We had arrived in Natal on Wednesday afternoon, the 11th of April and anchored off the yacht club. Since we were rather inconspicuous among the comings and goings of anchored boats in front of the yacht club's marina, we remained onboard the remainder of the day, relaxing, napping, sleeping.
Seeing that we were attracting no attention, and that we seemed to be a part of the normal scene, we decided to remain onboard all day Thursday as well, catching-up on sleep doing maintenance and baking.
Edi made four fruit loaves, two carrot and candied ginger loaves and two banana and pecan loaves, and while we had a hot oven, we triple-baked several dozen biscotti in three variations of almond, pecan, dried cranberry and dried apricot.
Midmorning on Friday we launched Non Sequitur, fitted the motor and went in the short distance to the floats of Iate Club do Natal. We stopped at the admin office to ask about wifi, diesel fuel and supermarkets. From behind the counter, a very amiable young woman greeted us with fluent English. She told us the wifi was open, with no password, that diesel was available, but was rather awkward, that there are several supermarkets, but at a distance and that the area around the club is unsafe and we needed to take taxis coming and going. She gave us a four-page document in English, which detailed the yacht club facilities as well as facilities and services in the area.
She then asked us our last port and our next port and for our passports and boat documents so she could fax our details to the Capitania do Portos. At this point Edi and I went into fast thinking mode. We told her our documents were on the boat, and we could bring them later, that our last port was Rio and we were thinking of Fortaleza as our next. She had us fill-out a page in the visiting boat log, and to complete a couple of forms with boat details, which I did without the passport numbers, Ship Registry number, call sign and so on. We then told her we hadn't had an internet connection for a couple of weeks, and needed to do banking and other administrative stuff, as well as catch-up on emails.
We found a table on the shaded patio, next to a scale model of the harbour area around the yacht club, and there we spent nearly two hours online, catching-up. About half an hour into this time, the woman from the office came by and asked for our passports and documents again. We told her we hadn't been back out to the boat yet, and that we wanted to take a trip to the supermarket while we were ashore.
When we had done everything we needed to online, we went back to the office to have a taxi called. The woman seemed unconcerned about our delinquent passports and papers. We went to the recommended supermarket and did a walk-through and then went out to find a restaurant; it was 1430 and we were hungry. After many dozens of blocks of walking, the closest things we could find to a restaurant were the many grubby little dens offering a simple buffet by the kilogram. None looked appetizing, but finally as we saw them all closing after lunch, we ducked into one as the roll-down door was being lowered to half mast. Our first meal ashore since we arrived back in Puerto Montt in October was a solid reminder of why we love eating aboard Sequitur.
We went back to the supermarket and loaded-up on fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and dairy in sufficient quantities to completely fill our fridges and freezers. We also picked-up grocery items to replenish our pantry shortages and then took a taxi back to the club, arriving shortly before 1700. The woman in the office acknowledged us as we juggled four loads from curbside to the dinghy. We figured we didn't need to mention that it was too late in the day to bring in the documents.
Back onboard, after we had juggled and squeezed our purchases into place, I began a Bolognese with two kilos of ground beef and the last of our old tomatoes and onions. We took out four dinners' worth for pasta and froze them. I then added-in some diced carrots and potatoes, and when these were cooked, Edi made-up two dozen empanadas.
While the empanada were baking, I prepared dinner, and as we baked and ate, I reconfirmed with the Navionics app on the iPad the tides and the time of sunrise. Low water slack over the bar at the harbour entrance was predicted for 0450 and sunrise would be at 0533. The moment the woman in the office had mentioned passports and documents, we had independently, but in perfect harmony begun planning our Brazilian breakaway.
At 0440 on Saturday the 14th we weighed using the cockpit power winch. At 0456 we passed under the bridge and ten minutes later we were through the narrows, over the bar and heading northeast.
As I looked back toward the harbour entrance, I saw a motorboat heading directly toward us through the predawn light. Above its windscreen I could make-out shapes that appeared to be police-type lights. As the boat grew, Edi thought it looked more like a sport fishing boat, and then she saw the four trolling rods. Whew!
The sun was just beginning to add tinges of pink to the horizon as I started securing the anchor in its chocks, untangling the anchor rode and stowing it back into the cable locker. The sun rose on schedule at 0533 as Edi brought up a thermos of freshly ground Starbucks coffee. We began to relax.
Our 15-day emergency visas had long since expired, and we knew we had really pushed the limits of our undocumented stops in Brazil. We headed as directly as possible toward the 12-mile limit and even after rounding the nose of Brazil, we continued opening our distance from the Brazilian coast, heading toward the 200-mile limit. At noon on 15 April we were 98 miles off the coast in latitude 3º25' South.
Overnight and into the early hours of daylight we had been hit by a series storm cells with 20 to 30-knot rotating winds and heavy to torrential downpours. These, I surmised were the result of all the moisture in the clouds that had built during the heat of the day cooling at sundown, reaching dew point and dumping the water back to the surface. I expected that we would be experiencing this daily cycle for much of our current passage.
Our routine continued with Edi preparing a nice brunch late morning after she had finished her post-watch sleep. After three years, our watch routine was still the same. A casual no-schedule during the day, spelling each other off for naps as required, then my cooking dinner around 1900 or 1930 and Edi going to bed until 0100 when she relieves me for the 0100 to 0600 watch. It has worked well for us.
As I come off watch for my sleep, I normally start the generator to replenish the batteries and also the watermaker to keep the tanks at or near full. As we moved away from the Brazilian coast, the water cleared and took-on a wonderful blue colour, and our pre-filters were again lasting beyond a few hours before clogging.
I finally got around to reattaching the clew cringle to the staysail. This took a little over six hours of very heavy going with my old stitching awl. I had first tried to do the job using a sailmaker's palm and needle, but there were too many layers of heavy material for this, and the awl was so much easier. Also, I prefer the lock-stitch that the awl gives.
We reattached the staysail and hoisted it. It was good to have it again; it offers a great degree of flexibility to our sail plan. With it out full and the main out about two-thirds, we can confidently head into a sunset filling with the squalls of the day's culumo-nimbus buildup.
Late on Monday night we approached a seamount jutting abruptly from the sea floor over 4000 metres below to within 30 metres of the surface. The shallowest sounding on its summit is 26 metres. Even though this is 110 miles off the Brazilian coast, I had expected to see some boats fishing the area, so we were not surprised to pick-up two trackable radar contacts at about 3 miles. There were likely many more boats in the area, but since they do not show-up on radar outside 3 miles, and their navigation lights are too feeble to be seen beyond that, we will never know.
On Tuesday morning we were overtaken by a continuous series of storm cells.
I altered to port in an attempt to remain on the better wind side of an approaching very large system.
There was no way to avoid being hit, and soon we were in 25 to 30 knot winds and torrential downpours. I noted that the weather systems were now moving westward, which could mean we had crossed the ITCZ, the inter-tropical convergence zone, otherwise known as the Doldrums. We were still south of 1º South.
As the morning squalls dissipated, we found ourselves in northeasterly winds, which are the winds of the NE Trades, not of the SE Trades that theory told us we should still be in. Jimmy Cornell's "World Cruising Routes" told us that in this longitude, at this time of the year, the NE Trades began north of 4º North; we were still 5º south of that.
A look at the chart for the January to March period shows the NE Trades beginning at about 2º30' North, still over 3º north of us. The northeasterly winds continued and strengthened and we became increasingly convinced that the ITCZ had narrowed and dipped to the south for our easy crossing.
I referred back to the gribs we had downloaded before leaving Natal and saw the winds had been predicted to have a northerly component as we approached the Equator. This added to my conviction we had passed the Doldrums.
At 1146 on Wednesday the 18th of April we crossed the Equator into the North Atlantic; we were then over 3000 miles north of our most southerly point at Cape Horn. It had taken us over 4600 miles to do this south-north crossing of the South Atlantic. It is certainly not the typical direction for an ocean crossing, and our experience showed it to be much more onerous than had we taken the downwind sail in the Trades or Westerlies of a typical crossing.
For the first day in many, we approached a rather friendly looking sunset. We sailed along on a beam reach at over six knots in a steady 12 to 14 knot northeasterly breeze. There were no evening and overnight squalls, and the only unpleasant aspect was the roll from beam seas.
The sloppy seas made cooking a tad more difficult and setting a proper table in the cockpit for dinner was impossible. These minor inconveniences, though, did not deter us from continuing to enjoy three good meals a day, including such dishes as frittata...
... and pangasius filets sautéed in butter and julienned garlic with potato coins and sliced Roma tomatoes.
We flew the spinnaker whenever there were no storm cells in the area and for several days enjoyed nice daily runs. At noon on the 24th we were 158 miles off the Brazilian coast and 39 miles from the boundary line of French Guyana. We had come 1225 miles from Natal and had 710 miles to go to Carlisle Bay, Barbados. We were satisfied with our progress and were looking forward to crossing the line on the ocean marking the end of Brazil.
All along the north coast of Brazil we saw clumps, streaks and masses of amber-coloured floating sea weed.
In the late afternoon we picked-up two radar contacts ahead of us, and we began tracking them. Since rounding Brazil's northeast point, besides the two fishing boats on the sea mount, we had seen only one other vessel, a huge tanker. We continued to close the radar contacts, and then picked them up visually. As the sun was preparing to set, a clean, official-looking modern vessel approached our stern to within 50 metres and signaled us. There were what appeared to be uniformed men on the foredeck; they looked ready to board us.
We were still about 10 miles from the French Guyana boundary; we were still within the Brazilian 200-mile zone. We were worried. We turned-up the volume on the VHF, which we had been keeping very low because of the cat-calls, whistles and constant nonsensical chatter on Ch 16 by the Brazilian fishermen. We had early in our Brazilian adventure discovered that the authorities had lost control of the frequency. I called 'Unidentified Ship" and received a response from the larger vessel, a cable layer. In fluent English, the operator told us we were closing on a cable they were laying, and asked us to come 30º to starboard to avoid it. We thanked him, immediately came to starboard and we started breathing normally again.
It is a strange place for a submarine cable, and my thoughts are that it is part of a detection grid to monitor ships entering Brazilian waters from the west, much like the submarine grids we laid off the Canadian east coast and monitored from Argentia, Newfoundland at the height of the Cold War.
Every morning I checked the side decks for flying fish, which had flown their final night sortie. Most of these were in the 20 to 25 centimetre range, and if not discarded overboard, began to rot and smell rather quickly.
Our respite from storm cells and squalls was over, and we were again into a daily routine of clearing a couple of hours after sunrise, building cumulus and cumulo-nimbus through the afternoon and increasing rain squalls and twisting winds through the evening and overnight.
Most days it had calmed sufficiently by the time Edi had arisen from her kip that we could enjoy a relaxing brunch in the cockpit. We were still feasting on the wonderful back bacon and beef bangers we had stocked-up on in the Falklands, we had plenty of eggs, and our stock of tomatoes and other vegetables would last us well beyond Carlisle Bay, our immediate destination.
On the afternoon of 29 April, still 110 miles from Barbados, we spotted only the second flock of sea birds we had seen in Brazil. A month or more previously we had seen three brown boobies. Besides having seen only three sea birds along the Brazilian coast, we frequently commented to each other that we had not seen a marine mammal since we had left the Falklands. There were no whales, no sea lions, no seals, no tortoises, no dolphins, no porpoises. Not at sea nor in the ports. None.
At 1128 on Monday the 30th we sighted the south coast of Barbados. At 1256 we spotted the first marine mammals since leaving the Falklands, as pods of dolphins frolicked with Sequitur's bow wake. At 1450 we came to 35 metres on the Delta in 8 metres of water off the beach in Carlisle Bay. The water is so clear we could watch the bottom in 15 metres of depth as we approached the anchorage.
In a little over sixteen days we had come 1958 miles, much of it in rather sloppy beam seas. All but four days of the passage had been through long daily bouts of storm cells and squalls. We had finally escaped from Brazil and from its convoluted and disjointed bureaucracy and from a marine infrastructure that seems to us so unwelcoming to cruising boats.
It was 30 April, the 31st anniversary of resigning my commission as a Canadian naval officer to buy a boat and sail off over the horizon. It was the 6th anniversary of my discussing with my wife (now ex-wife) that I still wanted to sail off. It was the 4th anniversary of Edi's response to my internet ad looking for a soul mate with whom to sail off. We remained onboard and relaxed through the afternoon. In the evening we celebrated the 4th anniversary with Falklands beef tenderloin with gnocchi in a mushroom, shallot and garlic cream sauce, a butter-sweat of julienned carrots, white onions and green peppers and a garnish of sliced Roma tomatoes with shaved sea salt. A bottle of J Lohr 2007 Los Osos Merlot from Sequitur's cellar complimented perfectly. Edi and I complement perfectly. We are content.