The Voyage to Brasil and back in retrospect

My eldest daughter Tanera, who has been a great support with this website and the related Facebook blog (@Svalen), transforming cryptic messages and small photos sent by SSB/ SailMail or Iridium GO/ into sensible text and stories, and editing, said in Inverness that the blog was more about food than about sailing!

The Skipper enjoys food, and thinks that it is a very important element in Ocean or Coastal sailing. The crew looks forward to a meal. On Svalen as on many other boats, meals are mostly in common, making them one of the few times when all the crew is together. That means a time for discussion – what went wrong, what went right, how could we do better, and what are we going to do, etc, etc. So if we wrote too much about food, it probably reflects our slight obsession with it!

We also had various seemingly endless problems with both fridge and freezer. Indeed, we were wholly without either for most of the 31 day crossing from French Guyana to The Azores, making for considerable difficulty in concocting interesting as well as nutritious meals. One does get rather tired of pasta, rice, beans and lentils even if the nutrition remains good! This problem was compounded because we were not very good (i.e. not at all good) at catching fish in the vast Atlantic. Sometimes, it is true, the fish catch themselves. Like those poor flying fish in southern waters who land on deck at night. But these are mostly very small and quite boney!

It is a fact that most boat fridge and freezer repair persons we found were not very good at their job. It was only in Ireland that we found someone who fixed them both and kept them going afterwards. Indeed we were variously told that the problem was the control box for the compressor, and finally the (very expensive and rather unavailable) compressor itself. Neither were in fact the case, as we discovered in Ireland. It had simply been about poor wiring or re-wiring in the end.

Anyhow, at the moment we are thinking about writing some more about food and sailing. How to prepare for a long period at sea, how to preserve food by bottling and curing, how to keep fruit and vegetables fresh for long periods, cooking in difficult seas, varying the diet, keeping sourdough yeast and kefir grains alive, and so on. And we will write about the voyage with the culinary aspects as a main feature, embedded in the narrative.

One of the greatest pleasures in Ocean sailing to South America (and indeed anywhere) is the range of interesting and adventurous people one meets, including many young people who have taken that advice “sell up and sail”, often in rather small, if sturdy, boats, and sometimes with young children. We found many to be French and Dutch, and marvelled at their plans and spirits. Many French were heading towards French Polynesia, perhaps following Bernard Moitessier´s example. For them this is the ultimate sailing destination. But some were heading to Patagonia, where one French couple had just spent two years exploring almost uncharted fjords and islands in Southern Argentina and Chile. They were also interested in food, being good at catching and curing fish, and sharing their kefir grains and sourdough yeast with us. We aim to write more about the interesting people we met from all over the place.

All together we had thirty-one crew members in addition to myself as Skipper during the voyage. They were mostly family, friends, and friends of friends. But we also had a few additional crew members who were new to us. Igor Wickens, who was Brazilian-British, and Killian Dadi, who was French-Moroccan, stood out in their various  contributions to cooking, sailing, and cultural life. Igor was on his way home to Brazil, complete with Saxaphone and Guitar, and some of his craft work, and came from Cabo Verde to  Salvador, Bahia, giving us all a valuable and interesting introduction to Salvador and its musical hot spots.  Killian had cycled from Morocco in N Africa, to S Africa, itself an extraordinary feat, and then signed on as crew on a sailing boat going from Cape Town to Salvador, Bahia, where we met. Killian crewed from Fortaleza in Brazil to French Guyana, where, again, he was a most valuable and interesting guide. He stayed there to teach in the small jungle villages and explore cycling on the small inland tracks. All in all, we had a super group of crew members from fourteen countries during the round voyage, and aged between 11 and 77.

We sailed about 16,000 nautical miles in all over the fourteen month period between 12 May 2018 and 12 July 2019. Most of this was good sailing, without the need for engine. However, we had about one day in the ´doldrums´when sailing south west to Brazil from Cabo Verde, and all too many calm days in the long stretch of ‘horse latitudes’ between French Guyana and Faial in The Azores, which took us just over a week longer than we had planned for.

We had few storms, indeed none to speak of on the way south to Brazil, even if we did have some rough seas with crossing waves and swell. However, we thought our route was good, and it both followed the Rhumb Line route and the route recommended in the Predictwind routing programmes taking us more or less directly from Cabo Verde to Fernando da Noronha, and from there to Salvador. Fernando da Noronha was not only a lovely island to stay in for three days, but also broke the journey very nicely. It took us about 10 days to sail there from Cabo Verde and a further five days from there to Salvador. Although this is probably at the western extreme of the route recommended by Cornell, it worked for us in terms of minimal doldrums weather and fairly good winds at the time we crossed, which was late November to early December.

Sailing in Brazil was excellent – indeed around Salvador there are many good islands and anchorages. Going North from there to French Guyana was a dream with favourable winds and currents, and sunny weather, almost the whole way.

However, from French Guyana to Azores was more difficult than we had imagined. Mostly because we lost the north-going current, and also the winds until about 30 degrees North. Maybe we should have followed the Windward and Leeward Islands north and sailed towards Bermuda before heading east to The Azores, this being the usual recommended route. However, at the time we wanted to cross to The Azores (April) there were still very strong northerlies in the North Atlantic, and other boats who took this route did not have an easy crossing either at that time.

The Azores is a very good place to spend some time in. They have a strong marine history, good small farming and local fishing, and local wine and tea production. prices are reasonable, and repair facilities good. We could well have stayed longer and visited more islands and ports. But in the end we had some repairs to do, needed to lift the boat out to clean off barnacles and apply new anti-foul, and only visited three of the islands, all of which were beautiful and with friendly helpful people. But I would really advise sailors to spend more time here exploring the islands on the way back from S America or the Caribbean.  Among other things, Azores is too far from mainland US or Europe for there to be many motor boats – this is a land for sailors and sailing boats!

From Terciera in The Azores (which has good lift-out and repair facilities) we sailed roughly 1200nm to Kilmore on the SE tip of Ireland.  This was mostly good sailing, although with some rough seas. We left Terciera on 8th June at 1335, and arrived on 18th June at 0350am BST. From Kilmore it was a long day sail with the right tides to Dun Loughaire in Dublin Bay, and from there to Gigha in the SW of Scotland it was a good sail of about 29 hours, again with the right tides. From Gigha to Oban and Corpach, the entrance to the Caledonian canal, was unproblematic except that the High Pressure gave us cloudless skies with no wind at all! But great views! having spent a couple of nights in Gigha and one in Oban, we arrived in Corpach on 27 June and tied up at the top of the long flight of locks for the night before proceeding to Fort Augustus, Loch Ness and Inverness, where we arrived on 29th June.

We had a great time in Inverness with visits from family and friends – my sister and all three grandchildren were on board – and also going to various music events. Our all Nordic female crew arrived from Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark during our stay there, and we sailed for Thyboron on the west coat of Jylland in Denmark on the afternoon of Sunday 7th July. We reached Thyboron just after midnight on Wednesday 10th July, following an unusually  quiet sail over the North Sea, and continued to the lovely small port of Lemvig, where we arrived about 0330 local time, tying up in the main town harbour. Here we rested for a day before continuing to Skive on 12th July where our friends and Værftet owners Lars and Helle Klok had organised a wonderful reception party for us all at the boatyard. Here were my mother and father in law, Gunnar and Poula, Soeren, Martin, Karina, Julie and her boyfriend, Nils, and others who had helped us to prepare last year in Denmark. Also Icelandic crew member Anna’s man Gudmundur, and Danish crew member Elisbeth’s parents and brother. It was a splendid end to a great sailing voyage.

Now a number of issues have to be resolved. My friend Siegfried Auriol who is about to retire from the French Air Force, came to see Svalen in Salvador Brasil, and has offered to buy her at an agreed price, subject to survey. He plans to sail round the world in his retirement.

We planned to lift Svalen out of the water in Skive to allow his surveyor to examine the hull, before proceeding to sea trials etc. Unfortunately, when we lifted Svalen out last Friday we found damage to the propellor housing, and on subsequent examination after dismounting, damage to the propellor shaft itself, mostl likely caused at lift out or maybe return to the water. this has happened since we took Svalen out in The Azores, when we replaced the stern gland bush and changed propellors and anti-fouled the hull. Now it’s an insurance job, and Siegfried’s visit and survey have been delayed by a month.

Because I got a slipped disc as soon as we got back to familiar dry land, Karen and Lisbeth did most of the job of cleaning and emptying the boat of our own possessions! Never underestimate how much there is on a 49′ boat!  But thanks to them, and to Elisabeth who came back to help too, all is now in order for Sieg.

We still have our wooden Brian Lello schooner, Aldarion, which we did not succeed in selling before leaving for Brazil. We aim to keep this lovely boat and use her for our future sailing adventures, which will not be as exotic! She is 39′, or 10′ shorter than Svalen, but with simpler systems to maintain.

Thanks to all…

We have many people to thank for supporting the voyage in one way or another, and for supporting our modest fund raising events. There are too many to list here, but they certainly include the crew of family and friends who joined, the people in Stockholm and Lars and Helle and the team at Værftet in Skive who helped us prepare the boat, the people on the way there and back who helped to fix things, repair sails, and generally keep the show on the road, fellow members of Stockholm Rotary International Club, the Cruising Association, Leif and Janne at Wasahamnen, Stockholm; the support team at PredictWind in New Zealand; and the many friends we made during the voyage who helped to make the venture so interesting and rewarding. May the winds be as fair to them as they were to us.





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