The Long Way Back, Part IV - SailNet Community

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Old 04-01-2004
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James Baldwin is on a distinguished road
The Long Way Back, Part IV


The barren, sandy shores of Sal island in the Cape Verde archipelago were quite a contrast to the steep, lusciously green coastline of Flores.
Our unexpected stopover at Flores Island in the Azores meant that our trip to Brazil would take considerably longer than we had planned. That was all right. Some undisturbed sleep and a chance to explore one of the loveliest islands in the Atlantic was just what we needed after 24 days sailing from Bermuda through the alternating calms and gales so typical of this region.

In Flores we shared the anchorage of Porto das Lajes with many of the cruising boats we had last seen in Bermuda. Lajes harbor is protected from prevailing summer westerly winds by a new breakwater. We anchored near the cement quay at the head of the bay and set a second stern anchor to hold Islander's bow into the slight swell that often bends its way around the island and into the harbor. By day, hundreds or terns nest silently in the high cliffs along the north shore of the anchorage. At night they swoop low over the waters, their hysterical cries mingling eerily with the mournful rattling of the rounded black pebbles that greet the surf.

Along the quayside is a combined tourist office and whaling museum. Unlike Bermuda, Flores is not a theme park for cruise ships, prices are reasonable, and cruising folk feel genuinely welcome. The casual check-in procedure is accomplished with little more than a handshake with a policeman sent to the quay to meet you. There is free water near the dinghy landing, free Internet access in town, even a free quayside laundry service.


Fresh provisions weren't a problem whenever the author dropped anchor. Baked goods, vegetables, and rich wine in the Azores;  tuna fish, amberjack, and an assortment of shell fish in the Cape Verde Islands.
The village of Lajes sits a heart-pounding, 15-minute slog uphill from the harbor. Two grocery stores carry an ample variety of imported Portuguese and local foods. Whatever fresh vegetables we could not locate in the shops, we got direct from the farmers, who normally refused payment. We feasted on local cheese and round loaves of dense Portuguese bread washed down with wine costing as little as one dollar a bottle.

We toured the island on foot and by public bus and once a hired taxi that took us into the mountains to a picnic spot on a blanket of spongy moss next to a pair of deep crater lakes. Waterfalls draped themselves in misty bridal veils over the cliffs into the fertile valley of Fajăzinha. We followed a stream past ancient tile-roofed cottages and pastures segmented by sturdy stonewalls smothered with red and white hydrangea flowers. The stream momentarily disappeared under a house where it powers a watermill used to grind corn into flour. The corn flour is mixed with wheat and baked to perfection in wood-fired brick ovens.

From Flores we sailed southeast until reaching 30-degrees North latitude where we turned south for the Cape Verde's. We were at such ease in the light winds here that we risked flying the spinnaker continuously for two days and nights. The Portuguese Trades, shy at first, soon blew with sufficient confidence to send us reaching along at 130 miles per day. Each night Polaris sank perceptibly toward the northern horizon while a new moon grew until it shone bright and full for our landfall.


Later in his voyage, the author would visit the anchorage of Tarrafal on Cape Verde's Santiago Island and replenish provisions for the long haul to Brazil.
We ate particularly well on this passage. Using a heavy frying pan on our gimbaled, single-burner kerosene stove, Mei twice produced pizzas overloaded with cheese, sausage, and vegetables from Flores. On today's yachts, kerosene stoves are as rare as sextants. Although I've packed away my sextant along with the rest of the GPS-wielding crowd, I remain part of the sooty-fingered minority who stubbornly cling to the safe but temperamental kerosene stove.

The only fish we had caught since departing the Caribbean were suicidal flying fish that flung themselves on deck only to land next in our frying pan and finally laid to rest in a bowl of rice. We obstinately dragged our plastic squid clear across the Atlantic, but the lure must have been out of fashion this year because we managed only to snag and board great piles of useless Sargasso weed. By the time we got a genuine strike just before reaching the Cape Verde's, the hooks were so rusted that they broke off before we could land our prize.

When fresh foods ran low I brought out a bag of Australian freeze-dried dinners that a cruising friend had given us out of the surplus from his recent expedition to Antarctica. A few of the dinners were just barely edible, but most had such a strong chemical flavor that even I could not eat them. After the first taste, Mei scowled and said, "How did he survive a year in Antarctica on this stuff?" Mei also thought I had bought too many unpalatable Western oddities like baked beans, corn meal, oats, and other such items that were staples in my previous single-handed voyages. We agreed next time she would take charge of provisioning.

We noticed a shameful amount of plastic and Styrofoam rubbish floating in the North Atlantic—much more than I had seen in the middle of any other ocean. There was more dangerous debris here too. One morning I watched in disbelief as a kitchen table, legs up, floated by. Another day, Islander shook and lurched to one side as she sailed into and over a log the size of a telephone pole. There was no damage and it was reassuring to know Islander is protected against collisions by watertight bulkheads and lockers. The bow area is protected below the waterline by five independently sealed lockers. Numerous other sealed lockers are placed throughout the boat.

"One morning I watched in disbelief as a kitchen table, legs up, floated by."
I strongly believe in carrying ample freshwater for the duration of each passage. I would no more rely on a watermaker to provide drinking water than I would expect an electric autopilot to function without failure on an extended passage. They may work fine for a few days or a few years, but odds are that such complicated gadgets will fail you sooner rather than later.

Islander carries just over 100 gallons of freshwater between two integral tanks built into the hull and nine plastic five-gallon jugs. We use an average of one and a quarter gallons per person each day including a freshwater rinse after a saltwater bucket shower every second day or so. This gives the two of us more than a 40-day supply—more than enough for our longest passages. We do not ration water, but we do use it carefully. Dishes are washed in salt water. Laundry is washed after we arrive in port unless we have collected rainwater during the passage. When the sea is calm enough we collect rainwater on deck, which is directed below into water cans via port and starboard thru-deck drains connected to hoses with shut-off valves.


Twenty miles shy of the Cape Verde Islands, the author and his wife opted to heave-to and await daylight to make their landfall.
At sunset on August 3 we hove-to some 20 miles north of Cape Verde's Sal Island so as to approach the anchorage in daylight the following morning. Islander hove-to comfortably in the 15 to 20 knot winds under a double-reefed main, no jib, and the tiller lashed halfway to leeward. She forereached at about a half knot, which helped offset the south-moving current. At dawn we got underway and soon sighted Sal's barren volcanic peaks five miles ahead floating above a fog-like haze. These peculiar hazy conditions get much worse when the strong Harmattan winds of winter blow Saharan dust over the Cape Verde's, cutting visibility to a half mile or less.

We anchored among several European yachts near the beach at the island's main port of Palmeira. The contrast from lush green, tidy Flores Island to Sal Island's burnt brown desert landscape was drastic. My first impression of the town of Palmeira was that it had been thoroughly bombed, the buildings partially rebuilt, then all construction suddenly halted, leaving mostly roofless, windowless, shells of buildings. Since Palmeira's tuna factory closed, the island's only exports are its people, some salt from seawater drying pans, and windblown sand.

At first amazed that anyone would choose to live here, soon the friendly fishermen and helpful smiling villagers we met more than compensated for nature's hostility. A few days later we sailed south to the island of Santiago from where we would get provisions for the final leg of Islander's delivery to Brazil.

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