Atlantic Challenge 2011

N 43° 39' W 08° 59'

Mindelo, Cape Verdes

January 25, 2012

The volcanic Cape Verde islands are situated about 800 miles southwest of the Canaries, and about 300 miles into the Atlantic from West Africa. They are mostly very dry with a distinct lack of rainfall, and consequently are very dusty. The city of Mindelo is one of the four possibilities for entering the CV group, and being the westernmost was the one I chose to land on (and also because a lot of the friends I had made in Las Palmas were heading here).

On Monday morning the first step was to get cleared in and sort out what was what. Having inflated the little orange tender, I really wasn’t looking forward to the trip ashore. It was so unbelievably windy I haven’t even been able to fly my Welsh dragon as per usual! I also had a problem with the outboard engine so it was going to be a tough row against the breeze. I spent half an hour preparing the dinghy anchor and 100 feet of para cord to deploy quickly (just in case I had a problem and was blown the two miles to the other side of the bay). Finally  a practise run tied to the mothership on a long line…

It’s free to anchor in the harbour, although the marina charges 4 euro a day to allow you to leave a dinghy there. The other option was to pay one of the local ‘boat boys’ to mind it. I didn’t really think anybody would be interested in my comedy dinghy (at 1.8m you sort of mount it rather than sit in it) but the inference is that if you don’t pay up something will happen to it. Crime is reportedly rife with muggings and theft commonplace- I even heard that there is one murder victim a week on the island! (Mostly tight Brits who don’t like paying dinghy protection money apparently…) That said, I haven’t felt uncomfortable or threatened so far. Of course I take the usual precautions like securing the boat when I leave it- a big change for me as in Las Palmas I only locked it once.

I was sorry not to find any of my friends here, and I’d missed one of them by just three hours while I was in town. Over the next few days however, people did start arriving. Many had called at other windward islands first, and some had just taken longer than me to make the passage! Of course I was very happy that I wasn’t the runt of the litter when it came to boatspeed. I had a nice suprise when Ben & Katia cruised into the anchorage and parked up right next to me; also sailing a 9m boat they had found another of our friends, Ezra [who’s temporary home I was moored alongside in L.P.] in Sal and brought him over too. Another person I was very happy to see was Sinbad from La Corunna! I have since enjoyed many evenings on board his beautiful 67 foot ketch with him and Mikael, his Italian crew and head chef…

On the streets of the city there are women selling everything from sex (I declined) to bananas (I did not). Mindelo is a poor place, with very high prices for visiting sailors. I can understand the reason for this inflation if they can get away with it, but I can’t help thinking this approach may be misguided. Many yachtsmen are put offvisiting the islands as a result- I wonder if overall the Cape Verdeans would be better off playing level?

There is a lot of live music here, every other bar seems to have a band on in the evening which makes for a great atmosphere. One establishment called the Blue Door is particularly quirky- it’s basically someone’s house with a bar (or is it a bar that someone lives in? I’m not sure). Either way it’s a very cosy place which is almost invite only, whose owner must be the coolest fiddle player I have ever met.

Everything in the Cape Verdes is covered in a fine layer of dust. This is nothing new as when Charles Darwin visited the islands in 1832 he remarked on the “impalpably fine dust, which falls in such fine quantities as to dirty everything on board, and to hurt people’s eyes; vessels have been run onto the shore owing to the obscurity of the atmosphere”. I can vouch for that; I handwashed my cream duvet cover at great effort, only to hang it up to dry on the genoa sheet before I realised it was suddenly more dirty than before! This could have had a serious safety implication (the dust that is, not my dirty bedclothes). While I was preparing to leave, I climbed the mast to have a proper look at the rigging and fittings. I was glad I did as the tricolour light at the top was completely obscured! Regular sluicing down in sea water keeps the decks looking respectable, although all the lines, rigging and mast are still caked in the stuff. It will be interesting to see what happens when we hit the first rainstorm mid-Atlantic…

It’s amazing how clean most people seem to be despite this problem. Vibrant colours are commonly worn, and washing lines look like something from a Persil advert. This standard must be particularly difficult to maintain with water being so expensive at 2 cents/litre (20 euros/cubic metre). It backs up what I had read about the Cape Verdeans on the whole being a very proud, self-respecting  nation.

Since I have started the trip, I have always been sorry that I haven’t explored more & eaten out occasionally. With the unexpected expense of putting right the Biscay damage (and later the let down with my tenant) I have simply not been able to afford it if I wanted to keep on sailing. When Katia suggested we all go for an overnight trip to the Santo Antao the next (and westernmost) island, I decided that it was time to live a little.

We took the ferry over first thing, and when the crew started handing out sick bags we knew it wasn’t going to be a smooth crossing! Fortunately being hardened, bearded salty seadogs (with the exception of Katia of course- even though she is French :) ) there were no casualties amongst us… The trip and hotel stay with its comfortable beds and full breakfast was a refreshing change from life onboard. Far from the inaction that comes with downwind sailing, we walked over 10 miles the first day- and paid for it on the second! The scenery was wonderful. I took a few pictures but none of them really do justice to the incredible mountains and cliffs. On arriving back in the harbour we were most relieved to see both Makatea and Callisto bobbing about happily, hatches intact, in the same positions we had left them in despite the strong wind. As ocean hitchhiker Ezra was still searching for a boat on which to cross the Atlantic, he came to stay with me for a few days while the crew of Callisto made ready.

I have now been here for two and a half weeks, and as before it’s time to move on. Ben and Katia have left, and according to their SPOT tracker are making good progress. Lukas & Nora [other L.P. friends] will be leaving tomorrow on “Blessed” an NZ Bavaria 44. After Blessed’s owners Lyndon & Rachel had a quick chat with the big Man upstairs, Ezra also found a boat the following day and has since sailed. I have been hanging on for a letter that was posted from the UK three weeks ago with no success. I will be leaving in the next two or three days regardless of the post- after all the Atlantic Ocean is beckoning!

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