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Old 10-16-2003
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James Baldwin is on a distinguished road
The Long Way Back to Brazil


Experience gleaned from two trips around the world aboard his own 28-footer has taught the author that extra distance sailed in favorable breezes is well worth the additional time and mileage.
When I left Forteleza on the last leg of a 12-year trip around the globe, I felt certain I would not soon get back to Brazil. The powerful northwest-setting current and constant southeast tradewinds that made my ride to the Caribbean so effortless, guaranteed that a passage in the opposite direction would be too masochistic to consider, at least for Atom, my then engineless, 28-foot Pearson Triton. If my boat was somewhat windwardly challenged it was at least partly the fault of her skipper who always did his best to avoid putting the rail under.

If a return trip had been possible I certainly would have loved to go back. While maxing out my six-month visa limit I had barely sampled Brazilís endlessly varied coastline and had learned enough of the local language and culture to have made many friends with these warm-hearted people.

It was with initial mixed feelings then that the following year I considered a friendís request to deliver his boat from Margarita Island, Venezuela to Cabedelo on the eastern tip of Brazil. My wife Mei had quit her job this year in Taiwan and joined me for the first time as a liveaboard cruiser. Though she eagerly agreed that being paid to sail to Brazil was a great opportunity, her experience up to now had been limited to short passages amid the sheltered waters of the southern Caribbean.


The above route from Venezuela to Brazil (in red) might seem ridicuously long, but given the region's prevailing winds and currents, this 5,500-mile loop ensured the most favorable passage.

I at least knew the boat well. Her Swiss owner, Theo Bodmer, had recently hired me to give Islander, a 28-foot 1972 Hong Kong-built Taipan sloop, a complete refit. During Islanderís resurrection we reglassed the hullís exterior bottom after repairing the most extensive osmosis damage Iīd ever seen on any boat. Rotten bulkheads were ripped out and a whole new interior installed with numerous watertight bulkheads and sealed lockers. This strengthened her immensely and provided a high degree of resistance to sinking, if not outright positive buoyancy when flooded. I installed a Lavac vacuum-type toilet, also behind a watertight bulkhead. I built two integral water tanks right into the hull under the V-berth and under the cockpit footwell to add strength to tanks and hull as well as to maximize the water-carrying capacity.


Have boat, will travel. Every open-ocean passage should begin with a thorough list of projects that will prepare any vessel for King Neptune's frequent mood swings.
The most daunting task of this reconstruction project was removing the worn-out teak decks and the top layer of fiberglass deck and replacing the rotted plywood core. We then laboriously block sanded the deck level, reglassed and painted it. This job alone took a full month. It was worth the effort to finally put an end to deck leaks.

Other repairs included replacing all eight lifeline stanchions and bases and rebedding the hatches and ports. A Profurl jib-furling gear and new jib were added and the rigging strengthened by adding an inner forestay and intermediate aft shrouds attached to the deck just behind the aft lower shrouds. To ensure several more years of trouble-free self-steering, we replaced all the bearings on the venerable Aries wind vane.

"This handsome little cruiser carries no EPIRB or life raft or much else in the way of so-called safety equipment. Instead she is built to serve as her own liferaft. "
As for electronics, Islander has more then the average number of gadgets for a small cruiser including: radar, two GPS units, VHF and SSB transceivers with an e-mail modem. There is a good quality sextant and celestial navigation tables onboard. All power is generated by three solar panels and stored in a single, 200 amp hour, 12-volt bank of four deep-cycle six-volt batteries.

This handsome little cruiser carries no EPIRB or life raft or much else in the way of so-called safety equipment. Instead she is built to serve as her own liferaft. As a possible last refuge, she carries a fiberglass-and-plywood pram dinghy with built-in buoyancy.

According to Theo, whose abhorrence of inboard engines matches my own, Islanderís fractious diesel inboard lies very near where he bought the boatĖat the bottom of Hong Kongís Deep Water Bay. He replaced it with a four hp longshaft outboard motor for which I later constructed an outboard well locker within the lazarrette.

 Because I considered Islanderís equipment and structural integrity beyond question for a boat of her size I felt no qualms in taking her on an extended offshore passage. Still, there remained the question of which route to take to Brazil. Theo, who is working full-time as a computer programmer with plans to transfer his business later this year to Brazil, told me, "I canít sail the boat there and work at the same time and I donít mind which route you choose or how long it takes." Although I had reservations about beating all the way to Brazil, I presumed Theo would think it somewhat extreme if I followed my first inclination to sail to Brazil via another tradewind circumnavigation!

The direct coastal route is some 2,000 miles, the majority of which is dead to windward. The coastal route entails sailing inshore of the adverse currents among sandbanks, reefs, and fishing craft and their nets. This would require constant vigilance, and without an inboard engine, countless hours of tackingĖa long, tiresome passage.


An interior view of the rebuilt vessel reveals a layout that approaches true simplicity, based on a philosophy of minimal hassle with on-board systems.

A second possibility was to tack east out of the Caribbean Sea, and once well offshore, to stay hard on the wind tacking southeast until rounding Brazilís eastern tip. Some yachts taking this route have reported a fairly easy passage. But even partly favorable winds on this route are limited to between December and April. It was already May before we were ready to depart.

By studying the prevailing winds on the monthly Atlantic Pilot Charts, the obvious alternative was to sail north until clear of the northeast trades in the region of Bermuda, then continue northeast to about 38 degrees north latitude. From there we could sail east with predominately westerly winds, passing north of the windless region of the Azores High. Somewhere west of the Azores we could turn southeast, riding the Portuguese Trades past the Cape Verde Islands. Then we would work our way south through the doldrums. Once across the equator we could turn southwest on the final leg to Brazil with southeast trades on the beam.


Ready to cast off aboard Islander, the author and his wife have prepared themselves and the boat for an atypical route that eventually took them about three months to go 5,500 miles.

We all agreed that what seems a ridiculously long detourĖsome 5,500 miles that would take about three months including stopovers at islands enrouteĖwas in fact, the logical route. One thing Iíve learned in 20-some years voyaging in small boats is that it is worth any added time or miles to find that favorable wind.

Once we decided to go we quickly departed Trinidad, sailing Atom to Margarita Island where we put her in storage for three months. We briefly hauled Islander as well to give her a fresh start with two coats of bottom paint. On May 10 we got underway just in time to avoid the coming hurricane season. The voyage thus far is going well, if not exactly according to plan.

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