Date: 20 December 2010
Position: Colonia del Sacramento 34:28S
I don’t know what it is about luxury ocean-going yachts
and their devil-may-care owners, but they seem to attract beautiful women like
flies. I had work to do and their constant demands were a damned inconvenience.
Thank God the Downstairs Skipper rushed over from Buenos Aires on hearing that I
had been abandoned by the Drunks. By the time she arrived I was beating the
nymphs off the foredeck, left and right, with my boathook. The DS had an effect
similar to a very strong insect repellent. The moment she stepped on board, the
beautiful women in their flimsy attire seemed to evaporate leaving me, at last,
in peace. What a relief.
The DS was in a state of excitement. Punta Del Este was
where, she told me, she had spent the only happy days of her life, and she
enjoyed 36 hours of nostalgic reminiscence before we cast off and sailed 60
miles down the coast to Montevideo.
The DS relives memories of the days when she was
The Uruguayan Coastguard is almost nanny-like. As we
left, we went through the obligatory process of reporting our departure, giving
our next port of call and an approximate time of arrival. They then radio that
information to your next port and they do not rest easily until you have radioed
in your safe arrival. And at the merest suggestion of a strong breeze, they will
close a port, forbidding anyone to exit, until there is almost a flat calm. The
fact that we had sailed Mina2 half
way round the world through tempests and dangerous seas to get here didn’t
I love Uruguay and the Uruguayans, and it was an enormous
pleasure to be here. Brazil is fascinating, and the coast is beautiful and
dramatic. The culture is vibrant, and the food and the music are excellent and
different. The vast majority of Brazilians are happy fun-loving people but there
is a proportion of the population that is not. Crime rates are amongst the
highest in the world, and there is an edginess, particularly in the towns. One
has to be constantly aware. One avoids walking around with cameras, watches or
jewellery. We have met numerous fellow-mariners who have been attacked in the
streets; threatened with knives, enormous machetes or even guns.
Uruguay, in stark contrast, has a very low crime rate.
All the people from the moment one arrives are incredibly friendly, including
the officials that one has to visit in order to clear ourselves and the boat
into the country. One never feels threatened and once again we are back in our
comfort zone. The countryside is also in stark contrast to that of Brazil. Gone
are the steep jungle clad mountains diving into the sea. Instead we have soft
low undulating hills fringed with sandy beaches. Yes, less dramatic, but in its
own way equally beautiful.
A Sealion enjoys the facilities of the Yate Clube de
Punta Del Este
which is more than we were
Hovering gulls in Punta Del
As we progressed down the coast, the water colour changed
from deepest blue to sludgiest brown. We were now definitely in the River Plate
which, at its mouth, is 125 miles across. We had retired for the time being from
bluewater cruising and were now definitely brownwater sailors. The River Plate
is very shallow and littered with wrecks with their rusting masts and
superstructures jutting out of the water as a constant and mournful reminder of
how treacherous the river can be.
Having previously been a little wary when soundings dropped below 30
metres, we were now belting along with no more than 3 metres of water under the
keel. My heart was in my mouth most of the time.
The yacht harbour in Montevideo is small and very
shallow. We picked up a mooring near the entrance in about the only place that
had sufficient depth for us. The DS and I were contemplating the pleasure of a
trip into Montevideo. Just before we left for our evening out, the yacht club
launch came past and an experienced local yachtsman said “There’s a Pampero
coming very soon – you will need to move further into the harbour” – which we
couldn’t do due to lack of depth. And to leave the harbour with a Pampero coming
would have been madness. We would have to tough it out.
Within the hour there were the first stirrings of the
leaves in the surrounding trees and within minutes the wind had whipped up to
40+ knots. I wish I knew where the local yachtsmen got his weather forecasts
from, as the data I had just downloaded suggested nothing more than a mild
breeze. The wind wasn’t a problem. But the waves were. They soon started
sweeping into the entrance of the harbour, directly towards us. Soon we were
bucketing around in waves feet deep and nearly wrenching our mooring out of the
It lasted no more than a couple of hours. The wind died
to nothing, but the waves kicked up by the flash storm continued to sweep in. Mina2 spent most of the night rolling
through 60º. Not only did we not get into Montevideo, but we didn’t get much
And a lie-in the following morning was out of the
question. We had nearly 80 miles to cover in daylight hours to the next safe
haven – the port of Sauce (pronounced Sow-say). We had invited Colin, the son of
friends, to join us for the passage. He is an experienced sailor and, living in
Montevideo, knew the local water. He arrived at 0600 as agreed. The forecast was
for quite light winds and lots of rain. Luckily we got neither. Whilst totally
overcast, the rain held off and we had a fabulous, fast, boisterous sail down
the coast with the wind directly behind us.
Puerto Sauce has nothing much to recommend it apart from
it being a well protected harbour down a coast where harbours are few and far
between. The dockside is dominated by a vast paper mill which spews odorous
fumes over the harbour and is incredibly noisy. Nevertheless, we found a
charming simple restaurant that provided us with a well-cooked meal at a
ridiculously low price. The following morning, before a short 20-mile passage
down to Colonia we went for a stroll round the small provincial town. We heard
the sound of a loud public address system and went to investigate. We found, to
our delight, that a rough and ready equestrian competition was taking place in a
large square. All the gauchos from the surrounding estancias had come into town
and were competing with each other galloping down the course then slaloming (if
that is the right equestrian _expression_) between oildrums before galloping back
down the course. It was great fun and the arena was surrounded by local families
who were sitting around in deck chairs sipping mate from gourds and chatting. It
was a completely unexpected treat for us.
An unexpected local gaucho
Our final port of call in Uruguay was just 20 miles down
the coast. Colonia del Sacramento is the most delightful and historic old
colonial town immediately opposite Buenos Aires 25 miles across the River Plate.
The DS and I know it well having come across the river by ferry many times in
the past. To tie up in the small yacht harbour in our own boat was a special
When I first came to Colonia some 35 years ago, it was a
faded jewel, the beautiful old buildings run down and the streets littered with
vintage cars, all falling apart but still being used for everyday life. There
were probably more Model T Fords still in use here than anywhere else in the
world. The town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has become a popular
tourist destination. The old buildings are being carefully restored and turned
into classy pousadas (small hotels). The old cars are still here, but are left
on the streets almost as museum pieces as a reminder of the past. It is a
wonderful place. We love it.
Richard on watch after two caipirinhas ..
Richard off watch after four caipirinhas
Lawrence enjoying the strong winds and the big
The conditions on our arrival in Punta Del
This is normally a placid