Sailing Brazil to the Caribbean
After spending two weeks in Recife it was time to get moving on the last overnight passage of our circumnavigation!
We’d had a fantastic time visiting our friends Hans and Karina, who we have known for six years and who live in Recife. We tackled a huge project, joined Hans as a harbor pilot for a day, and celebrated Carnaval in Recife Antigo.
While writing our float plan, I always list out alternate destinations, but I don’t think we’ve ever had to detour until this passage. Our goal was to depart March 11th and arrive in Saint Vincent fourteen days later.
The planned course was to leave Recife and sail north along the coast of Brazil. Once the coastline curved west, we would continue on the same path. Our hope was to sail on a fairly upwind point of sail while we passed through the doldrums, and then when the trade winds kicked in, we would point downwind a bit.
This would also have the added benefit of keeping us far offshore of the South American Coast, where destabilization of the government of Venezuela has caused an increase in piracy.
We would arrive to SVG with nearly two weeks to spare before we would day sail up to St Lucia, where friends & family would fly in to celebrate with us.
We were concerned about fuel usage – probably traumatized from running out of fuel in the Indian Ocean – but we knew we had plenty of time to get in, so if we had to drift a few days so be it. We had a full diesel tank and six jerry cans.
When we left Brazil on March 11th, COVID-19 had not blown up. We knew that Italy was having trouble, and there were a few cases in Brazil, and some major events were being closed.
While at sea our family kept us informed with the latest news. The devastating (for us) news came in that Saint Lucia was one of the first countries to close it’s borders to visiting yachts. Flights would be canceled soon, and our party quickly followed.
Knowing that we would no longer be having a party, we started to wonder if it was even worth sailing to SVG. Each day our options narrowed down. SVG was not ideal, as it’s a smaller country with less infrastructure. Plus, we needed to look further ahead – hurricane season started in July and meant we needed to get to the US.
The french islands were some of the first to close, and friends in Martinique emailed us and told us that the community was panicking. Another friend, Thom, was already in Antigua, and said things were fairly calm there.
We even discussed shooting straight to the US – mid-Atlantic area – instead of stopping in the Caribbean, but the conditions this time of year are very dangerous north of Florida.
Finally, we narrowed it down to two open options: Grenada and Antigua. Both are great cruising hubs, with easy provisioning and well-protected anchorages. With Antigua a bit closer to the US and further upwind, we changed our course to point to Antigua.
If Antigua closed before we arrived, we could skip over the island chain and aim for either the USVI or Florida.
- Total Distance: 2,377 nautical miles
- Total Time: 14.83 days
- Average Speed: 6.68 knots (160.25 nm/day)
After filling up on diesel at Recife Yacht Club, we departed in the late afternoon.
Our first few days along the Brazilian coast were filled with squalls. We had nearly thirty-two hours of rain. Thanks to the constantly building a dying wind, we usually kept one reef in our mainsail and reefed and unreefed the genoa.
Hans had informed us in advance that we should have a current with us, and we did! That was really helpful when the winds died after a squall rolled through.
On the 14th we got our screecher up. To keep up our speed, we were headed northeast (020-025) to increase our apparent wind speed and actually sail.
We had a decent-sized pod of dolphins enthusiastically join us. They spun, played, and jumped just in front of our bow. It was great entertainment, and we put the GoPro underwater to catch some footage!
We’d kept sailing as best we can, and by the end of the day on the 14th we had only motored about thirteen hours the entire passage so far!
That night, I discovered about ten birds around our deck and on our lifelines, resting. We let them stay, and of course had to clean up after them later!
On the 15th, as planned, David woke me up just a few hours after I had gone to bed so we could celebrate our fourth equator crossing! We toasted King Neptune and I made a special breakfast of Banda pancakes and guava butter, a recipe Karina had given me.
The morning of the 16th we noticed we had a problem; the set screws on the genoa furler – which we had just put back together in Recife – were coming out again.
It was an extremely difficult repair to do at sea. In order to tighten the set screws, the genoa has to be unfurled. David went up the rigging by using the screecher halyard, but of course if he lost his grip on the genoa he would slam into the mast.
We kept the sails up, thinking that having speed would be helpful, and thankfully the winds were very light, but we really struggled with figuring out how to stabilize the boat as much as possible. With the main up, we couldn’t get far enough down wind to be down wave, and the waves crashed into us on the beam and shook the whole boat. The winds were light, so the boom would sway and slam around, rattling the boat further. We tried to sail upwind and hoped that our bow would slice into the waves more and smooth the ride out, but that made it worse. Finally I told David we needed to take the main sail down.
David came down, we dropped the main, and pointed dead down wave. The ride smoothed out enough that David was able to get up and tighten all the set screws.
Late the 16th/early the 17th, the tradewinds started to fill in and we shifted to point more downwind.
The 18th and 19th were pretty uneventful.
The 20th, while David was doing his deck-level inspection, he counted ten flying fish that had suicided on our deck! Later he spotted a very tiny gecko around the lines at the helm. We spotted the gecko a few times on the passage, but haven’t seen him since we arrived in Antigua. There’s probably a dead gecko somewhere…
The next issue we encountered was on the 21st when the u-track on our main sheet exploded. David was able to secure the boom and trim the main sheet line, not even needing my help at all!
By this point we had made the decision to turn to Antigua. Adding on the additional miles meant that we were no longer going to be able to arrive in daylight hours, so we needed to slow down a bit to arrive on the 26th.
Since we made the turn in the tradewinds, we had not motored at all! We had run our generator every few days to fill up our freshwater tanks, but our deisel usage was much lower than we expected.
Part of that was our hydrogenerator that we installed in Cape Town. In Saint Helena we upgraded the wires running from the hydrogenerator to the batteries, and our passage to Brazil was a bit on the slow side. This passage, we were speeding along pretty nicely and the hydrogenerator was pumping out amps and keeping our radar and autopilot running perfectly! With us running the generator every few days for water, our batteries got topped up.
The only problem was that as we approached the Caribbean, we started to see large patches of sargassum. Sailing through the seaweed, the hydrogenerator would catch some and we would have to raise the generator a little bit to get the seaweed loose.
We did also notice some chafe on the topping lift and first reef line. David was able to pull those out and cut off the chafing ends, again, without even waking me up!
The night of the 24th was a picture-perfect sunset!
Starting on the 25th, the wind died out more than we were expecting. Plus, we were sailing so downwind now! To keep up our speed, we put the screecher on the windward bow, or if needed, ran wing on wing with the main and genoa.
When I woke up the morning of the 26th, land was close! Clouds were covering the island, but as we approached, the sky cleared and we could see Antigua. We even got a rainbow!
We came over the north side of the island, outside our old track and lined up for the turn into St John’s. We crossed our wake and finished our world circumnavigation!
The rest was pretty anticlimactic. We met the yacht agent at the dock and cleared into Antigua. We took care of basics like cash and SIM cards, before moving the boat to Jolly Harbour, where there is much more room and the best grocery store on the island.
We barely used a quarter tank of diesel during the passage. It was amazing!
Antigua closed its borders to foreigners two days after we arrived. Great timing on our part, but it was mostly luck.