Virgin Islands revisited

Our sail back into the USVI was upwind, something we hadn’t done for a long time. So instead of usual downwind sailing-set and almost forget the sails, we actually had to tack our way back to St Thomas, entering the bay followed by a cruise ship.

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We had a few days of shopping while anchored in the huge calm bay of Charlotte Amalie close to the cruise ships and superyachts. Apparently this one has 60 staff, 2 teams of 30!

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Francis Bay was a wonderful base for walks, with beautiful views over Cinnamon, Maho and Francis Bays.

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Ian had been keen to get to the Soggy Dollar bar, so we left Sea Cloud at anchor in Great Harbour

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gr-harb-viewand walked around to the beautiful White Beach,

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white-boats2where we (as one does) drank our painkillers in the water.

soggy-drink-waterthen relaxed on the beach – something we never do

soggy-ussoggy-dollarBenures Bay on Norman Island was beautiful, close to ‘the Indians’ for a morning snorkel.

benuresAfter an anniversary dinner on Cooper Island (where it all began), we sailed to Anegada, the northernmost island in the BVI. We had hesitated about coming here as it is shallow! As the conditions were so calm we decided to try as it made a logical spot from which to sail to St Maarten. With a maximum height of only about 6metres, from a distance all you can see is a long spit of sand, beautiful blue water and a few trees.

aneg-scBy the look of the charts, with Sea Cloud’s draft of 2.35m, we should have been able to get into the anchorage (just). But as the depth gauge read 2.1m, we made a hasty retreat, fortunately without touching bottom. aneg

The anchorage at Pomato Point was a little rolly, but not too far to head into town for Anegada’s famous lobster. Excitement during our dinghy ride – a stingray launched itself into the air in front of us…. amazing site!

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I had vowed never to get on a scooter with Ian – he’s not great even on a pushbike. But Anegada is so flat, there are almost no cars, just the odd goat and cow on the road and I really wanted to snorkel on the other side of the island.

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Cow Wreck Bay

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Loblolly Bay

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Spanish Virgin Islands

We had heard that the Spanish Virgin Islands were well worth visiting, lovely uncrowded bays, and towns a little like the other Virgin Islands 30 years ago. The thought of some Spanish food and culture was also enticing. What we hadn’t realised before we arrived, was that the islands were actually part of Puerto Rico and has been under American control since the 1890’s. So although Spanish was widely spoken, the food was good, but far more American than we’d expected.

Culebra, the northern island was a pleasant downwind sail from Jost Van Dyke. Navigating through the tricky shoals at the entrance to Ensanada Honda, the main bay, we were surprised at how many cruising yachts have discovered the place. Many were anchored in the Dikity anchorage, just behind the reef at the entrance to the bay.

dikity-anchorAs we’d had gusts of 30knots just outside, anchoring further into the bay was a better option for us.

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We’d read the information on formalities in the pilot books and on Noonsite, but hadn’t realised it is mandatory to call before your arrival. The very pleasant Customs officer at the airport helped us through the process and provided us with a 12 month cruising permit for US waters. We ended up spending the morning at the airport – great wifi and coffee, difficult to find in the Virgin Islands. Flamingo Bay on the north of the island was well worth the walk.

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Culebra town is small, with friendly inhabitants,

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iguanaand a good sense of humour.

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Cruisers centre around the appropriately named Dinghy Dock restaurant, a good place for happy hour.

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dinghy-dockBahia de Tortuga on Culebrita island was a picture perfect Caribbean anchorage. You would not want to be here in northerly swells. Although the bay was calm overnight the relatively small breaking swell on the way out through the gap in the reef was nasty. It would be treacherous in big seas.

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We sailed down to the southern island, Vieques, and were pleased to find a mooring buoy off Esperanza, its southern town where we could leave Sea Cloud for a few hours to explore the island. On the local public (van) we met Luis, who was born on the island but has spent most of his life in Puerto Rico. He walked us around Isabela, the capital and gave us potted history of the islands. Vieques had been used as a target for naval and aerial bombardment for many decades, sucking the life out of the island. Although the bombing stopped in 2003, many land and sea areas still remain off limits.

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We have great memories from last yacht charter in the Virgin Islands in 1986.

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John  (who had been with us on our previous visit)

copy-20130305-2022and Lindsay left freezing Ottawa to join us for a week of sun and sailing on Sea Cloud. As a big northerly swell was running, we spent most of the week in the beautiful bays on the south coast of St John.

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Salt Pond Bay with its reef, walks and nearby restaurant was a great place to spend a few days.

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John and Lindsay are great cooks and treated us to some lovely meals. Ian acted as sous chef to John, we are hoping that he will have learnt some more skills in the kitchen!

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We met Bob the Barracuda who seem quite attracted to the underside of Sea Cloud.

DCIM100GOPROSwimming with the turtles and snorkelling over the reef behind the boat were daily treats.

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DCIM100GOPROWe had planned for a big dinner at Caneel Bay where John had helped us celebrate our engagement in 1986. Unfortunately it was too rough to take Sea Cloud there, so we visited the lovely resort by taxi instead.

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followed by lunch at Cruz Bay.

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John and Lindsay left us in Charlotte Amalie where we picked up Andrew, Emily and Sam, all very tired after a 40hours travelling from Sydney.

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We headed off to Francis Bay in St John- to the delight of Andrew and Sam we caught 2 fish on the way.

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As we’d all recently completed our scuba training, we took the kids on a dive out of Caneel Bay to Mingo and Congo Cays. Cruz Bay, always fun, was a good spot for dinner and an introduction to Painkillers at Joe’s Rum Bar.

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Bob, the turtles and the eagle rays were still at Salt Pond Bay. Having a photographer (Sam) on board was great. We actually have some good photos of the whole family.

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We stopped into check out of the USVI at Cruz Bay, only to find that we didn’t need to check out if we were only going to the BVI. Sam captured the sentiment of the local St John women in the rally held in the park in Cruz Bay.

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Great Harbour in Jost Van Dyke was our next stop.

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l9998948l9998944l9998960After dinner at Foxy’s and a big night with the locals for Andrew and Sam, we sailed to North Sound at Virgin Gorda, catching a few more fish on the way. We anchored off Saba Rock close to the Bitter End Yacht Club.

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Dinner at the Bitter End Yacht Club

The other Sea Cloud was also anchored in North Sound, the last time we had shared an anchorage was in La Gomera, Canary Islands.

The Baths at Virgin Gorda, although crowded were a lot of fun.

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DCIM100GOPROAndrew Emily and Sam prepared a lunch BBQ’d fresh fish.

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Cooper Island (where Ian proposed in 1986) was an essential stop for us. We were one of 45 boats, quite different from our previous visit in which we’d been one of 2. It is still quite beautiful, much more developed but in a very low key way.

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family-cockpitWe hadn’t realised that there was good snorkelling on the reef off Cooper Island.

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Emily and Sam’s last night was spent in The Bight on Norman Island, with swimming and a last few Caribbean cocktails before they flew to Miami to start their US road trip. Sad to see them go!

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Our last few nights with Andrew were spent in White Bay on Guana Island, then the beautiful Diamond Cay on Jost Van Dyke.

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Caribbean – Barbados to Guadeloupe

The beachfront walk from Port St Charles to Speightstown made us realise we were actually in the Caribbean.

Speightstown was a very pleasant, quirky little town, quite a contrast to the busy capital, Bridgetown.

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img_0930img_0931img_0932The anchorage of Carlisle bay off Bridgetown was pleasant enough, if you didn’t mind a bit of loud music at night.

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Race horse training

Bridgetown itself was so crowded, but I guess 4 cruise ships in port do that to a small town. After hearing that flying fish were the delicacy here, we had to try the flying fish sandwich for lunch. It was surprisingly good, and fortunately did not in the slightest resemble the smelly creatures on our deck each morning.

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Most of the yachts from the Cornell Atlantic Odyssey were in port amongst the Christmas trees.

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Port St Charles is definitely the place to check into out of Barbados in a yacht. In Bridgetown, you have a long hot walk to the cruise ship port. We only spent 2 nights in Barbados, more had been planned until we saw the weather forecast. Unless we wanted to stay another week, we needed to move quickly to beat the predicted strong winds and big seas. After a boisterous and squall studded night at sea, we passed the Pitons of St Lucia

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and arrived in Marigot Bay, a very pleasant spot to spend a few nights.

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The weather is definitely still rainy season. One minute sunny, the next pouring.

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We anchored off in Rodney Bay for a few nights. Although the ARC rally had finished, there were still quite a few ARC yachts still in the marina. The limitation of being part of a rally with a specific departure date was very obvious this year. We left when the winds were right, taking a total of 19 days to cross. Many ARC boats were becalmed for up to a week mid Atlantic, some taking 30days to complete the crossing.

The strong winds and 4metre seas dropped so we headed across to Martinique. Caribbean sailing is quite different from sailing in the Med.  Sailing is brisk, there are consistent winds 15-20knots, quite big seas between the islands then calm sailing up the lee of the islands. You need to pick your day to cross between the islands in this part of the world.

Martinique is lush, green and mountainous.

martinique-new Since arriving here, we’ve had heavy rain most days with beautiful rainbows.

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We’ve anchored in Anse Dufour, good for snorkelling and St Pierre, the small seaside village where, in 1902 its substantial population of 30,000 were killed by the eruption of nearby Mt Pelee.

peleeWe only had one night in Dominica (more to come, we hope).

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We picked up a mooring in the very windy main bay of Les Saintes, a small group of islands just south of Guadeloupe where we were to spend Christmas.

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Les Saintes is a very pretty spot good walks, good anchorages and a pleasant local town with friendly people. Unfortunately the French Christmas dinner did not live up to expectations!

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les-saintes-goatsOur last few days with Tine and Gordon were spent at Pigeon Island, a beautiful anchorage with fabulous snorkelling with the turtles right off the boat. We also had our first scuba dive in the Caribbean.

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pigeon-sunsetLa Touna near the anchorage was a fitting farewell meal for Gordon and Tine – great food in a wonderful setting.

pigoen-dinnerTine and Gordon were great crew for our Atlantic crossing. They headed back to cold, dark Copenhagen while we sail north towards Montserrat for New Year.tine-and-gordon We have about a week island hopping our way north to the Virgin Islands where we meet friends and family in mid January.

Atlantic crossing

We were incredibly lucky. After 13 days and 2 hours, we arrived in Port St Charles, Barbados after 2083 miles at sea. Our conditions were almost perfect, the trade winds we had been waiting for had arrived.  Two hours out of Mindelo we turned off the engine, only to turn it on again to enter the marina in Barbados. We had between 15 -25knots of NE winds, and reasonably comfortable seas, about 80% of the time between 1-2 metres, with the rest 2-3+metres. Apart from the expected squalls, which came later in the passage, we had pretty good weather. The biggest issue was coping with the relentless movement, a bit like being in a washing machine for a few weeks. Any activity is tricky.

What did we do for 13 days? Most of the way, Sea Cloud’s sails were set as below, genoa poled out and a little mainsail held out by a boom brake and a preventer.

img_0862We ate well – we rotated responsibility for meals

We had 3 hour watches, most of us slept at every possible opportunity. Having 4 of us to share the night watches was wonderful.img_1244

After six seasons in the Med, we hadn’t caught a fish. We have a good rod (thanks to Sel at Pruva Hotel in Gocek) and reel (thanks to John Bowyer) and, according to the man in the fishing shop in La Gomera, the perfect lure.

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The fishing in the Atlantic was fantastic – put out a line, catch a fish…

Our first fish caused a lot of excitement. When the reel ran out Ian was in the shower, Tine and Gordon were showering on the back deck.

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we managed to land the fish, anaesthetise him with Amorgos Raki, img_1157

and cook him – a great meal for 4. It was even calm enough to eat at the table with proper plates rather than our usual plastic dishes

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Gordon caught his first fish, a very respectable MahiMahi. img_1211img_1212The fishing was so good, we had to limit Ian from putting out the line. No one wanted fish EVERY night.

We spent time relaxing, sewing, reading, img_1213

sunbathing (not the Aussies, of course!)

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Ian tried his hand at celestial navigation

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We celebrated Gordon’s birthday with Tine’s freshly cooked bread,

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and brownies

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Checking the boat daily for chafe and damage was an important task

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and for flying fish – we had 10 of the smelly little things on deck one night, plus one which joined me in the cockpit at 5am!

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We saw whales, dolphins and had a blue marlin chasing our Watt and Sea hydrogenerator.

A very tired bird joined about 200Nm out of Cape Verde. He rested on the foredeck for about 12 hours, then at about 5am decided that it looked more comfortable in the cockpit. Time for him to leave.

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img_1225While on watch we tweaked Ted, (the Hydrovane) who steered us across the ocean.

img_4712We enjoyed some wonderful sunrises and Atlantic clouds

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Squall management became important later in the passage. The radar was really helpful in determining whether or not we were likely to be hit. We could see the rain, but had no idea how much wind we’d get or from which direction it would come.

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img_4727Our last night was the worst of the passage. We had 12 hours of constant squalls, wind shifts and strong gusts with very confused high seas. No one slept. We were pleased to have experienced this short taste of not so pleasant Atlantic weather. It reinforced just how lucky we had really been.

A beautiful day followed, so Ian put out the fishing line for his last chance at an Atlantic fish. We were all cursing him when minutes later the line ran out – Sea Cloud was doing 8knots, we had 2-3m seas and 20+knots of breeze! Gordon and Tine did a great job of slowing the boat down while Ian and I wrestled with this very frisky fish on the heaving back deck.

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The sight of land was pretty exciting! We arrived in Port Charles, Barbados, a delightful small marina, and a very easy place to check in. Once Sea Cloud was safely berthed we enjoyed a bottle of Moet, a lovely dinner in the yacht club marina overlooking Sea Cloud sitting in the turquoise blue lagoon and most importantly, a full night of sleep in a bed which did not move!!

img_0924img_0919img_4751Having delivered Sea Cloud and crew safely to the other side, the skipper could finally relax! img_4753

Cape Verde Islands

Mindelo – San Vincente Island

After our 6 day sail from La Gomera (Canary Is), we arrived in Mindelo marina, on the island of San Vincente, Cape Verde Islands.

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Mindelo harbour

Mindelo is a feast for the senses, from the colourful fruit market with many types of banana, papaya and root vegetables to the fish market with its rather overwhelming scents and sights and an incredible collection of fish. Apparently this is one of the under-fished areas of the world. Huge locally caught tuna were being carved up and sold in the market, in doorways, on planks in the park….

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locals buying fish, Mindelo

 

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Santo Antao Island

As the trade winds haven’t yet arrived, the forecast for a few days of light winds meant it was a perfect time for us to head for the adjacent island of Santo Antao, a one hour ferry ride away, which we had heard was great for walking.

It wasn’t easy to find out about the island, but we managed to book a small guesthouse, Casa Cavaquinho, in the small village of Cha de Manuel dos Santos a the top of Paul Valley.

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Casa Cavaquinho – orange building

It was a great find, helpful hosts, delicious food, with stunning views down the valley from our comfortable room. Jose arranged the local shuttle (aguluera) from Porto Novo to bring us to the hotel. The other, more expensive option was to dropped at the top of the Cova de Paul and then walking down into the Paul valley. Jose’s suggested walk to Pico d’Antonio and down the Paul Valley. This took us via the villages of Chazinja, Cha de Mato, then up to the peak, then down to Boca de Figueiral. Jose gave us a laminated card with the route and directions, but said to ask the friendly locals, which we did many times, especially when we took a wrong turn at the pig….

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The path winds through small villages, fields of sugar cane, banana and coffee.

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Unlike the other islands, water is plentiful in this valley. Large catchment areas such as this one are used for bathing, washing and irrigation.

img_0509As we cautiously trekked down the cobbled paths we pass the locals carrying their produce or building products.

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0r offering their produce for sale.

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A lunchtime stop in Cha de Mato a friendly local brought us oranges, guava and sugar cane to taste. Portuguese and the local Creole are spoken but many of the islanders speak French. French tourists, especially trekkers have certainly ‘discovered’ the magic of this island.

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At the end of lunch, Sandra, the owner of the café at the top of Pico d’Antonio arrived and led us through the plantations and up the seriously scary ridge to her village. The mist had rolled in- it was good that we couldn’t see the drop off from the ridge but not so good that we missed the panorama on the other side.

img_0538Five families (and a few pigs) live on the ridge. The children have an hour’s walk (took us 2) down a steep path to nearest school.

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The walk through the fertile valley was spectacular. Most of the way there are good paved paths, with short parts of the walk along the river bed. Erosion is obviously an issue with large amounts of planting in vulnerable spots.

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vous avez chocolat??

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Just before dark the path ended at the road, where we picked up an aluguer (local collective transport) for the steep ride back to Casa Cavaquinho and a wonderful dinner of local produce. Unfortunately, we could only stay one night at Casa Cavaquinho. Following their directions, we walked up the dauntingly steep hills to the volcanic crater of Cova de Paul. This walk was more straight forward – walk through the village, turn hard right at Bob Marley, and keep walking up!

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The village is about 500m above sea level and the crater about 1200m. Very quickly we were level with ‘Sandra’s place’ – we couldn’t quite believed where we had climbed the day before.

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The path is in great condition, cobbled most of the way. The views……

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After about 2 hours, we reached the Cova de Paul.

img_0607The weather has been unusually unsettled, the ‘rainy’ season is usually August, September, but we had some rain most days, luckily not so heavy as to stop us walking. We lunched at Biosfera, the only restaurant at the top, a rather quirky place run by an Italian. Luckily we met up with Amilcar, a very pleasant local driver who helped us out with transport for the rest of our stay. The road between the Crater and Ribeira Grande at the coast is like nothing we had ever seen before. The road, which winds along the top of ridge, affording spectacular views down the valleys on either side.

img_0600Our second night was spent in Ponta do Sol, where we a great meal at La Calheta. The hotel was modern and comfortable, but in the weirdest position, a disused airstrip then the coast in front, a big of a garbage dump with chickens, kittens and a very annoying rooster behind!

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img_0662Ponto do Sol is a good place to stay before the spectacular walk along the coast to Fontainhaus. Corvo, then Forminghaus. Part of the track had been damaged by recent rain so we didn’t go the whole way.img_0628

On the outskirts of Ponto do Sol is a pig farm with the best views. In most other places this would be the site of a 5 star hotel.

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The track was rated as easy, but there sure was a lot of up and down, luckily once again on very well made and maintained cobbled paths.

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Fontainhaus

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Corvo

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We were meant to stay in Kasa XoXo the next night, where Tine and Gordon would join us. A bungle in the booking meant we ended up back near the rather colourful Riberia Grande, then made the trek up to Xoxo the next morning.

Being Sunday, some of the locals were in their finery heading to church, while many others worked.

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XoXo sits at the head of the Ribeira da Torre, which is narrower and steeper than the Paul valley.

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Erosion is a big problem here, the rains must really come down in a torrent given the size of the watercourse.

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We walked up to Agua de Rabo Curto, passing through many small villages along the way.

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Kasa Xoxo staff

Our last day we drove back over the middle of the island then

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walked back down from Cova de Paul into the valley,

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img_0751into the valley for a coffee at Pension Chez Sandro.

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then down to Passagem past many locals

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before heading back to get the 4pm ferry from Porto Novo to Mindelo.

Our impression of Cape Verde – a place you should not miss! Not only is it the logical stop for sailors en route to the Caribbean, it is a place to wonderful experience. We arrived back in Mindelo to find the marina full of ARC rally boats on the docks and in the bay. After days of no wind and wallowing out in the Atlantic, many have stopped here to wait for the trade winds to kick in. The forecast is looking good for tomorrow – hopefully we will provision and cast lines heading for Barbados (you’ll be pleased to hear that John Reid!).