Paddling in darkest Brazil

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Sun 3 May 2015 13:48
Sunday 3 May 2015

After a couple of days editing we were in need of a break. We were anchored in a very sheltered spot surrounded by islands, shallows and sandbanks. Kayaks are ideal for exploring these shallow areas, much more relaxing than sounding your way in Caramor with her 1.7m draught. The weather was overcast, with a light breeze,not too hot, ideal for kayaking. That said, by the time we had moved the kayaks from below deck and assembled them tempers were pretty frayed. 

As I prepared some food and water, Kath was working out the route she wanted to paddle. I glanced over her shoulder and estimated the distance at about 18 Nautical Miles. Wow! She was keen for a good work out considering we hadn’t paddled for a couple of months. The plan was to paddle north up the west side of several islands, try and get through a waterway marked as Rio do Furado which on the chart went right across to the other side of the island, and then paddle back down the east side of the islands. 

Setting off from the mother ship

We didn’t bother with spraydecks as the whole trip would be in sheltered waters and it was far too hot. In fact even though it rained quite heavily at times we did the whole trip in T shirts and shorts.

We set off up the channel between Ilha de Santo Antonio and Ilha Dos Santos, a couple of hours after low water. As we weaved our way through the sandbanks over to Ilha das Vacas the flood tide was beginning to gather pace and we had to do a little ferry gliding. We came across shoals of ‘kamikaze long-jump fish’. When frightened by predators (and kayaks it seems) they hurl themselves out of the water reaching a height of up to a meter and landing about 3 metres ahead. One of them landed on Kath’s rear deck and made a heck of a noise as it flip-flopped it’s way back into the water. (Have you ever seen a fish look surprised?)

As well as the freedom to paddle anywhere there are a few inches of water I was really enjoying the exercise. Losing myself in the near perfect rhythm of the paddle strokes and the cyclic muscular coordination. Then Kath said: “Good thing we aren’t going far today, I can already feel my paddling muscles’. What a woman, dismissing an 18NM paddle as not far! It’s enough to make a chap feel inadequate.

Kath off Ilha das Vacas

Ilha das Vacas was all mangroves and forest down to the water’s edge, jungle to you and me but technically Mata Atlantica in Portuguese. As we crossed over to Ilha Bimbara which is an official nature reserve we had a good view of the settlement on Ilha Maria Guarda. 

Ilha Maria Guarda

Along the coast of Bimbara and the following Ilha das Fontes there was a great deal of birdlife. Many different birds of prey and vultures which were unknown to us, and blue herons and white herons which were remarkably shy. In contrast to the southern end of our trip where we saw many luxury properties, on Fontes there was a small village and many fisherman’s shacks. 

Lunch stop in the rain on Ilha das Fontes

We finally reached the Rio do Furado and by choosing the channel where the current was strongest worked our way deep into the mangrove swamp. This was the real deal. Narrow channels through dense mangrove, aerial roots, suckers, interconnecting branches and mud that made the thought of wading through it a nightmare prospect.
But "everybody’s got to be somewhere”*, and the tree climbing crabs seemed perfectly at home. Eventually the channels petered out, and although the water might connect to the other side the channels don’t. We decided to backtrack as far the north tip of Bimbarra and then rejoin our planned route.

Paddling in the mangroves, trying to find a way through the Rio do Furado

Tree-climbing crabs

On reaching the sound between Ilha das Fontes and Ilha Bimbarra we paddled across past some moored tug boats and headed down the narrow channel along the east coast of Bimbarra. At the south end of this channel, on the mainland side is the village of Sao Etevao. We stopped here for a soft drink at a bar that had a small slipway. A good twenty or thirty people were hanging out and a lot of cerveja (beer) had been drunk. The music, as always, was almost unbearably loud. Somebody decided to improve matters. He parked a van, opened the rear doors to reveal a huge speaker system, and made the music unbearably loud. Perhaps we were just too strange, because instead of the usual friendly welcome we were largely ignored. While I kept an eye on the boats Kath went off to find some local pastries for a top up snack. They were quite frankly disgusting, but we ate them anyway.

There now remained a 2NM paddle to Ilha do Bom Jesus and then about another mile back to Caramor. At this point Kath said: “I must be far more unfit than I thought, this is the longest 6 miles I’ve ever paddled”. She had got distracted while measuring and thought we were going for a leisurely 6NM explore. "Cast the first stone he who has never sinned … “

Our trials were not over yet. After boarding Caramor I said to Kath: “I’m going to untie the guard rails so that we can get the kayaks back on board”. “OK”, she replied. A few seconds later I heard a strangled cry and spun around in time to see Kath fall overboard in slow motion with her leg caught in the loose guard rail. Shocked and concerned, as soon as she surfaced I shouted something inane like: “What are you doing?” Kath was floating on her back still holding onto the line attached to her kayak. She started laughing. So after a slightly more helpful “Better grab your hat before it floats away,” I started laughing too. 

Entry by Franco

* Eccles – the Goon Show