Cruising the Verdes

Something different….this blog entry is a magazine article I’m putting together about sailing around the Cape Verde islands. Killing two birds with one stone!

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CRUISING THE VERDES

The 780nm trip down from the Canaries to Mindelo in the Cape Verde islands was both frustrating and exhilarating. Frustrating because of the amount of motoring, with an exhilarating sail at the end once we hit the trades with the parasailor up for 2 days and one night straight.

We reached Mindelo after 5 days and checked into Cape Verde’s only Marina. We were on Jimmy Cornell’s Barbados 50 rally, joining 35 other boats that  were spread out along a couple of piers. It was here that our two friends Sten and Rita joined us, having flown into Mindelo from Canada via Lisbon. They were joining Dee, Phil and I on what was to be the first ever organised cruising rally around the Cape Verde islands; before coming with us across the Atlantic to Barbados.14705888_10206837810696732_8403680671727435027_nWe instantly fell in love with Mindelo, with its vibrant music scene, its colourful buildings from colonial days past and its happy and friendly people. A highlight was the welcome party put on by the Marina where a drumming band met us on the piers and marched us down to a marquee complete with dancing girls, food, beer, wine and the local rum. We could have sworn we were already in the Caribbean.

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We spent a delightful week there doing a fascinating tour of the island organised by the Rally, swimming at the beautiful white town beach and checking out quite a few of the excellent restaurants, each with live music playing. Some of us had repairs to do and we noted that the town has good mechanics and Raymarine specialists. Towards the end of our first stay at the marina we visited the local fruit and vegetable markets, as well as the two or three supermarkets where you could get enough to get by. We were however thankful that we had done most of our provisioning in the big supermarkets in the Canaries before we got here.

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Lutz, who is a co-owner of the Marina had been working hard with Cornell Sailing to put together our cruise of the Cape Verdes. Because some of the anchorages and ports were too small for 35 boats, we split into two fleets. Lutz’s local sailing knowledge was invaluable, and the night before Fleet 1 left he gave us a great skippers briefing on what we were about to see and experience.

Our first stop was Tarafal on the island of St Antao, 23 nm away. We left the marina at about 11am and had a great reach doing 7kts until we got to the lee of Santo Antao, where the wind dropped to nothing. We motored around to the SW corner where we dropped anchor in 15m of water. The anchorage was small but spectacular with huge cliffs dropping down to a large black sand beach. Tarafal is a short dingy ride away, albeit with an interesting surf landing which took us a while to perfect.

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The next day we relaxed swimming off the back of the boat, exploring the town and its surrounds and socialising with the other rally yachts. We’d arranged a lobster dinner at the local restaurant and it didn’t disappoint, with 3 huge lobster halves each, accompanied by plenty of local vegetables, all washed down with the local beer.  Scrumptious!  And we managed to launch off the beach at night without getting wet. Bonus.

Next morning it was up early and off to Brava, 120nm away. We were looking forward to a downhill parasailor run but the best we could do was to pull out the genneker for a few hours. With thunderstorms around we put it away at dark and had a wonderful sail right up to midnight, when the squalls hit and the wind turned southerly. The rest of the night was slow going as we bashed into the wind and waves, using the radar to pick our way through the lightening storms.

It was certainly worth the effort as the anchorage at  Faja d’Agua turned out to be one of our favourites. We finally arrived at 11am, being greeted by a huge pod of a hundred or so dolphins as we dropped sails and motored into the bay. We anchored at the northern end of the very protected bay, where there was nice sand with good holding in 10-15m of water. Some of the other yachts anchored in the southern part of the bay and had to contend with large boulders on the seabed.

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We spent 3 lovely days there in Brava. There’s only a tiny beach to land the dingy amongst all the fishing boats, and we were in and out each day exploring the island on foot and by car.

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Luc from Cornell Sailing was brilliant at organising activities for us, and the first full day we were on Brava saw us put on our hiking shoes and follow a guide on a wonderful walk up the valley. 3 hours later, after snapping many spectacular photos down the valley to the boats, we made it to a small village, where we  hopped on a bus to take us to the largest town on the island to do some shopping, before returning by bus along a very interesting road cut into the cliffs. By now we were all very hungry and we sat down for a wonderful 8 euro late lunch at Anna’s restaurant on the waterfront. Everyone agreed that it was a great day.

Next morning, we squeezed in a short island tour with Carlos, who drove us around showing us some spectacular scenery as well as life on the island. It was really good just to hang out with Carlos who seemed to know every one of the 5000 inhabitants on the island, many of which spoke with US East Coast ascents, as a lot of people from Brava had gone off to work in Rhode Island; and had returned to either visit on holiday or permanently return to their beloved island.

Back on the boat, it was up with the sails and off to Fogo. There was a bit of tacking involved in getting around the top of Brava but once clear of the island we had a wonderfully fast sail across to Fogo.

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Fogo is the island of Fire, sporting a single classic volcanic cone, the top of which is 2830m, making it the second tallest volcano in the Atlantic after El Teide on the island of Tenerife. And its still very active, the last eruption being in 1995.

Our rally had organised for us to tie up against the two harbour walls as we’d timed our arrival and departure to ensure no ships or ferries would be there. With 16 boats it was necessary to raft up two deep and it was not the greatest berth we’ve experienced. The harbour wall with its large rubber bollards sticking out, was designed to accomodate ships, not yachts and we spent two uncomfortable nights there, resulting in lots of chafing and wrecked fenders. A couple of our fleet left the wall on the second night and either kept going or anchored off in the limited anchorage.

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Still it was worth the hassle and sleepless nights as the island of Fogo is fantastic. We all went on a full day island tour, the highlight of which was a visit to the crater at the top of the volcano. We had lunch at the winery inside the crater and sampled the famous Fogo wine and coffee, the highest place on the planet where these two crops grow. After lunch we visited one of the places where the caldera inhabitants where evacuated to after the last eruption and donated many bags of clothing, towels and toiletries to the children of the village – something we had organised with the Rally back in the Canaries.

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Next morning we were up early to get away before a ship arrived. We were off to the island of Santiago, heading for yet another Terafal on the West Coast of the island. This time the wind gods were not on our side and the 55nm leg took us all day, arriving just after nightfall. Rob from BnG guided us into the anchorage and we dropped in 15m. After reversing on the anchor it seemed to be holding well so we were able to enjoy a couple of drinks before BBQing dinner on the back of La Mischief.

Another island, another island tour. Of course! We spent the day walking through the National Park, eating lunch at a beautiful beach side restaurant and checking out Praia, the capital.

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Our next leg was a night sail, so we spent the next day at Tarafal swimming off the back of La Mischief as well as the lovely beach. We stocked up on a few items at the local supermarket and the excellent produce market and may have even frequently a local beach bar. We were a little bit put off by the guy on the beach who demanded 10 euro to look after our dingy on the beach. We ended up settling on a couple of Euros for a couple of hours and everyone was happy.

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We were really looking forward to our next anchorage on the island of Sao Nicolau, 86nm away to the North. We left at 5pm and made good time on a tight reach, so much so that we deliberately slowed the boat down to make sure we reached our anchorage in daylight. Rounding the bottom of Sao Nicolau, we were delighted to see pods of pilot whales all around us.

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Pta das Rochas is the nicest anchorage in Sao Nicolau, some say the nicest in the whole of the Cape Verdes. And who am I to argue. Its 3nm south of yet another town called Tarafal and is a far nicer anchorage than Tarafal. It has a beautiful sandy bottom with great holding where you can clearly see your anchor in 5-8m of water, a lovely protected beach and great snorkelling.  There was an interesting walk along the coast to Tarafal, which quite a few of us did and we also enjoyed several sundowners on the beach at our anchorage.

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It was the rally’s last stop before returning to Mindelo so a lot of the rally yachts opted to spent a bit more time here on anchor rather than in the marina at Mindelo.  However we were really enjoying cruising all the islands and we wanted to do one more. We picked out Santa Luzia, which was half way back to Mindelo and headed for there.  We anchored in Praia do Palmo a Tostado off a lovely long white sandy beach in 7m of water, along with a couple of other rally boats. We found our later that the island is now a nature reserve and anchoring is prohibited, something our cruising guide failed to point out. So no going there in the future unless you want to risk a substantial fine.

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In no time at all, we were back in the marina at Mindelo, preparing for our trip across the Atlantic , 2020NM to Barbados in time for their 50th anniversary celebrations.

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10 REASONS TO CRUISE THE CAPE VERDE ISLANDS

  1. Its on the way – most yachts on their way to the Caribbean sail south until the butter melts, meaning that they get within 100nm of Cape Verdes. Why not go a touch further and call into these wonderful islands?
  2. Being in Cape Verdes is like being in the Caribbean. They are full of colour and music with beautiful clear water and a distinctive Portuguese flavour from its colonial past.
  3. Once in the Cape Verdes you are already in the trade winds. Leaving for the Caribbean is simply a matter of getting away from the islands and you will be immediately into the trades that will blow you all the way to the Caribbean.
  4. Its the shortest route to the Caribbean – 2020nm to Barbados. After restocking with food and diesel in Mindelo, you only need a couple of weeks at sea and you are there.
  5. The scenery is stunning. The islands are all volcanic, coming straight out of the ocean. The hiking trails are world class, with some spectacular views. Special mention goes to Fogo with its active volcano and high altitude winery, which is so different to anywhere else.
  6. Its relatively tourist free if you stay away from Ilha do Sal, with its growing tourist developments. There’s relatively few yachts cruising the islands so the anchorages are likely to be uncrowded, often with no other boats around.
  7. Great sailing in the reliable trade winds belt. 80% of time the winds are 3-5 Bft from the NE. Most of the islands are within a day sail of each other making it easy to hop around between the islands.
  8. There’s a good marina in Mindelo and great anchorages in the islands.
  9. The people are friendly and welcoming. Interestingly  in places its like a mini Rhode Island as many of the locals have either grown up on the East Coast of the USA or are returning on holiday to see their relatives.
  10. Cape Verdes is a great place to experience a little piece of Africa without the hassles that often come with visiting the mainland.

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CAPE VERDES – INTERESTING AND USEFUL STUFF

  • Cape Verdes is 780NM south of the Canaries, 325NM off the African Coast.
  • It consists of 10 larger and 4 smaller islands, all volcanic.
  • They were colonised by Portuguese in the mid-fifteenth century and gained their independence from Portugal in 1975.
  • The local currency is the Escudo (CVE). 1 Euro = 110 Escudos. ATMS are reasonably easy to find.
  • The locals speak a form of Creole as well as Portuguese. We easily got by speaking just English and Spanish.
  • The Cape Verdes are one hour behind Universal Time throughout the year.
  • Shops are generally open between 8am and noon and then again from 2.30pm to 6pm  Monday to Friday and from 8am to 12 noon on Saturday.
  • Cape Verdes use European 220V 50Hz plugs.
  • The only marina is located in Mindelo. It has electricity and water and 24×7 security with a nice floating bar and restaurant.
  • It is best to drink bottled water. The water on the islands is okay for washing etc. but not necessarily for drinking.
  • Diesel is cheap and good quality diesel is available VAT free from the fuel dock at Mindelo marina.
  • Internet is cheap and reasonable. Buy a local SIM for 8 euros which will give you 8GB of Internet.
  • We used the RCC Atlantic Islands cruising guide. This also covers the Canaries, Azores and Madeira.

Biography

Steve Tull and Dee Trigg have been floating around the Mediterranean on La Mischief,  their Lagoon 421 Catamaran, after sailing down from Sables D’Olonne in March 2013. Steve previously sailed across the top of Australia in 2012 from Perth to Sydney on Camelot, his previous Seawind catamaran. Steve and Dee  have just completed Jimmy Cornell’s Barbados 50 Rally and are currently in the Caribbean.

780nm South to Cape Verdes

FRIDAY

Set off at 8am on the 780nm jaunt to the Cape Verdes, a day earlier than planned as there was some strong southerlies coming on Sunday and our strategy was to head West of the rhumb line (whilst keeping a reasonable distance off Africa) to skirt around these Southerlies and get far enough South so we wouldn’t be affected. Most of the rest of the fleet had pretty much the same idea, although a few of the boats were going nowhere as the effects of the flu that went through our fleet had completely incapacitated them. So they stayed in El Hierro or Las Palma to recuperate. I wasn’t so sure about staying in El Hierro in Southerlies as it looked pretty exposed to the South. Will be interesting to see how they faired. 

With our sails set our immediate challenge was trying to get a decent angle to clear the bottom of the island. Wing on wing for a while but the new Raymarine autopilot wasn’t handling it so after a bit of hand steering we gave up on that idea and jibed our way to the bottom of the island.

We used up our last bit of internet for 5 days and then headed off into the big wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. The wind turned to the East and we had a steady sail for most of the day at 5kts or so. Phil and I were still feeling the effects of the flu, so we took it fairly quietly, with no extravagant sail changes, sleeping off watch where we could.

The highlight of the day was a pod of spotted dolphins that hung around for ages.

 

SATURDAY

By now Phil and I were both starting to feel better and out came the fishing gear as we motor sailed along in light winds. We were keen to at least get an entry in for the fishing completion, and Dee pulled out her secret weapon, a rather innocuous looking blue plug with a sing large hook on the end of it.

And it worked. A glorious 12kg Dorado jumped on the secret weapon and Phil pulled it in and gaffed it onto the boat. We managed to loose some horrible gin we picked up in desperation in Turkey down its gills, before lassoing its tail. We just passed an enormous underwater mountain – maybe that had something to do with the fishing. It was all happening as we noticed some whales broaching in the distance.

That night we really enjoyed the BBQed fresh fish, before settling down on our 3 hourly night watches. Dee was doing the 11pm – 2am shift when the wind picked up and off went the motors. I had to get up and help Phil put in a reef around 3am when the wind picked up to 20kts. It was on a comfortable tight reach, we were just East enough to avoid the stronger southeries and the swell was not much to write home about (so I won’t).

We made some good miles under sail hitting 8s and 9s but it didn’t last past dawn (a rather late 8.15am in the morning) and we were back to motor sailing.

 SUNDAY

With no need to fish, it was a rather quite Sunday at the office. We left the reef in all day as it didn’t really matter whether it was in or out, no wind is no wind. We motored into the Tropic of Cancer – another first for me in the Northern Hemisphere (having previously sailed through the Tropic of Capricorn on Camelot). 

We were starting to get the rhythm of a long ocean passage. We occasionally spotted Oysterbar and Dolojaime in the distance and picked up the odd freighter on AIS but it was largely a big empty deep ocean. We kept track of the other boats through a once a day email from rally control detailing the GPS positions of all the other boats. I download weather on my Predict Wind Offshore app on my Apple Mac via my Iridium Go and this gives me weather routing via 4 different weather models, GMDSS weather forecast and satellite imagery. And occasionally I get an accurate forecast.

That night the wind picked up again and we touched 9s with the reef in and the wind blowing 15kts. Perfect sailing on a beam reach. Everyone enjoyed a great night time sail under a big full moon, until my early morning shift when once again the wind died and the motors came on.

MONDAY

About 11am we decided it was time to deploy Hotlips (our parasailor with the red lips) in light 8-9kts of wind, which was right up our bum. In 4-5kts of apparent wind we were doing 4-5kts of SOG. A couple more knots of wind would have been good but at least we weren’t burning diesel.

It was a slow day all around. We took the cautious approach of taking the Parasailor down as night fell, probably a mistake as La Mischief doesn’t go very well down wind in light winds with just a mailsail and a jib. We engaged the services of the iron sail to keep us on track for a daylight arrival on Wednesday, provided we got a couple of decent parasailor runs. 

TUESDAY

Sunrise was at 8.30am and the parasailor went up at 9am. It was downhill all the way to the finish line in Cape Verdes and with the wind picking up to 12kts, we were set to average 7kts with hotlips showing the way. Our plan was to get to within 140nm, 24 hours out before sunset and that gave us an easy run home provided we did better than 6kts.

And that’s what we did. I’m struggling to work out why I didn’t get a parasailor earlier. Would have made some of our earlier passages a lot more enjoyable.

5 days in, the days seem to pass easily. Kindle eBooks and movies are consumed, whilst Dee is busy doing her exercises. Spot Mr. Lazy! Its very therapeutic being away from the Internet ….. and Alcohol! With all that fresh food and fresh air too. It’s a veritable health farm on the water.

About 6pm we decided to quickly drop the parasailor to check the socks control lines that appeared to be twisted at the top. Back on deck it seemed to untwist itself, but just as we were about to re-hoist it, the starboard engine stopped as parasailor line fell into the water and wrapped around the prop. Nothing like a mid-ocean swim to untangle her. Its very blue underneath the back of the boat with the snorkel and mask on!

Crisis over, off we went again doing 7kts with only the parasailor up. This was our first night sail with Hotlips up and it went beautifully. You could see the stars through the parasail opening as we surfed down the swell that had built from nothing to maybe 1.5m.

WEDNESDAY

Its nice to wake up at 5am in the morning and see we have a manageable 80nm to go. The moon was still fairly full and the wind was so consistent, never wavering much from straight behind us at 12-15kts. Trade wind sailing.

We thought we’d have a go at filling up the freezer before we arrived given we will have 5 hungry mouths to feed. Phil ordered Wahoo – but all we got was a baby mahi mahi that we threw back 

As we neared the islands the wind picked up and as we entered the channel we had 20-25kts. We were zooming along at 9-10kts and getting to our final destination quickly. We had some problems getting the parasail down with all that wind but Phil and I managed to get it in the sock eventually. Dolojaime were not so fortunate – they managed to wrap theirs around the mast and had to cut it off. Ouch!!!!

With parasailor down, out came the fenders and mooring lines and we were soon docked ready for our first beer in over a week!