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Ready Set Sail in South America

1._Corina_IV_vs._Early_Purple~ Brazil, French Guiana and Suriname ~

By Kippy Gilders

The cruising community is like a village, except it's continuously moving. Sometimes, you choose to sail together. Other times, you are surprised to recognize a boat when you arrive at a new port! For one year while sailing from Australia to South Africa, we were traveling off the usual cruising path and rarely met another boat. But since St. Helena, we can't seem to find a quiet anchorage. And we love it!

The sail to Brazil from Saint Helena was much nicer than the previous leg from South Africa. We cruised along at record speeds and even managed to catch a few fish along the way. We arrived into Brazilian waters in the small hours of the morning and slowed down to wait for the sun to come up. As the sun rose, we noticed another boat bobbing around the entrance to the river. There didn't appear to be anyone on board and they weren't replying to our radio calls so we decided to get a closer look. When we were just a few metres away, the boat suddenly sprang into action and two tired sailors appeared on deck. This is how we met S/V Sarpedon and started our six-mile sail up the river to the Jacaré Yacht Village.

WE WERE surprised that the Jacaré Yacht Village was in fact more French than Brazilian. Completely run and owned by French, it was rare to hear any Brazilian! We took a gypsy cab into the larger town of Cabedelo to clear immigration. In Brazil, you have to present bank statements to prove that you have sufficient funds to support your stay in the country. We were warned that this would be a painful experience. The immigration officers made us wait for hours and then went over every detail and past expense with OCD precision. However, not a question was asked, or an eyelid bat, when I showed him a stack of dollars that would be my "support" while in the country.

After exploring the nearby Cabedelo and João Pessoa, Dani travelled to some nearby beach towns while Max and I stayed behind to do some work on the boat. The autopilot had broken four days out of Brazil, meaning that we were hand steering for this time. Luckily, the actual motor hadn't broken, but the pin connecting the motor to the rudder had snapped in half. We had a new pin fabricated and our boom repaired by Brian Stevens, a British boat builder who moved to Jacaré some 30 years ago after stopping to "do some work on his boat."

ONE EVENING at the Yacht Village, we met Ryan and Cedric who were working on S/V Early Purple. Cedric, from Martinique, had almost completed his circumnavigation on board Early Purple. Meanwhile, Ryan, from South Africa, decided to leave the boat and moved on board Corina IV until he sorted flights back to SA. A few days later, S/V Sikkim arrived in Jacaré. This was the first time we'd meet Pol and Iñaki from Barcelona. They started their circumnavigation from Spain just a few months before we started ours from St. Maarten! We reckon that they were the only other group of young sailors circumnavigating from 2013 to 2015. With coolers packed and kites in tow, we raced dinghies to the Areia Vermelha sandbar just off the coast of João Pessoa.

One morning, we woke up with a startle because another boat was doing circles around us. We raced outside and were surprised to see Guy of S/V Sanctuary! It turns out that the crazy Australian had broken his forestay in a squall out of Saint Helena and decided to detour to Jacaré to do some repairs before continuing to the Caribbean. We enjoyed many evenings with our loud friend. One evening, he claimed he could make a better Thai Curry than what was available at the Yacht Village. Needless to say, a cook-off was soon arranged and we happily volunteered for the judging committee. We were also joined by Dick and Anita of S/V Some Kind of Blue who even brought a wedge of real Dutch Gouda. What a treat!

THE YACHT Village had become home to another quirky Australian, Chris, whose boat was an old steel junk ship with a short mast that we later learnt used to be an Australian lamp post. Chris refuses to use modern equipment and navigates only by sextant and paper charts. While he and Max were looking at the charts, they noticed a small river inlet (Ilha dos Lençóis) near the mouth of the Amazon that would make a nice anchorage. A few days later, we said farewell to our friends and started heading up the coast. We had hoped to visit the Center Spatial Guyanais, in French Guiana, to watch a satellite launch, but a few days out of Brazil, we realized we weren't making good speed and we'd surely miss the launch. So instead of breaking our backs, we slowed down and tucked into Ilha dos Lençóis.

The strong oceanic currents pushed us along nicely and to our surprise, S/V Sarpedon was already anchored in the little river inlet! Corinne and Jean-Maurice welcomed us warmly and soon invited us over for dinner to celebrate Corinne's birthday. A quick mission ashore to the small village produced a bucket of fresh shrimp that were prepared for an eight-course dinner fit for kings. Ilha dos Lençóis is apparently a resort island for those who want to get a taste of the Amazon. Its name is literally translated "sheet island" and refers to the appearance of the rolling sand dunes. According to legend, the island was once confused with the Sahara desert in Morocco and it is said that the area would be a big desert if the region didn't rain 300 times more than in the Sahara. After the fantastic dinner, we decided to sail together to French Guiana's Îles du Salut the following morning.

THE ÎLES DU Salut comprises three main islands: Île du Diable, Île Royale and Île Saint Joseph. Îles du Salut translates to "Islands of Salvation" because they once served as the refuge for missionaries who wanted to escape the plague on mainland French Guiana. However, the name is almost ironic nowadays as the islands were since part of a notorious penal colony from 1852 onwards. The colony was for the very worst criminals of France and was controversial for it had a reputation for harshness and brutality.

Île Royale was where the general population of the criminals could roam in moderate freedom. Île Saint-Joseph was reserved for the worst of those criminals to be punished in solitary confinement in silence and, for extra punishment, in darkness. Île du Diable was for political prisoners, including Alfred Dreyfus in 1895-1899 who was famously and wrongfully convicted of treason. This system has been completely shut down since 1953. Nowadays, the islands are a popular tourist destination and many native animals such as the capuchin monkey, macaque and agoutis (a South American rodent) can be seen roaming through the ruins.

BEFORE ARRIVING in the Îles du Salut, we'd sailed through a huge school of Bonitos and we had to stop fishing after we'd hauled ten decent sized Bonitos on board. To repay S/V Sarpedon for their kindness, we invited them over for a fresh fish dinner. The next morning, after deciding to keep moving to Suriname, we paddled over to say farewell and Corinne had baked us a cake. After coffee and cake, we said goodbye and started the one day sail to Suriname.

Paramaribo is the capital city of Suriname and rests on the Suriname River. Sailing up the river to Paramaribo is a whole day experience in itself! The waters along the coast of the country are extremely shallow and we had to follow a specific route for six miles so that we wouldn't run aground. Then when we finally entered the river, we had to motor a further 12 miles past Paramaribo, to quiet Domburg, because this is the only place for boats to anchor.

WE ARRIVED without realizing that it was Easter weekend. This was perfect because my friend Alex, who I met in university, was currently living and working in Paramaribo and had a long weekend off. He showed us around Paramaribo where we enjoyed delicious rotis and cold Parbo beers. We even sailed further up the Suriname River for the "Sun Glam" party. It was definitely the first time that a sailboat anchored off a party like this and we all had a fantastic time. Sad that we might not see the Spaniards of S/V Sikkim again, we made a last minute decision to detour from our route and visit them in the Grenadines. With a farewell to Alex and Suriname, we headed to Caribbean waters!

We want to thank Budget Marine, the Caribbean's leading chandlery for its support along the way. Although we are far from home, we know we can count on them to help us out! Follow our trip and see more pictures, videos and information at www.readysetsailnow.com or www.facebook.com/readysetsail.

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