Sailing to Victory and the Holy Spirit
... One final tug on the rope and Caramor floated free. This time the sand bank was entirely self-inflicted. We had made a perfect entry into the river João de Tiba a few days before but completely fudged it on the way out by crossing to the reef too early.
Once clear of the sandbanks and reefs, we enjoyed gentle and pleasant sailing (if a little slow) down the Coast of 'Discovery'. As usual sundown was a brisk affair and the stars were outshone by the myriad of hotel lights all the way down to Porto Seguro.
The next day was slow and by sunset we could just make out the Abrolhos Islands 40NM offshore to the south. We had been hoping to pass them in daylight. They are barren, low lying and look rather like South Stack on Holyhead. Beyond them is a very large area of drying reef. The inside passage is strewn with coral reefs, some rising to the surface while others skulk treacherously a few metres below, waiting to catch out unsuspecting sailors. The name of the archipelago 'Abrolhos' comes from 'abro olhos' meaning 'open your eyes', a notice to mariners scrolled on ancient charts warning of impending hazards.
The main interest lies underwater as the coral offers a rich habitat to rare and endemic fish and the area is a breeding ground for humpback whales from the Southern Ocean. Apparently, between July and September, it is impossible to be more than 50 metres from a whale at any one time and a fellow cruiser described the experience as 'whale soup'. We passed by in the night sticking to the charted channel.
The following day was a 'whale day'. As we sailed south we passed several small groups of humpbacks heading north. They were having a whale of a time; breaching, fluking and flipper-slapping. We could see the 'splash' from miles away, could it be a way of signalling to other whales to come and join them?
At sea be careful what you wish for. We had been cursing the light winds when a magnificent frigate bird landed at the top of the mast. We joked that it was a more reliable anemometer than our Raymarine tictac for which we are awaiting parts. The bird pointed with its wing, squawked and took off as if to say "Strong winds from the South, I'm out of here!"
Our new wind gauge: a magnificent frigate bird
Before long we were beating into a near-gale. We had two reefs in the main, the genoa was furled and the trusty staysail was hanked onto the inner forestay. We used barberhaulers for the first time to improve the angle of the staysail and it worked well.
As we approached Vitória in the State of Espírito Santo, we ate the last of the Victoria sponge and hoped that the sea would flatten a little before the time came to enter the second busiest mineral port in the world.
Night had fallen, we were still twelve miles off and the lights of the city shone brightly ahead. The alarm on our AIS went off indicating that a ship had entered our guard zone. We zoomed in and were horrified to see a hundred or more cargo ships and tankers anchored in the six nautical miles separating us from the harbour entrance. The lights we had seen were the anchored ships, not the city. We headed north around them rather than plough straight through the middle of the flotilla in the dark. Entering an unknown harbour at night is always a little daunting but Vitória is well lit and although we would have to run the gauntlet of crossing two shipping lanes, it seemed a better option on this occasion than heaving-to and waiting for dawn outside.
As the city drew near, a cold air, descended from the mountains, chilled us. Ships, ships, everywhere. An anchored vessel over 50m is supposed to show two all round white lights but some of these had so many lights, they looked like alien spacecraft. The smell of diesel was replaced by guano (you could almost taste it, the air was so thick) and then by rotting cabbage.
We approached the main shipping lane cautiously keeping a close watch on the ships at anchor nearby. The Brazilian coast is very shallow so once a ship is in the lane, it cannot stop, powerful tugboats flank it on either side, ready to nudge it if it runs aground.
The sea was still big and the waves were chaotic, steering required a great deal of concentration. The bright lights from the city and the anchored vessels dazzled us and, in comparison, the buoys marking the safe route in were dim and difficult to make out. Caramor was poised to cross the line. "Is that ship moving?" "No, it must be anchored." We started across, the ship seemed to grow larger, then we noticed the bow wave! It was heading straight for us. Caramor spun on her keel. The tug boats coming out to meet the tanker flashed us a warning glare. It wasn't that we hadn't seen it! It was huge and lit up like an over-enthusiastic Christmas tree. This was precisely the problem; its steaming lights were lost amidst the glare of the deck spotlights, its green and red navigation lights were tiny spots far back and invisible from low down forward of the bow. It was travelling slowly but looked no different to the anchored vessels. We motored in a big circle, got our breath back, and headed back for a second go. This time we crossed without trouble.
As we continued towards the yacht anchorage, dozens of terns followed us. They would disappear into the night and then suddenly reappear as they flew through the ghostly luminescence of our steaming light. Their cries echoed in the cool air. At the second shipping lane, an oil platform support vessel was heading out, we let it pass and crossed safely. We skirted round the large island in the middle of the bay, avoiding the reefs on the other side and made our final approach to the anchorage, just outside the yacht club. As we prepared the anchor, a firework display erupted overhead in the rain. Nobody was watching but we felt our arrival was indeed something to celebrate!
Vitória by night from the anchorage