Sailing north, up the Brazilian coast - Salvador to Maceió
We left Salvador early morning with a forecast of south easterlies that had already been blowing for a few days.
We knew from friends that had left a few days earlier in similar conditions that the bar of Salvador would be messy, extremely choppy and bumpy.
And so it was, but we had to push through and take the best opportunity to start our journey north on a coast that is normally affected by northeasterly winds and swell.
Of course, having south to southeasterly winds and a northbound current against the prevailing northeast swell could very well mean raised seas, so we picked a reasonably light forecast hoping that the persistent weather system had turned the swell a bit more easterly.
Contrary to our friends and a few other foreign boats that had done this same journey, we decided to stay close to shore an area around 20-40 metres deep, around 5 nautical miles out from shore because we had read that the inshore current that runs northbound is slightly weaker closer to shore, and we had noticed when sailing south that the swell and chop seemed to abate considerably in this area, whilst the area of 100 metres and then 1000 metres was always much more lively, probably influenced by the stronger current against the swell.
We had hoped for a journey with fewer factors against us than what our friends had experienced.
Once we managed to exit the bar and pass behind the sand bank we were somehow protected from the considerable swell rolling into the Baia de Todos os Santos bar entrance.
It didn’t take us long to find the current we had read about, coinciding with an outgoing tide it was giving us a nice push in the right direction for a change.
Shortly after we made our turn north we lost the wind that we had been feeling. For hours that day, the wind would blow nearly nothing (up to 4 knots) or it would be 15-18 knots whenever we got hit by squalls (called Pirajás in Brazil).
We would get many throughout the day, but mostly we motor sailed. Between the current and the apparent wind generated by the motoring, we were able to use the sails to give us that extra push, doing often 7knots of SOG (Speed Over Ground). We waited the entire day for winds close to what the 3 forecast models had suggested without any luck. It was well into late afternoon when we got some wind around 12 knots, and we could finally sail.
During John’s first watch after dinner, he spotted some small flashing red lights in the water to our Port side. They were far away enough not to cause us trouble, but they raised our attention levels. Those seemed to be fishing nets, and there were a few fishing boats closer to shore.
Of course, none showed up on our radar because they are all tiny wooden boats, and none of them has navigation lights, just a random white light.
On the cautious side, we decided to sail with the steaming light on (which makes our headsail glow) to give a bigger visual reference to the fishing boats.
Shortly after I take on my shift I noticed the same small flashing lights also on my Port side but this time they were green. Again they seem to be at a safe distance, but still, I keep my eye on it. Then all of a sudden a new green flashing light turns on reasonably close to us so I poked my head out trying to see if I can understand what they are. All of a sudden the corner of my eye catches a shadow moving. Shit, it's a fishing boat without any lights whatsoever!
I only have time to scream for John while I run to the opposite helm station to disengage the autopilot and turn hard to starboard while screaming at John asking if he can see the boat, are we clear from him?
This was probably our closest call so far with a fishing boat, it was, I’m sure, just a matter of metres that we didn’t just sail through him at 6 knots. Something similar happened to us when sailing from Fernando de Noronha.
As we avoid collision successfully, the fishermen finally turned some white lights on. Still, no navigation lights!
I brought the boat back to our course. I had turned us upwind so hard that we were near stalling by now.
We picked up speed again and continued our course now with a racing heart. We spent the rest of our night watches poking our heads out trying to see unlit fishing boats, but luckily we didn’t get into another situation like that again.
The second day finally brought some wind but also brought lots of reasonably strong squalls. We were sailing with a reefed mainsail (we have learned our lesson here in Brazil, and we just leave it reefed to avoid the constant trouble of reefing and getting smacked), and by mid-morning had already lost count of the number of times we had to pack the Jib because of violent squalls. And then, after each squall, the wind would be gone for a while. So there was quite a bit of motoring involved.
Pirajás (squalls in Brazilian) at sunset
In normal conditions, we would probably not motor, but we were on a very tight window, on a very tight spot. We needed to get to Maceió by Friday lunchtime due to the massive thunderstorms forecast, and we were limited to a reasonably narrow plateau of 20-30 depths where we have current in favour and get less affected by the predominant swell from East to Southeast (precisely our direction) also the southeasterly winds manifest as easterly winds that when we are lucky are on 50-70 degrees of AWA (apparent wind angle). With a fine tune of how can we sail these angles, against this swell without heading even closer to shore and then being in a more difficult position sailing-wise.
Not our proudest sail, but given the conditions this was what suited us best.
Pirajás (squalls in Brazilian) at sunset
The arrival to Maceió was easy although the anchorage is quite tight, framed to one side by shallows, areas marked as no anchoring zones, and so close to the commercial harbour that you might be filled to think you are in it. We anchored twice, never very happy with our position relative to the boats around us on mooring balls so we decided to anchor just past the anchorage zone on the shoulder of the shallows just outside of an area marked as a no anchoring zone.
Here we would wait for the thunderstorms to pass before keeping on our journey up the coast.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.