In part one – Two Thousand Miles to Brazil Part 1 – of this amazing sailing adventure, Thomas and his young family buy a traditional Puerto Rican fishing vessel and set sail through the Caribbean Islands heading south. The race is on to reach Brazil before Thomas’ wife, Christina, gives birth to their second child. – Ed
The big day arrived in October when we sailed out of Guayama, Puerto Rico, to Salinas, then on to Naguabo and back to our house in Vieques, where we did a final sort through of what was really important and worth taking with us all the way to Brazil, and what should just be given away.
On the beat from Vieques to St Thomas, the wind blew strong during the night, and I had yet to make the reef points, so my only option was to sail under jib alone, which is not very good as it puts undue pressure on the jib and rig. So the first thing in St Thomas was a visit to Dietrich’s sail loft on Hassel Island where he did a really great job putting in three deep reef points in both the jib and the mainsail.
As we were racing the clock, or rather, the fetus, to Brazil, there was still plenty of things unfinished on the boat. Each time we stopped for more than a few days, I would pull out my tools and try and scratch as many things off the list as possible.
On to Jost Van Dyke, where years before I had courted my wife. Here we stayed a few weeks taking on a number of small jobs and building another dinghy. I sailed to Tortola to investigate my haul out and work options there, but the yard manager was ill and the yard was closed, so I sailed back to exclusive St. John, looking for work and to get some more crucial tasks done on board. Customs in St John threatened to confiscate my boat for not having numbers.
“But it was built on the beach and is engineless! It’s just a big sailing dinghy, really,” I protested.
He was not impressed.
Time was closing in, it was already late January. We left St. John with low dark clouds menacing. Sure enough, the wind got fierce, and the boat started leaking quite a bit, so I turned back, but just to a deserted little cove on the south side of St John. I was in no mood to lose miles to windward, nor for that matter to revisit the charming customs man. In order to fix the leak I swung the boom out the port side and hung full jerry cans, anchors and other weights to heel the boat over till the leak was just out of the water on the starboard side. Some trusty PC 11 jammed in the seam did the trick, at least good enough till I hauled out.
The Anegada Passage lived up to its reputation, especially now in the winter months, as the Atlantic Ocean collides with the Caribbean Sea and raises a mean, short and confused sea.
One wave in particular smacked against the bow with such force the entire boat shook from end to end and all sorts of apparently well stored items below were dislodged and sent scattering fore and aft. I sailed slowly, on purpose, to lessen the wear and tear on ship and crew. Christina was catatonic with sea sickness, wedged in our bunk the whole way to St. Martin.
St. Martin has long been a favorite of mine with its blend of the liberal but efficient Dutch and the laidback French cultures existing side by side. The rest of the family enjoyed it here too; such a big change from just a few islands downwind. Christina was blown away by the French pastry shops. We had to go to the end of the airport runway so Gaston could watch the jumbos practically give everyone a haircut upon landing, and then sandblast everyone when they take off. I suspect the pilots get a little kick out of it too and hold the brakes for just a little longer than necessary. Gaston found that exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
I very quickly found work on the luxury yachts, which allowed me to get the money needed for the much anticipated haul out. Since I have internal ballast, before hauling I had to remove the 5500kg of lead so as not to put unnecessary stress on the hull, as well as to thoroughly inspect and clean out the bilge. Three weeks on the hard at Time Out Boat Yard—and two gallons of the most toxic bottom paint money can buy, later—and we were back in the water.
We met a friendly couple on another sailboat, which came from British Guyana, and they told us all about how nice a place it is and how cheap it is to live there. They told us they lived on the Essequibo River and would help us find land, almost for free. When my wife realized it was only half as far as Brazil, she kept urging me to go there instead. I mumbled “we’ll see” as the vaguest possible answer to those unwelcome comments. Christina is a sport, but she had only ever done daysails with me, and she was not doing well on these longer trips.
By now it was end of March and I was really starting to stress. I did some last minute work on the boat and then we went to the bulk food market and bought enough food to last us a couple of months at sea. And we were off! Or were we?
During the night, the seas got impressively tall and I put three reefs in the mainsail and two in the jib. About 02:00 I could see a loom to the southeast and calculated it must be Barbuda. I decided we would take a breather there, so I continued sailing on the port tack until I could feel the bottom with the lead line, then tacked without passing the jib, so the boat lay hove-to, safely awaiting the dawn to sail into Barbuda, which is littered with coral reefs just under the surface. The water was stunningly clear, but there was no way to get ashore for a walkabout what with the enormous crashing surf due to the high swell.
Once the cold front had blown through, we had a thrillingly fast reach down to Antigua. We raced another sailboat, neck and neck the whole way.
From Antigua we sailed to Dominica, where there is a charming market and we could refresh our stores of fresh victuals. Here, the harbor is wide open and I was able to check the accuracy of my sun sights. I got an error of half a mile, which I find is quite acceptable.
Finally, on the 9th of April we upped anchor and this time I would not be stopping anywhere further south, as my angle was bad enough already. I sailed around the North end of Dominica, the sun beating down hard on the azure seas and we watched as the lush mountains of Dominica slowly faded away in the distance.
I put out the trolling line with a fancy lure and a bungee cord setup which had been carefully explained to me by another cruiser, and which he claimed worked very well.
The weather, now being slightly further south, was better, just out of reach of the cold fronts and their stronger winds and harsher seas.
I kept the Oasis close hauled on the port tack, almost always, unless sufficiently headed by a shift in the wind to the south, in which case I would tack. Invariably this would not last very long till the wind went back to the east and then I would fall back onto port tack. The boat sailed along very well to windward with the tiller tied and the sails adjusted correctly. I tried to allow the Oasis to go as fast as possible without pitching too violently. If the waves got too steep I would take in some more sail to slow her down a bit. Generally we would make between 170 and 120 miles per day through the water. Even so, Christina could not cook, which is normally her responsibility onboard, and every so often I would hear groans of despair and complaints emanating from the aft cabin. I was de-facto singlehanding.
When we were passing Martinique, just two days after leaving Dominica, I reluctantly agreed to Christina’s request to go to British Guyana, which would be much quicker than sailing to Brazil.
Next month! In the final part of this three part series, Thomas Tangvald and his family make landfall, but is it British Guyana?