Bad sax and a Brazilian beach!

Marina Jacare

After three dreary days of sailing west from Fernando de Noronha, I finally arrived in mainland Brazil. Twenty days to sail across the Atlantic in a 23ft boat? Voila, all done!

I’ve been loafing about Jacare for the past week, which is several miles up the river from Cabedelo, which in turn, is just north of Joao Pessoa.

Never heard of these places? Me neither!

Until now it’s been a well kept secret among French speaking sailors requiring an inexpensive safe haven for leaving their yacht for extended periods.

Jacare sunset

Jacare itself has little to offer international visitors, but locals still regularly flock to it’s one claim to fame (just a stones throw away from the tiny marina), Bolero by sunset!  Every night hundreds of Brazilian tourists gather by the riverside developments to watch the sunset and listen to Ravel’s Bolero accompanied by a saxophonist standing in the prow of a small fishing boat. Apparently he’s quite a celebrity, whose musical accomplishments have spawned several copycat sunset serenade gigs in cities across Brazil.

Not my thing, but the story behind the commercial hype is worth mentioning.

Many years ago, a visiting Dutch yachtsman anchoring nearby made a habit of playing Ravel’s Bolero every evening. Why? Who knows! Perhaps he was fond of the movie “10” staring 80s supermodel Bo Derek, (that would be about the right era).

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then try this link.

My turn next!

At any rate, a local fisherman enjoyed listening to these nightly serenades so much that before the sailor left he asked for a copy of the tape (yes it was in the days of cassette decks) and continued what was fast becoming a Jacare sunset tradition.

The current amateur saxophonist came later, but he is the one that has truly capitalized on the idea.

Given that he has played the same (somewhat repetitive) piece every night for umpteen many years, you’d be within your rights to expect a less dissonant performance.

But why bother with complaining?

Yes… it’s bad sax at sunset in Jacare, but nobody here cares.

For three hours the promenade is a hive of activity and who in their right mind wouldn’t want to have their photo taken by a musical concrete crocodile?

Village life in Jacare

Despite the ever expanding kitsch of modern tourist development, Jacare retains much of its quaint sleepy fishing village feel. If rest is what you seek (following your Atlantic crossing), then you can’t go wrong by stopping here. The family atmosphere amongst those staying at the marina is rare (if not unique) and as a bonus, it’s safe for the whole family to wander about at all hours. Some sailors are so content here that they haven’t bothered to budge in over five months! What more of an endorsement can a small village marina get?

Having failed miserably to meet a suitably attractive reason to linger, 😉 I’ve optimistically set my sights on reaching beautiful bustling Salvador (which should take me about 6 days). So, until then, I leave you to view my most recent holiday images.

Titute needs help

Introducing Titute, the newly adopted marina mascot. This poor little bitch suffered a broken a leg in an accident and the previous owners dealt with the problem by unceremoniously dumping her in the river to drown.

Titute's hero!

Luckily this man was on hand to rescue the drowning puppy, and with the help of antibiotics and pet food donated by resident sailors, she has made a remarkable recovery. Unfortunately, nobody dared, (or knew enough), to set the broken leg correctly so it is now almost useless, but a collection is underway to raise the funds needed to have her leg seen to by a vet. Even if she remains a three-legged canine, at least Titute has found a new home.

Fisherman mends his nets in Jacare, Brazil

As stated earlier, despite recent developments, Jacare retains its sleepy village atmosphere. You can sit watching local fishermen repair their nets, while children busy themselves tending their own charges.

Taking the goat water taxi

Brazil is clearly a country of striking contrasts. Rich, poor, modern or seriously outdated, it’s all on display here.

Jacare pedestrians

One minute you’re sharing an unpaved road with wandering livestock near a shanty town,

Working on maintaining that tan

while the next you’re hobnobbing it with the well to do, improving your tan by the sea. All this within just a few city blocks!

Pretend surfer?

Unsurprisingly, the nouveau-rich youth surf culture appears somewhat contrived… (especially when there is no surf… just surf boards and surfers). It almost looks as if everybody is reenacting b-grade Australian TV soaps from the 70s… Who uses zinc cream on their nose these days!!!

What to do while at the beach?

Mind you, the Brazilians can teach Australians a thing or two on how to appreciate a day on the beach…

Hang out at a palm shaded beach bar!

With a beach bar of course… Even in Holland this is a mandatory feature that’s strangely absent in Aussie surf culture.

Manu Chao

And why not have free beach concerts on weekends like they do here? Manu Chao live in Joao Pessoa this Sunday night. Beat that!

Can I make a withdrawal?

Not that everything is perfect here in paradise. Look how hard it is to get money from an automatic teller machine…

How to avoid Dengue Fever

I’m also becoming increasingly paranoid about mosquito bites for some reason…

It's a bustling busy life!

Despite this, I can’t understand why so many sailors race to the Caribbean when there is so much to see and do further south.

It's cattle class for me on the local train...

Look how easy (and cheap at 25 cents) it is to get around using local transport,

Gone shopping!

and you have got to love it when even shopping for simple provisions is an adventure in itself.

I like Brazil… so for now, Trinidad and the Caribbean can wait.

Fernando de Noronha

Taking a break before completing my Atlantic crossing

Ask a sailor that has been to Fernando de Noronha what it was like and he is sure to shake his head and grumble about it being ridiculously expensive!

With the excuse that it is mostly national park, there are all sorts of environmental taxes to pay and while imported goods are understandably dear, I still can’t understand how a pizza can cost more than 25 Euro.

I’d done my research so it didn’t come as a surprise to hand over more than 50 Euro a day for the privilege of anchoring half a mile from the harbour (reserved for local craft only), but as I’ve not spent a cent over the last 18 days, why not splurge a little now?

I stayed two nights and have the following collection of photographs to share with you:

My Atlantic crossing is almost over so why not take a break, relax a little and enjoy the view?

Yes, I think it might be possible to unwind a little here...

I think it is relatively safe to leave Eileen at anchor given the nature of my immediate neighbours, and

Anchorage security Brazilian style!

it’s not so bad sitting miles away from the harbour jetty if you can convince friends to offer the occasional tow.

Frederica and Daniel making life easier for me.

Once on land, it’s easy enough to get around town. Either hire a buggy (very popular with the locals),

I thought the VW based dune buggy was extinct!

or hitch a free ride on anything that happens to be going your way.

A Massey Ferguson all they way out here!

While parts of the island are obviously very touristic,

Get your Fernando de Noronha plastic back-scratcher here!

the authentic and apparently colourful life of the locals is also in plain view,

Little houses... on the hillside... little houses made of ticky tacky...

even if they don’t always appear very willing to converse… 😉

Young local girl trying to ignore me and the camera. 🙂

This island is billed as a surfers paradise, but it appears the best breaks are not to be found on the sandy beaches.

Surf but no sand...

Not that I mind missing out on the surf if I can amuse myself otherwise!


But Fernando de Noronha is not all just surf and sand.

It was hit by lightning!

There are shady parks to visit,

Fancy a walk in the park?

and several local bars to frequent.

Having coffee and a chat...

Though perhaps a glimpse of the islands past is more to your liking,

Ruins with a view.

or something more spiritual…

Going to the chapel...

Either way, this island will not disappoint. Living here a while would certainly be interesting,

If only I could take a peek inside...

and I’m sure those lucky enough to have been born on the island feel they have it made…

Living green

But for the moment, I’m just an observer passing through.

I wonder where they are now?

With a little more time at my disposal I hope to change that or I’ll never hear the end of it from my sailing friends upon reaching Trinidad.

How to cross an ocean in a small boat…

Leaving São Vicente behind

I left Mindelo just as a dust storm from Africa reduced visibility in the Cape Verde islands to less than 5 miles. While Santo Antão was not visible it wasn’t especially difficult to avoid running into it. Three cheers for the hand-held GPS!

This was it… the long leg… 1400 nautical miles of open ocean before I get to see land (at Fernando de Noronha), and another 240 after that before I can set foot on mainland Brazil.

Was I nervous?

A little… Since childhood I have had a healthy respect for the sea, especially as it almost took my life on three occasions, two of which occurred on the same day while playing in the surf at my local beach.

I know the sea can get nasty, but I have done everything I can to play safe. Time to roll the dice now and hope for the best. Luck plays a large part in this sort of venture and I’m expecting my due for the crossing.

Sailing goosewinged in the Trade Winds

Not that I think it’s particularly dangerous to sail across the Atlantic, but if you happen to have a run of bad luck things can get messy. As an example, one yacht taking part in the Soleil Rally sank on route this year after hitting a semi-submerged obstacle, but then, some people get hit by lightening playing golf… others win the lottery! I just hope to sit happily between these too extremes of fortune.

I note that some armchair sailors are interested in the “how to” of crossing an ocean in a small yacht. I know this from perusing the statistics of my web site and to them I say…

It’s no different from shorter trips, you just take it day by day and before you know it weeks have passed and you find you have crossed an ocean.

I set my mainsail with two reefs in Mindelo, tied the boom to starboard, set a whisker pole on the stay-sail (to port) and left the jib unfurled. I sailed in this goose-winged configuration for 15 days. The only adjustment necessary was the occasional 5 degree course correction on the wind vane (accomplished by pulling a string leading back into the cabin). This kept Eileen nice and steady in the 15 to 25 knot trade winds where I averaged 75 miles a day just sitting around doing nothing.

In the middle of the Atlantic

The best run was 105 nautical miles and the worse 63 in a 24 hour period. I could have gone faster but every sail change is a potential risk and what’s the hurry anyway?

Until reaching the equator, the weather was fabulously consistent. Trade wind sailing at its best. Yes the waves can appear intimidating but it doesn’t take long to grow accustomed to them. Waves are fine no matter how large… unless they start to break!

Technically, my crossing was elementary. A Yarmouth 23 is a sturdy boat, and Eileen of Avoca handled the conditions admirably. The other long distance sailors I have met in my travels all agree that “size matters not” (except for some reason to insurance companies). Small can be exceptionally seaworthy, it’s just that you tend to be a little slower than the rest of the cruising set.

While my boat was obviously in her element, it took me a little while longer to settle in. I spent the first two days feeling I had blocked sinuses or perhaps a head cold. This apparently is my version of getting sea sick of late. Luckily it does not impair my sailing in any way, I just need to get acclimatised.

It's the last doughnut.... 🙁

At noon each day (GMT -1 for my ships clock), I logged my position and the distance traveled, then set about killing time. No fishing this trip because I’d heard enough horror stories of people falling overboard paying too much attention to their catch, so in the tradition set on route to Cape Verde, I stared at my favourite water stains on the ceiling linings and daydreamed!

The passage of days were marked by numerous momentous events such as eating the last slice of fresh bread, pining over that final piece of cheddar cheese, boiling the last egg and snacking on my penultimate doughnut… Rather exciting don’t you think?

Such a happy chap!

More lengthy periods of time were denoted by the need to take a shower… something that I obviously enjoyed thoroughly (see photo). I had 10 liters of desalinated water reserved for this, the rest of my 100L supply was strictly for drinking. Not that I used very much, even upon reaching the equator the temperature remained under 30 degrees Celsius. I was expecting it to be far warmer.

By contacting the occasional passing ship I was able to keep tabs on the weather but this wasn’t strictly necessary. The winds are markedly consistent at this time of year (January), and the periodic squalls within the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (also called the doldrums), are not as severe as I had previously been led to believe. By day 17 Fernando de Noronha was within sight and my Atlantic crossing drew rapidly to a close.

Approaching Fernando de Noronha

After 17 days at sea I found myself reluctant to make landfall. How odd, I’d never have imagined feeling this way, but because Eileen felt so safe and cozy on route, I simply didn’t want the journey to end. I adored passing lazy days listening to the orchestra of sailing sounds. The creaking of ropes and leather, the trickle of water against the hull counterpointed by the slap of the mainsail or the growl of a passing wave. I felt completely safe and was loath to leave my floating cocoon.

While I now can boast of having completed a solo Atlantic crossing in a tiny boat, I’ll let you all in on a big secret…

Despite the cocoon analogy, crossing an ocean alone delivers no metamorphosis of the soul, or life altering catharsis. Not that I really expected it to, I’m not the spiritually receptive type, but “hope springs eternal” does it not? Well, no great surprise then that I didn’t “find myself” while at sea “a la Moitissier”. Perhaps the whole venture needs to be significantly more difficult, in which case, I’ll pass… 😉

Another squall approaches

I now understand how thousands of small yachts with retired crews and a high number of solo navigators, (some in boats smaller than mine), accomplish the same feat annually (though many choose not to advertise the fact). Yes, you can be unlucky and yes, help is a long way away if things go wrong, but it’s clear that by following the trade winds at the right time of year it’s possible to cross an ocean on just about anything that floats. Dare I say even a 10 year old could do it? Just equip the yacht with a Playstation and point it in the right direction!

I remain an ardent subscriber to “The hardest thing about sailing solo across an ocean is earning the money to buy your boat” school of thought, but I’ll happily accept accolades for the accomplishment regardless of whether or not it is truly merited.

I know that the real credit belongs to Eileen of Avoca….. My gallant fiery Irish belle!