Newsletter # 3 (Prudence and Patience)

Jacare, Brazil, March, 2005


I am going to call the theme of this letter “Prudence and Patience” (It doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Pride and Prejudice, I know), qualities I don’t think I possess in large measure. You may recall that just before we arrived at Port Stanley in January I succeeded in busting a rib, an injury that made most muscular activity, and even sleeping, very painful. Port Stanley was to be the penultimate stop before a dash to the Antarctic Peninsular, the goal of the whole crazy trip since leaving the Baltic. I put together a revised schedule for the next month, bearing in mind that we had to be in Montevideo, Uruguay, in mid-February to meet the new crew, who would be with me as far as New York. I allowed a week for the 900 nautical mile passage to Port Lockroy, six days for the leg back to Port Williams and two weeks from there to Uruguay. There would be almost no time in each port. Bearing in mind the vagaries of the Southern Ocean it was extremely optimistic.When I discussed it with Andrew and Gary I detected, shall we say; reservations? They pointed out I was not a fully-functioning crew member, that they had no experience of the Southern Ocean or of sailing in ice and without me being 100% effective they were somewhat apprehensive about the plan. I brooded about their concerns for a day as we lay at the massive floating dock a mile or so east of Stanley. I decided they were probably right, more to the point if one of them suffered an injury we would be down to one able-bodied crew, and the Antarctic is not a place to be so short-handed. So I made the decision to skip the Antarctic this year. I was very frustrated; I had made a massive investment in time and labor to get the boat ready ( see last year’s Haul-out newsletters ) and spent months sailing as far as Port Stanley. Later, I had two reports of sailing in Antarctica this year and both confirmed ice conditions were bad, the Bransfield Strait, for example, was choked with ice from Deception Island to Port Lockroy. This was a passage we sailed in 1999, encountering only a few icebergs and no pack-ice. So perhaps prudence was a bitter, but wise choice. And what of Patience? – bear with me!

To fill time before we were due in Montevideo we decided to spend a couple of weeks in the Falkland Islands; I had never cruised the dozens of islands that make up this archipelago. We spent a pleasant week in Stanley; a little longer than we planned as we were trapped in port by a strong northerly gale. We were tied up only a few yards from Seamen’s Mission, which provided many comforts and services. Stanley itself was a 30 minute walk along the shore, usually done in the rain. We were ‘adopted’, by a native ‘kelper’; Patrick, who gave us lots of local advice and a package of over a dozen books when we left. He and his friend Paul in turn appreciated our stock of rum. We had a fascinating visit by three deck-hands off a Danish freighter that tied up near to us, the ship plied regularly between the Falklands and England. Besides themselves the entire crew consisted of two officers and a cook. I was amazed to learn that only the officers stood watches on the bridge; four hours on and four hours off. During the watch the duty officer took care of the engines, communications and paper work. The last thing they did was look out of the window. My suspicion was confirmed that the odd ship we meet at sea is certainly not looking out for us; the watch is probably down below changing the oil in the engine! I visited the Governor, whom I had met on our last trip to South Georgia Island. He said the old whaling station at Grytviken had mostly been demolished because of the asbestos contamination. Of course, we spent convivial times at the watering holes, such as ‘The Globe’ and ‘The Victory’. Before leaving for our cruise I had to phone the owners of the islands we planned to visit; all the islands are privately owned and it was necessary to get permission to land. Needless to say, we were warmly welcomed. I was also lucky to meet my friends, Jen and Pete, who were very familiar with the area; just by chance the cruise ship on which they served as guides, Explorer II, was tied up to the dock for a few hours. All the Falklands outside Stanley are known locally as ‘camp’, after the Spanish word campo or countryside. After a one-day passage along the north coast, during which we endured SW winds up to 40 knots with hail, we anchored in San Carlos Water. The next day we entered a labyrinth of small islands and rocks via the Tamar Pass. Although we had tide tables for Stanley we did not know the time difference to get a favorable current and we were wrong by hours; the current was ebbing strongly against us. With Gary at the wheel and Andrew on look-out at the bow I tried to navigate the zig-zag course past several shoals. Things just didn’t seem to be going right, I kept popping up the companionway for a look and glancing at the radar, finally the GPS read-out solved the mystery; as we penetrated the pass the current overwhelmed the roaring diesel and we were going backwards over the bottom. The pass teemed with life, birds of all descriptions fluttered and swooped overhead, dolphins and penguins bobbed alongside. Eventually we got through to more open water and after a couple of hours we anchored for the night. We inflated the dinghy but when I tried to fire up the outboard engine it refused to start. It was about two miles from our anchorage to the Pebble Island settlement, so we decided to skip a visit there. Instead, after supper; we watched Laurel and Hardy as the wind howled on deck. We kept a close eye on nearby landmarks to make sure the anchor was not dragging. Before we left Stanley we had attached the 65 lb Fisherman’s anchor to the chain as a precaution against the kelp that litters the bottom in many bays and harbors of the Falklands. Darkness came late and only lasted a few hours. In the morning we traversed an intricate channel to Saunders Island called Woolly Gut, sailing by such eye-catching names as Nipple Point, Golding Channel, Anxious Passage and Dirty Ditch Passage. When we dropped anchor at the settlement we used the 37 year-old Seagull engine to power the inflatable, normally I only use this engine to propel the rigid dinghy as the 8 hp Nissan is too heavy for that small boat. But the Nissan had suffered terminal ignition failure and would not run again until I got a new module brought by the incoming crew. We were greeted at the farmhouse by Biffo, the owner’s sister, and her father-in-law. She told us they farmed 7,500 sheep, 200 head of cattle and ran a small guesthouse for about a dozen visitors, mostly birders and photographers. Later we met the owner himself, David, at one of the farm buildings. I was very interested to inspect a wind generator installed a couple of years before following a government subsidy for this purpose to all the camp farmers. This had reduced his diesel fuel consumption by 75%. It reminded me that I had recently proposed to the Cruising Club of America that they should sponsor a new ocean race for sailboats with no fossil fuel on board; all energy to be supplied by the motion of the boat or sunlight. Of course, this was based on my own experience with the shaft generator on Fiona. Although I have every admiration for single-handed racers such as Ellen MacArthur , who had, in fact, sailed past the Falklands just before we arrived on her record-breaking circumnavigation, I feel it is somewhat ironic that they depend on a throbbing diesel to provide power for everything on board except propulsion. I hope a race such as I propose will spur development of a whole new generation of highly efficient equipment such as lights, stoves and communications which would benefit the average cruiser, such as me. Biffo suggested we move our anchorage to a bay a few miles away which was populated by penguins and was only a short walk to an albatross breeding colony. This we did and while we were on the beach Biffo showed up with a couple of sturdy, baffled-looking sheep which she had man-handled into the back of her Land Rover. We walked to the cliffs to inspect the birds, but one disappointment was that my video camera malfunctioned, and the only shots I could get were with the digital still camera.

The next day we made our way to Carcass Island, en route I called my daughter, Brenda, on the Iridium satellite phone so that an ignition module for the Nissan engine could be added to all the other spare parts the new crew were bringing. We anchored off the farmhouse and started to chug ashore in the inflatable. Immediately we were surrounded by cavorting dolphins that seemed delighted to have a new playmate, they were quite gaudily colored black and white, later we found out they were a sub-species called Commerson’s Dolphin. On Carcass Island the owners Lorraine and Rob farm a few hundred sheep to keep the grass cut but mainly run a guesthouse for visiting tourists and scientists. Throughout the islands these visitors, residents and even freight are moved by the Falkland Islands Government Airline that rarely operates above a few hundred feet and lands on the grass near the settlements. After tea and cake we explored the shoreline, inhabited by burrowing Magellanic penguins, until driving rain drove us back to the boat. It was just five miles to Westpoint Island and we had our anchor down well before darkness. I nearly wrote ‘before the sun set’, but we rarely saw the sun. I first sailed to Westpoint Island in 1992; it has its share of unique kelper names such as Death Cove, Cape Terrible, Mount Misery, Cat Cove and Grave Cove. Westpoint is owned by Lily and Roddy, we shared a friendship with Denis Puleston, who lived near me in Brookhaven and was a frequent visitor to the Falklands. No doubt inspired by Denis, Roddy was a leading player in the development of conservation plans for the Falklands. We dinghied ashore in the morning and said hello to Lily and Roddy. Chatting over a cup of tea we discussed all that had happened since my last visit and then Lily drove us to the west side of the island in the ubiquitous Land Rover. Hundreds of birds, mainly albatrosses, nest together in the tussock grass, it is an amazing sight. Rockhopper penguins make their way down the cliff-face to fish in the turbulent sea breaking on the beach. However, it was my impression that their numbers were considerably down since my last visit. We walked back to the farm and made our goodbyes. We had a great run with a brisk wind to New Island but the land was shrouded in fog when we arrived. We groped our way in by radar, dropped the anchor and decided to wait until morning before running ashore. The land and settlement buildings were intermittently visible in the drizzle as wraiths of fog came and went. We shut the hatch, fired up the heater and watched a W.C. Fields movie after supper. New Island is divided into two halves with different owners; their houses are only a few hundred yards apart. The first house we visited is owned by the author of a wonderful guide to the wildlife of the area, but unfortunately he had flown off to Stanley. Much to Andrew’s delight his daughter Georgina was in residence; he had met her previously during our sojourn in Stanley. We bought a copy of her father’s book. Next we visited Kim and Tony, an American and a Brit who met working on cruise ships and fell in love with the Falklands and each other. They bought the house on New Island and live a happy but isolated life. They have one young son, aged about three, I would guess. It turns out Tony was also a friend of Denis Puleston. He gave us tips on the local wildlife colonies and Gary and I made a long trek over a headland to try to find some seals. On the way we passed the beached wreck of a WWII Canadian minesweeper called Protector. This was to be our last little adventure in the Falklands, we put away the dinghy, hauled up the anchor and by mid-afternoon New Island faded from view on the stern as we sailed away to Uruguay.

The latitude of the Falklands is in the 50ºs South, as we sailed north into the ‘Roaring Forties’ I confidently expected mostly strong, westerly winds, such as we experienced in 2003 when we sailed from South Georgia to Santos. It was not to be, we had calms, north or northeasterly winds on the nose and choppy seas that precluded running the engine. These conditions worsened as we got into the 120-mile wide estuary of the River Plate. Here the water shoaled to about 30 feet and the chop kicked up by the long fetch reminded me of Buzzards Bay at its worst. It took us two days to sail across the estuary to the approach channel for Montevideo. On the way we passed within a couple of miles of the sunken hulk of the WWII German battle ship Graf Spee. The ship was scuttled by the captain in neutral waters after a brush with British cruisers. Several books describe this fascinating story and it is also a movie. I called the harbor control on the VHF radio as we approached, in faltering English we were told it was a commercial harbor only and yachts were not accommodated. This was a problem; we had a minor repair to make to the running rigging before we could sail to the next port, Punta del Este, which I knew had a yacht marina. I asked permission to anchor off the beach fringing the wide Montevideo Bay while we affected repairs before an overnight sail to Punta. For some reason this seemed to trigger their suspicions and we were told quite peremptorily to return to the approach channel and enter the harbor. Our position was monitored by the harbor radar and we were issued several course changes before we were met by a launch that guided us to a quay full of Uruguayan navy ships, one of which swung out of the way to allow us to tie up, and then came back alongside, hemming us in. I was quite apprehensive; had we inadvertently violated some local law? In these security-conscious times you never know! A naval seaman escorted me with the ship’s papers to the HQ building. Here the boat was cleared into Uruguay with little fuss and our passports examined, I was told we were free to enter the city. What was going on? Due to a general lack of English and my lack of Spanish I never found out. The 1000 mile trip from the Falklands had taken ten days; a poor daily average. Unfortunately the combination of head-winds and choppy seas persisted for nearly another 2,500 miles as we clawed our way along the east coast of South America. In addition, the southern branch of the equatorial current bucked us to the tune of 15 to 25 miles a day. That is why ‘Patience’ was the second theme of this letter.

It was late afternoon when we walked into the old city. Near the dock area it was pretty much run-down, with crumbling buildings and cracked, uneven sidewalks. After a mile or so we found the more modern center, even more important we found an ATM which disgorged local currency, so we treated ourselves to a beer and then a pizza. We had arrived in civilization. What we did not know at the time was that Andrew lost his credit card after using the machine; replacing it took much of the time he was in Uruguay. Unfortunately there were no bathroom facilities or showers at the quay we were tied to, smelling slightly high we walked back into town the next morning after a traditional pancake breakfast aboard the boat. I passed an Internet outlet and checked my e-mail, which had built up to an enormous list since we left Port Stanley. Then I looked for a barber, my beard had not been trimmed since I started to grow it after leaving Lisbon. I had tried in Stanley but the only barber on the island was on vacation in England. Eventually I chanced upon the most up-market hair dressing salon I have ever visited. I asked for a beard and hair trim.

This required the attention of a male barber and three quite curvaceous young ladies who wound up by shampooing my hair as I sat in a special chair that tilted to immerse my head in a bowl at the rear. Total price: $20, I think at home that session would have cost $100. After a light lunch I found the section of town where the automotive shops clustered and bought a new car radio for the main cabin, the third to be installed on this trip. These units do not tolerate well the salt and humidity of an ocean-going sailboat. I had arranged to leave for Punta del Este at 4:30 pm and rather to my surprise the crew of the outboard vessel showed up on time and we left promptly for a very pleasant night sail to the next port. As our heading was easterly for this short, 60-mile leg, we were able reach when a light wind came after midnight. We tied up at Punta bow-to with help from another yachtie who attached our stern to a mooring buoy. Quite a few sea lions make the harbor their home, it is spectacular to see these 500 pound beasts propel themselves onto a jetty four feet above the water and settle down for a nice sunbath. My next crew was due to arrive in a week, this gave us time to carry out a few minor repairs, bend on the Genoa jib, change the anchor, get the laundry done and explore the town. Punta is a modern, clean town on a peninsular, with a beach on one side and the harbor on the other. It is a popular vacation resort for Argentineans from the south side of the River Plate. Many own apartments in the town. In the evening it does not come alive until after nine, in fact, many restaurants do not even open until that hour. At midnight the main street is thronged by crowds of gaily-clad, mostly young people. All the shops are open until one or two in the morning. There are some oddities in the Uruguayan way of life to an American eye; for example restaurants charge about a dollar for using their cutlery with a meal. There are no postal collection boxes; you must go to a post office. Gary returned to South Africa after a few days. When I rented a car to pick up the incoming crew at the airport I discovered driving habits were also a little different. Signs are few and far between, often they are painted on the road; you must look down, not up! I got lost driving to the airport, the single sign indicating the turn-off read ‘Carrasco’, not ‘Montevideo’ Airport, and I missed it. It is a bit like labeling JFK ‘Brooklyn’ Airport. I arrived just as Ruth and Sasha were pushing their heavily loaded luggage carts into the lobby. Both these ladies had spotted my crew call on the website and signed up for the remainder of the cruise. Ruth was a friend I first met on vintage car rallies; she owned a red 3 liter Bentley that was very sporty. She had crewed on ocean passages some years before. I had not met Sasha previously, she owns a 32 foot sailboat, has a CG Captain’s license and wants to get some ocean time. Once they had settled in and seen a little of Punta we drove the rental car to Montevideo for an afternoon. In the center of town there were many street buskers and traders selling antiques and souvenirs from scores of small stalls. As usual, I was pushed for time, three days after new crew signed on we left for Santos, Brazil. Andrew waved ‘Goodbye’ from the dock; he intended to fly to New York in a couple of days.

It is about 850 sea miles to Santos from Punta del Este. I decided to leave the storm mainsail bent on the boom, this would minimize the chances of having to reef it but the down-side was a lack of drive in light winds. Naturally we encountered just such conditions most of the time. Although we had some wind from the south at the beginning the weather soon settled into pattern that would persist for much of our sail off the Brazilian coast; light north or northeast winds or calms. We rarely saw the wind speed exceed 15 knots except in the odd squall. On the way north, with the boat completely becalmed, we were twice able to slip over the side for a swim. We made our landfall just as the sun was setting, an atypical south wind wafted us into Santos Bay past a dozen anchored freighters; waiting their turn to go upriver to the docks. As we entered the river mouth it began to rain heavily; not ideal conditions for the ladies to drop the mainsail for the first time. I turned the boat into wind just below the old Portuguese fort that many centuries ago had been attacked by Francis Drake. Ruth and Sasha rigged the unfamiliar lazy jacks, dropped the boom into the gallows and secured the mainsail with gaskets. All things considered it went well. Chugging the last mile up the river to the turn-off for the yacht club I was momentarily disoriented by a huge blue and orange building on the east bank, which was not there two years ago. It was the new ferry and bus terminal, which had replaced the ramshackle building that I was used to. We tied up at the familiar Santos Yacht Club with some help from the fellows on the dock. We had logged 1,352 miles from Punta and taken 10 days.

The next morning we organized the laundry, had a shower and took a taxi into the old town to complete the dreary ritual of checking in. The Brazilian bureaucracy is always slow, but this time our visas were in order and eventually after visiting three separate offices we had all our documents stamped, something I would have to repeat when we left. Back at the Yacht Club I met Snr Dancini, a friend from my last visit to Santos. Now, though, he is the captain of an impressive motor yacht that belongs to a TV personality. In the evening we took a bus into Guaruja to check our e-mail at the local Dunkin’ Donuts (truly, that is where the terminals are) and had dinner. Unfortunately, it rained steadily for much of our stay in Santos, which dampened the sightseeing for the ladies. In the morning we restocked at the local supermarket, this they enjoyed; getting to know unfamiliar brands. After lugging all the stuff back to the boat and cramming it into lockers Ruth and Sasha went back to Guaruja for the shopping. The next morning I repeated the clearance procedure and in the afternoon we all went to a ritzy section of Santos on the beach called Gonzanga. Our evening meal was at the Yacht Club, we dressed up a little and Ruth and Sasha enjoyed Sushi. We refueled and spent the evening tied to the gas dock so that we could make an early start.

In windless conditions we powered for a day and a half to the scenic cruising area centered in Ihla Grande We anchored in the pretty port of Abraao for the night. We had dinner ashore and discovered our waiter had lived in Danbury, CT, quite close to Ruth’s home. The next day we moved down the coast for another night at anchor. The crew went swimming on the beach and we had dinner at a small bar. Several dogs waited patiently and expectantly in the shadows for their share. The next morning when we went back for a final swim they recognized their benefactor and followed us to the beach. Our first navigational problem was to round Cabo Frio, so named because of the upwelling of Antarctic water in the region. The sailing conditions were particularly frustrating; light head winds, a choppy sea surface and an adverse current. At one point we tacked south for several hours and then tacked backed; we made good only about ten miles towards the Cape for all that time. Under power it was very hot in the engine room and George, the autopilot, began to wilt under the heat. To make matters worse, our backup, Simon, wore out one of its toothed drive belts and thus was out of commission until I could get another. Eventually we rounded the Cape and slowly beat our way north towards Cabedelo, our last chance to restock before the long leg to the Caribbean. One morning we sailed into a small fishing port called Guarapari and pushed our way in between the local boats to the fuel dock. Sasha and I filled the tanks while Ruth rushed off to the market to get fresh fruit and veggies. We were soon off again. The sailing conditions were not unpleasant; we usually had a light wind or none at all with a calm sea. Two days later the jib began to luff badly and I discovered the halyard had either broken or detached from the upper swivel. This meant a trip to the mast-head for me to rig the spare halyard. If things went wrong, God forbid, what would the relatively inexperienced crew do? We discussed this possibility before I climbed into the bosun’s chair and Ruth and Sasha winched me to the top of the mast. Head for the nearest sizable port I suggested, which happened to be Salvador. We programmed the waypoint for this port into the GPS and then up I went. George steered the boat slowly down-wind to minimize pitching, but we rolled badly. An hour later I was back on deck, safe and sound, a little stiff from holding onto the mast like grim death, but the halyard was attached, we didn’t have to go to Salvador! We continued our slow beat north, Saint Patrick’s Day came and went. We had a double slug for Happy Hour and Irish Stew with real pratties for supper. Often when under sail we watched a movie after happy hour, Ruth had brought three Marx Brothers comedies on DVD and we greatly enjoyed these vintage classics. Two days from Cabadelo the wind backed a little and we were able to lay a direct course, but it remained light. We anchored in the Paraiba River at the small village of Jacare. There is some maintenance to be done, and food and fuel to be re-stocked. We hope to leave for Marigot in St Martin in two or three days. We have sailed 4,044 nautical miles since arriving in Stanley last January, the total for the cruise is 17,697 nm.

Until the next time, best wishes, Eric.

Battle Scars: Eric displays the bruise over the broken rib and the pole he collided with. Port Stanley, Falkland Islands.

A hazard of birding in the Falklands; uncleared minefield laid by the Argentinean Army in 1982.

Eric, Gary and Andrew enjoy a quiet beer in the Victory Bar, Port Stanley.
Turbulent water in the Tamar Pass, the current ran 5 knots.

Two of the 7,500 sheep on Saunders Island.
The settlement on Saunders Island, note the Union Jack; a lonely outpost of empire.

Penguins investigate a strange visitor to their bay on Saunders Island.

A Magellanic penguin and its burrow.

An Albatross chick hisses defiance.

A Commerson’s dolphin plays ahead of our inflatable, Carcass Island.

Eric with the 37-year old Seagull outboard on the inflatable, Carcass Island.

Albatross and Penguins nest together, Westpoint Island.

FIONA anchored at Westpoint Island.

Eric with Roddy and Lily Napier at their farm on Westpoint Island.

Wreck of the Canadian minesweeper PROTECTOR at New Island.

Rockhopper penguins and chicks at New Island.

A hazard of anchoring in the Falklands; Andrew removes kelp from the anchor when we leave New Island.

FIONA hemmed in by the Uruguayan Navy at Montevideo.

Eric gets a haircut and beard trim in Montevideo.

Giant fingers struggle to get out of the sand at Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Sea Lions at the marina in Punta del Este.

Sasha and Eric pose in the rain with a dummy the Tourist Office in an old tram, Santos, Brazil.

Sasha and Eric enjoy Happy Hour at Abraao harbor, Ihla Grande, Brazil.

Ruth and Sasha at a beach bar, Abraao, Ihla Grande.

FIONA squeezes in with the local boats to refuel, Guarapari, Brazil

Ruth and Sasha have winched Eric up the mast so that he can rig a spare jib halyard. Should they wind him down?

Cruise Route in the Falkland Islands