Cape Verde Islands – May 2008
On the morning of 2 May Boo Too sailed past Sao Maia having been at sea for twelve days out of Sao Tome & Principe. We were on our way to Porto Grande and the town of Mindelo on the island of Sao Vincente – the cultural and artistic capital of the Verdes.
We dropped anchor at 4am on 3 May in Porto Grande and turned in to bed for a few hours sleep. There were nine of us on board and at 8am we were up for a major wash down to get rid of much accumulated salt and dirt before going stern-to at Marina Mindelo, a brand new and very well run marina, opened only a few months before – in fact the only marina in the Cape Verde Islands.
Mindelo is a fascinating town with much history and a very Portuguese flavour to its attractive and colourful buildings. The people are friendly and helpful and there is quite a coffee shop culture to the town – try Café Mindelo or one of the many others. Artistic talent abounds from poetry through music and painting. There are a number of good restaurants – one in particular stands out – The Saudade - run by the daughter (and helped by her grand-daughter) of the oldest inhabitant of the island, a wonderful lady of 110. Yes, 110 years old, there are five living generations in her family! During the six days we were there we had dinner twice at the Saudade and on both occasions the place was full and the food and wine excellent.
The island of Sao Vincente is perhaps what one would expect if arriving on the moon. There is no greenery at all and the landscape is breathtaking jagged mountain ridges, the whole lot having been thrown up by volcanoes many millions of years ago. A hike or a taxi ride to the top of Monte Verde should not be missed. The views from the top are spectacular. A trip to the beach at Sao Pedro if you are a keen wind or kite surfer is a must since it provides some of the best in the world.
On 9 May we set sail for Tarrafal on the island of Sao Antao in force 8 winds and a sea to match. This was quite localised since the wind funnels down between the mountain ranges on the two islands which are only about 7 miles apart. We had a great sail to the South end of Sao Antao and once we rounded the headland the wind dropped and for two days we were at anchor off the little village of Tarrafal in nothing more than a few knots of wind and flat seas. Tarrafal and the valley which stretches out behind it is simply an oasis of green. Once again, delightful and helpful people. Our gas supply ran out (the full bottle we had turned out not to be full!) and the village elder gave us another bottle refusing to take any form of payment. Eventually we prevailed upon him to accept some packets of cigarettes. The snorkelling and fishing was good and walks up the valley or for that matter one of the mountains should not be missed. The interior of this island is lush greenery although one would not think so approaching from the south end of it.
Having studied our charts we decided that we had to explore the deserted island of Sao Lucia and so we left Tarrafal at 6am on 11 May to cross the strait between S. Antao and S. Vincente before the wind got up. We were partially successful and had got about two thirds of the way across in calm seas when the wind woke up! 30 knots for starters off our port bow. We were happy when we got into the lee of Pta. S. Pedro. We sailed on another twenty miles to the south side of Santo Lucia and dropped anchor in a charming bay to the west of a rock called Ilheu Zinho. The bay stretches for about two miles and is a fine sandy beach all the way along and we had it all to ourselves apart from a family of sparrows that were so unafraid of us we could get within about a foot of them! We also saw a Fish Eagle with its catch in its beak and a Brown Booby. Santo Lucia is another moonscape island and fascinating to see.
From here we left after a good breakfast for a 26 mile romp at never less than 10 knots on a close reach over to Sao Nicholau, reputedly the most beautiful of the Cape Verde Islands. We skirted past the town of Tarrafal (a number of the islands have towns or villages of this name) and anchored off a small white sand beach close to shore at a place called Pta. do Papagaio. This proved a delightful and secure anchorage and on our second night here we had a BBQ ashore. While here we walked into Tarrafal, about 3 miles north and hired a taxi to take us over the mountains to Villa Ribiera Brava, the capital of Sao Nicholau. The drive is an experience not to be missed with some of the most spectacular and extraordinary scenery one can imagine. Ribiera Brava is a small town with colourfully painted houses and lots of little shops. Our guide had phoned ahead and booked a restaurant for us where we had a good fish dish followed by local fruits.
The next day we had another early morning start sailing from Sao Nicholau to Tarrafal on Sao Santiago, a distance of about 85nm. We arrived at 1430hrs having had a cracking sail off the wind averaging about 11 knots. For part of the way we were accompanied by a good sized school of dolphin playing in the bow wave. As always it is a delight to watch their antics.
This Tarrafal turned out to be a charming little town at the north west end of the island with a number of beautiful beachs and no tourists. We made an excursion to Assomada up in the hills where twice a week there is a large African market which should not be missed. The scenery driving up to Assomada is breathtaking and again highly unusual and hiking on this island would be hugely rewarding.
We spent two nights in Tarrafal but could happily have spent more time there. Each night the local fishermen were out in there colourful little boats with wonderful individual names and their hurricane lanterns twinkling away surrounding us and filling the bay. It was a great sight. In the mornings they would take their catches ashore and big crowds would gather by the boats and a lot of discussion would take place.
On the morning of Saturday 17 May we headed off south down the west coast of the island under jib alone making a happy 6 to 7 knots in quite light winds. We stopped off at a number of places to investigate caves and coves. In one of these caves we found a nest of egrets and another of herons and spent time exploring these. In a beautiful cove with a backdrop of a small green valley full of trees and behind that high mountain ranges we were met by a huge armada of Portuguese Men of War jelly fish, all with their sails up and pushing along at a good rate. It was quite a sight. After some hours we dropped anchor in 35 metres in Baia do Jalenta, a horse shoe shaped bay with deep water right up to the cliff face. A large number of children made their way to the cliff top to sit and watch us, rather like a welcoming committee. We swam over to talk with them for a while and gave them a mask and snorkel with which they were immensely pleased. We were so enchanted by them that we invited some of them out to “Boo Too” to have a look around.
The next morning we left early and gently glided south under just the jib since we wanted to dip in and out of the various bays that we past on our way to Cidade Velha exploring for suitable anchorages should we return for another visit. In one of these bays we saw colonies of white tail tropicbird and terns as well as quantities of heron and egret.
Cidade Velha is the old city originally built in the 15th century as the Capital of the Verde Islands but since been replaced by Praia a few miles down the coast. We dropped anchor here and went ashore to look at the massive Portuguese fort on top of the hill overlooking the town. From there we had a tremendous view out over the Atlantic and down onto the ruins of the Cathedral which is currently being restored. Once it must have been an amazing building of monumental size and importance quite out of proportion to the town! In the afternoon we sailed on down to Praia which has a well protected bay providing a very secure anchorage. Praia is the Capital of the Verde Islands and one can provision well here but it is not the most prepossessing of places. Functional and utilitarian.
The Cape Verde Islands have a lot to offer the cruising sailor: Good winds, sunshine, a string of islands forming a triangle that with the trade winds provide excellent sailing from a close reach (sometimes close hauled) through to a dead run via plenty of beam reaching. Spectacular scenery – and a place to go where at the moment you will not find lots of other boats! And, as a starting off point for an Atlantic crossing – Marina Mindelo will welcome all and provide a good base from which to explore the islands.
Immigration, Customs clearances etc were hassle free and very laid back. We were not constantly being irritated by children asking for money (occasionally this happened) and although we raised our tender every night it probably was not necessary in most places. At no time did we feel threatened nor felt that burglary was likely to be a problem. Our assessment is that the Cape Verde Islands provides safe cruising.