Irene under full sail cruising through the Cape Verde archipelago
Currently Irene and her crew are moored in the Port of Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente (Saint Vincent) in the Cape Verde archipelego. Sao Vicente is not one of the largest islands but it has the only major port as it is situated on the leeward side of the island sheltered by the island Santo Antoa.
Mindelo is a lively filled with lots of little bars and cafes along with the islands municipal markets and wholesalers. The cape verde islands depend on international imports for the majority of goods and Mindelo, as the major port, handles all the cargo ships. The islands were originally colonised by the Portuguese in the 15th century and played an important role in the Atlantic slave trade. Apparently Francis Drake ransacked the then capital Riberio grande and Darwin stopped off here on his famous voyage aboard the Beagle.
We have been moored here for 4 days while we wait for a replacement Satellite phone to be delivered. The one that was bought before leaving the UK has not worked properly for the entire voyage so far and as it is a critical part of our onboard safety equipment, we cannot sail without it. It was due to arrive Monday, then Tuesday, then Wednesday…. Today we found it that it has been stopped by customs despite the fact that no customs is due as we are in transit. It doesn’t look like we’ll get it unless we pay a large ‘handling fee’. Anyway Mindelo is an interesting place to stop for a few days.
Just across the road from the Marina is the Club Nautico which is an old colonial style building missing its roof. Every evening there is live music and the occasional small crowd dancing. The walls are filled with flags, jolly rogers and t-shirts donated by salty sea dogs passing through. We spotted the a t-shirt from tall ship Tres hombres who sailed through recently on their mission to collect rum from the caribbean for the Dutch market. There are many little bars which open onto the streets and often have locals musicians playing.
On the first night we went to a little bar on the main square. As we sampled the local ‘Cerveja’ Strela which is brewed on the islands we witnessed many young girls sold by their pimps getting into a stream of taxis. Apparently the the sex trade is alive and kicking here. Later in the evening on the orders of a local guy we met called George, we headed up the hill to a local nightclub called ‘Experience’. Earlier that night Laurance, our captain, had given us a briefing on Mindelo and had explicitly warned us not to go beyond the town square up the hill as its generally not considered safe for foreign visitors. In order to enter ‘Experience’ you had to take a card from the bouncer to record your drinks which you pay for upon leaving. If you lose your card you are fined 50 Euros, which apparently happens quite a lot according to George, our multilingual charming new friend. The bar was staffed by young girls in incredibly short tight dresses and fetish shoes. The dance floor had a pole. The music was a mixture of the very worst pop music and ghetto R&B. The place was filled with men with girls on or around them that looked as young as 14. Charming. Fabi and Martina (recently renamed Cortina) immediately took off their shoes hit the dance floor with some seriously energetic moves (Cabin fever). Almost immediately they were swarmed by a mob of gyrating guys. Unusually for me I was completely unable to dance.
Each morning we have been doing repairs and maintenance tasks on the boat; The main hatch needed to be stuck back together after the boom knocked it off its hinges when we gybed the ship just before entering Mindelo harbour; The ships wheel needed to be stuck back together; The rigging, which attaches the masts to the ship, required more tension as it had worked loose through the weeks sailing from Plymouth.
We were all taught how to tighten each of the shrouds (there is 14 in total) using a series of pulleys to add the tension, followed by a sequence of retying all knots, adding hitches to prevent slippage and lashing the ends. We also went about the boat greasing all the little bits that rub and squeak when we’re sailing.
This time Fabi, our most recent crew member, got the chance to go up the main and mizzen mast.
One afternoon, after completing the daily maintenance tasks, we took a tour of the island to investigate what lay beyond the confines of Mindelo. The island is very sparsely populated. We were surprised to find there was only really 5 main villages on the island with the occasional tiny dwelling dotted between them. The first stop on our little adventure was up the central mountain of Monte Verde which is approximately 800 m high.
From there we were able to get a full 360 degree vista of the island. As I looked down towards Mindelo harbour I spotted the tiny outline and twin masts of Irene. The rest of the island looked like the surface of the Mars. A desert of volcanic rock and sun baked soil. Virtually nothing appeared to grow up the side of the hills. There is very little rainfall on the islands with the only major rainfall between October and December when the island burst into new growth and the inhabitants are able to grow maize, beans and bananas on the slopes of the mountain.
Later we travelled through a valley between the windward (Atlantic facing) side of the island and Mindelo, which is the main area for the cultivation of fruit and vegetables. The area is completely dependent on irrigation as evidenced by the network of piping between the rows and the windmill pumping water from deep wells. Most of the potable tap water is created by desalinating seawater, a very energy intensive process. There are plans for wind powered desalination plants.
Along the Atlantic coast of Sao Vicente there are 2 small fishing towns, one of which is ‘Baia das gates’, which has a natural lagoon for swimming and a beautiful sandy beach facing the Atlantic ocean which hosts nesting turtles in the summer months. The area has been designated a protected nature zone to protect the migrating turtle population. I got the impression that the area has begun to develop very recently. The beach was deserted apart from a few young men eating their lunch and swimming of the nearby rocks.
Apart from the regular yachting visitors, the other injection of westerners is from the occasional cruise ship which arrives to dump it’s tourist cargo for 48 hours filling the town with a cruise of tourists following each other around the markets and harbour side cafes.
From what I have understood there are more visitors to the other larger islands. Sao Antoa which lies directly opposite Mindelo is a luscious green island where the majority of local food is cultivated for the archipelago and is more popular with visitors. Originally some of us were hoping to do some diving (apparently there are manta rays!) on our day off but we found it to be prohibitively expensive.
Cape Verde is relatively expensive place to visit as the prices are similar to those paid in Europe (It is certainly not African prices). The only thing here that is cheap by comparison is the fish which forms to core part of the island diet. Much of the fish is supplied by day fishermen who go out in their brightly coloured small motor and sail boats to fish off the island of Sao Lucia, an uninhabited island on the windward side of the archipelago which has large shoals of fish.
Once caught the fishermen from Mindelo land it in the harbour and take it directly to the municipal fish market where a team of young men in high vis jackets gut, descale and prepare the fish, sometimes preparing salt fish, before it goes next door for sale to the public. Check out this character who was delighted to be photographed and put on an energetic show while preparing a moray eel for us to try.
We are setting sail for Trinidad tomorrow morning bright and early. Jamie has arranged for the slow food community of Trinidad to receive Irene and her New Dawn Traders.
So until the other side – Our longest leg of the voyage!
Making way to Cape Verde - 7 days and nights at sea from one set of volcanic islands to another.
At most we saw 4 ships the whole time. I have more pictures of sunsets and sunrises then I know what to do with! Each day I feel another knot untangle in my shoulders and my forehead expand as the days melt into each other. It is profoundly relaxing at sea. I remember back to my frantic preparations in January. I imagined storms, driving rain, anxiety, significant amounts of peril and fear of the high seas. But so far we have had day after day of insanely pleasant glorious sailing with the sea being an endless source of fascination. The worst we have experienced was the dense fog leaving Dournanenez, all those weeks ago, when we required a permanent bow watch through the gloom.
I’ve been surprised at actually how its possible for the 12 of us to live in such close quarters and not go bonkers. It is possible to create space for yourself and be quite private despite the fact that our world is less than 38 by 10 m (max!). My personal strategy is having my own private dance offs on the bow of the boat to ward off the whispers of cabin fever. I’m really looking forward to the 2-3 weeks on the big crossing and wondering actually how many days I could stay at sea before I would get land-sick and pine for the dry solid land. But I realise I’d probably be eating my words if the weather was bad!
We all take turns on the watches which are 4 hours each and we work in groups of 3. Every third day Jamie, Kat or I are on galley duty (because we are the 3 with the greatest desire to cook) along with another trainee as sous chef. Its a full time mission for all aboard to keep this ship sailing!
Highlights: swimming off the ship, bananagrams and the sunsets.
Lowlight: Urrrmmmmm. Struggling to think of one…. Hmmmmm. The middle of one of my cakes didn’t cook through properly. That is probably as bad as it has got. Oh apart from endless crew ‘discussions’ about cheese – Rationing the cheese rations is proving contentious….
Below is a day by day which I hope paints a picture of the life we are sharing on board Good Ship Irene.
We departed from San Miguel with good winds and choppy seas. Farewell Astrid!
The wind was Force 6 and Irene surfed on a bearing of SW by S flanked by galloping white horses. Almost immediately half the crew was feeling queasy again including our new arrival Fabi who unfortunately for her found herself on duty with me in the Galley preparing lunch and dinner in the lurching swell. We had pans, cups and ingredients flying all over the galley. The galley is the last place you want to be if you are feeling sick so in the end she went to lie on deck to recover.
Graveyard watch (2-6am). The sea and sky was pitch black with no moonlight. We are still sailing through dense phosphorescence algae in the sea, leaving a wake of stunning brilliance astern. The sky was rich with stars and I felt myself become lightheaded staring at the constellations. I’m obsessed with the sky. It’s all consuming when you are completely surrounded by the clearest but darkest tingul skies.
‘In the love of the infinite we find eternity in the here and now’
The rest of the day was very quiet. Still much of the crew was tired and suffering the after effects of seasickness so no one really hung around on deck between watches. I spent most of my spare time reading ‘The book of disquiet’ by Fernando Passoa, which is great reflective brain food. His vivid descriptive snippets of brain chatter disgorged into the pages of the book are both insightful and hilarious. Well worth a read if you are jaded with the utter drivel that can contaminate adventures in the modern world. I’m also reading ‘Birdsong’ in the longer daily spaces when I have the opportunity to fully immerse myself in a narrative.
My day began with dawn watch (6-10am). The sun rose behind the clouds. We watched as the pink dawn seeped behind fluffy clouds of gunmetal grey until the full beam burst through. It was like you could see the rays of light, almost like the individual photons visible.
Later that day Damon and Antje made an in-situ repair to the mizzen sail which acquired a tear between Vigo and Tenerife.
One of the spokes of the wheel snapped while helming in the big swell and now the wheel is bound up with clamps and twine. A full repair will be done when we next get a moment in port.
A super chilled start to the day as Antje and I were on galley duty. We both decided it was a good day to do our own washing. We get seawater by swinging a bucket attached to a rope over the side of the boat. We washed our clothes in big rubber buckets. As we have very limited fresh water supplies we’ve also been doing the washing up in seawater.
For lunch we prepared fresh bread, tomato and pepper soup and garlic croutons for lunch followed by thai stir fried rice with soy ginger tempeh or chicken in the evening.
Here is my sous chef, Antje, snoozing aft after a long day in the galley.
I’ve been wondering if I’ve been ingesting any phosphorescent algae and if they can still glow in my tummy. I imagine not because I think the stomach acid would kill them… But it would be cool if the genes for the light emitting could become incorporated into human cells and that we could pulse neon light at will… After all glow in the dark cats have been engineered already…
Also today Martina cut Jamie’s hair.
After a lunch, the Captain called out to see how many of us wanted to swim. The call back was unanimous.
We hove to as the wind was light by backing the sails and threw the scrabble net out. Antoine fetched the lifebuoy attached and threw it overboard not realising that it was unattached to anything on the boat. The attempt at swimming then turned into a man overboard manoeuvre. It took 3 attempts to catch the life buoy as we were under sail and the life buoy was moving in the current. At one point we thought we had totally lost it for good before it was spotted glinting in the bright sun. When we finally recovered the lost buoy swimming was cancelled. We had wasted too much time. At least there is another drill logged in the safety book.
We ate dinner under an incredible sunset. The sky transitioned through a kaleidoscope of colour, from bright azure and yellows to dense reds and pink to purples.
Leslie, our skipper and owner of Irene has been delivering daily lectures, to tell us about his beautiful ship Irene, how she was built and repaired, what all the parts and rigging are called. Learning about sailing and good seamanship is a core part of our daily activities on the ship and Leslie has played a key role in passing on that knowledge.
Dawn watch. Another tranquil dawn sail. The airs were light. I finished ‘Birdsong’ after my watch, which is quite different from the TV dramatization that was aired in January. I prefer the book.
After lunch the Captain proposed stopping for a swim again. This time we took care to make sure the lifebuoy was properly attached to avoid a rerun of the previous day and then all dived in. The water was clear and warm. Any initial reservations about jellyfish and sharks drifted away as I contemplated that we were swimming in 2000m of water somewhere in the Atlantic. We swam around Irene like giddy ducklings. Occasionally scrambling back up to dive off the bulwarks again. The view from the water of the ship was EPIC.
‘Irene, you are the most beautiful ship in the world!’
The GPS showing we are getting close to the Cape Verde archipelago.
Leslie took all the trainee crew on a tour around the boat, naming all the parts, outlining the correct nautical terms and giving us some historical context to some words that are in the English vocabulary that originate from nautical terms. Bit-by-bit Leslie is sharing with us his thoughts on the future he envisages for his beloved ship Irene. First and foremost he wants to see her sailing all year round and for the ship to not be a burden for his family. The challenge for all of us is to create a sustainable future for her.
While on the dog watch (6-8pm) the captain called back from the bow
‘Sea rats to starboard!’
Those of us on deck dashed to the rail to see the pod of joyful leaping dolphins, joining us for a few brief moments before skipping off under the stern of the ship.
I was roused from a deep sleep for the Graveyard watch (2-6am) with Martina. I stumbled on deck bleary eyed to once again fall into the rich starlit sky.
Within an hour of watch we spotted dolphins in the phosphorescence and jellyfish. Flashing darting tubes ducking and diving under the stern off Irene interspersed with large bright jellyfish globes drifting by. Both Martina and I spotted numerous shooting stars which we duly made lots of extravagant wishes on.
Our watch was quiet as we both drifted taking turns on the helm with soft folk tunes playing as Irene eased gently through the sea in the light airs trailing her glowing wake.
Around the 6am we set the sails to ‘goosewing’ as the wind was directly aft. I watched the sunrise with the next watch and then snoozed on the back of the whaleback in the dawn light before heading back to my cabin where I fell deep into sleep dreaming of scuba diving out of an optimist dinghy on an island where it never got light.
Later in the day I made some fresh bread and then returned to watch with Martina at 2pm.
Kat and Fab were on galley duty preparing an incredible feast. We have started making our own fresh yoghurt on board (Kat’s idea!). I don’t think I have made yoghurt since A-level Biology practical when we made yoghurt to stain gram-positive bacteria. It is so blooming simple I’m wondering why it takes some form of domestic extremism, coming to sea to remember the simplest things. We also have mung bean sprouts growing to provide fresh bursts of flavour and nutrients for our salads.
We passed a cruise ship probably heading to the Canaries called Astor. I wondered whether any of the inhabitants had spotted us, and what they might think of this boat from another time cruising the Atlantic far from shore.
Gaddafi has a beautiful sextant and has been teaching how to use it to establish our co-ordinates (A vision of the world before SatNav). Using the series of mirrors, while measuring the angles of celestial bodies combined with information from the 2012 Almanac, it is possible to calculate latitude and longitude giving us the location of the ship on the ocean. So far Gaddafi has managed to get our coordinates within 3 mile accuracy. A great start! I finally won a game of Bananagrams, which is the new addiction on board.
Today the skipper Leslie gave us a lecture on weather, wind strength and the rules of avoiding collision from the RYA yacht masters handbook. We have strict instructions to learn the rules of the road, in advance of our next lecture at sea. He’ll be testing us all on it!
Back on galley duty, this time with Ville. I’ve started reading ‘The Great Partnership’ by Jonathen Sacks about the search for meaning and the relationship between science and religion. An antithesis to the writings of famous atheist Dawkins (whose works I also enjoy reading). I’ve read it before but like to keep re-reading chapters as every dip into it I find some new meaning or take on the words within.
Another such book that I have been dipping in and out of is ‘The Hungry City’ by Caroline Steel on how food shapes our lives, which Jamie brought on board with him. Caroline writes on page 310 that ‘a return to sailing ships carrying cargo’ is part of the vision for ‘Sitopia’. We all agree here Caroline!
Antje (my roomie) and I were on watch together for the first time in the voyage. As we helmed Irene together Antje recounted to me her experiences of working for an NGO in Nigeria. As the watch meandered on we spotted several shooting stars.
Antje and I were back on watch again at 10am. I came on deck to see that we were sailing through the Cape Verde archipelago. We have sailed from one set of volcanic islands to another. Cape Verde is a former colony of Portugal and was uninhabited until it was colonised in order to assist in the slave trade. Before we docked in the port of Mindelo, we stopped to get some photo of Irene under full sail from the rib. She looked particularly good with the islands in the background.
Finally late afternoon we moored up in the fishing port. We stowed the sails, cleaned the decks and set out for shore leave.
As we disembarked I noticed the rare crescent moon venus jupiter conjunction hanging above Irene in Port.
…I see seas of blue, and bright sunshine through
Clouds so bright until we sail thru’ the night.
Dream like wake onto new states
My spirit free crossing the seas…
Departing today for the Cape Verde Island. The weather forecast is good with a strong wind, Force 7-8. We will be running all the way and hope to reach them within a week.