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4th Report for 2004: From the Canary Islands to Tobago, via the Cape Verde Islands
It's been a while since the last report that we sent from the Canary Islands. Now it is getting close to Christmas and TANIWANI is in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, gliding smoothly along in the trade winds at about 8 knots and life aboard is relaxed and easy. Last night we passed the half waypoint of our passage from Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands to Tobago and we have just celebrated this event with a bottle of champagne.
We are now six days under way and have made fast progress; TANIWANI is seemingly enjoying surfing downwind after mostly beating to windward in the previous years. Now we are on the classic trade wind route across the Atlantic where even a piece of driftwood would make the passage given some more time.
So far we had strong trades for most of the time, except for one weaker day, when we changed our standard configuration of poled out Genoa, mainsail and cutter staysail, to using the spinnaker. It wasn't up for too long a time, as the big swell made it swing around and we were worried about sheets chafing on the rails. But then it didn't what to come down and Felix had to climb the mast to attach another halyard - the halyard block at the mast top had bent and the halyard was caught between housing and the sheave.
Not a big problem, but if we want to use the spi again on this trip, there is some more repair work to be done at the mast top. For the time being we are back to the proven sail configuration, that hardly needs any attention. Still we do around 190 miles a day and have a comfortable life aboard. Like right now the occasional squall drives us up to over ten knots for a few minutes.
We are now four of us on the boat: Beate, Harald, Felix and nephew Ulf who joined us in the Cape Verde Islands, and Pamela is flying to Tobago and wants to join us on the 22nd of December. That is in seven days and we are quite confident to do the remaining 900 miles in that time.
With the four of us, watch keeping is easy: 3 hours on and 9 hours off, and so everybody has plenty time for reading, watching movies, writing e-mails or simply starring at the sea or the stars in the night. It is very peaceful and relaxing out here, but totally alone we are not:
During the first two or three days we passed quite a few other yachts, but now all we see is occasionally a cargo ship (four in five days) and yesterday we had a good demonstration of the need to keep a look out.
It was already dark, when the occasional radar check showed a strong target some 14 miles south of us. The AIS transponder revealed it to be a freighter named Zhen Hua 8 on a course of 305 with a speed of 11 knots. Depending on how fast we were sailing, the calculation showed that depending on how fast we sailed, it might pass a mile behind us or actually hit us. When they were 6 miles close, we raised them on the radio, but the guy answering seemed confused and didn't speak any English. Something like 'OK OK I see you' came back, but no avoiding action. So we called again and explicitly asked them to turn to starboard and gain we got what sounded like a confirmation, but no action.
Meanwhile the computer prediction clearly showed that they might get as close as zero distance to us and at four miles we called them again. Now there was seemingly then captain on the radio, asked for our course and speed and generously altered course to clear us. Our detector showed that they had no radar running, hard to say if they would have seen us and if so would have taken the right action timely?
If the wind continues so nicely, we will not need the engine for the entire passage, but we still need some 6 liters of diesel a day to keep all the creature comfort going: Two fridges, one freezer, baking bread every day, several hot showers, three computers, navigation, lights and autopilot, to name a few. We make about 100 liters of fresh water every day, but that is sort of free since we need to run the generator longer for recharging batteries, than for making water.
E-mail we exchange over HAM radio and we plan to send this report out the same way, though without updating the website and without pictures this time. That part will have to follow later.
Two times a day we have radio contact with our friends on Wetnose, who left Mindelo two days after us and who now sail about 500 miles behind us. They still hope to make Barbados for Christmas, while we need to be in Tobago by the 22nd.
But now, let's go back to where the previous report ended, to Tenerife.
After another shopping task, we left the Santa Cruz de Tenerife eight in the morning on Saturday, November 13th. The forecast was for some good north-easterly wind for most of the passage to the island of Sal in the Cape Verde Archipelago, a little more than 800 miles away.
As always it was hard to judge the real wind when close to the islands and as we left the harbor we were greeted by a big sea running from Northeast, but almost no wind. We had to run the engine for about three hours, but then missing wind came full blow and we started surfing along the last part of Tenerife at 10 knots with just the reefed mainsail up.
This fun ride didn't last very long, and another two hours later we had the regular wind, still in the mid 30 knot range, which meant we kept going at maximum speed for the remainder of the day.
Eight in the evening, we have the agreed radio contact with Wetnose, they left in the afternoon and are now 45 miles behind us. We also hear that the other neighbor from Santa Cruz, "Notre Vie", an Amel Super Maramu, left two hours after. Both are bigger ships than ours and they had some hope to catch up with us. We off course moved fast too and enjoyed the first longer downwind ride since we had TANIWANI. And so we did 185.4 miles in the first 24 hours.
But we also had to tack in front of the wind, as it was almost dead from behind and like most ships, TANIWANI prefers to be off the wind a touch (15 degrees). So we were a bit astounded when we had the next radio contact with Wetnose, 10 in the morning. They also had very strong winds, but didn't seem to enjoy it as much, moved slower through the night and were now 80 miles behind us.
The wind was very gradually weakening as we went further south, but we again made 185 miles in the 2nd 24 hours and the Sunday midnight to Monday midnight run came out at 195.
On the fourth day (Tuesday) the wind weakened enough for us to switch to the Spinnaker, but we took it off during the night. On Tuesday morning WETNOSE too is reporting weak winds, and the heavy boat suffers more than we do. They were now 122 miles behind us and TANIWANI was still maintaining about the same speed.
Wednesday the wind got weaker again, we ran under Spinnaker again, but had to motor for the last three hours into Palmeira on Sal, where we anchored 17:30. Our trip from Tenerife to Sal had taken us 4 days and 9 1/2 hours. Motoring the last 20 miles had its good side though: We caught two nice fishes, a 3kg Dorada and a 6kg Kingfish.
Since Palmeira is the one port where all boats that come from the north have to clear into the Cape Verde's, the anchorage was quite crowded (some 20 yachts) and holding isn't particularly good in all areas. First we anchored a bit off the main crowd, but were quickly told that the island freighters might need the area for maneuvering. So we moved further Southeast, but holding turned out bad and we needed unusual two attempts before we would trust the anchor for the night.
The guide book says that one needs to take a taxi to the airport to clear immigration and so we waited for Wetnose to clear in together; they came in around 11 next morning and 'Notre Vie' another half hour later and the whole delegation went to check-in in Palmeira. Palmeira is a sleepy little village with just the basic supplies, but now it is possible to clear immigration at the local police office and the ship at the maritime delegation (harbor master) that has a new office at the other end of the village.
Officials were very friendly and both procedures were quickly done, except we had to pay immigration about one Euro per person in local Cape Verdian currency which off course we didn't have. Changing money is only possible in the main town or at the airport, both some 10 kilometers away. The way to travel seems to be per 'Aluger', these are pick-up trucks with two benches on the back, able to take 8 people there and one or two more in the driver cabin. They cruise around randomly, and you just stop one and tell him were you want to go, he will then adjust his to route to satisfy all his passengers.
Like the police, the driver also gave us credit and promised to pick us up at the bank again to bring us back and get his money. All this went very smooth and we got a first nice glimpse at this new place combined with an open-air tour across part of the island and the town. Obviously from our perspective people are very poor and there isn't much you could buy except for basic things. On the other hand it is quite clean and there is a lot of construction going on, so that it seems as if they now are on growth track.
Interestingly, the relationship to the few tourists like us is quite relaxed and virtually nobody would beg or bug you to buy something or use his services. You need to ask.
We had a bit more than two weeks to cruise around the islands, then Ulf would arrive, also in Sal, and we would soon have to go about crossing the ocean. So for the next day we decided to sail to neighbor island Boavista, to anchor behind a small island called Sal-Rei. We sailed side by side with Wetnose and took pictures and movie shots of each other boats.
Boavista turned out a nice place, though the anchorage is far off shore and the dinghy ride to the village is over a mile. But both, anchorage and island turned out very nice. We took an island tour with Bemvindo, a nice young man and his four-wheel truck. There aren't many roads and to get to the more interesting placed an off-road car is a must. We were stunned by the very special beauty of the island with infinite sand beaches and sand dunes that were blown into the middle of the island.
Also at anchor we met the folks from an old Irish Schooner 'Spirit of Oyster heaven' with three young man Felix' age, and Felix had an opportunity to learn windsurfing, although not with a beginner board and so it was quite hard for him. But he didn't give up and in the end sailed across the bay. Next day he was useless, just hanging around.
We stayed at this place for about a week and then sailed on a short overnight passage to the next island called Sao Nikolaou. Just when we arrived at the anchorage of Tarrafal we met a picturesque parade of all sorts of decorated fishing boats overloaded with people. While we were trying to anchor, we were all a sudden right in the middle of all this action and instead of anchoring enjoyed the sight and worked out our cameras.
Apparently Sao Nikolaou is one of the greener islands, but that is not obvious from the anchorage at Tarrafal. The folks from Wetnose made another island tour and came back with many pictures confirming the beauty. Running a bit short of time we didn't go on tour there, just checked out the town of Tarrafal, where we had a quite good dinner, especially when you consider how hard it is to buy grocery, vegetables or meat there.
So, before beating back against the wind to Sal, to pick up Ulf, we decided to check out the uninhabited island of Santa Luzia, just North of Sao Nikolaou. This also turned out well worth the effort. A beautiful big bay, with a long sand beach and a little rocky island in the middle provided a great scenery, though holding isn't good on lava beds and one needs to search for the few sandy spots.
On the way there we caught a nice 3kg Dorada and another unidentified fish from the tuna family, but that was all nothing compared to the 12kg Dorada that Wetnose brought in on this trip. The next day brought us even more fish when Felix got two groupers while snorkeling with the spear gun.
There is no lack of fish in the Cape Verde's and when Felix and Harald went scuba diving around the little rocky island, they felt as if they were in an aquarium exhibiting about any fish in the book. Just beautiful! So this diving trip was repeated next day and Olga from Wetnose was invited to come along. She had made her diving license in Germany, just in pools or little lakes, so this was a really new experience for her.
But then the day to pay for all this came: We had to tack back to Sal against the 25-knot strong trade winds. We had done a lot of this beating in previous years, but now we were spoiled and didn't really enjoy it. Felix even had to empty his stomach into the sink. Only TANIWANI didn't seem to bother and stormed right into the waves, seemingly enjoying it. Well the 109 miles straight line became 150, but on average we still did over 7 knots and anchored again at Palmeira around 3 in the afternoon.
Just before arrival we heard 'Show' call us on the VHF and thought they are probably in Palmeira. But it turned out they were just coming down from Gomera in the Canary Islands, still 30 miles away. - They also had a fast ride and they also got some fish. So for the next evening, it is Inga's birthday, we arrange for barbeque on our boat and have a nice evening until the shore crew needs to leave to pick up Ulf at the airport. He is delayed to around 1 in the morning, eventually arrives, but off course without his baggage.
Luckily, the baggage arrives next day and we take off at 5:30 in the evening. Now we go back all the distance we had tacked up the other day and now it is a relaxing and fast ride to Mindelo on the Island of Sao Vicente. Mindelo is the biggest natural harbor in the archipelago and as such commercially very busy.
Most boats stop here before crossing the Atlantic, and here supplies are best in the islands. We also wanted to top up diesel and found a new and very clean fuel dock in the fishing harbor. Very good and easy to tie up to, and at 42 cents per liter cheaper than in the Canary Islands.
Mindelo has a bad reputation and so we came with low expectations. We had no bad experiences and found the village quite proper and the people friendly. Also the officials, where we cleared out of the islands were very nice and forthcoming. We regret not to have spent more time in these nice islands.
Given that Pamela wanted to meet us in Tobago on the 22nd, we had to move on and so we left the anchorage in Mindelo on Thursday the 9th at exactly 12 UTC.
The above report has been sent to all friends while we were still underway, out in the Atlantic. In the mean time we arrived in Tobago. It took us 12 days and 2 hours. Still quite good given that the second half of our passage was with rather weak winds and while for the first 7 days we were moving on average close to 200 miles per day with the fastest 24 hours at 202 miles, the following phase of very little wind had our sails flogging in the still quite high waves. Spoiled as we were, we thought we are standing still, but to our surprise we still did about 150 miles per day for the next three days. The last two days were better again, and we moved at our typical average of 170 miles a day.
Still underway we also replaced the broken spinnaker halyard block at the mast top, and sailed part of day 9, the day with the least wind, with the spinnaker up again. But the spinnaker was even less happy with the rolling motion and so we reverted back to white sails after a few hours. It only gave us less than half a knot more and so we settled with the 5-6 knots we got with the white sails.
We approached Tobago in the early morning of the 21st and were safely anchored in Man of War Bay around 10 AM. After seeing just blue water and almost blue sky for 12 days, the lush green was an overwhelming sight, a color we have not seen in quite a while as the Cape Verde Islands are more desert like, brown and yellow.
Charlotteville, the little village that goes with Man of War Bay, is now an official port of entry, and so we did not have to go first to Scarborough, the main town located on the windward side at the Southern end of Tobago. Man of War Bay is at the Northern End and on the Western side, which is mostly the lee side and calmer provided the wind is not north of NE.
It seemed a good choice: We were greeted by a nice and clean little village, with very friendly officials checking us in. Lots of paperwork that has to be filled in meticulously, but in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. It is also quite cheap and all we had to pay was a one time navigation fee of less than $10.
Next we realized why the island is so green. Tropical rainsqualls kept coming through end washed any salt from Taniwani. We even collected several cans of fresh and clean rainwater, right off our sun cover, and could shower nicely right in the warn rain.
One downside of Charlotteville is that it is at the opposite side of the airport and main town and the drive is at least an hour and a half over winding roads. The first such tour was done by Ulf and Felix to fetch Pamela from the airport. Pamela arrived almost in time, but certainly not the baggage. That was three days, many phone calls and another long ride later.
As nice as Charlotteville is, it has limited supplies and we needed to do some Christmas shopping in Scarborough on the 23rd, sort of last minute. This turned out quite difficult. We waited for an hour or so for the bus to come, and when it finally showed up there was such a rush at it that none of the more polite foreigners made it before it was filled to the last place. Eventually we were able to find a taxi and the driver told us that it was an absolutely crazy day: Many folks on Tobago had severe damages to their property during a 7 hours nonstop tropical rainfall in November, that was accompanied by landslides. Everybody was obviously waiting for the relief money from the government, but it took until the day before we tried to go to Scarborough before it was paid out. Now everybody had to go for last minute Christmas shopping.
But we managed through that, found most of what we needed in Scarborough, and were even able to fetch one of the big Maxi Taxies to take us back to Charlotteville.
After Christmas, with nice dinner ashore, we started cruising the west coast and went first to a small but nice bay called Englishman Bay and then to Great Courland Bay, where we had anchored with AVENTURA almost exactly 32 years ago. It certainly had changed too and what was an empty sand beach lines with palm tries, now features a hotel resort. But otherwise it still looks the same and the same Pelicans seem to dive for fish left and right of your boat.
We really liked an enjoyed Tobago, but come December 30th, we thought we should move on to the Grenadines to show Ulf and Pamela a few more places and in particular to "real" Caribbean, the Grenadines. We also thought Bequia might be a nice place to be for New Year. So we first sailed back up along Tobago to Charlotteville, for last shopping and for clearing out. Then in the evening we took off to do the 117 miles to Bequia. Again we were almost a bit too fast and crossed the ridge into the shallow waters of the Grenadines still in the dark. It is impressive that it shoals from over 1000 meters of depth to under 30m in less than a minute.
We sailed up to Bequia and tacked into the big Admiralty Bay. We were really stunned when the view into the Bay opened up and we could see somewhere around 200 boats anchored there. This is better than any boat show, name a type of boat and you can find it there. We crossed twice through the big field and finally settled for a decent place as always keeping safe distance from other boats. But this didn't last long and a big 70ft Swan anchored so close that we put out fenders and could have exchanged cocktails.
Still, Bequia seems to handle this madness quite well and the little town is still pleasant, clearing in easy, though five times the price of Tobago, and you can get about anything that you want. They even bring the goods to your boat if you call up the supermarket on the VHF. A totally different planet than the Cape Verdes or even Tobago. Not really our liking, but we kind of enjoyed sitting in the cockpit watching the busy coming and going of boats, amazing anchor maneuvers, boats drifting at anchor hitting others and so on, never a dull moment.
Come New Years night, a lot of rockets and flares got launched, and again there was a boat that launched parachute rockets at such a flat angle that they landed in the midst of anchored still burning! Luckily no boat went up in flames. Well after midnight our younger crew went ashore again to explore possibilities. That included a wave filling the dinghy when they tried to beach. But they didn't give up, got back for dry cloths and went off again to get to the same place now as payload of a big and dirty lorry. But it was all really great we were assured next day....
Since most of the crew was still in coma on the 1st, we stayed at Bequia for another night. Next day we started moving south and aimed for the island of Mayreau. When we arrived there we found most anchorages filled beyond sanity, but one, at the south eastern end of the island, on the windward side, but behind a reef had only two boats in it. From here we can look across to the famous Tobago Cays and by the number of masts, we guess that you could walk from island to island without getting wet. Again it didn't take long and a big American cat anchored almost directly on us. But a stark naked and grim looking Harald scared them off quickly.
We are staying here now for the second day, as this seems the best choice and all were having fun today when we built a "cable car" to glide from the heights of our mast down into the water. TANIWANI fixed with bow and stern anchor and a third anchor 100 meters out to starboard and forward connected near the uppermost spreaders, allows to ride down on a snatch-block with a handlebar. We all had good fun with that.
In a few days we Ulf and Pamela have to leave us in Grenada und Ulrike (Beate's sister ) and Thomas (Ulf's brother) will join for two weeks, so that we will stay in this busy area for a bit more. After that we shall leave the busy places and sail on to some Venezuelan islands, then the ABC islands which are associated with the Netherlands. At the latest there we hope to be able to make the next update to the website.