A vida local Mindelo
by Lucy Gilliam
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!