Sailing to Camamu, the waterfalls and back to Salvador
With our autopilot fixed or so we thought, provisioning done to last us a couple of weeks and a bit of sightseeing of Salvador done we were about to sail further south to visit our friends Rita and Rubens, who we had seen last in Turkey in 2020.
It was time to run away from the chaos of Carnaval that would become in Salvador and head towards a much lower profile location.
We had left Aratu Iate Club the day before towards Itaparica to be close to the bay entrance when we departed the following morning. We wanted to get out in open water early in the day to enjoy some good sailing, and we wanted to arrive at Morro de São Paulo and Gamboa still with daylight.
We were lucky that our departure time was going to coincide with outgoing tide so it should be a treat leaving the bay and heading south, we only needed to keep distance from a shallow area close to Itaparica island on the seaside and then with an area that is used by cargos at anchor waiting for orders to enter the bay.
It was a bright sunny day, the wind was going to be from the East, and maybe if we were lucky a bit of Northeast in it to help us sail down the coast.
Our mood was high, after all, our autopilot was working again!
The sail started light, but with a gentle pace, we were making good progress when all of a sudden the autopilot stopped making any noise, and we started losing our track. We knew that situation, the pilot had overheated again?! With very little load??
Back to hand steering, open the cockpit locker to feel the temperature, and yes, no doubt the autopilot was very hot.
Shortly after this, the wind picked up a bit, and the chop of coastal sailing could be felt.
Very annoyed we took turns hand steering to Morro de São Paulo where we had planned to stay for the night.
The coastline was quite pretty, the long stretch of white sand beach without any buildings to be seen stunning, but our mind was only on autopilot. We entered the river passed the sandbars marked on the chart and clearly visible ahead of us, passed the fishing village and anchored where friends had told us to (apparently the holding closer to the village is not very good).
We were extremely upset and confused not understanding why had the autopilot stopped working again. We replaced the fuse again, reassembled the backup tiller pilot mounting apparatus, installed the wind vane and rudder for the Hydrovane and tried to enjoy the sunset before putting the day behind our backs.
We had now decided we were going to Camamu the following morning, but we were going to test the autopilot on the route.
The following morning we made our way towards Camamu as planned and tested the autopilot that after a few hours was again not working. The Tiller pilot was back on, amazing view and a big squall. That was the big portion of our day.
As we were arriving at the Marau River entrance to the bay of Camamu our focus was, besides the navigation of this shallow area, to find out where our friends were. We had not understood if they had a house there, but we knew their boat was there.
As I’m texting them to let them know we are arriving I see a boat that we recognise on the first anchorage where we had planned to stop after arriving to wait for our friend's instructions. It was their boat, and it was on a mooring ball.
We anchored close by. In no time, we received a message from our friends telling us to meet them at the beach bar behind their boat, their house was just behind the beach bar.
We rushed to the beach to be received with the biggest hugs and smiles we could expect, we were finally reunited with our friends.
The following day of our arrival we decided to disassemble the autopilot for a proper fault diagnosis and remote hope of repair that would not come true.
After all of that exercise of disassembling, the research for alternatives and the decision of what to do about it we came to the conclusion we would have shelve our plans of sailing further south. Camamu was going to be the furthest south we would sail on this journey to Brazil, the new plan was to go north towards the Caribbean (eventually). With a plan set in motion, we decided to make the most of our time here before we had to head back to Salvador.
The bay of Camamu and more specifically Ilha do Campinho where our friends were now based is a very simple place. This island is mostly sand, and people live in small fishermen's huts built very informally over the sand although some now are much bigger than they were but still just simple houses. The roads aren’t paved, and the mobile signal is fluffy to say the best, there’s only a signal literally by the tower and even then not in all directions.
This place is still very much what it was decades ago when the famous French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from Little Prince used to visit while he was working as a pilot on the French Airmail services. In fact the name of the island where our friends now live, Campinho means little field and refers to the still-existing small airfield that Saint-Exupéry used to land on when coming to visit. With such a famous connection one would think this place vibrated with tourists, but except for the beach partygoers from the region and a few people from Salvador that come here often, the place is not swarmed with tourism like in other places.
With our friend's advice, we set ourselves on a small exploring mission, we were going to visit one of their favourite anchorages and then sail up or motor up the river to some local waterfalls.
We sailed to Ilha dos Tatus and anchored on one of the side river channels away from the local traffic that uses the main river branch as their highway. A very quiet place just outside mobile signal coverage where we could go forage for coconuts on our dinghy adventures around the island and nearby anchorages.
From here we set to go upriver to visit the Tramambé waterfalls. Navigating the Marau River was our first experience with tidal river currents and shallow waters.
Although the bay of Camamu doesn’t have a refinery a couple of decades ago a big pier was built with the idea of transforming the place as a facility to drain some of the region’s products, but the project never took off beyond the construction of the pier and the bridge that connected the island to the mainland. So the charts are very accurate at the Marau River entrance and around Ilha do Campinho, but beyond that the level of accuracy diminishes a bit further away but still quite reliable.
Most of the navigation we did going up this river was between 3 to 6 meters in depth and in some places up to 8 maybe 10 meters at high tide. It was quite surprising how shallow the area was. And how strong the current was!
We went up the Marau River making a short stop at the last town, Marau to wait for the incoming tide before embarking on the adventure of getting our ocean sailing 50ft with a 2.3-metre draft in the narrow and shallow river where the waterfalls are.
A French catamaran we had met a few days earlier had shared with us their experience going up the Marau River pointing out the tricky areas where we needed to be really close to shore to avoid the sand banks.
The big challenge for us was definitely our draft, if we ran aground there weren’t any boats with strong enough motors to help us move. There were a few narrow passages where we would be way closer to shore than comfortable, but the view and experience were amazing, at the lowest point of our navigation we found ourselves in 3.4 metres of water on a tight bend.
Slowly, slowly we made our way up marvelling at sighting the mangrove so close to us, here and there a house or two, looking so isolated, but in the middle of the silence of the river we could hear in the distance cars at a reasonable speed. For sure a main road was nearby but hidden by the jungle.
After a while we arrived at the intersection point of a few small tributary rivers to this main waterway, we could no longer carry on, we had to anchor here right in the middle where depths were safe and where we had room to swing on anchor. The water was pitch black, tea tree-like. I had never been in such dark-coloured water, I had seen it in Australia but not been in it.
Around us several very small birds chirping, black and yellow super fast flyers.
We stayed the rest of the day onboard just enjoying their presence, the scenery and the feeling of this new place.
The following morning we started the day early playing with Ella in the water while waiting for the incoming tide to allow us to dinghy up one of the tributary rivers to get to the waterfalls and have lunch there. Mid-morning the tide was high enough to allow us to go without local knowledge, with the main channel completely clear there was no risk of us getting lost in a mangrove maze trying to avoid the sand banks and mud flats. As we went up the tributary the channel got narrower and narrower. Us passing the very few locals on their pirogues able to actually say good morning to them, wish them a good day and hear their local accents and awe that the gringos speak their language.
As we started getting closer and closer after each bend of the tributary we could already hear the roar of the waterfalls, and then all of a sudden as we do another bend they appear right on the corner.
Immediately we spotted some local teenagers enjoying using the smooth stones of the waterfall as slides as they shoot fast and dive into the bay formed at the base of the cascading waters. One of these teenagers swam to us and helped bring the dinghy to a corner of the waterfall where a few tires are tied to the rocks and mangrove trees to help the tourist from the few day tripper boats to descend and get to the waterfalls. We then climbed the rocks to the top of the waterfall to enjoy the view and see the pools that form on the smooth rocks at the top of the waterfall.
We then moved the dinghy to the pier just a few metres from the waterfall and went to get lunch at the local restaurant (shack), while we waited we went for a walk on the jungle tracks that take us to the small village nearby, on the other side of another tributary river and another set of smaller waterfalls.
Despite being the Carnaval week there were no other tourists besides us.
With nothing else to do, we returned to Campinho to our friend's company before heading back to Salvador the following week.
Life at Campinho was quiet in the sense of not much to do besides enjoying our friend's company. The beach, however, was a constant party with all the Carnaval people blasting their boom boxes epically loud from mid-morning until late at night. It was fun to see all the commotion but incredibly annoying, the loud music was limited to 3 hits repeated on a loop day in and day out.
Swimming from the back of the boat was a fun challenge, requiring attention to the tide schedules and a safety line to avoid one of us being lost out to sea or to the other side of the bay. Ella on the other hand was finding swimming in these conditions incredibly fun taking off at huge speed when swimming with the tide until her safety line fully stretched and then swimming at full effort towards the back of the boat while trying to catch the many leaves and twigs that passed by her.
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.