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Category Archives: Cap Verde Islands
Finally, after over a month in the Cape Verdes, it seems we’re about ready to leave. The new satellite phone that was delivered with UPS express (“max 4 days delivery time”) finally arrived after four weeks, and we only had to pay a small fortune to get it released from customs. I guess sometimes we keep forgetting that we’re still, after all, in Africa, and some things just work on a different pace here.
But not for much longer! All that’s left now is to restock on perishable goods like eggs and veggies, refill our diesel and water tanks, and get everything on board shipshape so it doesn’t fly around as soon as we hit a big wave. Then we’re ready for the biggest crossing of our journey yet: two to three weeks open sea without any place to duck in if anything should go wrong. But the weather forecast looks very promising, stable winds and waves not exceeding 4 m, although personally I would prefer a smaller swell. Ah well, at least the fish won’t go hungry
Anyway, if all goes well, we should arrive in the Caribbean mid-February! We’ll try to upload some blogs whilst we’re under way, but that depends on so many factors to work in synchrony that we can’t promise it. But we’re definitely going to let everybody know when we’ve finally arrived!
While we have been cooling our heels in Mindelo we have at times been a little impatient to receive all the various items currently delayed in customs and tied up in the seemingly snail-paced progress of express courier delivery in this part of the world – but more often than not we have surrendered to the laid-back island life-style. Jazz tunes whisper down the street and tumble onto the beach chased by the breeze from the trade winds, countless dogs amble down the cobbled streets or laze in the shade, and often we find ourselves lazing along with them with a good book and a glass of Strela beer.
Not that we have been completely lazy though! A few days ago the three of us took a long hike up to the highest point on St Vincent Island – Mont Verde. Standing at roughly 700m above sea level the mount is named for the unusually lush growth than clings to the steep slopes. The generally arid landscape of the island is here replaced by thickets of pine and casuarina punctuated by the spear-like leaves and towering floral spikes that cling to the highest heights. The green is sources from the light rains harnessed from the clouds that skim over the island and this rain was once an important agricultural boost to the otherwise impoverished island. The evidence of long lost labourers are everywhere here with intricate networks of terraces lining the slopes and the crumbling remains of rock buildings facing out to the tremendous vista of the Atlantic Ocean. Though a few farmers still scrape a living from the soil, the slopes these days seem abandoned with the only sign of human activity being restricted to the military base that claims the summit. Meanwhile however, the ravens and falcons dip and soar in the breeze and sparrows and other small birds flit through the undergrowth and the ruins of the buildings.
The view from the top is stunning and as we gazed down to the cramped twisting streets of Mindelo we have to wonder why anyone would abandon the clean air and endless views of the mountain in favour of a cramped flat amidst the throngs. I know where I’d choose to live!
Once again we are spending far longer in one place than we ever anticipated. Christmas passed with a food frenzy, the new year arrived with yet more good food and fireworks on the beach, Dreikönig (three-kings-day) saw some home-made three-kings-cake (well, it’s really a bread, but cake sounds better), and now we’re already well and truly into January.
You may wonder what’s keeping us in this place for so long? Alas, it’s once again the age of our boat. There are thousand things to repair (amongst them fixing the salt water and bilge pump, the stove, the air ventilation of the water tanks, the boom runner, the anchor storage, the pole fitting, removal of the eternal rust, sealing of small leaks in the windows, etc etc etc – some of them with undesirable side effects, e.g. an infected splinter in Pat’s finger) or, when they cannot be fixed, new parts must be ordered in. Of course over Christmas and New Years ordering things in is a little tricky, and we only now just managed to buy a new satellite phone (which of course is still in the process of being delivered), and will still have to look for a new EPIRB in case we should need rescuing. Bloody expensive stuff, but you don’t really want to cross the Atlantic without the bare minimum of safety equipment.
Well, nobody ever said that cruising around on an old steel boat would be easy. But sometimes, just sometimes, we are dreaming of living in a spacious, nice, clean, functioning house, where we could employ somebody to do all the cleaning for us, and where our dog could run free in the big garden. Oh, and don’t forget the nice, big supermarket and other shops in the neighbourhood, where you could just buy anything you needed, where you wouldn’t have to run around for two days stuttering in a foreign language to just buy a plug for your sink (the old one the %&”*#± dog must have hidden somewhere on the boat – one of her favourite tricks, after chewing socks of course)… no, no, we’re not really sick of sailing just yet, but sometimes … it can become a little frustrating.
And then again there are days where we just take it easy, sleep in, go for a walk in the beautiful hills surrounding the stunning bay, and all the hardship is forgotten. And then, sometimes, I think of my former life where I had to sit in my office day in, day out, struggling with things that seemed so important back then, and that just don’t have any relevance here anymore. I’m still proud of my PhD, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t regret for a minute that I’ve sold most of my belongings back home and put my career in science on hold for this experience. Here, I simply feel alive.
As I sit to write this entry the clutter and hustle of The Gambia has fallen in our wake. The rattle of donkey carts, the call to prayer resounding from the mosques and the constant shout of “toubab” (white person) from the street urchins has been replaced by the gentler cadence of a different nation. Here in Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands the streets are redolent with the swing of salsa music emanating from the colonial buildings clustered of a pristine blue bay surrounded by hazy barren slopes. The cobbled streets are immaculately clean and the populace seems charged with an energy that seemed to be lost amidst the poverty and dirt of West Africa. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the time we spent in the Gambia – but then again the change of pace and scenery has been a balm to our souls.
Not that getting here was exactly easy though!
After throwing down the anchor in Lamin Lodge I guess we cast away our sea legs and thus getting prepared for the five-day passage to Cape Verde was a little stressful, especially considering the constant entropy involved in keeping a steel boat tied up in a tropical estuary. Preparation involved righting a plethora of small wrongs and when we finally pulled up the anchor (along with a few kilos of black mud that are still ingrained under my fingernails) we were a little nervous as the sea-swell started to roll under our hull once again.
And it didn’t help that the gentle swell in the mouth of the estuary rapidly picked up to constant near gale conditions with an occasional gale force squall of rain! None-the-less Widdershins bravely took to the Atlantic Ocean and was soon sliding over the wind-whipped waves with a grace that was somewhat absent from the three intrepid explorers staggering around on deck! Leonie was a little green for the first day and Captain Sparrow was trying hard to develop a facial expression that conveyed disappointment, bewilderment and exasperation as she staggered around the heaving deck. As for me I was simply holding tightly to the helm as regular waves smashed over the cockpit and the occasional flying fish clattered on the deck or in one instance smacked solidly into the side of my head!
The passage was not without the expected contingent of equipment breaking after a long layover. In addition to small breakages, leaks and electric malfunctions, I was somewhat startled to see a red strobe light flashing down below decks in the early hours of one morning. After a few panicked calls to the sleeping Leonie about “what the ^”&*is that!” it became apparent that our EPIRB had decided on its own that near gale force winds was simply too much like hard work. In an effort to escape the situation it had decided to alert the world that we were in imminent danger and required immediate rescue! Whilst Leonie and I were a little wet and tired, we disagreed …. So after various curses, a consultation to the instruction manual (helpfully in Norwegian) we resolved the situation by disconnecting the battery of the EPIRB and trying to call Norway to cancel the distress signal – except that of course our satellite phone decided that this was a good time to break down. Well, all we could do was radioing through every half hour to inform the world that all was safe and well. We received absolutely no response from any ship as it happens, but as no SAR helicopters descended on us we figured all we could do was keep going.
In fact it wasn’t until two days later when we sailed into port and checked our emails that we found out that the authorities were actually aware of the distress signal …. but as it was only active for a short while they figured it wasn’t too important. Hmmmm. Not sure whether to be relieved that we didn’t trigger a whole scale rescue effort or to be a little miffed that our alert signal was rather ignored. Actually it turns out that the Norwegian authorities had actually consulted our website and contacted my parents (who spent a few days in agony over our fate) but the available information wasn’t sufficient to launch an international rescue effort. I guess it was pretty lucky in the long run as otherwise we probably would have had to foot the rescue bill!
Anyway our days are now filled with the beat of Latin music. The north east trade winds are stirring the flags on the waterfront and my grilled shrimp have just arrived in accompaniment with a cold beer. Christmas promises to be a relaxed affair with the warm sun lulling us into a pleasant contemplation of the journey ahead of us. There’s still a lot to do before we tackle the Atlantic again, but for now it’s time to soak up some sun and enjoy a different pace of life for a few days. The hard work can wait until after Christmas!