Sunday, January 22, 2012

From the North Atlantic

Here is the Captain, with a small report. The official writer of the crew will tell more later. We arrived in Barbados, after 15 days from Mindelo in the Cape Verdes. We had a very nice trip, good sunny weather, calm seas in general and a lot of fishing... according to Begonia's standards.  The passage went very fast, we were three people for the watches, which means more sleeping and a better mood onboard.  The days went by very fast, after three days into the trip, we had our routine figured out:  Karlita doing the first watch, from 10pm to 2/3 in the morning, after me talking to Alejandro in Buenos Aires from the Argentinian sailors net, Juliano doing the next one from 2/3 in the morning to 6/7 and myself doing the rest until sometime around noon when everybody woke up. 

This paragraph is dedicated to Alejandro, from the Argentinian net of sailors. The people who are reading this (I hope somebody does) and are sailors, probably know the feeling, but to have somebody to talk to in your own language, with such a comforting voice, friendliness and professionalism like Alejandro, is priceless.  He was there every night at 11pm UTC, night after night, day after day, giving us forecast, general information and even connecting us with our families on land through Skype. We are thankful to him, and we cannot stop spreading the word about his invaluable work. THANKS AGAIN!!!

Now is the turn for our boat/home for the past year, our boat BEGONIA, our ocean-proved catamaran, which performed extremely well under different conditions: from 40 knots of wind at the beginning of our passage, to very light winds, where we had our spinnaker up for three days straight, record for me after sailing in Patagonia!!

The next paragraph is dedicated to my family, Karlita, who came to this long passage without knowing what to expect, who never thought to be in a small sailboat crossing an ocean. She did really well, coping with her sea sickness and fear of the unknown, she was doing watches like all the rest, and participating in the very stressful maneuver of bringing the spinnaker down when the wind was blowing hard, very proud of her and I hope to have her on our NEXT big trip!!

To Sofi and Benjie, who were very good, having fun playing, understanding the ocean and behaving most of the times like grown-ups. And to Juliano our Brazilian friend/crew, who without knowing anything about sailing, was super helpful, and understanding of a not very patient captain, THANKS Juliano for your help!!

Looking back, we had a very nice passage, we enjoyed the ocean, we tried to go along with the conditions, and we will keep sailing, loving the lifestyle and raising our kids to love this salty environment.
Barbados courtesy and quarantine flags.

Happy to be arriving in Barbados

The dudes

Big catamaran, small cruise ship!

Everybody does watches

Fixing lazy jacks

Juliano lifting me, hard work!

Tea party with friends...

Exercise under way!

First mahi-mahi of our passage

Turning 6 in the middle of the Atlantic

Watching the sunset, family style.

Mid Atlantic swimming

Second Mahi-Mahi

Literally, the middle of the Atlantic! 1,000 miles down, 1,000 to go!

Different skies, all beautiful!

Spinnaker up for three days!

Big guy, three meals!

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FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cape Verde

Mindelo, São Vicente, Cabo Verde – On this, the eve of Sebastian’s second and Karla and the kids’ first Atlantic crossing, we are all feeling excited and ready to go. Water tanks filled?  Check!  Fuel tanks filled? Check!  Salt-water pump installed? Check! Food for about two to three weeks bought and stored? Check! 
Our stay in Cabo Verde has been wonderful.  Many sailors skip these African islands due to their reputation for being unsafe, but in our experience it was the opposite, save for the two pairs of flip-flops and the one towel that were pilfered from our dinghy one day.  Perhaps it is the Portuguese influence we felt we could relate to.  For one thing the language is one we can communicate in, the culture is a little closer to some cities in Latin America than Africa and the religion is Christian, not Muslim like in Senegal and Gambia, so the holiday celebration here was very familiar to us.
Christmas was spent in Palmeira, a very small, small town on the island of Sal, which is about 2 blocks by 3 blocks large…. A very simple town, not really known for its architectural significance or natural beauty, but a frequent stop for sailors since the island is at the northeast corner of the archipelago and closest to the Canaries.  There are many fishermen in the town, and groups of these men will go out every morning at about 5 then come back before lunch to give all the fish away to the locals.  It is unclear how or if they get paid, but it is very clear that the fish is a collective asset that is shared by the entire community.  One of our friends on another boat and Juliano, our crew, went out fishing one day and bought back tons of fish, which we enjoyed on Christmas Eve!  There is a small “bar” that overlooks the water, where there are a couple of tables set up… It sounds very nice, but actually this is right next to the village dump.  Surprisingly, in this village there are about two or three Chinese “dollar”-type stores that do quite well AND free Wi-Fi available in the town “square.”
About a 5 minute bus ride away is a bigger town called Aspargos, which means “asparagus,” and about a 20-minute bus ride away there is a bustling tourist town called Santa Maria.  A trip there is like going back in time to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico back in the 70’s… very quaint shops and local restaurants along the beach.   This area is apparently a kite and windsurf mecca for Italians and Brits, so there is much tourism from these countries.  Kite and windsurf schools are announced all over town and we saw many students in action, since we have had a really windy/gusty stay here.  The island is called Sal, which means “salt,” because it is volcanic and has a huge salt mine in the middle of the island.  This was a nice “field trip” where we hiked all around the top of the volcano crater and got some good exercise.
An overnight sail later we arrived in Mindelo where we have been for the last week.  We were amazed at how different the town was compared to all the reviews we’ve read.  Maybe it was because the town was “dressed up” for the holidays, but it has been bustling with activity and there has been a good vibe in the air.  Here we met up with our buddy boat, Mehari  (with the six kids) as well as three others who we’ve been hanging out with on and off since the Canary Islands.  While Mindelo is not the capital of Cabo Verde, it is one of the towns most frequently visited by other European tourists.  It has colonial Portuguese architecture - some well-kempt, some rundown  - but the lights were in the trees, stages were set up around town, people were busy doing their Christmas shopping – Mindelo was abuzz! So abuzz was it that by Sunday, the first of the year, all three cash machines in town had run out of money and not filled up again until Tuesday!
New Years Eve dinner was spent with a group of about 30 cruisers at the Clube Nautico.  Don’t let the name fool you… the Nautical Club is actually three concrete walls surrounding a patio, with fluorescent lights dimly lighting the space.  Before we ordered, I was handed a list of food they had available: 10 hamburgers, 6 pieces of chicken, 5 white fish, 12 darker fish and everything will be accompanied by rice and French fries.  So we could only order from this list, and if we wanted one more hamburger, tough luck! They literally had only 6 Coca-Colas and by gosh they sure weren’t thinking to run out to the grocery store to get more so they could still make a couple of extra bucks!  But they did have lots of Strela, the local beer.  So when one of the cruisers came in and asked for a different type of fish and could she have some vegetables, I just had to laugh.  It just was not that type of place.  Still the ambience was merry and we were all in a festive mood. 
The Mehari mom very kindly offered to have all the kids then go to her boat to watch movies so the rest of the adults could stay out a little later, so this big group of 30 quickly dispersed and we prepared to watch the fireworks at midnight. These guys mean business with their fireworks, since we had seen them get set up a couple of days before and be guarded 24/7 by two soldiers with rifles until they were due to be set off into the bay… just where all our boats were anchored!  Rumor had it that things could get out of control, so Sebastian “abandoned ship” and felt more comfortable to stay back on Begonia during the fireworks to make sure our home did not quickly go up in flames.  We are anchored about 7 boat lengths away from where they set off the display and about one boat length away from the remnants of boat that had been set aflame.  We assumed this was burned last New Year’s Eve, but it was actually arson from a group of kids who knew the boat was abandoned by its owner now in jail here for smuggling drugs.  I don’t know which situation is worse?
Anyway, it was a good thing Sebas stayed onboard since the ashes and droppings (??) from the display were falling right into the water next to Begonia.  We did see some on other boats stomping out embers that fell right on them.  And it wasn’t just the embers… about 10 minutes before the fireworks started, the city, which previously had been at home eating dinner, I suppose, all came out en masse to watch the show.  Some groups of kids thought it was fun to jump in the water and swim very close to the boats.  I am sure it was fun (and very cold!)… it wasn’t that it was out of control, we had really just anchored too close to the action.
The night continued with people dancing on the main street where there was live music.  We stopped at a little shop to buy another local specialty which is their “grog,” or rum, and joined in the dancing fun. As we looked around we noticed no one else was really drinking.  The young people were having such a great time, but really everything was so peaceful compared to how an event like this would be in the States.  We did only stay out a little after 1 or so, so maybe things got crazy later on, but we all noticed and commented on the same thing.  In the States an event like this… like Mardi Gras… you might see people getting obnoxious, or into a fight or getting sick, etc.  We just did not see it here.
The rest of the stay here has been prepping for - but also fretting about - the crossing.  This excitement we feel tonight is a nice change from about a week ago when one of the crew here was doubting if she (and “she” shall remain nameless) wanted to do this or not…. And actually some other buddy boaters were feeling the same way!  We all had a very uncomfortable passage getting here from Gambia.  One of the boats said it was the worst days of their lives.  Another boat was even looking into airfares to fly instead of sail to the Caribbean.  The wind and cold we have experienced here, as well as online weather reports and radio chatter from boats who started their trip last week, certainly wasn’t helping.
Not only was the wave pattern inconsistent on our recent passage, we had a couple little obstacles. The first night, on my watch, all of a sudden a very alarming alarm went off.  Sebas jumped out of bed and realized it was the motor that had jerked to a stop and …. WE WERE AGAIN STUCK IN FISHERMEN’S NETS!!!  No buoys, no lights, pitch dark.  How were we to see it?!  We only realized what it was when we saw the fishermen themselves coming towards us, now with their lights on.  They were Senegalese and much, much nicer than the Moroccan guys the last time this happened.  Juliano, who was also startled awake by the alarm, ran up to help.  Pulling the net did not help and we were concerned it would hurt our sail drive to pull too hard.  The only solution would be to jump in the water and untangle the net under the boat.  Poor MacGyver!  This time he put the harness on and we tied him really well to the boat, but I still was VERY concerned.  Pitch black, waves coming from every which way… Juliano and I leaning over the side with flashlights trying shed light in the water for Sebastian, only to find out most of our flashlights did not work! A very bad time to realize this! After about 45 minutes, Sebas was able to get everything free, with no major damage to their nets.  Very brave!  … and luckily there are no nets in the middle of the Atlantic. 
The following night was a little rougher and poor Benjie was not feeling well.  I thought he would feel better by going to sleep but about 2 minutes after lying down, Sofia is yelling that Benjito was getting sick.  Going down to the cabins with the boat in motion is not the greatest feeling in the world, but what are you going to do?  The sheets needed to be pulled off the bed, Benjie needed to be showered, Sofia needed to be moved.  It was too much for my weak stomach so then I start getting sick… Juliano never thought this was part of his job description to have to clean up after a child and the captain’s wife but still he willingly helped Sebastian, who had just woken up to all this commotion. 
So, reading this you might ask, “Why do it?  And honestly, I can say it is like childbirth. At times it is painful and terrible… but you forget all these details and somehow only the fact that you have just spent a wonderful holiday with family and friends in a wonderful corner of the world is what you remember!
May you all have a great 2012… and may we have an enjoyable Atlantic crossing.  We’ll catch you on the other side of the pond!
NEXT STOP:  Barbados.  ETA: 16 days, or approximately, January 22.

Christmas with friends in Sal

Santa found us on Begonia

New Salt water faucet in the Galley, happiness!

Mellisa's birthday party

Salt mine in Sal with Wilf and Sid

Emma and Benjie hiking

Salt mine, Island of Sal

Party on Mehari

Scroll down left panel to see prior postings!
FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children!  Please contact for more information.