We arrived at the bay of Palmeira on Ilha do Sal, the northeastern most Cape Verdean island, just after the sun had come up. After 5 days at sea without seeing a single other vessel, we suddenly found ourselves in a bay full of foreign sailing boats from France, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, America, England, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, all presumably planning to cross the Atlantic soon. Almost directly on the trade wind route, the Cape Verdes are becoming an increasingly popular stop on the way to the Caribbean for boats crossing the Atlantic.
The islands are of volcanic origin, dry and mountainous, and thanks to the offshore winds on the anchorages, we soon had thin layer of maroon coloured earth covering the sails, hull and mast, begging for rain to come and wash it away. The locals were a friendly bunch, guaranteed to ‘watch over’ your dinghy when going ashore (for a small fee), or to enthusiastically help find you the right aluguer (local taxi) and we enjoyed their no stress style – even if it meant that the immigration procedure took half a day…
With the Atlantic crossing coming up, and several key jobs still unfinished, we were not entirely in the ‘no stress’ mode, but we still found time to enjoy the white and black sandy beaches of Sal, to eat freshly caught fish in the local restaurants on Sao Nicolau, to hike in the volcanic mountains on Santo Antao or swap stories with the other Atlantic sailors in the bars of Mindello on Sao Vicente a popular last port of call (being the only real marina in the Cape Verdes – with power, water, showers etc).
When onboard we hastily sanded and gave a couple of extra protective layers of varnish to the entire bulwarks and coach house before the ocean could get to the bare wood beginning to peek through the last layers painted back in May. We re-rigged some of the lines, including replacing the sheets for the headsails and lazy jacks for the mizzen, extended the sea fence and reattached the lifelines to the deck. We did a final provisioning of fresh things, replaced our empty gas bottles, topped up with fuel and water and we were ready for the big journey.
On the night before we’d planned to leave, we heard that a package we’d ordered from Europe to Mindello hadn’t made it past the airport in the Cape Verdean capital city Praia, on Santiago – 120nm southeast (in basically the opposite direction to the Caribbean). After the difficulty in tracking it down, and the uncertainness of its onward journey and arrival in Mindello, we decided the quickest and most reliable solution was simply to sail there and pick it up ourselves. On this occasion, the no stress Cape Verdean attitude suited us less well, as we were sent on a wild goose chase around Praia airport in search of our package, and made to pay exuberant fees (200euros!) before it could enter our hands.
This detour to Santiago however fitted in well with the weather forecast, as it gave us a beautiful white sandy beach to relax on during a couple of days of light winds. Finally, well rested, with our package onboard and a force 4 predicted from the NE, we set sail from Santiago, planning to anchor overnight at one of the two smaller islands Bravo or Fogo due west. However as the sun began to set and we settled into our life onboard, we changed our minds and decided to sail on by and continue westwards to the Caribbean.