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Cape Verde Is Calling

Jordan & Judy Mills

Sea Turtle IV
Endurance Centre-Cockpit 35'
February 13th, 2019

Preceding a passage there is often a certain measure of healthy trepidation that swells up in a sailor’s blood, regardless of the amount of courage that runs through the veins. Prudent weather analysis helps to quell that uneasiness. However, the sailor with any amount of nautical miles under their keel has learned that the sea, and its accomplice the wind, can conspire to teach a lesson to those who pass through their domain with a lack of respect for their potential powers.

And so once again, after a close watch of forecasts and an assuage to the sea and wind with a tithing of respect, we left Canary Islands in the early afternoon under sunny skies. It was a comparatively short passage of 8 days taking us south, brushing the shoulder of west Africa, past Dakar and the shores of western Sahara, to the Cape Verde Islands.

Although we were about 80 nautical miles off the coast, the Sahara reminded us of its presence with a faint terrestrial scent that wafted over the waves and broke the monotony of the night watch. A mysterious foreign scent that conjured images of bygone years of a silhouette of a chain of camels in a ghostly caravan, trekking along the ridges of those endless and great barren desert dunes of the Sahara.

More than once I have been alerted by an earthy scent that landfall, not yet within sight, was imminent. For the ancient sailor, this sense was just one of their “aids to navigation”. While full advantage should be taken of modern advancements in marine safety, technical dependency can allow for the atrophy of instincts and the replacement of intuition in the modern-day mariner, and that would be a shame.

Having said that, we have embraced yet another system aboard our boat. To those unfamiliar with the Garmin InReach product line, it is a satellite communication system allowing SOS, texting, and emails and is well worth considering. During our passage, Adam Wanczura, an associate member of the Bluewater Cruising Association, acted as our weather guru. He sifted through weather data found on the Internet and kept us up-to-date on what to expect from the weather along our route via the InReach system. It worked great. Thank you, Adam!

For passages, it is just Judy and me aboard. There are only a few welcomed exceptions and one is our friend the moon. During our passage, it showed up with a majestic profile and radiance that was more than adequate to spread a carpet of diamond sparkles over the waves and usher us to a new land. Another welcomed guest was a pod of small dolphins. They were unusually small but, as usual, they gaily cavorted in Sea Turtle‘s bow waves.

On another occasion, after the moon abandoned us to chase the sun over the horizon and left us in an inky darkness, a pod of dolphins came upon us like a naval attack with a bio-illumination spectacle. I only took notice because during my regular groggy 360° visual, I did a double-take at a bizarre sight I couldn’t initially comprehend. It looked as though there was a rapid fire of silver bullets streaking across our bow and out into the dark starboard oblivion. Adding to that surreal display were curious trails of light zipping erratically through the water, breaking the surface and barely missing our bow. Were we under attack? Was I hallucinating? Was I not awake yet or so tired I was seeing things? I’ve read stories of sailors so deprived of sleep that they enter another dimension of reality. Fortunately, these strange sites quickly jarred me fully awake faster than a triple shot of Moroccan espresso.

What I was truly seeing were not errant torpedoes but those small, exuberant dolphins. They came to not only play in the phosphorescence of our bow waves, but also for a midnight snack. The bullet-like phosphorescence streaks were actually flying fish not having such a grand old time. They were jarred awake from their aquatic slumber by these behemoths roaring at them and were being hunted. As the flying fish catapulted themselves into the blacker than black night, the light from our various running lights reflected off their large eyes, which were even larger because of their predicament. Their frantic trajectory left bio-luminescence trails in their slipstream.

Chanty, our cat, knowing that on deck were fish left from the night’s encounter, was meowing like a cat possessed wanting out. Relenting, we leashed her and took her out. Normally, when she sees a fish, she dashes at it like a toad’s tongue to a tick, but this time she halted as though dumbstruck. When we investigated, we saw dozens of flying fish had their final flight plan end on Sea Turtle‘s deck. Our cleanup yielded 91 fish, 1 squid and a whole lot of scales. Of those, Chanty had her pick of the litter.

Small sample of flying fleet

I didn’t need to be hit on the head with the boom to deduce that we were finally in waters with some fish to catch, so I dragged a line and lure. It wasn’t 10 minutes before the bell on the end of the rod was dinging and the line was spooling fast. I wrestled with the rod and saw a  whopper jumping and fighting. I think it was a Wahoo. Eventually, the ‘big one got away’. One point for the fish, zero for the fisherman.

Right away, the line out went for another try and again, in just a few short minutes, I got another bite. With Chanty encouraging me with excited meows, I successfully landed a nice Mahi Mahi. One for the fish, one for the fisherman.

A tasty catch

We had a variety of weather and sea conditions during the passage. The first day, we ran downwind in brisk 30-knot winds. As steep short waves kicked us along, we flew a poled-out staysail to port and a poled-out genoa, furled to a third, on starboard. When the winds died down, we gradually unfurled the genoa. As the sea transformed from short waves to long swells, we continued downwind, enduring a sloppy roll for much of the passage.

After leaving an almost straight track for 892 nautical miles, on the morning of the 8th day we pulled into the large bay of Porto Grande. We anchored in front of Mindelo, the capitol of the Cape Verde Island of Sao Vicente. Check-in with Immigration and Police, both a short walk away, was friendly and easy.

If we had been asked what we expected Cape Verde to be like, we would have thought of a verdant landscape, as in the translation of the word, ‘verde’, which is ‘green’. However, the arid climate offers a landscape void of greenery (maybe an antonym was chosen for the Island’s name to conceal the lack of greenery, similar to what was done with Greenland). It is a better name than, ‘Brown Cape’, or ‘Hazy Cape’, and probably works to promote tourism (there was a constant haze of dust from the nearby African desert, brought across by the prevailing winds). In spite of all this, there is a rugged beauty to behold.

Many hazy days

This country, having relatively recently gained independence, is making great strides at improving conditions for its citizens. By encouraging tourism, capitalizing on the strong fishing industry, and making education mandatory, to name a few initiatives, the standard of living has increased well above other African nations.

Of interest to yachties, the word was to be a little more vigilant about boat theft, but otherwise the location felt safe. Basic supermarket provisioning is available and the local open markets provide a good selection of produce. The fish market is a bustling affair with a prodigious amount of large pelagic fish, such as tuna, Wahoo, etc.

Local boats

We were pleasantly surprised to be able to get our spare propane tank filled quickly and easily, even though it has an American fitting and the tank has expired according to European law. We previously filled the tank in Gibraltar and it cost us over $100 CDN. Here it cost about $11 CDN.

As I write, we have another couple of days before crossing the Pond. The only things to do now are a quick bottom scrub and top  up our fuel and larders. Oh yes, and a prudent weather forecast check and pay our respects to the sea and the wind.

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  1. Avatar Brian Short says:

    Great story telling, thanks. Love the imagery.
    Brian, Carpe Ventus in La Paz Mexico

  2. Avatar Yvonne Harwood says:

    Thank you for your story – well written, educational and captivating. Please keep them coming….
    Wishing you following winds and following seas, neither of which too strong or high.
    Yvonne Harwood,
    S.V. Ostara,
    BCA Member

  3. Avatar Peter Christensen says:

    Very nicely written. Thank you for sharing Sea Turtle IV adventures.