The Boys in Brazil

My apologies for the long delay in delivering part two of the Mindelo
post but what with one thing and another I did not get a chance before
we left for Brazil.

Whilst in Mindelo we were able to have a proper go at sorting out the
problems we have had with the port cooling system. As we suspected the
corrosion that had taken place on the two pulleys was indeed the prime
cause of the belts wearing out so soon. But it is an odd thing… both
motors are the same year model and both engine rooms are to all
intents and purposes bone dry, and yet there is significant corrosion
on the port side pulleys but very little on the starboard side.

We got them cleaned up and subsequent to that have not had to replace
a belt due to wear and tear, but sorting that issue out was not all
that simple. The standard issue belt that drives the water pumps is an
M19 and although I had bought six of them prior to leaving Spain we
had used up five of those just getting to the Cape Verdes. A hunt and
seek mission through Mindelo had blood pressure levels reaching
dangerous numbers as supplier after supplier would look at the belt,
shrug their shoulders and basically tell us sorry, no can do.

Eventually we found a motor spares place that did stock a variety of
belts – except that the closest size they had to the M19 was a 20.5…
which was way too long. By that time I was thoroughly gatvol so I
bought out their entire stock. We got the mounting bracket off, took
it to the local workshop and got them to weld an extension onto the
old bracket and repositioned the adjustment bolt, now those belts fit
and with over 100 hours of run time without any problems since Cape
Verde I feel reasonably confident that we have gotten on top of that
little problem.

The run down from Cape Verde to Brazil was pretty much as I thought it
would be, for the first week or so we milked the north east trade
winds and had some sublime sailing under our big blue gennaker,
running up some very satisfactory daily mileage. I chose a course that
essentially took us due south rather than south south west as I wanted
to exit the doldrums as far east as possible. At this time of the year
the South east trades are well set and if we had of crossed to far
west we would have had to contend with headwinds for over a thousand
miles. As it was we ended up fetching (a point of sail where the wind
is not quite 90 degrees to the boat) most of the way. It was quick but
hard sailing as we were running obliquely across the well developed
swell that the winds had kicked up. On more than one occasion we fell
off the back of a breaking crest and thumped into the back end with
enough of a shudder that made it feel as if we had run into a brick
wall.

Cooking was real interesting – although the stove top is fitted with
pot restraints (kind of adjustable clamps to keep the pot or pan in
one place) the contents of those were subject more to the laws of
fluid dynamics… when the boat shudders to a dead stop the contents
of the pot blithely carry on going forwards, it tends to get a bit
messy. Oh, and did I mention that those contents were generally bloody
hot…? Nevertheless despite the challengers we managed to keep
ourselves well fed.

I know of more than one delivery skipper that chooses to take the
canned food route – open up three or four cans, throw them all into a
pot and heat it up and serve. The odd thing is that whilst it might –
and I stress might – be more convenient it rarely ever works out
cheaper than stocking up with proper food and serving proper cooked
meals. You see, ‘out there’ meal time takes on a new dimension. Often
it is the subject of much discussion and is looked forward to with a
sense of anticipation that is way out of proportion to the way a meal
on land is regarded. I don’t know why, but it just is… and so meals
on this boat tend to be ‘proper’. Besides, a well fed crew is by and
large a happy crew, and happy crew don’t sit and think dark and
devious thoughts about the skipper in the young hours of the morning.

We had two birthdays that occurred on this last leg, mine on the 22nd
and young Hugh’s on the 27th – the day before we arrived in Cabedelo.
My day was made a bit special by the boat being gifted with a very
nice Dorado that was soon turned into a very fine meal. Whilst on the
subject of fish and fishing… I have on other occasions been rather
blunt about my views and opinions of the state of our oceans and if I
begin to sound repetitive, well quite honestly I don’t give a shit –
someone other than Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd organisation has
to bang the drum.

We did catch one small – and I mean small – Yellowfin tuna north of
the equator which was a bit unusual in as much as it was the first
time I had caught anything in that part of the North Atlantic. What
was very noticeable was that right up to the equator the ocean was
practically bare, apart from a few flying fish and the odd dolphin it
was devoid of visible life. We saw no deep oceanic birdlife, and for
whatever reason the air was a constant hazy grey colour – even 500
miles out to sea. The change as you approach and then cross the
equator is almost akin to throwing some or other switch. The air
clears up, you start seeing all sorts of seabirds, the flying fish are
abundant – so abundant in fact that I got tagged by one during a night
time watch, silly bugger got a bit high and cleared the foredeck,
collided with the bridge deck winch which deflected it into my
shoulder… good thing that otherwise I might have caught it square in
the chops – and I prefer my sushi properly dead thank you.
We caught a further three fish which sounds good but if you calculate
the catch effort required to snag those three it paints a grim
picture. I am not a marine biologist – but then I don’t have to be a
qualified doctor to tell you that you are in deep shit if you have
been run over by a bus. My comments and observations are based on some
fact, that of what we used to catch on a crossing when I first started
down this path. Twenty, thirty years or so back if you wanted a change
of diet you tossed some or other lure into the water and waited for
something to have a go at it. It seldom took longer than a few hours –
over the past few years I have pulled lures for WEEKS and not caught
anything… and as Avi just reminded me, we did not see a single whale
of any species.

Another thing, there is a disturbing tendency of too many captains out
there to scrub their bilges out at sea. I have lost count on this trip
of how many times we have come across the slicks they leave when they
do this, and the attendant crap that goes with it has to been seen to
be believed. If you think I am beginning to sound like some fringe
crazy tree hugger then take a moment of your time to consider this
little gem – how many of you reading this, or what percentage of the
general population are aware that contrary to what you have been
taught at school, around 70% of the oxygen we need to survive comes
not from the rain forests and other terrestrial plant life but rather
from the phytoplankton in our oceans – and of that percentage one
specific species – Prochlorococcus –  is calculated to supply us with
one out of every five breaths of air we take? It is a brutally simple
scenario people – destroy the life supporting functions of our oceans
and life as we know it on this planet will mostly suffocate itself out
of existence.

We arrived in Cabedelo – which is pretty much situated on the eastern
most extremity of South America – 7 hours shy of 14 days from Mindelo
in the Cape Verdes. I have been here on a number of occasions and have
always enjoyed my stay here. Over the ensuing years from my first
visit back in 2005 I have observed with interest the development that
has taken place. Cabedelo is actually situated at the mouth of the
Paraiba River, a couple of kilometres north of the main city of the
coastal region – Joao Pessoa. Situated roughly halfway between them on
the river is a small area known as Praia de Jacare, a favourite
tourist location. It used to have about 6 or 7 restaurants that were
built on the shoreline and projected out over the river supported by
pylons. The last time I was here there were rumours that the
authorities had issued notice to the owners that they all had to be
removed. Back then (2014) the various owners just shrugged and said
the government would never enforce that ruling.. yeah well, that
shoreline is now conspicuously devoid of any restaurant like
structures…

The plethora of souvenir shops that used to be on the opposite side of
the road to the restaurants are however still there and they offer a
staggering array of tourist crap, but in amongst the dross are a
couple of gems – literally. There is one little shop tucked away up a
small alleyway that deals in semi precious stones. The owner does his
own cutting and polishing for the most part and he has a really good
selection of semi precious stones that are mined or recovered here in
Brazil, from a very rare opal to amethyst, garnets, agates and many
others. I have a weakness for beautiful minerals and the lads had to
drag me out of the shop – apparently it is unbecoming of a grown
person to drool in public. There are a couple of outlets that deal in
locally made leather goods, goat hide in particular. The various
designs of clutch and handbags on offer are really good – and the
prices – even at the inflated tourist rate – are but a fraction of
what a similar bag would cost back in South Africa.

What is more evident however is the development of not one but two
semi marinas on the river bank. I say semi as they are not enclosed in
the normal marina sense, but they do have walk on jetty’s and one of
them has the full range of amenities on offer that you would find in
any European marina – but they are actually more expensive than their
European counterparts – about R3000/week.. The reason that I like
coming here however is not for those kinds of facilities but rather
the service offered by a chap call Brian Stevens of Jacare Marine who
I think might have been here since before Danie Craven even held a
rugby ball. He is an English expat that stopped over on his way to
South Africa some aeons back and just never left. Over the years he
built up a boat building and repair facility and at last count had
built something like 120 vessels of various shapes, sizes and
configurations. In particular he has designed and built most of the
river barge/tourist boats, great big double decked platforms that
amble up and down the river doing sunset cruises, some of the bigger
ones accommodating up to 120 passengers.

He is just one of those people who seem to be unflustered by anything
or any problem. Go to him with some or other recalcitrant mechanical
part or obscure request and he will look at it for a minute or two,
scratch his head and then look up with a smile and say ‘ok, come back
Monday or Thursday’ or whatever and when you do he has somehow managed
to sort out whatever the problem was. The last time I was here back in
2014 he was actually in hospital when we arrived having been operated
on for a hernia. I was aware that he is no longer a young man and
speculated to Hugh on the way across that he must be near 80 years
old, and I admit to have having some concerns about his health. As it
turned out the old bugger is 80, but does not even look as if he is
out of his 60’s yet and is in remarkably good shape. Long may he
continue to enjoy that state of affairs.


Tuesday 31/10

Brian very generously offered to take us into town yesterday to begin
our clearing in formalities. You know, this Brazil is an odd place…
a drive along the main road down to the port is a bit of an eye opener
in terms of development. The route is lined with multi story apartment
blocks and the road is being turned into a six lane affair, all
indicating to a fairly high level of organisation. However when you
try to clear a vessel in the   bureaucracy involved is mind numbing.
The process is a multi stage affair, first you have to present
yourself and all the crew at the main Policia Federal building. There
you get photographed and told to take a seat. After what seems like
hours some fellow comes out and says follow me. You wander ever deeper
into the labyrinth kinda wishing you had a pocket full of breadcrumbs
(just in case).

Finally you are led into some pokey little office with a computer on
the desk that looks as if it dated back to before the Commodore 64
era. I have been down this route before but this time we were
confronted by a new twist… Apparently in the intervening time since
my last visit the requirements have changed and you are now required
to go online and fill in an arrival and departure form. Luckily Brian
was with us and as he is very well known in the area managed to smooth
the way and we did not end up in chains being shipped off to some
sugar cane plantation to serve out 50 years hard labour.
By the time we had finished some two hours had passed and it was
afternoon, not in itself a problem – except that in this part of the
world the customs officials refuse to see you during that part of the
day, so a second mission is required this morning to go and get the
rest of the formalities squared away.  In Mindelo the same procedure
takes 20 minutes, I kid you not, and that in a country that speaks the
same language, is inhabited by very much the same people but probably
has less than one tenth the resources and infrastructure of Brazil. As
I said, odd place this.

We are busy – or at least Avi is – pulling the water pump brackets
which we will take over to Brian later. We want to fine tune the one
we modified and do the same to the other so that we only need to stock
one size belt. We are also on the hunt for pre filters for the
desalination plant which we were not able to source in either Spain or
Cape Verde. Other than that the boat is in really great shape
considering that a: she lay idle in a marina for years (never a good
thing) and b: has just crossed over 3 000nm of open ocean. About the
only thing that took a bit of a beating was the protective UV strip
that is sewn along the leech of the genoa – but then I had decided not
to fit the new sail we brought across from South Africa until such
time as the old one went properly tits up, which it has not yet done.
The bits and pieces that flap around in the breeze do give us bit of
the travel worn look (which in truth we are) but in a way they are a
bit like the wrinkles you get around your eyes as you grow older…
essentially you earned them.

It is now 7:00am and the new day beckons..


Friday 3/11

As the days have passed we have been able to tick off a number of wish
list items that whilst not critical to the functioning of the boat,
were to some extent or other irritating. Over the years the engine
rooms became covered in a fine black dust that was a result of I don’t
know how many fan belts wearing themselves out into oblivion.  This
residue was in no way detrimental to the functioning of the motors but
like dust on a TV cabinet, it was unsightly – so we finally got that
all cleaned up.

Then there was the real saga of the port side head (for some reason
toilets on a boat are called heads…) It had pretty much been out of
order since we got onto the boat, however both Avi and Hugh had on
various occasions used it. By the time I was informed that the manual
pump was jammed it was of course a bit late… So, we had the rather
shitty job of trying to sort that mess out. As this particular boat
was destined for the UK and the Med it was fitted with holding tanks
for the sewage. Now these tanks are not that big, I doubt they could
hold more than 40L. In theory when the boat is in a marina the valve
that dumps the mess overboard is closed and the whole lot is diverted
to the holding tank. The system is fitted with a discharge port that
again in theory should allow the tanks to be emptied by a sewage
collection truck.

Now, in the time that we were in Cartagena we never once saw one of
those trucks, so it’s reasonable to assume that the contents of those
holding tanks had actually been there for some considerable time…
The starboard side tank emptied itself out into the open sea when we
took the boat out for a test sail, and we assumed (mmm, sound
familiar?) that the port side had done the same. Anyway, we had a go
at sorting this out on Wednesday. At first we thought that the
blockage was where the discharge pipe is connected to the toilet pump,
so we opened that up and at the same time removed the pump to service
it. It was when we disconnected the pipe that we realized that there
was a serious problem facing us – once the freshly (last month about)
matter had spilled out onto the floor – along with its somewhat less
than salubrious odour – we could see that the 2 inch discharge pipe
was blocked solid with what looked like hard packed sand or clay.
We had no option other than to remove the nearly 3 odd meters of pipe
to have a go at clearing it. Whilst a bit messy, it turned out to be
fairly easy to clean, a couple of lusty blows with a bilge pump handle
started to break the sediment out and after about half an hour of
thumping and flushing with the deck wash pump it was finally clear.
Then young Hugh decided to check the holding tank ‘just in case’. Sure
as nuts it had about a 200mm layer of the same sediment. As one cannot
remove that tank he had no option other than to contort his arm into
some unlikely angles and physically dig the shit out. I have a feeling
even his mother would be impressed with the quality of his newly
developing nautical language skills… The upshot of this endeavour is
that we now have not one but two fully functioning toilets on the boat
– whoopee…

We have sent the water pump brackets in for modification and fine
tuning and should have them back and installed by the weekend. We have
had less luck with the desalinator filters, but if push comes to shove
Brian reckons he can get them up over night from Sao Paulo, so we wait
and see what happens there. We are also busy trying to rig up the
third reefing line in the main sail. It had never been reeved before
and to date we have only had to go down to the second reef. Past
experience of the South Atlantic however has me feeling a bit twitchy
about that and I do not want to leave here without being able to set
that third reef if the weather gets nasty. We do have spare line so it
shouldn’t present to much of a problem.

Slowly it’s all coming together, I am eyeing out Thursday the 9th as
our kick off date out of here, the weather pattern for the next five
days looks a bit contrary and messy so there is no point in being
brave or stupid right now. The summer pattern is beginning to develop
and with just a bit of luck will be far more settled by the time we
get down to the high thirties.

Brian has said something about taking us out into the country this
weekend, his son apparently has a place out in the sticks and it would
be nice to get to see a bit more of the region apart from the river. I
have taken a number of photos along the way but I have battled with
very poor data transfer rates to get them posted, but we now have
access occasionally to the marina’s wifi so I will see what I can do.

I will post again before we leave Brazil, until then Y’all stay safe
and keep well.

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