And avoid Praia, stressed cautious warnings on sailing blogs. A torrent of horror stories substantiated the alert. Going from complaints about theft of valuables and less valuables, people being threatened and mugged, dinghies and outboards disappearing, laptops tablets smartphones cameras walking off all by themselves, villains swimming out to the boat and sneaking on board void of noble intentions, and so on.
One explanation for this is Cabo Verde’s geostrategic location and the folk it attracts. The Cabo Verde archipelago consists of 10 volcanic islands and 8 islets. The horseshoe cluster is on the crossroad of mid-Atlantic flight and shipping lanes, connecting Europe with Africa and the Americas. It is about 350 sea miles from West-Africa, near Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia. In Apartheid days sanctions prohibited trade with South Africa, but Cabo Verde kept an independent position and served as refueling stop for SA flights. Crossing the Atlantic will bring you past the Caribbean islands, to Venezuela, and more interestingly Colombia. The latter’s largest export product was shipped in high volume to the Netherlands and Germany via Cabo Verde. In 2007, Operacão Lancha Voadora put an end to the most successful drug trafficking group and Cabo Verde lost her spot as number one cocaine rerouting point.
On the 16th of October, Exodus arrived in São Vicente’s capital, Mindelo, after 8 days on the open ocean, covering 832 sea miles. She entered the bay at 3 am, blown in on a strong wind, slightly disorientated as lights on shore and off shore are not always that easy to discern from a distance. On top of that, three big abandoned cargo ships crowded the bay, close to the anchorage. Luckily the marina offered a very neat and accurate description of the approach on its website and we had studied this in advance. We dropped anchor, admired all the lights around us, and got some rest.
The next day we woke up facing a pleasant small town. Soon it became clear the information on the sailing blogs is outdated. Not only has the marina been secured by fenced gates to the quays. It also offers a safe dinghy dock, at the floating bar/ restaurant, for the boats on anchor. You can leave your boat and dinghy unattended. Apart from that the government actually stepped in and addressed the security and safety problems, creating a welcoming, friendly environment for cruisers and visiting yachts. The ARC plus passes through Mindelo in November and really fills up the marina and bay during those days. It is the last chance for ARC plus sailors and their followers to stock up on fresh produce and tinned foods, much to the benefit of the local economy. Cabo Verde streamlined the whole check-in process, making the paperwork and custom clearance straight forward.
After eight days of passage making Exodus was in dire need of a wash. Since we arrived well ahead of the ARC, the Mindelo Marina had many open berths. The extra space made it easy to dock the boat. And for once, the docking assistants seemed to know what they are doing. The usual drill when going into a marina is to wash everything from top to bottom: Exodus outside, wipe all surfaces inside as one can find fingerprints and yucky marks in the strangest places, do the laundry and shower extensively. Unfortunately, sweet water is an amenity that does not come natural to the island. You pay per liter. Credit is loaded on a card. This somewhat curtailed our usual water splurging in the marina. Exodus got the equivalent of a bucket shower rather than a full cream bath. Our dirty laundry had accumulated and due to water conserving strategies and increasing humidity, especially the bed linen looked disgusting. Although there were no washing machines in the marina, laundry services in town were advertised on the notice board. The one complete with pick- up, drop-of, drying, folding and ironing; the other one self-service.
We found out the next day that due to its importance in the ARC plus, Mindelo is a typical place for crew to switch boats. Some crew aim to catch a ride there and keep their options open until the next happiness train comes along.
The downwind crossing under constant cloud cover and moderate winds made clear to us that a different alternator with more output was desired to keep our battery pack topped up. The marina had a good workshop that could get us a new one and install it for us. We decided to fit the Volvo Penta 60 amp alternator that was available. This took several days as the bracket to fit it on had to be custom made.
While upgrades and maintenance was under way Gitane managed to make some friends. She was invited for a playdate with Moira (9 yrs) and Ullyses (6 yrs) of SY Gaia, a French registered boat. Another family that started travelling around the world by sailboat this year and is homeschooling their children.
Mindelo town has a nice feel about it. Our first impression was of a pleasant and polished up version of the Africa we know. We spotted the same type of buildings and colours as in North Mozambique, but then in a much cleaner, better maintained version. There are plenty of small supermercados along the marginal, and towards the town center some spare parts and brick-a-brack shops. To restock or work down a shopping list you better check them all out and be amazed at what you can find (e.g. mast sliders, second hand roping, straps, fan belts assorted, …). Feels like coming home to Mozambique, where there is no such thing as quickly jumping in the shop and having a pick amongst different brands of the same product. Shops only have a certain amount of items. If you are lucky you can find the rest of your goods in the neighboring shops.
To make up for the lack of pork chops and other fresh meat cuts, there is a big fish market, filled with Gitane-sized tunas, different species of groupers, snappers and other reef dwellers. All looking very promising for the spear fishermen amongst us. There is an indoor and outdoor fruit and vegetable market where you can haggle over the prices. Adjoining there is a curio and clothes market. And let’s not forget the second hand clothing market.
If you can negotiate your way in Portuguese, completing your travel pharmacy is no problem. Once you explain the purpose to the pharmacist you don’t have to rush of to the GP for a prescription. You can get it over the counter. The big advantage of a less regulated, African society…
The Cape Verdean people are known for their musicality, and gave us a taster during the Mindelo music festival. Cabo Verde music blends Portuguese, African and Brazilian influences. There was live music in bars, with old musicians jamming along with the newer generation, occasionally taking over the show. We picked a bar and listened to a younger version of Cesaria Evora. The best known type is the morna, melancholic and in Creole. Other types are the coladeira, funaná and batuque.
The inhabitants come in various shades of brown, going from pale, bronzed, coloured, light brown, to black, depending on the percentage of Portuguese ancestry.
After our crew had left, we spent a few more days on anchor in Mindelo bay, working down our list of small repairs and preparations before the Atlantic crossing:
- Oiling the steering mechanism, so that squeaking sounds are prevented
- Fixing the damaged plastic on the compass
- Improving the bed linen and pillow cases for the different cabins
- Going up the full length of the mast to retrieve the genoa halyard which untied itself when lifting the dinghy
Having visited the local fish market, Arthur was itching to go spearfishing. He organised with 2 local fishermen to take him to a spot a 50 min drive away. Even though the conditions were not great, there was a lot of wind, big surf, with current running opposite direction, and low visibility, he came back with one amberjack and two kingfish. We kept 2 fillets from the amberjack and gave the other fish to the local guys. Gitane got a small red coral grouper in return. One and a half fillet of amberjack was made into pickled fish. We put the grouper and the rest of the fillet in the oven, with Gitane eating the entire grouper (a 30 Euro piece in Greece) all by her self. Delicious.
All in all we had a great time in Mindelo and were ready to discover more of the islands.
We set course for Santo Antão, an easy sail with favorable wind. Close to the island we saw a pod of small whales. Only the next day we had the opportunity to observe them up close (see a perfect day)