Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, December, 2006
This letter begins in the tropical heat just a few degrees below the equator and finishes when we arrived in Port Stanley, just a few degrees above the Antarctic Convergence Zone. But the temperature change was mitigated by the fact that the southern winter was just ending when we arrived in Brazil and summer was just beginning when we arrived in Stanley. After a crew change at Jacare we sailed the full length of the Brazilian coast with numerous stops.
At Jacare they still played Ravel’s Bolero at sunset. We had the usual hassle with the bureaucracy but our papers were in order, although Mickey just scraped in on the last day of the 90 day grace period allowed after the issuance of his visa. He was leaving anyway to return to New York for a medical consultation. Marco also left. Brian Stevens, the British owner of the marina was very helpful in getting my repairs attended to, especially the rip in the mainsail. One night in the small hours we drove to the airport at Joao Pessoa to meet the new crew, Mike, who flew via Sao Paulo from Moscow, where he works for an internet company. Mike’s brother Chris crewed for me on the Caribbean leg of the 2000/2001 cruise. Mike’s computer skills were soon put to work trying to fix the e-mail feature of the Iridium satellite phone. In the end we decided the problem was the hardware, not the software. As a replacement I signed up for e-mail using the shortwave transmitter, this is slower, but served well all the time we were in Brazil. Brian found a nineteen-year old Brazilian lad who wanted a ride to Salvador, Andre, so I signed him up. Andre spoke passable English but had no sailing experience. I think he will be an intellectual when he is older; his constant reading companion was Stendhal and the chess corner in old copies of the ‘The Guardian’/ Shortly after Mike arrived I took him to Joao Pessoa for quick tour. An election was pending and the streets were packed with people, many wearing the colors of their party and waving flags. As we walked along one of the main streets a couple of cars came right by us, in one was the President of Brazil, Lula, beaming at the crowd. There seemed to be.virtually no security. I repeated the bureaucratic process in reverse for our clearance to Salvador , I had to visit offices in Cabedelo and Joao Pessoa because one closed after lunchtime, I travelled on the rattletrap train that connects the towns, fare; 50 cents US. As soon as the sail was delivered we were off.
At sea we found a brisk southerly wind, but an afternoon on starboard tack to the east put us far enough offshore that we could sail on port tack to Brazil’s ancient capital of Salvador, the leg took four days. Salvador is a stunning city, it is built on an escarpment a couple of hundred feet above the sea. The marina is located directly opposite an elevator that whisked you up in a few seconds, all for 2 cents US. On leaving the elevator one finds a series of old squares, each with a vast church. Salvador was the slaving center of Brazil, in fact slavery was abolished only late in the nineteenth century. The squares are thronged with people, mostly black. Some of the women, for the benefit of the tourists, are dressed in costumes of the pre-abolition days; hooped skirts and colorful bandanas. One evening we chanced on a weekly bash in a square where bands entertained a crowd with lively music until exhausted, when another group took over. One band in particular was outstanding, all women. The rhythm was carried by two drummers who flung their arms so wildly that I was amazed that they managed to get the sticks back in time to catch the beat. However, walking back to the elevator I noticed many people and especially small children huddled in the archways of the ancient churches for the night. The northern part of Brazil is very poor, but smiles and laughter abound and there is always the sound of music in the warm air. At night the narrow streets off the squares are alive with small shops and restaurants. On our last night Mike and I decided to eat Italian. We sat outside at a table precariously balanced on the uneven cobblestones. Just as we finished the appetizer, which was excellent, the heavens opened, but there was no room inside. The waiter put our plates and drinks on a cabinet holding crockery and we stood there feeling slightly stupid but no one offered to seat us. Finally we reluctantly cancelled our order for pasta and trudged off in the rain.
Our next port was Ilheus, we anchored off the yacht club, which was really a restaurant, and wandered into town. It was election day. Andre went to a polling center to file an excuse for not voting, every Brazilian has to vote, or file an excuse, failure can result in a fine or other penalties. We had hoped to take a tour to a nearby rain forest but almost everything was closed due to the election. We looked at the particularly fine cathedral and found a nice place to eat. The next day we sailed for the Albrolhos Reef, which lies about twenty miles offshore. We anchored near a couple of small islands, on one was a navy presence which controlled access as the whole area is a national park. It was overcast and windy. We inflated the dinghy and anchored it near a reef, donned mask and snorkel, but I was not too impressed, certainly there were some colorful fish, but I had seen better. Our requests over the radio to go ashore were unanswered.
We sailed in the late afternoon for Vitoria, arriving three days later early in the morning. Despite directions from some one at the yacht club, translated by Andre, we went aground and we had to wait an hour for the tide to float us off. We picked up a mooring and got to the shore using the dinghy. In the city I noticed an art exhibition featuring local talent, I wandered in suspecting it would be very modern and boring. But, in fact, the featured artist was a woman born in Brazil in the nineteenth century called Claudel. She trained as a sculptor, went to Paris and became Rodin’s mistress. I was impressed by her work and for comparison there was a piece by Rodin himself, she seemed just as good. I was sorry I could not read the copious notes in Portuguese. For dinner we went to a steak and hamburger joint that passed itself off as American. I must say, in general, I did not enjoy the food in Brazil, they use far too much salt in the cooking. While Mike and Andre tucked into steak I ordered a chiliburger. But when it came it looked rather odd and on investigation turned out to be eggplant and fish. I grumbled to the manager, who spoke some English, ‘But that is what they eat in Chile,’ he said. You can’t win. Our next leg took us round Cabo Frio, past the bright lights of Rio de Janeiro and on to Ihla Grande. We anchored at Abraao, a village I am getting to know well. The next day we spent the morning at the beach on the seaward side of Das Palmas Bay and sailed to Saco do Ceu (Sky Cove) in the afternoon. We got a free mooring at a fairly upmarket hotel on the shore called the ‘Green Coconut’ We ate at the hotel and explored the area a little in the morning. The Ihla Grande area is undergoing rapid development but at a settlement near the hotel we found two dug-out canoes, relics of an old way of life, fast disappearing. The next we squeezed in a quick lunchtime stop for some snorkeling at a reef and then sailed to the old town of Paraty. This is a National Heritage site because the old center has been preserved and no cars are allowed in the narrow streets. The buildings are low and rather dull, it is simply where the poor lived a century ago. An odd feature is that the streets flood at spring high tide, that’s one way to keep them clean, I guess.
Our next stop was the yacht club at Santos, which I first visiting in1992 and little changed since. It is the club of the super rich who live in Sao Paulo about sixty miles away. The club is immaculate, but as soon as you step outside you are in grungy Guaruja, very down market. The super rich usually visit their yachts by helicopter, thus avoiding the mean streets outside the club. Mike took a bus to Rio for a few days and Andre went home to Sao Paulo, but he promised to return for the rest of the trip to Uruguay, we were now about half way down the east coast of Brazil. To my surprise Andre showed up for the next leg to the south, the city of Florianopolis. This took about two days; we anchored 10 miles north of the city as it is traversed by a bridge about 6 ft lower than our mast. The local yacht club had an annex at the anchorage, which was very convenient. We took a bus to the city, quite complicated actually, the local bus dropped us off at a transfer terminal and we then got on an express bus in to the city. All Brazilian cities have comprehensive bus networks which are well used. The city itself was not remarkable. For some reason Andre decided to leave the boat here and he took a bus back to Sao Paulo. Mike and I sailed out for Rio Grande, our last port in Brazil, but for the first time since we left Jacare we ran into heavy weather. The wind piped up to gale force for about twelve hours and as it was on the nose we just furled the jib and lay hove-to under a double reefed mainsail. This was a sign we were working our way south, the weather was often dominated by fronts coming from Argentina. After Mike got the e-mail working using the SSB radio I had signed up for weather forecasting service called GRIB, by and large it worked well, the wind arrows are generated by a computer but it did not get the gale quite right. No harm came to us or the boat and after things died down we were soon under way for Rio Grande, which lies up a ten mile channel. Our cruising guide suggested tying up at the local yacht club, but as we approached the reading on the depth finder dropped and dropped until we were nearly aground. I reversed before we touched bottom. Just before the club we had passed a dock with a Swedish yacht tied up, the captain waved us over and we found we were guests of the Oceanographic Museum. We could not have been more fortunate, the Director, Lauro Barcellos, had studied in the US and was delighted to welcome an American boat. We walked into town for the usual bureaucratic clearances, apart from the Federal Police these were postponed until Monday as we had arrived on a Saturday. On Sunday Lauro laid on a delightful lunch for Mike and I and the crew of an Argentinean boat which had managed to get into the yacht club. The Swedish captain, Len, had a Danish friend whose son picked us Monday to get our clearances, Rio Grande was quite the worst place I had experienced for bureaucratic regulations. On Saturday I had been told at the Port Captain’s office that a health and sanitary clearance was essential. What did this mean? My yellow fever vaccination certificate was out of date and Mike didn’t even have one. Perhaps they wanted to inspect the holding tank. My fears were groundless, the certificate was intended for large ships and covered illness on board like plague, when the ship had last been deratted and how we handled ballast water. After half-an-hour of filling out forms, mostly with N/A, we had our clearance. But the Port Captain closed at 11:30 am, we were too late and we wanted to leave on Tuesday. But Len’s friend’s mother worked at the Port Captain’s, she is head of the school. Soon we had our exit permission, the price was that Len and I had to spend a few minutes answering questions from her students about sailing the oceans in a yacht. One question I fielded was how much did it cost? It must have seen an impossible dream to the poor Brazilian sailors, where the average wage is a few hundred US dollars a month.
We sailed for La Paloma in Uruguay, a small fishing village I first visited in1992 on the way from my first voyage to the Pacific. It is also a middle class seaside resort, but the season had barely begun. The fish factory was still in business and down in the dock area the smell was pretty overpowering. We got our entry clearance at the Port Captain’s office, very simple compared to Brazil, checked our e-mail and pushed on the next day for Punta del Este. We had a really fantastic sail with a 20 knot wind just forward of the beam and tied up in the marina I had only left in the southern summer of 2005 on the way north with Ruth and Sascha as crew. I planned to spend only a couple of days at Punta and then move on to Piriapolis about 25 miles to the west. This port is a hangout for cruisers and seemed a better spot to leave the boat while I flew to New York. To look the place over I took a bus from Punta. Piriapolis turned out to be a pleasant seaside resort with a small marina. At the dock I ran into Dave and Marcie on Nine of Cups, fellow members of the Seven Seas Cruising Association, they were very helpful and confirmed it was a good place to leave the boat. After another day at Punta Mike and I planned to sail early in the morning, Mike then intended to take a bus to the Buenos Aires ferry and ultimately return to Moscow. Alas for the plans of mice and men; by 4 am Mike and I were on the dock adding extra fenders and moorings and as the dawn broke I discovered the harbor master had shut the port; the dreaded Pampero was about to fall on us. I told Mike to take the bus anyway and then with the help of some marina workers I moved Fiona to a safer spot. The wind howled for two days , I began to worry that I might not be able to move the boat and make my flight, but the on the third day I was able to make a single-handed passage to Piriapolis, I alerted Dave and Marcie by radio and they rounded up a gang of cruisers to help me tie up. I had two days to get organized and pack all the boat gear I was taking home for repair before I caught a bus to the Montevideo airport.
The flight via Buenos Aires went as advertised and I staggered out of JFK with my luggage about 7 am the next day. Mickey and Barbara were there to meet me. After breakfast at the Blue Point Diner they dropped me off at home. Then I discovered that the laptop computer had disappeared from the large canvas bag I had packed it in. It seems pretty obvious it was stolen at Montevideo airport as the security x-ray is the only way the thieves would know where to look. Replacing it and loading programs I needed took a fair amount of time during my stay at Brookhaven. I returned in two weeks, one of the new crew, Ware, synchronized his flight so that he caught the same plane from Buenos Aires as me and we were both met at the Montevideo airport by a charming Uruguayan sailor, Alberto, who had noticed my plans to visit Uruguay and contacted me by e-mail. But Ware’s luggage did not appear on the carousel and when he did eventually get it several expensive items had been pilfered. In the next two days the rest of the crew for the Antarctic leg joined the boat; Paul and Joey. Then we left for a return to Punta del Este, we had 20 to 25 knots of wind on the beam and made the trip in three hours. Alberto met us at Punta and took me shopping at quite a ritzy supermarket on the outskirts of Punta called ‘The English Store’. The next day Alberto took us to his house for a BBQ, as he runs a cattle ranch in the interior the meat was exceptional, as you can imagine. One more day and then we got rid of our Uruguayan pesos and left early in the morning for Argentina. I was sorry to leave; the people of Uruguay are very friendly.
The two day trip to Mar del Plata, Argentina, was a mild introduction to sailing Fiona for the new crew. We arrived at the crowded yacht basin early in the morning and found ourselves a slip. After breakfast I faced the usual chore of clearing in with the bureaucracy. This took all morning. At the immigration office the passports were stamped and the usual entry forms completed but when I told them our next port was Puerto Stanley I was gently corrected; we were going to the ‘Malvinas’ as the Argentineans call the Falklands and I did not need to return to immigration when we left; the Malvinas belonged to Argentina. Back at the marina I arranged to get fuel delivered and we explored the port area. Some redevelopment was underway and we had a nice dinner at a small complex of new restaurants and shops. The next day we bent on the storm sails in preparation for the Antarctic leg and got a few maintenance jobs out of the way. The crew took a taxi to the more jazzy part of town lying north of the port and I entertained an interesting American couple, Mary and Scott, who lived on a power boat and who had crossed the Atlantic a couple of times and cruised the Med. The next day our fuel arrived by truck, There was no gauge, I am sure I paid for a lot more fuel than was actually delivered, but at least all our tanks were full. There was no need to linger, we stocked at the supermarket and left the next day. The Argentineans had been very hospitable and the yacht club let us stay for nothing.
The trip to Port Stanley took 7 ½ days, at first we had a nice westerly breeze but after a few hours it died and we were left wallowing in the seaway, for the next couple of days we ran under power or sailed in erratic light winds. But then the wind came up rapidly and within a few hours we had the sails reefed and a wind up to gale force. The wind veered and continued to increase, soon we were running under just the double reefed storm mainsail, the wind rose to 50 knots with gusts to 55 knots. But Fiona was used to winds like that; we had sailed for days under similar conditions in the Southern Ocean in the 2002/2003 circumnavigation. A week out we had the Falklands in sight and we entered the harbor at Port Stanley very early in the morning, I decided to anchor and tie up when it was light. When we got on shore we heard the storm we had experienced was much worse here; winds of 70 to 90 knots were reported. The weather here is dominated by low pressure systems which track east every few days, before we leave we will have to monitor them carefully to pick the best time to go. We moored at the huge floating dock about a mile and a half east of Stanley. It is very convenient to the seaman’s center, which provides, meals, showers, toilets, games, laundry, etc, all the things a sailor needs in port, except booze; it is run a Christian organization called the Seafarer’s Trust out of the UK. We made the trip into town many times, mostly using the scenic path along the shore and mostly in the rain and 30 knot winds. But I am sure the exercise was good for us. We worked through our list of maintenance jobs in the mornings and explored the area in the afternoons and evenings. Paul and Ware flew to Sea Lion Island for a night and Joey went camping. Before he left he got a map of the minefields left by the Argentineans after the 1982 war from the bomb disposal unit still stationed here by the British army. We refueled and restocked, I found lots of British epicurean delights I could hoard such as mushy peas. On Christmas Day the main cabin sprouted the old tree and Santa left a few tidbits under it. The crew paid for a traditional dinner at one of the best restaurants in town, the Brasserie. The customs office who checked us in, Mick, invited us to his house for drinks and we met his Chilean wife, Celia, and family. To my surprise the seaman’s center was open and we recuperated from an excess of food and drink by watching stultifying British soaps on TV. The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, it is a holiday in Britain, here in the Falklands there is a traditional Race Meeting, scores of local horses compete at the straight track just west of Stanley. There is a very festive air, people munch hotdogs and hamburgers and scoff drinks while watching the tug-of-wars and sack races inbetween the horse racing. Now I must get this letter and pictures organized; we leave for Antarctica in the morning.
Until the next time, best wishes from Eric
In the rattling old train to Joao Pessoa.
Modern Sculpture at Salvador, Brazilians must be Breast Men.
Women in traditional slave costume, Salvador’.
Eric, Andre and Mike at Florianopolis Yacht Club.
A sea lion lolling on the dock at Punta del Este.
Joey engaged in repairs at Port Stanley.
Paul, Eric, Joey and Ware prepare for Christmas Dinner at the Brasserie, Port Stanley..
Boxing Day horse racing at Port Stanley.