THE 2024 BRAZIL FLOTILLA IS A FOND BUT UNFORGETTABLE MEMORY

Imagine what the BVI must have looked like fifty or more years ago, when there were very few sailing tourists, when the infrastructure that we know today did not exist and when there were only very few charter companies, if any, around. That is what you would have experienced with us during the first ASA flotilla in the Bahia da Ilha Grande, near the historic colonial port city of Paraty, halfway between Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro.

Old street in Paraty

 

Paraty is where Wind Charter is based in Marina Farol. The city still looks like it was when established in the 1500’s and was the major trading port of colonial Brazil until the upcoming ports of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo relegated it to the status of an open-air museum.

 

        

Marina Farol

The immense Gulf of Ilha Grande is dotted with lush green islands featuring secluded anchorages, beautiful beaches and a few small fishing villages. The main cities are Paraty and Angra dos Reis. Beyond the cities and beaches the tropical Atlantic rainforest covers the slopes of the impressive mountains surrounding the bay. It truly is a unique tropical ecosystem.

The flotilla crew minus Robert and Donna

On April 5, the night before the start of our flotilla, our eighteen participants gathered for a meet and greet event at the bar of Casa Coupe, near the colonial cathedral of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios. For many of the crew, this was their first introduction to the local drinks, like the Jorge Amado, Caipirinha and Gabriela, all based on cachaça made from sugarcane. Definitely very potent stuff… We split into three groups for dinner as no restaurant was able to accommodate such a large venue.

The following morning, our chartered bus brought us to the marina with a stop by the supermarket where our provisioning party got out to plunder the store. They rejoined us later by taxi with the booty.

Our four yachts with the new Med Sailing Adventure banners

At the base, the boats were already waiting for us, sporting our new large Med Sailing Adventures banners. We had chartered four yachts, one a Brazilian-made Catflash 43 catamaran, a Jeanneau and two Brazilian-made Delta monohulls. We will get more into the details about the Catflash in this report. The Delta’s are excellent and comfortable charter yachts and did not cause us problems. The Jeanneau was your typical charter boat and was also in excellent shape.

Wind Charters take pride in the maintenance of their fleet.

After the briefing on our boats, we left for our first destination, the beautiful anchorage of Ilha da Cotia. Three of our four boats made it but one, Serenity skippered by Jim and Stacy, succeeded in getting lost and ended up anchored near a beach on the other side of the island. They found us the following morning but, in the meantime, we encountered our first problem with the catamaran.

Ilha da Cotia (or Island of Agoutis)

When we arrived at the anchorage, we tried to drop the anchor but, after about a meter of chain was let out, the electrical windlass would get stuck. It was getting dark, and we tried to find out what was going on, but the darn thing would not work. We tried to call the base, but they were beyond VHF reach and there was no cellular service. We rafted up with the Jeanneau and settled for the night. We cooked on board and went to sleep. During the night, I regularly checked my anchor watch App and noticed that the two rafted boats were drifting, fortunately away from other anchored boats. The bottom was heavy clay, and the anchor should have been holding with 30m of chain in a 7m depth. I raised the crew of the Jeanneau and suggested that they let go of another 20m of chain. That additional weight did it and we spent the rest of the night with no more problems, except for some occasional rain showers.

Bleeping Anchor Chain!

Sunday morning, Jim and Stacy on Serenity found us back and rejoined our group. After breakfast, we left the anchorage and bobbed around looking for a cellphone signal and then called the base.

They came out and temporarily solved the problem of the anchor chain. Instead of having the electric windlass installed on top of the deck, it was located inside of the shallow anchor locker.

Whenever the anchor chain was pulled in, it would bunch up right under the windlass and get twisted. As a result, when you try to drop the anchor again, the twisted chain would block the hawsepipe.

 

Bar de Coqeiro on Ilha de Cedro

Next stop, Ilha de Cedro, a small island with a bar on the beach, Bar do Coqeiro, where we had lunch. We tried to anchor off the beach but, again, the windlass of our catamaran did not want to cooperate and we had to call the base for assistance. We rafted again and called the owner of the restaurant who then came to our boats with his launch to bring us to shore. Service was very, very slow but the food was delicious. Fish stew with shrimp, rice or fries and all that washed down with generous amounts of Brahma beer or Jorge Amado cocktails. Meanwhile, the technicians from the base showed Mila how to avoid future problems with the anchor and she was promptly designated our yacht’s anchorwoman.

Anchorwoman Extraordinaire

Because it had taken so long to serve and eat our meals, we decided to spend the night on the hook there. Eric, Ken and Evan on Nossa Toca and Jim and Stacy on Serenity stayed right where they were while Marianne and her crew on Viver II and our catamaran, Kanhka, moved around the next point in very protected waters with about 10ft of depth. Sleeping at anchor at night is such a quiet luxury and although Brazil often gets a bad rap regarding crime, we never felt unsafe in this part of the country. We never locked up our boats for the night or when we went ashore. The locals are the salt of the earth and really very nice people.

The small fishing village of Tarituba

The destination for Monday was the marina and resort of Porto Frade but, on the way, we made a stop in Tarituba, a small fishing village on the mainland. When we first came here in 2022, we had found the local fishmonger and we headed straight for his shop. I showed him the pictures from our first visit on my iPhone and he immediately remembered us. Ken bought a big fish that he was going to prepare on the grill of Nossa Toca and we headed for the local mini-market to buy some additional provisioning for our boat. By the way, Nossa Toca means “Our Den” in Portuguese but, in this case, we translated it as “Our Man Cave” as the crew consisted of only men.

The beach of Tarituba with colorful fishing boats

We hung around the beach of Tarituba a bit with its colorful fishing boats and then headed for Porto Frade. We were the first ones to arrive, and the local boat boys sped over by dinghy to help us get settled at the buoy. Soon the other boats arrived and around 6:00PM we headed for the resort where we had reservations at Fasano. What a treat we had in this Italian-inspired restaurant, with delicious food and superb service. This special place will always be on our Brazilian flotilla itinerary.

Dinner at Fasano in Porto Frade

There is this gorgeous anchorage, a few miles away from Porto Frade, with a huge granite wall on the island of Itanhanga. It even has a floating bar. Together with Marianne’s Viver II Jeanneau, we were the only boats there. The water was flat like glass and Mila took advantage of it to entertain us with her paddleboarding skills. The rest of us went snorkeling at the foot of the granite cliff. We saw a few sergeant-major fish but that was about it. I humbly admit that I blew it when we pulled up the anchor without properly securing the dinghy and I had to spent a good half hour diving under the starboard hull to cut the painter that had wrapped itself around the prop. To be honest, this was not my first rodeo.

 

The massive rock wall of Ilha Itanhanga and Marsha on the SUP

The two other yachts chose to go to Ilha da Gipoya where we would join them later for the night in the anchorage of Fazenda which has a bar/restaurant on the beach. By the time we got there, they had closed for the evening because they do not serve dinner after 5:00PM.

Well, when all a sudden twelve hungry Americans showed up, the owners saw Dollar signs and reopened their kitchen for some basic food and drinks.

We spent a very quiet night at anchor in anticipation of some good snorkeling the following morning at the Ilhas Botinas.

Ilhas Botinas

Like twins, the Ilhas Botinas sit at less than 1NM from the Ilha da Gipoya. We dropped the anchor in heavy sand, away from the rocks, and swam towards the islands to do my Jacques Cousteau wannabe stuff.

With my GoPro camera, I was able to film some colorful fish but, before long, more tourist boats with snorkelers arrived and we preferred to head for calmer waters.

South of the Bay of Angra do Reis, the Ilha Grande protects the bay and the city of Angra dos Reis from the Atlantic. Pass Ilha Grande and your next stop would be Namibia, Africa.

No need to go that far as there are plenty of nice spots on the island.

Abraao

Robert and Donna exploring Abraao

We had planned to spend the night at anchor near the beach of Praia dos Mangues but, fearing that again, the beach restaurants would only be open for lunch, we stopped for some provisioning in Vila do Abraao, a small village in the bay of the same name. No docking facilities available, so we had to ask our anchorwoman to work the chains again and dinghied then to the ferry dock.

Vila de Abraao has plenty of restaurants and, in hindsight, we should have stayed there for the night and have had dinner ashore. Instead, we stuck to our original plan and went to Praya do Mangues, where the staff was cleaning the floating bar for the night. Dinner on board.

Thursday morning, we awoke on our catamaran and saw that our other three boats were already leaving. They wanted to see if there was more wind on the southside of the island, but I had to tell them that the southside, for charter insurance reasons, was off-limits. We had to sail back along the wide channel between Ilha Grande and the mainland.

The plan was to get together for lunch at Recanto dos Maias in the bay of Saco da Tapera. We were the last to weigh anchor and, for lack of wind, motored to our luncheon destination. On the mainland side of the channel, there is a large oil transfer facility and there were many tankers at the pier and at anchor in the bay, waiting for their cargo.

Our AIS screen showing all the tankers at anchor

We were happily motoring at a safe distance from these behemoths when suddenly I lost steering of the cat. Whatever I tried to do, turn the wheel or engage the autopilot, the bleeping boat had gotten a mind of its own and only wanted to turn to port. The wheel was spinning without any effect on the rudders. I put the starboard engine hard in reverse to counteract the port turns but to no avail. The turn to port would be a bit slower but she kept on going. I finally stopped the boat and put the engines in reverse. Oddly enough, now that water propwash was no longer pushed over the rudders, I could control the boat going backwards. There was no way we were going to make it to our luncheon get-together or make it back to the base on Friday. Using WhatsApp, we informed our flotilla friends of our predicament, and we contacted the base.

We maneuvered the yacht into the bay of Freguesia and dropped the anchor. I jumped in the water to check on the rudders and found them like frozen in a 45-degree angle, which explained the stubborn tendency to turn in circles to port. The CatFlash 43 is equipped with hydraulic steering and, obviously, something went wrong with the system.

Jim and Stacy on Serenity came back to pick up two of our crew, Donna and Robert, who needed to be back in time for their early flight home. After they were gone, we could only wait for the technicians from the base to arrive and solve our problem. We dinghied to shore where there was a small church and a beach with a jetty. Tour boats arrived every five minutes or so and dropped off the day trippers on the pier. They were allowed half an hour for swimming and getting a cocktail from a vendor on the beach and then off they went to their next destination. It was a constant ballet of tour boats, but the ballet was not well choreographed and a few of these boats were colliding with each other when getting to or away from the pier, with their captains screaming choice words at each other.

Tour boats banging into each other

After about three hours, the crew from the base arrived on a brand-new Lagoon 40 on which we transferred all our luggage and food, and we left them with the Catflash. It took them two and half hours to repair a broken hydraulic line. As it was getting late and light rain started to come down, we opted for anchoring in the nearby Enseada de Sitio Forte bay where we spent the night.

Friday was our last day on the water and we were expected back around 5:00PM at the base.

No wind today and we had to motor all the way back from Ilha Grande to the mainland, where we had made arrangements with Eric, Ken and Evan on “Our Mancave” to meet in the Saco de Mamanguá, a long fjord-like bay. We anchored in shallow water in front of Praia do Cruzeiro, which has a few bars on the beach. We had anchored behind a colorful  fishing boats and were hailed by the crew who asked if we were interested in buying some of their catch. Where were they earlier in the week, when we had plenty of time to cook on the charcoal grill on board? Sorry, guys, next year perhaps?

Wading ashore with the dinghy in the Saco de Mamanguá

The tide was coming in rapidly and we dinghied to the shore. That last few yards, we had to wade through the shallow water and dragged the dinghy on the beach all the way up towards where  we could secure the painter to some wooden structure. In a matter of less than fifteen minutes, forty feet of beach were covered in water. Lunch in the beachside Bar do Orlando was pretty good and my last opportunity for having a Jorge Amado cocktail this trip.

Returning to our yacht was a piece of cake now that the tide was high. We did not have to drag the dinghy too far this time.

Next stop? Back to the base.  We tried to sail a bit with just the headsail jibing back and forth towards the mouth of the fjord. Unfortunately, two knots of speed were the most we got out of it and reluctantly started the engines.

About an hour later, we reached Marina Farol where the local boat boys were waiting for us to assist with their way of docking. Two stern lines to the dock and the anchor bridle attached to a floating buoy off the bow. The boat boy in the dinghy must have been a newbie because he made a complete spaghetti-like mess with all the lines at the buoy. Fortunately, his supervisor was not far away to undo the Gordian knot.

All boats are back safe. My job is done!

An excellent final farewell dinner awaited us at the marina restaurant. Some of the crew left the boats that same night, others stayed on board overnight and, the following morning by 9:00AM, we were all checked out of our yachts and that was the end of the flotilla.

Thank you to all our participants and we look forward to sailing with you all again soon.

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