hundred miles up the coast from Rio called Vitoria. The guide mentioned that the fuel dock at the local yacht club was quite shallow; I wanted to sneak in and refuel without attracting the attention of the Port Captain who might look askance at out clearance papers from Santos. Fortunately as we got close we found a Swedish cruising yacht anchored near the club who was also refueling by using his dinghy to transport jerry jugs. The captain very kindly offered to take me in and while Bob and David circled outside I went in with the Swede and sounded out the depths. We could just fit. I went back to the boat and we cautiously crept up to the fuel dock with only one minor bump from the keel on a launching ramp and tied up.

Within 20 minutes we had a full load of diesel and we were away. It took us eight days from Vitoria to make the leg of slightly over a thousand miles to Cabedelo, located at Cabo Branco, the easternmost tip of the South American continent. Although we were well inside the region of southeast trade winds they did not materialize and we sailed with light winds or powered in the calm spells. On the way we celebrated my 39th birthday, again!

We arrived a couple of hours after nightfall on Good Friday. Our guide recommended anchoring just south of the main wharf if arriving at night and proceeding up the Paraiba River to the yachtie hangout in Jacare in daylight. We anchored in the designated spot and were just enjoying a well-earned rum and apple juice when a huge car ferry emerged out of the gloom and passed us with a few feet to spare, the captain hooting his displeasure as he left us rocking in his wake. It seemed like a good idea to move a half-mile further down the river. Later we discovered the ferry service had been instituted since the guide was published. In the morning we negotiated the river sandbars and dropped anchor near several other yachts at a marina run by an expat Englishman called Brian that is famous in cruising circles. One reason it is famous is that the local officials are fairly relaxed; considering it was a holiday weekend I decided it would be unkind to burden them with extra paperwork so we did not check in at all. The day after Easter Monday we quietly glided down the river and left for the offshore island of Fernando de Noronha. Talk about a small world;, while we were at Jacare we had a cup of coffee on an American yacht belonging to a single-hander called Alec. He mulled over the name Fiona and said it rang a bell. Finally we discovered he had known Barbara and John Knight in St Johns for years. You may recall Edith and I made our first transatlantic crossing as crew for John aboard Arvin Court II. Just south of Brian’s marina are a number of bars and restaurants that are very popular with the locals. This holiday weekend they were very busy, the whole area throbbed with Brazilian music. One evening there was a dance with live bands that changed every hour as they exhausted themselves, such was the energy they put into it. On the way to the dance floor you are frisked for weapons. Ah, Brazil!

Fernando de Noronha had a special significance for us – we left this island on August 13th, 2002, for Cape Town, thus we completed a circumnavigation, albeit in the southern hemisphere, when we returned on April 24th, 2003. There were two other yachts at anchor, we invited the crews over for a party to celebrate the evening after we arrived. The captain of one boat, a Swiss, brought over an imaginatively decorated bottle of champagne titled ‘The Jules Verne Trophy – Round the World in Eight Months’. Later we all adjourned to Elda’s restaurant overlooking the harbor for supper. Most of the die-hards then went on to a dance in the village but I must confess I took the dinghy back to Fiona and fell fast asleep. We did a little maintenance and boat clean-up, on two afternoons David surfed with his new board. We left after three days for the final leg with the original crew across the equator to Barbados. Bob has been poring over the logbook and come up with some interesting statistics of the ‘mini’ circumnavigation. A complete circumnavigation will not be officially completed until we cross the equator again a couple of hundred miles north of Fernando de Noronha. Here are a few facts:

Days at sea: 184.
Days in port: 72.
Total days: 256.
Total mileage logged: 21,828.
Average: 119 nm/day.
Number of times mainsail was reefed: 54
Number of staysail was reefed: 4
Number of times spitfire jib rigged: 4
Total time under power: 492 hr (20.5 days), max continuous run: 62 hr.
Total fuel added, Diesel: 495 gal.
Propane: 86 lbs
Lowest pressure recorded: 981 mbar. (Feb 7th, 2003)
Number of times we replaced steering lines on the Aries: 15
Number of ships logged: approx 78
Number of icebergs logged: 127.
Number of icebergs hit: 1

I should make a comment on the total miles logged. This is only an approximation to the true distance, errors arise because of the calibration of the instrument itself and because we often did not sail the direct course due to tacking or bearing away on a reach. Motion due to ocean currents, towards or against the boat’s course does not record on the log. For the comparison, our track for the circumnavigation measured on a chart is 21,030 nm in length.

The leg to Barbados had two distinct parts. The first, from Fernando de Noronha to about 3 degrees N, was across the equator in a region known as the Doldrums. The wind was fickle and light, the current was often against us and there were frequent squalls, some with strong wind gusts and heavy rain. This was frustrating sailing. Then we ran into the northeast trade winds, they were steady and strong. We tied two reefs in the mainsail and flew. Victor the Vane handled the steering as we made tremendous time to the island. The speed over the bottom shown on the GPS was often over 8 knots due to the boost from the Brazilian Equatorial Current. We sailed the last thousand miles in six days; great sailing for an old cruising boat. We arrived about 11 pm local time and anchored in Carlisle Bay, Bridgetown. We cleared customs and immigration in the morning, hassle-free compared to Brazil. As we stepped ashore David spotted his father, who had flown in the day before. Bob and David are leaving Fiona in Barbados after completing their southern ocean circumnavigation. I plan to fly home for a couple of weeks and then have a leisurely cruise in the Caribbean with a new crew. Since leaving New York last June we have logged 29,549 nautical miles.

Best wishes until next time, Eric


The old Portuguese fort guards the entrance to Santos harbor. It was once attacked by Francis Drake.

The luxurious Iate Clube de Santos.

Shower stalls at the club. Free towels and soap are provided by an attendant.

The beach at Guaruja. The building on the right is the hotel that Sue and Bob stayed in.

Art exhibit on the boulevard at Gonzaga.

David with his new surfboard at Lopes Mendes beach, Ihla Grande.

Native schooners swing at anchor, village of Abraao, Ihla Grande.

The cathedral of Joao Pessoa on the Paraiba River, NE Brazil.

Mural on the wall of a health center in Joao Pessoa. Note the gowned doctors and nude patients.

The wild dance floor at Jacare, our anchorage on the Paraiba River.

The circumnavigators raise a toast at Elda’s restaurant, Fernando de Noronha.

A bottle of bubbly, custom labeled by Otto, the captain of Hasta Manana.