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Open Your Eyes! Abrolhos Archipelagos.

Back in the old days, some Spanish charts bore the inscription “Abras los ojos” near reefs areas that might put the ship in danger. This was a warning to sailors, meaning Open Your Eyes, and it’s the origin of the name Abrolhos archipelago. And if you look at the area on a chart, you can easily understand why you need to keep your eyes wide open. It’s an area that extends approximately 60nm off the coast and it’s long about 40nm. In this area of shallow waters where depth can go from 20 to 5 meters in a blink of an eye, you have plenty of coral reefs that pose a serious risk to navigation. And that’s why you have countless wrecks here that can be visited by scuba diving.

RayMarine Axiom Pro chart plotter screen

We set sails from Vitoria at sunset and we had a fantastic downwind sail. We spent 2 nights sailing, and the second night we were hit by quite a few squalls. Squalls on this stretch of Brazilian coast are quite frequent at night and are called Abrolhos squalls. They are very intense but short lived, usually no more than 40 minutes. We have seen wind going from 14 to 30 knots.  During the night, you can see the squalls coming on the radar, so you have time to get ready for it.

Sunset in Abrolhos

There are only 3 reputable pilot books that I know of written for the whole coast of Brazil: One from the English sailor Pete Hill, one from French sailor Michel Balette and one from Brazilian sailor Marcal Ceccon. We are using them extensively: unfortunately, sometimes we find errors. For example, the three of them erroneously report that the Park Rangers in Abrolhos charge R$10 (M. Balette), R$50 (P. Hill) and USD4.00 (M. Checcon) for visiting the archipelago.  This was not the case.

When we asked the rangers, they told us they weren’t going to charge us any money and that they were more than happy to get us a guided tour of the islands. Also for free.  Same goes with the Navy for visiting their base and the lighthouse. Also, Michel Ballette erroneously makes things overly complicated reporting that “if you want to visit the islands with your boat you must first obtain a permit to land from the Brazilian Navy, 2nd Naval District, in Salvador”.  Had we blinded followed these Pilot books, we would have wasted precious time.  I’ll write an email to them asking to correct the next edition of their Pilot books.

Park rangers, biologists and the Navy guys were all of an exquisite hospitality.  We arranged a tour of the island with the biologists and also a visit to the lighthouse at sunset.  Big thanks to biologists Diego, Thomas, and Barbara and to Park ranger Joyce and Navy guy Jose.

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Joaquin and Monica, being avid divers, arranged for us to join one of the local diving groups, and we did 2 dives at 22 meters: 2 wrecks, Rosalina (20 meters) and Guadiana (27 meters)!  Diving was $40 per person ($20 each dive), including tips.  And they provided all the gear.

Needless to say, Joaquin over-tipped them and they instantly become best friends. Thanks to this, we managed to get a lot of first hand local knowledge about the stretch of coast all the way up to Salvador: Priceless.  These guys probably don’t know how to read a chart, but sure can find their way around coral reefs and sandbars!

Diving in Abrolhos

Our dives were beautiful and quite technical. Many changes of depth and swimming through narrow passages. Never in my life I would have imagined to get into diving, or to visit an underwater wreck. Many “first time in my life” kind of things happened for me and Yuka in the last 6 months!

Underwater paradise in Abrolhos

We anchored between island Redonda and Siriba, two inhabited islands. The snorkeling was great, with many turtles, lobsters, corals and fish of all kind. I guess this is one of the few places remained untouched. This is how the early explorers should have found it.

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Decisions, decisions, decisions

On April 30 we had an All Hands meeting with Plan B. No, not one of those Silicon Valley company-wide meetings, a real one: literally an All Hands On Deck.  Well, being us on two boats, perhaps I should say a Fleet All Hands on Deck.

It took place on Oroboro, and lasted a few of hours.  Armed with laptops, tablets, pilot books and paper charts, we discussed and revised our cruising plans.

The night before, I handed over to Joaquin a Pilot book of Bahia de Todos Santos written by Hélio Magalhães. I got that book directly from the author himself, whom I casually met on the pontoon of a marina in Paraty.  He helped us building a shore power adapter and showed us his beautiful Armel sailboat, with which he’s going to complete Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation (Magellan was killed in the Philippines, before completing the circumnavigation).

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Hélio’s Pilot book about the Bahia de Todos Santos (available in Portuguese only) has tons of priceless information and local knowledge.  A real “must have”.  He’s a great sailor and a gifted story teller.  We laughed a lot together, while building the shore power adapter on his Armel.

Needless to say, Joaquin being an avid reader, he spent the night reading the book from cover to cover and taking notes.

Joaquin and Monica original plan was to be in the Caribbean no later than August 1st, to allow their family and friends to visit them on board Plan B during the Spanish summer holidays.

Yuka and I on the other hand, wanted to make our way up to the Caribbean in shorter legs of one or two overnights, to see as much as possible of this beautiful coast and get to the Caribbean towards the end of the Hurricane season.

Well, Joaquin was very impressed and inspired from what he read in this Pilot book about Bahia de Todos Santos.  The conclusion was that  Salvador deserved so much more than a quick one week visit: It will become our Head Quarter for the months of July and August.  Instead of having family and friends visit him in the Caribbean, they will have to come to Salvador.

So we revisited our original Voyage plan on Google sheet, we brainstormed how to overcome visas restriction issues, we looked at how many villages we could visit along the cost on our way to the Caribbean, we took into consideration weather, currents and hurricane season, and we decided that we’ll get there no sooner than October.

Open CPN chart software

We are very pleased to be able to sail the 4,000 nautical miles of the Brazilian coast with our voyage companion Plan B.  Joaquin and Monica are expert sailors and have a great attitude towards life.  There is not a single day when we don’t share a laugh.  And during passages at night, we keep ourselves entertained talking over the VHF.

Now off we go to the next destination:  Cumuruxatiba!

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