Mina2 Retires From Bluewater Cruising
Date: 20 December 2010
Position: Colonia del Sacramento 34:28S 057:51.26W
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 happy
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 exempt us.
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 allowed
Hovering gulls in Punta Del Este
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 ground.
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 sleep either.
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 tournament
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 moment.
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 waves
The conditions on our arrival in Punta Del Este
This is normally a placid beach