Near Collision with Large Planet
Date: 11 December 2010
Position: Punta del Este 34:57.7S 054:57.0W
Punta del Este in Uruguay is the Nice of the South American Riviera. It is on a small peninsula on one side of which are the surfing waves of the South Atlantic and on the other the placid waters of the River Plate. Both sides are fringed with spectacular beaches of clean white sand stretching for several miles. Between Christmas and mid-February it is crammed with the glamorous and wealthy set of Argentina and Brazil and it was here that the Downstairs Skipper and I came with the DS’s parents and our children on holidays on several occasions some years ago. I would never have dreamt in a million years that, one day, I would sail my own yacht into the picturesque harbour, but today that is what happened.
We had had a great sail round the coast of Brazil into Uruguay, most of the time with strong winds from behind, and having to motor for only the last five hours when the wind finally died. In the two weeks since Richard, Lawrence and Tom joined me for the big push south, I have been surprised at the relative strength of winds that have meant that we have enjoyed great sailing for more than 1,000 miles, and very little motoring. We’ve all had a great time.
Another thing that has surprised me is how cold it has been. I appreciate that I will get little sympathy from most of our faithful readers as they chip the ice from their frozen water pipes and scrape the frost from the inside of their windows, but it has been freezing by our now spoilt standards. I never thought I would be sailing off the coast of Brazil in T-shirt, fleece, heavy weather jacket, a woolly hat and still be shivering. At one point I nearly got the ski gloves out. One of the reasons for this is that the sea temperature has plummeted. Further north we were used to water temperatures of between 28ºC and 30ºC – almost bath temperature – but down here the sea temperature is a chilly 19ºC. At this rate we’ll be bumping into ice flows by the time we get to Buenos Aires.
Also, as one travels south from the tropics to the temperate zones one notices changes in the flora and fauna. Two weeks ago the high mountains that spilled into the sea were covered with tropical rain forest from which came the sounds of parrots and monkeys, and the beaches were fringed with palm trees. In the sky above circled magnificent frigate birds and vultures. As we have moved south they have been replaced by petrels of every variety that swoop over and round the waves, their wingtips almost touching the water. The landscape along the southern Brazilian and Uruguayan coast is as flat as Suffolk. Some contrast.
As the whole coast is a major shipping route we have had lots of ships and fishing boats to contend with which has kept us busy and honed our seamanship skills. Last night, Richard took his position as Admiral of The Watch and was busy taking bearings of passing ships to see if any were on a collision course with us. Suddenly a new bright light of a ship popped up over the horizon behind us. It got bigger and brighter so was obviously approaching fast. Despite Richard punching buttons at random as he went into panic mode, nothing appeared on the radar. It was a complete mystery until he realised it was not a ships light, but Venus rising majestically in the East, extraordinarily bright and the size of a golfball!