leg 12: Ascension to Brazil
Early on the 20th of December we did our final top up of the water tanks and were the first to leave the anchorage. Despite our head start both Red Herring and Matangi soon overtook us though, so we decided to try and squeeze a bit more speed out of the sails by using our new bamboo spinnaker pole. We enthusiastically rigged it up and it worked brilliantly for all of five minutes before splitting in half, too late we realised we should have waited for the bamboo to dry out fully before attempting to sail with it. The general mood on board was rather bleak. Back to messing around with flapping sails with too much wind to fly the gennaker but too little wind to really start moving with only the foresail. Downwind sailing can be extremely frustrating.
Christmas day dawned with two very excited children who woke up to find Santa had indeed managed to find us in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. Pancakes for breakfast and ‘pie in a tin’ with semi successful Yorkshire puddings for lunch followed by jelly and custard. We really missed the big crazy Christmas we’re used to with our extended families, but at the same time it was incredibly special to share this day with just the four of us in perfect conditions in the middle of a big blue ocean miles from anywhere.
We had a spell of perfect wind to fly the gennaker but just as we started knocking off the miles to Brazil the wind stopped playing nice and got all shifty and light and then dropped altogether. Days of frustration ensued and we started to despair that we would ever make it to Brazil, let alone get there in time for New Year! We had a huge super pod of dolphins visit us jumping and barrel rolling and generally showing off. Later Denz also caught a barracuda, not our favourite fish to eat but better than nothing, the silly thing also managed to tangle himself up in all three of our fishing lines which made Denz pretty mad and took ages to untangle.
Eventually the wind arrived and blew us into Cabedelo, Brazil, on the very last day of the year. We anchored up the Paraiba river at the Jacare yacht village and caught up with the South African contingent of Matangi and Era. Too shattered to attempt the new year beach party festivities we did lift our heads off the pillow briefly at midnight to blearily watch the fireworks.
Checking into Brazil was an interesting procedure that took us two days to complete. First we took the train to the customs officer in Cabedelo only to be told we needed to first visit the Police in Jacare for immigration procedures. By the time we’d gone all the way back to the Police, and waited over an hour because there was only one immigration officer on duty, it was too late to get back to customs because they only work until 1pm. So we called it quits for the day and went for a beer. Back to Cabedelo on the train the next morning to see the customs officer, who incidentally seems quite bonkers, and eventually got our customs stamp. Then had to take the train again in the opposite direction to the city of Joao Pessoa to see the Port Captain, which is located nowhere near the port. We arrived just as they closed for lunch, so we went for a beer whilst we waited. By the time we were cleared by the port captain and took the train ride back to Jacare the day was already over.
Denz organised to have an aluminium spinnaker pole made up for us at the local boat yard and we also managed, with the limited help of google translate, to find some valves to isolate the seawater inlet to the engines - more about that coming up in a later story. I found a local gemstone cutter and bought a nice little haul of gemstones. We explored the opposite river bank in the pillager and found a little beach in the mangroves for the kids to get sandy on. Rob, from Matangi, rigged up a sail for his nutshell pram tender and the kids had a lesson on dinghy sailing. Denz even managed to get in a surf or two. Together with some of the other cruisers we were invited out to a hacienda in the country for a barbecue and had a blissful day of swimming, croquet, food and great company.
Although our next stop would still be in Brazil we wouldn’t be able to clear out there so we had to complete our clearance in Cabedelo. Anticipating a long delay we began the procedure two days before we wanted to actually leave. Everything went smoothly, or so we thought, and unbelievably we completed all three stops before lunch time on the same day. Patting ourselves on the back we went for lunch in Joao Pessoa and had a stroll around the old town. We then took a taxi across town to the vaccination clinic so that myself and the kids could get a yellow fever jab which we would need in French Guiana. Again google translate was not entirely helpful but we did eventually manage to get our message across and the doctor agreed to do the vaccination and requested our passports. Sickening panic ensued when we looked in the bag with all our papers and couldn’t find the passports, we realised we must have left them back at the port captain. By this stage it was quite late in the afternoon, we were somewhere in the suburbs with not a taxi in sight, nobody could understand us and we didn’t really know where our passports were. Denz ran off to find a taxi back to the port captain and left us to get jabbed in the meantime. The doctor gave us the vaccination but refused to issue the international vaccination card without our passports. Denz arrived back with the passports just as they were closing the clinic doors but the unhelpful doctor refused to issue the cards. At least he gave us the local card as proof of vaccination. It was definitely way past time for a beer.