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  • Writer's pictureAna

Sailing north, up the Brazilian coast - Maceió to Cabedelo

The second leg of our journey north was with much more favourable conditions. No forecast of thunderstorms, calmer seas, but also calmer winds.

It seemed to line up for either a bliss of an upwind sail or a motoring session.


We left after lunch together with our friends from SV Noah, they had sailed to Maceió nearly a week earlier than us and had experienced serious problems. It felt nice for both crews to buddy boat for the 200 nautical miles of this leg although we were in different time schedules given our passports allowed visa extensions and theirs didn’t.

The afternoon started very light, but we started with a reefed mainsail as a precaution. One hour into our journey and with a sky without traces of Pirajás clouds we decided to shake the reef and get some more speed to power us on our softish beat upwind on 45 degrees AWA (apparent wind angle). The wind, just like on our previous leg, was blowing southeast true, apparent east.

This, was still part of a cold front that fad developed way in the south of Brazil and caused a lively arrival to Itajaí by the Ocean Race fleet and had also caused trouble to some of the Golden Globe Race contenders. For us, these winds were just about the perfect opportunity for us to be able to get to the north of the country less painfully (still being beaten up by Pirajás and punished by the northeast prevailing swell).

We kept the same strategy of staying closer to shore with a slight current in our favour but not enough to lift the sea state as opposed to going a bit more offshore into the strong northbound current where the chop can be considerable against the prevailing northeast swell and where the winds would also be a bit stronger.

There was also not much desire for speed because we wanted to arrive with daylight and high tide.


We sailed most of the first day with full sails, but by nightfall, we reefed the mainsail to keep a similar speed to our friends and stay within sight of each other. It was a pleasant sail without squalls, a reasonably comfortable upwind. A nice experience to see their navigation lights just a nautical mile from us all the time.

By morning the winds had softened a bit, and our speed dropped considerably, it was time to shake the reefed mainsail again. The wind was now beamier as we had been following the contour of the land and was pointing much further north. We expected around the middle of the day to have the winds a bit after the beam, and our speed to reduce considerably given the wind speeds were not expected to increase.

By the time we got near Recife and the commercial harbour just to its south, it was time to start keeping an eye on the cargo vessels that tear down this coast as close to shore as we were sailing at 20knots SOG (speed over ground). Although our AIS (automatic identification system) is on, one can never be sure they are paying attention. From our experience, it is always best to call them whenever our courses are quite close and be sure they understand we are under sail.

Not long after, and just past lunchtime, we saw a big cloud formation East of us. It looked like a potential squall, a big one.

We powered up the radar that was on standby since morning and saw it, the big pink stain indicating that we were right, a Pirajá (what they call squalls in Brazil) was less than 5 nautical miles from us and sucking all of our wind leaving us with slow speeds.

We decided our approach to this, two things could happen, lots of rain and no wind or more wind than we could wish for considering we had full sails. We decided to reef the Jib depending on what SV Noah suffered given they were at least 1 nautical mile windward from us. We kept our eyes on the chartplotter taking mental note of any information change in the little icon that identifies our friend's boat through AIS.

Their speed and direction were steady, and then it just went from normal speed to fast and bearing way. That was our sign we had to reef now!

John quickly turned us on 120 degrees AWA while I furled the Jib as fast as I could to a reef 3, and then we turned back to our course and waited for the smack.

The wind started increasing from 8-10 knots to 15-16 and then 20-23 knots whilst our SOG also increased accordingly from 5-5.5 to 7.5-8 knots. We started bearing way also getting the strongest gusts on 120 degrees AWA for comfort and then bringing it back to course whenever the gust passed.

The squall, as usual, was travelling from East to West but not very fast now we were going dead North at a good pace, despite the squall dimension we would come out from under it reasonably fast but of course that also has its consequences. We lost wind completely in no time but got left with some messy sea state. This was a big squall in size but not in power.

We still tried to unfurl the Jib and squeeze whatever wind was left but ended up giving up, packing the sail and turning the engine on for less than 30 minutes when we started getting wind at 7 knots, not amazing, but something we could work with if upwind.

In no time we were back sailing and even doing 5-5.5 knots again with the light winds.

We had no more squalls to annoy us during the rest of the trip, but as the night settled in the wind shifted more and more downwind while our course also turned more and more north.


By dinner time we were left with very little breeze (now that it was downwind it was not strong enough to push us forward) and with a very sloppy sea that made keeping the mainsail up for stability an absolute torture. We dropped the mainsail and turned the engine on, the entrance to Cabedelo was just a few hours ahead of us.

Progressively the water became shallower and the sea state sloppier.

To our port side, we could see Cabedelo beachfront light and listen to the waves and swell on the reef. It was quite difficult to find the buoyed channel with its small flashing red and green lights against a such lite background, to add to the confusion a big dredger seemed to be anchored right on the buoyed channel entrance. We entered the channel mid-way just as the incoming tide started, the buoys didn’t seem to be matching the chart, but it was quite clear our path once we were inside the channel. We passed the refinery and the commercial dock with their bright lights and constant engine rumbling only to be left in pitch dark again and without channel markers to follow.

Earlier that day we had received a message on the Brazilian Help Task WhatsApp group from a fellow sailor already in Cabedelo warning us about the existence of two unlighted barges on that section of the river, and that a French aluminium boat had collided with one of them at night and made a considerable hole on their hull, so at this point our eyes were wide open trying to identify their position. Eventually, we managed to see the two dark shadows ahead of us just before we turned slightly to starboard to proceed to Marina Jacare Village.

We approached the anchorage, and by 3 am we were safely anchored and ready to go to bed.

This was going to be our home for a week while we prepared for the next leg further north up the Brazilian coats.


***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.

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