Mindelo, São Vicente Island, Cape Verde - the wrong turn
Arriving Mindelo on a Friday afternoon just before Xmas showed us how laid back things are in the Cape Verde’s. Maritime police closes at 4pm but to be able to check in you need to get to their office before 3pm and immigration seems not to really care if you only come to do check the following Monday.
We dropped our anchor in the middle of the anchorage, surrounded by mostly French boats all of them vaguely familiar from previous stops on our journey from Portugal.
Started immediately tidying up all the lines associated with the Whisker Pole, removing the jacklines and stowing our foul weather gear and life jackets.
All of a sudden we hear someone screaming our names.
It was no mistake, there was someone we knew in this anchorage, yet we hadn’t noticed any familiar yachts as we entered it. In a short moment we identified the voices calling us, it was our friends from SV Cuba whom we had met in Malta after our Medicane ride in 2020. We had bumped again in Fethiye Turkey just before last winter and now here we were again catching up. They were anchored way far from the actual anchorage and had jumped on their dinghy to say hi as they saw us moving in.
Night fell soon after or at least that’s what it felt like to us slightly sleep depraved. It seems that once the anchor is set we immediately feel the tiredness of having spent a few days at sea, although moments before we were almost fresh as a lettuce on market day. Needless to say we went to bed reasonably early even to our standards.
Morning after, Saturday the 24th, we rolled out of bed feeling refreshed. Had our morning coffee in the cockpit while watching the comings and goings of our anchorage neighbours.
Watched to our surprise the local fisherman on a wooden boat moved by oars and outboard casting a net right there amongst all the boats and then let it drift before quickly trying to pick it up before it got tangled in the anchor chains.
Oh what a scene it was. They repeated the task a few more times before John took me to shore in the dinghy. I needed to go buy us a local SIM card with internet while he returned to The Dream to do some more tidying up tasks.
For a Saturday morning the streets were jammed packed with people trying to get their last shopping for Xmas eve done.
Soon enough I noticed the huge queues in front of all banks and ATMs, it seemed there was no money left to be withdrawn anywhere in town. It made me wonder if I would be able to even buy the internet, hopefully they would take Euros.
After quite some wondering in town I found the phone shop to buy the internet, it was the first one I had seen but it was closed at the time I passed by it the first time. With that sorted it was time to head back to the boat and give Ella a big swim.
Mid afternoon we decided to go out to the marina bar for lunch, the expectation wasn’t high but couldn’t be bothered to go further afield after all the running around in the morning and the cleaning.
I picked Conch stew with fries while John picked a burger to my surprise. What the Conch lacked in presentation it made up for in flavour, it was delicious. Johns burger was plain and boring.
We headed back to The Dream, gave Ella another swim and settled for the night without fully realising it was the Xmas eve.
Sunday brought some strongish winds, gusting to 30knots. Surprisingly no boats dragging or any other dramas, had this been in the Mediterranean it would have been a day of stress and some entertainment.
We stayed onboard all day, committed to celebrate Xmas with a BBQ at sundown, the Mahi-Mahi needed to be marinated, the prawns defrosted, the BBQ cleaned.
By sunset an ex-IMOCA entered the anchorage with a broken mast just above the second spreader, besides looking tired they looked lost not really knowing where to go. They tried anchoring on the ferry path but with some effort screaming and waving we managed to tell them that where they were was a NO GO zone.
I frantically waved and tried to call anybody that was on their dinghy or had the dinghy on the water to go and help them (our dinghy was on deck, John had hurt his back and blowing 30knots meant it was impossible for me to put our dinghy in the water) but it seemed everyone was completely oblivious to the huge yacht with a broken mast right in front of their eyes.
Eventually the skipper and crew of the IMOCA understood they couldn’t anchor there but not the reason why. We told them it would be better if they anchored behind us, they asked the depths and were ok with the reply of 5 to 6 meters.
After some fussing around they managed to get anchored behind us and right on time the big ferry arrived at full speed and did its turn around before docking, the guys from the IMOCA realised on what pickle they would have been on their first anchoring spot.
But something felt strange, it had not been blowing that hard in the last few days close to the Cape Verde’s. It had blown reasonably hard near the Canaries but if they had broken the mast during that blow it would make more sense for them to have returned to Las Palmas for example than to the Cape Verde’s where performing such repair would be at least near impossible. A quick check on Marine Traffic and we were even more confused. It showed their last port of call was São Salvador in Brazil?? Another search this time on Facebook revealed that the boat name “Terre Exotique” showed up as a gourmet shop specialised in spices, a quick scroll on that page identified a post from the 9th December stating their sailboat that they use to transport spices under sail had broken the mast off the coast of Brazil and after a repair performed to stabilise the mast the skipper (and business owner I can only guess) had decided to carry on with the original plan of sailing to Cape Verde’s for Xmas and then to continue north via Azores to reach Sables D’Olonne?!
What the heck? The frenchies are crazy!
With the mystery solved we settled down for the night and had a quiet but delicious Xmas dinner.
Monday morning saw us heading in to town early to get to the commercial harbour area to do our check in. It was a very relaxed procedure that consisted on filling out a similar form at Immigration office and then again at Maritime Police, where they kept our registration papers.
We took the chance to have a proper walk, now that life seemed to have returned to the town. Checked the veggie market, gave a glance at the fish market and even wondered the stalls that sell touristy stuff and knock-off products.
The following days would be very much a repeat of Monday with the exception of the time spent working on the shade curtains project.
A visit to the supermarket revealed how harsh life here must be for the locals. All staple products were nearly fifty percent more expensive than in Portugal or Spain and these were Portuguese brands mostly from one of the biggest Portuguese supermarket chains. Any "luxury" products like chocolate or crisps was at least double the price. Even bread seemed to be quite expensive and very refined!
Day after day we wondered what kept our anchorage neighbours busy all day in town and for so many days. Some of the boats had been here for at least a week before we arrived and the comings and goings meant they were staying in town and not doing tours around the island.
Mindelo is a very quiet town with little to do in terms of sightseeing and visiting. There’s some street art that catches the eye, a few buildings from the Portuguese colonial time but that seems to be it.
After nearly a week in town we went to get our registration papers back and decided to move to an anchorage more to the south of the island by the airport. The idea was to move to another island for New Years Eve.
We lifted anchor and prepared to leave the Bay of Mindelo. A nice breeze was blowing from the north so we had our minds set up for some potential acceleration in the channel between the islands of São Vicente and Santo Antão. Jib on and let’s go!
A few other boats had departed at similar times. The reality of the day sail was shocking, we had all counted with the NE trade winds that we were feeling in the anchorage however for some bizarre reason the winds felt on the channel between the two islands were from south! Dead on the nose!
What a bizarre local effect of the blow from the previous day one could only think of, for the entire week we had seen the wind blow in the channel persistently with the trades but now it was against it. Like this we would arrive the next anchorage we’ll after dark. It would be a day of hard work in the heat our way, we decided to motor through close to shore and at least appreciate the amazing landscape of the island.
The moment we left the bay of Mindelo it looked like we were sailing past a virgin island, not a single house to be seen amongst the steep mountainous range. Truly breathtaking and so contrasting with the town that felt rather boring after a few days.
We anchored in the the Bay of S.Pedro just by the airport. A convenient anchorage for the following days plan.
Anchor down, full crew in the water, two giving the hull an inspection and a clean, one fluffing around as usual. It’s easy to guess who that was “Ella of course”
We had sat in the nutrient and dirt rich waters of Las Palmas for a month and the water in the Bay of Mindelo is probably as nutrient rich so we needed to do some check on how the Coppercoat was preforming. We knew we had some goose-barnacles growing on the stern area that gets the water splash, we probably had not sanded the Coppercoat enough on that area but they were coming off super easily with just a gentle rub of a dishwashing scourer. A quick inspection revealed some thin slime throughout the hull and some hard growth here and there that also came off with the same gentle rub.
With hot showers done, from the comfort of our cockpit we checked the beach through the binoculars, a group of kids were having fun in the breaking waves, a group of fisherman trying to get a wooden boat in the water. The crashing waves looked a bit sporty.
And then we noticed a portion of the beach right on the corner past the fisherman area that looked pink. A closer look and we could tell that was where the fisherman discarded the conch shells, the pile was huge and it had also caught the attention of a few tourists that were wandering the beach. It made me wonder the sustainability of all of it.
Morning came and we up anchor early with the intention of sailing to the island of São Nicolau with a potential stop at the island of Sta Luzia. Hoisted the Mainsail, opened the Jib and slowly sailed out of the bay with a very gentle wind from the stern. As we passed the cape the wind became on the nose, we pushed through and started gaining speed trying to clear the influence of the island and expecting the wind to become a beam reach. It didn’t happen we were going dead upwind heading south!!! To make way eastwards we would have to tack hard uncountable times.
That’s when we came to full realisation of our mistake. We should have made landfall on the most Eastern island of the archipelago, Sal and then make way towards West because of the NE trade winds. Now, to visit most of the islands we wanted to see we would always be beating to the trades, doable but a bit tiring if that is to become all of the next passages.
Cape Verde only has three ports of entry, two in the north and one in the south that is famously known for the heavy criminality and considered a NO GO for sailboats. With a 30 days limit visa we came to the conclusion that this was not how we wanted to spend he next weeks when we still needed to prepare for the longest crossing we have ever done. After quite a bit of discussion we had to accept our mistake, turn around and back track our sail all the way to Mindelo.
With all the delays in Madeira waiting for parts and then again in Las Palmas waiting for the whisker pole parts we were getting delayed on the season to cross to Brazil. Trying to visit all the islands in less favourable conditions was yet another burden when what we should be happening was getting ready for the crossing.
It had suddenly hit us all this.
The new plan was to finish the last tasks that had been raised during the last passage (servicing the steering wheels bearing, clean the hull, last provisioning) and depart probably in the first week of the year.
On our arrival to Mindelo we passed the big Japanese tuna processing ship. A Chinese fishing vessel was rafted up to it offloading massive amounts of tuna.
Again that thought of how unsustainable all this is.
We felt how bizarre our entire year had been, a constant rush to get somewhere, followed by long idle periods either waiting for stuff or working on stuff while waiting for other stuff. Plans that don’t go as planned…
It felt we had became slaves of our own projects but we knew that it would all pay off, 2023 would be a great year!
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COMwebsite sailors community.