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Leg 4: Canaries – Cape Verdes

Part 2: Cruising the CVs


Ilhéu de Sal Réi, Boavista – Wednesday 14th to Saturday 17th December 2011


The anchorage south of Ilhéu de Sal Réi, a deserted island to the west of Boavista, lies just under 40NM to the south of Palmeira. A straightforward beam reach with the wind blowing NE F6.

Back in the UK most boats stay in port when the wind blows F6, but during our time in the Cape Verdes F6 was the norm and it doesn’t seem half as bad when running with it and wearing only swimming costumes as opposed to the full oilies which are requisite when the wind blows F6 in the UK!

We left Palmeira at 1130 (local time) and soon lost sight of land through the haze, Boavista finally emerging as a faint smudge when we were only a few miles off the NW coast in the late afternoon.

We had anticipated arriving with plenty of daylight to spare, but the light was already beginning to fade as we headed down Boavista’s west coast, struggling in the twilight and the haze to distinguish between Ilhéu de Sal Réi – which we needed to get around before heading in to anchor – and the main island.

About 5NM out of the anchorage we started the engine to motor in the last few miles. Or tried to start it!

The light was failing fast by now, not helped by the dust haze, and the engine proved a right pig to get going, requiring various antics with the decompression levers in order to allow the flywheel to get up enough momentum for the engine to burst into life.

We were slightly bemused as not only had we had no shortage of electrical power from wind and solar during our stay in Palmeira, but the engine had started reasonably OK when we left. More than that, it had run for a good hour or so which would have been sufficient time to more than replenish the batteries with whatever charge had been used to get it going.

Eventually the engine coughed to life. It almost died when I tried putting it in gear, clouds of black smoke issuing from the exhaust. I managed to snap the throttle back to idle and then open it up in neutral before the engine stopped.

Our initial thought was that maybe a fishing net – or something – had got caught around the prop, but the chief problem seemed to be a lack of power, whether in gear or in neutral.

Working through a mental checklist of potential problems, I ticked-off fuel supply (probably the most common of all issues suffered with marine diesels) because the amount of black smoke when the revs were upped indicated that a lot of partially burnt fuel was being chucked out with the exhaust fumes – which would hardly seem likely if the problem was not enough fuel reaching the injectors.

What I did not realise at the time, but do now, is that what I am describing are the death throws of an engine on its last legs and that the problem was, more likely than not, a lack of compression in the cylinders.

Finally the engine settled down and worked fairly normally. By the time we got into the anchorage it was dark and we relied on the echo-sounder and the lights of what appeared to be a large training ship to find a place to drop the hook. We knew that where we anchored that first night was somewhat out of the anchorage, but we were only in about 30’ of water with plenty of open and not very deep space behind us lest we should drag, whilst somewhere in the darkness ahead lay various reefs.

Our night at anchor was calm enough, protected from wind and swell by Boavista and the much smaller islet of Ilhéu de Sal Réi but in the morning we saw just how far out we were and decided to head further in.

We passed the only three other yachts at anchor, one or two of which looked like they were well dug in as permanent live-aboards, and dropped the hook in what seemed like the calmest spot.

I had just rigged our subbing line – a length of warp which I tie onto the anchor chain with a fisherman’s bend and use to take up some slack in the chain to ease the noise and strain when it comes taut (i.e. when the anchor chain ‘snubs’ at the bow) when an old RIB powered over to us.

“I knew you were English before I saw your ensign,” announced the American driving the RIB, “Gulliver G…”

“Yep,” I said, “is that your ship back there? What is she.”

“Well, she’s a floater.”

I had figured her to be a 1930’s packet steamer, fitted as she was with a funnel and galleon-style sails. Evidently she was not the ‘training ship’ that I had first taken her for but a private craft, flying the stars and bars.

“She was a Swedish light ship,” continued the American, “built 1857.”

“She’s in amazing condition,” I said, taken aback by the age.

“Built ‘em well,” said the American with pride. It was obvious that a vast amount of money had been spent restoring and maintaining her.

“Still coal-fired?”

“Yep,” said his partner, “I’m shovelling in the coal whilst he steers.”

The owner laughed, “no, I refitted her with a massive turbo-diesel a few years back. Come and take a look later, if you like.” We would have very much liked, but in the end didn’t as were not sure how we could attract attention going alongside in our tender short of firing off a maroon.

The American got onto the point of his coming over: “you’ve anchored in about the worst place.”

“I thought it was the best – looks nice and calm.”

“Now, yes, but later the surf will get up and you’ll see that this area fills with kite surfers. We’ve anchored here loads over the years and have seen yachts stuck in this spot, getting rolled like mad and having to wait days for the surf to quieten down before they can get out again. You want to anchor over by us – between us and Sal Réi or just in front.”

We thanked them for the advice and dutifully moved. By mid-afternoon we could see exactly what they had meant. A surf of several feet high was now running in the precise spot we had previously anchored and, miraculously for the remoteness of the area, a fair number of kite surfers were taking full advantage.

Although it was perfectly feasible in theory to take a ride in the tender across the reef to the main island of Boavista, the strong trades – pretty much sticking at F6 – had set up a fair chop and it would have made for a wet ride. As we have found in many anchorages in the Cape Verdes and Caribbean the strong winds ensure surprisingly calm conditions aboard Gulliver G by keeping us on a level keel head to wind rather than getting rolled around by drifting broad-side to the swell.

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At anchor off Ilhéu de Sal Réi, looking across the reef toward Boavista.

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A fisherman motors past the sandy beach on Sal Réi, navigating his way over the reef back to Boavista.


The next day we went for a wander on Ilhéu de Sal Réi, a beautiful island if you turn a blind eye to the rubbish, particularly plastic bags, which has blown over from Boavista and impaled itself on the thorny scrub which backs the lovely golden – and utterly deserted – beach. From the beach we were able to truly appreciate the sheer size of the old Swedish light ship, compared to which Gulliver G was a mere speck.

With it’s array of accoutrements and various RIBs and surf boards on deck, the ship looked like the home of a sur-la-mer Captain Nautilus; an impression not in the least dispelled by our prior encounter with the owner, who I took to be some odd-ball Texan billionaire, heavily lined and darkened as he and his missus were by the sun, decked out in clothing that boasted an impressive array of wine and other stains and ripped here and there in a style which no fashion designer could ever match.

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The old Swedish light ship seen from the beach on Sal Réi. The speck ahead of her is Gulliver G.

Kate’s flip-flops had soft soles, easily penetrated by the massive thorns littering the island’s hinterland so she stayed on the beach whilst I took a look at the ruins and cannon of an old fort on the southern tip of the island.

Out at anchor we were well clear of the dust – well clear of anyone and anything – and could have stayed, enjoying the lovely scenery for much longer than the three days that we did so. But the mission from day one had been to complete an Atlantic circuit in 9-10 months and so it was that on the afternoon of Saturday 17th December 2011 we sailed the anchor out (something which, since the engine troubles started, we did whenever possible) and set a course for Porto do Tarrafal on the island of Sāo Nicolau.

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Fort on Ilhéu de Sal Réi.

Porto do Tarrafal, Sāo Nicolau – Saturday 17th to Wednesday 21st December 2011:


The Cape Verdes archipelago is diamond shaped. 80-odd miles south of Boavista lies Maio, followed (east to west) by Santiago, Fogo and Brava. Exploration of those islands would have to await our next trip down that way for we had decided that we would have to limit ourselves on this occasion to the northern islands.


Sal Réi to Porto do Tarrafal at Sāo Nicolau is a distance of some 91NM. Our first waypoint was WP9 on chart E4 – 16°28’N 24°19’W – 80NM from Sal Réi, bearing 283°T. Factoring in the SW Canary Current at 1kt, a guestimate based on the available information and the predominance of NE winds over the last few weeks, we figured a course to steer of 295°T or 305° on the compass (allowing 10°W variation for the area).


Setting off at 1630 on 17th December the wind was NE F4 and we steered 305°C. By midnight we were making good progress in moderate seas but were heading too far north. The current was evidently more W than S, so we altered course to a little over 280°C.


At 0730 on 18th December we were at 16°21.6’N 24°11’W. I noted in the log: “Altered course [to 305°C] to get N again as suddenly started going S. Effect of current around Sāo Nicolau? Can’t see it yet.”


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Sāo Nicolau emerges through the haze.

An hour later I noted: “Nice sunny morn, mountains of Sāo Nicolau visible through haze to s-board; WP9 5NM brg 340°C.” 

East of Pta do Fidalgo on the S tip of Sāo Nicolau the seas were rough, getting suddenly calm as we rounded the point. The effects of land on wind and sea state shall never be lost on the ocean sailor!


We had the usual trouble getting the engine started but, once again, it settled to a throaty throb-a-throb-throb as we motored into the anchorage at 1020.


There were only three other small yachts anchored in the vast lee of Baia do Tarrafal, plus a massive Dutch sail training ship, Oesterschelde, who we had seen anchored off Palmeira.


The lack of boats in one of the archipelago’s most favoured anchorages emphasised how far off the beaten track the whole area really is. It was also a far cry off the 45 yachts which were reported there in 2003, according to Anne Hammick. Where had everyone gone?

The island is high – reaching 1,304m – with a population of around 20,000. Street recommends a trip around the island, but whilst the holding is good (once the anchor bites – we had to re-set the first time), with the wind funnelling down the ravine at a near constant F7 the whole time we were there (at times the wind blew at over 35 knots for sustained periods) we did not feel comfortable leaving Gulliver G for more than a couple of hours whilst we took a look ashore.

During our approach to the anchorage our engine had, as on our passage along the east coast of Lanzarote, dumped the contents of the sump through the oil seal on the crank shaft into the bilge. This meant not only a messy bilge but a critically low level of oil and as we had motored into the anchorage, the oil warning buzzer ‘peeping’ intermittently, I had had to top-up the engine with the remainder of our spare Yanmar Engine Oil – only to see it flow out via the defective seal.


One of our main tasks ashore was to find engine oil.


The town of Tarrafal was better equipped with shops than either Palmeira or Espargos – though still very limited by European standards.


Some locals directed us to the Shell garage up the hill on the main road, almost devoid of traffic, out of town. The garage boasted an air-conditioned shop which resembled an emptier version of your typical Shell garage back in the UK. There is something about stepping into an air-conditioned space in the middle of no-where which inspires confidence that This Place Means Business.

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The main anchorage at Sāo Nicolau lies before this ravine on the west coast, through which the easterly wind is funelled, emerging at near gale force much of the time – a classic example of the Venturi effect.

With a few stops at various shops and market stalls along the way, we headed back to the seafront armed with a couple of cans of S40-E oil. The local children, whose services Kate had paid for with a biro (at least they’d been after something with an educational slant) had kept an eye on our tender. Trying to dissuade their efforts to help us relaunch we set off back to Gulliver G.


A combination of too much wind to leave Gulliver G and a lack of a place to leave the tender without feeling obliged to pay someone to ‘keep an eye on it’ (in inverted commas as really there is no need for anyone to keep an eye on anything; any payment made to local kids is to keep them off your back) prevented us from going ashore again. In many parts of the world where yachting is becoming more popular the idea of paying what is essentially protection money for your tender is dying a death, but there are still far too many places where the local economy could benefit so much more from passing yachts people if there were a safe place to leave the dinghy for a day ashore without feeling that one has to cough up to whoever happens to be on the dock.


Having spent three nights anchored off Sāo Nicolau, partly in the vain hope that the winds may abate allowing us to explore further ashore and partly relaxing after our night sail from Sāo Nicolau, by Wednesday 21st December we felt that it was time to move on.

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Pta da Laje, SE tip of Santa Luzia.

Taraffal – Ilha de Santa Luzia, Wednesday 21st to Thursday 22nd December 2011:


At 1230 on 21st December, checking the engine regularly for oil leaks (all seemed to be OK for the passage) we motored to the W end of Sāo Nicolau, the wind mainly SW F3.


As expected, the wind veered and strengthened to NE F4/5 as we cleared the island. From there we sailed past the tiny islands of Ilhéu Raso and Ilhéu Branco away to our port side to Ilha de Santa Luzia, anchoring between Santa Luzia and the tiny Ilhéu Zinho (little more than a rock) just before dusk.

Santa Luzia is a reasonable sized though uninhabited island with a lovely 3½KM beach. On the back of chart E4 Street notes “… remember if there is a white sand beach something must have put the sand there, the ocean swell.”


Looking at the beach I thought it amazing, coming from our densely populated Europe, that no-one had colonised the island with a resort. But, coming from Europe, it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that anywhere with a nice beach and good weather should be developed when the reality is that there are many beautiful places in the world, some in the Cape Verdes, which for logistical reasons amongst others will remain unspoilt for the foreseeable future. Much though us westerners like to think of the world as an over-populated place there are a vast number of undeveloped beauty spots. Not a bad thing.

There was only one other yacht in the anchorage, so far away that we could each consider the space our own for the night. I had been keen to take a look ashore, but the wind blew over the island at F7 – too much to row against and I couldn’t be bothered with fitting the outboard to the tender. In any case, the surf inshore looked too great to land a tender comfortably.


I took a swim around Gulliver G whilst Kate had a pre-dinner nap below. If I’d had a strong swimming partner to accompany me whilst Kate kept watch on the boat I’d have attempted to swim ashore, but on my own it seemed fool-hardy. Had my arms and legs given out against the wind and current, the next stop due south would have been Antarctica!


Once again, the strong wind ensured that Gulliver G lay steady to her anchor and once again we were mightily relieved that we had bought a heftier CQR in Arreciffe.


Picturesque though Santa Luzia was, with no sign of the wind abating and therefore no opportunity to get ashore we decided the next day to press on to Mindelo.


Ilha de Santa Luzia – Mindelo, Ilha de São Vicente, Thursday 22nd December 2011 – Tuesday 3rd January 2012:


Arriving at Santa Luzia we’d had a clear sight of the high, mountainous island of São Vicente, only a few miles to the west. On the morning of Thursday 22nd December it was no longer there! The harmattan well and truly dashed our plans to simply eyeball our way around.


Relying on the hand-held GPS and paper chart for navigation we motor-sailed along Santa Luzia’s south coast under jib alone as our plan was to reach along the NW coast of São Vicente and then gybe down to Mindelo.


The F6 which had been blowing when we got the anchor up turned into F2 as we entered Santa Luzia’s wind shadow, but it soon picked up again, a predictable ENE, as we cleared the island.


Less than an hour later, as we sailed NW up the channel between Santa Luzia and São Vicente I noted in the log: “viz. v. bad – can see no land even though surrounded by it!”.


When we did sight land, it was the threatening cliffs of São Vicente’s NW coast which first emerged through the harmattan. These were followed soon after by Ilhéu dos Pássaros, marked on the chart as a light so we were surprised to find that it is actually a stonking great rock, almost 100m high.

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The coast of São Vicente emerges through the harmattan haze.

In the outer harbour of Mindelo there were a number of big old rust freighters. Inshore from those lay a very large and well sheltered yacht anchorage. Marina Mindelo took up some of the NE corner of the anchorage, but there remained ample space for anchoring and the better part of sixty or seventy boats had chosen to anchor rather than use the marina.


We soon spotted a number of friends from the Canaries as well as fellow Nicholson 32 Orkestern (last sighted in Madeira).

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Gulliver G and Orkestern at anchor in Mindelo, the latter having moved to the anchorage after a few days spent working on the boat in the marina.

Marina Mindelo


Aside from Orkestern who needed to be by a pontoon to do some welding on their boom, everyone we knew was at anchor rather than using the marina.


The marina is attractively constructed and well maintained, but it does get a lot of swell working into it meaning that the pontoons are jerking around like mad most of the time. Mooring is stern-to, so there are no finger pontoons and for many cruisers with their heavily laden after-decks it is a complex matter of trying to clamber from pontoon to boat (which to my mind defies the point of going into a marina in the first place). Mooring lines take a lot of abuse, what with the swell.


I understand that Kai Brossman, who first moved to Mindelo to provide services for yachts many years ago, fought long and hard to finally get permission to build the marina, with talk of a marina dating back to 2001 but construction not going ahead until 2008. According to Kai Brossman delays were caused by ‘political problems’.


For those anchoring the marina has its uses as one can take on water there and they have a fairly nice bar and a dinghy dock where it is safe to leave the tender – but with the marina practising the extortion rather than the local children: €4.50 to leave the tender on a tiny piece of dock where tenders lie several deep, smashing into one another with the swell.

A complete rip-off, which pretty much sums up everything about the marina.

The cost of berthing there is far above Canaries, Madeiran or even French or Spanish costs. And whereas in normal marinas you at least get water, showers, electricity and wi-fi thrown in, at Mindelo water is charged extra, as are the (cold) showers.

Electricity is also extra, as is the wi-fi – the latter charged at such an astronomical rate that we realised too late that it would have been cheaper to use the sat-phone than to Skype!

There are also some really odd ‘rules’.

A friend of ours got banned from the marina because he commented on the number of dinghies at the dinghy dock and said that he would like to tie his up on a clear piece of pontoon. None of us had ever heard of anyone being banned from a marina before.

On another occasion, Kate and I returned to the marina laden with shopping. Getting it into our tender would have involved carting everything over a couple of other tenders. As the other side of the pontoon was completely clear I motored the tender round in order to load from there.

I had not got within 20 yards of the pontoon before the marina staff started shouting that I could not stop there in the tender.

“One minute,” I yelled back, “we need to load our shopping.”

“No, no,” came the reply but I ignored them and fortunately they turned a blind eye to this terrible infringement of the utterly pointless rule that of the thousands of feet of pontoon in the marina, dinghies shall only approach the designated five.

If the nonsense about the dinghies were not enough, I experienced more bizarre behaviour – on the part of Mr Brossman himself – shortly before we left Mindelo.

I had taken our two diesel jerry cans and some water bottles over to the marina’s fuel pontoon. Whilst the attendant filled the jerry cans with diesel I saw to the water.

We were just completing our respective tasks when Kai Brossman came marching along the pontoon flanked by his posse.

“Agua, agua,” a scowling Brossman shouted to the attendant, as he went by.

Once the big man was safely out of ear-shot the attendant said to me, “that was my boss. He was reminding me that I should only be selling you water, not fuel.”

I wasn’t sure that I’d heard right as not wanting to sell stuff to people sounds like a very odd way to run a business.

“He thinks people will come out from the beach in dinghies to get cans of fuel for their cars,” explained the attendant, “so we are only supposed to give you fuel if you bring your boat over.”

The explanation left me even more confused as I was obviously off a yacht and my inflatable yacht tender was clearly not a local wooden fishing dinghy. Moreover I could not understand why anyone would want to row to the marina fuel berth for diesel for their cars when there was a Shell filling station on the beach. It was not even as if the fuel in the marina is of some sort of superior quality – we picked up diesel bug there.


Mindelo Town


From what I had read in advance and heard about from those who’d visited in years gone by, I fully expected Mindelo to be a dirty, dusty crime-ridden place where it would be impossible to move without being hassled for money and where anything not chained to the boat would vanish over night.


We would stop for only as long as it took to get a favourable weather forecast.


Taking a first stroll around town proved my preconceptions entirely inaccurate. We found Mindelo to be a warm and welcoming place with large shady squares spread out under mature trees, lovingly restored colonial architecture, small but very well-stocked supermarkets and an abundance of fresh fruit and veg available from street vendors, as well as the large indoor market.

The anchorage proved safe and secure and with a steady F5/6 blowing through the whole time we were there we had more electrical power from the wind-gen than we knew what to do with.


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Mindelo town.

Mindelo was such a nice place to stop that, with so many friends around, we decided to see out the year there.


On new year’s eve we met up with Filippa and Martin and a couple of Norwegians on Orkestern for drinks and to watch the very impressive town firework display which kicked off shortly after sunset. The Norwegians were temporarily marina-bound as they awaited parts for their engine after water got in via the exhaust on the passage down to the Cape Verdes – exactly the same problem that we’d had coming over Biscay, though with different results: bent rods in their case.


Drinks were followed by dinner at the yacht club with a lot of other cruisers.


Leaving the yacht club when it closed at 2100, town seemed incredibly quiet despite the very large stage which had been erected in the main street. 

This seemed most peculiar. More so because that morning every cash machine in town had run out of cash and, someone explained to us, would remain empty until the businesses did their banking allowing the banks to refill the ATMs.


In short, the sense of anticipation which had lain over town all day had, after the fireworks, now given way to an almost eerie stillness.


We decided to hang around by the stage for a while to see if anything happened.


Slowly the main street began to fill with people dressed to party. At 2300 a short pot-bellied middle aged man and some band members appeared on stage and started plugging in instruments.


Then the music began.


The Cape Verdeans love their music and they like it LOUD. Soon the party was well and truly underway with what by now seemed like most of the town dancing and forming congas.


Eventually we retired, but the party went on. And on. The music, highly audible even out on Gulliver G, continuing until 0830 on new year’s day!


Checking Out


Now that we were outside European Union waters we had to make sure that we checked in and out of each country we visited, clearing customs and immigration on the way in and checking out with them on departure.


In the run up to new year’s eve we and several other cruisers had taken a daily stroll round the water-front to immigration in the main docks to check-out. Each time the office had been closed and the regular police who hung around nearby were unable to give any information about when the immigration police might arrive, other than that we should come back another day.


On the first day of the new year we decided that there was no point in trying to check out.


On the second day of the new year we took our usual stroll only to find the office still closed.


On the third day of the new year, on our walk to immigration we encountered a friend coming the other way.


“Still closed,” he advised, “you’ll have to stay a few more days.”


But the big grin on his face belayed the wind-up and we sped on to the office post haste to be sure of catching the officials.


Clearance papers obtained all that remained to do that day was a last trip to the bakers, a round of farewells and to set out across the Atlantic.

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Farewell to Orkestern.

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