It’s one thousand sea miles to the Iles du Salut (which includes the infamous Devil’s Island) in French Guiana! Time to sail the distance I’ve postponed by taking my Brazilian shortcut across the Atlantic.
No big deal. It’s a comfortable sail (with both favourable current and winds), provided I stay in deeper water (100 nautical miles out from the Amazon). At this distance, I’m not likely to hit any stray tree trunks or other Amazon jungle debris, I need only worry about the occasional squall or cargo vessel.
As it turned out, I had good cause to worry about both, especially when a mighty squall hit on the 7th day out from Fortaleza.
Let me share the details with you….
I’d had to weather a couple of uncomfortable days (with gusts to Force 7) on days 2 and 3, but was generally pleased with the progress I’d made since leaving Brazil. Especially when you consider that I’d logged 120 nautical mile daily runs (a new record for Eileen)! This was sufficient motivation to tolerate any discomfort and while the distances travelled were considerable (for a small boat under stay-sail alone), in future, I’ll think twice before running before the wind without my mainsail. Why? Because incessant rolling is liable to turn the stomach of even the hardiest of sailors, and I’m hardly hardy!
What followed were 3 days of gentle breeze so I opted to burn some fossil fuel and maintain my 100 nautical mile average to day 5. Eileen can easily manage 100NM in a 24hr period when motor sailing. Even if the winds are under 10kts. And since she consumes just over half a liter of diesel an hour (with her new 10HP Beta engine), I rarely feel compelled to wallow about for days on end in the tropical heat for the sake of conserving fuel.
That night more gale force winds arrived. Well, I assume they were gale force, but I did little to verify this empirically. Too busy concentrating on feeling sorry for myself (a touch of sea sickness coupled with a migraine headache can have that effect). Plus, I’m not to fond of braving downpours to measure wind speed with my portable ammeter, (though I did note a consistent 8 knots on my GPS).
Fancy that! No sails and Eileen of Avoca is making way at top speed with comfort and ease. No more rolling either! I’d have confidently gone to bed if a Chinese freighter hadn’t chosen this particular moment to play chicken with me.
Guess I’ll give them a call over the VHF radio…
“Motor vessel Sunny X (X to thwart potential defamatory action)…. you are within 3 nautical miles of my current position and closing. Are you currently tracking me by radar?”
I know they aren’t because my radar detector is uncharacteristically silent….
“Yesh, I shee you…. your SSI number ish…..”
“No, that’s not me. I don’t have a transponder so you will not see me with your A.I.S. The ship you are referring to is 6 miles to port. I am a small sailing vessel currently 2 miles ahead of you…”
At last my radar detector starts to sound. At least they are now really trying to look for me…
“I don’t shee you…Two miles? You shtay away from my ship….shtay clear….. you hear?”
“I’m trying… please maintain your course as I’ll adjust mine so that we pass port to port.”
“rOK I adjust my course 10 degrees to port….”
“Not that way!!!! You’ll run me down!!!”
At this point I started Eileen’s engine and leapt (or rather crept) to the tiller. A close call. In appalling visibility (due to the worsening downpour), the cargo vessel passed within three cables! Much too close!
Lesson learnt…. Dodge before talking….
Evidently English isn’t as widely or well spoken on commercial vessels as I’d thought, so contacting a vessel via VHF might at best turn out to be counterproductive as it was in this case… or at worst…. well…. I’d rather not think about that….
But why didn’t they seem me on radar?
That mystery was only solved upon arrival in French Guiana. My over sized reflector had apparently “Gone with the Wind”…
Fortunately, the remainder of the voyage was pleasant enough. I picked up a hitchhiker…
Listened to my d-pod all day (that would be a dolphin pod) as they whistled, clicked and whirled about playfully….
Caught my biggest catch of the day yet…. But didn’t get to eat any as it was full of parasitic worms… Yuck!
To finally find tropical paradise….
With two of my South African buddies (from the old Fortaleza gang) minding a spot for me at an idyllic anchorage (how had they known I was coming?). 😉
Time to join the day tourists and explore… but only after I make myself a little more presentable… After all, there are certain standards to uphold, and the “wild man from Borneo” look hasn’t been too well received of late…
Yes… the beard and long haired hippie look will have to go. I’m in France now… how odd… never really realized that France extended to South America…
So it’s back to European prices, the Euro, and speaking French… I’m not complaining…
It’s also back to good wine, more than one sort of cheese and bread that doesn’t disintegrate when you touch it…
My taste buds are already celebrating in anticipation!
Vive la France!