19 April 2022 | Mindelo
In praise of Mindelo
While autumn refitting Aqua Blue in Portimao during our second Covid lost season, I was able to visit Sam Coles at anchor off Ferragudo on his 44ft cat Ramprasad. Our re-acquaintance, many years after we both worked at Sussex uni, led to Sam offering me a berth heading south and west.
Accordingly I flew to Gran Canaria on Sun 14th November to join the crew at anchor off Playa Alcaravaneras at Las Palmas . Jan a young Dutchman and Joel a Catalan and keen photographer, made me most welcome. Within 48hrs we were bobbing about in a fresh westerly off Pasito Blanco marina, indifferently sheltered by the bulk of Punta Maspalomas. Augustin Martin made time to greet us though, as he does with all OCC visitors.
In the calmer morning we recovered the substantial ground tackle, raised the massive mainsail, and pointed the bows SSW, parallel to the African coast basically. The low which had been sitting to the west of the Canaries initially provided a good shove in the right direction, but it’s influence then countered the NE trades and as it slowly filled we were mostly broad reaching in light airs. Very pleasant although rather slow!
However you’re never bored once the watch system starts. Jan, Joel and I repeated our regular three hours each, while Sam remained on supervisory call at any time. Navigation was displayed on an iPad, and posns recorded manually (just in case!). We all had our own cabins with heads, an unaccustomed luxury. And the cat’s motion was so slight, sleep was easy.
I was surprised at the cold night time wind off the Sahara desert, I had barely brought enough clothes. But the days slowly warmed. There was very little visible traffic on this coast, altho many yachts must have been accompanying us. The light winds meant we were only just managing 100nm daily. A few dolphin visits brought out the cameras. Then the flying fish arrived, a sure sign of our progress south. Some manage long distances over the waves, with “tail boosts” leading to much discussion as to whether they are “flying” or “gliding”! They must have fascinated Darwin on the Beagle.
It took eight days for the Cape Verdes to pop out of the haze. With the wind so light we had to motor the last few miles down the Canal de Sao Vicente, with San Antao towering to our starboard, before turning east into Porto Grande, Mindelo. We joined the many other yachts at anchor south of the marina, and toasted our safe arrival.
Morning exploring with fellow crew Jan was eye opening, we were in Africa! The colourful clothes in the central market, the yellow finned tuna in the fish market, so much tropical fruit and veg for sale, inc on the pavements. Atms provided Cape Verdean escudos. And after dire warnings from Vodaphone, Jan helped me obtain a local SIM card. Nominally the locals speak Portuguese but it’s Creole and very hard to understand. Fortunately many of the islanders who deal with visitors do speak some English. I am always in awe of others’ language abilities. Jan speaks Dutch, English, Spanish, and (Brazilian) Portuguese!! I was taught schoolboy French which I rarely seem to use!
Initially and unusually for Mindelo the wind stayed very light. But the trades soon returned and blasted down from the heights to the North. Ramprasad’s ground tackle was up the the job though, and the holding seems quite good. There are also various wrecks to avoid. Dinghy rides could be wet affairs though. And walking the pontoons during the gusts was challenging! Sam often stayed onboard, organising the sheeting for a parachute sail, which he then successfully used on his Atlantic crossing with Jan and Joel. All three would then remain in the Americas.
The floating marina bar was great for morning OJ and coffee.. And they serve basic meals too, Further ashore I particularly liked Casa Cafe Mindelo. Seared, or even raw yellow finned tuna, was very affordable for lunch. I made a point of finding Kai Brossman who developed the marina and now provides a chandlery and yacht services, to pass on the OCC’s compliments. He has also produced an online pilot to the CVs now. In fact Mike Westin has also produced an online guide to Mindelo itself. But of course any skipper venturing into these waters should have the RCC Atlantic Islands onboard!
I was watching the developing Covid situation with interest and some alarm. During my travels, South Africa then Nigeria were made “red list” countries by the UK. And the last time this happened the CVs were soon added to the red list too. I faced the prospect of being trapped abroad, waiting for an unwanted two week place in a government hotel in the UK! As Richard E Grant was bitterly complaining about after visiting his mother in South Africa! In addition our slow progress in the light trades threatened my expensive Xmas flight from Grenada. Then Sam told me we would be confined to a quarantine buoy in Grenada for an unknown period!!
I exchanged my BA Grenada flight for a voucher and moved ashore into the Cafe Royal hotel. The TAP app on my iPhone was very clunky. But Ro Teixeira the young receptionist at Cafe Royal took me to a local travel agent who booked me on a flight to Lisbon on Friday 3rd Dec. The agent also pointed me to a local clinic for for a Covid test. And booked a taxi for 5am!!
I really enjoyed my remaining days in Mindelo, it’s a great spot. Good cheap restaurants esp Casa, Nautilus and Taverna, as well as Cafe Royal. A wonderful beach just to the northwest, and so much local colour. One can sometimes be hassled on darker streets, but I never felt physically threatened, in fact the lads are grateful for one’s small change. And walking the pontoons chatting to the yachties is most informative. The “Belem tower” is worth a visit too.
When the taxi took me to the full Airbus at 5am, I then realised most of my fellow passengers were wearing serious walking boots, which they’d been using hiking over the mountains of San Antao. The final bonus was I lost nearly a stone in three weeks. Living aboard is like non stop Pilates, esp combined with a vegetarian diet!