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Sunday, 29 September 2013


"Oryx" anchored off Urca Beach in Rio de Janeiro


Sugar Loaf looms beyond the traffic.

Sailing into Rio de Janeiro from any direction, must be one of the most spectacular experiences in the world. The ring of mountains form a backdrop to the bay, which has a myriad of small islands many with fortifications. Probably the first sight, from a distance is that of the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado as He extends His blessing in all directions. The crest of Sugar Loaf and its trailing cable cars are a close second, verifying that this is indeed Rio de Janeiro. There is even a slightly concertinaed Table Mountain like mountain lost amongst the hills above Ipanema. Rio is a city of outstanding beauty. Unfortunately one has to sadly acknowledge how polluted Guanabara Bay has become. Still my heart overflows with suadade – that longing to return. Rio is known as the city marvellosa and according to the tourism guide was elected by the New York Times as the best place to go in 2013 – because the whole world will be there in 2014!

These girls whizzed by as we sailed into Rio.

Gaspar de Lemos was the first Portuguese explorer to enter the bay. His entourage arrived in Guanabara Bay on the first of January 1502.He mistook the immense bay for an estuary and so named the place Rio de Janeiro. The Tamoio were the Brazil Indians living in the area and the French settled along the bay in 1555, but were expelled by the Portuguese in 1557.The Portuguese victors drove the Tamoio from the area in a series of bloody battles. By the 17th century the Tamoio had been wiped out by disease or enslaved. Other Brazil Indians were ‘pacified’ by Jesuits. By the 17th century Rio became Brazil’s third most important settlement, after Salvador da Bahia and Recife-Olinda. In 1807 Napoleon invaded Portugal. The Portuguese Prince Regent (Dom Joao VI) and his entire court had set sail for Brazil, just weeks before. There was much celebration on his arrival in Rio, (even in those days they liked to party!) and Dom Joao fell in love with Brazil. Even after he became king of Portugal he stayed in Brazil and declared Rio de Janeiro the capitol of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarve. This made Brazil the only New World colony to have a European sovereign ruling on its soil. To this day the descendants of the Portuguese monarchy live in Brazil.

An ornate house on the sea front of Urca.

Five years ago, when we visited Rio on “Pelican” we anchored off Urca for the night, but were then based across the bay in Niteroi, as Marina Gloria was a bit run down and exorbitantly expensive. This time, however, we had met other yachties in Arraial de Cabo, (Bruce and Jill on Daemon) who told us that Urca was a safe place to leave our dinghy, during the day. So, as the sun began to set and the daylight started fading we dropped our anchor off Urca beach, directly below Sugar Loaf and with Corcovado visible against the backdrop of the night. Urca is a small, quaint, well-established suburb of Rio de Janeiro. The lower reaches of the cable car to Sugar Loaf is on Morro de Urca (Urca hill.) Lonely planet describes Urca as a ‘village’ and whilst it is anything but a village, it has an ambience of a close-knit community and an almost autonomous feel about it. The streets are wide and leafy; there are small café’s, restaurants and bars, a fishing harbour, a small, fairly expensive supermarket and a couple of popular beaches.

Inner fishing harbour at Urca.

Although Guanabara Bay is polluted, swimming and a host of water sports abound and the two beaches of Urca are crowded, especially on weekends. Landing with “Crake” is always a challenge, but in Urca there were no surging breakers to contend with, but we had to dodge around bathers and small children in the shallows. We found a spot amongst the other dinghies for “Crake”, locked her oars, removed the rowlocks and plug and usually she was left undisturbed. People tend to use “Crake” as a seat, so we learned to invert her, to protect her.

Who is the Carioca?

Central Rio is a short bus ride away and the bus stop is conveniently close to the beach. On our first morning we headed for the centre, to clear in with the Port Captain. Pete’s memory of places visited is uncanny and we hopped off the bus at exactly the right spot. We had hoped to visit the naval museum, but they only open in the afternoons, so we earmarked that for another day. Clearing in takes a while and once we were legal we headed back to the historical centre.

Lunchtime was approaching, so we shopped for picnic goodies and found a leafy park in central Rio. I spent several minutes following a bedraggled guinea pig like rodent, which resembles a capybara but is much smaller. The poor agouti was camera shy and had a bad prolapse, so I photographed a compliant duck instead and followed Pete to a bench beneath a luxuriant tree, where we had our lunch. As soon as we rustled our crisp packet several more agoutis appeared and I could snap away to my heart’s content.

The compliant duck.

The most photogenic of the agoutis

Previously we had followed Lonely Planet’s suggested walk faithfully, but this time we wandered around more freely, discovering picturesque side streets and then heading for the distinctive Petrobras building, which flanks the modern cathedral in central Rio. Previously, we had admired the cathedral from afar, but this time we headed inside. My thoughts were very much on my daughter’s pending exam and I said a silent prayer for her, as I stood admiring the magnificent stain glass windows. Evidence of the recent Papal visit abounded and the black-market DVD’s had disappeared, perhaps in deference to him.

The distinctive Petrobras building alongside the modern cathedral.

Three of the four stain glass panels within the cathedral.

Earlier we had seen advertisements for an art exhibition, so we headed back to that and admired a private collection before heading back to Botafogo by metro. Here we found a busy supermarket and did the necessary shop before staggering back to “Oryx” having to contend with a lack of pedestrian crossings and Friday afternoon traffic.

Rag time?

Some colourful side streets in central Rio

Pete combs the Lonely Planet maps whilst Calvin preachers to his attentive congregation outside a Presbyterian church.

Vincente, our Brazilian friend, whom we met in Macae, had left contact details for Paulo and Claudia, who kindly invited us to join them for drinks on Saturday afternoon and then a drive through Rio on Sunday. We had earmarked Saturday for a climb up Urca hill and at first we thought of joining Paulo and Claudia afterwards, but then decided we would probably not be fit company after a long hike, so we declined the drinks, but gratefully accepted their offer of a drive
on the Sunday.

The weather on Saturday was warm and mild and we set off early, shopping for our picnic bits at the local supermarket. The start of the walk is near the cable car station and we managed to get a map of Rio de Janeiro, as well as a couple of guides from the Tourist Information Centre. We had been lugging around the Lonely Planet guide, because the information centres had run out of maps during the Papal visit. Fortunately, this information centre had restocked. We set off for our walk/ climb amongst a throng of eager Brazilians.

The walk starts near Praia Vermelha and the climb is about fairly strenuous, but shaded by the encroaching Atlantic rain forest. The path was steep in places and the packed earth was a bit slippery after the recent rains, yet many locals climbed effortlessly in what must be the Brazilian national footwear – flip flops!

Starting the climb up Morro da Urca

We saw some Marmosets in the trees and people stopped to share their bananas with the tiny monkeys. The top of Urca hill is home to the lower cable car station and the view is spectacular. One can see Botafogo, Urca, the two nearby beaches and the wide expanse of Guanabara Bay. Wooden seats and tables are conveniently placed and the only difficulty was finding an unoccupied set to have our lunch. Most of the people were transient and many were tourists, having taken the cable car up, so soon they set off to the higher reaches of Sugar Loaf itself. Pete had taken me to the ‘tourist hot spots’ on our previous visit and we plan to show them off to visitors next year, so this time we merely walked amongst the tourists and browsed the shops before hiking back down to the shoreline, where we completed the trail. Pleasantly exhausted we returned to “Oryx” for sundowners.

Climbing up the hill below the lower cable car station.
Some people climb up the hard way!

Guanabara Bay and Praia Vermelho

Paulo and Claudia arrived at noon the next day and whisked us off in their car. We were going to the Botanical Gardens to see the Genesis project exhibition by Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado. The traffic was heavy, but Paulo is a patient driver. He is an oceanographer and Claudia is a conservationist. They have both worked with Vincente on manatee and other projects and are avid sailors. Claudia has worked for Green Peace and her current project on Albatross conservation was just ending. They have lived throughout Brazil, but are currently based in Santos, where their son is completing his schooling. However, luckily for us, Claudia who is a Carioca (native of Rio) has just started working in Rio and she and Paulo were spending some time there. Both speak English very well and Claudia is fully bilingual. The photography exhibition was astounding; I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. The exhibition is called Genesis and it is worth looking at on the Internet.

Sebastiao Salgado's Genesis Project
For my friends in Riyadh - can you believe this is Saudi Arabia?

The Botanical Gardens are immense. They are situated against the hillsides adjacent to Corcovado and near the National Park da Tijuca. They stretch over many acres and are said to contain over 5000 varieties of plant. They were designed by order of the Prince Regent Dom Joao in 1808. Obviously we didn’t have time to explore the entire garden and will return on subsequent visits to Rio. We had coffee and cake at the little café and then returned to Urca.

The beautiful botanical gardens

Not quite the same standard.

Paulo and Claudia had an appointment in the evening, but as Paulo was due to return to Santos, accepted our invitation to dinner the following evening. The weather had soured slightly on the Monday so we spent the morning on board. Paulo and Claudia were very complementary about “Oryx” and the evening went well. We hope to see them again next year and perhaps go for a sail. It is very rewarding and reassuring to meet so many Brazilians dedicated to conservation.

Our friends Claudia and Paulo

Another excursion took us to Copacabana, Ipanema and the immense saltwater lagoon Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. Pete was keen to walk the 7km trail around the lake, but I wanted to see Ipanema beach, so we compromised by taking the bus to the western side of Copacabana. Copacabana is separated from Ipanema by a small headland, which lends itself to a decent point break on the Ipanema side.

The beachfronts here are reminiscent of Europe, with wide, paved walkways, cycling paths and intermittent fitness centres. There are of course also the very Brazilian beach bars. We walked along Ipanema until we reached the canal, which runs from the lagoon. We had hoped to picnic in a park, but found the park has given way to some frenetic building of additional metro lines, to link the beaches with the centre of Rio, probably in time for the World Cup in 2014.

Ipanema beach
Favella just visible on the slopes beyond Ipanema.

We continued on our hike and found the beautiful lagoon, which at Christmas time hosts the world’s biggest Christmas tree. We found a shady spot and had our lunch as we people watched. It was a weekday and a lone disabled water skier practised his art as we looked on. 

Splendid yacht club on the lagoon.
Further along the walk we saw several beautiful parrots, nonchalantly playing on the lower reaches of a tree. The walk back to Urca was a long one and we spent some time looking for a supermarket that does not exist. We had to backtrack to one we had passed and as usual weighed ourselves down and headed home.

Norwegian Blue?

Urca had an added attraction; Ella and Milly on board “Muneerahad cracked the log in process to a wifi hotspot. Bruce and Jill on “Daemon” had shared the information, so we had free, high-speed Internet access on board. Thanks to them I managed to publish the blog painlessly, but with errors on the page. Ella is in her early teens and Milly is twelve, yet they managed to fudge the site without much knowledge of Portuguese. Nick and Andrea are from Melbourne, but bought their boat in the Seychelles and have been sailing with the girls for a few years now. Obviously the home schooling is effective.

The exclusive Rio Yacht Club lies beyond the Urca anchorage.


The fast ferry from Rio to Niteroi crossed our bows as we sailed to Paqueta

The small island of Paqueta is at the top end of Guanabara Bay and is a popular tourist spot. One can take a 70 minute ferry ride for R$4.50, but we obviously chose to sail there. The wind in Guanabara bay was fluky, as usual, so at times we had to motor. We sailed beneath the immense bridge which links Rio to Niteroi and through a fairly industrialised area, with a plethora of oilrig supply boats and many other ships of all sizes.

Gradually the anchored ships grew fewer and the bay became more scenic, dotted with tiny islets and with majestic distant mountains to the north and the city of Rio to the south.

Slowly industry gave way to small islands such as these.

Paqueta itself was a pleasant escape from the bustle of Rio. The island has well kept dirt roads, but no cars, although there is a municipal garbage truck. The main form of transport is the bicycle, with tourist tricycles and some horse drawn carriages to complete the picture. In keeping with the 21st century, electric bikes abound. There is a rather disappointing ‘train’, which is drawn by a tractor, and we felt a little cheated.

"Oryx" off Ihla da Paqueta
Horse drawn carriages await the arrival of ferry passengers.

We didn’t notice the traffic sounds at Urca, but anchored off Paqueta we drank in the silence as we sipped our sundowners. This is the life.

It rained heavily the first night and we collected gallons of water in the dinghy, so before we set off to explore the island I did the washing. We intended to walk the couple of miles around the island and set off towards the yacht club. Out circumnavigation was thwarted by a dead end at a stable, so we backtracked and took a detour across the island to the other side.

The small yacht club at Paqueta

Surrey with a fringe?

We explored a shaded park and had our picnic there. There were fabulous vistas of neighbouring islands, some with a solitary mansion. We stopped for an ice cream before rowing out to “Oryx” as the sun was setting.

Boat repairs

Some of the weekend holiday homes

The roads are spotless and the tables have tiled chess boards.

Private island with its lone mansion across the bay from the park.

A more humble abode.

Look art the majestic mountains north of Rio in the distance.
Even laundry looks good at sunset!

We returned to Urca via Niteroi and then spent another weekend in Rio before clearing out.
Recycled plastic used for mussel farming near Niteroi.
So long Rio!

We left in the late afternoon, when a breeze was forecast, but unfortunately it never materialised and we motored out of Guanabara Bay and until we had passed the various little islands before Ipanema. The current was against us and we couldn’t motor all the way to Ihla Grande, so we shut off the engine, drank in the silence and drifted slowly by Ipanema at the incredible speed of 0,6 knots. The evening was beautiful and Pete and I swapped watches, due to obstructions and a fishing fleet, so the following morning I had the pleasure of greeting the new day and the gentlest of breezes. We were on our way!

The passage to Abraao should have been an overnight sail, but it took us longer and we arrived the following night with the wind screeching and “Oryx” lifting her skirts, despite her foul bottom. (not such a good image!) I always tend to fret about anchoring in a busy anchorage in the dark, but Pete uses his binoculars and soon we were anchored safely and efficiently.



Abraao was the first place I landed with Pete after sailing from Santos. Is it any wonder I'm still popping the occasional Stugeron?

The island of Ihla Grande owes its pristine condition to its varied history – it was a pirate’s lair, a leper colony and then a prison for dangerous criminals. The island’s unsavoury past kept developers at bay for many years. Consequently beautiful unspoiled tropical beaches and verdant Atlantic rainforest abound. The federal government protects Ihla Grande and it is one of the few places in Brazil that offers camping and hiking trails. There are still few settlements on Ihla Grande and Vila do Abraao is the only town of any size. It was a sleepy fishing village until about 30 years ago, but now is a bustling town with more pousadas (guest houses), bars and restaurants, than actual dwellings.

One of the many pousadas in Abraao.

Dining al fresco with the sea lapping at your feet.

Once again Ihla Grande has no cars, except for the garbage truck, a fire engine and a delivery truck. By night everyone congregates at the dock and the beachfront and it can be frenetic, but escape along the hiking trails is a few hundreds yards in any direction.

Start of the 8.6km hike to Dois Rios.

I joined Pete on “Pelican” just after Christmas in 2007. I had spent Christmas with Eurika, a friend of many years and with Faye, who at that stage was a new friend. We had indulged in all the trimmings and delights of London at Christmas. Sipping molten chocolate at Harrods, pre show dinners, post show drinks, a lavish Christmas dinner at my local pub. Consequently, I was fairly heavy and very unfit. Our first landfall after leaving Santos was Abraao and our first hike in Brazil was from the Abraao to Dois Rios. The walk is along a dirt road, up the mountain and down the other side to the old prison and the beaches of Dois Rios. It is also 8.6km one way and one has to return. I think I managed the walk there fairly well, but almost died on the way back. My calves and thighs ached and there was no option, but to go on. To survive I said a mantra to Annie and Shirley and a few other brave women, all of whom are slightly older than I am, but I thought had survived such hikes with Pete. Now Pete tells me that he and Annie never walked to Dois Rios – it was still a prison and anyway it was 1994 or somewhere thereabouts!

What remains of the prison at Dois Rios.

This time I knew what I was in for, I am five years older, but much fitter, thanks largely to Pete and our healthy diet. We set out eagerly and were soon retracing our steps along the dirt road. The weather was also a little cooler, which was a boon. As we strode along we heard an unearthly noise. It was something like a deep guttural growl. We stopped, astounded. Jaguars? It was Brazil, after all.

Sebastiao Salgado's jaguar.

Then we chuckled at our silliness, more likely Maseratis! As we continued fearlessly we came to the conclusion that it was Howler monkeys, which we later confirmed on Google. We didn’t see any, though, which is apparently a good thing, because they tend to hurl faeces when frightened and Pete armed with a camera can be a little intimidating.

Beach Dois Rios. 

At Dois Rios we sat on the beach watching some Brazilian yachties contend with landing their rubber ducks in the surf. The first lot were pitch poled and the second one unscathed, but he had immense difficulty in trying to row back to his boat, through the surf. Dois Rios is named after the two rivers that flow into the Atlantic on either side of the pristine beach. We had our picnic and then went back to the site of the old prison, which has been turned into a museum. The original penal colony was called Colonia Correctional and was established on the old farm of Dois Rios in 1903. The road, which we had hiked along, was built after 1931 to link the prison to Vila do Abraao. Initially the prison housed whores and vagrants, but then more hardened criminals and a smattering of political prisoners. All prisoners worked the farm. Later the prison housed some of Brazil’s most dangerous criminals until it was closed and then imploded in 1994. All the information about the prison is available in English on cards near the exhibition. One of the rooms had a spectacular display of photographs. Dois Rios is the first place in Brazil where I wanted to put down roots. Fortunately for Pete the area now belongs to the University of Rio’s environmental studies department and it is not a place where there are houses for sale.

Looking back to the hamlet from the prison at Dois Rios

All that remains of the implosion.

An appealing fix'er upper, but she doesn't float.
Photographs of Brazil's creepy crawlies on display at prison.

University of Rio's environmental department.

The return trip was buoyant. I couldn’t believe that I could hike so far without a single mantra! To celebrate we had ice cream at the fabulous Finlandia ice cream shop. They have many exotic flavours and the fig is amongst my all time ice cream favourites.Shopping on Abraao proved remarkably inexpensive and some of their fresh produce was cheaper than on the mainland, although the beers were pricey.

Astounding views like these make the hikes on Ihla Grande worth the effort.

We next set off from Ihla Grande to explore the islands to the east. We anchored off a small fishing village the first night and went ashore in the morning. The sky was grey and soon after we landed the heavens opened, so we sheltered with of the fishermen under nearby porch. The fishermen were friendly but hardier than we and soon we were left cowering with only the dogs.

Sheltering from the rain on Ihla da Marambaia

The islands around Ihla Grande are said to number 365 and it certainly seems as if this can be true. I will not give you a blow-by-blow account of each little anchorage or every island, suffice to say that each one is almost more picturesque than the next and once again the yearning to remain became strong. Fantasies of living on a little island were curtailed by reality – the islands around Ihla Grande may be paradise, but the wind is fickle and the sailing is not always ideal. Anyway, we do live on an island of sorts – it is called “Oryx”.

Ihla Jaguarim

A Fix'er upper on Ihla Jaguarim

We landed near this beach on Ihla Jauguarim
A beach retreat on far side of Ihla Jaguarim
Yet another paradise island.

A hotel on an island across the bay from Itacaruca.


Anchored off Itacuruca

My daughter’s exams were ending and we headed to the mainland to a town called Itacaruca (eat a cruiser) in search of Skype. Itacaruca doesn’t get many cruisers and much of the time spent in the town was spent in the Port Captain’s office whilst they devoured our papers and after a couple of hours and checking with Macae, they finally cleared us in. As always the officialdom were friendly and polite and some of the young sailors had a smattering of English, which smoothed the way. There was no sign of cannibalism (sorry, couldn’t resist it), but some kids had dragged “Crake” into the water before realising that her plug was out, we found “Crake” grubby and muddy but otherwise unscathed. Some little urchins lingered, but although I questioned them sternly in limited Portuguese, their smiles were endearing and soon they were waving delightedly to us as we rowed back to “Oryx”.

Small mainland town of Itacaruca

"Ship shape" residence near Itacaruca
A new harbour on the mainland beyond Itacaruca

There was an Internet café, but they had no Skype so we cleared out swiftly, explored a few more anchorages and made use of a fine breeze to return to Abraao and its numerous Internet cafes. We arrived after dark and had a late dinner. Pete rowed me ashore and after a few fruitless attempts I managed to speak to my daughter and then to my son. All was relatively well.

We anchored off Ihla do Martin's fishing village for lunch.

We abandoned this lovely anchorage to harness the wind back to Abraao


There were three South African boats in the anchorage and before we could row over to say ‘hi’ and swap books, the couple from a catamaran called “Witblitz” called and invited us for cocktails that evening. “Witblitz” is a 44’ Dean Cat and it is so spacious that Peter and Chanay had a large BMW trail bike in their saloon. Also invited were Chanay’s parents, Wayne and Tracey, our Belgium friend Luc and another German South African singlehander called Harold.  As the evening unfolded we found out that Wayne and Tracey too have a motorbike on the deck of their 34 footer Moody “Margaret Anne”. Pete’s friend Nick Skeats has motorbike in bits on board “Wylo II”, but this was the first motorbike we had seen in a saloon. Am I allowed to ask if South Africa has an abnormally high percentage of eccentrics? Anyway, the evening was pleasant, beer and Cachaca cocktails flowed and the conversation was interesting to say the least. A couple of nights later Peter, Chanay,Tracey and Wayne joined us for drinks. “Witblitz” is heading to Uruguay and “Margaret Anne” northwards to the Caribbean.
Tracey told us of a source of spring water on Abraao and Pete topped up our supplies.

Cruising isn't always cocktails at sunset. Here Pete returns looking like a shrimp cocktail after cleaning the bottom.

We planned another two hikes for our stay on Abraao. The first was a short circular hike to a nearby waterfall. We followed the path to the right, starting off with a visit to the ruins of an old prison called Lazareto. It was a small, converted farmhouse, now moss covered and inruins. It was used as a prison and also as a quarantine station intermittently between 1884 and 1954. The emperor od Brazl ordered all European immigrants to go into quarantine here, to prevent the spread of cholera. Joshua slocum was one of the many people to be quarantined here and he mentions it in his book "The Voyage of the Liberdade."

The claustrophobic cells

Ruins of Lazareto.

Another 'black beach' but here you can see traces of the minerals.
The mystery of Brazil's black beaches was revealed by an information board on Ihla Grande near their Praia Preto: there are traces of magnesium, aluminium and magnetite and biotite amongst the quartz which gives the beaches some discolouration. We had our picnic at the waterfall and witnessed this couple abseiling down the cachoeira.

Rogerio  came alongside in his recently launched Tiki 30 with his friend Rui. Rogerio is a skateboard 'n surfboard builder.
This little chapel is on the island of Bonfim near Angra dos Reis
The three kings blessing Angra dos Reis is a new addition since 2008.

Finally our time in Brazil was running out. We sailed to Angra dos Reis and cleared in and then out with the port captain, customs and immigration. We stocked up for the passage.

Lugging the groceries back to "Oryx"
Angra dos Reis

and then spent the weekend in another anchorage off Ihla Grande where we topped up our water from their spring and drank our final Caipirinha at the bar.

Fresh spring water piped to the middle of the bay off Praia da Tapera on Ihla Grande.

Beach restaurant on Praia da Tapera.

Setting up our Jordan's series drogue is an indication that we are sailing beyond the 1% gale zone.

Bye bye Brazil!

The next morning we set out towards Uruguay.
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