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  • Writer's pictureAna

Atlantic Crossing - Last leg - Fernando de Noronha to Recife

The morning started early even before sunrise, we needed to download the latest forecast via the IridiumGO to be sure of our plans. If the departure was to happen it needed to happen with first light to avoid paying more steep fees to stay in the Marine Natural Park.

The forecast looked ok, the thunderstorms forecasted just 24h earlier hadn’t been showing for the last two updates, and although still a bit brisker than we wanted there was no reason to justify the extra costs.

We quickly lifted anchor and made our way out of the mooring field, passing by the pod of dolphins that visits this bay every morning. We hoisted the mainsail on a reef, turned our boat Southwest, unfurled the Jib and set sail at an angle of 120 AWA (Apparent Wind Angle). Gliding through the water parallel to the island to enjoy the views from the water of the beaches we had visited the days before.

In less than 1h we were clearing the Southwestern tip of the island, a gentle adjustment of our sailing angle, and we should pretty much sail a straight line all the way down to Recife, now sailing at 60 degrees AWA.

It was blowing up to 16 knots, and we were having a crack of a sail, going quite fast often doing 8 knots SOG (Speed Overground). 1h later the wind started picking up to 21 knots so we decided to put 1 reef on the Jib to avoid healing so much, it did barely anything to our speed, but it did put us on a more comfortable angle. Yet, another hour later we decided o put another reef on the Jib. With the ocean swell, this was going one of those passages where you do all you can for comfort even at the cost of performance.

Late in the afternoon, we would start seeing long lines of squalls, the sea had also become choppier through the afternoon, so we put a 3rd reef on the Jib. From there on until nearly midnight it would be a game of putting a 3rd reef on the Jib or furling it almost completely leaving just a handkerchief as we passed squall after squall none of them actually dumping on us, but sometimes sucking the wind, sometimes giving us a bit too much wind. Seeing them on the radar certainly helped with the decision to change the Jib setting, but eventually, we would be smacked hard by one of these squalls.

Just like during the crossing a deluge of rain winds up to 32 knots, but this time we had the main still with 1 reef.

John turned the Hydrovane to downwind, maybe around 120 degrees and for the worst of it we ran together with squall until the gusts settled on upper 20 knots and not 30’s, then John hand steered us back to upwind to get from under the squall fast. Once cleared, we were back on the Hydrovane for a while, sailing with the reefed mainsail only on 70 degrees of AWA.

For a few hours we had to nanny the Hydrovane that was now slightly off balance with just the mainsail, and then we decided to put the Tiller Pilot on in order to have a more rested night. We would do that until the first light when another squall looked threatening enough for us to decide simply drop the mainsail altogether and go under the engine for a bit.

In the meantime the sea state had become a mess with all these squalls, quite high and choppy, often giving us big slaps midship that would wet the entire foredeck. Mid-morning with breakfast done we decided to put the Jib on a reef and slowly continue the day waiting for the late afternoon when the sea state should have settled.

It was a busy day dodging more squalls, a constant furl and unfurl of the Jib in between snoozes.

Late afternoon the conundrum: "should we hoist the mainsail for the night, yes or no?", started.

The forecast suggested we should have a quiet night, but there was a huge line of squalls on the horizon, at least a couple hours ahead of us.

A quick calculation or estimate of the speed we would be doing if we had the mainsail hoisted or just the Jib helped with the decision-making. With the mainsail hoisted we would most likely do the approach to Recife still in the wee hours of the morning, maybe it was to our advantage to be going this slow. That could potentially help reduce encounters with any fishing boats as we come from deep waters to shallow waters, if the forecast was right there would be good chances of local small hard-to-spot vessels could be out fishing at dawn just as we approached Recife.

A decision was made, we would carry on just with the Jib and have a much-needed quiet night. After all, it felt that the 4 days in Fernando de Noronha had not been enough rest time now that we were back on the Atlantic washing machine and the squall watch.

The night proved to be as per the forecast, quite calm, and we can confess that both dozed off during our watches. Well at least until we had our first encounter with cargo coming straight our way. I called them up to confirm they could see us on AIS, and once again I got the feeling they didn’t check what type of vessel we were and our speed because it was clear we were in course collision. The moment I said we were a sailing vessel the guy immediately replied that they would adjust their course 5 degrees to starboard although they ended up actually adjusting nearly 10 degrees. That was sweet.

From that moment on several boats started showing up on the radar in the distance with very bright lights that could be seen from really good distances, the problem was that it was clear that some of these vessels were wooden boats, and the radar was barely picking them up!

That woke me up in a second! Eyes wide open I was now trying to gauge distances, most passed maybe 1 mile from us, but there was one that drifted past us maybe some 200 metres, now that was frightening.

Eventually, morning came, and we were already at depths of hundreds instead of thousands. We saw the sea colour go from that stunning deep Atlantic blue to what I can only describe as a swimming pool light blue. We were fast approaching the reef that gives name to this city.

And then, suddenly, we could see ahead of us the water going green. A dark green that is definitely not characteristic of sea waters but of river water, yet we were still in open water!

At the same time, we entered this strange coloured water, we were suddenly in waters of 6 to 10 metres deep yet still reasonably far from shore. A bit disconcerting.

We kept coming close and closer to shore, and depths remained mostly unchanged, we were sailing in around 8 metres depths. Trying to understand where exactly the entrance to Recife was. We had expected to see quite a bit of cargo movement that would allow us to visually identify it more easily but to our surprise, it seemed like not much was going on. Eventually, we could tell the position of the outer breakwater wall and then the very faded Port and Starboard markers signalling the entrance, of course, the local fisherman were fishing right in the entrance. We made our way and entered the narrow channel passing the few small cargo vessels moored on the channel wall which we could only assume was the commercial harbour, we kept going up this channel until we arrived at the area where the Cabanga Iate Club staff had told us to anchor and wait for the high tide, but to our surprise, the location now had marina pontoons still surrounded by fencing buoys and a new hotel being built, just across from this was the pontoon for the old Pernambuco Iate club and all this was on a bend of the river/channel, there was no fat chance we could anchor there, we would be right in the middle of the channel! We tried to go a bit further up and go close to the shallows to drop anchor in 3.5 metres, we only needed to wait a couple of hours, but still, even then we were smack bang across the channel luckily little to no traffic movement except the very small fishing boats.

We tried and tried to contact the Cabanga Iate Club via VHF without any success, and without a SIM card we could not call them, so I sent a message via IridiumGO hoping they would get it. Not long after a local small navy patrol boat came and raft up o us to annoy us about our position (with good reason). They asked for our transit papers, and as I spoke with them in Portuguese the mood became very friendly. I explained we couldn’t go much more to the shallows and that we were just waiting for the night tide to come in although we were having trouble contacting the marina to let them know we were already waiting. They volunteered to help by calling them on their private mobile phones, and within a few minutes all was sorted with them and the marina, and we could wait until close to 3pm for the high tide.

Around 2 pm a dinghy came flying from the marina in our direction, one of their marineros was coming to guide us in, although pretty straightforward to simply follow the bling markers provided the tide is right. At the marina, the second dinghy was waiting for us.

As we came closer and closer to the marina we could not believe how small and tight it was, how the heck would we be able to manoeuvre our 50ft without the bow-thruster (not that it would solve the problem to have it running)??

The marineros guided us to the furthest zone of the marina, and as we worried plenty about how all this was going to pan out they reassured us they could spin us with the dinghy into place. Oh, and this was not the marina arrangement we were used to, there were no finger pontoons, and it wasn’t med mooring it was just side-mounted pylons (in our spot we would only have 1 pylon) that of course were not even close to the right position to tie us up correctly, but yet the marineros did spin us around and into our spot nearly to perfection had it not been a gust of side on wind that pushed us onto the pylon. With no bollards, cleats or a nearby vessel to hold on to it was a run-run moment with one dinghy trying to hold us in place while several marineros quickly grabbed our stern mooring lines whilst the other one tried to hold our bow and push us against the wind. You see, they didn’t show us or explained we would need at least a 50-metre mooring line to hold the bow across half the marina basin so while all this was happening I was trying to join a long mooring line to our 30 metres all purpose line not understanding where were they going to tie it. After a bit of scrambling, getting instructions in Brazilian (not the same nautical terms that Portuguese, and I don’t even know those), then translating to John, getting instructions from John and translating back to Bazilian we were successfully tied to the marina.

We were obviously not that excited about the conditions of our mooring (if the wind shifted to from South quadrant we would be smashing against the pontoon very likely given how poorly we were tied)

Formalities would have to wait for the following Monday, by now it was 4pm.

***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community. In this post you can find information regarding mooring at Cabanga Iate Clube and the need of waiting for high tide to be able to enter the club and the Recife Harbour Anchorage.



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