Sailing the north coast of Brazil - Cabedelo to Camocim
We stayed in Cabedelo for a week enjoying a much-deserved time tied up to a pontoon and catching up with all the cleaning that the high temperatures and high humidity paired with copious amounts of rain had not allowed lately. Although we had not found the need to run the generator we had also not had enough power to produce the usual amounts of water needed for all the washing etc, we had simply been enjoying the day-to-day with whatever the solar panels provided and the LiFePo4 tolerated. We had enough power to cook and make water for showers.
Here we enjoyed the company of our friends from SV Noah and made new friends with whom we enjoyed great sundowners full of interesting and fun conversations. In common we all had breakages of different natures, the challenges of getting things fixed in Brazil and the fact we all had our sailing plans reshuffled.
The day before our departure was an annoying one. In the morning we needed to go to João Pessoa town to go to the Capitania to get our clearance papers for the next port. This is a very annoying and repetitive process where everyone just keeps taking copies and more copies of the documents they already have copies only to give a little piece of paper as irrelevant as possible stating we arrived on a certain date and departed at another date towards port Xx. An expensive task in the case of this port because of how far the Capitania is.
With the administrative part of the day done all we could do now was to wait for the change of the tide. Marina Jacaré Village is in the Paraíba do Norte River with very strong currents, and all manoeuvring has to be done at slack tide and in our case high tide. We waited and waited, we were on Spring tides which meant that no one actually was sure when the slack tide was, the Marinero constantly checked the water flow and told us: “Maybe 30 more minutes” the 30 more minutes became a few hours to the point we decided this was getting silly and we should just untie from the dock and go. With the help of our friends and one marinero on the dock dealing with our mooring lines and the usual marinero, Fernando sorting out our bowlines we exited the dock safely.
At Marina Jacaré they tie your mooring lines on the bow to the tip of their mooring line which is tied to a slim line. A very peculiar twist on the Med mooring technique that makes for a hell of a mess on arrival and departure because it means you need to pass your bow mooring lines to a dinghy that then will tie them to the marina mooring lines, and only after you can tighten the bow while on normal marinas the bow line is grabbed with a slime line to the dock and is passed on to someone either on a dinghy or on board to quickly tie the bow tight.
With our successful departure from the dock, it was now time to anchor close to the marina to deal with our muddy mooring (bow) lines and wait for the following day for the actual departure.
But the shenanigans were not yet finished with our return to be at anchor. We had anchored with a scope of 1 to 4 with a good distance from a catamaran only to find him not long after really close to us as the tide changed. We of course lifted anchor and adjusted our position given we were the newcomers only to find them close to us again?!
Were they dragging slowly with the change of the tide, or did they have all their chain out maybe on a scope of 1 to 10??
We couldn’t tell but decided having to anchor for a third time was already busting our patience so decided to go further back and risk being on the path of incoming water taxis etc, than be at the mercy of a catamaran with all chains out for no reason whatsoever.
With our anchoring spot finally sorted we prepared for an early night the plan was to depart the following morning just after sunrise.
The morning after at 7 am we lifted anchor and made our way pushed down the Paraiba River by the outgoing tide. The view of the riverbank was quite nice, we had arrived during the night so we had missed all these details.
In no time we were already on the buoyed channel on the outside of Cabedelo past the commercial harbour and refinery. It is always a bit of a shock to see these huge industrial structures and big tankers just next to pristine mangrove areas full of wildlife, they seem so out of place and so affronting.
We proceeded to the buoyed channel, the dredging barge was still moored to the entrance of the channel, just like the week before when we arrived. As we came close to the last channel marker, we took the chance to turn port and start our journey north.
The wind was still too light for us to sail, and given how close we still were to the reef we motored for a few hours hoping to get out of this windless area that formed around Cabedelo.
5 hours after lifting anchor we would finally find some wind, just enough to keep our sails full allowing us to sail even if at a slow speed. Having a bit of current in our favour for sure helped.
The day progressed calmly, with shy sunshine and little to no waves.
This journey was going to be all downwind or at least that was what we had expected and prepared for, preventer lines were installed, the whisker pole was in position, and the Jib sail poled.
Everyone on board was in a good mood.
We passed the occasional fishing boat, none giving us trouble. Interestingly enough our paths didn’t cross with any cargo vessel during the day, but during the night we saw quite a few.
John even caught a Bonito tuna!
On the second day, finally we got on the breeze and a bit more on the path of the current. Our plan was to get in the proper current as we passed Natal and then bend the Eastern tip of Brazil, and so we did. We were now having a great time with the assistance of the 2-3 knots favourable current.
We put out the fishing rods again, and not even mid-morning we had landed a beautiful Mahi-mahi that took us most of the morning to prepare for freezing.
The sail was just beautiful, the new autopilot was behaving superbly.
Night came, and as we came closer to Fortaleza we started seeing more cargo vessels, but also listening to a lot of VHF chatter.
Throughout the night the wind also started to increase, and together with it, the swell was now powered extra by the current. We started putting reefs on the main without ever turning into the winds, a technique that although it doesn’t produce fast reefs allows for safer work on deck and the chance to avoid absolute slamming which was what we needed to avoid at this point. We came to a reef two on the mainsail, but at the same time, we had also added reefs to the Jib. At the top of the wind gusts we had nearly 35 knots, the sea state and surf were just incredible, even heavily reefed we were still doing 11.8 knots of SOG (Speed Over Ground). At this point, we were starting to get worried if we were doing these speeds heavily reef what speeds would we be doing with more wind or more current in favour?
We decided we needed to do more to slow us down so the decision was to head to the shallows and try to get out of the stronger currents. And so we did in no time we were sailing just 5 miles distance from the shore on 8 to 10 metres water deep, but we had managed to slow down.
The entire third day was spent a bit with a clenched stomach because we are not used to sailing in such shallow waters, but eventually, the wind settled in the low 20s as the afternoon was coming to an end and night approaching.
The other reason for us to try and slow down was that we needed to arrive early morning at the Coreaú river entrance, and at this pace we would arrive nearly 8h before high tide!
As we were coming close to Camocim we decided it would be best if anchored for a few hours of sleep in Jericoacoara, a not very protected anchorage some 3 to 4 hours before Camocim. We arrived at Jericoacoara just at dinner time, the sky was pitch black, but we came closer to shore as we thought reasonable given the lack of visibility. We anchored in 5 metres deep, heated up dinner and went to bed.
The following morning we got up just before sunrise and lifted anchor close to 4.30am the goal was to get to the Coreaú River entrance by 8am, Navionics and the tide charts we could find online for that area had a discrepancy of 1h so we played by the ear 8am seemed to put us in a good position even if it was at the top of the tide to enter.
Crossing this bar was a bit of a leap of faith the river water is muddy murky making impossible to identify any shallows or reefs all we had to give us confidence was the blog of a French catamaran that had been in this place maybe not even two full months before us and another French catamaran that we know from Tunisia that had been there the year before, both had commented that the Navionics charts were very accurate.
We had arrived on the morning tide with very little wind, the swell from the previous day had nearly disappeared, and the morning tide was higher.
We proceeded with extreme care, the engine just ticking at 1400RPMs the incoming tide slowly pulling us in. Between the two of us with eyes on the chart, the water in front of us and the depth sounder we felt reasonably confident we could do this without putting our dinghy in the water and having John survey the entrance with the portable chartplotter and depth sounder transmitting via wifi to the boat chartplotter and via VHF to me directly.
A very nervous 1h as we made our way through the narrow passage, but we did cross it without any hiccups. Once cleared the shallows, sand bars and rocks we could actually appreciate the anchorage we were entering.
To our Port side big sand dunes and some big shacks we figured were related to tourism activities, and to our Starboard the village of Camocim.
We dropped anchor in front of the big sand dune, despite our efforts to understand if there was any area less affected by the strong currents that are felt here. Our estimate was that we were experiencing 2-3 knots current a quick read on a set of pilot books for commercial mariners confirmed the current strength at around 3 knots!
We just dropped more chain and settled in, there was not much traffic on the river just a few fishermen in pirogues and a couple of water taxis that go upriver from the pontoon on the opposite margin to us (so not coming even close to us) and the two barges that transported the Buggy cars and motorbikes when tourists show up to ride on the dunes but that is done closer to the river entrance, so despite being smack bang in the middle of one of the river branches it didn’t matter.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.