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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

THE LONG GOODBYE (Oryx' passage to Uruguay)

Leaving Ihla Grande in Brazil was much like leaving Rio de Janeiro. “Oryx’s” clean bottom made the progress better, but initially we had to motor for several hours and then drift with the tide. Once clear of the island a head wind blew lightly and for two days we sailed to windward. The clean waterline made progress better and as the wind picked up we were doing 6 knots to windward, until the seas got up. After that it was a choppy, rather uncomfortable ride. The visibility was poor, it was hazy and two ships came as close as ½ mile, before we saw them, but once again AIS proved indispensable. A fishing boat was also so close that I could see the white of his eyes. (I jest) Unfortunately our one wind vane worked its way loose and we lost it at sea whilst I was doing the dishes. Fortunately we have two and usually only use both simultaneously when we sail downwind.

Oil rig of Ihla Grande

Then the seas smoothed out and the wind shifted slowly in our favour. The first two days we had runs in the mid 70’s and the third day we managed 120nm. We had a good forecast, but the wind was fresher than anticipated and on Thursday the 5 Th September we were flying effortlessly downwind. As the wind increased it was easy to reef down to keep our speed at a sensible level. “Oryx” was coping with one wind vane and the visibility had improved.

 My evening watch was blissful. The stars were bright and we were well reefed down, but still doing an average of 7 knots, with accelerations to 8 or 9 knots, without veering more than ten degrees on either side of our course. We managed one 10-knot spurt and it felt as if “Oryx” was aquaplaning – which I suppose she was. Foolishly, perhaps, I didn’t reef down any further and on Pete’s watch, just before midnight our port side rudder broke free from its bottom pintle. Pete had reinforced both rudders in Itaparica, when he repaired the starboard one, but we had sustained some damage when we were caught in the drift net off Sao Tome. Pete woke me and went out to drop the sails. He noticed that the rudder had broken free and was trailing behind  “Oryx” attached only by the delicate self-steering ropes. “Oryx” was still tearing along with just the tops of the sails showing. He bellowed loudly and managed to hurry me along. I eased the tops of the sails down, we slowed and Pete managed to get the rudder on board.

Tiller bar steering without port rudder.

Initially, Pete wanted to press on to Uruguay, but we knew the wind was due to reach force 7 and I was worried about loosing the second rudder and didn’t want to experience building a jury rudder first hand, so Pete consulted the chart and we headed for the south end of Ihla de Santa Catarina and anchored off Praia Pinheira where we unofficially affected repairs. The rudder was ready to hang within a few days, but the wind was howling so we whiled away the time on board awaiting a suitable weather window to head south once more.

Mussel farm off Praia Pinheiro, Santa Catarina
More mussel farms

On the 14th of September we motored to the other side of the bay, rowed ashore and did some shopping. We walked to a nearby beach and had a picnic lunch and again said our goodbyes to Brazil. 

We raised the anchor just before 1400 and off we went once more. By sunset we had a pleasant northeasterly breeze, but by midnight the wind had died right down, we were sailing through thick mist and the visibility was negligible. To exacerbate matters we had a strong current against us and at times we drifted aimlessly.


Due to smart phone technology and our proximity to the shore we knew about a deep depression stalled over the River Plate, but the strong south westerlies arrived several days earlier than forecast. At lunchtime on the 15th September we anchored off a surfing beach near Laguna. The swells were huge and we spent an uncomfortable night at anchor. By first light the conditions had worsened. Pete was all for either heading to the harbour of Ibituba or sailing all the way back to Pinheira. I was less keen because I didn’t feel like beating back to anchorages north of us, when Laguna’s harbour was right next to us, but Pete was worried as we had overstayed our welcome, as such, in Brazil. We had cleared out of the country with immigration in Angra Dos Reis. Against his better judgement we headed into the huge swells breaking near the harbour entrance. Soon we were motor sailing up the river and we anchored off a small island near the car ferry. We had a leisurely breakfast and we were just settling down to sit out the bad weather when the Marina Da Brazil patrol boat came alongside and requested to come on board.

Houses along riverside at Laguna

Imagine my dismay! Anyway, they came on board, examined our documents and told us that we couldn’t anchor where we were and that we had to go to the yacht club, anchor there and then report to the Port Captain. We hauled up the anchor and motored to the yacht club, anchoring out of the channel. We had a quick lunch, gathered our documents and set off for the Port Captain. The officials were still at lunch, but some young sailors were friendly and led us to a lounge to wait. A more senior sailor led us to the office and here I was convinced we were going to live out Pete’s worst nightmare. I foresaw a huge fine or worse, but fortunately my prediction that they would rather have us in a safe harbour, than hassling them when we run into trouble at sea, proved correct. They quite happily cleared us in and said not to bother with immigration, unless we intended to stay for a long period.

The dolphins were around every day!

Small harbour near fresh food market Laguna

Beautiful church in old town.

We spent the afternoon shopping and exploring the quaint historical centre. It dates back to 1676 and has cobbled streets flanking verdant parks. We went for a hike up Morro Sao Gloria the following day. The weather was fairly cool, but dry enough on the Wednesday. We did a circular hike, picnicking off the beach where we had anchored. The surf was still huge and many surfers were making the most of it. The lagoon has many dolphins and they were regular visitors. We went to clear out on the Thursday, because a north wind was due to start after lunch, only to be told that the seas were too big and that we should wait another day. We were disappointed and Pete was mourning the loss of the favourable wind, but we complied and checked out first thing on the Friday.
House of Garibaldi´s wife

Fruit and vegetable market Laguna

Santa Gloria

Tricky entrance to Laguna 

Exercise station near surfing beach.

Goth bar.

Yacht club Laguna
Front approaches


I am still only a fair weather sailor and the final stretch of the passage to Uruguay proved particularly taxing. The swells beyond the breakwater were immense and there is a sand bar on the southern side of the entrance, so we motored slowly into the swell, then turning sharply to the north to avoid the bar. Pete hoisted the sails and off we set.

Leaving Laguna

 The wind was fresh and the weather was foul and by sunset the sky was streaked with lightning. I stood for the entire length of my watches, as the visibility was poor, except when the sheets of lightning lit the sky. I watched the spectacle with a mixture of terror and awe. I kept consoling myself that I’d already had a close encounter with a ball of lightning in 1991 and ‘lightening doesn’t strike twice!’ (As an added precaution I didn’t listen to Leonard Cohen, Pam!) I have a book called ‘Sailing – a beginner’s guide’ written by David Seidman which I first read in Riyadh, where it meant very little. I had resumed reading it and was amused with his simplification of wind speed tables. For Force 10 he describes the effects on a small cruiser as ‘swear oaths you will not keep once back on land’. I’m afraid I reach that stage way before force 10!

Then, once again, the wind headed us, so there we were being lashed by storms, tossed about by choppy seas, and were forced to tack along the coast. One night I was sailing passed a gaggle of fishing boats heading in shore of them, when one started flashing a light at me, intermittently. I called Pete, but at first the fishing boat did nothing. Pete had just settled down again when the fishing boat started flashing again and then turned around and headed straight for us. We spotted his dan buoys and their little lights and sailed alongside them for several miles. Shortly afterwards we saw the dreaded tricolour cross of an approaching ship. The AIS indicated that it would pass within ½ mile of us, but it looked deceptively close. Our good fortune returned on the Sunday, when Pete caught our first fish off “Oryx”. We had sailed over 7000nm without landing a fish. We lost several lures in the Bay of Biscay, but not even a nibble since. The fish was a beautiful Bonito and we had fish fried with butter and herbs and chips, Bonito mayonnaise for lunch and then Pete’s Portuguese fish stew the next evening.

 We had calculated spending four nights at sea, but the wind kept heading us and on the fourth night, in the pitch dark there was a loud crack and a bang! The starboard halyard’s metal fitting had broken. Of course as soon as it was light and the torrential rain had slackened, Pete used the flag halyard as a messenger to reeve a single part halyard through the spare block at the masthead.

Pete fixing the spare halyard


First sight of Uruguay - Isla Verde

After yet another day of tacking along the Brazilian coast we crossed into Uruguayan waters! We were both very exhausted because our night watches in particular had been filled with too much action and adventure, so Pete consulted the charts and we anchored off Isla Verde, which is one of three tiny islands inhabited only by birds and sea lions. The sun rose, but for a while thick mist hung around, so we had a leisurely breakfast and then set sail for Cabo Polonio. Initially we anchored on the north side off Cabo Castillo, but didn’t go ashore as the swells were still large as a result of the passing front. We sailed onto Cabo Polonio, which is a cluster of fishing cottages, summer homes and weekend cottages stretching along the coast, but more concentrated around the distinctive lighthouse. Once again we didn’t go ashore, due to the swells. We had landed here on the previous occasion and I will include some photographs taken then.

Inquisitive welcome to Uruguay!

Cabo Castillo

Light house Cabo Polonio

Informal cabin

Sunset on first day in Uruguay

Sunrise Cabo Polonio

Cottage Cabo Polonio

Cabo Polonio village

Friday the 27th arrived with another light mist and some friendly faces of seals as we hoisted the anchor and set sail for La Paloma. We picked up a mooring and launched the dinghy. Pete went ashore to contend with the authorities, whilst I made lunch. My nerves were shot. Our Brazilian airtime was long gone and my daughter was getting the results of her part two written exam. Miraculously, I switched on the phone, picked up an open wifi signal and found out that she had passed! I was more delighted than she was, because she still had to contend with the oral exam. That night there were celebrations all around; we were finally in Uruguay, it was Friday and Irene had cleared yet another hurdle!

My daughter Irene.

Those of you who read and enjoyed the blog called "Oryx Explores North Eastern Brazil" might remember the motor catamaran that Brian Stevens' in Jacare took us to see. He was the technical project manager for  Claudio - the owner/ builder's team. The catamaran was launched recently and is about to start her sea/river trials.

Claudio´s catamaran.

First Uruguayan blog to follow soon...

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