12 October 2010 | Montevideo, Uruguay
Time was standing still. The weather waxed and waned as did the moons but we had really let go of contemporary time. The nearest thing to an effective calendar was the level of food in our huge double level fridge. We keep a week's supply of fresh on the top level, and when that has been consumed you simply lift it's slatted wooden floor and haul up enough fruit and vegetables for another week.
Living our quiet life, moving anchorages every few days around Ilha Grande, a trip to town every three or four weeks was enough. We would anchor off Abrao so that I could catch the morning ferry to Angra Dos Reis. The area has no regular wind in the winter and it was quicker and cheaper to take the ferry than motor En Passant over there.
The return ferry trip was always a worthwhile experience, the isles and seats stacked with shopping. The chicos who pack your supermarket shopping are expert at filling the big clear polythene bags so that all the heavy stuff sits evenly at the bottom and the bags stand up properly without tipping over.
The ferry gets you to town in time for an eleven thirty coffee and then you have to put your skates on to gather most of a month's supplies together before it leaves again at three thirty. Three hours or so to; get around the supermarket, the health food store, eat lunch and finally the vegetable shop. Leaving your supermarket shopping for delivery is an act of trust. One expedition had me a bit rattled when the ferry was revved up and the ropes loosened before two lads came breathlessly on board with my thirty kilos or so of shopping, the delivery van had disappeared and they had to use a private car to make the delivery.
Lunch in the bakery is taken standing at the counter, an empanada or a slice of a savoury pie followed by a piece of cake and coffee. I had first encountered Brazilian coffee making, when we were hiking in Chapada Diamantina. Our guide, Carlos, would sit a muslin sieve of ground coffee over the saucepan with it tail hanging in the boiling water, to stiffen the brew up to the desired strength he would draw the bag back and forth across the pot. The old bakery in Angra uses the same method except the muslin strainer was much bigger and the hot water was in a tall, battered "Burco" style boiler with taps. These filter bags look like the dust collectors from vacumn cleaners but they make grit free coffee. Coffee is usually served already sugared and is treated as an essential "quick fix" not something to savour or linger over. Cola is the preferred method of caffeine intake.
A final stocking up day in Angra and we are ready to leave paradise and head to the hopefully not too chilly Rio Plate. It seems hard to believe that we have been hanging out here for over four months and that Eileen and En Passant have not left the island for the last two. The island is definitely been the most alluring place so far, I have already decided to return.
The two day wait for a more favourable forecast allowed us a full moon b-b-q on the beach with Stronglegs. Jack at twelve years old is in his element, stoking the fire, crawling through the water to launch surprise attacks and eating all around him.
The GRIB files promise three or four days of easterly wind once we get clear of the island and so we text and e-mail Ricardo who wants to come with us. He has recently acquired a Formosa 46, an almost sister ship of En Passant and needs some offshore experience. He hopes that his kids will agree to a year off school so that they can do a cruise to Europe the year after next.
Ricardo turns up from Rio on Sunday morning and we are ready except let's wait until this sudden downpour finishes. We motor the three miles to the western tip of the island and get sailing. We watch the island disappear astern and start to get into passage mode. It is nice to have an extra crew member on board for a change and Ricardo is very keen to learn. I learn as well, that is I found out that he has never spent a night at sea before. I must remember that question when assessing potential crew in the future!
Two days out and still no sign of the fresh easterlies we were hoping for. Our speed is up and down, broad reaching mostly but we were going at fish speed this morning, over the magic six knots and landed a fine Dorado, at least fifteen kilos. It is good to be back on the ocean and we have my first ever albatross for company along with a jet black shearwater. A whale astern in the evening and Ricardo was fascinated on his evening watch by the "fire dolphins", wonderfully light up with phosphorescence.
Head winds and that are fresh enough for a second reef. There had to be a reason why all the Argentinean sailors I talked to said don't bother going down until November when you get the north easterlies. We ploughed on slowly, keeping her comfortable and not worrying about an extra day or two for the passage.
That was all very well until we suddenly came clear of a bank of cloud and the wind just stopped. We are five days out and just about half way. I had told Ricardo to expect a seven day passage, possible shorter. He was ok as he had discovered the joy of Sailmail and could keep in touch with his wife. He was taking in information like a sponge and was plotting his own positions on paper and on his laptop after two or three lessons.
We had to give in on day eight and start the engine again. We are now in very "thick" green estuary water and despite being over a hundred miles off land it is only thirty metres deep. The plentiful albatrosses and shearwaters of the last few days are joined by penguins. We pass groups of four or five every few hundred metres, it is flat calm and none of the birds are catching anything.
My turn in the galley and I am making lunch when Eileen calls "whale". Sure enough there are big splashes and dark shapes a half mile off to the south. I alter course and then stop two hundred yards away from them. What unusual behaviour, two, three and four whales at a time waving their flippers in the air and swimming so close together that we think that they might be mating.
I switch the engine off and we try and count how many there are, eight or nine is the consensus. Then three of them turn and swim deliberately over to us. I am definitely nervous when they pass within a metre along our side but they are moving very slowly and calmly, whew.
I am back below with my cooking when Eileen shouts again, no wonder one of them is breaching about two hundred metres away, six great lunges out of the water followed by a tail slapping show that would put Moby Dick to shame. These definitely are the "Right Whales" to watch. We are completely mesmerised by time and are treated to another breaching show but this one finishing close enough to splash us.
I am so glad that I had not seen the "Right whale lands on yacht" video on YouTube before our own experience with these wonderfully, interested and interesting Southern Right Whales. We left them reluctantly and as we motored away two of the pod followed and then passed very close under our hull before turning back. That was definitely a two way "watching" experience, have a look at them at; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aK3W680Fne4 .
We motored on in the calm, but were not going to make La Paloma, the first harbour in Uruguay, before nightfall and so with a favourable breeze sailed on through the night heading for Piriapolis. A day of flying first the gennecker and then the spinnaker brought had us abeam of Piriapolis that evening.
We saw our first seals since leaving Ireland. It seems incredible that seals are all but extinct in the Canaries, Azores and Madeira . They don't occur in tropical Atlantic waters and it was good to see their heads bobbing in the water again.
Ricardo was not sure of his route home but thought that Montevideo would be his best bet, and as we were all enjoying the sailing we continued east another night and entered Buceo harbour in the suburbs of Montevideo, Uruguay's capital at eight o'clock the next morning.
Moored close by the busy pilot-boats berth and with commuter traffic streaming into town along the Rambla two hundred metres away , it is quite a change from Ilha Grande. The other big change is the sea, here it is 10 C, brackish and murky, a far cry from the 22 C salty water we left behind in Brazil eleven days ago, brrrr.