NEWSLETTER 1 -New York to Jacare


Jacare, Brazil, Sept, 2006

We left Patchogue a day behind schedule, not bad considering all we had to do. The crew consisted of Mickey, who has signed up for the whole trip, and Dan, on board just for the Atlantic crossing. An old friend of my son, Peg, bummed a ride as far as Block Island. We got down the river without going aground although as usual Bob on Fireplace escorted us for a few miles as insurance against that eventuality. There was no wind when we powered through Fire Island Inlet and it was a dull ride a couple of miles south of the coast as we chugged east past all the familiar lights at Moriches, Shinnecock, Amagansett and on to the powerful light at Montauk Point. Here we did pick up an early morning breeze and we had a great sail across Block Island Sound to Great Salt Pond. Activity ashore included the traditional hike to the Southeast Light; Peg caught the afternoon ferry back to Long Island. The next morning we refueled and left for Flores in the Azores. Our trip across the Atlantic was dominated by areas of high pressure. At first there was a high to our south and we enjoyed good sailing with the clockwise winds on the starboard quarter. Then the high moved north and we sailed into the center, this gave us days of fairly light winds interspersed with squalls. The crossing from Block Island of a little more than two thousand nautical miles took fifteen days. It was a mild introduction to ocean sailing for Mickey and Dan; the highest wind we encountered was a brief forty knots in a squall, but mostly the wind was in the fifteen knot range. On the way over we were able to try for the first time e-mail from the boat using the Iridium satellite phone.

Flores was as beautiful as ever and the locals just as nice as ever. We anchored north of the new jetty at Lajes. We took a spectacular taxi ride to the main town, Santa Cruz, where we had a vast lunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbor, such as it is. In fact, I marveled again at how on earth we got Fiona into such a tight space during our 1986 cruise to the Azores. It is tiny, with fearsome rocks guarding the entrance and lying opposite the dock. . An overnight passage in windless conditions brought us to the huge marina at Horta on Faial Island. Hundreds of yachts from many countries make Horta a stopover for almost any Atlantic cruise. The jetty walls are covered with literally thousands of painted signs left by visiting yachts, some are extremely artistic. I freshened up Fiona’s sign and updated it to include cruises made since we were last in Horta in 2002.

Dan left the boat a day after we arrived and Louise joined the crew a couple of days later. Shortly after that Mickey’s wife, son and mother-in-law flew in and checked into the pousada behind the marina. We all took a taxi tour of the island; a highlight was the view of the caldera (crater) of the huge volcano in the middle of the island. It was also interesting to visit the site and museum of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that rocked the west end of the island for several months in 1957/58. The lighthouse was destroyed and the gaunt ruins now stand in the center of a field of ash. The Azores lie on the junction of three tectonic plates and all the islands were formed by volcanic activity. We had a fascinating visit to youngest island, Pico, whose 7,700 ft volcano dominates the view to the east from Faial. The short ferry ride across the channel separating the two islands takes half an hour to the port of Madalena. Just a few minutes from Madalena is a newly-opened visitor center at a lava tube. These tubes are formed when rivers of lava cool and solidify on the outside but liquid lava continues to flow on the inside. If the lava flow decreases the level drops and when the whole thing cools off a tube is left. The one on Pico is over 3 miles long and in places the ceiling is nearly 50 ft high. A short section is open to the public, which you traverse with a guide. Underfoot it is very rough and stout shoes are needed. The guide showed us evidence that over the centuries the tube carried lava from several eruptions. On Pico we also visited a whaling museum. Whaling was a major industry until it was banned about twenty-five years ago. I am glad this barbaric practice has stopped, but it was interesting to see a movie made in the 1970s; the islanders hunted from open boats like the New Englanders a century earlier.

When Mickey’s family left we made the crossing to Sao Jorge with a nice SW wind, we anchored in the small harbor for a couple of days in the lee of a high, steep cliff. We discovered that vast numbers of shearwaters nested in the cliff; in the evenings and mornings the racket they made was unbelievable, it sounded like a thousand tinny loudspeakers playing steel band music. One afternoon we climbed a volcanic hill overlooking the town of Velas and at the top we met a charming Swedish couple we invited to the boat for happy hour. We sailed the next morning to the island of Graciosa and anchored in the lee of a new Praia. Only a few miles from Praia is a fantastic volcanic crater I remembered vividly from my visit in 1986. In the center of the crater a tunnel slopes down to an underground lake in a cavern called Furna do Enxofre; sulfur furnace. To get to the cavern one descends down a spiral staircase inside a tower built a hundred years ago. At the bottom the smell of sulfur is overpowering and gas bubbled up from mudholes in the rocks. It is all very reminiscent of ‘Lord of the Rings’.

The next day we sailed to our last island in the Azores; Terceira. This was the third island of the group to be discovered in the fifteenth century after Santa Maria and Sao Miguel. Clearly the early navigators were not very imaginative that day; Terceira means ‘Third’ in Portuguese. We tied up at a new marina in Angra do Heroismo, so named because of ‘heroic’ fighting there in a civil war. It was damaged in an earthquake in 1980 and has been attractively rebuilt. Here was our chance to do some laundry in the new facilities and stock up for trip to Madeira, 600 miles to the southeast. We had supper on our first night at an up-market restaurant strongly recommended by the marina manager. Unfortunately Mickey’s fish could apparently have been fresher and he was laid low the next day by tummy trouble. While he suffered Louise and I climbed a steep hill overlooking the harbor and at the top, to our surprise, we found a cluster of old anti-aircraft guns installed by the British in WWII to protect an airfield built by the RAF. As the nearest mainland was over 700 miles away and was neutral in the war I was puzzled about where they expected the enemy to come from. Later I realized the problem was the Vichy French in Algeria. When we left Mickey was still under the weather but gamely stood his watches, even though he was not able to eat for a couple of days. The first day and a half saw us chugging along under power in windless, rainy weather. Then in the middle of the second night a steady wind developed from the northeast and we enjoyed a great sail to Madeira. On the last day we slowed the boat so as to arrive at the capital, Funchal, in daylight.

The inner harbor was little changed from our visit in 2000, except there were more local pleasure boats, leaving even less room for visiting yachts. We tied up three abreast and went for a shower. Louise reported that the ladies room was infested with cockroaches. Ah! The pleasures of the cruising life. In the afternoon we all took a ride on the Telefericos (cable car) over the rooftops of Funchal to a cloudy summit overlooking the town. The highlight was watching nervous tourists being propelled downhill in wicker sleds guided by two grinning natives in white suits with straw hats. We took the cable car back. The next day we booked a fascinating tour of the island in a minivan. Once clear of the Funchal conurbation the interior is wildly beautiful, the high mountains and steep valleys tell the story of the island’s turbulent birth in volcanic eruptions a million years ago. After a day of boat repairs, shopping and, for one member of the crew, a visit to the beauty parlor, we left for La Palma Island in the Canaries. Once clear of the wind shadow off the south coast we enjoyed strong northerly winds that drove Fiona to her destination in less than two days.

When we tied up at the yacht club in Santa Cruz de La Palma we had entered Spanish territory. However, as we were already in the European Union there was no bureaucratic hassle to deal with. The town is built of the edge of a huge, ancient crater, the buildings in the center date from the 16th century, the doors and windows are framed in massive stone blocks. The second floor usually carries an elaborately carved balcony. Once again we signed up for a tour of the island. The northern part is very agricultural, La Palma supplies a large percentage of the bananas consumed in the EU. As part of the tour we visited a plantation, they are located near sea level and bananas are popular with farmers because the fruit is produced continuously, independent of the season. We also visited a rain forest at an altitude of over 2000 feet. The guide explained that a million years ago the whole of Europe was covered with the same sort of forest, known as Mediterranean type, but after the last ice-age they only survived in the Atlantic islands. Another interesting facet is that when the Spanish arrived in the 15th century the Canaries had an indigenous population of white, blonde-haired natives (Guanches) that had been there for about 1500 years. Mummified bodies of tribal leaders have been discovered in caves with funeral offerings of weapons and food. It is speculated that they were related to the present day Berber tribes of North Africa. Sporadic contact was maintained with Europe and they were known to the Romans. When the Spanish decided to conquer the Canaries in the early 15th Century it took nearly a hundred years; the Guanches resisted fiercely and many men were killed. Finally they were enslaved and assimilated. . The Canaries are so named because of the indigenous dogs also discovered when the Spanish arrived, the name is derived from Latin, nothing to do with small yellow birds.

From La Palma we sailed to La Gomera Island. We had intended to push on to Tenerife but the marinas there were either full or not functioning very well, so we stayed for eight days while waiting for the new crew to join the boat. We went to Tenerife by ferry and took the bus to Santa Cruz, the amount of construction under way was staggering. In Santa Cruz itself the beautiful waterfront plaza had been demolished because they are constructing a light rail system. We visited the Military Museum where they celebrate the defeat of Admiral Nelson when he attacked Tenerife in 1797. At the Museum of Humanity and Natural History we were able to view many Guanche relics including a few mummies. On La Gomera we took a public bus across the island to a town on the west coast. The roads are precipitous with many scary hairpin turns over sheer cliffs. Despite that, one day we rented a car and visited an ancient rain forest in the center of the island which is a National Park and a World Heritage site. There is virtually no flat land and for hundreds of years the inhabitants farmed by building stone terraces in the sides of the steep hills. There are literally thousands of them, many still in use but a fair number are now abandoned as banana farming near the coast becomes common. The amount of labor to build the terraces over the centuries is unimaginable, but throughout the Canaries and Madeira I am sure the effort was comparable to building the Pyramids. Finally our new crew, Marko, showed up and we departed for the Cape Verde Islands the next day. On the day we left Louise signed off and caught a plane to Madrid for a connection to a New York flight.

A few hours after we sailed, on Marko’s first watch, he spotted a boat on the horizon which turned out to be loaded with illegal immigrants from Africa. We passed within half a mile and called the Spanish coast guard on the radio. The boat was less than ten miles from the La Gomera shore and they were in no danger of starving. When we looked at the blow-up of a digital picture that Mickey had taken we counted more than fifty heads. These immigrants are a real problem for the Spanish authorities; the newspapers report more than a thousand arrive in the Canaries every week, sometimes as many as five hundred in one day. After a couple of days we began to find a few flying fish on deck in the mornings and early on the third day we crossed the Tropic of Cancer. Fiona sedately rolled before the northeast trade winds which usually blew between 10 and 15 knots and sometimes failed altogether for a few hours. After four days the wind picked up and we sailed wing and wing with the jib on a whisker pole to port and two reefs in the mains’l. About midnight, on my watch, a seam on the mains’l split wide open. We dropped the sail and continued on under jib alone. The next morning we took the sail off the boom and bent on the storm mains’l. That same morning we found we had been inundated with flying fish that crashed onto the deck during the night. Mickey estimates that he threw fifty over the side. We arrived at Mindelo as the sun set on the sixth day after leaving La Gomera. It was blowing up to 30 knots in the harbor as we attempted to anchor. We dragged, so we raised the anchor and reset it with more chain, by then the sun had set with tropical abruptness. We toasted ourselves with rum in the darkened cockpit and I threw together a quick meal of spaghetti and bolognaise, we waited until morning before venturing ashore.

We did not intend to spend long at Mindelo; Mickey’s Brazilian visa had to be activated by entering the country not more than 90 days from when it was obtained, that gave us until 10 September to check in at Cabedelo. On the shore we encountered the ‘beach boys’, always a problem at Mindelo. For a fee they guard your dinghy, the threat they are guarding against is, of course, themselves, if you don’t pay up. Having got that out of the way we checked with the immigration officer and the port captain. We arranged to be refueled in the afternoon and checked our e-mail. Returning to the boat we found it had dragged again in the wind that still howled over the mountain. Our vigilant minder had tied a rope to another boat, when I paid him for this he showed up later on stinking drunk. The next morning we restocked the fresh food and left by lunchtime. The strong winds were probably associated with an easterly wave, the precursor of hurricanes and later I heard from a ham radio operator that tropical storm ‘Debbie’ had formed 300 miles west of the Cape Verde islands.

The trip across the Doldrums to Fernando de Noronha turned out to be more complicated than usual. This because we made it much earlier than previously and we ran into the southwest monsoon that develops over West Africa until the end of September. Instead of glassy calms we experienced choppy seas, headwinds and squalls. At one stage it seemed like we were going to beat to our destination, tack after tack, which would have taken weeks. But a ham radio operator I was in touch with advised that the winds swung southerly below four degrees north, so we made a long tack to the southeast and found she was right. From there we sailed on port tack to Fernando. We had to make a slight detour to avoid St Peter and Paul Rocks; a lonely archipelago that suddenly rises from the seabed to trap unwary sailors hundreds of miles from land. An hour after sunrise we crossed the line at 30º 01′ W on 3 September. Naturally Father Neptune made his appearance for happy hour that day.

Fernando de Noronha was obviously booming- it is promoted heavily in Brazil as an ‘ecotourist’ resort, numerous pousadas (B&B), bars and restaurants had sprung up since my last visit. The harbor was choc-a-block with small boats providing scuba diving and marine sight-seeing. Unfortunately some government bureaucrat must had figured yachties were getting all this good stuff cheap because the harbor fees had been pushed up to $20/person/day. We arrived on 5 September and left on the 6th:; we were dunned for two days- an expensive stay-over. Marco managed to see the spinning dolphins by getting up at 4 am, and also to swim with a shoal (what is the collective for turtles?) of turtles. Mickey and I toured the village using the old cobbled roads through the jungle built by convict labor centuries ago when Fernando de Noronha was a penal colony. My old friend Elda, whose bar overlooks the harbor, was still there, but now she is a proud mother.

When we left the wind slowly swung on the nose and we spent the last two days of the trip tacking to windward; something cruising sailors always try to avoid. With the coast insight we tried motor sailing but the constant motion stirred up the debris in the fuel tanks and the engine kept stopping. Finally a day and a half behind our expected time, we had the entrance channel to Cabedelo in sight, it threads its way through sandbars, just when we needed it most the engine died. While Mickey and Marco tacked for the channel I slaved below in the hot engine room cleaning filters. It was close to sunset on the 9th – Mickey’s visa would expire the next day! Fortunately the old diesel fired up again once it got a steady diet of clean fuel and we anchored at Jacare just as the sun set, and the band was playing Ravel’s ‘Bolero’. All was right with the world.

Marco and Mickey are leaving the boat here, Mickey because of a medical condition that needs attention in NY, but he hopes the rejoin the boat in Uruguay. Since we left Patchogue we have logged 5,896 nautical miles.

Until the next time, best wishes from Eric



Fiona is escorted out of the Patchogue River by
Captain Bob and friends aboard

Pilot whales on the port bow during the Atlantic crossing.

Mickey, Dan and Eric enjoy lunch at Santa Cruz, Flores, in the Azores.

Eric touches up the
Fiona sign on the seawall at Horta in the Azores.

The harbor at Horta with volcanic Pico in the background

Inside the lava tube on Pico.

A bird’s eye view of Horta harbor on Faial in the Azores.

A hedgerow of hydrangeas, which grow in profusion on Faial.

The lighthouse on Faial which was inundated in a volcanic eruption in 1957.

The stone tower leading to the bottom of the Sulfur Cavern on Graciosa, Azores.

The astonishing agricultural terraces on Madeira.

The mummy of a Guanche chief in the museum at Santa Cruz, Tenerife.

The Rain Forest on La Gomera, Canary Islands.

Eric, Mickey and Louise pose in the marina at La Gomera.

Scow with illegal immigrants from Africa about 8 miles off the coast of La Gomera.

Father Neptune joins Marco and Mickey for the ‘Crossing the Line’ ceremony

Mickey and Eric enjoy a beer at Elda’s Bar on Fernando de Noronha.