The Anchorage From Hell

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sun 14 Mar 2010 21:33

Date: 14 March 2010

Position: Praía Do Farol, Cabo Frio -  22:59.92S 042:00.48W


Cabo Frio (Cape Cold) is a large peninsular which juts 5 miles out into the South Atlantic Ocean. A deep, cold current from Antarctica wells up at this obstruction and brings to the surface lots of nutrients so the area is teeming with fish and, consequently, fishing boats. The Cape consists of high steep-sided mountains and the anchorage was reached by passing through a narrow gash in the rock. The pilot book referred to a safe and secluded anchorage off a sandy white beach. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? With the wind having been very moderate on our short 25-mile trip from Búzios, we were surprised to squeeze through the gap to find a gale of wind blasting out. We could hardly stand on the deck to let the anchor go as the boat bucketed around in a steep chop. We let out a great deal of chain to ensure we didn’t drag if the already appalling conditions got worse. The idea of swimming to the perfect sandy beach was laughable.


As darkness fell, a number of fishing boats entered the bay and dropped anchor waiting for the tide to rise sufficiently to take their boats over the shallows to their harbour. Soon our secluded anchorage was like Newtown Creek on a bank holiday weekend. One boat anchored, I thought, unnecessarily close to us. Lightning was flickering all around us.  Anticipating a very early start we turned in at about 2100.


But after a couple of hours the DS called me to report a boat was rapidly approaching us. It was the fishing boat anchored close to us. The wind had gone round through 180 degrees and the wind had died to almost nothing – most of the time. About every 5 minutes, a catabatic wind – a williwaw – came screaming down the steep mountain in front of us and hit with the force of a runaway train – from 3 to 50 knots in half a second, lasted about a quarter of a minute, then calm again. In these conditions the boats were slewing around all over the place and this was causing the fishing boat to career towards us before being brought up short by his anchor rope. It was clear that a vicious cold front was passing over us and with cold fronts come rain. And rain it did – torrentially.


If williwaw sledgehammers, tropical rainstorms and out of control fishing boats weren’t enough to cope with, a deep swell started to make its way into the anchorage. The boat started trying to roll its mast out. Probably swinging 35 degrees each way, down below it was like being in a washing machine. Trying to get some much-needed sleep ahead of our long passage the following day, the DS and I were doing impersonations of star fish – spread-eagled on the bed to stop ourselves from being tossed around like rag dolls. It didn’t make for a comfortable, relaxed night.


By 0500 there was just enough light to make our way out, and without looking back, we left the loathsome anchorage to set off to fulfil the ambition of a lifetime – to sail my own yacht into the most spectacular harbour in the world – Rio de Janeiro!