Brazil, Fernando de Noronha - checking in
The morning after our arrival on this Brazilian island was a busy one. First light we were having our coffee in the cockpit, and as soon as there was enough light for us to see things properly inside without light we were lifting the central floor board with the seat to start working on the battery bank and figure out why was the BMS (Battery Management System) giving error and how could we bypass it to get power back on temporarily.
Unplug here, plug over there, open the Multiplus turn on the generator to run the laptop, try this, try that. This works, but this doesn’t put it all back on including the floorboard, and now it’s not working again. Repeat all over, and now it works.
It felt like we were doing the hokey pockey, and our backs were not happy about it, given the weight of the flooring and seat.
With that sorted, we prepared to hoist the dinghy to the water and gathered our papers, but we couldn’t quite understand the time. My phone suggested it was 11 am, but our friends had told us the time zone in Noronha was different from Brazil's closest region, and the luminosity and height of the sun felt wrong.
It was Sunday, and one of the crew for one of the tour operators was rowing past us back to port without having left the mooring field for the morning (guess they were doing some cleaning) so I decided to ask them if they had the time and knew if the harbourmaster was open.
Me speaking perfect Portuguese even with a bit of Brazilian vibe on it from the back of a boat that says Melbourne was the most baffling moment these two blokes had in a while. I had to repeat my question to which they replied it was 12.30 pm and that the harbour master would close in 30 minutes.
Jeez, morning had flown by us just like that!
We took our time finishing getting ready to go to shore, gave Ella a swim and then off we went to find the harbourmaster.
As we dinghied around the massive breakwater wall we found an interesting beach very protected, full of swimmers, snorkelers, people learning to scuba dive and many of those tour power boats and big tour motor catamarans together with a couple of fishing boats and two cargos to the left.
For sure this was a busy place!
To the left a big gazebo structure, clearly for the tour operators connected to an imposing peer where a motor catamaran was embarking on its tour group. We found a spot behind that peer to tie on and climbed on, confirmed we could leave our dinghy there together with the dinghies of the tour operator's crew and asked for the harbourmaster. Dead easy, we just needed to follow the wooden pedestrian pass up the hill, and it was the first wooden building on the right.
There we would find the harbourmaster that would call the “famous” Marco, one of his staff, the one who deals with the arrivals.
(Marco is mentioned in just about all of the very few blogs that talk about sailing to Fernando de Noronha).
Marco showed up and was truly relieved I spoke Portuguese although he was pretty at ease speaking some English.
He immediately put me to work filling out a form while he took several copies of our boat registration and passports while trying at the same time to call the Policia Federal (Federal Police that amongst many other things does the Immigration/Border Force service) and the Marinha (Navy), it took a while for him to get a hold on these people, but eventually, they all showed up.
In the meantime, we were offered coffee with chit-chat.
Everyone already knew we had arrived before we dropped anchor, not because of our AIS or some fancy monitoring system. The harbourmaster's office has a vantage view over the beach and the entire mooring field, the Navy, on the other hand, is stationed on a whitewashed old well-preserved fort perched on a nearby cliff from where they can see way past the borders of the Marine Natural Reserve.
With so few vessel arrivals to the islands that are not cargo vessels that announce their arrival or have their arrival scheduled, any sailing vessel coming in at the speeds we do is spotted with plenty of time to become the gossip of the authorities even before setting foot on land.
Before the authorities arrive Marco explains the rules of the island, where’s what and explains the fees we need to pay to be here in Fernando de Noronha. There’s a daily fee for the boat and a daily fee for each of us, these are taxes related to preservation funds for the Marine Natural Reserve and are quite steep. There's also a steep fee to visit the Marine Natural Park that is paid separately which allows to use and visit the some of th beaches on the south side of the island but we figured the island is so beautiful everywhere you go that we would skip those extra expenses.
Marco waivers all fees from the day we arrived and tells us that if we leave early in the morning he won’t charge us that day although the charges are by calendar day. We decided to stay 3 days and leave the early morning of the 4th day.
In January 2023, the Taxa de Ancoragem (Anchoring Tax) for our size boat was around 226$ Reais per day (roughly 41€) whilst the Taxa de Preservação Ambiental (Environmental Preservation Tax) was 92.90$ Reais (roughly 16.85€) per person per day!
More info on these taxes can be found on the official Fernando de Noronha Local Government website: https://www.noronha.pe.gov.br/catalogo-de-servicos/taxa-de-preservacao-ambiental-tpa/ although the tax can be paid in advance online it is not advisable for sailors to do it because any delay or changes needed have to be sorted at the airport, and that requires plane tickets etc., and they don’t know how to deal with vessel arrivals there.
When the relevant authorities finally show up, it’s very much our surprise only one of them is wearing a uniform (Navy), the other two are wearing beach shorts and just a sports T-shirt, and even Marco or the harbourmaster are dressed casually. While trying to understand who the other two authorities are I comment how surprised we were for such relaxed attire because I had read that to visit Brazilian authorities you need to dress in formal pants included, and although John is not wearing pants (it’s 33C degrees) he is wearing his fancy shorts and a shirt while I’m wearing the coolest skirt/shorts I have from my work wardrobe. They just bust laughing and explain that I am right about the need for formal attire but this is Noronha and except for the Navy guy the others are just on call and were actually at the beach enjoying the day.
I gathered that one is the Policia Federal (Vinicius that will become our friend) and that the second guy dressed casually is also from the Navy but is more comfortable speaking English than the one wearing a uniform and they all knew we were a foreign vessel.
10 minutes of filling out another form and then preparing some declarations while laughing and talking, and it’s mostly all done.
The Navy guys prepared our entrance and departure documents. Now that’s what I call efficiency.
Then the Policia Federal says we need to go with him to stamp our passports and finish his side of the paperwork. Since I speak Portuguese and the general mood has become even more casual than in normal situations he says he will take us to the ATM that is nearby their office, but he needs to stop somewhere first to pick up a colleague that is flying out that afternoon. With his colleague in the car, we head to their office where they confirm that we should be able to easily get a 90 days visa extension to our 90 days tourist visa.
We struggle to get money out of the ATM because we need to authorise the transaction in advance online, and the free Wi-Fi service the island offers seems to be down where we are. We try the airport since we are stopping there anyway because of his colleague but no luck. Vinicius then tries to see if this Wi-Fi network is working on the other side of the island by one of the entrances to the Marine Nature Park. This is one of the famous beaches, but because there are currently Tiger Sharks at that beach it’s closed to the public, and without being able to enjoy the beach fully there are not many tourists there so he hopes the antenna has more bandwidth available, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the problem. The Wi-Fi network seems to be down on most of the island.
He took us back to the harbourmaster's office but invites us later in the day to join him for some sunset drinks at the most popular vantage point of the island. Vinicius's dream is to have his own sailboat and go sailing with his family, so he is very interested in talking boat stuff, and anyone who knows us knows we are a bit "chatty Cathy"!
At the harbourmaster we managed to get the Wi-Fi working and sort out our financial details, Marco is so casual that simply says we can pay our fees the following day, no worries.
Word of warning we paid an additional ATM 9% fee for withdrawing money on the island by the local bank.
We get our money later in the afternoon and pay Marco the following morning.
***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 check in and out procedures with location for the Harbourmaster that will assist and organize the entire process