30 April 2015

Stories from Paranagua; Another Passage

While sitting in Paranagua waiting for a weather window, it rained continuously, obscuring the mountains behind the city in cloud.  The city itself was a bit sad and made sadder by the gray weather.  Colonial buildings were falling apart, often abandoned.  The cobblestone streets and sidewalks were over grown with grass.  The only colour was in the fun local boats which were proudly painted and decorated so that each was unique.
 Over two days we (Peter, really.  Sailing is a man’s world here.  All questions are directed to him.  All comments are listened to if Peter makes them.  Granted, he is the skipper.  But he’s also the man.) cleared into Brazil, finally.  For various reasons we had not been able to manage it in the ports we had stopped in so we had been in Brazil for close to a month before checking in.  Our exit papers from Uruguay were dated in late March.  None of the three Brazilian officials with whom we had to complete paperwork questioned where we had been for the past month and none even looked at the Uruguayan papers.  Perhaps we were lucky but our clearing in process was easy, even without Portuguese.  And even if one of the offices required a two kilometer tramp through the industrial port which I did once but Peter had to do twice and in the pouring rain. Officials were friendly, polite and helpful, perhaps because they never see cruisers and we offered them some diversion to their usual bureaucracy.   Added bonus, our three month visa began on our clear in date in Paranagua, not a month earlier.
Drying out!

The yacht club in Paranagua granted us a one night stay at dock beside a diesel station and we used the opportunity to fill our six gerry cans of diesel twice.  Usually, this is a physical operation, requiring sweat and toil, as we knew from our experience in Santa Catarina.   Here, filling the cans was simplified for not having to transfer them in the dinghy, to and from the boat, with the balancing and leaning that requires.  This time, the guys at the club were anxious to help.  To transfer the six empty cans to the station, the easiest part of the task, we had a troop of five men assisting.  They walked us down the dock, opened the doors, and whistled for the gas guy to unlock his.  They sat at the pump waiting, unscrewing tops, etc and loaded the cans onto a trolley, one guy pushing while the others followed, then transferred them on shoulders to the dock all with gestures to us and chattering to each other.  Only one stuck around for the second round so only he received the tip which they had all been working for.
The satellite anchorage of the club.
Nights in Paranagua, both at dock and at anchor, were not particularly peaceful.  The tidal range is so great in the enormous bay, that the current runs like a river.  While at dock, there were rapids around the pilings.  At anchor the boat was twirled twice a day according to ebb or flood tide and for several days the wind was strong but the current was stronger turning the boat stern into the wind, opposite to usual.   Once the current slowed as the tide was about to change, the effect of the wind overpowered the current and we swung around again - a couple of additional swings a day.  Of course, I was a tad anxious about the anchor holding in all this twisting and turning of opposing forces.  But the Rocna did it’s job.  We didn’t budge, slip or slide.
The anchorage was a place of sad boats!

To stretch our legs on our last day at anchorage, we explored the satellite club site on the island nearby.  It consisted of a parilla, a place to sit, some showers that I wouldn’t choose to use, and a caretakers house complete with dogs, geese, very strange looking ducks with long necks and squat legs.  We explored along a path which led to a well manicured memorial site, one simple stone marking the “political emancipation” of slaves? 150 years ago and another 500 years after the discovery of Brazil.  A path leading from the site, through the rainforest had recently been swathed, perhaps for the Indigenous Day celebration we had arrived on. 
Bird of paradise marked the first step
It led to a very steep, staircase made of large individual stones and mud that led up and up and up through a tunnel of jungle.  There must have been at least 300. 
Why is it that pictures never show how steep the slope is?
At the top were the ruins of a small stone church with grounds around recently cleared.  Quite mystical and completely serendipitous.  Very cool. 
And out of the mist...

Going down was a bit more challenging
After a six day stay, the weather window opened for our final 48 hour passage north.  The sun shone on our last day but we were unable to enjoy Ihla do Mel only from anchor over lunch.  We left the giant bay late afternoon.
Leaving Paranagua.  The clouds still cover the mountains behind the city

Only enjoyed from anchor
The forecast for the 48 hour voyage was for light winds but in the right direction.  Of course, the winds were not light but moderate - we now add about 10 knots to the weather forecast.  However, moderate is the best in all things, including wind.  I can’t say that the sail was uneventful.  The waves were big enough to make me reach for the Bonine. 
Line squalls marched by all night.  Handily, they show up on radar as red blobs which make them easier to avoid or, at least prepare for.
And as we furled the screecher, the larger head sail, in mounting winds, we could not furl it completely.  There is an explanation for this but suffice it to say that we had not perfected the furling technique yet.  Instead of furling, we had to bring the sail down.  Large waves on the beam making the bow very rolly meant that Peter donned his life jacket while I worked the lines in the stern.  Peter with headlamp on had to bring the bowsprit in.  This required hanging over the bow and reaching with hands, bum in air.  I was sure he was going to dive into the brink.  But, no.  He managed the whole thing, jumping up occasionally to pull the PFD straps from around his knees - comic relief is always, well, a relief in stressful situations allowing me a chuckle between anxious moments.  We brought the sail down, Peter fixed the sail and then we raised the sail, properly and safely furled.  It would have been very bad to have the sail unfurl on it’s own during the night in high winds.  
Over Ilhabela.  Must be a good omen.

Being able to figure out the problem and fix it under duress in the dark was amazing!  I was so appreciative of Peter’s abilities.  But it also made me realize how much I have to learn. I’m very glad he is the captain.  
The yacht club in Ilhabela.  Very swish.
After a faster than expected passage, we arrived at the island at 2 a.m.  We moved exceptionally slowly until sunrise when the clouds cleared and the beauty of the volcanic island was clear.   

20 April 2015

Tripping North

Sunset behind mainland mountains.
After reaching safe harbour in North Landfall, Santa Catarina, we recovered for six days, working on odds and ends on the boat, exploring Jurere, searching for internet connection daily, restocking groceries, cleaning bodies, boat and clothes (We had two baskets of laundry cleaned for $60 CDN.  A bit of a shock - but I think each piece of clothing was ironed!) and, on the last day, renting a car to explore the greater island.
Souped up tractor does the work at the marina

"Tall ship" with stubby masts are party boats seen in every harbour.
Our first impression of Brazil was very positive.  Besides pictures of Rio, we had no clear expectation of what the geography would be like.  It is stunningly beautiful.  Very steep, jungle clad hills/mountains going down to long, wide expanses of fine, white sand beach or to enormous, rounded boulders.  Blue sky and sea on our first days made it picture perfect.
Praia Mole on Ilha de Santa Catarina - surfers just out of view

Praia Mole
After a perfect sail downwind!, we anchored in Caixo d’Aco even more beautiful small anchorage, surrounded on three sides by those steep, green hills with a tiny beach in the bay where children played soccer in the evening under floodlights.  The beach is likely the only flat land in town. 
Enjoying a beautiful sail.
Picture perfect in Caixo d'Aco
The harbour was dotted with colourfully painted fishing dories and on one side of the harbour were about three rows of a variety of colours, shapes and sizes of dwellings. 
Caixo d'Aco means metal box - so we were told.
We shared the harbour with three tiny thatched restaurants on rafts with tables also set on rafts.  Eric, one of the owners, greeted us and suggested we use his wifi which we gratefully did while sitting at a rafted table at his closed, sadly, restaurant (off season).
Site of our internet connection.  We sat at a table once a day.  No service though.

Our plan was to sail north to Itajai on Thursday to see the Volvo Ocean Race boats in action for the inharbour race on Saturday and the start for the Newport leg on Sunday.  We reached Itajai just as the boats were on a training race course.  Very exciting to see these amazing racing machines that we - especially Peter - have been following for months.
Fantastic boats

We checked out the only anchorage in the busy city but in a high wind and incredibly shallow water it was impossible without being extremely close to another boat whose owner promptly set up shop on deck after putting out some extra fenders, we gave up.  The city offered no other dockage, moorings, or anchorages.  So, regrettably missing the Volvo action but grateful that we had seen the training, off we went into what was now wind on the nose and threatening skies…again!!

Unfortunately, I have become a tad more nervous after our long voyage.  I feel it in my cynicism of weather and wind reports particularly and have become a vigilant observer of clouds and waves.  Lately, there always seems to be lots to watch.  As we left Itajai, fishing boats seemed to be hightailing it for harbour, the other way from where we were headed.  The next place listed in our cruising guides was about 40 NM away which would be uncomfortable and get us there at midnight.  

Luckily, on our chart there was a little pink anchor around the next very large point only a couple of hours away.  We decided to go for it in the rain and wind.  Rounding the point, the wind subsided and in the dusk light and pouring rain, we could see a fleet of fishing dories - more than one hundred - and what we assume were mussel farms.  We set anchor, relieved to be in a sheltered harbour.  Funny thing is that once you find shelter, you think that even the sea must be quiet.  Venturing out again?  No way!
We were one of two sailboats in harbour of fishing dories.  

On our way the next day to Sao Francisco do Sol.  Again, unexpected wind!  It’s getting a bit boring, I know, but super frustrating for us, me especially.  Peter loves sailing of all kinds, even up wind with three meter seas and threatening skies all around that required dowsing sails, dodging cells, etc.  By now, you know the drill.  The wind eventually backed though and we enjoyed some fast  beam reach sailing.  Sao Francisco has a long entry between islands and over a shallow sandback which in the high waves was breaking.  We, of course, shortened the route.  By this time we were motoring and with the waves behind us went over the shallower water and surfed at 13 knots.  

Dusk approaching.  We have to get this timing right!  We finally anchored just outside the city center.  The city is tiny so this was not difficult.  And the party was just beginning.  At 8 the live rock and roll band took center stage in our backyard and rocked on until after 3 a.m. 

Next morning we noticed tens of motorcycles arriving to the downtown.  Lo and behold, when we went ashore to explore, there were hundreds of motorcycles parked with their drivers, who must look the same the world over, wandering the streets.  It was an outdoor motorhead show! on a very sweet, colonial, slightly bedraggled main drag.
The restaurant of choice was running out of food and refused to serve us.  We bought some barbecued pork - delicious - and hurried back to the boat to change anchorages.  We were now behind the museum - a bit removed from the party scene but right beside the port where ships were being loaded.  We preferred the industrial drone to head-banging, heavy metal all night. 
Behind the museum.  Our second anchorage.

Up at 3:30 a.m. determined to arrive in Paranagua in daylight.  Cloudy and rainy day but no storms.  A beam reach the entire 40 NM.  After going through the Paranagua shipping anchorage where at least sixty ships were anchored bringing visions of what the invasion fleets must have looked like in WWII, we passed through a narrow channel with breaking waves on both sides.  We arrived at 2 p.m. in daylight - we are learning - to an isolated anchorage.  Apparently, it’s Indigenous Day today and we have chosen an anchorage which is hosting a party out of sight in the jungle.  But we can hear it.  Much better music choices.  We’ll see how it goes tonight.  Tomorrow we plan to move to the yacht club so we can resupply with diesel and extra water.
Jungle on an "ecological hike" at Porto Bella

Vulture with a view
Next voyage has me slightly concerned.  It is a 220 NM trip to Ilhlabela or Ilha de Sao Sebastiao and more predictable weather reportedly.  But again it is a coast of one long beach with only one safe harbour, Santos, the busiest shipping harbour in Brazil.  We plan on skipping it.  Weather permitting!

Once there we will enjoy what some have described as the best cruising location in the world!

13 April 2015

A Shake Up Cruise - La Paloma to Santa Catarina, Brazil

This is a chapter!  Excuse the length.

For the past two years, I have been anxious about this passage, thinking it might be the hardest of our entire time onboard Milly.  It is about five days long and against the current and prevailing wind.  The strategy is to wait for a low (bad weather) to pass out to sea and sail north on it’s tail end.  The route is complicated by the fact that there is only one harbour, Rio Grande do Sul, between departure and port of call which in itself is tough.  It has a long (miles long), narrow entrance which is also a shipping lane and at the mouth is a strong tidal current.  On top of that, it reportedly doesn’t have a lot going for it as a destination. We didn’t want to go there and were hoping for a long enough window to do the full five days to Santa Catarina. 
Maybe the little birds who visited offshore were trying to tell us something
We did all the right things. We studied various gribs (wind forecasts) for days, and PredictWind forecasts and route choices by dates.  We hired a professional weather router of outstanding repute to establish the best day for departure and, once chosen, to give a complete forecast for each day as predicted by boat speed. All data pointed to a Tuesday a.m. departure.  Wind was forecasted to be light but from the south or east. We anticipated a slow voyage north.  Alas, Mother Nature is fickle and none of the forecasts served us well.

We left La Paloma early with blue skies and very little wind.  An easy, slow, slightly frustrating sail.  Late afternoon we were alerted to a storm by thunder. Lo and behold, forked lightning lit up the entire horizon behind us.  An enormous black front was approaching.  We had been sailing wing-on-wing in very light winds and flat seas.  We furled both sails and put up the enclosure minus the stern panels around the cockpit.  Laptops, iPads and handheld devices were put in the oven, our Faraday Cage.  And then we held tight while watching the horizon disappear in rain and the wind pick up.  There was no where to escape to, the system was too huge.
Holy Shit! It's coming!

And then it hit us.  Winds held at 47-49 knots (87-90 km/h) for about 30 minutes. (Time stood still for awhile and seemed much longer than 30)  The top gust hit 57 knots (105 km/h).  Luckily, the seas were flat so the sailor’s worst enemy, high waves, were not a factor.  But hail the size of moth balls poured down for at least twenty minutes. 

During this time, Peter stayed at the helm.  The wind blew so strongly that although under the hard bimini he was soaked.  The enclosure was stressed to the max and a corner was torn off.  I was inside watching the wind instument reading rise with wide eyes.  I opened the door for no more than 15 seconds and I, too, was soaked, head to foot.  Neither Peter or I were afraid for ourselves.  At no time did Milly founder or seem threatened.  Instead, we were both worried about how she might be damaged by wind and hail.  Poor Milly.  But unlike Peter’s car caught in a hail storm, she showed no pock marks or damage.  After it was over and the skies were clear with light winds once again, the only consequence of the storm was the wind instruments inconsistently recording nonsense.  That settled after thirty minutes or so.  And all was well.  We were dazed and in a state of disbelief but fine and happy to know Milly was a well-built boat that we felt safe in.
Thirty minutes later, we had recovered enough to take a picture of the remaining hail.

Gradually, the wind turned from the expected and desired south wind on our stern to a head wind on our nose.  At first, the water was flat and even though our progress was slow, we had a pleasant, relaxing sail for our second afternoon.  At this point we passed Rio Grande, the only harbour on the way, thinking that we would continue on slowly under these light headwinds until the forecast played out and the winds became south again.  
Relaxing and content

Time for showers.
However, contrary to forecast, the winds increased over twelve hours to give us two or three days (and nights) of headwinds of about 24 knots or so.  No problem, except the waves also increased to two-three meters making inside living challenging unless lying down.  Waves splashed over the bow and occasionally the side soaking everything over several days with salt. 
Chart couldn't decide which ocean we were in!

Really determined that we had gone through the Panama Canal.
We had been sailing on a reefed sail - smaller sail - especially at night.  Despite the factory’s best efforts to fix a reefing line that chafed with use, the solution did not satisfy the conditions we were facing.  On attempting to reef for the second last night, the second reef line block popped out - no second reef.  Turned to the first reefing line, a bigger sail but still smaller than the full main. On tightening it, it broke - chafed through.  Good thing we had two strong motors.  The wind had decreased and so it was a relatively relaxing but noisy night.
Relaxing? upwind.  Holding on, blood in head, blood in feet.

Finally, during the last 24 hours the wind started to back and ended up turning 180 degrees to come from the south - yippee.  Instead of pounding into ever increasing seas we could surf.  Prospects looked good to get us to port at midnight - oh, oh, not so good, dead of night is never good to approach landfall.  So we were not in a hurry.  

During the late afternoon, the skies to the west, east and north - straight ahead - lit up with lightning!  Mother Nature was testing us big time and it was getting a little tiresome!  As night fell, we could follow the lightning visually and the heavy rain cells on the radar.  With us both at the helm, Peter dodged them successfully by slowing down or turning east or west.  It was quite a game.  About this time the chart plotter computer announced to us that it was no longer sending wind data.  Gremlins!

As the lightning eased to the east over the ocean, I took my watch.  Slowly the winds and waves built up.  I was attempting to go slowly - boat speed under 5 knots. As the wind picked up I had to pull back on the throttle.  On Peter’s watch, I attempted to sleep.  I woke after about an hour to howling wind.  Peter was surfing down 3 meter waves at 13 knots boat speed with bare poles - no sails - while listening to a podcast!  No more sleep for me.  We sat together at the helm watching these breaking waves.  It was a bit like a roller coaster.  One pooped our cockpit, meaning it broke right at our stern and flooded the cockpit.  Thanks to great design, the water did not enter the saloon even though the door was open.  We turned on the motors to keep up with the speed of the waves.  No more pooping.

I got both our lifejackets.  Unfortunately for me, I had read too many books all of which said not to take a breaking wave broadside in a catamaran and we had to cross the wind to go into the channel leading to the harbour of sanctuary.  Granted the books were referring to much bigger waves but these were the biggest I had seen and that was enough to provoke my first anxiety of the trip.  Peter, on the other hand, was having a wonderful time and completely enthralled with how Milly was handling the waves.  The wind and waves were wild but Milly and Peter were in complete control.

Gradually, we turned and made headway into the relative shelter of the island.  Maybe 2 meter waves now.  Peter went for a quick nap.  It was still dark, sunrise due in about 30 minutes.  I slowed the motors a bit so as to get to harbour in the light.  But Mother Nature wasn’t finished with us yet.  A squall hit with winds that woke Peter with a start.  No wind reading but when exhausted and with the end of the passage in sight - literally - it was a bit over the top.  We were breached from the side.  Then I read that the winds in the channel can be “vicious” with a south wind.  Great!

We motored into the harbour, anchored without pause, put away lines etc. ate a bit of food and fell into bed.  The wind was still howling but we were protected with the much gentler rocking of the harbour.

Lessons Learned:

  • Put the full enclosure up for an upcoming storm
  • Peanut butter on crackers is a good meal with big waves - PB doesn’t slide off
  • You get a full core workout trying to stay upright even while sitting down when waves are big
  • Keep toilet seat down in big seas - otherwise, it falls down and you wonder what the noise is
  • wear polyester
  • iI’s never over until it’s over.  No complacency allowed.
  • One feels “more alive” with all this (over)stimulation
  • Put all electronics into oven pronto with lightning
  • Everything gets wet with saltwater and then never dries - ie. bedding, cushions, feet, floor.  By the last night we could only sit on the helm chair.  Everything else was wet.
  • Satellite communication (KVH) is a godsend - we could download weather info (even though it was inaccurate, it felt good to have) and communicate by email to reassure family
  • Microwaves can be useful after all.  I am a convert.
  • Podcasts are good company on watch
  • Screw jar tops on well in fridge.  Otherwise, pickle juice soaks everything.
  • Heads are small in boats for good reason.  Big spaces mean more room to fall.
  • Elasticized waist for pants or shorts handy for single handed removal or retrieval

At the end of it all, I have a great respect for Milly and how she is designed and built.  Thank you, Ted Clements, Memo Castro and Antares!  

I have a great respect and have thanked Peter numerous times.  He always remained calm and positive - talk about seeing the silver lining - even excited. I could see the wonder and enjoyment in his face when I was perhaps not as happy. His understanding, confidence and expertise are just what I need to be able to learn and enjoy myself.  

But I have little confidence in weather forecasting which has left me a bit freaked out.  Even with all our studying and with a professional weather router, the experienced weather was no where close to the forecast.  So what to make of that?  Hopefully, it’s the location - reknowned for fast changing and unpredictable weather patterns. We were caught in a high pressure system between two lows.  When the high eventually moved to the east the two lows squished us.  A cold front with lightning passed us followed by very strong winds.  They even have a name for this southwest wind here it’s so infamous, The Pampeiro  
Safe harbour.  
    As we go north, especially to the trade winds, the weather should improve and become more predictable and consistent.  Meanwhile, we have done our big voyage in the south.  For the next 1,000 NM or so, we are hopping up the coast.  We will wait for weather windows - we have no schedule and are not in a hurry - and, hopefully, will have some easier, downwind sailing.

La Paloma, Uruguay

The harbour with a bit of everything.  All the fishing boats had those bazooka looking things on top?
We had a very pleasant six day stay in La Paloma, a small surfing town that was in it’s quiet, post tourist season.  Gorgeous, wide and wild beaches that went for miles and miles and miles and miles - really the entire Uruaguayan coast is one long beach - and sand dunes were spotted with very occasional bathers and surfers.

We got our bikes out and set off into the rolling, agrarian countryside. One day we rode to a large laguna with a small fishing village on the stunning sand duned shore.
Tiny village situated on dunes about 100m across between lake and ocean.

Fishing in the lake.  Once a year shrimp somehow got from ocean to lake for frenzied shrimping.
The next to a genuine “hippie” surfing village - one main street lined with small cafes and a high sand dune on which to perch while watching surfers ride huge swells.
Even the memorials to grandparent surfers showed their passion.
 La Paloma harbour was small but hosted a variety of activity.  There were about 20 sailboats at dock, a navy "base" without any boats,
The Armada also had a rural navy base.  
a fleet of small time fishing boats at a separate quay and a lumber industry dock where a ship came into harbour turning in close quarters a bit too close to Milly twice in the six days we were there.
Taken from Milly!
  Loading of lumber then went on incessantly for about 36 hours.  Fisherfolk and boat gazers came to the boating dock each evening.  Milly attracted a lot of cameras.
Also from Milly.  This guy is gazing at us while cradling a large thermos for his mate which is in his other hand, ubiquitous in Uruguay.  Mate is a tea - we haven't found out it's chemistry - a stimulant, for sure.  The leaves are stuffed into the cup, often made from a gourd and always with a flouted edge.  The leaves are strained through teeth and a special straw made from silver.  People carry thermos and cup everywhere and drink it throughout the day.

Beside us was another catamaran with a very unusual jury rigged mast made of what looked suspiciously like a radio/TV antenna.  We learned that this youngish South African couple had been sailing up the coast with spinnaker when the wind shifted and accelerated, bringing down the mast.  They had been in harbour six months and had designed this alternative mast.  Still didn’t have a boom though.
A radio tower mast?
Across the quay was another motor/sailboat owned by a Dutch guy.  He had sailed it from Holland, single-handed but had to be rescued off the coast of Brazil - full story not told.  Both tales unnerved me a touch.

While in harbour, we were hailed by a English speaking dog walker who explained to Peter that he lived at Spadina and Bloor in Toronto half the year painting houses and the other half in Uruaguay.  The next day he brought us seven fish he had caught and some herbs from his garden.  Peter cleaned and I filleted.
Boat in harbour, sorting his haul.

Another guy stopped us on the road as we were biking.  As another Bike Friday owner, he recognized our bikes.  He was from Oregon, had married a Uruguayan born woman who grew up in B.A. and they had bought land and built a house in this small town in which a number of expats seemed to have made home.  Steve kindly invited us to lunch, picked us up and hosted us in his beautiful home with a spectacular view of the ocean.  He is a furniture maker and had finished the house and garden himself.  We chatted for four hours learning a great deal about life in Uruguay and Argentina.
Harbour entertainment
All in all, this part of Uruguay was quiet with friendly people and wild beaches and a rolling, pasture land and tranquil forest.  We very much enjoyed it but after six days and the oncoming, less friendly winds of autumn approaching, it was time to be on our way.