From La Gomera to Paramaribo
In Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera we wait for the right wind to make the crossing to Cape Verde. The website we visit most frequently, www.weatheronline.co.uk, indicates that there won't be enough wind in the coming days, so we put off our departure. In the meantime, we enjoy the hippy atmosphere in this town which is completely populated by Germans. It's like a German colony. There's a cave, which can only be reached by climbing over a beach full of rocks and stones, which has been the home of Angelo, a German, for the past ten years. He likes to make music together with other people and he earns money by teaching people how to create their own drum from a cactus. During our visit people drum and play guitar while the water pipe is passed round.
In Playa, on the other side of the valley, each night many hippies gather on the beach to enjoy the sunset. There's a lot of drumming there as well and dancing with fire. Hans joins the drumming twice, the atmosphere is great and the sunsets are truly unsurpassed.
In a rowing boat
As we are still waiting for the right wind to sail, we rent a car and discover that La Gomera is a beautiful green island. The road to San Sebastiaan winds its way through mountains and valleys and beautiful forests. We enjoy the lovely views.
In San Sebastiaan we clear through customs because we will be leaving Europe soon. In the harbour are rowing boats which are preparing for a race. These small boats, which contain one or two persons and in which you have to row constantly to move forward, are tossed around considerably by the waves. This way, they cross the Atlantic Ocean in approximately 48 days!! In comparison, our sail boat is very luxurious and comfortable.
Since we have a rental car, we pay a last visit to a big supermarket to replenish our stock on board.
Missed the storm
At last the day has come. The force and direction of the wind will be very favourable the coming week. We set off and leave Europe. What will be awaiting us in Cape Verde? It's exciting to arrive in an African country for the first time with our Happy Monster.
During the first five days it's a beautiful and calm journey, but then the wind changes and the sea starts getting restless. We experience again what life would be like in a cocktail shaker. Everything is shaking and jolting around. The NAVTEX indicates there's a heavy storm north of Tenerife and we suspect that this is what is causing the restless sea and changing wind. We later read in our email that we escaped a very heavy storm. There were a lot of worried emails. We hear from other sailors who were in Tenerife's harbour at the time that jetties were broken loose and that many ships were damaged.
Swinging the night away
After seven days and seven nights of sailing we arrive in Palmeira on the island of Sal, just in time before it gets dark. Wil and Jacqueline of the Faston have arrived a day earlier and welcome us to the Cape Verde Islands. There is a lot of industry in the bay where we are anchored. We didn't expect that here. The anchorage is very quiet, Palmeira is very entertaining and we are proud that we have achieved this.
On Saturday night we enjoy the local nightlife. People are barbecuing and drinking beer out on the streets. In a tiny little bar where the live music has just stopped when we arrive, Hans manages to get a group of Cape Verdians to swing and sing by rhythmically drumming on the table. No modern disco can beat a festive atmosphere like that.
Fresh vegetables and an excursion
Apart from the island of Sal, we also visit the islands of Sao Nicolau and Sao Vicente. These islands also have a relaxed atmosphere. Except for Mindelo on Sao Vicente, where men want to look after your dinghy for money. When it comes to food, you can buy nearly everything here. There are markets selling vegetables and fruit. Even lettuce and tomatoes are available in abundance. The many small shops are filled with all sorts of canned food and other non-perishable food. Only products that need to be refrigerated are rare.
From Tarrafal on Sao Nicolau we make an excursion and this way we get to see the island's green side. We follow a dead-end road and end up in a village with very narrow steep streets where you can reach the houses on both sides of the street if you stretch out your arms. On the southern coast of the island we find a place where erosion has created a beautiful wall with columns and a natural swimming pool. The sea bumps into the island and creates fountains several metres in height. The power of nature is amazing.
In Mindelo we clear through customs, take some more fresh water on board and fill up with diesel. Then we leave for the big crossing to Paramaribo.
Expectations and reality
Before we left the Netherlands, we had already read a lot about the ocean crossing and despite the fact that sailors have very different experiences, we did have certain expectations. Take the temperature, for example. We thought that, from the Canary Islands onwards, we would only get warm temperatures. Forget it, nothing is further from the truth. Until well out on the ocean we still needed a sweater in the evening and at night. And we were supposed to get sunburnt by the blazing sun if we didn't install a canopy or something like it, but it wasn't as bad as we expected. The many clouds and our spray hood offer enough protection so we don't have to worry about getting sunburnt. Many days are overcast and rainy. It already started with a huge thunderstorm on our departure from Cape Verde.
And what about the calm and pleasant ocean swell? All through our journey we ask ourselves when we'll experience it. Many days we live in a cocktail shaker. But let's not be too negative about it; especially at the beginning of our crossing we had plenty of days during which the swell was calm and pleasant.
The trade wind, which can be recognised by the so-called cloud train, should give us a nice tail wind during the whole crossing. We must have been on the wrong platform, because we never saw a cloud train. The climate has clearly changed. We even have head wind every now and then.
How we spend the day along the way
Our nights are filled with three-hour shifts and this makes up for more than twelve hours of our day. We often take a nap during the day, which leaves only ten hours of our day together. During the last morning watch, Dory bakes fresh bread for breakfast and dinner. Fortunately, we still have chocolate sprinkles and other things to go with it. We cook a warm meal for lunch.
After the first week we start to "make water", using our manual watermaker. For the experts: it's a Katadyn Survivor 35. Hans pumps salt water through a filter for nearly an hour, while Dory draws buckets of water from the ocean. This way, we create about five litres of fresh water out of sixty litres of salt water. At the same time, we exercise our arm muscles.
We also carry out maintenance on the wind vane and add an extra patch between the sheets of the genoa because the spinnaker pole is causing too much wear. We repair the toilet three times and we regularly have to make sure our household effects rattle as little as possible.
And we read a lot. Hans reads more books during these weeks than he has done in years and Dory is struggling through a more than 900-page bestseller about the life of Freud and gets a lesson in psycho-analysis at the same time. For Christmas, we still have some Dutch magazines to entertain us. Nearly every evening, Hans plays guitar and we sing a few songs. With all these activities, the days fly by.
Arrival in Suriname
In the morning of Thursday 5 January we arrive at the estuary of the Suriname river. We are welcomed by a school of dolphins. The river water is brown and muddy, but the ocean swell is gone. For the first time, we can leave a cup of coffee on the table. All day, we are sailing upriver towards Paramaribo. Sometimes the wind gets up and we can use the sails, but for the most part we have to use the motor. We haven't got a clue where we can moor or drop anchor, so Hans tries to call the Paramaribo Pilot Service by marine telephone. Unfortunately, they don't answer. Frank and Marijke, who are a few miles behind us in their "Sepia", pick up our call and let us know they are right behind us. We decide to temporarily drop anchor because we cannot sail against the current. Then the Maritime Police approaches. They check our papers and indicate where we can safely spend the night. Towards the evening we finally drop anchor in a safe spot. The "Sepia" is next to us. After 24 nights we finally share a bed again and have a long night's sleep.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)